July 20, 2017: It has been a few months of hiatus for TechDrawl. My subscriber list has actually grown during that time, which means either my previous work is timeless or you like it better when you don’t hear from me. I thought enough had been written on all things entrepreneurial and that perhaps I should be working on my next romance novel.
However, receiving a 6000-word shareholder update from an investment of mine jolted me back into action. I’m sure Joe Milam at AngelSpan would roll over in his office chair if he read that. I didn’t read it. It’s doubtful any other shareholder would have either. I have written on that topic too many times, but I guess it bears more repetition. Getting an individual shareholder to read much beyond the subject line of an email is a tall order. Even if that subject line is something like “Redemption Check for $10,000 Enclosed,” a few people will always call and ask how much they are getting. (I’m not kidding. I may not do a lot a deep research for these installments, but there’s nothing fake in TechDrawl.) I’m sure the letter was grammatically solid, but it completely missed the mark in delivering its intended message, whatever that was. It was a stark reminder that there is always a new generation of entrepreneurs for whom even the most basic concepts should still be in their syllabus.
My regular readers will recall that I spent a couple of years working on an oncology project in North Georgia. We succeeded in raising substantial funding at a high valuation and creating a first-class software product in Specimatch to give cancer patients not in academic centers knowledge of all the same relevant clinical trials, targeted therapies, and other current miracles applicable to their particular diseases. We were appealing to the 85% of cancer patients in the US not able to seek treatment at one of the relatively few prestigious centers, due perhaps to financial limitations, family considerations, or often just being too sick to travel for an extended stay. The company began with an ambitious plan to harvest tumors, send them for genomics testing, and return to the care team a wealth of information to better inform treatment decisions. Unfortunately we ran into considerable institutional resistance. The extraordinary software we built to manage that cycle became our fallback as a consumer product, but even there we got uniform pushback from oncologists who viewed patients with more information as uncompensated time sinks for them. The founding doctor wanted to steer the company back to its clinical roots, so I felt like my work was done. (You don’t want me cutting on you.) I did leave the company with a strong board surrounding the doctor, and I look forward to their continued progress. The life sciences space is not for the faint of will or faint of pocket or for those who like to work at normal startup speed. If nothing else, I hope this venture will have a positive impact on tens of thousands of cancer patients over the years. Patients will eventually prevail in demanding and gaining access to the potential life-saving data they deserve to see.
From there I became an Advisor at Austin-based Polygraph Media, a data sciences company which today deploys its arsenal of technology primarily for Facebook advertising at large scale. Think of chains of thousands of fast food stores running highly targeted and localized Facebook campaigns in concert with each other and with the brand image. All these ads must be continually optimized based on A/B testing and measured performance, and there is plenty of work to do in getting the pot right across the store network when ad spend is allocated or divvied up. This all results in permutations far beyond what one can do with native Facebook tools. Polygraph Media fills that need.
It is a pleasure advising a company that is beyond the startup stage, has shown it can make money, has real customers, and most important has a product that works. Everything is much more transparent in digital marketing than in traditional media, and our demonstrated return on ad spend readily surpasses the mark. The company earned all-important recognition as an official Facebook Marketing Partner based in part on its sheer volume of API calls. There are only 81 such FMP’s worldwide, which makes this a pretty exclusive club.
I have tried to help the company through some major inflection points. It’s time now to go big or go home, and that means more staff, more sales and marketing, more product features, and eventually perhaps some outside capital. There are about 4000 companies competing in the ad tech world, and I witnessed an FMP seminar last week where Facebook’s list of product releases for 2H 2017 was a mile long. Even with a differentiated product that is daily proving its mettle, this is still a battleground. I have gained a renewed appreciation for how Facebook has conquered its market; no other company approaches its ability for precisely targeting and engaging customers, and it’s cost efficient. When you layer onto that Polygraph’s data science, including both analytics and additive geo data refined by lifestyles, you can pinpoint a 55YO male wearing a red shirt, walking on the west side of S. Fillmore Street in downtown Amarillo, and thinking about buying a new cowboy hat in the next two hours.
One new term I learned in this project was a criticism from a potential West Coast investor. He said our plan looks too much like “Middle America.” Well, that’s just about exactly where we are, and I suppose it shows. We are revising our pitch now to make it more coastal. I am ordering ball caps that say “Make Middle America Great Again.”
I expect great things from Polygraph Media. We’re housed in a WeWork where the average age is probably 27, and I rather like that environment. I would personally average down the age of the current board and management of the oncology company if I were to rejoin. It obviously takes some maturity to work in advanced medical fields. But there could hardly be a sharper contrast between the digital literacy of the two groups, excluding of course the software teams. I believe I can hang pretty well with the digital natives, even though I entered that realm with the Altair 8800.
There’s more on my plate, but enough about me for now. Look for TechDrawls on a more regular basis. I’ll try to keep these essays readable. The world will be spared another romance writer.
>Photo of Cary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in For Whom the Bell Tolls, based on the romance novel by Ernest Hemingway. August 1, 1943. Copyright not renewed. Public Domain image.<