This is the second interview in Dunn’s “Women in mHealth” series. Leslie Ziegler is Creative Director and Co-founder of Rock Health, a San-Francisco-based incubator for health technology startups: “bringing together the brightest minds in technology and medicine to build better solutions.”
You can download the 35-minute interview and listen during your workout, or read from the excerpt below!
Many health entrepreneurs are motivated by personal experience. Leslie Ziegler’s interest came after a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis. She found herself, at 27, already having to deal with health insurance issues. Ulcerative colitis has no known cause and no cure. Today, she is a lot more conscious about tracking her behaviors in hopes the quantified data will paint a bigger picture and improve the future. This passion inspires her work in healthcare technology, medical devices with sensors, and the Quantified Self movement.
STARTUP CULTURE IN HEALTHCARE
WHY IS CULTURE IMPORTANT?
According to Ziegler: “It’s always nice to work with people you really like. That comes across in our culture. We try to make healthcare something that’s approachable and fun. It can be intimidating when you get into the regulatory environment. It’s certainly something we try to dissolve a little bit by developing a culture of openness and some ‘cheek.'”
FOUNDER SYNERGY AND THE TEAM
“I think when you are building a team, obviously skills matter, background matters, but also–is the person you are working with a bulldozer? Somebody who is as passionate about building something successful as you are. Starting anything is hard, but in the tech space and as a women, it can be especially hard. Finding partners in crime that you don’t mind spending 12 to 14 hours a day with is certainly key.”
WHAT ARE IMPORTANT QUALITIES FOR ENTREPRENEURS?
“The biggest thing we’ve seen in the last class and my own experience is persistence, not being afraid of hearing ‘no.’ You will get a lot of ‘noes,’ it doesn’t matter who you are. There a lot of folks working on great ideas. To break through the noise, you have to be persistent. After 20 ‘noes,’ prepare for a hundred.
The other is not to be afraid to fail. I love the Mark Zuckerberg quote, ‘Fail harder.’ You have to be willing to put yourself out there, to put ideas out there and test them.”
WHAT DOES ROCK HEALTH LOOK FOR IN STARTUPS?
“We look for a bit more maturity. We’re not really looking for the 19-year olds dropping out of Harvard, although they are great, too. We’ve certainly had a few. It takes a bit more maturity in healthcare to work with institutional partners–like the Mayo Clinic, to work with the constraints of big companies, and to work with medical professionals.
We’re looking for teams who come to us with a great idea, that have the personalities and the temperaments, the persistence to be the team to solve a compelling problem. But, also have an engineer on the team. An idea is great, but a poorly executed idea is not going to win. So, it’s really important to have a technical co-founder. We don’t accept teams that don’t have one.”
WHAT WERE THE LESSONS LEARNED FROM THE FIRST STARTUP CLASS?
“We learned the power of community. We have shared office space here, and we knew it was going to be a powerful thing. You struggle with a lot of the same things when you are starting a company. We have this big, open space, where all of our teams work together, and apart in their own little solos. What was really nice to see is actually the way the teams interacted with each other. We also learned how powerful it can be when you bring together people that are working on different ideas, but bring them into the same space–the kind of passion and energy that’s created from that.”
“Because none of our teams were competitive, it really fostered this environment of openness, and sharing and collaboration.”
“There’s also tremendous value in finding people who are working on the same things and learning from their mistakes. We’re pushing a lot of our entrepreneurs to look at undiluted funding through grants, SBIR and others. A couple actually went through that process last term, and we know they are people we can call on this term, when other groups start filing for those.”
ON SELLING YOUR IDEA AND PITCH DECK
As Creative Director of Rock Health, Ziegler says she is intimately familiar with the deck-building process and says, “You’re in sales every day.” She spent eight years working on creative for big accounts like Starbucks, RED, Microsoft, among others. The trend she says has shifted at the seed stage to shorter presentations, not the 30-page business plans of the past. See Crafting the Perfect VC pitch.
“We see more decks now that are 10 to 15 slides, very tight, very conceptual, very visual. The value of design is promoted a lot more.”
Ziegler is responsible for the Rock Health website which is an amazing source of information for entrepreneurs. And, you don’t have to be part of the program to learn. The Resources section includes a Startup Handbook and “Startup Elements,” a new video series taped directly from the startup curriculum.
“Our mission and our goal is to really educate entrepreneurs who are coming into health from tech or those who are already here, whether or not you’re part of the Rock Health program.”
WOMEN ROCKING HEALTH
The Rock Health website also has a list of women leaders in the digital health landscape. The “Women Rocking Health” list includes women researchers, physicians, entrepreneurs, developers and investors who are working to transform and innovate health.
ROCK HEALTH AND Y COMBINATOR
There are two types of startups in the Rock Health program, full-time “fellows” who receive funding and are housed at the Rock Health offices, and “members” who come through other incubators, currently Y Combinator. Startups part of the “members” program are building something related to the healthcare space, but don’t receive funding or office space. “YC does a fantastic job with so many things, but they don’t have connections to medical professionals in the way that we do,” says Ziegler.
“Know the type of investor to approach and the type of investment you need for the stage of your startup. You won’t get money from an institutional fund who doesn’t invest seed money, no matter how great your idea is.”
Some seed stage investors include: NDB, Accel, Aberdare and NEA.
ADVICE TO BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS
“Find leaders in the space that you really respect and you really enjoy reading about. Follow them on Twitter and read what they read. Find people outside of the space that are doing cool things. Keep your curiosity.
Always ask questions, even if it may sound stupid to ask. Surround yourself with people that inspire you both online using tools like Twitter, and offline. Try to find someone who you think is building something really cool. Go to a coffee shop where you know entrepreneurs hang out, like Samovar, and soak in some of the energy. It’s going out and finding those things.
Talk to as many people as you can, find someone you admire, offer to buy them coffee. And don’t be afraid of ‘no.’ Good luck!”
Applications for the next class of startups for Rock Health will open in June.
Thank you to Geoff Clapp who facilitated this interview, and someone Ziegler recommends you follow on Twitter!
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