“Hope is not a business model”–advice from two VCs, with a bit more advice on basic banking

With yesterday’s article on how digital health funding is resuming its 2019 ‘long and winding road’ trajectory, with 2020-2022 now revealed as a complete aberration (though Rock Health is having trouble admitting it), your Editor returned to two saved articles in her ‘pinned tab file’ to glean some advice for the funding-lorn. 

Funding advice for health tech and digital health companies was the theme of this recent article in MedCityNews. Two Merck Global Health Innovation Fund executives spoke at a late June NYC conference, the fund’s president, Bill Taranto, and vice president Joe Volpe. They highlighted three key points but more between the lines. Editor’s comments follow:

Don’t be afraid of down rounds (or flat rounds) if you need to survive  This referred to the inflated valuations digital health companies received in 2021-22, whether they were profitable or not. The down-round stigma is why we are now seeing a wave of unlabeled and lower-amount rounds for companies that raised Series A and B rounds only 12-24 months prior. “Lack of cash causes bankruptcy.” Quite true, but what if the company never hits the ‘inflection point’ and putters along longer than funders expected at breakeven or mildly profitable? They admitted that unlabeled rounds are a survival tactic. As noted yesterday, they cannot go on forever or even for another 24 months. Prediction: valuations will be coming down in a second-order effect by next year, as well as more companies going private, selling lines of business or IP, or being acquired for unknown amounts.

Expect slower timelines   Startups used to plan six to eight months in advance of fundraising, now they are advised to start a year or more. This reverts back to the norm this Editor personally observed in the first hype curve of 2006-8 where early-stage companies would no sooner close a round or private financing than plan for the next. Note rounds–equity offered in return for notes convertible into shares–are popping up. Volpe described this as frustrating for larger investors like Merck because other investors are taking due diligence to the max and once committed, Merck is having to fund or bridge the company longer. This is a repeat of 2007-8. Investors have lost the fear of missing out (FOMO) that drove 2021-22 funding. They are often happier to walk away and keep their powder dry–if they have any. [TTA 5 Apr]

Get your narrative right  “The most important thing a company has to do before pitching to investors is ensure that it can clearly and honestly describe its narrative, Taranto explained.” More than that, a company has to be realistic about its future. Don’t tell a story that investors will have difficulty believing. Identify what’s the inflection point, when will it be, and is it a hockey stick or a garage lift? Here is where the old saw ‘underpromising and overperforming’ come in handy, as well as running lean. Do this enough and investors will like you a lot. You may also want to get some outside help in crafting and wordsmithing that narrative from a person not invested in the company’s future or your parents.

Now that you have the money, some basic banking and money management advice for founders and company management. We are already seeing amnesia around the events of March-April when four US (SVB, First Republic, Silvergate, and Signature) and one Swiss bank (Credit Suisse) went belly-up, putting a giant hole in the fisc of both startups and VCs. Founders and startup execs can be forgiven for concentrating on The Big Idea, though they seem to be in abundance lately and is no guarantee of success. Now, your Editor has no special financial expertise but as a marketer, has always been dependent on good relations with the financial folks for her budget. Companies come and go, whether small or large, healthcare to car rental to airlines, but there’s much in common when it comes to money.

Your little company may be better off with a big bank. Healthcare Dive looked at this while the collapses were happening. Their article’s point was that dealing with a major bank can be reassuring to investors. A big bank may be what is left in some markets. The downsides are that they move slowly and may not be agreeable to short-term cash loans or bridges. 

Nest your eggs in multiple baskets. Diversify your banking business and keep it below FDIC insurance levels. Spread accounts among a major bank and your regionals. Develop multiple relationships. It’s not being disloyal, it’s being smart. This may also affect where you locate your business. Ask your funders for contacts, but avoid what funders urged prior to March–to go to one bank like SVB or Signature and put all your business there as part of a quid pro quo. It didn’t turn out well for those who did.

Trust but verify. Expect that a bank will be an honest and skilled steward of your precious funds, payables and receivables. But your financial head/CFO should spend a fair amount of time regularly checking that they are and remain so. As to your bank, community responsibility can be positive, but it’s management time taken away from their main business which is stewarding your money. Be insistent on this. If you see their management has many unfilled spots, spends more time on ‘issues’ than on banking, plays in politics, grows too fast, has a lot of investments in crypto, is in play or taken over, execute Plan B and go elsewhere

Don’t skimp on your financial staff, policies, and procedures. You may be able to contract for sales, marketing, and R&D, but financial governance–probably not, unless you’re very small and willing to go fractional. Hire a good CFO and give him or her the right staff and power. Adopt rigorous budget and reporting procedures that are adhered to from top down. Don’t assume you or your partners can do it all alone, even if you have Harvard MBAs, or your accountant can do it. And watch your CFO like a hawk. One of the best combinations I’ve observed is a CFO and general counsel. 

Thoughts? Comment below. 

GreatCall enlarges remote monitoring profile with Healthsense acquisition (US) (Updated)

Updated. GreatCall, the older adult-targeted mobile phone/PERS company, on 20 December announced the acquisition of telecare/RPM developer Healthsense. Terms were not disclosed. Healthsense was one of the earliest developers (close after Living Independently Group’s, now Intel Care Innovations’, QuietCare) of a sensor-based residential system, eNeighbor, to monitor ADLs for activity and safety. It has been primarily marketed to senior living communities after an early start in home sales, and currently monitors 20,000 lives according to the press release. Healthsense acquired a similar system, WellAWARE, in 2013.

GreatCall is best known for its older adult-targeted mobile phone line, but in recent years they have expanded into mPERS services on phone and devices, including an emergency call center. The San Diego-based company acquired the remnants of the Lively in-home monitoring system a year ago and incorporated its watch-wearables into its medical alert product line.

This Editor speculates that one direction GreatCall may take is to expand into the senior community monitoring and home care business beyond mPERS. To date, GreatCall has been a highly successful, direct-to-consumer driven company which has popularized not only products to make technology simpler and more usable for older adults, but also led in a non-condescending approach to them. If the company decides to enter senior housing and home care, it presents a different and new marketing challenge, as both have been to date late technology adopters. Another concern is the cost/financial model, usability and reliability of Healthsense’s remote monitoring system.

The other direction is more conventional–GreatCall could incorporate the Healthsense technology and ADL algorithms into home monitoring, with a design resembling Lively’s original self-installed, attractively designed in-home telecare system.

Minnesota-based Healthsense in 15 years of operation raised what some would term a paltry $46 million of equity and debt financing in ten rounds (Crunchbase). Over this time, Healthsense’s investors were a small group, including New York-based Radius Ventures, Mansa Capital, West Health and Fallon Community Health Plan. After the $10 million venture round in 2014, the last investment was a small $2.6 million in February. Early investor Ziegler HealthVest Management, which purchased a significant interest in 2007, is not listed in Crunchbase’s roster, though one of their senior financial managers is on their board. This Editor senses (sic) that the investors were seeking to exit after a long time in.

The release has a summary of an earlier Healthsense study of interest to marketers of telehealth and telecare as a reference:

An independent 12-month study with Fallon Health (an investor–Ed.) found that using Healthsense remote monitoring in connection with Fallon’s model of care for seniors reduced total medical expenses by $687 per member per month — a nearly 16 percent reduction for pilot members as compared to a control group. The Fallon population using Healthsense demonstrated a 32.2 percent reduction in fees for inpatient hospital visits, a 39.4 percent reduction in emergency department costs and a 67.7 percent reduction in expenses for long term care vs. the control during the year-long study.

More in Mobihealthnews, MedCityNews, Minneapolis-St Paul Business Journal

(Updated with further information on early investor Ziegler and the senior housing market; hat tip to reader Andrea Swayne)

Ding! Telecare developer Healthsense raises $10 million in 8th round

Sensor-based remote monitoring company and certified Grizzled Pioneer Healthsense has completed a raise of $10 million, its eighth round of funding since its founding in 2003. This round was led by new investor Mansa Capital with previous investors Radius Ventures and Merck Global Health Innovation Fund. Mansa has current investments in only two other companies–smartphone med adherence platform HealthPrize Technologies ($3 million from Mansa just yesterday) and employer behavioral health risk manager E4 Health (CrunchBase) with a third, Independent Living Systems, listed on its website, but was a prior investor in well-known Athenahealth. Earlier investors Ziegler HealthVest Management (2007) and West Health did not join in this round. The VentureBeat article alludes to home monitoring pilots with home health providers Humana Cares/Senior Bridge and Fallon Health–odd since Healthsense has always had units in home health. Last year Healthsense bought rival telecare company WellAWARE [TTA 2 July 2013] after the latter experienced difficulty (more…)