Google is the latest giant company angling to secure more of users’ health information–potentially boding well for healthtech startups looking for an acquirer one day.
Reuters reported this week that Google’s owner, Alphabet, has made an offer to acquire wearable device maker Fitbit. Update: On Friday, Fitbit announced that it has agreed to be acquired by Google for approximately $2.1 billion. The deal is expected to close in 2020. The news comes on the heels of reports last month that Fitbit CEO James Park was exploring a potential sale for his company.
Park and CTO Eric Friedman co-founded the San Francisco-based company in 2007, and proceeded to help pioneer the wearable device industry–which reached a value of $1.6 billion last year, according to a June Research and Markets report. But recently, Reuters noted, the company has been struggling to successfully pivot from fitness trackers to smartwatches, now dominated by Apple and Samsung.
Google’s interest in smartwatches has been well-documented. Last month, Business Insider reported that the company started developing smartwatch offerings as early as 2013–but has still never released one because of a series of internal reorganizations, quality issues, and design struggles. In January, Google spent $40 million to acquire a chunk of smartwatch intellectual property–and members of the team responsible for creating it–from fashion designer and manufacturer Fossil Group.
More broadly, tech giants have spent the past few years snapping up health care data-oriented startups. In June of 2018, Amazon bought online pharmacy, and 2016 Inc. Rising Star, PillPack for near $750 million–and it acquired digital health startup Health Navigator for an undisclosed price just last Wednesday. Apple purchased personal health data company Gliimpse in 2016, sleep sensor maker Beddit in 2017, and asthma monitoring system Tueo Health in 2018, all also for undisclosed prices.
Altogether, the health care industry has seen at least 250 mergers, acquisitions, shareholder spinoffs, and other similar deals per quarter for more than two years, according to PwC’s most recent U.S. Health Services Deals Insights report. The report noted that in the third quarter of 2019 alone, the industry’s deals tallied $19.6 billion, up nearly 18 percent from the same quarter a year ago.
I was barely getting any sleep,” Umar Afridi, cofounder and CEO of Truepill, says of the tech-enabled pharmacy company’s early days. From 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each day, he worked at Truepill’s distribution center in Hayward, California. Then he drove to his job as a pharmacy manager at a 24-hour CVS in East San Jose. On the side, he studied for a dozen state pharmacy exams so that Truepill, which at the time had no other pharmacists on staff, could legally ship to those states. “It was a pretty crazy first year,” he says with characteristic understatement.
That craziness has paid off for Afridi, 37, and his cofounder, Sid Viswanathan, 35, who hope to upend the staid, heavily regulated pharmacy business with technology. Truepill, which is based in San Mateo, California, shipped its first prescriptions in 2016. Last year its revenue reached $48 million, helped by the fast growth of direct-to-consumer customers like Nurx, which sells birth control, and Hims, which focuses on remedies for hair loss, erectile dysfunction and acne. This year Truepill could double its revenue to $100 million, as it expands its customer base beyond direct-to-consumer medications to prescriptions that treat more serious illnesses.
Those revenue numbers gained Truepill a spot on Forbes’ Next Billion-Dollar Startups list this year, despite its having raised just $13 million in venture funding led by Initialized Capital at a valuation of $80 million in its last round. That valuation makes Truepill an outlier on the list, as does the fact that Afridi and Viswanathan own the majority of the business and plan to continue to do so after raising the next round of capital, expected before the year’s end.
Afridi and Viswanathan—and their investors—are betting that Truepill will see a big payoff as consumers move away from in-person doctor visits and to a new model of telemedicine. “This is the building block of digital health and the future of healthcare,” says Initialized managing partner Garry Tan.
Pharmacy is a roughly $400 billion business in the United States, yet only recently have entrepreneurs begun tackling the market. In 2013, two young founders launched PillPack, a retail pharmacy startup that was acquired by Amazon last year for around $750 million. Other newcomers followed, including New York City’s Capsule, which grabbed $270 million in funding to do same-day prescription delivery refilled via text.
Truepill’s difference: Its business-to-business model makes it a behind-the-scenes player, invisible to retail customers, who will never have reason to know its name. That’s by design, and it allows Truepill to sign agreements with drugmakers and pharmacy benefit managers, those industry intermediaries that sit between insurers and drugmakers, without directly competing with them. “We’re not a traditional mail-order pharmacy,” Afridi says. “We’re way more than that.”
Afridi was born in Salt Lake City and grew up in Manchester, England, where his mother’s family was from. He studied pharmacy at the University of Manchester and worked as a relief pharmacist, filling in for those who went on vacation, in England. After passing the tests to practice in the United States, he took a job at Fred Meyer near Seattle. Unlike the typical pharmacist, Afridi always had an entrepreneurial side gig. During college, he imported performance cars, like the Mazda RX-7 and the Mitsubishi Evo 5, from Japan and sold them at a profit.
While working as a pharmacist, he taught himself computer programming and began playing around with the idea of an on-demand pharmacy. His goal: to ease customers’ frustrations with waiting in line to pick up medications and to cut back the phone calls and faxes required for pharmacists to do their job. “I’ve always had a passion for technology, and every time I see a problem, I think, ‘How can technology fix this?’” he says.
Viswanathan, an Indian immigrant, had worked at Johnson & Johnson, then cofounded CardMunch, a business-card scanning app. In 2011, LinkedIn bought the startup for a reported $3 million. Viswanathan stayed at the larger company after the deal, and when LinkedIn went public the stock he owned made him wealthy for the first time. “It was fairly life-changing coming from no money to having some,” he recalls. After nearly four years at LinkedIn, he was ready to leave and work on another startup. “My only criterion was what do I want to spend the next 10 years of my life on,” he says.
While he was pondering what to do next, he stumbled upon Afridi’s profile on LinkedIn—where Afridi had changed his header to “startup founder, pharmacist”—and messaged him cold to talk about healthcare. Soon the two were meeting regularly and brainstorming ideas for a business to start together.
By then, other startup pharmacies, like PillPack, were making inroads with retail customers. Rather than compete in what had become a crowded space vying for retail customers, Afridi and Viswanathan figured they could operate in the background, using technology to build an extremely efficient pharmacy distribution center. “Truepill is what you get when you put together a pharmacist and a software engineer,” Viswanathan says.
“This is the building block of digital health and the future of healthcare,” says Initialized Capital’s Garry Tan.
Their idea coincided with the rise of new direct-to-consumer health brands that needed a distributor that could follow all the pharmacy regulations. To consumers, these Instagrammable health products don’t look like drugs, and often their subscription boxes contain a mix of both prescription and over-the-counter products. But if there’s even one vial of prescription pills going out in the mail, the startup sending it needs a pharmacy to fulfill the order. In talking with Nurx, Viswanathan says, “we came to find out they were literally picking up the phone to mom-and-pop pharmacies in different states.” They gained a customer by offering a better way.
In 2017, Andrew Dudum cofounded Hims, the fast-growing direct-to-consumer therapeutics startup for men, and he, too, signed up with Truepill. “We knew from the beginning we were going to grow very fast,” Dudum says. “We expected 30 to 50 orders per day, and that was the scale we communicated to Umar and Sid that we needed to be prepared for. In the first week, we were getting 500 orders per day.” Today, Hims, which is valued at $1.1 billion, does thousands of orders per day and is one of Truepill’s largest customers. “They figured out a way to scale with us,” Dudum says.
At Truepill’s Hayward distribution center, all orders come in electronically. When Hims sends a prescription for finasteride, the male hair-loss treatment, for example, it goes through electronic vetting and then a robotic machine pulls the 1-milligram tablets from custom-made 1,000-count bottles into a small pill vial that gets labeled with Hims branding. That automation allows Truepill to work more efficiently than a traditional retail pharmacy. So, too, does its focus on a small number of medications: Ten medications, including finasteride and the erectile-dysfunction drug sildenafil, represent 80% of its volume. Its scale in those allows Truepill to turn over its inventory every few days and gives it the power to negotiate prices with drug manufacturers and pharmacy benefit managers on those products.
“Truepill is what you get when you put together a pharmacist and a software engineer,” says cofounder Sid Viswanathan.
For Afridi and Viswanathan, direct-to-consumer medications are just the beginning. They are starting to sign agreements with drugmakers and pharmacy benefit managers, though they won’t name those larger partners yet. This shift comes none too soon, as Hims has announced that it would open its own pharmacy in Ohio to shift a portion of its distribution in-house—a move that Viswanathan says will begin to impact Truepill in 2021. “Hims is a large part of the business in quantity, but not in revenue,” he says, noting that medications reimbursed by insurance are higher cost than lifestyle meds that consumers pay for out of pocket. Truepill currently has two distribution centers and is adding another five.
Afridi and Viswanathan’s next step: building a nationwide network of doctors in every state that will enable their pharmacy startup to play a bigger role in the shift to telemedicine. Those doctors will allow it to work directly with makers of specialty medications, say, so that they can distribute their medications to consumers more easily. Over time, Truepill figures its orders could rise from 5,000 to 10,000 per day to 100,000.
“Lifestyle and ED [erectile dysfunction] medications have allowed us to build the infrastructure to all these other areas,” Afridi says. “There is a lot of innovation that needs to happen in the space.”
I’m a senior editor at Forbes, where I cover manufacturing, industrial innovation and consumer products. I previously spent two years on the Forbes’ Entrepreneurs team. It’s my second stint here: I learned the ropes of business journalism under Forbes legendary editor Jim Michaels in the 1990s. Before rejoining, I was a senior writer or staff writer at BusinessWeek, Money and the New York Daily News. My work has also appeared in Barron’s, Inc., the New York Times and numerous other publications. I’m based in New York, but my family is from Pittsburgh—and I love stories that get me out into the industrial heartland. Ping me with ideas, or follow me on Twitter @amyfeldman.
Hi, I’m Garry Tan, venture capitalist and cofounder at Initialized Capital. We were earliest investors in billion dollar startups like Coinbase and Instacart, and we’re spending time with some of our best founders to learn the secrets of their success and see the future they’re building. Today I sat down with Sid Viswanathan, cofounder of Truepill, an API for all needs for telemedicine. Telemedicine has the potential to bring down costs and make high quality care more accessible for every person on the planet. We’re headed to Hayward, California, their west coast HQ and fulfillment center out of which they provide pharmacy services for dozens of telemedicine startups and practices large and small, shipping to all 50 states. Come learn about how as a founder, you need to choose a problem space that you could want to work on for 10 years or more. Please like this video and subscribe to my channel if you want to see more videos like this with top founders. Find Sid on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sidviswanathan Find Garry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/garrytan Learn more about Truepill at https://truepill.com Learn more about the companies we fund, and how we work with them at https://initialized.com
We are amidst the 4th Industrial Revolution, and technology is evolving faster than ever. Companies and individuals that don’t keep up with some of the major tech trends run the risk of being left behind. Understanding the key trends will allow people and businesses to prepare and grasp the opportunities. As a business and technology futurist, it is my job to look ahead and identify the most important trends. In this article, I share with you the seven most imminent trends everyone should get ready for in 2020.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of the most transformative tech evolutions of our times. As I highlighted in my book ‘Artificial Intelligence in Practice’, most companies have started to explore how they can use AI to improve the customer experience and to streamline their business operations. This will continue in 2020, and while people will increasingly become used to working alongside AIs, designing and deploying our own AI-based systems will remain an expensive proposition for most businesses.
For this reason, much of the AI applications will continue to be done through providers of as-a-service platforms, which allow us to simply feed in our own data and pay for the algorithms or compute resources as we use them.
Currently, these platforms, provided by the likes of Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, tend to be somewhat broad in scope, with (often expensive) custom-engineering required to apply them to the specific tasks an organization may require. During 2020, we will see wider adoption and a growing pool of providers that are likely to start offering more tailored applications and services for specific or specialized tasks. This will mean no company will have any excuses left not to use AI.
The 5th generation of mobile internet connectivity is going to give us super-fast download and upload speeds as well as more stable connections. While 5G mobile data networks became available for the first time in 2019, they were mostly still expensive and limited to functioning in confined areas or major cities. 2020 is likely to be the year when 5G really starts to fly, with more affordable data plans as well as greatly improved coverage, meaning that everyone can join in the fun.
Super-fast data networks will not only give us the ability to stream movies and music at higher quality when we’re on the move. The greatly increased speeds mean that mobile networks will become more usable even than the wired networks running into our homes and businesses. Companies must consider the business implications of having super-fast and stable internet access anywhere. The increased bandwidth will enable machines, robots, and autonomous vehicles to collect and transfer more data than ever, leading to advances in the area of the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart machinery. Smart cities
While we still aren’t at the stage where we can expect to routinely travel in, or even see, autonomous vehicles in 2020, they will undoubtedly continue to generate a significant amount of excitement.
Tesla chief Elon Musk has said he expects his company to create a truly “complete” autonomous vehicle by this year, and the number of vehicles capable of operating with a lesser degree of autonomy – such as automated braking and lane-changing – will become an increasingly common sight. In addition to this, other in-car systems not directly connected to driving, such as security and entertainment functions – will become increasingly automated and reliant on data capture and analytics. Google’s sister-company Waymo has just completed a trial of autonomous taxis in California, where it transported more than Xk people.
It won’t just be cars, of course – trucking and shipping are becoming more autonomous, and breakthroughs in this space are likely to continue to hit the headlines throughout 2020.
With the maturing of autonomous driving technology, we will also increasingly hear about the measures that will be taken by regulators, legislators, and authorities. Changes to laws, existing infrastructure, and social attitudes are all likely to be required before autonomous driving becomes a practical reality for most of us. During 2020, it’s likely we will start to see the debate around autonomous driving spread outside of the tech world, as more and more people come round to the idea that the question is not “if,” but “when,” it will become a reality.
Personalized and predictive medicine
Technology is currently transforming healthcare at an unprecedented rate. Our ability to capture data from wearable devices such as smartwatches will give us the ability to increasingly predict and treat health issues in people even before they experience any symptoms.
When it comes to treatment, we will see much more personalized approaches. This is also referred to as precision medicine which allows doctors to more precisely prescribe medicines and apply treatments, thanks to a data-driven understanding of how effective they are likely to be for a specific patient.
Although not a new idea, thanks to recent breakthroughs in technology, especially in the fields of genomics and AI, it is giving us a greater understanding of how different people’s bodies are better or worse equipped to fight off specific diseases, as well as how they are likely to react to different types of medication or treatment.
Throughout 2020 we will see new applications of predictive healthcare and the introduction of more personalized and effective treatments to ensure better outcomes for individual patients.
In computer terms, “vision” involves systems that are able to identify items, places, objects or people from visual images – those collected by a camera or sensor. It’s this technology that allows your smartphone camera to recognize which part of the image it’s capturing is a face, and powers technology such as Google Image Search.
As we move through 2020, we’re going to see computer vision equipped tools and technology rolled out for an ever-increasing number of uses. It’s fundamental to the way autonomous cars will “see” and navigate their way around danger. Production lines will employ computer vision cameras to watch for defective products or equipment failures, and security cameras will be able to alert us to anything out of the ordinary, without requiring 24/7 monitoring.
Computer vision is also enabling face recognition, which we will hear a lot about in 2020. We have already seen how useful the technology is in controlling access to our smartphones in the case of Apple’s FaceID and how Dubai airport uses it to provide a smoother customer journey [add link]. However, as the use cases will grow in 2020, we will also have more debates about limiting the use of this technology because of its potential to erode privacy and enable ‘Big Brother’-like state control.
Extended Reality (XR) is a catch-all term that covers several new and emerging technologies being used to create more immersive digital experiences. More specifically, it refers to virtual, augmented, and mixed reality. Virtual reality (VR) provides a fully digitally immersive experience where you enter a computer-generated world using headsets that blend out the real world. Augmented reality (AR) overlays digital objects onto the real world via smartphone screens or displays (think Snapchat filters). Mixed reality (MR) is an extension of AR, that means users can interact with digital objects placed in the real world (think playing a holographic piano that you have placed into your room via an AR headset).
These technologies have been around for a few years now but have largely been confined to the world of entertainment – with Oculus Rift and Vive headsets providing the current state-of-the-art in videogames, and smartphone features such as camera filters and Pokemon Go-style games providing the most visible examples of AR.
From 2020 expect all of that to change, as businesses get to grips with the wealth of exciting possibilities offered by both current forms of XR. Virtual and augmented reality will become increasingly prevalent for training and simulation, as well as offering new ways to interact with customers.
Blockchain is a technology trend that I have covered extensively this year, and yet you’re still likely to get blank looks if you mention in non-tech-savvy company. 2020 could finally be the year when that changes, though. Blockchain is essentially a digital ledger used to record transactions but secured due to its encrypted and decentralized nature. During 2019 some commentators began to argue that the technology was over-hyped and perhaps not as useful as first thought. However, continued investment by the likes of FedEx, IBM, Walmart and Mastercard during 2019 is likely to start to show real-world results, and if they manage to prove its case, could quickly lead to an increase in adoption by smaller players.
And if things are going to plan, 2020 will also see the launch of Facebook’s own blockchain-based crypto currently Libra, which is going to create quite a stir.
If you would like to keep track of these technologies, simply follow me on YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram, or head to my website for many more in-depth articles on these topics.
Bernard Marr is an internationally best-selling author, popular keynote speaker, futurist, and a strategic business & technology advisor to governments and companies. He helps organisations improve their business performance, use data more intelligently, and understand the implications of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, blockchains, and the Internet of Things. Why don’t you connect with Bernard on Twitter (@bernardmarr), LinkedIn (https://uk.linkedin.com/in/bernardmarr) or instagram (bernard.marr)?
Some time back, in my infographic on 51 Business Mistakes that most Entrepreneurs Make, I had outlined that one of the biggest mistakes is that you do not give any thought as to what you consider would be a great startup culture. And, without good policies or HR to keep things in check, the startup begins to develop a toxic business culture.
You will find this problem in businesses in Japan a lot. The Japanese culture is that people should work harder and if any employee goes home early, or finishes his work faster than the other, they usually get snitched on to their bosses by their co-workers. Since, you are growing a startup, you may want to avoid all these hullabaloo as time is limited and money is precious. Your workforce is your primary foundation and you want to build it strong as everything else you do is going to be supported by your employees.
Therefore, here is what you do to streamline the company’s functions and develop a strong and great company culture:
Step #1. What are the values that you hold dear and want to be reflected by your startup?
Yeah, you are the boss, you are the man of the show. Since you run the startup, you need it to reflect the type of entrepreneur you are and the entrepreneurial qualities you have as best as possible. That way, you can run it better!
So, ask yourself, what quality do you want for your startup to be its brand identity? It can be anything. For example – if you think hustle is the best quality of a startup (although, I disagree), it can be – “being the hardest worker in the room”, or if you want your employees to have a quality personal life, it can be something else.
Now, when you have landed on some values which you hold dear, make sure everybody in your business knows it – the employees, your partners, the directors and even the janitors!
Step #2. Make Sure Employees (Both Present and Future) Reflect those Ideals
If all you look at when hiring employees is whether they have the requisite skills or not, then you could be doing a grave mistake. Studies have proven that employees who are not a cultural fit with your business shall not work their best.
Heck, they can even become toxic in nature and do more harm to your company culture than good. Suppose you have an open-door policy wherein any employee can talk to you directly; however a mid-level executive doesn’t want that and shouts at and harasses his juniors for going to you without passing through him first – what do you think is going to happen?
Your startup culture will be in-operational for just one worker and can hinder performance among all your employees. That’s why mistake #1 in my post on business mistakes showed that you need a good HR even if your business is new. An HR has relevant skills and expertise in hiring the best workers so that can be a breather for you and help your business focus on, where it is truly necessary.
Step #3. Make Sure Everyone’s Voice is Heard
In order to truly know whether every employee is resonating according to your business ideals, you have to make sure that the voice of employees at even the lowest level is heard. That way, you can be sure the startup culture has truly sunk in.
In order to create a culture that actually motivates the employees, you also have to make sure that they understand that their voice matters and that if they have any grievances to tell or advices to offer, it has a good chance to be acted upon.
Also, this step that is to make everybody’s voice heard should not be made only in a vertical direction that is only from down to the top; rather it should be made laterally. Colleagues should know what their teammates think and feel.
That way, it can promote good communication and the workplace is going to remain energized. You need to also support lateral feedback even if means you have to go above and out of what you should be doing.
Step #4. Give Feedback
Now, the above step will be quite redundant without this process in place. Your employees will stop saying what they feel if they believe that what they say will not be acted upon. Therefore, you have to be proactive in giving feedback to employees. Show them that their work counts and learn to motivate them. Hold interactive sessions, talk one-on-one with employees who have addressed their grievances to you and also share your thoughts on any input they have given.
That way, you actually know whether your company culture is striving or whether the employees have just put up a facade to please you. Now, an even more important point – there will always be some employees who go against the company culture or even rebel against them.
There are three ways to handle them which you must note and be careful of:
Firstly, by providing gentle feedback about how you want things to be and remain in your business. This works against employees who unknowingly have strayed from the path and need just a gentle pat to return back on track. For example, if you have a company culture on wearing formal attire and being extremely disciplined but you see a guy who is trying to break free, because he feels the clothes are very restrictive, you can guide him to a middle path.
Secondly, by actively supporting him in his endeavour. You know, some people are really creative and can’t be bounded. While, it can do a lot of damage to your company culture, if you feel that the guy has got a lot to offer, you can let him be a wild horse. This usually applies to some very creative overachievers. These guys are usually rebels and if they don’t actually harm the way other employees do their work, it is best to keep them and encourage their habits! Seems rather odd, right!?
Lastly, by firing him. Some people just poison the company culture. Toxic employees who are constantly fighting their peers or are late in finishing their work almost always need to be eradicated or else you risk the chance of demotivating your other employees.
While, it looks rather simple, it is the simple things that have the most effectiveness. Executing these principles at your startup can be the separating factor from just a startup and a startup with a workforce who are optimized to win!
Eric Lefkofsky hasn’t taken a science class since college. But as he meanders through the Chicago lab of Tempus, his medical startup, he presents an air of expertise. “One thing you can see right off the bat is the purple staining of this cell,” he says, pointing to the pathology slide of a patient with breast cancer. He walks past vials of lysis buffer and a $1 million genomic sequencer. “Tempus is attempting to bring the power of artificial intelligence to healthcare,” he says. “The first step in all that is data.”
Assembling data was the first step in Lefkofsky’s other ventures. The 49-year-old has launched five companies worth at least $250 million apiece, each promising to transform an industry by using big data. His best-known venture is Groupon; despite the deals site’s disappointing share price, Lefkofsky is worth an estimated $2.7 billion.
Tempus is predicated on the theory that information, lots of it, will enable doctors to personalize cancer treatments and make them more effective. A doctor treating a patient with lung cancer might send a tumor sample to Tempus for genomic sequencing. Tempus identifies a mutation in the gene for epidermal growth factor receptor, which causes cells to grow and divide too much. With that, the doctor prescribes a targeted therapy that can have better results than chemotherapy.
So far the 700-employee company has raised $520 million (Lefkofsky put in $100 million). The lavish $3.1 billion valuation suggests investors expect his approach to make a big score, starting with cancer, then against chronic conditions like depression and diabetes. But precision medicine is a nascent field. Tempus, on its own or with a research partner, has published fewer than 20 peer-reviewed manuscripts since its founding four years ago. A competitor, sequencing firm Foundation Medicine, has published over 400 in 9 years.
While the cost of sequencing has dropped, it still runs $1,000 to $5,000 per analysis, and Tempus loses money doing it. Tempus also licenses its library of anonymized data to drug companies, insurers and researchers. Lefkofsky won’t reveal revenues, but says it gets seven-figure fees from seven of the ten largest cancer drug companies.
Lefkofsky got the entrepreneurial bug at the University of Michigan, where he studied history and made money selling carpets. In 2001, he cofounded InnerWorkings (marketing), then Echo Global Logistics (transportation) and Mediaocean (advertising software). One of Lefkofsky’s hires, Andrew Mason, pitched an idea for a business focused on “collective action.” Lefkofsky invested $1 million in what became Groupon. A year after its 2008 founding, it booked $14.5 million in revenue; in 2011, it generated $1.6 billion.
“It certainly feels like my entire career has led to this point,” Lefkofsky says. “I hope this will be my legacy project.”
Lefkofsky spent a few years dabbling on other projects, including Uptake (predictive analytics for heavy industry). “I always knew back then, [with] those businesses, that I would be in and out,” he says.
In 2014, Lefkofsky’s wife, Liz, was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I was just perplexed at how little data had permeated her care,” he says. That experience ultimately launched Tempus. (Liz has “been taking it one day at a time,” Lefkofsky says.)
Yet again, Lefkofsky needed data. But some researchers were initially hesitant to share. “They wanted us to basically send all our samples there for all our patients” in the future, says John McPherson, deputy director of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. “But we took a more cautious approach.” They ran a head-to-head comparison involving gastrointestinal cancer between Tempus and Foundation Medicine; Tempus fared well.
In 2017 Tempus reached a licensing agreement with the American Society of Clinical Oncology to extract and organize data from 1 million patient records. Today the company says it already works with 30% of U.S. oncologists; many send patient records and biopsies to Tempus for analysis. Tempus hopes to sequence 120,000 genomic samples for doctors this year.
Even with that data, Tempus faces stiff competition. Last year Swiss drug giant Roche spent $4.3 billion acquiring Foundation Medicine and big data firm Flatiron Health. Another startup, Concerto HealthAI, backed by billionaire Romesh Wadhwani, has access to many of the same records as Tempus.
Doctors at UC Davis, McPherson says, have only sent about 100 samples to Tempus, considerably fewer than they’ve sent to Foundation. “I think they were a little baffled by the amount of data that came back [from Tempus],” McPherson says. Clinicians “tend to take the easier route just to save time. But there are several clinicians that are now working fairly closely on the research side with them.”
Lefkofsky remains supremely optimistic. “It certainly feels like my entire career has led to this point,” he says. “I hope this will be my legacy project.”
Like a proud parent, Jack Davis has covered the refrigerator in his Wilshire Boulevard office with artwork. But these aren’t crayon-drawn stick figures of Mom and Dad. They’re the stuff of nightmares—a demonic entity with shark teeth, a cannibal with thorns sprouting from his head, a tree that likes to disembowel its victims.
The gruesome creatures crawled out of the imagination of Davis’ Crypt TV, a digital studio that aspires to become the Marvel of monsters for mobile. Davis, 27, has raised $11 million from investors including Hollywood producer Jason Blum (Us, Ma), media mogul Shari Redstone’s Advancit Capital, Huffington Post cofounder Kenneth Lerer and NBCUniversal. The four-year-old Los Angeles studio, which creates horror videos for social networks, is on track to bring in about $20 million in revenue this year through production deals, running ads for films like Crawl and selling merchandise.
When he started, “no one was doing scary for mobile,” Davis says. That signaled a missed opportunity. “This is a huge genre. It has a solid fan base, and scary movies are very, very big.”
The Golden Age of streaming has birthed Netflix competitors that cater to nearly every genre, from U.K. shows on Britbox to anime on Crunchyroll and, yes, horror on Shudder and Screambox. At the same time, studios like Elisabeth Murdoch’s Vertical Networks have built audiences that are reached primarily through mobile-first social networks such as Snapchat and Instagram, which more than a billion people visit each month.
Davis and Crypt TV cofounder Eli Roth, the film director and producer who developed Netflix’s first horror series, Hemlock Grove, bet that an audience who loved films like Jordan Peele’s Oscar-nominated Get Out would snap up suspense and horror on the small screen, too.
It’s an intuition that’s paying off. Crypt TV said on Friday that it had reached a deal with Facebook to develop five series exclusively for Facebook Watch, its on-demand video service. The deal extends a partnership started in 2018, when Facebook green-lighted a 15-episode series based on Crypt’s short film The Birch.
Facebook has been paying as much as $25 million for these original shows, though the bulk of them cost $3 to $5 million, according to a person familiar with the matter. Forbes estimates the new Crypt TV deal is valued at less than $20 million. Neither party would disclose the terms of the partnership.
Facebook might seem an unlikely place to screen monster movies for Generation Z and younger Millennials, who make up nearly half of Crypt TV’s audience. One Pew Research Center survey last year found that the world’s largest social network is no longer the most popular hangout for teens, a big drop from earlier in the decade. Plus, Facebook Watch has struggled to gain traction. A year after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg launched Watch to better compete with Google’s YouTube and Snapchat’s Discover, only half of Facebook users had ever heard of it, says The Diffusion Group, a media research consultancy.
Still, momentum is gathering for shows that capitalize on the network’s power to amass communities to talk about shared interests—say, Jada Pinkett Smith’s talk show, Red Table Talk, or Sorry for Your Loss, a drama on grief starring Elizabeth Olsen. Facebook says more than 140 million people each day spend at least a minute viewing Watch videos.
“It’s very hard to say that a platform … (of) two-plus billion people on it doesn’t have young people on it,” says Matthew Henick, Facebook’s head of content planning and strategy. “What Crypt does incredibly well is—because they’re able to tell their stories through many different modes or, in this case, products—they’re able to find those audiences and pull them in.”
Crypt TV taps into a community that likes to be scared. Horror has been reeling in fans on the big screen: The genre brought in a record $1 billion in box office sales in 2017, according to Comscore.
Some fans want to get their goose bumps for free. Thanks to The Birch, which was viewed 26 million times on Facebook, the studio now has 9.75 million followers, or more than triple its YouTube audience. On Davis’ fridge hang mementos from fans. One shared a photo of her tattoo—it’s of the Look-see, a creature with no eyes and flesh that’s been stitched together.
“Young people have so much emotion,” Davis says. A scary story “provides an amazing, permissive structure to take on deep emotional issues.”
A fortuitous encounter at a dinner party hosted by his parents in West Los Angeles led to the creation of Crypt TV. Then a student at Duke University, Davis found himself sitting next to Roth and began reciting dialogue from Roth’s portrayal of the bat-wielding Nazi killer Donny Donowitz in Inglourious Basterds.
The conversation turned to Davis’ career plans. The sociology and political science major said he hoped to launch his own company, capitalizing on the dramatic shift in media viewing habits he’d observed during his four years in college. Roth had a suggestion.
“I said, ‘You know that audience that’s going to see horror movies now’—because obviously now horror has exploded—‘They’re all on their phones,’” Roth recalls. “What is the next generation of characters? Who is creating the new Freddy Krueger? Is there a way to launch a Freddy? A Jason? A Michael Myers? A Chucky? Just on your phone?”
Roth introduced him to Blum, who became Crypt TV’s earliest investor and served as a mentor to the company’s 23-year-old founder.
An early success was #6SecondScare, an October 2014 online competition that encouraged users of Vine, Twitter’s six-second video service, to upload their scariest videos.
Roth lent his name to the contest and coaxed Hollywood celebrities including Quentin Tarantino and High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens to promote it and serve as judges. #6SecondScare attracted 20,000 submissions and ended up featured on ABC’s Good Morning America.
In the summer of 2015, Davis’ team launched Snapchat Murder Mystery, a show that gathered ten social media influencers to a mansion party, then killed off their characters in an Agatha Christie-styled whodunit. A year later came Crypt TV’s breakthrough moment with The Birch. The four-minute video follows a terrified schoolboy who summons an ancient being in the woods to dispense a particularly bloody form of retribution on the boy’s tormentor.
Davis faces his own monster lurking in the dark: Quibi. The mobile video subscription service comes with a Hollywood pedigree, a $1 billion cash horde and some of the best-known filmmakers in horror, Guillermo del Toro (The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth) and Sam Raimi (Evil Dead), as well as Blum, producing original content.
Quibi launches in April—though Crypt TV, in classic horror film fashion, has gotten a running start.
If you want to become an entrepreneur but don’t know where to start, relax. It’s not about ideas, it’s about understanding and researching current industries that have not innovated their products or services and have a large customer market. If you think about what Netflix, Amazon, Uber and AirBnb did, you can clearly see, they created nothing new in terms of products. So, what did they do? They changed the “game” in an industry that was not being innovative and was ripe for disruption. In other words, they headed for a “blue ocean” made famous by management thought leaders W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne in their perennial bestseller, Blue Ocean Strategy.
Blue Ocean Strategy is an approach that challenges everything that you thought you knew about the requirements for entrepreneurial success. Blue Ocean Strategy can be summarized in a nutshell: the best way to beat the competition is to make the competition irrelevant. Imagine that the marketplace is comprised of two sorts of oceans: red oceans and blue oceans.
To discover an elusive blue ocean, Kim and Mauborgne recommend that businesses consider what they call the Four Actions Framework to reconstruct buyer value elements in crafting a new innovation wave. The framework poses four key questions:
Raise: What factors should be raised well above the industry’s standard?
Reduce: What factors were a result of competing against other industries and can be reduced?
Eliminate: Which factors that the industry has long competed on should be eliminated?
Create: Which factors should be created that the industry has never offered?
If you think about it, lets review what these market leaders did with Blue Ocean Strategy in mind. Amazon did not build bookstores but built an enterprise infrastructure to have access to one million book titles and competed well with Borders and Barnes & Noble. Netflix did not use stores in their business model to compete with Blockbuster; instead they focused on customer service. Uber did not even try to buy cars and compete with the independent taxi companies, they created a mobile app. AirBnb does not own homes or hotels, instead they redefined the travel experience by uniting existing property owners onto a common easy-to-use platform.
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, third from left, takes a photograph as he attends the opening bell ceremony at the New York Stock Exchange, as his company makes its initial public offering, Friday, May 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)
Existing marketplaces with lots of competitors live in crowded, shark-ridden red oceans. Red oceans are characterized by multiple firms offering similar products competing mostly on price. Think Target versus Wal-Mart, Sony versus Samsung. Meanwhile, blue oceans are characterized by untapped market space, demand creation, and the opportunity for highly profitable growth.
In recent years, Dollar Shave Club took on Gillette by offering subscription-based access to razors at a better cost and service. As a potential entrepreneur, just examine large industries or product lines and see if customers are happy with their current choices. Wherever you find customers are not ecstatic, dig deeper. A few years back, Chobani did the same thing to yogurt by offering Greek yogurt, more protein and less sugar. None of these examples showcase a completely new, never heard of before product. But all these companies either innovated the current product in the marketplace or they offered a simple innovation or twist to the business model for their company. In almost every case, the customer is happier with the new company or product. That means they were dissatisfied before these companies came along.
If you want to get a jumpstart on surfacing an opportunity, pay attention to something new you see (craft beer, organic pet food, cloud storage, etc.) and do some research. Or go to places where you can observe people: malls, airports, universities and just walk around. See what people are doing and not doing. Don’t look for anything in particular, just observe. Another option is to walk through Target or Wal-Mart and slowly walk up and down the aisles. Look for current products that seem over priced or they don’t exactly make the customer ecstatic. Then research how big that industry category actually is. If it’s billions, keep going. Run a few of your best “opportunities” through the Blue Ocean Strategy framework of raise, reduce, eliminate and create.
The founders of Skullcandy did something similar by walking through Target to spot their earphone opportunity. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to solve a problem in a big marketplace. To spot a problem, go looking. Once you find some problems, use Blue Ocean Strategy to innovate a solution and perhaps you will create a billion dollar company.
You can read more about what Bernhard has to say on his website and follow him here on his Linked In
The buzz around the new Motorola Razr is electric. It’s taken off well beyond Lenovo’s ability to control it and the result is that we are all going to be disappointed. To understand why it’s necessary to understand how the original Razr came into being. I was a Director at Motorola in Chicago at the time, and while many of my colleagues, even those who opposed the project, now have LinkedIN profiles claiming to have been involved in its creation I’m happy to say I was only an observer.
But I was close to the people, the super smart people, who did make it happen, and the way it was done means that there is no hope that the forthcoming folding screen Razr can be any bit as good as the original.
It’s not the fault of today’s Motorola, the Lenovo owned company is just a victim of circumstance. My job here is to explain why the circumstances are different. Perhaps the most important difference is that there had never been a Razr before, but it’s also about how that came to be.
Razr was a skunkworks, produced by a bunch of engineers in their spare time and time stolen from other projects. Indeed the Motorola Aura which was to have been the follow-up was codenamed GD2 for “Go Dark 2”, the second project from the same skunkworks, but under the glare of Razr publicity GD2 failed to stay dark and suffered the development malaise that saw a nine month project take the best part of three years so the best ever 2G phone was launched into a 3G world and it failed. The existance of new Razr is already out and that’s the first thing which means this year’s model won’t be as good. The original Razr had no input from mobile operators, no customer requirements, no research or focus groups. And most importantly no sales targets. The development team just built what they thought was cool. Without needing to meet targets they didn’t need to ensure component supply. The keypad came from a manufacturer who could only do limited quantities. It was an enthusiasm. A hobby for some of the most gifted engineers the mobile industry has ever seen who enjoyed what they did. Bo, who looked at screens knew everything there was to know about screen manufacture, where the bodies where hidden, what manufacturing processes where giving what yields, and which technologies were likely to fail despite being promoted by their companies. Joel loved audio, he spent all day worrying about sound quality in phones and then went home to work out what he needed to do to improve the audio on his hi-fi. Roger knew and loved hinges. And most of all Moto had the very best radio engineers. The project was led by Roger Jellicoe a fantastically talented engineer who was protected from the rest of the business by Tracy and her boss Rob. It was a very special team building a very special phone without any commercial pressure.
The new Razr is being built by Lenovo. I don’t know much about the company and I assume that the internal processes and politics are very much better than those of the Motorola I worked for, but I’m just as sure that the environment in which the new Razr is being built is much more commercial and less indulgent. The RF will be on an established platform, the design will be dictated by component availability and there as a commercial project there will not be the passion and engineering flair.
Into this mix you need to add the renderings and anticipation. The concept models flying around the ‘net haven’t come from Lenovo they are people who are great at 3D modelling pleasuring themselves. They don’t have to worry about drop tests and SAR. They don’t have to consider the optical path for the camera, the rf occlusion from someone holding the device or the antenna packaging. All you see in a rendering is what someone thinks looks cool. It’s as though a car geek showed the next generation Ferrari as a flying carpet without stopping to think about where he engine would go.
It makes me sad for Lenovo because it is a great engineering company, but not as great as the fantasies of the 3D modellers. The modelers in turn have been fuelled by the way the original Razr was so radically different from anything before.
That was a perfect storm. Razr only happened because there was a very special team of people, protected from company politics by Geoffrey Frost. So when the new Razr comes out, and it’s a bit thicker than you were hoping, there isn’t a nice snap to the hinge, the screen isn’t as good as you were expecting and it’s not quite as polished as you’d hoped, don’t blame Lenovo, blame the fantasists.
Simon Rockman is the publisher of CW Journal read by the wireless and associated communities.
With two months left in 2018, healthcare startups have already raised more in VC funding this year than they did in all of 2012 and 2013 combined, according to an analysis conducted for Forbes by Pitchbook. Venture capitalists have poured more than $26 billion into health startups this year. In 2012 and 2013 combined, the sector raised $22.3 billion in 12 months. So far this year that $26.3 billion has been spread among 1,540 deals, which is slightly less than half the 3,103 deals that took place in 2012 and 2013………