Guillaume Cohen-Skalli first became intrigued about finding a solution to the world’s under-the-radar hypothyroidism problem after watching a close friend struggle through multiple misdiagnoses of the disease—a struggle that lasted years. His friend met with five different doctors while seeking help for depression. They all basically told him the same thing: Go see a psychiatrist.
Due to his debilitating depression, his friend lost his job, then his visa, and was eventually forced to move back to Europe. Only then was he finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, fatigue, depression, dry skin, unusual periods, constipation, and exhaustion. The disease affects 5 percent of the world’s population, with estimates putting an additional 5 percent undiagnosed.
“When he called to let me know the news of his diagnosis, I went online to do some research, and I just couldn’t believe the numbers I was seeing on Google,” says Cohen-Skalli, whose background was in venture capitalism. “Things like ‘25 million people diagnosed,’ ‘the most prescribed drug in the world,’ ‘the most prescribed drug in the United States,’ and ‘130 million prescriptions being filled every single year’ in the United States. I just couldn’t believe all of that.”
So he did what any good venture capitalist would do: He quit his job and got to work on addressing the problem by cofounding Paloma Health, an online company singularly centered on treating hypothyroidism.
“Now, we are helping tens of thousands of patients, so it’s great. It’s extremely rewarding.”
“We’re very lucky to be the only company focusing on hypothyroidism,” Cohen-Skalli says. “It’s crazy when you compare diabetes, for example, with hypothyroidism. The markets are different in terms of size, but what’s interesting is there are hundreds of companies focused on diabetes, and we’re the only one focused on hypothyroidism. We have this unique first-mover advantage that we don’t want to lose—that we want to leverage to become the category leader for this condition that is impacting so many patients with so many symptoms.”
He adds, “Now, we are helping tens of thousands of patients, so it’s great. It’s extremely rewarding.”
Today, Cohen-Skalli, serves as CEO of Paloma Health. By keeping hypothyroidism treatment as the center of its attention, Paloma Health is moving toward its goals of providing increased access to improved care while continuing to change the lives of its patients for the better. We had the chance to meet with Cohen-Skalli and his cofounder, Marina Tarasova, COO, to discuss his goals in founding Paloma Health, his professional background, the skills he brings to healthcare, and his plans for the future.
“It’s the combination of three approaches together in one full-stack solution that is revolutionizing hypothyroidism care.”
Paloma Health’s Mission is straightforward: to become the category leader in thyroid care.
“It’s a $35 billion-a-year industry, and only 6 percent of people are currently satisfied with their care,” says Tarasova, who brings 20 years experience in healthcare-related business development and marketing to her role as COO. “We’re building the company that’s going to be known for thyroid care leadership around the country.”
Building Paloma Health into that lofty leadership position requires a multipronged approach. Patients purchase a thyroid blood test kit, ship in the sample, and receive personalized results within one week. Patients access and manage their results from a secure online account, and the results can be downloaded and shared with their individual doctor or healthcare provider.
Paloma Health also offers video visits with thyroid doctors to go over the results or any aspect of thyroid care, including prescriptions or supplement suggestions to address their individual condition.
“When we look at hypothyroidism right now in the United States, it’s lacking two things,” Cohen-Skalli says. “The first is doctors, because there are huge shortages of doctors across different specialties—and that’s especially the case for endocrinologists. So access to care is a big issue. The second big issue is more around the current standard of care: how we can address hypothyroidism. Believe it or not, lifestyle changes are not even part of the current standard of care.”
Cohen-Skalli says that is why Paloma Health is seeking to provide better access to care and better quality of care by combining lifestyle changes with medical care and chronic condition management tools.
“It’s the combination of those three approaches together in one full-stack solution that is revolutionizing hypothyroidism care,” he says.
“I very quickly decided that is not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Cohen-Skalli’s path to Paloma Health wasn’t direct. He started his professional career as an investment banker in London in 2008. But investment banking didn’t hold his interest.
“I very quickly decided that is not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he says, noting that he moved back to France and started his own company.
The first company he started, Smap In, was in the digital realm and worked with big data aggregators like Groupon and LivingSocial. That business was acquired two years later by a company from Denmark, but Cohen-Skalli parlayed his burgeoning experience into a location-based mobile advertising network called Admoove.
“At Smap In, I realized many media agencies and retailers were reaching out to us to publish coupons and discounts on our platform,” he says. “And so I was like, ‘Maybe there is something we need to do there because they clearly are looking for solutions to advertise their promotions.’”
Cohen-Skalli’s wife is half-French, half-American, and they’d always talked about moving to New York and finally did so in 2015 to focus on his venture capital career. He was a partner at Interplay Ventures for two and a half years before starting Paloma Health in 2018.
“Building is my thing,” he says.
“Humility is, by far, the most important skill in today’s world when it comes to being a great leader.”
When asked to name her cofounder’s top leadership skill, Tarasova immediately cited his creativity.
“Guillaume has many leadership skills, but one I think that’s worth highlighting is his creativity. And that translates to all things,” she says.
Pinpointing one aspect of his creative tendencies, Tarasova said Cohen-Skalli is an outstanding designer, having built Paloma’s brand. That creativity also extends to his ability to use the company’s resources in unique ways and makes him a skilled negotiator on deals where all sides get more out of the arrangement.
“He’s been a great negotiator and builder of relationships for Paloma, and he’s a creative leader too,” she says. “As a startup, you have to be nimble and scrappy with fewer resources than you would otherwise. And Guillaume’s creativity has really helped us thrive and grow into a wonderful company that helps people get better care. It’s been a pleasure working with and learning from him.”
For his part, Cohen-Skalli sees humility as his greatest leadership asset.
“What I’m obsessed with is being humble,” he says, “because you have a team and you need to help them understand that what they’re doing is important. And so you need to listen to them. You need to show them that what they’re doing is awesome.”
Cohen-Skalli says his leadership style is conditioned to drive teamwork. With all the issues people are facing in today’s world, he likens good leaders to health coaches with their ability to build morale and boost good vibes.
“Being humble, listening, and rewarding the people who are doing their job” are the attributes of a good leader, he says. “Humility is, by far, the most important skill in today’s world when it comes to being a great leader.”
“You have passion, and especially when your company is focused on a mission—things like improving people’s lives, improving their health—it makes everything easier.”
Cohen-Skalli’s vision for Paloma Health in the next few years is to continue keeping a laser focus on treating hypothyroidism and improving outcomes for patients.
“Maybe in the future we’ll start looking at other metabolic health conditions,” he says. “But for now, we think our focus is a key success factor for us. Because we are so focused that we can, as a direct-to-consumer company, get those patients so they can trust our treatment plans and our doctors. We think that’s working great for us, so we don’t want to change that for now.”
Knowing that Paloma’s plan is working and making a difference in people’s lives is the driving force that keeps him going through his grueling weekday grind.
“It’s really not that hard when you love what you do,” he says. “You have passion, and especially when your company is focused on a mission—things like improving people’s lives, improving their health—it makes everything easier. That’s what I love about what we do: really being able to help patients. Then the work and the motivation just come with it.”
And his friend who was finally diagnosed with hypothyroidism after years of depression? The one that started Cohen-Skalli on his whole Paloma Health journey? What became of him?
“He’s feeling much better,” Cohen-Skalli says. “It took him some time to get on the right medication, and, that’s exactly what we do at Paloma Health. His example is everything we try to fix—from people not having a diagnosis in time to people finding the right treatment and finding the right plan to feel better.”