Howard Yeh is Chief Operating Officer and a co-founder of HealthCare, Inc., and oversees product strategy, revenue, online marketing, user acquisition, operations and technology for the company. He has been an owner and operator of the HealthCare.com web business since 2007, and has 10+ years of overall experience as an investor, entrepreneur and operator in online businesses.
Most recently in 2012, he has been the co-founder of ContactUs.com, Inc., a software-as-a-service company providing online customer acquisition tools serving over 60,000 small business users around the world. He was previously a co-founder and COO of BrokersWeb, Inc., an insurance-focused online advertising marketplace which was twice named to the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing companies in 2010 and 2011 until its successful sale. Howard was a co-founder of the original HealthCare.com, Inc. (from which BrokersWeb was renamed) in 2007. He also currently serves on the board of directors of Yola, Inc., an online do-it-yourself website builder that powers close to 10 million websites.
He started his career as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch’s media investment banking group, and then as a venture capital investor at VantagePoint Venture Partners. He is a 2000 graduate of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Mike: Describe for me the purpose or goal of HealthCare.com. What is the business model?
Howard: HealthCare.com is the nation’s leading, privately funded, unbiased search engine and comparison tool for health insurance, offering virtually all of the state-based exchange plans, federal exchange plans and many private, off-exchange plans. HealthCare.com helps consumers easily research information and compare their healthcare options, starting with healthcare plans. Our comparison shopping tools experience allows consumers to find the right healthcare plan that fits their lifestyle. We receive advertising revenue and referral fees from insurance partners. The service is free to consumers.
Mike: How many customers does HealthCare.com serve to date?
Howard: Since 2006, HealthCare.com has averaged about 1 million users each month to the site. We formally relaunched this business in September 2014. In the last Open Enrollment period for healthcare (November 2014 to February 2015), we helped more than 300,000 consumers connect with health insurance partners.
Mike: As far as generic keyword domain names go, HealthCare.com is phenomenal. Tell me how you came to own the domain. Can you share the purchase price and steps you went through to acquire it?
Howard: The URL was originally registered in 1994. The original founder of HealthCare.com, Inc. acquired the URL back in 2006. It was acquired in a private auction, and it was 7-figures. Looking back,H itself. Our initial business model was to create a directory of healthcare providers, which continues today. There are more than 1.2 million providers listed. From there, we acquired an online insurance advertising business called BrokersWeb founded by 2 awesome entrepreneurs in California. Over time, that became our business, and the stuff on HealthCare.com became second fiddle. In 2011, once we grew to $50M+ in revenue and 40+ people, we sold the BrokersWeb business to another online marketing company, and kept the HealthCare.com domain. After 3 years, we had a chance to revisit this asset and build out a new company. There was a nice article in the New York Business Journal that tells the backstory in further detail.
Mike: My favorite question to ask premium domain owners is this, how has owning this name impacted your business? Do you feel any other name could have produced the same results?
Howard: The domain is not the business, although it is a phenomenal asset and starting point. For our product, we are unique in our unbiased approach, the size and scope of the number of plans we display, and our technology tools that make it faster and simpler for consumers to find the choices that best fit them. On top of that, we deliver awesome advertising solutions to health care marketers, and are building highly-targeted, unique advertising solutions that will be the driver of our business. Our Series A funding of $7.5 million in late 2014 led by the chairman of The Priceline Group was a positive step in solidifying HealthCare.com as a leader in the health insurance space.
Mike: How has the similarity of the Obamacare domain name, healthcare.gov, impacted traffic or use of your site?
Howard: Everyone now has the ability to access healthcare as a result of Obamacare (also known as the Affordable Care Act). With the mandate and associated penalty for not having healthcare coverage, we believe everyone needs to get covered. Some might ask why the government chose a URL that was so close in name to an existing site with a similar purpose. We came first in 2006, and want to be the leading comparison source for consumer healthcare. Consumers can buy the same health care plans – with subsidies – by visiting HealthCare.com, which connects them with licensed, certified agents. There’s even an important bonus — HealthCare.com offers nearly all private, off-exchange plans that aren’t offered on healthcare.gov, and are building out recommendation tools that they, by regulation, are not able to provide.
Mike: Having launched two businesses on keyword domain names, what advice would you provide to anyone looking to launch an online business?
Howard: The key is to relentlessly execute on your initial vision, and extend your scope from there. The domain is your asset, and it can provide instant branding and legitimacy. But it’ll only get you so far. A premium domain definitely helps to open the door, but you have to have substance behind what you are building. The best way to get substance is to focus on doing a few things really well.