Co-Founder/Sales & Marketing
Litmus Health is a clinical data science platform focused on health-related quality of life. They use data collected at the point of experience from wearables, smart devices, and home sensors to guide management and to inform trial endpoints.
HTA - Can you tell us about your background and the current ventures you are working on?
I’m a marketer by training and an entrepreneur by calling. I am Co-Founder, Sales & Marketing at Litmus Health.
Litmus is a clinical data science platform focused on health-related quality of life. We use real life data collected at the point of experience from wearables, smart devices, and home sensors to guide management and to inform endpoints.
We help our customers describe the full value of their work in observational studies, therapeutical trials, and post-market research.
I’m also Founder and CEO of JDI, a boutique consultancy that brings early-stage technologies to market.
HTA - Did you start your career as an executive assistant? What did you learn from that?
This is true!
I learned everything I needed to be a CEO. I mean that. I learned how organizations and corporate cultures work from the inside out. I learned how the best recruit and retain the best people. I learned how to align incentives, and not.
I also got to live through myriad challenges and crises by proxy; I got access to a ton of experiential data, faster and in greater volumes than I ever could have otherwise.
I teach at the Acton School of Business MBA in an Entrepreneurship program here in Austin. At Acton we talk a lot about the advantage of standing in the middle of a flow of opportunities. If you don’t have enough data, go get more. You’re only as good as the opportunities and deals and ideas that you see, and the more you see, the better.
Most importantly I learned as an Executive Assistant that the very best leaders are servants. I don’t live up to this ideal as often as I want. Still, I do my very best to remain an assistant. In many ways the goal is to end up back where I started.
HTA - How did playing the violin and your track and field career help develop your mindset for building companies?
I think I mostly learned to apprentice myself and work really hard.
There are areas in which I am among the very best in my field. But in most cases, I’m an informed spectator at best. It’s incredibly valuable to spend time around leaders in any discipline, folks at the very top of their game.
What you learn is that you’re not nearly as cool as you think you are, and that hard work pays returns non-linearly, compared to pure talent, which is in my experience more static.
HTA- How has your experience with fundraising been?
Honestly, I try not to raise money these days.
At Litmus, we’re self funded and we will stay that way as long as possible, if not forever. I’m a Venture Partner with NextGen VP and many of my friends are in venture capital. The VC asset class is an awesome tool for a very small number of opportunities.
I prefer to operate as an entrepreneur on timelines considerably longer than the typical VC is allowed by their LPs to consider. I have a strong bias towards building for the long haul, and doing things the old fashioned way.
For me the “old fashioned” way doesn’t need to mean “bootstrapping” or so-called “lifestyle” entrepreneurship. I think you can play very big outside of VC.
Everyone knows the secret to attracting investors, yet we seem never to follow our own advice. Raise money when you no longer need it. The end. There’s no secret and no shortcut otherwise. If you do a deal in which you have no or little leverage, you won’t get a good deal, or perhaps you’ll end up without a deal at all.
Make the fundraise a no brainer. Until it is a no-brainer, just keep working on the business itself, and stay focused on customers. Ignore outlying examples that contradict this advice; they are false idols, so to speak.
HTA - What has surprised you about the health care industry?
This is going to sound corny, but I’m surprised by how ready and willing to innovate our industry is today.
I began my career in pharma marketing more than a decade ago in New York. I know how calcified this industry can be. But today we sit at the intersection of several major trends that make it actually and finally possible to make a difference in health care.
HTA - What's your decision making process for the companies you invest time and money to help bring to market?
Big picture this is a game with bad percentages, and the power law reigns supreme. I love what William Goldman famously said about the movie industry, because it also applies here: “nobody knows anything.”
So, I tend to focus on so-called moonshots and such; the bigger the lift, the steeper the cliff...insert metaphor here. I’m consistently drawn to the really hard stuff, in ventures and in life.
Read Endurance by Alfred Landing, about the Shackleton expedition. Shackleton himself was like this, but to a far more extreme degree than I will ever be.
Another favorite book of mine is John McDowell’s Mind and World, which I first encountered as a philosophy major. It is a fascinating, incredibly challenging read that I’ll never fully understand, but I get smarter every time I try.
HTA - You have been involved in many ventures and roles. How do you multi-task and prioritize?
I don’t multi-task, that’s the trick. One thing at a time!
Prioritization is an art, and for me it has a lot to do with feel. Feel comes from active listening, and asking great questions.
Sometimes too you need to make a decision in order to unlock more information. I try to make fast, frequent decisions, and check my work iteratively. A decision isn’t an endpoint, it is a tool.
This MO builds momentum, and momentum is contagious.
HTA - You have publicly shared about a great family budgeting tool. Can you tell us more about it?
Read Algorithms To Live By by Brian Christian. Our family budgeting tool is simply a set of algorithms that reflect our financial priorities.
My wife Liz and my priorities are different than most people our age, but the ways in which they are different are not the point, nor that interesting at the end of the day.
The point is to put as much on auto-pilot as possible, making often irrational personal financial decisions entirely rational.
So many entrepreneurs I know who have made money are astonishingly bad at managing it; we’re either too tight, or too loose with our funds. We either choose not to care or even acknowledge that money exists, or we’re frozen.
We entrepreneurs are ripe for decision fatigue. I try really hard to reserve my decision-making faculties for situations when there is insufficient information, and/or where my expertise is uniquely applicable.
This is true whether you’ve been incredibly successful or you are just starting out. Decision-making ability is a limited resource. Try hard not to waste it.
HTA - What challenge/encouragement would you share with the Austin startup ecosystem?
We just need to focus on the prize, which is not exit money or liquidity.
An MBA (who is not from Acton, mind you) told me the other day that he wants to “get into startups.” I just may have puked in my mouth a little bit.
Startups are not an industry. They are a mechanic. They are one way to solve a problem, and in my opinion, a tool of last resort.
In Austin I think our challenge is to keep our focus on customers. Serve them well. Make them enormously happy and successful.
Don’t get caught up in what Lanam Napier of BuildGroup here in town calls “alphabet soup” -- the video game of raising A, B, and C rounds. Don’t get too good at “doing ventures” and don’t put “serial entrepreneur” in your Twitter bio. Those aren’t skills to be proud of. Let’s not become too enamored with our ventures themselves.
The real prize is leaving the world a better place in a sustainable way. As Austin has grown more sophisticated, more busy, and more moneyed, the risk is that we spend too much time doing our job instead of doing the work, if that makes sense.
None of the trappings of entrepreneurship are the real activity of entrepreneurship.