Podcast

Episode: 305 |
Cyrus Massoumi:
Startup Success:
Episode
305

HOW TO THRIVE AS AN
INDEPENDENT PROFESSIONAL

Cyrus Massoumi

Startup Success

Show Notes

Cyrus Massoumi is one of the three founders of ZocDoc, an online medical care appointment booking service that has raised over $280 million in funding and currently has roughly 600 employees.

Cyrus has stepped down from his role as CEO of ZocDoc. In this episode, he shares the three pillars of his current activities:

1) Philanthropy

2) His efforts to solve the problem of “lost,” manifested in a new company he founded, Shadow, which has an app that helps reunite lost dogs with their owners: https://shadowapp.com/

3) Investing along with his partner through their fund Humbition

One weekly email with bonus materials and summaries of each new episode:

Speaker 1 (00:01):
Hello, and welcome to unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional unleashed is produced by [inaudible], which connects you with the world’s top independent management consultants. I’m will Bachman. And I’m here today with Cyrus Masumi, who is the founder of Zoc doc, and now runs humbition and investing fund and has a whole range of things going on. Cyrus. Welcome to the show.
Speaker 2 (00:25):
Thank you very much for having me.
Speaker 1 (00:27):
So Cyrus, you were telling me that you have three main pillars right now. Now that you’ve you’ve left sock doc, tell me what are your three pillars?
Speaker 2 (00:36):
Sure. So I, uh, I started a, um, when we, when we were
Speaker 2 (00:43):
Running a Zoc doc, uh, I found that the people who were entrepreneurs were among the most helpful investors that we had because they’d been through it before. And I thought that New York needed to have more operators turn investors. So I created a venture capital fund with my friend in college, classmate, Slava Rubin, who was the founder and CEO of Indiegogo. And we invest in seed and series a companies primarily based in New York. Uh, we’re sort of industry agnostic. We’re just really focusing on, on great founders. And so I spend a lot of time just helping founders, whether the word investors are not building their next wave of companies. And so I do that. Um, I have a new startup that has recently, uh, come out of stealth called shadow where I’m the founder and CEO, where we are solving a problem, um, an ancient problem of humanity, uh, relating to lost.
Speaker 2 (01:42):
Uh, and we started with lost bugs, uh, reuniting, lost dogs with their families. And it’s, uh, it’s been an interesting journey and it’s sort of a beautiful, uh, case study and, and really using technology to make us more human. And, uh, so I, I spend a lot of time on that and, and, uh, I’ve had the privilege of, of, uh, one of the schools I went to was Columbia. And I had the privilege of serving on the public, uh, the board of the public health school, the mailman school of public health. And as one can imagine, this is 2020 is really been a, a pivotal year, a critical year for public health. And we’ve been involved in, in the academic response. I’ve been chairing a committee, um, to basically help, uh, help one of our, our, our, our, uh, leading biologists scale up his efforts for COVID testing. And that’s been very rewarding. And so between those three things and, uh, learning how to become better roommates with my dog during this pandemic, I’ve been pretty, uh, pretty busy.
Speaker 1 (02:46):
Let’s dive into that third one first. So tell, tell us about the kind of COVID testing work that you’ve been, you’ve been supporting.
Speaker 2 (02:55):
Sure. So, uh, we’ve heard of a see a of about testing throughout these months, um, at home tests, very quick tests, uh, uh, et cetera, antibody tests. And one of the things I think that is not been
Speaker 3 (03:13):
Mmm,
Speaker 2 (03:14):
Widely understood is the sensitivity of the tests are very variable. You know, many of these tests did not need to go through the same level of FDA approvals that they normally would, um, in, in, in regular times. And so they’ve had an almost emergency approvals as such. And so there’s a lot of issues with the inaccuracy of, of the tests that are out there. Most of the tests that have been out there are, are qualitative in nature. So they tell you a yes or no, you have it. And, and, and with, uh, perhaps a 30% inaccuracy rate, which is quite high, uh, literally you could be flipping a coin and, and, and perhaps, uh, coming out with a similar result with odds like that. And so when, when the epidemic first started Gary Miller, who’s the vice Dean of research at the mailman school, uh, met with, uh, our board.
Speaker 2 (04:09):
And he talked about, uh, some of the work that was being done, dr. Ian Lipkin, who is a star VAR biologist at Columbia. He was, uh, literally, um, uh, the, uh, uh, the movie contagion. He was the medical, uh, uh, advisor on that he is been helping China throughout its own, uh, the current, uh, pandemic, but prior to the prior SARS pandemic, he was involved with that. Uh, he won one of the highest civilian awards, uh, possible from the government of China in the work that he’s done. So he is, um, really, uh, the Indiana Jones of virus hunting, and he has come out, uh, he had developed a test called the C3 test, which was a highly sensitive COVID-19 test that, um, is quantitative. So it would actually tell you the exact viral loads. And it was, uh, the most sensitive test that we were aware of, uh, globally. And in order to run this test, uh, and in its initial form, uh, required, uh, uh, several pieces of very expensive equipment. And we was, uh, we wanted to very quickly start scaling up
Speaker 3 (05:22):
Mmm.
Speaker 2 (05:23):
Scaling up the, uh, the, uh, the efforts and the amount of testing that they were able to do. Um, the issue was our board, uh, had been very generous and had just gone through, um, raising money, our internally for us to make sure that all of our students were okay and they’re all going to get home safely. And given that the school had shut down. And so we had to look externally for, um, for funding sources. Um, we set a target of raising a million dollars. Uh, we started, uh, by doing a, uh, we decided to go about doing a crowdfunding campaign, which we launched an Indiegogo for this test. It was called the C3 test. Um, and it was really amazing and an initial, very short amount of time. Uh, we not only surpassed our $1 million goal, but we ended up raising a three point $2 million in total. And it was a real lesson to, uh, in terms of how to really, uh, organize and motivate people around a very specific cause. And it moved me, um, just to see the level of philanthropy. I mean, obviously there were people who were giving five and $10 donations all over the world. Uh, Bernie Sanders pushed it out to his supporters. They started to contributing, uh, we had, uh, literally, um, uh, uh, organizations like Pepsi co,
Speaker 3 (06:46):
Uh, uh, uh, that were, uh,
Speaker 2 (06:49):
Supporting us, uh, the route in family, uh, in New York, uh, the Ruderman family foundation, uh, made a very sizable contribution and just started seeing, uh, the whole thing snowball. And it’s really been transformative in terms of how, uh, not just the center for infection and immunity that Ian runs, um, has been able to respond to COVID, but it’s also just been broadly helping New York and really all over the world, as we’ve been now rolling out this test, uh, pretty much as many places as would be willing to, uh, to start rolling it out.
Speaker 1 (07:25):
Yeah. It’s strange how the government gave out pretty quickly, 2 million million dollars, right. $2 trillion with the, with the, with the act, and then, you know, to get, to raise a couple million dollars for a test, which allows us to reopen the economy. Uh, you have to go, go to Indiegogo. Oh, what, um, what, uh, tell us a little bit about what, you know, from getting so close to this and seeing how testing is evolving, what should we expect to see, uh, in testing over the next sort of few months, should it be possible for employers to, you know, test every employee as they walk in the door and get the results in 10 minutes, or, you know, how much will that cost, like w what do you see happening in testing over the following few months?
Speaker 2 (08:13):
Sure. So, um, I do think that there are, uh, through our, our venture fund, we have seen a few very, very promising companies that are working on home diagnostic platforms or office diagnostic platforms where the reality of what you’re talking about could, uh, definitely, um, be there and be there in short order, literally within the next, uh, within the next quarter. Um, so I do think that that is entirely possible, uh, in the case of the C3 test, a lot of what tests of this sensitivity have been useful for is literally launching,
Speaker 3 (08:54):
Um, uh,
Speaker 2 (08:56):
Clinical trials for cures. So in order to actually test cures, you need to have the know the viral load and, and have a quantitative assessment of how, what you were doing is impacting the virus and the patient. And so, uh, Columbia has launched, uh, I think, uh, between four and six clinical trials now because of the C three test. Uh, we are, uh, testing, uh, both the, uh, Madonna and the AstraZeneca vaccines within the next, uh, few months are, are now rolling out, uh, um, clinical trials, uh, where, where this test will be used as well. And so I think that, um, testing is absolutely in our future. I don’t expect it to go away. Uh, I expect there to be lots of innovation, and there’s a lot of startups now that are sort of shifting their focus to doing this in a broad base. And I think that it’s really going to shift forward healthcare decades, um, in a very short amount of time.
Speaker 3 (09:55):
Okay.
Speaker 1 (09:55):
Let’s turn to your second pillar and talk a little bit about shadow. So I live in New York city, if we lost our, uh, black standard poodle, which would be a disaster. If mochi preach, you ran off, what would we do? Uh, how, like what with your app, how, how would the app help help us, uh, get reunited?
Speaker 2 (10:18):
Sure. So broadly speaking, just talking about the breadth of the problem,
Speaker 3 (10:22):
Um, yeah,
Speaker 2 (10:23):
Lost, uh, lost pets is a, there’s about a hundred million lost pets per year, globally, 10 million in the U S and about 27% of them get reunited, uh, if they ended up in a shelter. So it’s not really great odds. And, um, I came about,
Speaker 3 (10:44):
Uh,
Speaker 2 (10:45):
Recognizing this problem. I was at a dinner a few years ago, and I met, um, I met an artist named Brad Kunkle and Brad has a puppy named shadow. They were in a, uh, they were at a birthday party and a friend of his birthday party. And there was some loud music and shatter got scooped and ran away. And so Brad, uh, pretty much stopped everything he was doing. And he started looking for his dog and literally, uh, obviously, uh, come the streets, but he stopped working. He, they didn’t find her that evening. And they literally would, would, uh, spend a full time, uh, full time searching for shadow. And he sort of saw the good and the bad of humanity, the good being, the total strangers dropped, everything they were doing to help him the bad being that. Um, he saw the evils of humanity.
Speaker 2 (11:37):
People tried to lure him to a park to mug him for the reward money. Uh, people try to find dogs that look like shadow. That convinced them they’re a shadow for the award money. And in the end, when I met him, he was going to give up and I was very moved by his story. And I was like, you cannot give up. I don’t know what going to do, but we will find shadow. And a week later he got a phone call from someone who was eight miles away from where shadow went missing, saying they saw her, poking her head through a fence in front of a wooded area at the end of the dead end street. And he was like, what are the odds? My puppy still living wild at the end of the month and the streets of Brooklyn. Uh, but he drove out there and unfortunately he didn’t see her.
Speaker 2 (12:19):
He drove out there second night. He didn’t see her again. And as he was leaving totally demoralized ready to give up. He has heard then a jingle, like it was coming from a dog collar, any wait around for a few minutes. And sure enough, he saw a little nose poking her head to dispense. He was super excited. He went running after her yelling, her name, and she had gone feral and she ran away. So he had to feed her fried chicken everyday for a week to get her to come back to the same spot. And at the end of the week, they set a humane trap, little shadow, big fence. She’s jumping over the fence, they’re holding her hind legs back. And as soon as her nose touches, Brad’s arm, her tail starts to wag chef’s to cry and they’re being edited. So why am I telling you this story?
Speaker 2 (13:01):
Um, I think many aspects of what Brad had gone through were things that I think lend themselves well to a, um, a sort of a technology enabled community. Uh, and I went on this journey recognizing, uh, can we figure out ways to use these mobile phones in our pockets to actually really, um, solve this problem for, for people, for families. And I went off and, um, spent a few, a few months learning how to actually be a pet detective. So I’m a trained, missing animal response professional. I have this kid in my office and, uh, literally learned how to reunite people with their pets. And we spent,
Speaker 3 (13:49):
Um, uh,
Speaker 2 (13:51):
The first six months just doing things manually. And then we built an app. We released in 2018, then ended up reuniting 600 dogs that year. We were named one of New York city’s, uh, by the New York shelter system, one of their, their heroes for the year. And we then reunited, uh, last year over 2,500 dogs in New York. Uh, and now I’ve taken the service to a few other American cities, Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, and now Phoenix, Arizona. Uh, we, the way the app works, um, is if someone loses or finds a dog, they upload the photograph. Uh, we’ve scoured the web, every shelter, every rescue, every social media outlet. And we have now ingested all of those photographs. And within seconds we hopefully identify the match and present that to the user. Uh, and if that does not work, uh, we then will, uh, programmatically set a search radius based on where, and when the dog went missing and we will feed the people, the actions they can take, the, had the highest probability of getting their dogs back and they can take these actions.
Speaker 2 (14:55):
Their friends can take these actions and our growing community volunteers can take these actions. And the net result of that is reunion rates that are, um, literally triple the national average. So, uh, we are, uh, uh, in our oldest markets close to 80% of, of, of the dogs that go missing are now reunited. Uh, and to compare that to 27%, which is the average renew made, if a dog ends up at a shelter, wow, what, what are some of those actions that people should take? Does it vary by the circumstance? What are some actions that should take? So it falls into a handful of buckets. So there are things relating to broadcasts getting the word out, uh, things relating to searching, uh, and then things relating to actually, um, uh, trapping a lost dog. So there’s a three broad buckets, uh, on the broadcast side, we, of course enabled people to easily post to all of these social media platforms, but also, uh, if they want, they can, um, uh, very quickly within one click, uh, have an ad out to sort of amplify the effects of what they’ve shared.
Speaker 2 (16:01):
Uh, they, uh, we of course, uh, uh, print flyers for them. One of the challenges that Brad had is that people were calling him and trying to deprive him. And what we learned early on we were doing this manually is if we could actually give people a proxy phone number, we could solve that problem because people know the call is being recorded. They’re less likely to want to do devious things. So we sort of give them that, and that’s sort of the number they use for their entire search. Uh, we then help give them the tools to, uh, for them and the volunteers to basically just scour the neighborhood with wires. So, uh, literally, uh, you can see where the people are posting flyers and where hasn’t posted flyers have not been posted, and you can deploy things that way. Uh, you can also with one click, send what we call a dog, Amber alert, which notifies everybody, um, in your network, uh, of, uh, the fact that your dog is missing.
Speaker 2 (16:51):
So that’s, those are the kinds of actions. One can take on a, um, broadcast side. And then on the searching side, uh, as I mentioned, we have adjusted all the information of what dogs are and what shelters, et cetera. And so we enable people to, of course, we use AI to give them the ones that have the highest matches, but we also enable them to, to systemic go through every single shelter because, you know, this is a lost family member. You’re not going to just trust what the technology tells you. Sometimes the dog may have looked disheveled or, you know, look darker and a photograph, et cetera. So we enabled them to go through every single rescue, every single shelter and check every single dog to make sure they’re not their dog. And we sort of manage that entire process and make it seamless for them.
Speaker 2 (17:33):
And when there’s new ones, we sort of push it to them, et cetera. And so that is the element of, of, of, of search that we do. Trapping is not something that we are involved in though. We are partners with a number of local organizations and all of our, our markets where that’s literally, um, it’s an amazing skill. And, and, uh, you know, many people are, are just, uh, spending all their free time helping, uh, lost, uh, lost pets in suburban areas, get, uh, uh, get trapped, uh, which is effectively what Brad had to do in Brooklyn when shadow went missing. And so it’s not something that we do, uh, do yet within the app, but it’s, uh, it’s, it’s sort of the, the, the last part of the solution
Speaker 1 (18:12):
On that broadcast part. That’s one thing that maybe I’m just not sophisticated enough, but it still seems like technology hasn’t really solved yet of how to, and it’s kind of though, it’s interesting that one of the approaches still is to go around and sort of tape up flyers in your neighborhood. That there’s not a great way to, if you live in a story or to post something, I know there’s like what the neighborhood app or something, but there’s not a great way to post something to people in your immediate area, even if you wanted to pay for advertising, you know? And so it would go on Twitter or Facebook or, or other things to get to people just in a very narrow geographic area.
Speaker 2 (18:52):
Yeah. Yeah, I think, um, uh, sorry. So the question specifically being, um,
Speaker 1 (18:58):
I mean, I guess it just seems like that’s something that’s still, hasn’t been solved, but, um, so one of the tips that you suggest is, is still putting out kind of paper flyers and taping them up.
Speaker 2 (19:07):
I think you have to do both. Yeah. I think, you know, this is a, um, time is of the essence and the sooner you get out there, the better off your chances are going to be. And so there are definitely people, dog lovers who are not on social media and, you know, there’s been a sort of a, a broad, uh, the broad trends are that people are no longer on Facebook, as much as they used to be. And I think that the tides are changing from some of the other social platforms as well. So you definitely want to make sure that you’re out there and that’s the most quick thing that you can do, but you’d be surprised at how many people are still, um, needing to be in the streets and hanging the flyers, the old fashioned way, uh, as a means of getting, uh, getting their dog back.
Speaker 1 (19:51):
Yeah. Peter teal has this famous question about what do you believe to be true that most people do not. What’s your belief about shadow and about solving lost?
Speaker 2 (20:03):
I believe that humans are good. And I think so much of technology assumes that people are maybe testicle and self centered. And I think the vast majority of human humanity is, is, is good. And what we’re trying to do is build the technology to help make it easy for people to do the right thing. And, uh, that is, uh,
Speaker 3 (20:28):
Um, uh,
Speaker 2 (20:29):
You know, it’s, it’s definitely,
Speaker 3 (20:32):
Uh, uh,
Speaker 2 (20:33):
It’s something I wish more technology companies would actually do. Um, because I, I do think that the grand social media experiment, um, of the past, uh, decade and a half, um, has largely failed on the dementia, bringing those closer together. I think in many respects brought us further apart. And, uh, as someone who my life’s work is to use technology to make humanity better. Um, you know, it’s, um, that’s not very reassuring. And so I, I want to believe that we can use technology to make us more human.
Speaker 1 (21:08):
I love that. I, as generally been my experience I’ve, um, you know, in course of living in New York over the past decade, I think a couple of times we’ve had, uh, a lost wallet that’s been returned to us and, you know, even, I mean, still with the cash inside, um, and on several occasions, you know, we found a wallet and one case, a cell phone and managed to return it to their owner. It’s not always that easy, uh, or even like a big duffle bag with also like a wallet and the iPhone, everything sometimes not that easy. And it, one, one thing I learned is, you know, put something in your, in your wallet that has your phone number on it, because, you know, generally you walk around and maybe I’ll have your ID and stuff, but it’s not that easy to contact you if you just drop your wallet somewhere.
Speaker 1 (21:53):
Um, yeah, that’s a, you know, if found, please call, uh, so now I taped it on the back of my iPhone. Like, Hey, if found, please call me at this number and don’t put it, men don’t make in your own number, you know, make it some, uh, friends. Um, let’s talk about humbition a little bit, uh, tell me about, you said you’re kind of industry agnostic. Um, I don’t know if you can talk about either some specific investments you made or, or, um, just maybe, maybe even kind of the, the type of advice. You mentioned that as, as an operator Zoc doc founder, you found that investors often gave you some of the best advice who were former former operators. What’s some of the advice that you often find yourself giving to founders?
Speaker 2 (22:43):
Um, so I think my, uh, my formula for success at doc doc, uh, was great people, hard work, focus, and time. And I felt that if I, if I, if a company had those four ingredients, like they were really unstoppable through my work at shadow, I’ve realized that hard work is important, but hard work is a byproduct of purpose aligned long to make it sustainable. It should be a byproduct of, of, um, purpose alignment. So my new formula is great people, purpose, alignment, focus, and time. And it, you know, there’s obviously nuance and specifics of advice that we give. But if I was literally just categorize everything that I, I talk to people, I, you know, great people, how do they get the right talent? Who do we know who can help them? Uh, how do they recruit, you know, Zoc doc at my peak, I probably had 40 internal recruiters, like who are helping us hire folks, 40 internal recruiters.
Speaker 2 (23:54):
Wow. Yeah. And you know, this is when we were scaling up really rapidly. And, um, I wasted probably 10,000 hours interviewing people that I should not have been interviewing. And I, uh, uh, our head of, uh, sales at the time, Florian Otto, who’s now the CEO of Cedar, which is a great company that I’m a proud investor in. Um, he introduced me to this book called who buy GH smart. It’s a book about how to hire the best talent. And it talked about really just, um, really just, uh, using your own network and leveraging the great people, you know, and the great people they know and just go distinctive person to just think a person. And I remember when I read that book, when I was running Zoc doc, I was on the beach and, uh, uh, for like a spring holiday. And I, I turned around to a friend of mine who I thought very highly of, and I asked him for the person he thought, uh, was, um, he thought it was distinctive.
Speaker 2 (24:52):
I met that person and her former boss turned out. It was this digital marketing expert. Um, uh, Melissa as Mundo, who we ended up talking to and recruiting as an executive at Zoc doc. And she was great. And, uh, that same search may have taken me six months going through recruiters. So helping people with recruiting and questions like that, and, and sort of evangelizing this book and its approach to recruiting and, and really developing a muscle early on in a company’s life about using, uh, you know, using counts of people to find talented people, which in many respects, I I’m sure you appreciate it because it’s at the core of, of perhaps at the core of umbrellas as well. Right. Which you’ve got this network of talented consultants, et cetera. And, uh, I think, uh, uh, they’re probably bringing the next wave of great talented consultants to you guys.
Speaker 1 (25:42):
True. Yeah. Well, we, uh, we very much believe that it’s, you know, personal relationships are more powerful than a, kind of a more anonymous it enabled platform, uh, for, for that kind of, um, matching function.
Speaker 2 (25:57):
I agree.
Speaker 1 (25:58):
Talk about purpose alignment. What does that mean in practice?
Speaker 2 (26:02):
So alien in the case of, uh, when you’re hiring for any role, most of us focus on does this person have the skills that are needed for us in this role, but they’ve experienced that, that demonstrates they have those skills. Um, very few organizations though, that seeming to change, ask the question is this person aligned to our purpose. They really is their reason for breathing our reason for breathing. And I think that if you have alignment there, it makes so many other things so much simpler, both in terms of what we should be doing next, but also just in terms of working hard to achieve the underlying mission of the organization. And so, uh, there was, uh, it wasn’t till I left Zoc doc that I read Simon Sinek, start with why, but it is a, uh, it is a fantastic description of how to really move humans and get really organized big group of folks to really see the world differently and to make the world different. Uh, and so I, um, I really, uh, as an investor, I, um,
Speaker 2 (27:34):
I don’t need to be, I, the purpose of any startup that we invest in does not need to be my highest purpose, but it needs to be the highest purpose of the entrepreneur running the company. And I would then encourage that entrepreneur to make sure that that is the purpose of every single person that’s working with them. And I think to some extent, like if I was to be self-reflective when running Zoc doc, you know, Zoc doc itself was my purpose. This is my child. I, I, I ruptured an eardrum when I started this company and I love the company. I would die to this day. I would die for the company. And I, uh, but I, it wasn’t a filter for me that, that, that people needed to care about healthcare access as a, as a requirement to being on the team and what I’ve found through shadow, where I’ve introduced purpose alignment as sort of the primary criteria, not just for employees, but any vendors, et cetera, they need to care about what we’re doing.
Speaker 2 (28:31):
You know, some people will look at reuniting, lost dogs and be like, well, that’s kind of a silly thing. And some people were like, you know what, that’s amazing. That’s a family member you’re doing God’s work. And I think when you get people who are aligned to the ladder, you see a level of commitment, that’s akin to like how founders behave in their company. So almost everyone behaves like a founder and that’s a really powerful thing. Um, and so, um, making sure that we are picking purpose aligned, uh, businesses and those that have, uh, founders that are really committed to the cause that’s a big part of what we do as investors. And, uh, uh, yeah, I think I’ve been, uh, very fortunate that we’ve now probably invested in about a dozen companies and, um, uh, the portfolio is going very well. And I liken it to the fact that we’ve got talented folks who are in many cases, um, uh, working on causes that are bigger than themselves.
Speaker 1 (29:32):
How should a founder, you know, test that in a potential employee or, or how do you as an investor test purpose alignment when you’re talking to founders to judge? I mean, cause people can just say, Oh yes, this is very important to me, but how do you really get at, to see if someone is deeply committed to the purpose of the organization?
Speaker 2 (29:55):
Well, with in assessing the founder, understanding their founding story and their journey to get into the company, if they said, look, I really wanted to start a business. And I just graduated from grad school. And like I looked at the sector and thought this opportunity was different, blah, blah, blah. Like, I think that’s different than saying, look, I experienced this problem. Uh, and I realized, I felt compelled to solve it. And this is the steps I’ve taken to go after it. And I think for me in the case of shadow, you know, the story I told you at the top of this, uh, call, uh, about Brad and shadow, uh, I tell that story multiple times per day. And I assess how people, because I tell it so much, it’s, I am able to sense how people respond to it and depending on how they respond, I really do get a sense for this is a purpose that they, um, that they they care about.
Speaker 2 (30:55):
And, uh, uh, I think oftentimes you can just go through people’s backgrounds and understanding, um, you know, their, their questions you can ask, uh, literally like asking someone directly, like, what is the, what is the thing they care about most in the world? What would they be willing to risk everything for? And you sort of just understand, uh, how they’re wired and not to say that every, you know, everyone that works at shadow came in saying that finding lost dogs was their sole purpose, but they all obviously love animals and they all love the idea of helping people. They’ll have a, I think, deep down inside and I’ll have servant hearts. Uh, I like to think that I do as well. And I think that is, um, Those are the sort of the common threads.
Speaker 3 (31:39):
Mmm.
Speaker 2 (31:39):
And it enables us to have
Speaker 3 (31:43):
Mmm,
Speaker 2 (31:45):
To not have debates
Speaker 3 (31:48):
That, um,
Speaker 2 (31:51):
Are,
Speaker 3 (31:52):
Uh huh.
Speaker 2 (31:54):
Counter to the company’s reason for existing. So, you know, we will not do anything that will harm the reunion rate of a dog period. And that’s actually, we, we even in terms of our organizational structure, there’s new organizational structures called public benefit corporations, which are for profit businesses that have the mission and the charter. And I think it’s something that was pioneered by B a B labs, which is the, the, the organization behind B Corp. And so we’re a public benefit corporation and we have our mission and our charter, our job. Yes, of course we want to maximize shareholder value, but equally important to us is, is making sure that we fulfill our mission.
Speaker 3 (32:35):
Hmm.
Speaker 1 (32:37):
I love that. Yeah. And we, we just, I, I just learned about, uh, the B certification. We had an episode where I interviewed, uh, an expert in that topic just a few episodes ago. Uh, and that’s powerful that you’re doing that. Um, talk to me about the other two, uh, focus and time. What do those mean to you in practice?
Speaker 2 (32:58):
So focus, I think is the most powerful force in business. Um, I think Steve jobs, if we just really analyze what he did at Apple, uh, uh, one of the things he really did was, was to focus the company. He got rid of a hundred products and he brought it down to five and they made the most valuable company in the world. Awesome. Five products.
Speaker 2 (33:20):
And so I think, um, oftentimes the smartest people in the world Mmm. Tend to try to do too much, and that results in a bunch of half built bridges, et cetera. And the more you can distill down to the most important things to do, the more you will succeed. And so at SOC doc, I always found that whenever a team is not doing well, I asked him to put on a board, we hired all these talented people. I’d asked them to write on the board, all the things that weren’t going well, that they were doing, rather all the things they were doing. And there’d be like 12 things. I’m like, great. Now cross off 10 or 11, and this happened three or four times. And then once we just pulled back to what the team, um, the most important thing for that team, miraculously, those most important things really started to outperform.
Speaker 2 (34:16):
And yeah, I think, uh, I had never worked in an organization that implemented OKR at doc doc. Uh, we introduced initially, uh, we called the monster goals. It was our version of OKR is I use OKR is now at all of my companies. Uh, and, uh, it really is a great exercise. And, uh, yeah, the, the, the, the premise being come up with an objective that is very motivational and perhaps not even quantitative like his is his objective, it’s just something that will appeal to people’s, um, inner purpose, and then come out with, uh, key results that are very specific. Uh, and yeah, I think that exercise of going through and following up with your, your OKR is, and really being disciplined about it is something that, um, uh, I, uh, I do and enables us to, um, not, um, uh, yeah, it’s probably more important to articulate what you’re not going to do.
Speaker 2 (35:21):
And it makes sure that we don’t, we don’t do those things. And so, especially for young companies, um, if we believe that markets are efficient, the only real reason a startup should exist is if it’s able to focus on something that some big company is not. And so even if I were to sort of out the competitive set of Zoc doc, like all of our early competitors, the reason why we won is probably because we, we, we had a less experienced team and less money than all of our competitors, but that enabled us to stay focused on dentists in New York city, specifically in Manhattan for the first two years of the company’s life. And we just got it really great at that. And then we only then did we move on to Brooklyn? Then we moved on to primary care doctors, but it took us three and a half years to get there. So, you know, I do think that too many times entrepreneurs come in with the grand, the grand vision is important. You need to understand what are the atonic things to be focused on and, uh, uh, not do too much. And then the last point I’ll make on this, which is most people assume that startups, um, starved, and that’s the reason why they predominantly fail. And that is not true. The reason why most startups fail is they drown. They do too much,
Speaker 3 (36:36):
Mmm.
Speaker 2 (36:37):
Time who’s time is sort of the last component of this formula. I M you know, time, if you really have, if you think about it, if you have people who are talented and they are focused and they’re really working on something that’s meaningful, um, it’s only a matter of time before they figure it out. And so time is really a function of, of, um, maybe it can be a function of money in many respects, like the stronger your balance sheet is making sure your burn rate doesn’t of control. And, you know, that gives you the ability to fail and to learn and to iterate, et cetera. And so you really want to make sure that you have the time to be successful. Uh, and because ultimately, if the team has all of these prior ingredients, they’re really just not never gonna give up and you just need to make sure that they, they are able to get there.
Speaker 2 (37:25):
I also think time, um, as you scale up organizations, we’ve all been in situations where we feel like we are in too many meetings. And so I also think of time as is, is the most valuable, literally it is more valuable than money, um, because you’ve got the effort of finding these talented folks. And it is, it is, um, too many companies to sort of waste time. And so being very disciplined about not having reoccurring meetings, not doing that hoc meetings for everything, uh, one of the things we do at shadow that I’m proud about is, um, we only have ad hoc meetings for four hours a week. We have two hours in Tuesdays and two hours on Thursdays. And whenever something comes up that you need to meet about, that’s great. It goes in the queue of those four hours. And oftentimes, you know, what something you thought was so important last week keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the queue and we never meet on it.
Speaker 2 (38:17):
And that’s okay. Um, and so it prevents you from being in this situation where, you know, the, the limit, um, to how much time you’ll spend on something is the waking hours. You’re awake, the hours you’re awake, and rather if it focuses on what the most important things are. And so it’s a different way of, again, staying focused. Um, so I’m sure my, my formula will continue to evolve, but, you know, it’s really simple, um, great people, uh, purpose, alignment, focus, and time. And I think all of the advice I give is probably fits in one of these four buckets.
Speaker 1 (38:53):
Well, Cyrus, that was a masterclass in how to be successful at a startup. I feel this is, you know, the elements of a, of a, of a, the next Ted talk that you’ll give. This was fantastic. Um, Cyrus for folks who want to learn more about what you’re doing, do you want to share any links that I can include in the show notes to either your investment fund or your app or, or anything else that you have going on?
Speaker 2 (39:19):
Well from people who just love dogs, or know people who love dogs, or hopefully you don’t lose or find a dog, but, uh, if you do a shadow is the name of the app it’s on the app store. Our domain name on the web is shadow app.com. Uh, our investment fund is, um, humbition, um, which is, uh, our, uh, uh, uh, sort of a made up word, obviously. And, and, um, sort of the best way to, to, to find us there is, you know, I’m on LinkedIn, uh, find the person that we know in common, who you think the most highly of and, and, uh, ask them to connect us. And, uh, I’d be delighted to meet anyone that’s an entrepreneur that wants advice or, uh, is looking for a Cedar series and investment. Um, and, uh, in general for, um, for Columbia, for people that are interested in, in, in, uh, uh, you know, there’s many more work, there’s much more work that, uh, we need to do. Um, and, uh, C3 test.org is the, the, uh, URL that now redirects to the Columbia university, uh, website, where we raise money for the center for infection and immunity and Ian Lipkin flag. And we welcome people who want to be involved, um, uh, there as well. We, uh, we as much more to do, um, you know, this is the, this is the first real pandemic of our lifetimes, but if we don’t act, it will not be the last
Speaker 1 (40:46):
Well Cyrus, thank you so much for joining. This has been an amazing discussion.
Speaker 2 (40:52):
Uh, well, it’s, uh, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you, my friend, thank you for having me.

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