Luke Hejl knew he had the entrepreneurial spirit in him. As a young boy growing up in Austin he started a few businesses, first selling rocks, then rabbits.
But he really discovered how much he loved being an entrepreneur when he was recruited into an early stage medical education company that was headquartered in Fort Worth, Doctors in Training.
“I was one of the first key employees there, and really, really enjoyed growing that company,” he said. “I really enjoyed building that business with the team that was put in place there and had a lot of fun.”
Now, he leads a 5-year-old Fort Worth company that recently landed at No. 7 on this year’s Inc. 5000 Regionals 2022: Southwest list based on a two-year revenue growth rate of 1,474%.
Not bad for a telehealth company founded in 2017 exclusively focused on higher education. Now TimelyMD, which is based in the city’s Near Southside neighborhood, serves nearly one million college students and expects to have about 200 employees by the end of the year.
The company averages about 330 visits a day across a network of about 200 campuses around the country. Hejl recalls the early days of the company when the young entrepreneurs — Chris Clark and Dr. Alan Dennington, as well as Hejl — celebrated their first deal with Abilene Christian University late in 2017.
“It was big,” co-founder and CEO Hejl said. “We had been working on raising capital for a year and a half or two at that point, really solidifying our strategic approach to the market. And about the same time that we locked in the million dollars, we also got our first contract. It was within days of each other. We felt like we were on top of the world — at least I did.”
At the time, Hejl and the co-founders had other full-time jobs.
“I was the CEO of a digital marketing agency and did that during the day,” he said. “And every single night almost I was out trying to raise capital.”
It was a frantic time, he recalls.
“When I think back to the early days of starting the business, so many things that we did creatively by leveraging awesome inexpensive resources or using cash in interesting ways to make sure that we could pay our legal bills and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “But we crowdsourced it with our friends and family and others that we knew in higher education and students, and TimelyMD is what came out.”
As the company continues to grow, Hejl, 43, is quick to volunteer to speak with other entrepreneurs facing some of the same problems TimelyMD faced in the early days.
“I think one of the reasons for the company’s success, and certainly my personal success, is having great mentors,” he said. “If a young individual or student wants time with me to learn about what I’ve done and why and how we did it, that’s important to me to have that conversation. Because so, so many people did that for me as well.”
Previously, Hejl was a director of sales, then he did marketing for Doctors in Training, a medical education company based in Fort Worth. That helped fire up his desire to be involved in the health care industry.
“I felt like we were really doing something to help people,” he said.
Hejl grew up in Austin, then attended Abilene Christian University, where he was friends with his two co-founders and met some early mentors such as April Anthony, founder of Encompass Home Health & Hospice.
Those connections were key as TimelyMD got off the ground.
Before forming TimelyMD, the three co-founders got together and began a research project looking into telehealth and the education market. “We saw there were gaps in care there,” Hejl said.
“We started it as a medical-only solution for students, selling directly into higher education to the institutions, where students could access the doctor via their mobile device any time,” he said.
Hayden Blackburn, executive director of Tech Fort Worth, first met Hejl when the company was founded.
“I remember meeting with Luke in the early days of them bringing TimelyMD to life and the passion and energy he shared when outlining the business, and its vision was infectious,” said Blackburn.
TimelyMD was successful in raising early capital, with a million dollars in seed money and some early startup funding. Then in 2021, the company received a $60 million investment from JMI Equity, a growth equity firm that focuses on investing in leading software companies.
That funding helped the company in building out its technology and in handling the demand that followed when COVID-19 changed everything and made the once optional telehealth a requirement for most college campuses.
From 2019 to 2020, as the pandemic caused many classes to go virtual, the company grew quickly with 572% growth.
“When the pandemic hit, we had a ready-made solution for students wherever they were,” said Chris Clark co-founder and chief strategy officer at TimelyMD.
Hejl and other company leaders don’t just view their investors as just providing funding for the company. That’s a mistake a lot of companies make, he said.
“We feel like we’ve got fantastic partners who have resources for us way beyond dollars, including strategic consultants that we leverage that they’ve got on their team,” he said. “We all have the same objective, to grow the company to be as scalable as possible. And we selected capital partners that see that our success has been from the focus on people. They support that. That’s important, that’s really important to us. It’s really important to me personally.”
The company also needed funding to pivot a bit. Originally focused on physical health, TimelyMD quickly moved into the mental health area after getting feedback from early clients.
“But as we’re talking to those medical clinics, they’re also asking us, ‘Well, what can you do on the mental health side? Because we’ve got two or three weeks’ wait for students to talk to a counselor.’” he said. “So we identified that as a huge need and added offerings in 2018 as well, after we had just launched with a few customers at that point.”
That need has only grown as students deal with the impact of the pandemic.
“Prior to (COVID-19), about 10% of our visits were mental health related, and now it’s over 70%,” Hejl said. “So there has been a dramatic shift.”
Hejl said one of their findings is that many of the students who access their services for mental health have never walked into the school’s counseling center.
“For many reasons, they’re more comfortable picking up their device versus walking into a counseling center,” he said.
TimelyMD now has 137 full-time employees with about half in the Fort Worth area.
For Tech Fort Worth’s Blackburn, having TimelyMD in the city can be an aid to other area entrepreneurs pursuing their own dreams.
“The digital transformation of campus health that they are leading is an inspiration to others that are embarking on bringing solutions to life that improve lives and we are lucky that Luke and TimelyMD call Fort Worth home,” he said.
Among its clients are Duke University, Emory University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Notre Dame, Paul Quinn College and the University of Chicago. They also serve several community college systems.
Corporate headquarters is just a few steps off of busy Magnolia Avenue at 1315 S. Adams St. As a medical technology company, being in the medical district makes sense and Hejl said he is looking forward to TCU’s School of Medicine’s new campus, which is being built nearby.
“I think we’ve created a great environment for our employees to be in a health care area of the city as well as an area where they can go to lunch and rub elbows with others in the health care field,” he said.
TimelyMD will continue to stay focused on students, Hejl said. But he sees plenty of opportunity in the category they have mapped out.
“There’s a lot of additional opportunity for us to serve students differently or better, or additional populations, with some of the innovation that’s to come,” he said. “We’re all chasing our vision of building something that will continue to help students thrive on campus.”
Luke Hejl bio Grew up in: Austin
Education: Graduated from Abilene Christian University, Abilene; bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations
Work experience: Director of marketing, Doctors in Training; account supervisor, Springbox; general manager, then CEO at Social Factor. chairman and CEO of TimelyMD since July 2017.
Volunteer experience: Board member, Epilepsy Foundation, 2013-2015; advisory board member, Morris & Mitchell, Abilene Christian University’s student-run advertising and public relations agency, 2013-present; and board member, Fort Worth Prayer Breakfast, 2016-present.
First job: Entrepreneur as a kid, selling rocks (quartz), then rabbits in Austin.
Advice for young entrepreneurs: “Top of the list is to focus on people, getting the right people on the bus with you and continuing to invest in those people,” he said. “That is the No. 1 thing you can do to be successful. Be clear about your vision. Be transparent with your people about what you’re trying to achieve. Incentivize your team to win with you.”
Hejl’s second piece of advice is to narrow the focus on what you are trying to achieve. “Our focus on higher education I think is really important,” he said. “I’ve worked in other organizations where maybe we cast a wider net. And so the narrow focus I think is really key.”
Bob Francis is business editor for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.