In December, 2016, Hugh Ma, Founder and CEO of Robin Care, partnered with us to help build his leadership team. To make our partnership possible, we opted for an equity stake in Robin Care, as opposed to traditional cash fees. This article describes the motivation behind that decision.
In 2013, one of my best friends was diagnosed with Stage IV gastric cancer. Alex was a life-of-the-party type: young, active, vibrant, handsome as hell – the guy had to bring extra shirts to the bar because he would sweat so much from dancing. I remember sitting in Central Park discussing the companies we were starting – mine in healthcare executive search, his in on-demand prescription delivery – we were two 30-somethings on the cusp of the rest of our lives; both perfectly healthy, if a tad overworked and sleep-deprived. Then one week later, Alex was given 4 months to live. As a budding entrepreneur, Alex didn’t have health insurance. So not only was he staring down the barrel of an incurable disease, he was facing $20,000 chemo treatments every other week for the foreseeable future.
Confronting one’s impending mortality tends to stir up one of two responses: wilt, or fight. Fortunately for Alex, he had two things going for him: 1) A strong network of family and friends he could lean on for emotional and even financial support, and 2) He didn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘quit.’ Like a sponge, Alex absorbed every piece of information he could find on nutrition, exercise, Eastern medicine you name it, Alex researched it and then tried it out himself. It got to the point where 10 months later – a full half-year beyond his prognosis – Alex was educating his doctors on what he was doing in between treatments, and even giving speeches to other cancer patients to share his approach.
Eventually, Alex lost his battle with cancer. But his ability to advocate for himself and his own health and wellbeing, beyond what constitutes traditional modern medicine, ended up being the difference between 4 months and 20. And in a way that only Alex could, he did more in that time than many do in a lifetime. During Alex’s funeral, I remember thinking that I had just witnessed what in some strange sense might amount to a ‘best-case scenario’ for a Stage IV cancer patient – not only did Alex have the grit and resilience necessary to fight tooth and nail, he also possessed an unshakeable support system which buoyed him during his darkest times. As I sat reflecting on Alex’s struggle, another, more somber thought struck: If Alex’s scenario was indeed the best case scenario, then what does the worst case look like? Who advocates for cancer patients with no resources at all?
Fast forward to 2016, I was at a healthcare event here in New York City and a mutual friend suggested that I reconnect with Hugh Ma. “Hugh is doing some really cool things for cancer advocacy,” he said, “you guys should talk.”
In a tone that masked neither his passion nor his excitement, Hugh outlined his vision for a platform that allows cancer patients to focus on getting healthy without having to worry about the myriad of other challenges that come with battling the disease. Hugh’s passion was contagious, and it became obvious that his motives derive from selflessly striving to right a wrong, as opposed to simply trying to build another Silicon Valley Unicorn. This was confirmed when I later learned that Hugh’s mother had suffered her own long battle with Cancer. Hugh had witnessed firsthand the challenges of navigating the complex provider landscape, as well as the direct impact the stress of those challenges had on the patient experience – a burden that no one should have to bear. Needless to say, Hugh’s passion and vision resonated with me, and I knew instantly that I wanted be a part of his journey.
My decision to be an investor and talent partner with Hugh was based less on the mathematical and more on the philosophical. Robin Care is unique convergence of two ideals: both a great business and team to invest in, and a great story to be a part of. Not only is Hugh adding value by addressing a gap in the market, he’s fostering a kinder, more compassionate Universe by making cancer advocacy available and accessible to everyone. What a privilege it would be to help build his team in such a way that wouldn’t hinder Robin Care’s growth. I knew that if Alex were here today, he’d be chomping at the bit to test drive the platform, volunteer his time, and evangelize for Hugh and his team. I see the potential for Robin Care to do for others what Alex was so uniquely able to do for himself. That’s why I get so excited each time we identify a candidate who’s successfully aligned to Robin Care’s mission, and who can help make battling cancer just a little bit easier. Frankly, it’s why we get up and do this for all of our clients every day. Sure, we’re passionate about building great teams, but ultimately, it’s the impact that those teams have on people’s lives that makes us feel grateful that this is what we get to do for a living.
As I sat at lunch in SoHo just a few weeks back with an industry friend, I looked out and into what I realized was the window of Alex’s old apartment. It made me wonder how my life would be different if Alex was still here, and yet hopeful that with companies like Robin Care, fewer people will have to ask themselves that same question in the future.
By: Tim Gordon, Founder & Managing Partner