This particular odyssey started with an ‘oh shit’ moment. The healthcare technology company that I just spent the last six and a half years helping to build was being acquired. It wasn’t the type of acquisition where you buy a shark tank and fill it with champagne either. This was more along the lines of a hostile takeover by one of the big players in the industry. It was a shame. We were making a great product that was benefiting society. In an era where all clinicians hate the technology they are forced into using, we made their workflows usable.
On that early sprint morning, there I was, having that same painful conversation over and over again with my teams. “Yeah, we are getting acquired and they are letting pretty much everybody go. No, you’re not going to get anything out of it. Please be ready to clean your stuff out of the office.” I felt like some sadistic dream clown, slowly popping the hope balloons of every person walking into my office. Even though it stung like hell, the people were great and the day turned into an Irish wake. We celebrated the life of the company rather than mourning its death. In retrospect, this wasn’t too surprising. We all shared the same dream and our CEO and the rest of our leadership team(myself included) were very transparent about the risks. That transparency has always served me well and I plan on taking that to the extreme with this odyssey. As I look back on the lessons learned and the people I got to work with, I’d do it again in a second, even knowing there wasn’t a pile of money waiting at the end.
It did throw me back into the job market, or as one friend called it, ‘fun-employment’. After working your ass off for close to seven years, it’s nice to take a little break. I got bored with golf after about three weeks though and started seriously looking for opportunities. There are plenty out there for someone with my skill set, highly technical with deep business knowledge.
So I set some parameters for my job search: it would have to utilize cool technology, it would have to attempt to solve an interesting yet difficult problem and it would have to benefit society. This was somewhat limiting but didn’t make the search impossible. I was able to set up a lot of interviews pretty quickly. Some of these only filled two of my three criteria but I took them if the salary was high enough to be tempting.
During the interviews I started to notice a disturbing trend. Well before the halfway point of the interview, the roles would switch where I would take over the role of interviewer and the person I was interviewing with would become the interviewee. Part of this is that I have hired a ton of people over the course of my career and I’m proud of my ability to hire good people. Another part is that most people have worse communication skills than a McDonald’s drive through operator when it comes to interviewing. It was deeper than a missing skill set though. In some cases, the passion was missing. In others, I wouldn’t be learning enough or I wouldn’t have enough autonomy. It was always something. I would leave almost every interview disappointed, not in my performance, but in them. All except for one role. More on that in a second.
I was discussing these opportunities with my inner circle whenever they had time for me. My wife patiently listened, in the way only a doctor can, and gave great counsel on each opportunity. The big breakthrough came when talking with one of my close friends who is getting close to selling one of his businesses. He had this dream scenario in mind where he would sell the business, pay off all his debts, college funds, etc., then go work for some other company. He started to analyze that dream and came to the realization that he couldn’t work for someone ever again. There was real pain there when he said it , as if he had lost an era of his life that he could never go back to. He then asked, ‘I wonder if you might be in the same situation?’ I assured him I wasn’t, but the question had sunk its teeth into the meat of my brain.
This isn’t the first company I started, it is actually the third, or fourth if you count the other company I’m starting with my dad at the same time as this one. So the possibility has always been in the back of my consciousness. During the job hunt, I forced myself to come up with five business ideas a day. Some of the ideas were good, a couple were great, but most were terrible. The most interesting ideas were at the cross section of skills I felt I had mastery over, groups I’m involved with and my passions/hobbies.
One thing I always loved at work was getting people excited about an idea then building the team strategies and personal strategies necessary to execute the idea. The techniques I use require a lot of teamwork but generate a ton of buy-in. You can see people light up as they contribute to each idea that builds the overall strategy. It’s fun to watch normally taciturn programmers start acting like kids as they jump to contribute and clamor to be accountable for parts of the strategy. It’s like watching little groundhogs experience sun after a long winter. These folks get excited because they know where they’re going; they know how they’re getting there; they know if they are winning or not and they know they were integral in building it. It’s an incredible experience. I wanted to take this experience, personalize it, then enhance it with my business experience starting companies, working for companies, consulting for companies as well as my knowledge from the hundreds of business and self-management books I’ve read and make a company out of it.
With all of my other good and even great ideas, I was always able to find the fatal flaw with each after a couple of days of cogitation. Not so with this one. This one doesn’t let me sleep, not from stress but from excitement. When I really knew it was the right path was when I got a call from that one job that I was excited about and I found myself hoping they weren’t going to make me an offer and make my choice difficult. They didn’t make the offer. After the fact, I had to admit to myself that it hurt as all rejections do but it made my choice a lot easier. It was time to turn the odyssey into a company.
I hope you find this journey entertaining, educational and even a little inspirational.