ViVE post-script: VC panel opines in midst of digital health’s new reality (depression?), and extra ViVE from an attendee

Not everything at ViVE this week was fun and music. The organizers included a timely panel discussion with four VCs exploring the crash of digital health funding, enterprises, and whither the fall of the VCs’ favorite bank, Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). It was moderated by MedCityNews‘ editor-in-chief Arundhati Parmar, who published an interview with Zane Burke, late of Livongo and now CEO of Quantum Health, pointedly asking whether Livongo’s sale to Teladoc was a smart one given the troubling post-script [TTA 3 Feb]. The participants — Lee Shapiro, managing partner at 7wireVentures, Emily Melton, managing partner at Threshold Ventures, Richard Mulry, president and CEO of Northwell Holdings, and Ambar Bhattacharyya, managing partner of Maverick Ventures–evidently weren’t given a diet of softballs, either. 

Parmar started with a quote from a recent article in another publication: “The run on SVB was a textbook result of the myopia and egoism that has swallowed the venture capital industry whole.” This refers to the advice that many VCs gave their invested companies–get your money out now. That was the same invested money that the VCs insisted be in SVB, in accounts such as payables and receivables. At least these VCs seemed to realize that now, somewhat obliquely. Shapiro called it a ‘tragedy of the commons’, B-school terminology that refers to too many people using a common resource ruining it because no one is responsible for it. More to the point, he pointed to some in the VC ‘community’ advising their companies to move their money out of SVB, creating the self-fulfilling prophecy of a run on the bank killing it. Melton pointed to social media and everyone rushing to take care of themselves without reflecting on the consequences of their actions.

The next quote and chart that Parmar presented had to do with that Old Devil Profitability in companies that IPO’d. Only two of 17 are profitable and they’ll be a surprise–Privia Health (VBC models for providers), and Progyny (riding the fertility and benefits bubble). Rather abashedly, the panel admitted to valuation frothiness leading to over-valuation, and a new sobriety and realism leading to (drum roll) an emphasis on profitability. Bhattacharyya noted that VCs were pushing growth up until last year. Now, it’s value, ruled by the “Rule of 40” –combined growth rate and profit margin that exceeds 40%, even better cash flow positive, which are tough bars to achieve for all but the most well-positioned (and fortunate) companies. “That’s now the playbook. So we’ve all transitioned to that.” A defensive playbook, in Shapiro’s view. (A close to impossible one that may stifle innovation, in this Editor’s view, though bootstrapped companies have always earned her admiration.)

To that point, Melton, noted that now more than ever, banking institutions like SVB and similar institutions need to work with founders and VCs to bring innovations to market. “One of the things I’m very fearful of is that we get into an environment where people are risked off and retreat right when we need people to be actually leaning in more now than ever.” Larger banks will be happy to take the money–according to Kruze Consulting, an accounting firm that focuses on startups, about half of its clients that recently changed banks moved to JPMorgan Chase–but will a JPM take up ongoing startup risk? 

Does this begin to feel like Catch-22? (Apologies to Joseph Heller) Or health tech back around 2006-2010?  

One comment towards the end hit home for this Editor, having seen it way up close. Too many founders 1) have an idealistic view of the business they started and can’t separate from it, and 2) there’s a time to exit stage left and do something else with your life. One company that may pull it off in its changeover of CEOs is Oscar Health. I’d add that no CEO should be in that seat for more than 5 years, even in well-established, doing-well companies–much less coming close to dying in place as CEO after 25 years as happened recently at one large, publicly traded payer. Very important: every company should have a succession/coverage plan operative from Day 1, because Stuff Happens. The full article in MedCityNews here. Another shorter take, same panel, in Mobihealthnews.

The next chapter for SVB is that after a Federal bailout (and the realization that the SF Federal Reserve was wearing blinders when it came to watchdogging the bank’s health and solvency), it was mostly sold this past week to First Citizens Bank & Trust Company, a regional bank from Raleigh, North Carolina. SVB’s UK holdings were bought much earlier by HSBC. Also up for sale: Leerink Partners, an investment banker for health care and life sciences companies, that was rebranded as SVB Securities. Jeff Leerink, the founder who still heads it, is trying to get it back through a management buyout. WBUR

A more ViVEcious view of the meeting is over at HISTalk, The most substantive sessions this attendee heard were the opening Tuesday by Micky Tripathi, the National Coordinator for HIT at the Office of the National Coordinator (ONC) for Health Information Technology, and a presentation by Shiv Rao (Abridge) and Joon Lee (UPMC) on generative AI. The downside was that most of the Tuesday presentations came off like walking ads, the CHIME track was separate with some members-only, and that exhibitors got little value by staying over Wednesday as the crowd vanished to 20%. Money quote: “ViVE shoots for a vibe of youth, energy, innovation, and fun in its branding, themes, opening remarks, and evening entertainment. Sounds great until you remember that your ticket cost nearly $3,000.” Ouch! That stings! Well, nobody’s perfect. A successful 2023 means that ViVE will be landing in Los Angeles 25-28 February 2024. For many, it’s on to HIMSS23 in a couple of weeks.

Categories: Latest News and Opinion.