This post is overdue by a few days, but it’s been a whirlwind of a year since I joined the VC game with Spark Capital and even more so the last few weeks and months. So I wanted to share with you all on what the present and future holds for me, personally and professionally, starting with a recap of the past.
As most of you know, I finished 3 years of grad school last May 2010 - hard to believe it’s been a year+ since that time of tremendous learning and growth. It was so much fun, after graduation I stayed in the HBS environment by doing research for a few months with Professor Herzlinger around health care reform, bundled & global payments, and ACOs and writing a few HBS cases and notes based off that research. I started at Spark Capital last July 2010 and since then, it’s been quite a ride and I’ve found the experience to be just as enriching and stimulating as my time in grad school. My prior work experiences in the healthcare industry, starting from my undergraduate days conducting telemedicine and teleradiology research at Johns Hopkins Hospital (the #1 hospital in the US for 21 straight years) to healthcare consulting at Towers Perrin to working in corporate finance & strategy at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care (the #1 health plan in America for 7 straight years) has impressed upon me that America’s largest industry is supremely complex, fragmented, and in need of significant change: political, cultural, financial, and technological. At Spark, the team is focused on finding innovative and disruptive companies at the confluence of tech, media and entertainment. This actually is quite a broad charter as everything is impacted by technology these days. Yet within this broad context, each member of the Spark team has their own unique primary passion, be it advertising or financial tech, consumer web, e-commerce, or content discovery. Mine obviously is healthcare. And my time in grad school and at Spark have further validated my passion to do whatever I can to help spur healthcare innovation, and specifically how the convergence of healthcare and technology (web, mobile, and social media) can be used to improve the US healthcare industry and get more Americans engaged with their health. While there are a myriad of opportunities within healthcare to advance this overall cause, I was pleased to find a start-up team, FitOrbit that aims to help improve health through a fitness and diet platform that leverages technology in a meaningful way (web and mobile today, social tomorrow) that Spark funded in December 2010 and where I’ve been actively involved since.
Healthcare from an innovation and VC perspective has always gotten short shrift compared to tech from both those in the know and the general public (for a myriad of reasons) despite healthcare/life sciences more than holding it’s own compared to tech venture investing in the past decade. Regardless, no one can doubt that there is now a flurry of activity at this convergence of health and technology, from both start-ups and investors alike, as my partner and mentor at Spark Todd Dagres had correctly anticipated. There are now healthcare specific incubators popping up (and rightly so) such as Rock Health in San Francisco and Blueprint Health in New York with the mission to help health & tech entrepreneurs grow their ideas into hopefully meaningful companies that will help transform healthcare. But we are just at the beginning - while there has been an increase in activity at this intersection in the past year, I believe it will pale in comparison to what the next five to ten years will see. Historically we’ve seen more healthcare natives (doctors, hospitals, etc.) doing the majority of innovating in this sector. Now there is an influx of traditional tech or entertainment/design entrepreneurs tackling healthcare problems and launching start-ups. In the last two weeks alone I’ve had conversations with two folks who fit this bill - Charles Huang (yes, the other Charles Huang of Guitar Hero social music gaming fame) and Nadeem Kassam (founder and chief alliance officer of Basis). This is a good thing as there is a balance, a yin and yang between technology and healthcare that will ultimately benefit innovation and society overall. I’ve been fortunate to have met quite a few of these entrepreneurs and investors across the country while in grad school, but especially this past year at Spark who share this belief wholeheartedly and are excitedly and willingly engaging in this emerging ecosystem. And yet, healthcare is so vast and broad: there are many opportunities to innovate across the care continuum (general health, i.e. diet & fitness to healthcare delivery & disease management), business models (B2C, B2B, B2B2C), and policy/collaboration perspectives (CMS, FDA, and FCC) for someone to engage in.
As I’ve contemplated the past and present over the past months, two primary considerations for me have been focus (in terms of where I devote my resources, separating the signal(s) from the noise) and personal life or work/life balance. After much contemplation, I’ve decided to focus on my primary passion of healthcare innovation, and specifically this convergence of healthcare and technology. In the short term, this means I will be joining my Spark Capital portfolio company FitOrbit for a few months, to dedicate 110% of my time and energy with the solid management team to plug in and do my part to help grow the company through an exciting phase in the business. The company has seen significant growth since launching it’s innovative service in June 2009, and traction year over year has been amazing thanks to the hard work work of the founders and management team. We expect great things in 2012 for FitOrbit, and while I have helped lay the groundwork for that future success (hopefully, to some small extent) over the past nine months from Boston, I plan to do so much more actively in LA (where FitOrbit is based) and NYC (where my fiancee Christine lives) going forward as this 2nd half of 2011 is an important and exciting stage in the company’s life where we will be rolling out an enhanced site, new features, and starting partnerships with some big companies - an inflection point if you will. While my title is being contemplated (something notional such as VP of Business Development perhaps), those of you who know start-ups know that titles in these early stage companies are somewhat arbitrary as you wear multiple hats and roll up the sleeves to tackle whatever tasks are at hand to help the company grow. Longer term, I’ve been in discussions with a few healthcare dedicated investment firms and organizations who share my passion for health innovation around interesting roles and opportunities for a healthcare geek like me ranging from getting more involved with the TechStars affiliated healthcare accelerator Blueprint Health (where I am already a mentor) in NYC to a few traditional VC/PE firms and also non-traditional investment VC/PE firms. Depending on a few variables, among the important ones are geography (NYC where Christine is now and where I will be in the short term at least vs. CA where Christine is from and my parents now live) and contemplated position within a firm, I plan to formally join one of them full-time later this year or beginning of 2012.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the past 11+ years in Boston, it’s a city that I hold very close to my heart since I have effectively spent my adult life there and hence, really grown up and matured there (and who can beat the sports teams and their success over the past decade?!?!). I am grateful to have many close friends from work, school, sports, and the overall community in Boston and want to thank all those I’ve been fortunate to cross paths with. In particular, I want to thank Todd and the entire Spark Capital team for giving me a platform from which to further refine my hypotheses in the healthcare + technology innovation intersection and for the tremendous first hand learning experience from super knowledgeable guys in the tech, media, and entertainment sectors that have helped color my thinking and approach to healthcare innovation. I plan to be back to Boston regularly in the future, as the start-up ecosystem is a close knit and vibrant one, and there are a myriad of worthwhile events and conferences throughout the year. In the meantime, I look forward to being in NYC more regularly (splitting time onsite with FitOrbit in LA) and further exploring the innovation ecosystem there that I have visited from Boston somewhat regularly over the past year and have found to be very energetic and passionate, particularly the healthcare community. Above and beyond that, I look forward to being in the same city with Christine for the first time in our relationship, at least for the short term and hopefully longer term as we move forward with our personal and professional lives.
That’s it for now… though I have a few goals to also focus on in the short term to share:
- Get a bit healthier in terms of workouts and diet (which have suffered a tad the past years while in grad school in la-la land and then getting up to speed and doing the VC hustle at Spark, as I do have a wedding to get in tip top shape for!)
- Take time regularly to reflect more, on topics of personal and professional interest (I have about 15+ books to read that are piling up on my desk )
- Take time to blog more frequently. To this last endeavor, since over the past few months I’ve spent a lot of time talking with individuals and contemplating my career, I will post a blog later in the week around career considerations (probably geared more to those interested in VC & start-ups). And then I also hope to post a followup blog to my blue pill vs. red pill (start-up vs. MBA) piece on the topic of start-up vs. VC life. You will understand if these posts come out a bit slower than anticipated as I’m finishing this post from my new FitOrbit office in here in LA!
As always, drop a line whenever and hope to catch-up in person with more of you in NYC and LA in the weeks and months ahead!