Cleo sits at the intersection of health and work, enabling employers to take care of their people more holistically, improving health outcomes for working families. (Cleo)

Cleo is a winner of FierceHealthcare's Fierce 15 awards. See our other honorees here.

Traditional benefits plans have historically underserved working parents. Cleo has led the charge into that space since its app-based marketplace of parent support services hit the stage at TechCrunch Disrupt SF in 2016. 

Called Lucy at the time, the Bay-area startup immediately attracted the attention of expectant and young parents seeking to balance their careers with their families.

Four years and one name change later, Cleo sits at the intersection of health and work, enabling employers to take care of their people more holistically, improving health outcomes for working families.

"Cleo is leading a fast-emerging category in the healthcare world—family benefits—during a time when additional support for working parents and their families is critically urgent,” Sarahjane Sacchetti, Cleo’s CEO, told FierceHealthcare.

Keeping employees happy and healthy both in and out of the workplace has benefits for employers, as working parents with the right support are more likely to stay in the workforce over the long term. The company notes that 92% of its members return to work or plan to return to work after they take parental leave.

The company’s core mission of supporting working parents took on additional urgency with the arrival of the coronavirus crisis. Between 2019 and 2020, Cleo’s membership grew by 170%, and its four largest customers alone connect its services to more than 600,000 members across the globe.

“With the pandemic forcing over 800,000 women out of the workforce in September, Cleo is helping to change the trajectory for working parents, particularly working mothers, and lend much-needed support so that working parents can thrive both at home and at work,” Sacchetti said.

Fierce Insights from Cleo CEO Sarahjane Sacchetti

CEO Sarahjane Sacchetti (Cleo)

What is your best piece of advice for launching a healthcare company that challenges the status quo?

Always remember that the member or patient is the center of everything. That is the first principle. Identify one of the millions of still-existing holes in the patient experience that prevent them from navigating or achieving successful outcomes in our Balkanized American Healthcare system. Unfortunately, due to how the healthcare economy operates in the U.S., this first principle is complicated by the second—creating a solution that works for the payer. When you can combine patient-centered innovation with a tangible success model for the payer, that’s where I’ve seen the most impactful and lasting new solutions emerge.

What is the failure you’ve learned the best lesson from?

I’ve failed many times and it’s from those many instances that I’ve learned over time that failures present two opportunities. The first is to be humble, recognize that you’re always learning, and that you might never know the answer. If you’re going to innovate in industries like healthcare, you have to be willing to fail and learn and be humble. The second is to be open and talk about what you could do better. By sharing our failures, we not only gain support from those around us, but also hold ourselves accountable for the future.

What is the book you recommend to other healthcare leaders?

An American Sickness by Elisabeth Rosenthal. It’s the preeminent work that anyone working in the American healthcare system should read to understand how the economy drives our healthcare system. It shows you the balance today and offers opportunities to understand the business of healthcare so you can understand the patient side and ultimately navigate in a more patient-centric way. Quick caveat: this is not a beach read. Specific to leadership, though, I’d recommend Leadership Without Easy Answers by Ronald Heifetz. As executives in healthcare, so much of what we need is collaboration and this book really gets at how to be humble, open, and partner in interesting ways. 

What is your prediction for how the healthcare industry will change in 2021?

“Family Health” will emerge as the next big trend in healthcare. Employers saw the challenges facing working parents head on this year as their children quite literally came into view, along with the realization that the definition of supporting parent employees spans far beyond healthcare for dependents. Well before the pandemic hit, parent employees were pushing for added support, particularly as millennials became parents, and employers can no longer ignore their needs. Just as virtual health was top of mind in 2020, the family health sector will undergo massive growth in 2021 to meet employee demands and support more complex health needs, education and enrichment, and childcare. 

In light of the national conversation that is happening right now, what advice would you offer to healthcare leaders seeking to make a real impact on problems caused by systemic racism?

While we have long borne witness to the systematic violence and oppression experienced by our black teammates, friends, colleagues, and so on, healthcare leaders must actively engage in the process of dismantling racism—starting with ourselves. Racism has long been institutionalized in the healthcare system—data demonstrates that black mothers died at a rate of 3.2 times that of white mothers between 2007 and 2016. Active acknowledgement and engagement at the leadership level is the only path to undoing this devastating trend: create a space for dialogue on racism, train managers and caregivers to recognize their own bias, evolve hiring processes to ensure inclusive hiring, address recruiting and pay equity, and commit to promoting black individuals across all ranks and levels.