Founders Stories at 1871: Context Media’s Rishi Shah and Shradha Agarwal

Founders Stories is a monthly series of in-depth interviews where local entrepreneurs share their success stories. This month’s event featured Rishi Shah and Shradha Agarwal; two founders who shared the incredible growth story behind their company Context Media.

Context Media is the largest condition-specific patient education network in the U.S. and a Doejo client (take a look at our redesign last year). We were thrilled to see them up on stage sharing the story behind their multimedia evolution. 

Context Media provides digital screens that educate patients on how to live healthier. Today their product is in 2,200 hospitals around the country. How did they conquer the fragmented healthcare market? How did they create relationships with notoriously busy doctors and convince them to carry their product? How did they entice advertisers and successfully conquer a two-sided market? We recap the story behind their success below.

The Early Years
It all started when Shah and Agarwal were studying at Northwestern University. Back then they were just two students with a common passion for media. Shah explained how early on they recognized the importance of getting information to people not only at the right time but at the right place. They also happened to have family members with chronic illnesses, giving them insight into how difficult, yet important it is for patients to make small changes to improve their health. This first-hand experience, combined with their love of mobile information, led to them dropping out of school and starting Context Media.

The idea behind Context Media was simple: they realized patients needed more education on nutrition and exercise after being diganosed with diabetes, Rheumatoid arthritis or heart desease, for example. It was only when they discovered how important the 40 minutes a year patients spend at the doctor is to advertisers that they realized they had hit on something big. The idea proved viable because it affected a diverse group of people: the patients, the physicians, the advertisers and the companies creating the content.

Selling to a two-sided market
When the time came to start selling, Shah and Agarwal remained extremely focused. Context Media grew by getting market share in one segment, such as diabetes, and then switching to a second vertical, like heart disease. Shah explained that although it seems counter-intuitive, staying focused can make you bigger, not smaller. Tackling one market at a time helped them to have a high market share.

After convincing the doctors they moved on to the advertisers. Getting small deals also helped boost the credibility of their business with larger advertisers during the early stages. Shah said they used fractions to contextualize how big they were: for example, having a presence on 1,000 of 3,000 screens is more impressive to advertisers then 1,000 out of 50 thousand.

Building relationships with clients
As Context Media grew, Shah began to recognize the importance of awareness and branding. To tackle meetings he focused on awareness: this means stepping into the mind of the person you are talking to, recognizing what they are looking for and giving it to them. “Try to be selfless in that meeting and that will ultimately help you,” Shah said.

They found another way to help themselves was to have professional business cards and a working website. “We were very new but we were real; that gave potential clients a lot of comfort,” said Agarwal. This strong and consistent branding helped Context Media make a name for itself in the early days. 

For Context Media, another important factor when building relationships was giving its clients a sense of control. To do this they enacted a “Doctors Choice Guarantee” which gives doctors offices free reign to remove the ads they do not approve of. Agarwal said that their clients rarely exercise this privilege but just having the option to gives them comfort.