Posted by Emily Leinbach on October 22nd, 2020
Let’s address the elephants in the room: How do you hire executives, build world-class leadership teams, and invest remotely during a pandemic?
In today’s market, growth is achieved through very different means. Investors are making funding decisions without ever meeting founders in person. Leadership teams are courting new executives over virtual tours of the office and remote Happy Hours. In spite of it all, investors and founders are persevering and blazing new paths to achieve their goals all remotely—but how…and at what cost?
In this virtual panel, you’ll hear from a chief operator, a chief executive, an investor, and an executive search partner as they discuss how to achieve scalable growth despite today’s tumultuous environment. In this moderated discussion, our panelists dig into:
- How CEOs and founders are building high-performing, happy teams during a pandemic
- What investors are doing to deploy capital and manage their portfolio companies
- What remote executive hiring is really like during a pandemic
Josh Gottlieb, Managing Director, Digital Health at The Bowdoin Group led the virtual panel, which included Felicity Yost, Co-Founder and Chief Product & Operating Officer at Tia, the developer of a network of digital wellness apps, clinics, and telehealth services designed to treat women’s health, who shares insights from her experience raising $24M in May and scaling a HealthTech startup during the pandemic; Russell Glass, Chief Executive Officer at Ginger, a Bessemer Venture Partners portfolio company and telemental health provider, speaks to how he has run his company throughout COVID and has managed a distributed leadership team; and Morgan Cheatham, an investor at Bessemer Venture Partners, shares what it’s like to invest in and work with companies without meeting them in person.
Check out the recording below:
If you’re more of a reader, check out the transcript of the virtual panel below:
JOSH GOTTLIEB: Thanks for joining us today. I am Josh Gottlieb. I am the managing director and co-head of Digital Health Practice within the Bowdoin Group. For those of you that don’t know the Bowdoin Group, we are an executive search firm. We work with high growth and disruptive companies in three main spaces; in the healthcare space, both in digital health and biotech, in the enterprise software space, as well as the FinTech space. And what we do functionally for our clients is help them with executive search across the C-suite. We help them with strategic hires, and we also help them with team expansions. So, with that, I’ll toss it over to our esteemed panelists here to introduce themselves and their companies. And by—or on my screen, I have Russ, Morgan, and then Felicity. So, Russ, I’ll turn it over to you.
RUSS GLASS: Thanks for having me. I’m Russ Glass, the CEO of Ginger. Multiple time entrepreneur, have founded or been a part of founding five companies now. My last one was a company called Bizo in the B2B data space that we sold a LinkedIn and I ran the marketing solutions business at LinkedIn for three years. And Ginger now is an on-demand mental health system. We are trying to solve the supply demand imbalance in mental health where there are far more people who need care than can get access to it. And we specifically help companies provide much better access 24/7, 365 days a year to their employees to make sure that they’re performing at their best and managing any mental health conditions that they have. Thanks for having me.
JOSH: Thanks, Russ. Morgan?
MORGAN CHEATHAM: Thanks for having me as well, Josh, and team. My name is Morgan Cheatham. I’m an investor with Bessemer Venture Partners on the healthcare team. By way of background Bessemer is a large global venture capital firm. We’ve actually been investing in innovation for over 100 years and are doing that across industries from FinTech to healthcare to even space tech these days. My core focus, as I mentioned, is healthcare. And I’m excited to talk a little bit more about how we’re supporting our companies and executives through this interesting time.
JOSH: Thanks, Morgan. And Felicity.
FELICITY YOST: Hi, I’m Felicity Yost. I’m the Chief Product and Operating Officer at Tia. Tia is a new innovative women’s health care company that’s seeking to change the way that women can find and access health care, really rethinking how we think about the health care model for the female patient, specifically, integrating primary care and gynecology under one roof and wrapping around all the other services that women are seeking and traditionally have to go outside of the healthcare system to find, and also outside of the traditional payer system or insurance. So Tia is wrapping all of that up into one suite of products and services to serve the patient better.
JOSH: Thanks, Felicity. So I’m going to start with some questions. Russ and Felicity, as operators—So everyone’s been struggling through things to a degree this year with everything going on in the world. I was wondering, what have you done to keep your team together and moving in the right direction right now, amidst everything going on? And Felicity, why don’t we start with you?
FELICITY: Yeah, so I think one of the most important things that we’ve had to really focus on is figuring out how to scale culture virtually. Right, literally right as COVID hit on March 17, we closed our Series A. So with that came the onslaught of hires. We’ve more than doubled our company since you know, the end of Q1 and have had to figure out how to integrate all these new types of people from various backgrounds in the tech industry, in the healthcare industry, under one new cultural dynamic, all virtually. It’s been quite the interesting ride.
But we’ve invested a lot in actually just doing weekly team building sessions around our culture and our principles. So, we have a culture deck that outlines kind of our main cultural values, and then kind of a ways of working or ways of manifesting those specific principles. And then we do working sessions weekly with our team to try to bring those to life and talk about issues that people are encountering, virtually specifically and in kind of manifesting those. And that’s been a specific effort to build on top of some of the more traditional notions that employees have, like culture is the, you know, happy hour over Zoom or culture is like me getting a cool sweatshirt. And we really want to kind of move away from that into more of a day to day practice on kind of how are we working together and how did those interactions build a culture.
JOSH: Thanks, Felicity. How about you, Russ?
RUSS: Yeah, you know, the times like this where I think the area where people struggle is that there’s just so much uncertainty. It raises the level of, you know, uncertainty at home, in the workplace, financial uncertainty, election uncertainty. So, there’s all this uncertainty going on. And, you know, we have found that focusing one, on transparent communication, and consistent communication is critically important. So we’ve elevated the amount of communication we’re doing to at least weekly on how are we thinking about the world. You know, what is our point of view in perspective? And this is on top of sort of the all hands that we do every week anyway, virtually now, obviously.
I think two, is a focus on planning. Where, you know, it’s easy to go into a time like this, and just kind of continue to plow through. But the truth is, assumptions need to change. Right? And some are going to go one direction, some are going to go another direction. And they’re going to change more often. So an agile mindset, on, we’re not sure where this is all going yet. Let’s, you know, on a periodic basis, continue to look at where we are. Let’s make sure that we’re making adjustments to our plans. And we’re communicating consistently on to the company that this is the latest we see. There’s uncertainty, here’s what we’re doing based on that. I think is very important. So that people feel like you’re—you’re paying attention to these changes, and you’re transparently communicating that to them.
And then the final thing I would say is just focus on sustainability. I think we all as leaders have to recognize that we are not operating at 100% right now. Because of all of the other demands that a global pandemic puts on your—on your mental health, on your family life, etc. And, so, you know, we are, we are thinking about the company with sustainability in mind. So, we’ve changed OKR, objectives and key results, we’ve changed those so that they’re no longer stretch OKR’s. We want people to come to us with, here’s what I think I can actually do. And let’s not worry about stretch goals right now. We are giving one Friday, a month off to the company to go just reset, do family stuff, feel like they have a true Mental Health Day, because even though we have unlimited vacation, people aren’t taking it, because they don’t really have anywhere to go. Right? So we’re trying to force that issue. We’re also doing no internal meetings on Fridays, any longer. We’re trying to keep people from overloading themselves with meetings. We are matching childcare dollars right now so that we can help parents manage what’s going on in virtual learning world. So thinking about sustainability, as we’re gonna get through this period, let’s make sure we take care of our people and come out of it stronger than we went into it.
JOSH: That’s awesome. I love the no internal meetings on Friday rule. I think that’s something that a lot of organizations could take. Felicity, you mentioned something around—so you’ve more than doubled your team since Q1. So, I’m wondering, have your hiring strategies changed over the course of, you know, the last call it year or so? And then how do you how do you think about building your team when, I know your company is essentially bi-costal, and you’re doubling your team, you’re doubling your company all in the midst of everyone being remote?
FELICITY: Yeah. It’s funny. When COVID first started, and we had this huge hiring plan that we had to go execute, my co-founder and I said, “Oh, there’s no way we would hire an exact into our team virtually. Like we have to meet that person in real life. That’s crazy.” And obviously COVID stretched on and we weren’t able to uphold that. And so, we’ve had to get really creative around how do we spend time with somebody and get to know them in kind of a dynamic sense. And so, we’ve really stretched the way that we think about interviews and exposure across our team. And we do—we’ve always had kind of a case study dominant interview process, but we’ve actually brought, especially more senior people into the fold through working sessions and really problem solving. But not just with kind of, you know, the team that they would be working with, but specifically across the organization to get a lot of exposure and a lot of sense of what is it going to be like to work in this dynamic and with these different disciplines. Because that’s another kind of tricky part about digital health companies is you’re trying to marry people from healthcare backgrounds into people from technology backgrounds, and somewhere in between. And so there tends to be a lot of, I don’t want to call it friction, but definitely like morphing of the mind to kind of meet where the others are. And so, we’ve invested a lot in trying to get our especially kind of more senior team members to understand what that would feel like for them virtually, in particular.
JOSH: It’s very interesting—obviously in our world of being an executive search firm. We’ve had to work with a lot of companies and figure out how do they go about, you know, managing the hiring process, when, you know, we’ve had multiple CEO hires over the course of the last several months, and trying to make sure there’s comfort around hiring that person, while also understanding the world that we’re living in. And we’ve had companies do creative things like socially distant walks in the park or having just socially distant meetings outside where everyone sort of feels comfortable. And obviously, you have to manage everyone’s risk tolerance. Then sort of after that hiring process happens, where we have less influence and less experience is of—so how do you onboard those people. So you’ve now hired people, you’ve got them through this process remotely. And then you get to this point of, oh, gosh, we’ve got to get this person ramped up. They’re not spending every day with every, you know, other member of the team. So, plus, I know, you mentioned that, and Russ, I don’t know, to the extent that you all have hired folks, I’m sure you have over the course of the last seven months or so. But wondering how you all have all managed through, you know, that process of getting people on boarded into your company.
RUSS: We are fortunate in that we were 60% remote prior to the pandemic. So, in some ways, we had the motion built already for hiring remotely and managing that. The big difference is, we would have those people come spend some time in headquarters to get a little more, you know, culturally sensitive and meet some of the people at headquarters. So now, you know, that is different. But otherwise, we have a pretty consistent process, once a month, we have a cohort that we put through new hire orientation. That’s a two day process that involves every exec of the company. So I kick off the day, you know, with our co-founder, we go through vision, values, history, and get people understanding how we think about culture, and how we think about our values and why those exists and why they’re so important. And then they get a chance to spend the rest of those two days with both leaders across the organization, get to meet them hear how those leaders are thinking about their different areas, ask questions, and just build both that cohort knowledge, who else being hired at the same time, as well as the knowledge of who’s running these operations and organization, so they can, you know, put faces with names and whatnot. We then match them with a buddy, which is a new thing during this period. And that idea of the buddy is to try to create that cultural connection that you don’t have right now. So, someone you can always reach out to, ask questions of, they can make introductions to make that more seamless. And that’s been a very effective mechanism for us to manage some of this during this period.
FELICITY: We actually launched something similar. And we found it incredibly important for our care providers, in particular, during virtual care delivery. Whereas before our care providers would shadow for about two weeks before they ever even launched into seeing their first patient. So we had to replicate that because so much of the Tia experiences about kind of the way that the provider makes the patient feel in the room. And so it’s been really interesting to be able to kind of support that and enable the new hires to Zoo- follow our providers around and they’ve loved it. It’s actually somewhat easier, in some ways, in a virtual world to shadow because you’re not like in the way physically. And they—yeah, they’ve really liked that as well.
JOSH: So, before, Morgan, I’ve got a question for you. But before I do that, I’d like just put out a poll to the group here around funding. So, I’d like to just get an understanding of how many of you all have raised capital since the start of COVID-19? We’ll give everyone a second here to answer this one. And while we’re doing that, Morgan, maybe I’ll start with you. So, in terms of, so I think Felicity and Russ have shared some really interesting insight from an operator’s point of view. From an investor’s point of view, have you seen your companies, your portfolio companies do anything differently in terms of either culture, or how they’re hiring their teams and how they’re thinking about that strategically?
MORGAN: It’s a great question. And seeing that Ginger is a Bessemer portfolio company, I would underscore everything that Russ said around transparency and communication. You know, we’ve seen our executives, not only, you know, from the executive team level up to the board, but really down to all of the functional area leaders really double down on, you know, transparent communication. And that takes many forms. Right? You know, making sure that, you know, your sales leader has the tools to support folks who are no longer traveling and are having to, you know, sell over Zoom, making sure engineering leaders have, you know, stand up tools and infrastructure to really make sure engineers are feeling engaged and on boarded. So, we’ve seen folks really, really emphasize those two values.
I also say that I’m on the hiring side, in this world where folks are learning about new opportunities online, employer brand has never really mattered more. And so to underscore some of the benefits that Felicity was talking about, many of our companies are thinking how they can innovate on the benefits side, whether it be, you know, allocating that travel budget to an at home stipend, or, you know, taking that Friday lunch and allowing people order Seamless, but those little touches go a really long way when making folks feel like they’re a part of something. And so we’ve been excited to see companies engaging in different models of those kinds.
JOSH: Felicity and Russ, around the branding and benefit side, Russ, I heard you say before, right, the no meetings on Fridays, and sounds like you have done some things a little bit—are there any specific things that you could share that might be ideas for other people around what you’ve done from changing your benefits around or focusing on your branding? Because the surprising thing that I’ve seen in this market, despite the fact that we’re in this pandemic world, and you hear lots of just sort of negative things macro about, you know, the unemployment within our space, at least in digital health, there seems to be—it seems to be as hot as ever. So I’m curious from both of your perspectives.
RUSS: Sure, you know, we, I mean, obviously, being an on-demand mental health system, during a pandemic, you’re going to have increased demand. So we’ve seen that. And we’ve, at the same time, seen that it can be tricky, because you’ve got care providers, coaches, therapists, psychiatrists who are all dealing with the same stuff the rest of us are dealing with. Whether it be children at home virtual learning, whether it be financial pressures, because maybe a spouse lost a job or has reduced income, or just the loneliness that we’re all facing right now by being isolated, and having them to provide care to others. Without all the answers, by the way, it’s tough. It’s a hard thing to turn around and do.
And so we thought about this in a couple of different ways. I wouldn’t say we have all the answers by any stretch, but you know, one of the things we’ve done is reduced capacity per head. So, we’ve said, “Look, during this period of time, we’re going to make our capacity planning at 70% levels so that we have time for our providers to recharge and manage their own worlds.” And, you know, even that can be tough at times. We have some providers that just have huge panels. And, you know, we have to be super careful about them hitting burnout levels.
We are—I mentioned the childcare match. So, providing some help to parents to be able to manage, you know, needing some care providers for virtual learning while they’re working. That we did largely because we’re worried about losing a great talent that just can’t do both. You know, it’s not that they don’t want to be here. But if their children can’t learn right now, and they have to balance that, you know, they have to go that direction. And so, we’re trying to figure out how we solve for that, how we create flexibility in scheduling. So, we’ve asked our people to tell us, like, tell us what you need, and we’ll try to accommodate it as much as possible from a schedule standpoint. We have added behavioral health coaching internally. So, we hired somebody who’s providing now 20 hours a week of coaching to anybody at the company that just wants to talk to somebody about what they’re going through and, you know, provide advice to those people. And you know, the final thing and this is one of the reasons that Bessemer came in and invested in us recently. We decided that even though we had a balance sheet that could see us through this period, that we were going to raise money so that we had flexibility to do some of these things. And assume that we want to lean into this period, we want to lean into our people. And this is going to be over at some point. But we’ll be in a better position if we do this the right way and have the balance sheet to make these investments during this time. And that’s something that we felt is putting us in a position to do this also.
FELICITY: Yeah, I can add on to the that in a few core ways. I think, picking up on working with the investor set and figuring out with the board, you know, what exactly should we be doing to support employees. Again, like, you know, we kind of closed our Series A at this very, very fortunate time. And right as we closed, our investors are kind of like, “Alright, well, what are you going to do? Everybody else is furloughing and applying for these PPP loans. Are you guys going to be doing that?” And it was, it was one of those interesting kind of first calls that we had to make with a board and figure out how we’re going to work together and work through this challenging moment where it’s like, should we be furloughing our staff.
We had a brick and mortar clinic that we did shut down for a solid six weeks in the beginning of COVID. Because we couldn’t get protective gear for our staff. And, you know, we’re affiliated with a couple of health systems in New York City, and basically wanted to say keep that for your hospitals. But quickly had to kind of say, “Okay, what are we going to do? What do we think the right thing is to do?” And we decided not to furlough anyone and continue to support them. And part of that is because we work really hard to find excellent talent. And it would be highly costly for us to have to go out there and resource these people, train them again, and they’re all you know, inculcated with the Tia culture at that point.
So we decided to keep them on, we found interesting ways for them to build out systems and do virtual work. And, you know, those clinicians and kind of clinical staff members were definitely not used to it, but they enjoyed their time. So that was a big kind of first choice that we made. And we’re continuing to, you know, keep everybody on full time. We did not reduce salaries for any of our clinical staff, or for any of our kind of main base tier people and the executive team did take compensation cuts to help ensure that everybody could stay employed until we were back up and running. And basically kind of figured out how to get back up and running by the middle of June. So that was one thing. I think another really interesting thing that Russ brought up is this issue with parents and being able to continue to work. And we actually—Tia just published this report on Tuesday, all about the impact of kind of what’s going on in the current environment and where female patients are kind of interested in seeing policy changes and with the coming election. But one really staggering data point that we found is that 25% of women have left their jobs because of childcare issues. And given that over 75% of Tia’s employees are female, this is a huge risk for us.
So, we have introduced to completely flexible scheduling and have reduced the amount of time, you know, we have allocated meeting time per day that you’re allowed to actually schedule meetings. So there’s a very clear—because we’re bi-coastal, very clear guidelines on know when our meeting hours, and when are non-meeting hours, so that parents are able to make those things they’re not feeling like they can either satisfy the requirements of their job, or they’re leaving their kids hanging. So those are some additional things that we’ve done.
We also, like Russ mentioned, have seen the reluctance of people to take vacation in this time. So, we’ve also introduced kind of like mandatory holidays. We’re typically kind of tagging those on to the end of other long weekends so that people kind of get more of a little enforced break if so to speak. And the last thing that we’ve done is we’ve actually instituted policies around, you know, Slack-ing and emailing in off hours, particularly on weekends, we asked people to hold their communications until, you know, working hours, particularly Sunday nights when that’s kind of a traditionally very important time for families. So, we wanted to help people feel like that could be kept sacred.
JOSH: I think that’s fantastic. And as a parent with two little ones, I can certainly relate to both what Russ and Felicity, you said. Morgan I want to get back to you. But I want to just drill into something really quickly here with Felicity and Russ. So I think what you’ve both done around some of these benefits and just encouraging people and maintaining sort of your culture, but also thinking about people and the reality of what their lives are like. When we’re doing something from a either benefits standpoint or cultural standpoint, when we’re all in the office, we can sort of hear people talking about it. We, you know, run into people, and you get just a sentiment of what people are feeling. Have you done anything to be able to do that? Russ, I know you said you’d have your hands—and you have a separate meeting every week. But I know a lot of companies struggle with just what’s the company feeling like, you know, what’s on their mind. And I’m wondering if there’s any ways that you’ve been able to figure out a path to get that sentiment from the team.
RUSS: Yeah, we have implemented a few things. One, just prior to the pandemic, we implemented a platform called Slideo, which is been a wonderful addition to our communications just in terms of—all of our all hands we we launched a Slideo. Slideo allows for both anonymous and known question asking and responses. So, you can feel comfortable that that if you have a question, you don’t have to ask it live, you can just send it in. So that’s been one great, you know, ability for the company just ask questions live, and we address them right there. We—it also has a polling capability. So you can get a sense for how the company is feeling about a certain issue, just live right in front of the entire company. We’re doing quarterly now, NPS and NPS snapshots. So in addition to the standard engagement surveys that we do a couple times a year, we’re doing these quarterly snapshots, just to keep a sense for how things are going. We break that down by group, we look at, you know, gender breakdown, we look at age range breakdown. So demographics, basically. Minority breakdown, so that we have a sense, like, how are people feeling across the company and are there any areas where we need to act, either in the shorter longer term in order to help resolve. So, you know, the technology’s there now to be able to give you a pretty good universal sense on how people are doing. And then with enough transparent communication and two-way dialogue being, you know, space being created to do that, you can get a pretty good sense for what—how people are doing.
FELICITY: Yeah, likewise, we are also using Slideo, our team is obsessed with it. We make jokes at Tia, the currency is question asking, and yeah, it’s—
RUSS: Do we have—you should reach out to Slideo and have them sponsor this.
FELICITY: Carolyn and I are sometimes like, “Oh, my God, we spend all our time answering these questions.” But it’s really great. And I think, especially if you have a team that’s growing rapidly, and not everyone’s super comfortable, you know, “Who is that person over there?” It gives an ability for people to ask questions and feel like they can not, you know, look dumb in a meeting or something. So that’s, I think, been really powerful. We are also doing, we’ve always leaned heavily into NPS, we’ve focused actually not just on NPS, we have sampled it consistently across our patient base, but we also sample it for our providers. And that’s been a long standing tradition at Tia because we really think about our two core users as patients and providers. And we also have kind of since the more you know, racial tensions have started to bubble up focused a lot on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. And so have also been releasing a lot of polls around that, and specifically how that can relate to our cultural values. So we’re doing surveys, and pretty much every all hands that relate to that as well.
JOSH: That’s great. I think that—so we’ve talked a lot about just how operating companies have been changing things and doing things differently. Morgan, I know, part of your role is obviously working with your existing portfolio, then there’s another part of it that is around making new investments. So, how’s your communication changed with your perspective portfolio companies over the course of, you know, pandemic and remote working?
MORGAN: It’s a great question. I’d say, you know, the biggest change for us has been the diligence process itself. It’s been fairly straightforward to take board meetings that were historically in person and plop them on Zoom for our portfolio companies, but when trying to understand and instantiate a 10-year plus relationship with the new business, it’s quite different trying to do that over Zoom. And so, I think the way that we’ve tried to back into it first, I think initially was, well, there are a lot of people that we know who are leading interesting businesses is now a good time to partner with them. And, you know, candidly, we made two investments and founders that we’d kind of track for some time, kind of right around, you know, the April-March time period, where we felt comfortable investing in them, because we’d spent that time together in person.
But we quickly realized that we were going to have to get comfortable writing investments in the businesses that were—that we’d never met in person, founders we’d never met in person. And so, you know, I think the way that we’re tackling that now is, is kind of multifaceted. On the one hand, it’s, you know, it’s a lot of spending time together on Zoom, not just with the CEO and founder, but really making time to get to know each functional area leader. And I think that founders who have given us access to those individuals early on in the diligence process, probably find that it’s much easier to get to get that process moving along.
I’d also say, you know, we’ve always reference check founders during the diligence process, and we very much asked them to do the same to us. And I think that those references are being weighted more heavily throughout the process. And so oftentimes founders that are able to connect us with those references, you know, earlier on in the process, I think, find that we’re able to go a little deeper on where there are strengths and maybe where their areas to hire and supplement the team post investment.
JOSH: Are there any things that—so I heard you say that there was, you know, people that you were comfortable with because you’ve either known them in the past or have gotten a chance to get to know them in person. Are there any pieces of advice you’d give to entrepreneurs who know they need to build a relationship with an investor remotely? Right, I heard you say, you know, allowing them to meet the whole team. Are there other tips that you would give to an entrepreneur to secure capital during these times?
MORGAN: Definitely, I think a lot of founders, you know, like to talk to investors when they need capital, and then kind of in that period of time, where there’s no need for capital, it’s, you know, their heads down. And we totally understand, I think, during these times, it’s important to have just more frequent touch points with companies and their teams, so that we not only understand how things are going and where there’s opportunity to be supportive in between financings, but also so you know, folks are just building that relationship longitudinally. And so I’d encourage more founders, you know, even if it’s a 15 minute check in once a quarter with a firm that you respect or that you’re interested in, I think those touch points can go a long way. And I also think that founders who have, you know, brief newsletters THAT they send out, you know, are seeing more engagement on those because it’s how we’re getting to know one another and how we’re staying in touch in these, you know, times where we can’t meet in person.
JOSH: Felicity and Russ, I know from talking to a lot of entrepreneurs and investors as well, that there was a moment in time in March in April, where it was, like all hands on deck, let’s just make sure the ship is right, and that we’re not sinking. And then, over time, you know, the messaging changed. I’m curious from both of your standpoints. What were you hearing from your investors in March and April? And has that changed since then? And what, if so, what’s changed in terms of what you’re hearing from them and the guidance you’re getting from them?
RUSS: You wanna start, Felicity?
FELICITY: Sure. So yeah, I think I mentioned a little bit about this. But when we were in March, and April, it was much more of kind of, we don’t know how long this is going to go on, you need to be very cash conservative, and potentially hold all movements, and maybe not make efforts to grow, which is typically what one would do right after closing a series A and aggressively do that. So, we did slow down a little bit and kind of gather our ducks and figure out what we should be doing. During that period, we also completely converted the business into a virtual-first business, given our brick and mortar locations were closed. So, there was a lot of kind of trying to figure that out. And then quickly, kind of at the end of Q2, realized that was working really well, and that we should invest in that and that we could should invest in growth from there. And that was, I think, around the same time period when investors were starting to get comfortable with what the markets were doing. And seeing that, you know, there were certain tier of companies that were going to be just fine. And luckily, we kind of qualified and into that tier. So that was a little bit about how our spring went.
RUSS: I would say once our investors came to us, and, you know, said, “So what do you think?”. You know? I think there was a lot of like, hands up like, “What do you think’s gonna happen here?”. And then it was, “Okay. We’ve talked to all of our companies in our portfolio. Here seems to be the sense for what’s happening.” And, you know, I think they were very quickly aligned with our strategy, which was plan for the worst and hope for the best. You know, and we did that. I think we are, we’re finding now that it’s somewhere in the middle. You know, it’s, it’s certainly not the worst. And it’s, you know, by just good planning and being agile, you’re able to manage some of these bumps and ins and outs. And, you know, my, again, in the spirit of planning for the worst, my feeling is that we have to assume we’re going to be in this for another year. And, you know, if we assume that we’re coming out of this by next October, hopefully, it’ll be sooner than that. But right now, that’s our that’s our planning horizon.
JOSH: Is that the assumption of this is going to be a year. Has that change your plans in terms of how you’re going to scale the company? And more so from like, kind of an internal hiring perspective?
RUSS: Yeah, I would say it has in a few ways. We’ve shifted some of our focus, you know, what, and just this is specific to every individual business, right, but = we have a part of our business, the largest part of our business, it’s selling to enterprises. Enterprises, right now, you have, you know, a tale of every enterprise. Some enterprises are in industries that are going to take years to recover. Some are in industries, that will probably be okay. And it’s, you know, gonna be bumpy for a little while, but they’re going to probably start to come out of this, as soon as the pandemic, you know, starts to—we start to recover. And then others are doing great right now. Right? They’re, they’re crushing it. So, depending on who you’re selling to, you may have no opportunity to sell into them, or you may have accelerated opportunities. One is shifting focus on who you’re selling to. For us, what we’ve seen is that enterprises, choppy, based on what I just talked about, but health plan world is going crazy. Right? So, we are moving chips into focus in the areas where we think are going to be more accretive during this period of time. And then you watch and you monitor and you shift and, you know, put your chips where you think it they’re going to be most productive right now. So, I would say we were changing some of our planning based on what’s going on.
JOSH: Interesting. Morgan, is there anything you want to add just around messaging to, you know, aside from Ginger, your other portfolio companies? I know, you talked a little bit about it before. Anything you want to add around, you know, during the initial kind of, you know, what’s going on, everyone’s sort of kind of looking at each other versus where we are now?
MORGAN: Yeah, no. I mean, I think what’s been said resonates with how we coach our companies. Our portfolio founders and CEOs are really on the ground with their teams. And so they have the best pulse on how everyone’s doing. We obviously, you know, throughout the process back in March and April spoke with your numbers of experts in this space who all had, you know, some estimate as to what this would look like. Of course, none of those projections have played out to par. But I think to both of our panelists, my co-panelists points, companies that have been able to be nimble and flexible during this time have really thrived.
And so, if you look at the healthcare ecosystem, as Russ mentioned, you know, health plans have been on fire in terms of contracting and procuring solutions from early stage businesses. We have companies that sell to health plans, but we have other companies that sell to the provider market. And so I think maybe one company to highlight that was particularly nimble in that regard is our portfolio company, Qventus. They provide an AI enabled hospital operations platform. And, you know, you think that maybe during this time, hospitals would have no bandwidth for contracting, but as it as a machine learning focused company, they were able to build COVID search models that serves their market and, you know, not only allowed them to provide additional value to their existing customers, but to even, you know, procure new logos during this exciting time that maybe hadn’t considered their solution before. So, you know, I think while there’s still a lot of uncertainty in the market, we don’t know what’s going to happen and, you know, early 2021, I just encourage all companies to keep an ear to the ground on, you know, seeing this time, not just as a liability, but also, you know, as an opportunity for product and TAM expansion.
JOSH: Thanks, Morgan. Felicity, you had mentioned before about having your brick and mortar locations, and then essentially shifting everything to remote. I’m wondering from what you’ve done for your just business model, are there things that you’ve learned in terms of remote care and being a totally remote business model that you then take an internally to your team and implemented.
FELICITY: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I think some of the stuff that we were touching on earlier around how to really do buddied or paired onboarding has been something that we have taken in. And we have also kind of considered how it’s actually a little bit kind of the inverse of what you’re asking, but really saying, how might we actually take this opportunity to engage our care provider team more in the corporate operations. So, as anyone who runs a quote, field organization, knows too well, there’s just these kind of inevitable tensions that develop between corporate and field. And it’s something that we’re really focused on ensuring that we can have a cross collaborative team and cross pollinate culture and all those dynamics. When we were in a pre-COVID world, we would hold all hands from our clinic locations, so corporate employees would go to the clinic and actually be there and be in the space with the provider teams. And since that’s no longer feasible, we’ve actually kind of restructured some of the patient scheduling so that our providers are able to kind of join certain corporate meetings and really get that cross pollination going. It’s been awesome for technology development, I will say, because basically, what we’ve been able to do is get much more fast, real time feedback from our provider set observed behavior in a certain differentiated way that we haven’t been able to before and really build out more operationally driven technology.
JOSH: With how you guys are structured in terms of where you’re located, is it any harder now, easier now to manage a company that’s bi-coastal than it was before?
FELICITY: Yeah, I think everyone on the call will agree that having a part Zoom meeting, that’s half in life, half on zoom is probably the one of the worst things in the world. So, we don’t have anymore. Very thankful. So, I would say that has drastically improved just how meetings go and being everyone kind of being on a level playing field from, you know, being remote and knowing that’s kind of the dynamic that everyone’s going—like existing in has, I think, been really helpful.
JOSH: Cool. Russ, you and I talked just before this around some of the experience you had of being executive in aone, dot com bubble, or ’08-‘09 financial crisis and learning a lot and applying that right now in 2020. If there were entrepreneurs out here that are listening to this or other executives, what advice would you give them of someone that’s with the, you know, not trying to make you seem like the elder statesman here, of what you’ve been through in the past of your experience going through some other difficult times?
RUSS: Yeah, you’re really dating me, Josh.
JOSH: Yeah, sorry.
RUSS: Um, well, you know, I do think it’s instructive. I think, you know, 2001 as a brand new entrepreneur, I didn’t understand the importance of culture. I didn’t understand the importance of hiring people based on values, and a shared set of understanding of how we wanted to build the organization. And so that was just a hot mess. Because it was a difficult time, we had a ton of turnover. And we It was hard to know who to try to keep a knew not to. And I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. The learnings from that, though, were immensely valuable in building Bizo, which we founded in 08, right before things fell off a cliff. But the first thing I wrote down at Bizo was here are the four core values I care about. And I’m going to hire people based on alignment with those values. And so, when, you know, the market crashed, and we literally lost every dollar of revenue that we had started with, because we had financial services as our core, initial starting point for clients. We sat around the table—there’s 20 of us at the time, or maybe just shy, and we all aligned on we’re going to move forward and here’s how we’re going to do it. And there was a very clear, resilient approach that was all about the culture. And it’s, you know, values, culture, alignment from a team perspective, transparency of communication. These are the things that are important at any time, but you can’t survive without them when things get hard. And I saw it at Bizo when we went through a few bumps in the road, and I see it now a Ginger that—we’re lucky because we didn’t have this in place—if this had happened a year prior, we probably would have been in a lot of trouble. But we are now at the point that we can we can ride through this and survive this and come out better for having gone through it.
JOSH: You said if it was a year ago, you might not have been able to, you might not be in the same place or, you know, get through it like you have. Is there anything in particular that you’ve seen that’s changed, or anything that you’ve done to kind of get yourself positioned for this?
RUSS: Yeah, two years ago, the culture of the company wasn’t consistent or aligned. The types of people there were, I would say, you know, heterogeneous, not from a background standpoint, or a, you know, because that’s wonderful. But they were heterogeneous from a value standpoint. And the company wasn’t consistently hiring for those values or talking about those values. You know, there was the perfunctory list that nobody read, or nobody understood. There’s too many of them, and they were too long winded.
But so one of the, if not, the first thing I did when I joined was, blow that up, get consistent on what we really care about, and start to make changes when there are people that aren’t aligned with those values, and start to bring a team in that really is aligned with those values. And so that took six months to a year to affect. You know, had this happen at the pandemic hit during that change, it would have been super hard, because there wouldn’t have been those aligned swim lanes and those aligned approaches to how we’re going to handle this as a team.
JOSH: Morgan as a as an investor, right, you hear folks in the VC and other investors say all the time, right, you invest in for people first, product second. And based upon what Russ said, right, like getting the right people on the bus, so to speak. How do you think about that has that changed at all, you know, as people have been going remote and during the pandemic?
MORGAN: It has not changed. We still invest in people first and product second, right, because at the end of the day, product visions change dramatically from conception to acquisition, IPO, whatever, whatever comes of a company. One of my favorite parts of working with companies is getting to go to the office. Right? Getting to play ping pong with one of the employees or you know, just getting to see the buzz around the office when someone rings the gong and there’s a new deal closed, right. And we can’t do that right now. And so it is really, really hard for us to evaluate about company values and culture.
But again, I will say that the founders that we get to know and are getting to know during this time, are transparent and forthright about what those are to us, right. And so, we’ve found that they’re kind of meeting us where we are, and they know that it’s important to us. And so, when we’re going through a pitch deck or a presentation, and we don’t see a slide on values, now it’s you know, pauses—raises question, it gives us pause. And so, I think, you know, if I were a founder today, I would just be kind of beating the drum both internally, but also when I’m going to talk about my company to potential investors, to potential clients, etc. I think in many ways, because it’s as much as it is about product market fit or founder market fit. I think investor company fit is incredibly important. And during this time, I think as folks are scrambling to raise capital and build their businesses, it could get lost in the weeds. And so, I don’t have a good answer or an easy answer. But it’s definitely something that we’re thinking about.
JOSH: When you look at making an investment in a company, when we think about the people, do you—is your viewpoint evolved at all, in terms of someone who’s proven, has, you know, been there before versus a new entrepreneur, this is either their first venture they’ve never been the CEO of the business before. Is that viewpoint changed over the course of the last year or so?
MORGAN: It’s a particularly interesting question. And I think, especially as we’re thinking about healthcare, and you know, the fact that many of us on this Zoom call have been in healthcare for 10, 20 years, but you know, there, there’s obviously increased interest in the industry in category. And so what I would say is, my mindset has changed and that I’ve become more open minded, both to, you know, newer founders, founders who haven’t started businesses before, but also to people who are coming from all different industries who have ideas about how healthcare can change.
I think the industry is kind of had this running joke, you know, around your tech tourists coming into healthcare and not understanding that things are slow and that you can’t build a new EMR that’s going to beat Epic. But at the same time, we need ideas, we’re in desperate need of ideas and, you know, new concepts. So, my mind’s become more open during this time. And the only thing that I’d say is really that different in terms of working with and getting to know founders that, you know, maybe haven’t been around the block is, you know, from an investor’s standpoint, maybe I’m a little bit more hands on in certain conversations or, you know, certain decisions. But that’s my job at the end of the day. So, I’d hate to miss an opportunity because I thought, “Oh, this person, you know, they haven’t run a public company before I can invest.” That’s—I think that’s a little bit foolish. So, we’re still investing in, in all different kinds of people from all different kinds of backgrounds.
JOSH: Felicity, I saw you smile when I asked the question, right. It was sort of, you know, based upon the people we have here. Have there been a few things that you’ve kind of taken away as learnings over the course being a first time, you know, founder of a business and then, you know, doing it through the pandemic? Russ has his prior experience to kind of lean back on. Is there any either inspiration or, you know, things that you’ve learned that you’ve now implemented into, you know, running Tia?
FELICITY: You mean, just in terms of getting through the pandemic?
JOSH: Getting through the pandemic, in knowing that you’ve kind of been thrown into a really unique time as a leader of a business and how you’ve been able to just kind of maneuver everything, and you’re not having necessarily the experience leaned back on having run companies before.
FELICITY: Yeah, I hope this doesn’t come off a bit off. But honestly, I think COVID is just another one of those in the entrepreneur’s lifecycle in the sense that it’s every single day, there’s another challenge thrown at you. And every single day, it’s just another thing that you have to go figure out. And this was a big one. And certainly one that took a lot of brainpower to kind of navigate, but I would say, you know, through our lifecycle at Tia we’ve faced—we’ve stared death in the face multiple times, you know, between runway issues, and you know, getting really close on that side or complete, up ended—completely up ending our product roadmap and completely, you know, redirecting the business and coming up with new business models here, left and right, and trying to really figure out what we were doing.
So in some ways, I actually feel that the last two years kind of working through those types of issues prepared us and has given us a toolkit to say, “Okay, another moment where we have to evolve, we have to do it quickly, we have to figure it out. And who are we going to pull in? And how are we going to get the advice? And what kind of data are we going to look at?”. And so I think in general, that’s kind of the founder entrepreneurs job is to navigate these things excellently.
JOSH: Do you have board members or outside investors or folks that you lean heavily on?
FELICITY: Oh, for sure. We have some amazing board members, Emily Melton and Lynn O’Keefe are both of our leading board members, both have extensive healthcare background. So we’re able to really, you know, get a lot of insights from them. We have additional panel of investors that are more consumer tech focused and more brand, you know, consumer brand focus, and then also huge kind of digital health contingent as well. So, have been blessed with some of the guidance we’ve been able to secure.
JOSH: That’s fantastic. So we’ve got, and I encourage people here to continue to throw out some questions here in our Q&A. But we had a question, and we touched a little bit on this before, but I’ll let Russ and Felicity add anything to this and I’m happy to give my perspective from an executive search side of things. But question is, how can I maximize my hiring selection process and onboarding during this virtual meeting time? So Felicity or Russ, I don’t know if either one of you wants to tackle that one. If not, I’m happy to give my perspective.
RUSS: This is as a CEO?
RUSS: Yeah, I mean, you know, again, I think the we’re fortunate that a lot of what we were doing is remote already. So, the motion of the company already centered on Zoom. It already, you know, I was in Zoom meetings all day long. Even though I might have been in the office doing Zoom meetings, a lot of the time. It’s still—the feel was sort of natural, my schedule was kind of natural. The one thing that has happened actually, in a weird way, is I’ve had to focus more on not working than I have had to focus on working. And it’s just not having these commute times, not having these natural stop times, creates an environment where it’s very easy just keep working. Because there’s always something to do as a CEO and entrepreneur, right. So that’s been something that I’ve tried to build into my routine. It’s, you know, I do walking meetings now. So, half my one on ones every other week, I’ll do a video or I’ll just do a walking phone call to make sure I’m getting the exercise. I, you know, have a virtual like, trainer guy who I set up time with at the end of each day. So, that will go out and do stretches or do some, you know, work together virtually.
But it forces me to get out of this workload and into some other mode, which I recommend all entrepreneurs do. You know, and I know this isn’t even the question. But the final thing from a mental health standpoint as an entrepreneur, do not think about work when you’re going to sleep. Think about anything else. I don’t care what it is. Watch a TV show, you know, read a book, and go to sleep not thinking about work because your brain needs that break. And you don’t want to be ruminating and not sleeping deeply all night long. The biggest difference for me mental health wise from my first company to the next and now is I sleep great. And it’s largely because I don’t think about it, you know, before I go to sleep. I changed the topic. See how I did that?
JOSH: Yes. Well, it’s certainly relevant in the idea of not thinking about work before going to bed, I’m going to try to do that as best I can. And hopefully that will improve my sleep. I’ll answer the question just from our perspective and my perspective. So, it’s interesting, what we’ve seen. And it’s not all that dissimilar from some of what you all have said in terms of your meetings with your team. But in terms of maximizing the hiring process, we’ve seen a lot of companies, in the past, you’d have someone come into the office, and after the first few rounds of interviews, they come into the office, and they just meet the entire team, they spend the entire day there, really getting to know the organization. And we can’t do that now, basically.
So, what we’ve seen is you can’t have someone sit in front of a computer screen for eight hours without wanting to you know, pull their eyes out. And so, we’ve had clients and we’ve advised clients to, instead of doing a full sort of day of interviews, right, break it up into little bits and bites and have someone spend half an hour with, you know, one member of the team and half an hour with another member of the team, then loop back to that at some point. And instead of having these long, you know, hour long, or however long you want to have interviews, actually make more frequent, make more frequent meetings, but shorter meetings. That’s really helped people, A, just get comfortable on both sides. Because I think, you know, one thing that we see all the time is you have to get both the company that’s hiring the person comfortable, and you also have to get the candidate comfortable with the company. And sometimes it gets lost, particularly when you’re not in there, you can sort of read body language, you can see people in person and so, you know, that’s one thing to do.
And then the other thing around, you know, the hiring process, and then Felicity, Russ or Morgan, if you want to add anything in terms of the onboarding process that we covered a little bit of that earlier, but, there’s this idea of, can we be creative, can we figure out a way to meet in person or, you know, do something so we’re all comfortable with each other and we all feel good about making this decision at the end of the day. But you know, do things like I said, before, socially distant walk, have a meeting outside, you know, go grab a coffee in a park and you know, sit apart just. You know, some things that are pretty logical, but we don’t always think about them when we’re going through the process. So those are some things that that I’ve seen companies do successfully in order to just streamline that hiring process. So, I think I’ve got a notice that we’re running out of time. So, Felicity, Morgan, Russ, thank you all for your time today. I think this is a really interesting conversation. I know it’s going to be posted out there for people to watch that have missed parts of it afterwards. So, really appreciate everyone’s time today, and thank you.
RUSS: Thanks for having me. pleasure.
FELICITY: Thank you. It was wonderful.
Do you have questions for our subject matter experts? Reach out to Josh Gottlieb (Managing Director, Digital Health) to get the answers that matter.