Episode 57

Finding the Right Partners

with Chris Severn, Brad Smith, and Tom Stanis
Episode hosted by: Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.

December 13, 2022

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Chris Severn, Brad Smith, and Tom Stanis

Chris Severn is the CEO and Co-founder of Turquoise Health. Brad Smith is the Founder and CEO of Russell Street Ventures. Tom Stanis is the Founder and CEO of Story Health.

This episode is about finding potential partners and making good partnerships.




Starting something from scratch, and really innovating from that very early phase—it's not to say it's impossible, but it's not very easy. –Brad Smith

Chris Severn, Brad Smith, and Tom Stanis Tweet



Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: No founder is an island. Founders rely on a network of peers, mentors, experts, and investors for the development of their companies. Finding partnerships that work can be a daunting task, but it is fundamental to success. On today’s episode of Day Zero, we compiled insights from founders sharing their thoughts and experience on choosing partnerships. To begin we will hear from Chris Severn, the co-founder and CEO of Turquoise Health. Next, we will turn to Brad Smith. He is the Founder and CEO of Russell Street Ventures. To wrap up, we will have Tom Stannis, the founder and CEO of Story Health, and the former co-founder of Verily Life Sciences. Let’s Start with Chris Severn.

Chris Severn: I pitched everything with like a double bottom line. So I’d say, hey, we want to do this price transparency thing. And we want to be loyal to the economics, the future economics of healthcare. That means that we care about the prices of healthcare going down. We care about simplification of how rates are quoted, and we’ll say no to things. So we’ll say no to a customer who wants us to do this will say no to folks that want us to support the status quo. And I went into those investor conversations with that as my like boundaries, I guess. And so there were a few investors that said, hey, sounds like you guys. Really no this underpayment space in the mining of hospital claims to find payment anomalies. Can you can you just do that? And it was tempting, because they would say we’ll give you money if you just do that. But this price transparency thing, that law will never last or that’ll never go through. We’re raising last year when the law hadn’t officially gone through. And so I think we said no to a few that were trying to pull us in this old direction where we already were at, and that’s when it was really really great to have Adam on my team there to be like, Okay, we’re committed to this price transparency thing, because I don’t think in a year, we’d be able to sleep at night if we just try to capitalize off of what we’ve already been doing.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Rejecting an investor may seem awkward or like a missed opportunity. However, there are lots of potential reasons to turn down an investor, from a culture misfit to misaligned goals. As a founder it’s important to be honest with yourself about what you’re seeking. Chris had a vision of price transparency. While this meant turning down some investors, he and his co-founder were ultimately able to find partners that shared their mission. Next, let’s turn to Brad Smith.

Brad Smith: When you kind of look at the healthcare space, whether it’s on the payer Aside are on the provider side, the reality of the system we’re in is you just have some really big players on both of those sides, right. And payers tend to have national footprint, a lot of the providers tend to have more local, but very dense footprints. And I think if you’re going to kind of innovate in this space, you kind of have to accept kind of how the landscape looks today, doesn’t mean you can’t try to disrupt the massively, but that’s very hard. You know, what I’ve kind of found in this problem more on the payer side, but probably true on the provider side, too, is that, you know, people understand the health care world is evolving a lot. What I’ve also seen kind of being inside of some of these places, is the places where, you know, large organizations can really add value are combining things together, leveraging their scale, and but But starting something from scratch, and really innovating from that very early phase, it’s not to say it’s impossible, but it’s not very easy. And it’s kind of antithetical, honestly, to kind of some of the structures they put in place to make other kinds of decisions that are really important for them. That doesn’t mean that some of these startups can’t go against the incumbent in a more direct way. And maybe some of them will have success. But I think at least that you’ve picked in the path I encourage folks to think about is like this kind of partnership path, because I think it really is a one plus one makes three kind of thing.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: Verbiage about entrepreneurship focuses on “new entrants” and “industry disruption.” However, Brad points out that partnering with existing incumbents is sometimes an excellent option. And, it’s an option that might be better suited to the unique features of the healthcare industry. To wrap up, let’s hear from Tom Stannis.

Tom Stannis: I would say at Google, right, you’ve got a great source of capital, right? You didn’t have to worry about that as much. So you also have an amazing brand that you can opens basically, any door you want, that’s a great benefit to have. So it was great. It anytime you would ask someone to take your call, they would take your call, and that that was a amazing superpower that I think is a wonderful thing to have. The other thing you have is, frankly, like great access to technology and resources. Right? So those three things are, are the particularly valuable things about starting something inside of Google. Now the downsides? Is your going to be a hobby project, frankly, right? So this is one of the things that a lot of times you’re going to have a challenge at big companies is there’s a core business. And at the end of the day, when things are going well, there’s an interest in doing more things, doing things great when things are not going well guess what the first things to go. It’s all the hobby projects are the first things to go. So you have to think about that and say, Do I want to be the center of attention? Or do I want to be on the outskirts? And that’s, I think, with the harder things about doing things at a large company. The other thing you have to think about is do you want to match this the kind of this this state of what you’re building with the state of the company that you’re building, right. So if you are trying to build something nimble experiment very quickly, try new things. and you have a big company, that’s a lot of process that’s trying to protect itself from various things, those things can be mismatched a lot of times. Whereas if you were trying to do you know, the opposite, it may be difficult in the startup as well, right? You’re trying to do the run up very reliable processes start very difficult to do that as well. So that’s the other thing. I think that’s a challenge for people to realize is like, I think matching where the problem is to the company is very important.

Gary Bisbee, Ph.D.: There are pros and cons associated with partnering with an existing company or going independently. The choice is ultimately yours. For founders, it’s important to find partners that add value and make a good fit with your unique company. The right path will look different for different founders. If you want to learn more about navigating relationships as a founder, follow along with us on Day Zero, as we explore the wisdom, ambitions, and visions of healthcare entrepreneurs.

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