Originally published April 22, 2019 by Michelle Kung in AWS Startups Blog
As a former venture capitalist turned three-time founder, Darin Brannan has learned a thing or two about starting a successful startup. Not only has he nurtured at least two companies from birth to IPO, growing each to hundreds and thousands of employees, but he’s also managed 34 company acquisitions at the same time. His key takeaways for establishing a viable business? Start with a big market opportunity, build a talented cohesive team, architect a strong business plan, and then execute said plan with undying tenacity and perseverance.
“Finding the right opportunity is critical,” Brannan says. “The bigger the market opportunity, the more runway you have to make micro and macro pivots—it gives you more time to hone your plan.” For the plan, I prefer working on a core platform plus services to allow for stronger diversification and defensibility over time. As for the hardest part, executing on the plan, Brannan advises combining a rigorous “OKR Performance Model” (Objectives and Key Results) with an “Organizational Health Model” (Lencioni’s Four Disciplines).
Brannan co-founded his current company, ClearDATA, in 2011, and, staying true to his plan, the company has seen hypergrowth. Today, ClearDATA serves more than 400,000 healthcare professionals and has raised more than $80 million from leading venture capital and strategic investors.
A healthcare-exclusive cloud platform and services provider that is HITRUST-certified and HIPAA-compliant, ClearDATA’s solutions enable healthcare organizations to fully automate, protect, and securely manage healthcare applications, data, and IT infrastructure in the cloud. It sits at the intersection of not one, but two transformative markets that are colliding: infrastructure and healthcare.
“A majority of the healthcare market is still on premise, and it’s stifling progress and innovation,” says Brannan. “There are thousands of healthcare IT startups and IT organizations that are relatively paralyzed from the aged, fragmented healthcare IT environments. If we can help transform and modernize them into the public cloud, centralize and organize their data silos, and radically improve their security and compliance, then we will help change the very foundation of healthcare by unlocking innovation and the exchange of healthcare information.”
One of the company’s latest products is the C2 Compliance Dashboard, currently available on the AWS Marketplace. Mapped directly to HIPAA, GDPR, GxP, NIST and ISO controls and guidelines, the dashboard allows users to monitor thousands of components and controls to see and remediate their compliance status.
When asked what his secret sauce has been over the course of his career, Brannan says, “Grit: passion and perseverance for very long term goals is a real thing.” As Angela Duckworth notes in her popular TED talk, the majority of efforts fail because the key entrepreneur loses steam and just doesn’t have the grit and stamina to see it through. “You really have to have that ability to persevere, to make it,” he says. Brannan adds that marrying this grit (passion and perseverance) with a culture focused on a meaningful mission and building teams that will go the extra mile is what makes a good business great.
Brannan also advises founders to know when to reposition or fire themselves—and if necessary, to do it quickly to make room for those with more experience to rapidly scale the business to the next level. “I have VC friends who will tell me about their infatuation with a super-smart technical founder they have in their portfolio, but the truth is that that person may simply lack the experience and know how to scale the product department and most other departments necessary to take the company to the next critical level,” he says. “There are legitimate start-up lifecycle phases when you’re scaling where you need the right people for the right phase. In the early phases, in really high-growth environments, you often can’t afford the time necessary to help or mentor key employees to close their experience gaps, and you can’t afford for them to learn on the job – for founders, they need to know their skills (strengths and weaknesses) work hard to stay relevant as the company scales, but be prepared to fire and reposition themselves as necessary to ensure the success of the organization.
“If founders and employees focus on doing what’s right for the business—not their careers, but the business—then the business will ultimately take care of you.”