Dan Brillman and Taylor Justice, Unite Us Co-Founders
We founded Unite Us 10 years ago to connect individuals and families in need to health and social services to improve their lives. As military veterans, we wanted to alleviate the problems veterans and their families experienced during the transition back to civilian life. We witnessed firsthand the barriers and inefficiencies that individuals face when trying to navigate health and social services, and set out to improve that experience. We have since expanded from serving veterans and their families to serving all people who need connections to care across communities. Unite Us is now the leading software company bringing sectors together to improve the health and well-being of communities.
As we look back on our last decade with Unite Us, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on the challenges and opportunities we have faced in founding a company with a mission to deliver multi-generational, transformational impact for the communities we serve. We want to share this reflection to support the next generation of leaders so that they can learn from our experience and understand that challenges are invariably a part of any effort to create long-term change.
1. Building Technology-Powered Accountable Networks: Growing from Zero to One
We started our journey by listening to the people who were seeking care and the community partners who served them. In those conversations, we quickly recognized the burdens faced by these individuals and community-based organizations. People seeking services were often provided nothing more than a phone number or information pamphlet. And community-based organizations lacked the technology and infrastructure to refer their clients to care, collaborate with other partners to serve their shared clients, and track outcomes to confirm that needs were met and demonstrate their impact.
We understood that technology adoption would present a challenge for organizations who face resource and capacity limitations that are outside of their control. We also knew that trust in our team and our technology would need to be earned. But we were up for the challenge. This led us to three core principles that we have championed throughout our journey:
- We provide community-based organizations support and access to the Unite Us Platform at no cost.
- We hire teammates locally that directly support our community-based users.
- We center community input throughout the design and development of our products.
These three principles have helped us develop and solidify our relationships with community partners across the country and drive real impact. But it didn’t happen overnight, and the reality is that change management is hard and growth takes time. There were some geographies that took longer to grow and support. There were other geographies where we were asked to slow down our network building model as partners who had worked in the social care space had their own network building models they were championing. We have had to evolve like any business and are not past all of the hurdles, but we are proud of how far we have come. Today, Unite Us has facilitated over 17 million connections to care across 44 states and reduced the response time for an organization to accept a referral from a median of 17 days before Unite Us to a median of less than two days. We continue to believe that our community-centered and locally responsive approach will have the greatest impact on the communities that we serve.
2. Building One Team After Acquisitions
In late 2021, we acquired two companies—NowPow and Carrot Health—that have been incredibly valuable in helping us deliver on our mission and goals. But as many leaders know, integrating companies presents complex challenges. We integrated the teams and operational processes in less than a quarter, but we spent a much longer time considering, planning for, and executing the product integrations. We recognized (and have already seen) the potential of our combined solutions but also saw the need for a diligent and intentional integration process. Our approach was to listen to customers, test, and build new features and functionality. Throughout this period of discovery, our partners were eager to learn more about our plans. We did not always have the answer as we managed the integrations in real time, but we are proud that we are releasing a powerful set of new and combined features that will continue to support better collaboration, improved efficiency, and most importantly drive impact for our communities for decades to come.
The most difficult challenge in any acquisition is integrating teams and building the right structure for the long term. Through this experience, we were humbled to see how our teams and leaders were able to bring three incredible companies together to share knowledge, expertise, and experience to build a unified company. After the acquisitions were completed, we recognized areas for efficiency across the three companies and made a conscious business decision to reduce the size of our combined team soon after. This was an incredibly difficult decision, but we believe we made the right call to support the communities we serve and our mission, and we deeply appreciate our team and the culture that we have maintained together despite the complex realities of these integrations.
3. Supporting the Community Goes Beyond Words—It Requires Action
Unite Us’ goal is to create healthier communities by connecting people with the resources they need to improve their health and well-being. Offering our technology products and on-the-ground support to stakeholders who need them and generating revenue is essential to support our operations and scale our impact. It also requires that we continue to work with long-term oriented investors who believe in generational change. We have found in early days that conversations around revenue or investors can be viewed as a taboo topic. Some who are not in the sector believe nonprofits should not be involved in these conversations because they risk distracting from their core mission. We believe the community should not be seen as just charity, but as a critical business partner in improving health. We spend a lot of effort aligning the economics between industries such as healthcare, government, and the community not just to ensure the community has a seat at the table, but also so they can demonstrate their impact and develop sustainable funding from providing the critical services they deliver. We recognize that revenue is a critical aspect of sustainability and growth in any organization, but when bringing innovation to sectors whose contributions to improving outcomes have historically been undervalued, you have to create an environment where government and healthcare value social care technology systems in the same way they view other solutions. This has taken a lot of time and investment, but the impact is to reinforce the importance of long-term social care investment with government and healthcare so that they view investment in social infrastructure and services as critical. Over the past decade, we have seen a shift from grant funding in the hundreds of thousands for technology to support sustainable social care investment and delivery to billions of dollars not just for technology, but also for direct investment in housing, utilities, food, transportation, child care, and other key services. We believe that continuing to champion long-term systemic change and investment in social care will drive billions of dollars to community-based organizations becoming a critical economic partner for government and healthcare.
To address this challenge, we emphasize how our technology can serve as a catalyst to propel the entire sector forward by reducing cost of care, promoting efficient use of resources, and most importantly, improving outcomes for those in need. We also explain that our business model was built for our nonprofits partners, providing them with access to our platform at no cost—not for charity, but to show these economic buyers in the healthcare and government sector how well community-based organizations deliver in a consistent way to support additional investment directly in our community-based partners. Our partnership with the community is essential and the entire sector must continue leveraging their expertise to achieve our shared mission. We believe that discussion of investment and revenue is not something to shy away from, but rather a necessary element to drive economics and sustain our operations while growing opportunities for the nonprofit and community-based organization sector.
When we started to realize success in bringing community partners to the table and elevating social care investment to support true statewide and regional coordination, we also faced unexpected and disruptive efforts by legacy competitors. We even saw platform-specific bills in state legislatures that were used to advance the commercial interests of a small few at the expense of the community, which ran counter to decades-long policy efforts to enable more effective and secure cross-sector care coordination. Policymakers and partners throughout the country have recognized that placing additional burdens on health and social care providers will make it harder for individuals to get connected to care and for resource-constrained providers to serve their communities. As a company focused on generational change, we addressed these challenges head-on by focusing on our mission, delivering the best solution in the market, and sharing our affirmative vision with policymakers and partners on how we can come together to support true cross-sector coordination and reduce burdens on individuals seeking care and their providers.
4. Investing in Technology to Support Evolving Community Needs
Building a community-centered technology that meets the needs of stakeholders across sectors takes time and constant evolution. We have collaborated closely with thousands of stakeholders, including hospitals, clinics, government agencies, and community-based partners for a decade to ensure our platform addressed each of their unique needs and initiatives. By gathering feedback and input early on, we established strong partnerships and deeply integrated our platform in communities.
One challenge all technology companies will face in new sectors is constant change and evolution. Our focus on meeting needs across sectors requires reinvestment in our technology. We made the call to re-architect our platform several years ago, investing millions of dollars and completing a major upgrade in 2022, to better support the many cross-sector initiatives and needs that we identified through our collaboration with partners. Though we had to slow down new technology feature releases during the upgrade to be able to speed up, we are now able to move faster and build our solutions more efficiently for years to come. This has served as an important reminder to focus not just on the latest needs and trends, but also to build and reinvest in your technology so that you are always skating to where the puck is going.
5. Maintaining Transparency and Culture As We Grow
As our business grows rapidly, so does the complexity of managing it. With new team members, technologies, go-to-market strategies, and an evolving customer base, we face the challenge of ensuring effective communication with the entire team and ensuring our culture evolves as the company grows. This was a simpler process when we were a small team of 30 people in one office in New York City, where we could discuss all aspects of the business in real time. But now, with over 850 team members spread across 49 states and multiple offices, we need to ensure that everyone is included in the decision-making process and understands the reasoning behind our actions as we strive to lead the industry and continue our rapid growth. What stays consistent is our mission and vision, and what we need to constantly adapt to is what our teammates need to feel supported and growing at the company.
This requires engagement, transparency, and communication. What your team will expect of you evolves over time, and no leader will never be perfect at it. As founders, we have always believed in transparency and team problem-solving, and we strive to promote these values at every level of our organization. We celebrate our successes together, but we are also open about our challenges and how we plan to improve for our customers and communities. Talking about challenges as a whole team requires a level of trust with every teammate that we constantly strive to establish and grow. The truth is every company at every stage has challenges it’s trying to solve. We believe transparency about those challenges and collaboration around solutions is what gets to the right answer, and we engage in that collaborative problem solving internally as well as externally with our customers. We will not be satisfied until every community has the infrastructure to support people’s needs seamlessly, and we hold ourselves to a higher standard each day, always striving to do better. This mindset can sometimes come across as overly critical of ourselves, but the appetite to always do better is necessary to build a company that can make a real difference.
The Proud Moments
Our Culture and Our Team
As founders and military veterans, we know that you are only as good as your team. We have spent over a decade working to build a culture that is centered around our mission to unlock the potential in every community. Building a passionate, engaged, and diverse team requires trust, transparency, and a willingness to change and adapt where necessary. This has been a huge lesson and success that we have found at Unite Us. We are humbled by the team at Unite Us and the trust that they have placed in us, and we are honored to work to impact the lives of individuals across the country.
Building a strong culture requires innovative policies, practices, and benefits that meet team members where they are. Unite Us is proud to have been recognized as:
- Fortune Best Places to Work in Healthcare (2022)
- Forbes America’s Best Startup Employers (2022, 2021)
- Inc. 5000 (2022)
- Inc. Best Places to Work (2021)
- Diverse and Inclusive Employer (2021)
- Training Magazine Apex Awards (2023, recognizing Unite Us’ Learning and Development Team)
Delivering Measurable Impact
From the very beginning of our journey, our focus has always been on outcomes and impact. We have learned that value comes in many forms, particularly when you are working across multiple sectors, but at the end of the day, our North Star has always been a simple one: Did an individual receive the service to meet their needs?
As we mentioned earlier, Unite Us has facilitated over 17 million connections to care across 44 states and reduced the response time for an organization to accept a referral from an average of 17 days to a median of less than two days. While we have demonstrated impact across key priority areas of our government, healthcare, and nonprofit partners, we are just getting started, and the lives we changed below are just a few examples of what brings over 850 teammates to work every day to create generational change:
- Individuals served through Unite Us technology reported a 63 percent reduction in physically unhealthy days and a 62 percent reduction in mentally unhealthy days as part of a recent housing study. Unhealthy days are associated with increased hospital admissions and medical costs.
- A pilot led by community health workers utilizing our technology documented a 25 percent reduction in total cost of care. The engaged population experienced a 24 percent reduction in ED utilization and a 60 percent increase in behavioral health care utilization.
- A health system conducted its own study of how our referral platform impacted staff efficiency. They found it saved 3.97 hours per week per case manager.
- New moms at one of our provider partner hospitals in Florida were about 60 percent less likely to be admitted to the hospital three months post-partum for any reason if their care managers referred them to services through Unite Us.
- In under a year in just one state, we’ve enabled more than 41,000 invoices to be submitted from the community to health plans using our Unite Us Payments technology.
We hear stories every day about the individuals and their families who have been helped in very difficult situations with the support of our solutions. At the end of the day, the individual impact of each of those connections to care is incalculable. We are deeply proud of our investment and impact on the communities we serve together with our partners.
Establishing Standards to Advance Coordination Across Sectors
We are proud of how we have centered the dignity of individuals seeking care in all aspects of our product development. We also recognize that partners and policymakers want to better understand how we can work together to advance privacy and dignity for individuals seeking services across sectors. With our strong commitment to privacy, autonomy, and dignity, we published our vision on the rights we believe all individuals should have with respect to their social care information—and how all partners in this work can advance our shared goals to enable secure and seamless access to care. We believe all individuals should have the right to know their social care information, the right to consent to sharing their information, the right to correct inaccurate information about themselves, the right to revoke consent to the sharing of their information, and the right to delete their information. These five fundamental rights—coupled with solutions like Unite Us that protect social care information under the same strict protections required for protected health information—protect individuals’ privacy and help ensure that their social care needs are addressed. We are proud of our commitment to working across sectors to develop shared standards in support of these fundamental principles and protections.
As we reflect on a decade of building this company and the incredible partnerships that have come to life, we want to leave you with one last thought—which is that no one individual, organization, or community can solve our greatest challenges alone. We are better together, and we look forward to the next decade of collaboration to unlock the potential in every community.
Join us as we celebrate ten years of bringing sectors together.
About Unite Us
Unite Us is the nation’s leading software company bringing sectors together to improve the health and well-being of communities. We drive the collaboration to identify, deliver, and pay for services that impact whole-person health. Through Unite Us’ national network and software, community-based organizations, government agencies, and healthcare organizations are all connected to better collaborate to meet the needs of the individuals in their communities.