As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan to Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Darin Brannan, CEO and Co-Founder of ClearDATA.
A highly successful tech entrepreneur and prior venture capitalist, Darin is passionate about improving healthcare. Prior to co-founding ClearDATA, he founded Web.com, a leading website and marketing SaaS provider. He raised $65M from top VC firms, grew the company to 700-plus employees and achieved a successful IPO, reaching a peak value of $2B. Darin honed his skills in building start-up companies while working as a venture capitalist at Norwest Venture Partners and Burr, Egan, Deleage & Co., where he sourced, invested, and helped guide a dozen start-ups that were successfully acquired or went public.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve always been the black sheep in my family, one in which ‘physician’ is the most prevalent career choice. While I was always very interested in their work and the world of healthcare, I was in contrast drawn to technology and finance. Since I was a child, I learned firsthand from family members how fractured and broken the healthcare system is, and its terrible price in terms of both human lives and billions in wasted spend. When I became a venture capitalist, I learned a lot about how to look at market potential and was struck by the promise I saw in healthcare IT moving to the cloud, and then extrapolated the extent to which modernizing and protecting healthcare could dramatically improve patient outcomes. Later, as a serial entrepreneur, it seemed a natural path to marry my interests of finance, technology, healthcare, and social change. I’ve always been up for a big challenge and modernizing healthcare certainly fits that bill.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Since we work in healthcare IT, there is no such thing as a funny mistake, as there may be in other industries. There are typically two type of mistakes: those emanating from trying something new and risky, and those from incompetency. To be a successful start-up, you can’t be afraid of making mistakes but you have to deal with them strategically — fail fast, iterate and adapt very quickly.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
I have a large appetite for motivational, entrepreneurship and leadership books and I seem to always be reading something. Some of my favorites are The Checklist Manifesto — How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande; The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell; Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by James Collins; The Hard Things About the Hard Things, Ben Horowitz; Drive, by Daniel Pink; Mastery, by Robert Green; Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Greg McKeown and Liz Wiseman. There are many valuable perspectives on these topics, so I find it’s difficult to hone in on a favorite or particular book that helped me but rather a confluence of many.
Also, I’m an ardent supporter of the Lencioni method for setting company objectives and key results, so anything by Patrick Lencioni is on my list. And, I’m a big fan of Simon Sinek’s TedTalk (and related books) about starting with “why” — if you haven’t viewed that, put that on your to do list for this week. It’s powerful. I also tend to listen to podcasts when driving. A few favorites are Masters of Scale, Thirty Minute Mentors, TED Radio Hour, The Tim Ferriss Show and How I Built This.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
I agree 100% in the power of a purpose-driven company. I came to healthcare with the view that my efforts applied to making healthcare materially better would be the capstone of my career.
I am a co-founder who actually came into the CEO position after discovering ClearDATA in its nascent stages. My colleague Chris Bowen had planted the seeds of the company in an effort to meet a pressing market need for healthcare privacy, security and compliance. The vision from the beginning was to make ClearDATA a purpose-driven company. Our mission statement is to make healthcare better, every single day. Our vision to attain this mission is to build one of the world’s most innovative companies designed to modernize and protect healthcare IT. All of us at ClearDATA are passionately committed to this and collectively believe healthcare IT is standing at a unique time to leverage all emerging technologies and knowledge to improve patient care as never before possible. As a purpose-driven company, the more we accomplish our mission/vision, the greater we help reduce the terrible annual stats of $1 trillion in healthcare waste, over $200 billion in healthcare fraud, and more than 12 million in diagnostic and misdiagnosis errors, leading to over 1,000 deaths per day from related medical errors.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Yes, and I have to remind myself of it frequently. Building a business is hard. The differences in a successful CEO and startup and the unsuccessful ones typically boil down to two things — provided they have a good business plan and market — of passion plus perseverance. You will hit so many roadblocks — pressure from investors, long hours, frustrating growth obstacles, sleepless nights, recessions, pressures to scale faster than you want, ambiguity, endless meetings, and now even pandemic challenges. You just have to go into it with passion for the end goal and be willing to persevere for long periods of time. You must constantly assess and attack your goals with great drive and urgency for the mission. The successful CEO needs to have unrelenting passion and perseverance for the mission — the dream.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
One of the immediate personal challenges for me was moving to remote work. I adore my family — I have a wife and three smart, talented, young girls — but trying to run a business while a dance recital is happening in the next room is not without its challenges. We’re all adjusting to remote work. There’s a constant need to schedule video calls and bandwidth becomes a personal challenge. And then I think, like everybody in America, the switch from face-to-face medical care to remote care was a shift. My wife led the charge on that, and it’s proven to be quite effective and engaging, plus it keeps our family safer. There are so many little things like not being able to take the family out to dinner or a movie, but we’re improvising as best and safely as we can. All of this has certainly made clear how much we, as humans, need each other.
Can you share a few of the biggest work-related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I think the biggest responsibility is to care for the safety of our team while keeping the engines running. There’s a huge moral imperative to get that right and not put a single ClearDATA employee in harm’s way. I admit, I was nervous the first week we shuttered the office and sent everyone home to work where they were safe, but all of our crisis planning over the years made for smooth sailing. It’s really something I’m so proud of — the way the team rallied and didn’t miss a beat in serving our customers who all, each and every one, are exclusively in healthcare. So, the pressure to move quickly has been the most intense I’ve ever experienced, but I see us rising to the challenge and it’s quite inspiring.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Look, anyone who hasn’t experienced some level of anxiety in the last few months is either in complete denial or isn’t paying attention. These are scary times. The best thing to do in scary times is be smart, be prepared as best as you can, band together and over-communicate to help release anxiety around uncertainty. Connect as much as you can, even if not physically. Professionally and personally, stay focused on your goals and celebrate victories — even small ones. My work family has the advantage of helping those on the front lines of this crisis because of the work we do in healthcare. While that can be tiring given the urgency and need, it gives us a sense of accomplishment rather than hopelessness.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I don’t think we are completely blind to what to expect in a post-COVID economy because I am in daily discussions with venture capitalists, bankers and others who track and forecast these things. We expected initially to see a hard, but temporary, stop in VC funding but that didn’t pause long at all. We are seeing a phenomenal opportunity in mergers and acquisitions in healthcare as companies find ways to merge to strengthen their product road map and better achieve their corporate goals. For us at ClearDATA, it’s been a strong time of growth as most healthcare organizations now realize the many advantages of the public cloud. What’s fascinating is how fast technology adoption is happening right now in healthcare. We are seeing companies coming out of stealth mode early and racing to us to help them migrate to the cloud so they can bring their applications or services to market. In some sectors there is atrophy of course — providers being the hardest hit because their margins were so small to start with. The postponement of elective surgeries has really hurt them as that was the one place that could fuel their margins operationally. But again, we’re starting to see acquisitions where some of the larger networks are scooping up some of the smaller, struggling hospitals. For me, I think one of the most fascinating trends is in telehealth, virtual care and remote patient monitoring devices — a market exploding with innovation and growth.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Well for starters, we are going to see healthcare finally embrace cloud and greater security with arms wide open — there’s no going back to how it was before. That’s huge. As far as how we behave, I think more companies will seriously take the need to have a crisis plan in place and be prepared to work remotely. As far as how we as individuals behave, I think some of that has changed forever. Things we took for granted like travel and vacations, or family reunions, or going out to eat with family and friends, or even getting our kids in school are now more precious. Smaller things — as simple as washing our hands — have become built in habits that may actually help us on the road ahead during the winter flu season.
Personally, I know this has changed me profoundly. It’s become so clear how much connections, be they personal or professional, are important.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
During this time many tech companies at our stage shifted investments from new customer sales to further investing in existing customers and product development. We will likely start re-balancing our internal investment toward new customer growth. We are also assessing the changes in healthcare to determine any notable shifts in product/market fit opportunities. We are also understanding the new buyers that were added to our rosters, like the CFO who is now part of the buying cycle in a more meaningful way in the provider (hospital) segment.
Regarding employee culture and engagement, we are re-imagining work-from-work and work-from-home practices. Many have now figured out how to work from home productively and enjoy it, and many miss working from the office for face-to-face interactions. Striking a new balance could help boost overall productivity and morale. Travel costs had been one of our top four cost levers and we now have an opportunity to improve profitability by looking at rebuilding with lower travel demands replaced by productive internal and external video meetings. The list goes on, suffice it to say. Overall business operations have pivoted in many ways creating a brave new world for businesses to further experiment with remote working, less travel, and greater efficiencies and productivity, and happier employees — we hope!
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would encourage others to do what we are planning to do. Distribute thoughtful surveys to assess what employee / customers liked and did not like, combined with a deep inspection of our key performance indicators to see what may have worked and not worked. Review modern instrumentation that can help us monitor and grow productivity from remote home working across each department. Some departments have tools they use that easily present productivity, other departments have very little visibility or checks and balances on who’s working and who’s not and at what levels. The pandemic is a catalyst for change to help drive this instrumentation, which can ultimately lead to tremendous increases in work life balance and quality of work. It will take more work and trial and error to determine the right blend of tools, accountability, and engagement efforts to rebuild to a new post-COVID norm.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t really have someone else’s life lesson quote that I live by. Instead, I have my own life lesson code that I try to live by, broken down into three things:
- Life’s magic happens outside your comfort zone — take risks
- Let gratitude guide you — it’s the secret to happiness, and
- Choose passion, perseverance and positivity for remarkable outcomes.
How can our readers further follow your work?