By: Dexter Braff

For the past seven years, Rock Health has gathered digital health CEOs, from seed stage to round E (E!?), to hear how their colleagues address the challenges that, for the most part, everyone in the room has faced – or will soon.  It was held at Wharton, San Francisco, which was one of the partners supporting the event (the other was a health care M&A advisory firm, The Braff Group, which seems vaguely familiar).

Packed with insightful speakers, networking opportunities, and great food (which, of course, included kale), it was a thoughtful and inspiring day.

Here, then, are some of the insights we learned at the Rock Health CEO Summit.  Note that the quotes are paraphrased and attribution has been left out to protect the innocent.

“Death by Pilot.”

Perhaps no other comment at the conference elicited such a universal, all-too-well knowing chuckle.  Apparently, it’s not a secret, particularly in health care technology, that to prove the efficacy of your innovation, you must prove it (and customize it “just so”) over, and over, until your investors’ patience – and funding – is over.  And out.

“In building our organization, we don’t give our people fish, nor teach them how to fish.  We teach them how to build a school for fishing.”

When it comes to clichés, a little bird told us they’re a dime a dozen (see what we did there?).

But when you turn them around into something new and even more insightful?  Now that’s a diamond in the rough (last one, promise).

Sure, it’s great when an organization has invested enough in training and development that mission-critical responsibilities can be handled across the organization chart. The very best, however, know that the key to long term, geometric growth, is to create (a) a culture of independence, and (b) a human and operating infrastructure that supports the development of this capacity in others.

Clearly, the greatest thing since sliced bread (OK, we lied).

“The time to begin raising capital is right after you secured the last round.”

We have one word for this: Brilliant.  And Perceptive (yup, lied again).

Knowing that desperation does not make for a good negotiating position (or valuation), the most successful CEOs embrace (perhaps begrudgingly) the notion that the “road show” never really ends.  Sure, it may be in different stages which require different strategies and tactics.  But you should never spend too much time at the rest stop.  At least until the end of the road when you cash in at 10 times revenues.

“You can’t bootstrap a company targeting enterprise sales.”

According to Rock Health, “innovators are acutely feeling the challenges of enterprise sales. Selling to payers, providers, biopharma companies, and others is a tough game across the board. Sales cycles are long, requiring patience and a knack for relationship building. Finding the right buyer in a big organization can be disorienting. And crafting the pitch is tricky when talking to a complex, multi-faceted enterprise customer.”[1]

If you’re developing an enterprise sales solution, you may be able to bootstrap your way through the initial phases of development and perhaps a limited number of pilots.  But early on, you’ll still have to swap the boots for a pair of wingtips (pink socks, of course) to raise enough cash to survive the “tour de sales.”

One more thing.  Whatever you think you need, double it.

“If you’re a CEO of a growing company, take time to take a break.  Your staff will thank you for it.”

This remark made the cut not for the first sentence, but for the second.  Sure, you need to take a break to “re-energize.”  But, as momma said, “it’s not always about you.”  And in a hard-charging environment, your employees need a break too.  From you.

“Once you get FDA approval, the real work begins.”

Say what?  After going through more trials than Jackie Chiles[2] and enough paperwork to concern the National Forest Service, you’d think it would be “Hammer Time.”


It seems that the FDA requires very specific operational processes at virtually every touch point in a regulated product’s life-cycle.  And even more processes to monitor and demonstrate compliance.

Who knew that health care was so complicated?

“When you ‘partner’ with a really big customer that requires substantial and seemingly never-ending customization, it might not really be a partnership.”

Now what it really is was left unsaid.

But feel free to fill it in with anything that describes when you have virtually no leverage to side-step the drain of all your financial, human, and emotional resources demanded by your, you know, partner.

“Now you can tell everyone you went to Wharton.”[3]

[1] “Streamlining Enterprise Sales in Digital Health,” Rock Health, Bill Evans, Sue Shiao

[2] You know, Seinfeld.

[3] That was ours, but still…

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