November 30, 2020
Lynne Chou O’Keefe 0:02
I did a couple of these wide swings before I landed in healthcare. I eventually found that passion, the ultimate manifestation of creativity in building a venture capital firm.
Lan Nguyen 0:14
That was Lynne Chou O’Keefe, Founder and Managing Partner of Define Ventures.
Lynne Chou O’Keefe 0:19
You want to have that variety of experience and to take that leap. And sometimes it’s uncomfortable.
Lan Nguyen 0:24
In this conversation, Dr. Julie Gerberding, EVP and Chief Patient Officer of Merck, introduces Lynne as our next host, as they discuss her courageous journey from an operator to investor to creator. So let’s jump into Her Story, a program where we explore the intersection of women, leadership, and healthcare.
Dr. Julie Gerberding 0:48
I’m Julie Gerberding, and I have been the moderator of Her Story for the past several weeks. But I am delighted today to introduce our next moderator, Lynne Chou O’Keefe. Lynne, I’m absolutely excited to have a few minutes to chat with you and introduce you to our audience. You are an amazing woman with an amazing career trajectory, and we just want to get a little teaser to understand that story a little bit better today.
So I’m just going to jump right in and say, for the sake of people who don’t know you, that you are currently a venture capitalist, the founder and general partner of your own firm, which I believe was at JPMorgan, and this past year, announced that you had raised $87 million and have already made good use of that investment on behalf of your companies. But in addition, you have an amazing trajectory of starting out at Stanford with a degree in engineering, going on to Harvard Business School, working for a while at Abbott in the vascular disease global marketing arena, then to Kleiner Perkins, where you were a partner in the life sciences business, and then you made the amazing step to launch your own firm. So I’m just going to ask you, as a little girl, did you think you were going to end up doing this? And how did that story get started?
Lynne Chou O’Keefe 2:15
Julie, coming from you, that’s pretty amazing for you to say. Thank you. Starting from the very beginning, I’m from St. Louis, Missouri. Both my parents were immigrants. They started to come to school to get their masters at West Virginia, and then their PhDs at Michigan State. So when we came to St. Louis, we were really building our lives as a family here, and of course, my parents are huge influences of mine. My mom, and the reason we ended up in St. Louis, Missouri, worked for Anheuser Busch, started as a lab technician, and then over her career, became the general manager for the entire China business for Anheuser Busch. And so I’ve always had a strong female, if you will, in my life. She was a working mom for all of my life, and then my dad was a small business entrepreneur, as well as previous to that, was a professor at Tulane and St. Louis University, in the sciences. But he launched small businesses, and I remember being very young, and we’d go into a business and we’d always kind of talk about how we could make it better, right? If we were owning this business, how could it make it better? So I think that type of trajectory of thinking, of how to make things better, if you were, again, the leader of that organization, or that business, and then, also coupled with my mom’s rise in her career to be leading, again, her own region and geography for a large corporate organization, were my two, if you will, guiding posts and guiding lights in my life.
Dr. Julie Gerberding 3:57
So you just explained something I was curious about. And that is: How do you become such an integrator? So here you’ve got one parent who’s in science and globally marketing, and then you’ve got another parent who’s an entrepreneur and someone who goes in and solves business problems. So now I’m beginning to see because your own sweet spot seems, to me, is doing exactly that: taking health, tech, and consumerism and bringing that together in new and interesting ways to really create value. You did that at Kleiner Perkins, you did that in your world of Abbott, and I think you’re doing it again in your venture firm. So when you think about the pathway, you’ve had to make some pretty courageous decisions. Not the least was to launch your own fund. But along the way, you’ve made dramatic changes in career direction, what gave you the courage to make that kind of step and maybe the decision node that prompted you to say, “Okay, enough of this. Now, I want to move on to that.”
Lynne Chou O’Keefe 4:59
I think, in the beginning, a diversity of experience–obviously, we’re, you know, Her Story and talking about diversity. That diversity in my own career has really led me to think in an integrated way around healthcare technology and consumer. Having been at Kleiner Perkins and seeing how technology truly transforms industries like food and transportation, housing, etc., and then also have been working in the healthcare system, launching products globally in Europe and Asia, etc., and just bringing this all together harnessed. So I really believed in my career first as having a diversity of experience and I always said, I never want to “what if?” Right? I never want to ask myself, “What if I had tried that earlier in my career?” And I thought it was a lot of, quite frankly, skill-building. And, also, creating opportunities.
I think of it as a decision tree of your career. Some earlier decisions create wider swings and then you start to really hone in on your passion and your strengths. And so, I think early, I did a lot of different things, and what’s not on LinkedIn, which some people won’t know is, I worked in a presidential campaign one summer. I worked at a nonprofit, pro bono, as well, trying to find what I call “impact”. And I found it in healthcare eventually, in my career, but I did a couple of these wide swings before I really landed in healthcare post business school.
I think the other area that I really found is I always say that your career is a tapestry of experiences. And what I started to really realize when I step back, is there’s this true common thread, if you will, about creation, and how much joy that gave me. And you might say, “Lynne, how is that possible? You were an analyst at Goldman Sachs when you started your career.” And I love to tell this story. One of my most fulfilling aspects of being an analyst, where there’s a pretty tight box of what you’re doing, was actually working on a separate campaign around HR. And there was one analyst, one VP, one MD, name to this, and I was allowed to create my thinking around a database, actually, for HR, and I was creating wireframes, and it allowed that creation and build. And so, as I stepped back, I saw that as a common thread, even my business school essays, when I was applying for an MBA. One of the MBA programs says, “what matters most to you and why?” And my answer was “building an enduring organization.” And I didn’t say “build a venture capital firm.” It was something that would last, be enduring, and impactful to communities, etc. And I eventually found that passion would define, I think it was, the culmination of this diversity of experience, the ultimate manifestation of creation and building a venture capital firm, after being at Kleiner, after being at Apax, in a light that I thought was right for these times. And that’s been truly the evolution and at least, if you will, a common thread through my career.
Dr. Julie Gerberding 8:21
One of the companies that you worked in when you were at Kleiner, on the board of, as a matter of fact, was Livongo. And for people who aren’t familiar with Livongo, it is an integrator of hardware, software, and service, focusing on chronic diseases. But as part of your experience with Livongo, you actually become personally involved with products when you were diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I think, twice, during two pregnancies. So how does the personal experience of being a patient, but also a consumer of your own product, so to speak, how does that change your feelings and your approach to what you’re trying to accomplish?
Lynne Chou O’Keefe 9:02
I think we can all agree that in healthcare, it’s so much about empathy and human experience, and really understanding where people are if they’re suffering from a disease or a condition. And then how can we truly help and have better patient satisfaction, have better quality outcomes, lower cost, and to me, it’s like being – and this is an element of the consumer world, Julie – is to experience the product yourself. And healthcare is a little hard. Let us all say you can’t always experience, but when we can, especially at Define, we’re using the apps, we’re using any hardware, etc. so that we can live in the shoes of the patient, because I think we continue, need to, if you will, wrap healthcare around the consumer. We talk about that.
But it is such an important, I think, the timeline for healthcare in the future is that things are wrapped around that consumer. And so when I had both my children, you’re absolutely right, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. And I use Livongo on myself, and I remember where one morning, I had actually drunk some milk and it actually has high sugar and getting the text, if you will, from Livongo, “Hey, your sugar levels high, might want to drink some water, walk around a little bit,” and it was such a great manifestation of why we invested. Whereas the healthcare system coming to you at the exact point of need, not dictated by a doctor’s office or an appointment, three weeks or three months later, right, and so it was healthcare meeting you when you needed it, giving you that education to hopefully, as well, help you manage your own healthcare outcomes, as well, with that additional knowledge and support service. And that was absolutely one of, what we believe in, virtual services that are going to be happening. And we call it “tech-enabled services” as well, in healthcare, that’s so important. But then we also did things at Livongo that were really understanding the consumer. Like, we didn’t make the strips, so a lot of strips, if you’ve ever used them, and even with my hands, the little strips were really hard to use for blood glucose testing. We actually made them bigger. And we actually made, if you will, the font on the reader bigger because a majority of our users were older. And so we’ve got to have user design, UI/UX, that is really appropriate to the individuals that we’re serving. And on top of all this Livongo actually had people use their device, even if you had diabetes, or not, very frequently, everyone at Livongo did it so that they can continue to put themselves in patients’ shoes.
Dr. Julie Gerberding 11:47
So walk your talk, so to speak. I want to ask you two questions. Let’s pretend that you have a reset button. Is there anything along the way of your career path that, if you had a chance, you would reset the button and do something different? And if so why?
Lynne Chou O’Keefe 12:03
That’s such a great question. I would say I did a variety of things. I would say, in my operating career, I definitely stayed in this, if you will, almost what we would call product marketing, global marketing. I did a short stint as a sales rep in the Portland area, and actually lived there and did that. I wish I had maybe done more functional positions in my operating career and really come in and out a bit more. I did amongst product lines, so I worked in mature products; I worked in really new and innovative products, right? That’s going to be a very different strategy and execution layer when you think of commercialization. But I wish I maybe went a little deeper into different functional areas, as well, earlier in my career if I had that. But I do think that sometimes in your career, you want to have that variety of experience, and to take that leap. And sometimes it’s uncomfortable, right? I call it uncomfortable, but, overall, when again, you look back on your career, one or two years doing something different, truly is just such a tiny portion of one’s career. And so it really has served me well as a venture capitalist, to have done an operating career, to have worked in a political campaign, to have worked pro bono in so many of these different areas, that I think it just gives me a different viewpoint, and hopefully makes me a different sounding board for these entrepreneurs.
Dr. Julie Gerberding 13:38
I have another button. Let’s say you have a fast forward button. What’s next? You’ve got to find your companies are thriving, what are you going to do next?
Lynne Chou O’Keefe 13:47
The number one priority for me is Define and making this an enduring platform that helps to redefine healthcare, that we look back, and we say the system has completely changed and we’re no longer navigating our healthcare in so many ways, and that we have better quality outcomes and we are in a different financial position than where we are today. If you’re telling me I’m fast-forwarding beyond all that, I think that the other areas are thinking about how else I can help healthcare and that journey, in maybe, different perspectives. So one thing I’m doing right now, which I do enjoy is, I’m on the board of the California Health Care Foundation, which really focuses on Medicaid, etc. in the state of California. But they really work on a policy basis as well as grants, etc. to evoke the change. And so it’s been wonderful to see the policy side of healthcare as well. And so I think, maybe, it’s another seat in again, progressing healthcare, but maybe in a different light than a venture capitalist.
Dr. Julie Gerberding 14:57
You know, Dr. Sandra Hernandez, who’s responsible for the California Health Care [inaudible], she and I were residents together at UCSF, and so, that’s another person we should bring into Her Story because she has [inaudible].
Lynne Chou O’Keefe 15:10
A great idea.
Dr. Julie Gerberding 15:12
So there you have it, in a very brief capsule, the story, Lynne Chou O’Keefe, and I’m going to ask you, given that you have such an amazing story, if you wrote a book about it, what would you title your book?
Lynne Chou O’Keefe 15:27
Oh, my, I would say is the title of the book is Belief in Oneself. And ultimately, maybe I even believe that post-COVID, post-Black Lives Matter, it’s truly about impact in one’s life. And so I think that’s been a guiding light of creation and impact as well.
Dr. Julie Gerberding 15:53
Well, thank you so much for chatting with us. I’m so happy to hand this baton over to you because I can just see what an enthusiastic and inspiring moderator you will be of the next segments in our story. So thank you, Lynne, and I welcome everyone to continue to join us for Her Story, the story of amazing women who are leading health and healthcare across our world. Thank you.
Lynne Chou O’Keefe 16:20
Thank you, Julie. I’ll take the baton from here.
Lan Nguyen 16:23
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