Thursday, July 28, 2022

How to Break into Health Tech

Following last week’s tactical career post, A Networking Email that Works, here is a method to crack into the Health Tech/Service Innovation startup world. I assume this would work in other start-up heavy fields, but cannot confirm. 

The startup world can be daunting, especially for those used to larger organizations and/or academia.  The risks are greater, the rewards are supposed to be greater as well, but the truth is, if you really, really want to change health care, start ups seem to be the best place to do it.  One strong word of advice on risk– the best way to deal with career risk is cash.  I highly recommend you have at least 6 months of full living expenses (you budget, don’t you?!?) before joining a high risk company.  Otherwise every ebb and flow will send you careening in unhealthy ways.  You read into every meeting to see if your family is going to starve, and that makes it hard to change the world. Ok, if I haven’t shaken you yet…

Cracking into the world of startups is a networking game.  As an academic physician (the role most likely to ask for advice in this scenario) you are both too expensive and know almost nothing useful to a startup.  That said, we clearly need doctors in digital health.  If you are not a doctor, the odds are that you know more and cost a little less, but the same patterns hold true.  

There are tons of digital health companies created and dying every day. Any database is out of date and so you need to create it in real time.  Fortunately, the journey is helpful.  

Step 1: Check out the portfolio page of high quality health care Venture Capitalists (VCs).  

VCs examples that I like from past positive experience are:

There are others, feel free to go wild, this is just a starting point.

Now, look through EVERY COMPANY on the Healthcare Portfolio page.  Pay attention to the ones that seem interesting to you and discard the rest.  I am a deeply intuitive decision maker, so I just go with my first instinct.  You do you. 

Step 2: Check out the Portfolio Company websites.  

You are looking for 3 things in priority order to pull you further:

  1. Company Mission including population served

  2. Leadership team background

  3. Open Roles page

The goal here is to find a company that speaks to you enough to reach out in Step 5.  Don't worry if there isn't an opening, reach out if you like the company as you never know what will happen. In a subsequent post we can go into how to evaluate a start up you’d consider joining (hint: think like an investor).

Step 3: Find out the other funders of companies you like.

Sometimes this information is on the company site, sometimes it is on Pitchbook or Crunchbase.  This lets you build a database, see who knows whom, and find the few companies or investors on which to target.

Step 4: Repeat until you have 5-10 companies you like, or run out of time or energy. 

Step 5: Reach out through your network

This one can be a bit tricky, but send A Networking Email that Works to anyone in your network that might get you closer to a company on your list.  LinkedIn is helpful.  If you don’t have anyone, send a cold email to the leadership team, what do you have to lose?  Alternatively, track down a VC (hint, the board members of the company who work for VC funds are usually the lead VC for that deal).  Remember you are going for an informational interview— to learn more about the company— not a job offer, so play it cool.  

Good luck!  Again, this took me 50-70 conversations before finding the right match for me, so be patient, polite and persistent.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

A Networking Email That Works

On the heels of the generalist series there has been some inbound requests from friends and colleagues for career advice.  The next few entries will outline a networking approach to gain entry and credibility when entering a new field.  First, here's the skeleton of the e-mail template that I’ve used to get in conversations with truly wonderful people that have had a profound impact on my career. 



WARM INTRODUCTION NAME suggested we should meet because of REASON YOU ARE GREAT.  I am QUICK BACKGROUND and looking to advance in DESIRED FIELD.  Would you be willing to spend 30 minutes with me to share your story: what you do and how you got there?

Thank you so much for considering,



That’s it, works almost all the time.  Now let’s break it down part by part to understand what is included and what is intentionally excluded.


Warm introduction

This one is a challenge starting out but gets easier over time.  A warm introduction, a reference from someone else in your mutual network, is crucial to get this person’s attention and ensure your legitimacy.  Additionally, this applies very mild social pressure so that they do not ignore you.  No one wants a colleague to follow up with “why didn’t you respond to so and so!?” and remember, the utilization and expansion of a network grows its value.

What if you don’t know anyone?  With LinkedIn and other social media, it is easier than ever to understand who you know and who they know. If you are persistent and pleasant, these conversations can start almost anywhere and chain you to almost anyone you’d like to meet.  A word of caution, never fake an introduction if you don’t have one.  It is dishonest, unethical, and easily disproved.  Expect the recipient to check with the referrer before responding. 


Reason you are great:

A quick summary of your understanding of their expertise.  Flattery never hurts, especially powerful people.  Examples include: “your success in health tech.”  The important part of this sentence is that it is about their greatness, NOT YOUR NEEDS.  By being self-centered you give your recipient a guilt-free excuse to not do something nice for you.


Quick background/Desired Field:

Self-explanatory, keep it brief.  “I am a medical student looking to get into entrepreneurship SO THAT I can improve care in this country.”  This establishes your value and interest without spending too long on yourself. Do not inquire about specific roles, jobs, internships, etc. for reasons that will become clear in a moment. 


Your Story:

This is the hook of this email.  Most messages contain requests for favors which, other than being rude, fail two basic tests of action: First, there may be no makeable deal.  If you ask for a job and there is no job, then the answer is at best an apologetic “no” and the close of communication. Second, you’ve failed to appeal to the recipient’s self-interest in your request. However, due to the Ben Franklin Effect you still want to ask for something, and this is where the story idea comes through.  One of the best pieces of advice that I ever received was to listen to everyone’s life story, decide which ones appeal to you most, and then spend as much time with those people as possible.  It is an ingenuous, genuine method of learning about others and one’s self. Furthermore, everyone loves to share their version of their story!  They are rarely asked (or not often enough!).  You appeal to your recipient’s desire to teach, share and contribute which is a very powerful force.  Additionally, you will begin to see patterns of action and sequences of events and the incredible role of capitalizing on luck that plays into success.  By limiting it to 30 min you are minimizing the burden.

Now, what happens if they agree?  Easy—schedule whatever time they give you. Early, late, weekends, whatever.  Again, this is about them, not you, so make it work however you can.  Someone once asked me for a favor and then complained that the availability I offered them THE NEXT DAY was “too early in the morning for them” (7am local time!!).  Needless to say, that was not a productive relationship.  Also, block at least a 30 minute post call buffer in case it runs long (which is always good), for you to write a thank you email, consolidate your notes, and predictably, send the emails to the next set of individuals in the chain recommended by your recipient.


So now that you have the meeting scheduled, what are the possible outcomes?  Best case scenario- you find a mutual match, you get along well, the story is thrilling and a wonderful relationship begins.  This is extremely rare, but don’t worry, you only need one or a few of these relationships in your whole career.  Rarely, there is no magic, you don’t get along and the call ends in a dead end. Oh well, thank you note away! The most likely outcome is that your new colleague will suggest 1-5 people to whom you should speak next.  When I started this journey I was lucky enough to get 10 recommendations (!!) from an early meeting which changed the course of my career.  If they offer contact information, great, if not don’t ask.  Don’t make them do work, you can figure out an email address or LinkedIn profile.  Do ask if you can use their name as WARM INTRODUCTION.  And on and on you go! 

You may need 5 conversations, you may need 75 (I did), but persist in this method and you will develop lifelong, mutually productive relationships with mentors and colleagues. Good luck!

Thursday, July 14, 2022

Career Path for the Generalist, Part 3: The Integrator

I hope you’ve enjoyed the first two parts of the Generalist Career Path!  I’ve gotten great feedback which motivates me to continue writing. A word about part 3: read the links. It is worth getting familiar with the concepts as I attempt to create my own unified theory. I’ve also revised Part 2: Interpreter if you’d like to quickly re-read. 

If the Commando gets shit done across specialty domains, while the Interpreter builds empathetic relationships across specialists within domains, then the Integrator evolves from the previous phases to create lasting value by… integrating across domains. Maybe this is what you have secretly thought you should be doing: designing solutions: organizations, technology, services and products that combine specialties to create something new from the composite parts.  Perhaps you’ve even been frustrated by specialist bosses (twos) who cannot see what you can see.  Remember, your value is not the depth of your skill but rather the breadth of your skill.  As such, you are uniquely positioned to see what others cannot, similar to the concept of Chance III.  

Charlie Munger, perhaps the most successful generalist, put it best:

“each discipline entwines with, and in the process strengthens, every other. From each discipline the thoughtful person draws significant mental models, the key ideas that combine to produce a cohesive understanding. Those who cultivate this broad view are well on their way to achieving worldly wisdom.” --Investing: The Last Liberal Art by Robert Hagstrom

And that is the role of the Integrator–to lead organizations with wisdom to solve really, really hard problems.  As your organization grows and succeeds, the problems you face will traverse the Cynefin framework into complexity and chaos.  Setting up payroll is complicated, but it is a solved problem requiring one or two functions.  Similarly for getting everyone laptops, launching  an email client or ordering furniture.  As your organization grows, it slows, in part because you run out of obvious, comfortable, single functional problems. 

To solve this coordination challenge, bureaucracy starts to emerge in the form of project plans, timelines and the dreaded “accountable person” to ensure work across functions and this naturally ends in failure.  Why?  Simply– complex work requires cross-functional nuance, which is not the same thing as merely combining single functions in a meeting.  Furthermore, the choice “accountable individual” exposes your organization to both the Sartre problem and Conway’s Law in that the solution space is predetermined by the choice of designee.  Software teams tend to solve problems with software, compliance teams with policies, and operators with procedures.  Whichever specialist you choose will terminally bias the outcome.  What the organization requires is someone who understands what everybody does to combine them in novel ways to solve novel problems: the Integrator!

A successful Integrator requires legitimate power by virtue of a senior leadership position because the greatest challenges will be your specialist peer leaders who are looking for control over their resources, certainty and predictability (and often fallaciously desiring full utilization) that is inconsistent with creation and novel problem-solving.  Empathy is important here but so is urgency, you have to bring your peers along in a Goldilocks fashion, which is a challenge I continue to struggle with as a leader.

If you can pull it off, it is amazing what your organization can accomplish.  Work is clear as it is made visible, work in progress drops and with it all the fires start to go out.  No more draining weekly update meetings with no time to do the work. Incredibly rare evening and weekend emergency meetings.  Work gets done faster as you do less of it at once because teams work together instead of in a never ending arms race against one another.  The sense of calm, controlled progress is intoxicating and sounds too good to be true.  However, once you’ve been on the other side you cannot imagine going back. 

And this is about as far as I’ve gotten in 40 years so it is as far as I can take you now.  Perhaps I will write future parts as I learn them. 

-- Special thanks to Marie Castelli for sharing the HBR Integrator article!