Hill Ferguson joined Doctor on Demand as CEO in 2016. Venrock’s Bob Kocher talks to Ferguson about his first day on the job and hallmarks of a successful founder to CEO transition, including the delicate balance of fixing problems while preserving what’s already great with the company. Ferguson was on the employee side of this transition in previous roles, and learned the importance of creating an environment where all employees, regardless of position, feel comfortable asking questions. They also discuss Ferguson’s product expertise, and how he views all products as solutions to problems. What products inspire him? Those that help humanity and create economic value while improving people’s lives. Hint: not foie gras delivery. Ferguson also shares the nuances of recruiting doctors for telemedicine and what a good day looks like for Doctor on Demand’s physicians.
Steven Aldrich, Chief Product Officer at GoDaddy, has thrived professionally at both large companies and startups, something Brian Ascher of Venrock notes is unusual during this interview. Aldrich shares lessons startups can learn from more established companies and vice versa, noting that startups often try to be scrappy and do things internally regardless of expertise, while hiring someone with expertise would save them time and money. Conversely, big companies need to encourage experimentation and find ways to maintain the sense of urgency that energizes a team around problem solving. Aldrich says having a growth mindset (Carol Dweck, Mindset) is at the bedrock of how he hires and manages, while fixed mindset folks have no place in Aldrich’s organization. Aldrich also talks about GoDaddy’s famous Super Bowl commercials and what impact they had on the company then and today. Spoiler alert: you will see a new GoDaddy commercial during the upcoming Super Bowl.
Matt Rogers, co-founder of Nest, started his career as an intern at Apple and it was during that first week on the job when he met his co-founder Tony Fadell. While speaking with David Pakman of Venrock, Rogers talks about stretching people to help them grow, why he and Fadell chose to reinvent the thermostat, and why Apple is a breeding ground for entrepreneurs. Nest was going after a market dominated by well-entrenched players, but Rogers says they were prepared for a fight and ultimately these older companies have made it easy for Nest to stay one step ahead. Rogers also recalls a low point in the company’s growth – a product recall – and how they navigated that situation with transparency and continued focus on the whole customer experience. Now a part of Alphabet, Rogers says it’s hard to know what to expect when your company is acquired, but building a good relationship with the acquirer is key. Roger’s kryptonite? Large crowds!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.