Richard Bracken on leadership.
McKinsey’s Insights & Publications: Leading in the 21st century: An interview with HCA CEO Richard Bracken
Richard Bracken on leadership.
McKinsey’s Insights & Publications: Leading in the 21st century: An interview with HCA CEO Richard Bracken
[Saw this on Twitter with no source. Republishing here because it is hilarious. Oh yeah, publishing this is not meant to represent any particular personal political view]
I recently asked my friends’ little girl what she wanted to be when she grows up. She said she wanted to be President of the United States. Both her parents, liberal democrats, were standing there. So I asked her, “if you were President, what you be the first thing you do?” She replied, “I’d give food and houses to all the homeless people.” Her parents beamed.
"Wow…what a worthy goal," I told her. "But you don’t have to wait until you’re President to do that. You can come over to my house and mow the lawn, pull weeds, and sweep my driveway, and I’ll pay you $50. Then I’ll take you over to the grocery store where the homeless guy hangs out, and you can give him the $50 to use toward food and a new house."
She thought that over for a few seconds, then she looked me straight in the eye and asked, “Why doesn’t the homeless guy come over and do the work, and you can just pay him the $50?” I said, “Welcome to the Republican Party.”
Her parents still aren’t speaking to me.
I met Roger Ehrenberg in December 2008 while still a student at Columbia Business School. I had discovered Roger through his blog and met him while serving as president of Columbia’s PEVC club at our annual conference. At the time Roger was a prolific angel investor with nearly 40 portfolio companies. Back in 2008 ‘super angels’ behaved much like today’s seed stage venture capitalists - leading deals, structuring syndicates, taking board seats.
After a few months and numerous annoying emails, Roger agreed to meet me for a lunch at which I proposed how I could bring support and organization to his angel investing as well as serve as an operational and business resource to his portfolio (as I had done previously during an internship with one of his angel investments). Our lunch catalyzed more discussions, eventually leading to contract work where I split my time heading up operations and finance for a company we were incubating as well as helping Roger with his angel investing. I moved to the investment side of the business full time when we launched IA Ventures in early 2010.
When I joined Roger in mid-2009, I could only dream of my month-to-month contract employment turning into a full time venture capital role. At the time, nothing seemed more exciting or appealing in the world. Four and a half years later, I’d be lying if I said the job of venture capitalist is anything but extraordinarily interesting and fun.
And yet, after four and a half life changing years, I’ve decided it is time to move on to my next adventure.
My wife recently gave birth to our second child and first son, Leo Henry. The birth of a child puts things into perspective and offers a unique opportunity to introspect and think about what is important. During my wife’s pregnancy I spent lots of time thinking about the long arc of my career. Since my days as a child, my parents always encouraged me to take the long-term perspective; to make decisions as if they were investments in my future. I’ve tried to live my life this way. My career is a marathon, not a sprint. Each step along the way provides new opportunities to amass skills and capacities; tools in a tool kit to do increasingly more productive and meaningful things.
After long deliberation, and in consultation with my partners, I’ve decided it is time for me to make a move. I’ll be leaving IA at the end of the month and taking some time to spend with my family and newborn son before starting my next opportunity. I am leaving on good terms and will be working closely with my colleagues over the next few weeks to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.
The decision to leave IA, while extremely difficult, came down to my strong desire to gain more line experience as an operator - experience I know I will enjoy immensely and will make me a stronger professional in the long-term. One of the hardest parts of being a VC is knowing that you influence and enable, but you don’t execute and build. I hope to spend the next few years executing and building.
My time at IA has been nothing short of remarkable. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in raising two venture funds, made over 35 initial investments, dozens of follow-on investments, and have served on the boards of nine companies (six as board representative, three as observer) which have raised tens of millions of dollars and employ hundreds of people working towards their goals of changing the world for the better.
I’m forever thankful to Roger, Brad and the entire IA family for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime to learn and grow as a person and professional in profound ways. I am also so incredibly thankful to the amazing entrepreneurs, colleagues and friends with whom I’ve had the privilege to work with over the past four and a half years. Words cannot describe the impact you have had, the lessons you have taught, and the happy moments you have inspired. It has truly been an honor and a pleasure.
And now I look to the future with a little bit of trepidation and a whole lot of excitement…
Why is it ok hate on VCs? Why is it ok to generalize about our motivations, behaviors, and capabilities? Why is it ok to call us dumb?
I am a VC. I love being a VC and am proud to be one.
For some reason, it has become accepted practice in our industry to regularly and voiciforously disparage those of us who have dedicated our lives to supporting entrepreneurship as VCs. I am still new to this industry, but in my short experience I have found the vast majority of my venture colleagues to be some of the smartest, hardest working, most passionate people I’ve ever known. None of them do this because it is the easiest and most efficient way to make the most money. They do it because they are inspired by the work and are dedicated to the mission.
Maybe I’m just fortunate to be a part of a new generation of venture investors. Maybe it’s because I am outside the echo chamber of Sand Hill Road. Or maybe it’s because the experience that I’ve had actually represents the rule, while the exception is the lazy asshole VC who gives us all a bad name. I really don’t know.
What I do know is that I find it incredibly offensive to read vitriolic rhetoric such as that found in Andy Dunn’s post endearingly entitled “Dear Dumb VC”. Sadly, VC hating is en vogue; those who espouse it are sometimes revered as heroes, and VCs who vocally object are sometimes vilified as ignorant, out of touch or worse.
But I do object!
Not to content of the criticisms - many of which are legitimate (see Mark Suster’s comprehensive response) - but to the tone with which it is conveyed and to the simplistic use of generalization that causally disregards the individuals involved.
Being a VC is a great job. I wake up every day and am blessed with the responsibility to interact with brilliant and creative innovators who desperately want to impact the world. I have the opportunity to work with and watch companies grow from nothing more than a dream to a tangible reality. I have a front row seat from which to view the bleeding edge of innovation.
But please, don’t hate me because I my love job.
Succeeding as a VC is incredibly difficult. Any way you slice the data, the fact is that the majority of venture firms underperform. Success in our industry requires a combination of intellect, experience and a boatload of luck. It’s not good enough to invest in a bunch ‘good’ companies; the structural dynamics of the venture business demand that I invest in ‘home runs’ (think half-billion $+ outcomes) in order to generate the 3x+ return on capital that will make make our fund top quartile and provide us with the opportunity to raise new funds and continue as a going concern. With only a few opportunities to invest in companies that have the potential to go from zero to gargantuan, the odds are incredibly stacked against me. This is not a challenge or responsibility easily taken for granted.
Confronting these odds, I work extremely hard, working very closely with eight companies and putting in tremendous effort trying to find the next eight. This is not a part time gig nor does it begin and end with daylight office hours. I do not own a boat nor do I take the month of August off.
So please, don’t hate me as the rich and lazy entitled VC.
I am also self aware of my place in the value chain. I am not the entrepreneur. I am not the innovator and am not the operator. I do not create nor do I build. Therefore, I do not deserve the credit for a company’s success. I am not the hero and world changer; that title belongs to the entrepreneur.
But I am also not useless. I enable with a check book; assist with my own sweat, intellect, experience and relationships; support with extreme honesty and empathy. I do whatever I can, to the best of my ability, to help our companies. Sometimes I succeed in being more helpful than hurtful and sometimes I fail, but I always try my best.
So please, don’t hate me for stealing your credit.
I do what I do because I am obsessed with technology entrepreneurship and have chosen to spend my life to working with people who are building companies that change the world. My lot is tied to these people. I have no reason to apologize for contributing to this effort from my vantage point as a VC because I love what I do, work my ass off, understand my role and appreciate its limitations.
My grandmother used to always remind me that there is always room for improvement. Venture investors both individually and collectively are not immune to this sage truism. Despite our imperfections, it saddens me to have to write a post like this - defending my professional existence against those who view me as dumb and worthless. I hope that collectively we can move beyond such petty slander and engage in respectful discourse.
Years ago I wrote a post entitled Humility and Hubris. I’ll close with quote from it:
We hold ourselves to a higher standard in our industry, the world of early stage entrepreneurship. We come to work every day with unbridled passion and profound sense of purpose - we are changing the world for the better…The entrepreneurship eco-system is blessed with incredibly vibrant and transparent discourse. We are all entitled to strong, well reasoned and experience-informed positions, but let’s focus on making the conversation positive by respectfully expressing opinions, engaging in open-minded dialogue and injecting humility into our interactions.
The world of healthcare is undergoing massive transformation. Powerful mobile devices provide us immediate access to our personal health information as well as the ability to interact directly with our health service providers. An emerging suite of connected hardware is empowering a wave of new ‘smart’ health products that interact with the broader connected network. And data captured from these ‘smart’ devices is being leveraged to enrich user experiences and optimize health outcomes.
With these concepts in mind, I am extremely excited to announce our lead investment in Kinsa. Kinsa sits at the epicenter of the mobile health, connected device and big data megatrends. Kinsa’s overarching mission is to create a real-time map of human health in order to track the spread of communicable disease in real-time and enable interventions to stop it. The Company’s first product is a re-invention of the world’s most widely used medical device: the thermometer.
The Kinsa Smart Thermometer qualitatively changes the way taking your temperature impacts your understanding of your health condition. There are three principal benefits:
Taken together, Kinsa is providing individuals an enriched view of their own health condition as well as the macro health environment with which they interact. In doing so it unlocks a new paradigm for real-time health monitoring with far reaching implications for personal and public health.
Kinsa is presenting at the Mobile DEMO conference today and is launching an IndeiGoGo fundraising campaign to spread awareness and find early adopters interested in being at the forefront of this exciting new paradigm. Please check out their page and support their effort to do well by doing good.
Under the leadership of our awesome community manager intern, Adrian Grant, we are happy to launch our (alpha) startup resource portal. Adrian wrote a nice post describing its intention and vision over on our blog at iaventures.com. I’ve reposted the text here:
Despite the lowered playing field – thanks Moore’s Law, blogs, and open source hard/software - there’s still a gap between freely available tools and what industry professionals utilize. This variance – or arbitrage opportunity if you will – was the impetus behind us spending the last few months creating a Resource portal. In true lean fashion, we’re launching with some basic best practice materials in hopes of expanding and iterating based on your feedback.
But why launch with templates? Well there have been some great discussions around board packages and investor updates. As early-stage investors we too often find ourselves having to do the delicate dance of extracting data from startups without impeding their momentum. In some ways board meetings and investor updates are analogous to a pit stop in racing. Startups are moving hundreds of miles per hour, yet we (investors) ask them to stop once in awhile to refuel and discuss strategy.
While not as exciting as the actual race, entrepreneurs and investors tend to agree that these touch points are a crucial part of performing well. However, issues often arise when investors have entrepreneurs spinning their wheels doing deep dives into their businesses to unearth superfluous reports that don’t have a productive purpose and causes entrepreneurs to lose focus on what’s really important.
So we’ve pieced together some frameworks that we feel represents a nice balance of conveying meaningful information for stakeholders (investors or otherwise) while being simple enough for entrepreneurs to quickly compile. Please note that these are guides, meant to be modified, with items added/removed as needed.
Access to materials is just one side of the coin however, as nothing-quite substitutes for hands-on experience or learning from experienced people. In the past, like most VC’s, we’ve internally shared great articles to enable our portfolio to learn from others in the trenches. These articles have remained siloed, until now. That’s why in addition to best practice materials, the Resource portal also contains a Library of curated articles we think are must-reads for startups aiming to get a leg up on competitors/incumbents.
You can download these resources, along with browsing our curated library of interesting reads at http://resources.iaventures.com/. This is by and for the startup community so we’d love to hear your thoughts. Please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @iaventures.
The Series A Crunch is real.
But while most of the commentary has focused on the past few years of funding ‘bad’ companies, I’ve actually seen a different flavor of this market trend. In fact, I’ve seen a large number of *good* companies, some really good, that have become victims of the Crunch.
Let me upack this a bit.
One of the purported benefits of raising capital from seed focused investors (angels and seed stage VCs) is the implicit flexibility to achieve good outcomes for all constituents with smaller exits (i.e. low-mid 10s of millions of dollars). A consequence of this (intended or otherwise) is that many ‘good’ companies with reasonable pathways to low- to mid- double digit million dollar outcomes were funded over the past few years. I describe these companies as ‘good’ because they generally have smart, thoughtful teams that are solving legitimate pain points for real markets of customers.
The challenge is that while starting a company is less capital intensive than ever, scaling a company still requires lots of coin. As a result, even companies targeting lower range outcomes generally need to raise more than just seed capital to achieve their goals.
And therein lies the structural capitalization problem for many companies recently funded with seed capital. Many of these companies took capital from seed focused investors that lack the capacity to finance the requisite 5-10mm+ of Series A/B capital necessary to bring a product to market and build a company of substantive value. At the same time, these companies that were reasonably attractive to seed investors who were comfortable with lower range outcomes fail to meet the massive market opportunity thresholds that are required by more traditional VC investors.
Unfortunately, structural market realities force many of these companies into a bad situation between a rock and a hard place - they’ve raised capital and have achieved some early product or market traction, but still require more capital to create real value and are boxed out from raising it because of the structural requirements of the traditional venture market.
Does this catch-22 represent an opportunity for new types of liquidity to enter the market and provide critical follow-on financing for companies targeting lower range opportunities?
Maybe. But I’m skeptical that this market dynamic will lead to new pools of capital. There are two major challenges that I see:
The fact of the matter is that investing sizable capital beyond the Seed stage requires a fund of scale (for shits and giggles, let’s say $50mm on the low end, though more realistically it is probably multiples of that #), meaning that these funds need to raise capital from traditional venture LPs. Given the challenges I note above, I have a difficult time imagining experienced LPs allocating capital to new strategies that target lower range market opportunities - the risk/reward and venture math just don’t seem to add up.
So what does this all mean?
Well, I’m not really sure…but I have a few pieces of advice to offer companies in this zone:
My colleague Jesse introduced me to a very cool new company called Silvercar (read more about it here). Silvercar, is building a fleet of ‘smart’ rental cars. It uses your mobile device to identify the renter and unlock the door, personalize the in-car preferences (radio, mapping calender itinerary info to GPS, etc.), streamline the pickup and drop-off process (no waiting in line at stupid rental counter), and automatically make payments (including responsible gas refill charges).
Silvercar is a great example of a wave of emerging innovation that we are seeing penetrating all sorts of old markets with mobile-centric, stream-lined and hyper functional ‘uber-like’ experiences. This wave leverages the hyper-connectivity of physical things and affords a simple, efficient and intelligent user experience through the mobile device (as well as through the desktop, though less interestingly and probably less functionally important).
What I love about this type of innovation is how it transcends the purely digital world and literally touches our physical lives - we rent cars, we monitor the health of our body, we adjust the temperature in our homes. This trend lies at the intersection of extreme mobile connectivity and the promise of “Internet of Things”; a world in which our physical objects are “smart” - not only capturing, analyzing and responding to data, but also connecting to one another accepting input from other connected objects and transmitting output back to the connected network.
Incredibly enough, this is no longer the future, but the world we now live in today.
Quick poll -
What everyday physical, real-world experiences would like to see improved w/uber-like simplicity and efficiency leveraging our mobile devices?