Category Archives: Insights

Running Through Walls: Fail Quickly

Founded as Microbia to explore and develop antifungal and antibacterial drugs, Ironwood Pharmaceuticals now has two drugs on the market helping patients with IBS and Gout. After nearly 20 years and many different approaches and targets, founder and CEO Peter Hecht tells Venrock’s Bryan Roberts that he is proud of the failures along the way as the end goal was always to build an enduring pharmaceutical company. The key is to kill programs that aren’t working early and not let them go too long – research is cheap, development is hard. Hecht also talks about managing people when you have a moving target. You have to have great people with the right skill sets and you have to help people who don’t have the right experience move on to a new challenge. Hecht’s superpower? Knowing what he doesn’t know. Though Roberts thinks it is Hecht’s ability to attract a variety of assets – people, ideas, capital…

Running Through Walls: Priority One: People Matters

Gio Colella, co-founder of RelayHealth and Castlight Health, speaks with Bryan Roberts at Venrock about starting companies and the importance of surrounding yourself with amazing people. Colella advises other entrepreneurs to find partners you can trust, who are very different from you, and who are aligned with the vision for the company. Colella and Roberts also talk about the early days of Castlight and the iterative process that revealed the foundation of the company, as well as the challenges related to managing through the highs and lows as a public company. They also talk about what made RelayHealth’s acquisition by McKesson so successful, in a world where M&A horror stories are rampant. Colella immigrated to the US from Italy and left his psychiatry practice to answer the call of entrepreneurship.

Running Through Walls: Data Driven Healthcare

Farzad Mostashari, founder and CEO of Aledade, speaks with Bob Kocher at Venrock about bringing a data-driven approach to solving problems and the importance of knowing the question you want to answer, so you can apply the appropriate analysis. Mostashari, who went to medical school, knew quickly that he would not pursue a traditional career as a physician. In medical school he was an outlier, asking questions about population/public health, and then during his residency was mostly curious about the systems, so it’s no surprise that Mostashari went on to hold positions with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, New York City Department of Health and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Despite loving government service, Mostashari saw an opportunity to improve healthcare through Accountable Care Organizations, that would be better for patients, better for doctors and better for society. And in 2014 Aledade was born.

Running Through Walls: Building A Cancer Killer

Sam Mazin, Founder and CEO of RefleXion Medical, speaks with Colin Cahill at Venrock about managing a big project with a lean budget, raising money, and communicating an evolving and complex vision. They explore the evolution of RefleXion’s addressable market as clinical data showed better results than the standard of care, and what that means for some cancer patients. Sam and Colin also talked about learning to manage “on the job” and how you manage people who have more experience. Sam’s research as a postdoc at Stanford led to the idea of combining radiotherapy with PET imaging, and RefleXion Medical was born.

A Q&A with David Pakman

Before David Pakman joined Venrock’s New York office in 2008, he spent 12 years as an Internet entrepreneur heading up eMusic and Apple Music Group. Having been a founder himself, David became a venture capitalist to partner with entrepreneurs and help them achieve their dreams of world domination.

We asked David a couple of questions to get to know him better.

Q: Music has always been a big part of your life. When are you going on tour? Ok, seriously though. What role does music play in your life today?

Music has been the pulse of my life. It has been ever-present since I was a kid. I listen every day, think about song structure, and dream of being an actual songwriter. I bang on my drums to get rid of life’s tensions and I DJ from time to time to see if I can make people dance and feel the intensity I feel. Lately, I am starting to see some of this present in my kids, and it is fascinating to see music affecting them in somewhat similar ways. For me, music expresses the complexities of emotions in ways words cannot.

Q: What led you to venture capital?

From my earliest days of working in the Valley, many of my mentors followed the path of big company -> startups -> VC. That path became somewhat burned into my career trajectory, so I followed it. I am glad I did, because I love it. I love working with entrepreneurs more talented than I was, and helping them avoid the many pitfalls I saw up close. I also like helping them get as close as possible to their dreams of grand success.

Q: You see hundreds of business plans and pitches every year. What makes an entrepreneur or idea stand out?

Supreme ambition. One cannot be successful without it. Everything big starts with big ambition, and it’s exciting to find founders who are dreaming big.

Q: What industries are ripe for disruption?

Every industry is vulnerable at this point in the tech cycle, but in particular, industries who don’t have direct relationships with their customers and in for a doozy. They lack the data and customer knowledge to feed into machine learning systems which produce insights and product features not possible before.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

The fear of never finding another great deal.

Q: In other interviews, you’ve talked about using Twitter as a way to join in conversations with tech leaders. Aside from you, whom should we be following? 

Ahh there are so many great folks on Twitter! Let’s see… I think Maya Kosoff (@mekosoff) at VanityFair is brilliantly sarcastic and also in touch with millennial consumer activity. I follow Matt Blaze (@mattblaze) from Penn to learn the truth about InfoSec, Jean-Louis Gassée (@gassee) my old colleague from Apple to help me understand the big tech companies’ moves, @YouNow to learn who the best new livestreamers to are, and @savedyouaclick and @mikeisaac because they crack me up.


Running Through Walls: No Straight Shots in FinTech

Ryan Gilbert, co-founder of SmartBiz Loans, speaks with Brian Ascher of Venrock about building a fintech company and what went wrong along the way. The company mastered the art of pivoting and ultimately found its niche in small business loans. Gilbert advises new fintech entrepreneurs to partner with large banks rather than focusing on disruption, as banks have started to embrace new technology. A catch-phrase master, Gilbert wonders where truly novel technology can be found in the finance industry – where is the tech, in fintech? They also discuss the war for talent, giving non-obvious candidates a shot and promoting loyalty. Gilbert also talks about becoming a VC and what has surprised him most about his new role.

Running Through Walls: Genetic Truths, No Veneers

Anne Wojcicki, founder of 23andMe, speaks with Bob Kocher of Venrock about her path to entrepreneurship, the importance of authenticity and health as the ultimate equalizer of humanity. Wojcicki was dismayed by the lack of transparency in healthcare, which led the company to sell direct to consumers and empower them with information to get the care they want. In addition to understanding how their genetic information impacts their health, 23andMe has allowed people to engage with their genetic information to understand where they come from. Ancestry has been an addictive component of the product for consumers as people are often surprised to find that their roots and connections may not be exactly what they thought. Long lost cousin? Mostly, Wojcicki loves the honesty in healthcare.

Running Through Walls: The Serial Entrepreneur

Kevin Ryan, co-founder of DoubleClick, MongoDB, Business Insider, and Gilt Groupe (among others), speaks with Nick Beim at Venrock about building teams and what to look for in a VC. Ryan advocates taking risks as an entrepreneur, even if it leads to a failure or two. You can learn a lot from unsuccessful ventures and it prepares you for the next thing. They also discuss how entrepreneurial optimism is essential as there will always be rejection and bumps along the way, but it can also cloud judgement when it comes to an exit opportunity. Overconfidence may make you want to pass up a good deal when it comes along. Ultimately, you have to have fun. It’s what keeps you going.

Running Through Walls: Healthcare. It’s Complicated.

Blue Shield of California (BSCA) CEO Paul Markovich speaks with Bob Kocher at Venrock about bringing the healthcare system out of the stone age and the opportunities for entrepreneurs to bring much needed change to the industry. They talk about how Paul’s career path led him to healthcare, how he fosters an open environment that welcomes feedback and what BSCA is doing to create new efficiencies through a collaboration with Anthem Blue Cross, called Cal INDEX. They also discuss “what insurance companies actually do” and who is making money in healthcare. Paul is currently president and CEO of BSCA, a four million-member nonprofit health plan. Their mission is to ensure Californians’ access to high-quality healthcare at an affordable price. Paul was previously an entrepreneur, having cofounded MyWayHealth, a consumer-driven health plan.

Running Through Walls: Managing Diversity at Pinterest

Candice Morgan, Head of Diversity at Pinterest, speaks with Venrock’s Richard Kerby about her experience so far balancing recruitment and retention of diverse candidates at Pinterest, and challenges of recruiting in San Francisco in particular. They also discuss the less sexy side of diversity initiatives that are rarely covered in the media, and Morgan shares experiences from earlier in her career of executives not being supportive of diversity efforts. She also highlights the Rooney-rule like requirement at Pinterest that promotes hiring underrepresented minorities and women in leadership roles. Candice is currently Head of Diversity at Pinterest, leading strategy and programs to enhance a diverse and inclusive company. She is a frequent speaker at global conferences and events. Formerly, Candice was a Senior Director in Consulting Services at Catalyst, the leading nonprofit for research, advisory, and practices on women in business.