Jun 3, 2015 · 4 minutes

Growing up in Concord, New Hampshire, TJ Parker kind of figured that he would end up one day running the family pharmacy business.

Parker filled various roles for the pharmacy his father ran, working behind the counter or delivering medications to nursing homes and assisted living facilities. He even color-coded one customer's pill bottles so that she knew which time of the day to take each medication. So it was quite natural that TJ Parker would go on to the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences to follow in the footsteps of his father.

However, a few unexpected things happened along the way that eventually led to the formation of pill packaging startup PillPack, which announced today that it has received $50 million in new funding.

At one point, TJ's father's pharmacy, which filled and organized drug orders for nursing homes and long term care facilities, grew so big that it was servicing clients throughout the state and had its own fleet of delivery drivers. To ease the pill organizing process, his father had imported a special pill sorting "robot" from Japan to automate the sorting of medication for his nursing home-geared business.

"I watched that grow, and when I realized that I could couple that with everything I had learned about design, that's what became PillPack," Parker explained. "In hindsight that was a very clear trajectory."

The education in design that Parker refers to occurred at the Mass College of Art, which was a neighbor to MCPHS, the pharmacy college that he attended in Boston. As he explained it, the courses at Mass Pharma were a bit dull so his interest in design led him to study everything from architecture to fashion design and eventually software. That's right, Parker, who now runs one of the fastest growing pharm startups in the world at one point studied fashion. "I learned how to make a really nice bodice, which was cool," he explained, "but I didn't make it through the second semester where I would have learned how to make jeans and a sweatshirt, which would have been really useful."

When I asked where the design sensibilities for PillPack came from, Parker responded by chuckling out, "Umm, the bowels of the Internet."

"I just started going down all these rabbit holes on how things were designed and their histories," he added. "I just started drilling myself on all these different approaches to design, I mean pharmacy school was sooo boring."

If I haven't said it before, I'll say it now. TJ Parker is VERY eclectic. He's not your prototypical startup founder. Not only does he have a dry, wicked sense of humor that I imagine Bill Murray would have been like if he grew up in the North Woods, but he seems like he would be as well-suited working on a lobster boat in Maine or a beer brewery in Vermont as he is in a pharma tech company outside of Boston in Somerville.

Parker's non-pharmaceutical interests also led him away from the Mass Pharma/MassART section of Boston and across the Charles River to Cambridge, where he met his eventual PillPack co-founder. Somehow, he got involved in the prestigious MIT's $100K Entrepreneurship Competition. He didn't enter MIT, he just kind of found a back door to connect with the budding entrepreneurs and technologists at the school. "I just kinda snuck in," Parker said. "They had this form that said, 'Fill this out to help run the $100K,' and so I did and just showed up. They asked if I went to school there, and when I said no, they were just kind of like, 'OK, whatever'...MIT's kinda good about that stuff, so I just kind of tagged along for a couple of years."

Through the competition, Parker met Elliot Cohen, an MIT student, and the two founded PillPack in 2013. After first building the company at design firm IDEO and then TechStars Boston, the company officially launched its product last its service nationally in February 2014.

What makes PillPack unique, and, quite frankly a threat to pharmacy giants like CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, and even Walmart, is that it's use of technology and design is truly — and to again use a well-worn word — disruptive. Now operating in 47 states, the company organizes specific packs of pills by the time they need to be taken or how they need to be consumed (ie., with food), for individuals who have multiple medication needs.

PillPack not only organizes medications schedules for its users, but its software also analyzes and searches for any potential dangers that come with combining various drugs.

With a fresh $50 million from a round led by CRV along with previous investors Accel Partners, Menlo Ventures, FKA Atlas, and Sherpa Ventures, the company has now raised $62 million. The company plans to use the new funding to launch both a mobile app as well as some brick and mortar stores in multiple cities.

Expanding to storefronts seems like an odd move for a company whose mission is basically to upend what we think of the modern pharmacy. But it doesn't when considering Parker's family roots as a small business in the industry. It actually makes a lot of sense that a kid who use to be the neighborhood pharmacist's helper is now building a company that has its sights set on taking down CVS, Walgreens, and others.

After our interview, I asked Parker if building a potential billion dollar pharmacy brand was what he imagined he'd be doing back in the days of manually color-coding pill bottles. "Actually, I thought I'd be running a small pharmacy in some little New Hampshire town," he said.

"But this is a bit more fun, and an awful lot more exciting."

[illustration by Brad Jonas]