For most people, early-career jobs are just a way to gain some experience and pay the bills. But for John Romano, a job at Enterprise Rent-A-Car became a turning point in his career. It’s where he met Nick Potts, later the co-founder of ScriptDrop, forming a lifelong bond that would bring them back together multiple times. Fast forward more than a decade, and the pair are co-founders of giftHEALTH, a new prescription-oriented startup with big dreams and industry-changing potential. We sat down with Romano to talk about his career, the exciting new project and that fateful job at Enterprise.
What is giftHEALTH, the company you co-founded with Nick Potts?
GiftHEALTH is a digital healthcare company we started in November of 2020. Our mission is to improve medication accessibility, time to therapy and overall costs for patients across the US. We have a dispensing pharmacy in Ohio that offers free same-day delivery to the entire state. Our technology finds the best price and convenience for patients.
How would you explain how giftHEALTH works to someone less familiar with the industry?
When you have a doctor’s visit, whether it’s telehealth or in-person, the physician writes you a prescription and it’s up to you to decide on the best place to get the medication, whether your decision is based on convenience, cost, if there’s a pharmacy on the corner or whatever your thought process is. But there isn’t any kind of decision tree that helps you really understand the best option for that medication. A lot of times, patients don’t understand that the copay can vary depending on which pharmacy you use. Our technology finds the lowest cost for that medication and we also apply coupons to ensure they’re getting the lowest cost.
We also ensure that the patient gets free delivery of that medication. Whether from a personal pharmacy here in Ohio or a network pharmacy across the US, free delivery is always part of that package. Essentially, we want you to be able to visit your physician and then stay at home. We want to get the medication to you as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
How did your journey to co-founding giftHEALTH start?
Nick and I met 12 years ago when we both moved to Ohio at the same time. We actually worked together at Enterprise Rent-A-Car together for about a year. We got to know each other really well, and Nick went on his own and started his own company. He was the CEO and founder of ScriptDrop, which is now live across all 50 states. I went my own route and went to a pharmaceutical company, Braintree Laboratories, where I spent about seven years. I had a lot of great mentors and learned a lot about healthcare. Then, one day, I got a call from Nick, and he said, “Hey, I’m building this company. Things are taking off. We need some help.” So I met with him a couple times and actually joined him at ScriptDrop where we worked together for about a year and a half.
Last November, we started giftHEALTH together. We had an idea, something we knew we needed to execute on, and a vision we wanted to go at together. So, that’s where we’re at today.
Did working in a startup environment at ScriptDrop change your mindset?
Yeah, it did. I definitely wanted to be a part of something that was making a larger impact in healthcare. I believed in the vision and really wanted to be a part of it. So when I chatted with Nick and we had the opportunity to get it started, it was kind of a no-brainer for me. So I couldn’t be happier with that decision.
You’ve worked with multiple organizations and have plenty of experience climbing the ladder. How do you think your experience helps you today?
It is unique. My experience has always been where you start at the bottom and work your way up, so I try to keep that mentality. At giftHEALTH, we’re big believers in promotion from within, developing employees and giving them the tools they need to succeed within the company. That’s what I’ve learned from all my positions. When I first left high school, I joined the military. I learned a lot of lessons there, too. From promotion within, you earn your stripes. Braintree was a family owned pharmaceutical company that had the same mentality. At giftHEALTH, we’ve only been a company for six or seven months and we’ve already had a few promotions at this point. So that’s something we’ll keep focusing on.
What draws you to work in healthcare?
Healthcare is complex and it has big problems to solve. A normal patient doesn’t really have the tools to solve those problems or even have incremental wins. I always think about my mom. When she gets a prescription, does she know the best approach on how to get that filled and how she can save money? That’s typically not the case for many patients. So with us, tackling a really huge problem is very motivating. We’re able to make a difference in individual’s lives across the US.
Is it surprising that Enterprise played such a pivotal role in your stories?
It was a really big part of Nick’s life. I taught him pretty much everything he knows today, so it gave him his foundation to build a few companies. Editor’s note: Nick was laughing just off camera.
Enterprise was another company where you have to earn your stripes. We’re out there cleaning cars in a suit and tie. We had just graduated college and were like, “What’s going on here?” But you learn so much about running a business and they teach you a lot of great life lessons. You build great bonds and have that camaraderie with co-workers. You’re in it together. So it was a great experience. I wouldn’t change that for anything.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town in West Virginia called Clarksburg. You probably don’t know it; it’s a very small town but a great group of people. I have lifelong friends there. My family is still there. I lived there until I was about 18 when I spent some time in the military. I went back there and went to WVU after. So I have a lot of roots in West Virginia, but I’ve been in Columbus for about 12 years.
How do you think the small-town upbringing affects you now?
In a lot of ways, to be honest. It was a very blue collar town, so you have to work. You have to figure it out. There aren’t a lot of startups in Clarksburg. But there’s a ton of hard-working people that own their own businesses. It’s usually a bootstrap approach. You start a construction company or a grass-cutting company, whatever type of business an individual can build to succeed, and they can prosper from those. It’s a different approach, but you still learn things and see how individuals who start a company can be very successful.
What made you decide to join the military? Was that an important part of your life?
My father was a Vietnam veteran, so I knew that I wanted to do something similar to him and serve some time in the military. I decided to join right after high school and signed up for the Army National Guard for six years. I ended up spending two years in active duty and being recruited to a team in West Virginia, where we were full-time for two straight years. Then I went to WVU, and did the Army National Guard approach. It was one of my only options to pay for college and I also wanted to join, so it made a lot of sense.
It teaches you a lot of responsibility. You have to have processes in place, and those are things that I try to carry with me today. You can’t just wake up in the morning and expect the day to fall how it’s supposed to. You have to prepare. You have to be ready. When there are timelines, you have to meet them. So I try to keep that similar thought process today.
How have things changed now that you have “co-founder” next to your name?
It’s a big feeling of responsibility because you don’t want to let down patients and you don’t want to let down the company. I’m OK if it was just me and I failed, but I don’t want to fail others. So that motivates me more than anything else. I want to ensure our team is developed and they love the place they work. I want to ensure that we’re helping millions of patients across the US; that’s what we’re here for. That’s what motivates me.
How do you spend your free time, if you have any?
I definitely always want to make room for free time. Work is very important but life is short, you’ve got to enjoy yourself. I love spending time with my wife and my dog. If I’m not with them, I’m probably riding my mountain bike or playing basketball or something competitive. So that’s where you would catch me, if I’m not at work.
What’s one of your favorite under-the-radar Columbus spots?
Columbus is great. There are all kinds of bars and great restaurants. A low-key place that’s one of our go-tos would be Pasqualone’s. It’s a super authentic Italian restaurant. You really wouldn’t tell by driving by it. But if you go in and eat, it’s a game changer. I love Italian food.
What makes Columbus a good place to start a business right now?
Being a first time founder in Columbus has been awesome. The events, the camaraderie from the different founders, it seems like everyone wants to help others succeed. Everyone has their competitive edge and they want to do the best for their company, but there are events all the time where you’re together with like-minded founders and people that are going through the same struggles that you are. So it’s really great to have that support, and possibly provide support to others, if needed. That’s been really helpful and then, of course, working with a second-time founder in Nick is extremely helpful.
What do you hope giftHEALTH looks like five years from now?
If things go really well, we’ll be live in all 50 states. And that won’t take five years. That will happen pretty quickly. But we’ll be helping millions and millions of patients in the next five years, across all 50 states. There’s no patient we’ll say no to. We’ll make that experience uniform for everyone, wherever they are. And hopefully we’ll have a really big team that’s happy. We want to be really thoughtful in our hiring process and want to ensure that the culture remains the same as it is today as we scale and grow. That’s important. We don’t want to lose that.
What advice would you give a new entrepreneur like you were not too long ago?
Be thoughtful. Sometimes you get excited and want to make decisions really, really quickly. You want to grow, you want your investors to be happy and you want to take care of patients. But sometimes, taking a step back and giving yourself a day or two to really think through a decision is helpful and can impact you in the right way down the road. It’s extremely hard to do because we have a lot of smart people on the team and an idea will come to the table and we want to run with it quickly. Most of the time that works, but sometimes it’s OK to sit back and take a little bit more time before you execute or roll out a plan.