Alumnus Sivakami Sambasivam works to realize her vision for global health care

December 12, 2018 — by Anishi Patel

During her time at MIT, 2007 SHS alumnus Sivakami Sambasivam helped invent low-cost delivery systems to bring food and sanitation to thousands in Kenya and Mexico. She worked to provide malnourished children with vegetables in the winter when weather conditions are too extreme to grow them.

She and her team raised $20,000 to build greenhouses across three Mexican communities. 

After graduating from college, Sambasivam joined then-startup GoodRx, a company that works with pharmacies and doctors to put together coupons for prescription medications. GoodRx’s mission is to increase access to medication for all Americans — the uninsured, underinsured and the insured. 

GoodRx, most recently funded by Silver Lake at a $2.8 billion valuation according to CNBC, has quickly become an eminent health-care unicorn, helping solve the country’s immense problem of patients not taking prescribed medications because of cost or other reasons: A recent New York Times study stated that GoodRx prices are lower than insurance 40 percent of the time.

The company’s success has been in no small part due to Sambasivam’s efforts as their fourth employee and vice president of marketing. The company now employs just under 150 people and is located in Santa Monica.

 

When did you decide on your career path and what events prompted that decision?

Throughout high school, my career path was inspired by two things: I always wanted to help people and I loved biology. In high school, I assumed the only career opportunity that fit these two criteria was medicine. But at MIT, my classmates and I were given some amazing opportunities to explore how social entrepreneurship could make this same impact: We were able to invent low-cost delivery systems to bring food and sanitation to thousands in Kenya and Mexico, and it was through this distinct experience at MIT that I realized being a doctor wasn’t the only option to help people.

 

Where have you worked and what do you feel is your most impactful achievement since graduating?

Right out of college, I worked at Bain and Co. as a management consultant. However, I began to miss the parts that I had loved most about my experiences in Mexico and Kenya — working with a small team, tackling an unmet health-care need, interacting with customers first hand, and building innovative technology. I decided to quit my job at Bain and join the startup GoodRx.

Within my first year, we were able to patent a methodology for analyzing drug pricing and we used algorithms to create a kayak.com for prescription drugs with prices lower than what most Americans had ever been able to access. Since then we’ve grown exponentially, and I’m proud of the impact we have had: To date, we’ve saved our customers $6.5 billion, increased medication adherence by 60 percent for our customers and helped more than 10 million Americans save money with GoodRx each month. 

 

What is something you enjoyed about your work experiences?

At a startup, the speed is exhilarating: There’s always a new problem to solve, and it’s always all hands on deck. I remember as we were scaling up our customer marketing efforts, I wanted to be available to any customer who needed me. So I put my personal cell phone as our “Contact Us” number. It was only when I started getting calls at 6 a.m. that I realized sending your phone number out to hundreds of thousands of people wasn’t the smartest thing to do. But I wouldn’t give up the experience for anything.

The other thing I really enjoy about startups in general is how your team becomes your family. I’ve known for a long time that I loved health care and helping people. And now that I get to do both on a daily basis, it never feels like work. It’s why I’ve been at GoodRx for the past six years. I’ve always had the mindset that as long as you are passionate about what you do, success will come naturally.

 

What is your vision for health care? 

Non-adherence is still a huge problem in our country. Even with Obamacare, we have tons of people that simply can’t afford their prescriptions or insurance for that matter. So instead, these people simply don’t take their medications. I envision one day a nation where patients no longer worry about affording health care regardless of insurance status or income.

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