Welcome to our third annual round table, in which members of our BIP Capital team come together each December to discuss the year—and what a year 2020 has been. While the pandemic has had a profound impact on humanity as well as the economy, it has also accelerated technology and business trends in support of social distancing, digital workforces, and asynchronous collaboration. We looked at some of those trends as well as what opportunities and challenges may lead us into 2021. The discussion also included leaders from a number of our portfolio companies so that they might offer their own unique perspective on sustaining and growing a business in the midst of a global crisis.
Participating in the discussion from BIP Capital:
Mark Buffington, Co-founder and CEO – As a founder, Buffington has built a handful of successful businesses himself and now focuses on growing the Healthcare IT practice within BIP Capital’s portfolio. His most notable deals include Tricentis, PlayOn! Sports, Ingenious Med, and others.
Dan Drechsel, General Partner – Drechsel has worked with leading innovators that include S1 and Global Energy Decisions. He oversees the firm’s investments in SaaS, FinTech, and Dev Tools/Architecture.
Paul Iaffaldano, CIO – Iaffaldano is a builder of market-leading companies, with particular expertise in the communications and media industry. Notable deals include Huddle, Vibenomics, BrightWhistle, and more.
Participating from BIP Capital’s portfolio companies:
Christy Johnson, CEO, AchieveIt — AchieveIt’s Execution Insight Platform is the only solution purpose-built to solve the problems of organizational execution. AchieveIt gives hundreds of companies better visibility into how they’re actually executing their most critical initiatives, as well as a way to ensure alignment, accountability, and collaboration throughout their enterprises.
Anju Mathew, CEO and Co-founder, OncoLens — OncoLens is a Software-as-a-Service solution that replaces the labor-intensive process of collecting, presenting, and reporting cases for cancer conference and CoC/NAPBC accreditation. The platform merges case-specific clinical decision support criteria, including applicable clinical trials, to support the multidisciplinary approach to care treatment.
Brent Oakley, CEO and Co-founder, Vibenomics — Vibenomics is a location-based audio out-of-home advertising and experience company that powers custom radio stations for retailers, giving brands the ability to talk to shoppers directly at the point of sale. With its powerful cloud-based technology, licensed background music library, data integration capabilities, full-service team of audio experience experts, and network of professional voice talent available on-demand, the company provides the right revenue-enhancing vibe for over 120 advertisers in more than 6,000 locations across 49 states, reaching over 200 million people.
B.J. Pilling, CEO, GoFan — GoFan is the leading digital ticketing solution for high school events. Led by innovative technology and unmatched support, GoFan provides schools with a turnkey platform to manage season, online, and at-event ticket sales. Serving over 2,000 high schools and 37 state associations, GoFan provides fans with frictionless access to high school events across the country.
Jeremy Powell, CEO, Acclivity Health — Acclivity Health delivers the technologies providers need to ensure patients with advanced illness receive the right care at the right time in the right setting. Its Connected Care platform utilizes analytics, machine learning, and workflow management to uncover insights needed to avoid unnecessary emergency department and hospital stays.
David Rudolph, CEO, PlayOn! Sports — PlayOn! Sports is the nation’s premier high school sports media company. It is the largest rights holder, producer, distributor, and aggregator of high school content which it distributes across television, Internet, and mobile devices.
Q: What has been the most impactful pivot companies have made over the past year to align with disruption in the market and the uncertain climate?
Buffington (BIP Capital): Most pivots tend to be industry and company specific, but one common pivot across all industries is that companies have realized they don’t need to go to Sand Hill Road to raise capital from quality venture capital partners. Good companies know they can raise capital via Zoom meetings as opposed to showing up in VC offices, and that has opened up more funding options for founders and more opportunity for quality VCs to get exposure to leading venture opportunities. Any VC that is unprepared to fund companies in the new paradigm will be at a disadvantage from a sourcing perspective.
Q: How did your company positively adapt its product offering or business model in response to the pandemic? How are you supporting your customers and community as we navigate the current shift in how work is accomplished?
Mathew (OncoLens): Our software platform enables multidisciplinary discussion of cancer cases critical to the development of the right treatment plan for a patient. It replaces the labor-intensive process of aggregating relevant patient data along with the latest treatment options and available clinical trials to support the development of the best treatment decision for the patient. The platform drives standardization of discussions and engagement from multiple specialties such as oncology, surgery, pathology, and others. Before the pandemic, these discussions were held in person. OncoLens wanted to ensure that cancer care did not stop due to new social-distancing restrictions, so it expedited the release of an integrated, HIPAA-compliant, virtual Tumor Board module and offered it at no cost to cancer centers for a limited period. As a result, care team members were able to use the software to securely review patient data together and formulate treatment plans while practicing social distancing.
Q: As employees shifted to a distributed workforce, what actions did you take to maintain your culture and your team’s productivity in a virtual environment?
Rudolph (PlayOn! Sports): Nothing we’re doing is “easier” than it was in pre-COVID-19 times. Since closing the office in mid-March, we’ve worked to ensure that everyone is on the same page so that the execution of our evolving plan delivers the intended results. We’ve held consistent and frequent (but concise) broader virtual meetings to ensure everyone is feeling engaged and not isolated. Over-communication has been key as we work through the evolving circumstances to ensure the context that we typically pick up through face-to-face discussions isn’t lost in phone calls, email, text, or Slack. Additionally, certain smaller teams have held strategic discussions in person—outside, of course, and with appropriate social distancing.
Q: What industry sectors or innovations are currently outperforming your expectations as a result of the current market?
Iaffaldano (BIP Capital): Technologies that enable communications saw rapid acceleration in 2020. That is because with less face-to-face contact, we humans desire ways to have more connection with our fellow man. Tools that help us communicate and feel like we’re part of a community have really exploded.
Drechsel (BIP Capital): Applications sold to enterprise business clients are outperforming my expectations. Admittedly, my expectations were that sales to the Global 2000 would decline by two-thirds to three-fourths. So, the bar was low. However, most of our portfolio companies that sell into these types of clients have seen sales hold up at 90 percent-plus of original budgets.
Q: How did the pandemic impact the investment landscape in 2020? What do you anticipate investment-wise for 2021?
Buffington (BIP Capital): Venture investments dried up for about three months starting with the onset of the pandemic in March. However, the venture market came roaring back in the second half of 2020 as founders and investors adapted to the new environment.
I suspect 2021 will be a robust year for investment activity if we have a balanced federal government. The low interest rate environment coupled with the resiliency of most elements of the U.S. economy make for an attractive macro investment ecosystem. On the other hand, if Democrats win both seats in the Georgia Senate elections and therefore control all levers of government except the Supreme Court, I suspect we will see a significant rise in the capital gains tax. If that happens, then we will definitely see investors reduce their investments in riskier assets. Why would a person take venture risk if they only get to keep roughly half the upside?
Q: What is the most impactful lesson you learned in 2020 that you can apply moving forward?
Powell (Acclivity Health): Healthcare consumers have chosen to leverage virtual visits during COVID-19, which finally brought reimbursements and government regulations into the 21st century. This means our patients/customers and families will have more access to better options of care, and we can finally bend the trend on healthcare spend.
Q: Based on your experience scaling a business, what are the three key pieces of advice you would offer to entrepreneurs at the go-to-market stage?
Oakley (Vibenomics): The beginning stage of a company is the most fun for most entrepreneurs—it was for me. It’s exciting when people start using your product and you start making adjustments. You go through a lot of pivots as you figure things out. Then all of a sudden you know you have figured something special out and your product clicks in, and you know this is it. When that happens, there are a few pieces of advice I would share based on my experience.
First, you must still remain capital efficient. The last thing you want to do is work incredibly hard to get to this point and then get out in front of your skis. Also, if you haven’t already, start filling in your executive team. A lot of entrepreneurs know how to hustle and lead, but you’ll need to surround yourself with executives that understand process and scale to help you.
Finally, keep looking ahead. Let the execs you hired lead their teams and you focus on anticipating the needs of the team and what your company will need. There are capital, human resources, changes on your board, M&A activity, and so many other things that you’ll want to keep your eye on during this time.
Q: What technology trends do you foresee for 2021?
Iaffaldano (BIP Capital): As a social anthropologist, I see two important trends: First, I anticipate an explosion of technologies that help us communicate in a virtual environment and stay connected in really meaningful ways. This might mean anything from virtual sales calls to virtual Thanksgiving dinners with friends and family. Second, content is definitely king and technologies that help us create and consume it will see a tailwind over the next few years.
Drechsel (BIP Capital): I expect to see continued focus on software development and deployment productivity, as well as the ongoing adoption of containerization and the implications of managing production in that environment. Additionally, I expect a growing focus on the costs of cloud computing and gaining efficiencies relative to the costs thereof.
I further anticipate the continued democratization of interaction hardware, meaning watches, autos, etc., all acting as input and output devices for user interaction. I also expect continued growth in the use of crypto algorithms to support new trust models as well.
Q: What did you learn about yourself as an entrepreneur in 2020 that will stick with you for years to come?
Pilling (GoFan): Be authentic. While 2020 offered continual uncertainty, being authentic with our team and customers created a level of trust and vulnerability that positioned continual internal and external growth throughout the year.
Q: What three skills do you think today’s startup leaders and teams must have to succeed?
Johnson (AchieveIt): First, they must have a broad range of experience. Unlike in larger organizations, you can’t succeed on a singular area of expertise. One day you might be working on a pricing strategy, the next working through product usage data, and the next talking to customers and prospects. The ability to wear a number of hats across the organization, regardless of the role you were hired for, is essential in a startup.
Second is the ability to operate in the “gray” zone. You will never feel like you have perfect data or enough of it. In a startup, you don’t have the luxury of time or money so you must feel comfortable and confident in making decisions with less data than you might otherwise be accustomed to.
Third, you need to be nimble and okay with change. Successful startups are all just a series of failures, learnings, and pivots until you get the formula right, and then you are always fine-tuning.
For more insights into emerging trends and our region’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, download BIP Capital’s The State of StartupsSM in the Southeast report.
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