Embarking on an enchanting expedition through the corridors of business acumen, we unveil the extraordinary journey of Ben Boyer, a seasoned venture capitalist whose path took him from the sun-soaked streets of Los Angeles to the thriving heart of the tech realm.
His latest venture, R-Zero, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Caisse de Depot et Placement du Quebec, BMO Financial Group, Qualcomm Ventures, and DBL Partners.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Journeying from Los Angeles to becoming a venture capital luminary and exemplifying the unexpected twists that can shape a successful career
- Embracing unforeseen transitions to lead to remarkable opportunities
- The dynamic intersection of finance and technology showcasing how an understanding of financial markets becomes a launching pad into the ever-evolving landscape of technology startups
- Importance of adaptability and resilience in navigating the challenges of the business world and achieving success.
- Value of networking and continuous learning, underlining the significance of investing in one’s knowledge and connections.
- The transformation from finance enthusiast to venture capital partner displays the courage to embrace change and innovate
For a winning deck, see the commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M (see it here).
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About Ben Boyer:
Mr. Benjamin Boyer is a Co-Founder and serves as Board Member at R-Zero Systems. He is also a Co-Founder and serves as Managing Director at Tenaya Capital. He served as Board Member at Wrench & TruSignal and Smartling.
Previously, Ben was a member of Lehman Brothers’ Technology Investment Banking group, where he was responsible for corporate finance and strategic advisory assignments.
Ben holds an M.B.A. from Stanford Graduate School of Business and a B.S. in human and organizational development from Vanderbilt University. He served as Board Member at Wheels.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Um, alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So today. We have a very exciting founder and also an investor. You know we’re going to be able to really you know, learn from both sides of the table because I mean on the investment side. He’s done it for a long time and and then on the on the founder side. You know, incredible his response to covid and. The business that he’s been able to build as a result of it. So again, building scaling financing all that good stuff that we like to hear so without farther ado let’s welcome our guest today Ben Boyer welcome to the show. So.
Ben Boyer: Thanks Alejandro I’m excited to be here.
Alejandro Cremades: You grew up on the West Coast So Giro salerrofa walked through memory lane. How was life growing up.
Ben Boyer: It was great. So I grew up in Los Angeles my mom and dad still live in the house that I grew up in so it’s always like memory lane when I go back there and visit I was there through high school I went back east to vanderbilt for for college. And it was during college I had an internship at Merrill Lynge that I was first introduced to finance and realized that I was interested in that professionally and during my senior year I applied for investment banking jobs. And I got offers for investment banks in in New York but I was really focused on getting back to Los Angeles while I really enjoyed Nashville um I I missed and missed LA. and Lehman Brothers had a tech practice that was was in Los Angeles and so I was able to um I was lucky enough to get a job with them and able to work out of that office and so after graduation been back to Los Angeles and I did tech investment banking for for a couple years which was which was great.
Alejandro Cremades: And what what caught your attention from that and and what were some of the things that you were doing you know during your days in in investment banking.
Ben Boyer: Yeah I mean it was ah you know the traditional financial analyst program. Um, yeah, which which is actually I think more valuable. Ah for someone like myself than you know a kid that had had studied finance might. Undergraduate degree was human and organizational development which is pretty much akin to social psychology. Um, so I didn’t come into it with um you know a bunch of accounting and finance. Um. And vanderilt didn’t offer a a business major when I was there they might have changed it and in kimley I’m not sure I would have signed up for it at least early on in college because I truly didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was attracted to the human organizational development major because it was so broad and kids went into lots of different programs some went into business and and that really was attractive to me because again I didn’t go to college knowing what I wanted to do with my life. But as I said I had this great internship and if you think back it was the late 90 s it was um, ah you know a time where the stock market was booming that was ah you know around the the doc the initial dotcom. Ah um, sort of excitement and which ultimately led to a bubble.
Ben Boyer: But um, but there was just a ton of enthusiasm for technology and for initial public offerings and and I think that was what drew me into it. Um, you know because I was going to a large investment bank. They offered a very established training program. So as I was saying I I didn’t come into it with with a finance background. But but having spent a summer in New York where you’re doing coursework and and learning from and Nba you know teachers from Columbia and my you and in other local schools. You really get up to speak quickly and once I I started I did enjoy it at least initially. Um. Simply because I learned so much the reality was it. It was very repetitive. Um I think by, you know the middle of of my ah my my time there. So the end of my first year I realized I wanted to do something else and and while I was appreciative of the finance skills and I became really good at Excel. I definitely wanted to apply it in ah in a different manner.
Alejandro Cremades: So so in your case while while you were a lehman you know it sounds like there was an opportunity there that came up on the venture Capital Um, initiative that they had going on and you ended up landing there I mean how do you? How did that shifting happen and and what caught your attention I mean because it’s.
Ben Boyer: Here.
Alejandro Cremades: Even though it’s on smooth transition because it’s still finance and perhaps you know you are seeing some of it indirectly I mean it’s quite a shift.
Ben Boyer: Sure. Yeah, so um, while I I was an analyst doing investment banking Lehman raised their first venture capital fund with outside limited partners. Um, and that was in Ninety Ninety nine um
Ben Boyer: 90 Ninety 9 Lehman actually did have ah an active venture capital business. It was quite successful but it was a balance sheet effort. It was just using the the firm’s capital to make venture investments but based on the success of those initial investments. The strategy was sort of pulled together. And um, that was sold to outside limited partners and after they raised that initial outside fund they looked to staff it up with people and fortunately for me they were looking for some of my level. It was sort of ah, an associate. Um, and and so as I finished my second year I had applied intu. It I was accepted I moved from Los Angeles to the bay area and and began you know working as an associate an venture capital firm. Um, you know that period of time was very similar to the beginning of my time in investment banking insofar as I came in with a very strong understanding of finance. Um, and really how the public markets perceive businesses. Um I had also worked on a lot of m and a transactions when I was doing investment bankings I think I had a pretty good sense for How acquires think about business and and from a diligent perspective what that means? um but making an investment of learning about a market assessing a team looking at competitive threats both today and in the future is really different from a lot of the initial investment banking work that I was expected to do and so.
Ben Boyer: The beginning you know time and in Ventureor Capital was was incredible. It was like drinking from airos and that was also at a time where there was just more enthusiasm than you could imagine for the internet business model. It was entirely new. Um, but you know I I don’t know exactly why they they gave me the job offer I had had good reviews as an investment banking analyst I certainly worked hard but I was really fortunate I ultimately think I you know there probably were were a number of people in my year that had the ability to be successful in the role and I was just fortunate to to get the job. Um, on the venture side.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s amazing now now now I’ll like to double click in just a few of those things that you mentioned you know which involves you know being on on on that side of the table but before doing that there was obviously 1 thing very interesting that happened and that was Lehman goes under.
Ben Boyer: That.
Alejandro Cremades: So how were you guys able to um to come out of that you know alive and spin out. You know this thing I’m sure it was not easy to take it out of bankruptcy.
Ben Boyer: Yeah, so that was a few years later so after I I joined the venture team that was January of 2000 and ah at that period of time it was you know, traditional associate type work where I was doing a lot of deal origination. Lot of market mapping to try to find stuff and then a lot of diligence and execution. Um, and I realized during that period of time that that I truly loved what I was doing. It was the first time in my life professionally I just felt like wow I just want to do more and more of this. Um I recognized that the business school would be additive to my my capabilities as an investor particularly from a networking perspective and so I applied it to to business schools I I ended up getting into Stanford and it went there. And then upon graduating I went back to work for the the venture team at lehman they had offered to pay for business. Well if I returned and I could not could could could could could not turn such a generous offer down um and very reasonably quickly I think it was within two years I was promoted to partner. And um and you know operated as a ah partner with with 4 other individuals and then um, that’s when the the Lehman bankruptcy came we were obviously surprised by it. The venture effort at Lehman was part of the private equity division at Lehman and.
Ben Boyer: Lehman managed to blew about $30000000000 in private equity. Ah at the time of the bankruptcy against a whole bunch of different asset classes and strategies. So there was real estate fund and leverage buyout and and credit and then we were we were the venture team. Um, and you know when that happened we were fortunate to be operating. Um. Out of our fifth generation fund and we still had active investments in our fourth fund and while Lehman was a limited partner in each of the funds. They weren’t the only one and so what ultimately happened with the with the bankruptcy is we. Went out and marketed the Lehman investment positions the lp um and ah and found groups these secondary players that like to buy secondary interest and you know, limited partner interest. And ultimately we did a deal with a group called harbor v and they bought lehman’s lp interest and so that all transpired just a couple months after the Lehman bankruptcy. And um, we at that point rebranded the firm tonight capital um, but because Harvard best bought the lp interest and stepped into the unfunded commitment all of our fund sizes remained the same the strategy remained the same. The team remained the same so all we literally did was change our name.
Ben Boyer: And we’ve been operating as as tanaya ever since then we raised a couple of additional funds after after the the spinout and and there’s 5 of us that continue to manage the the tanaa portfolio. Um, it’s the same 5 guys that that worked together back in 2000 so we’ve worked together for 23 years pretty amazing to have a partnership survive that that length of time survive a bankruptcy um and to continue to you know post ah very strong returns across multiple market cycles. but um but ultimately um you know that that that experience was tremendous inofar as it really forced us to come together as a partnership and in and in a way that I don’t think any of us had ever expected. We’d have to to you know to be it really at that point became more a family than anything else. Um, because the the period of spin out although it didn’t take a long time. It was obviously a very stressful time. My daughter was born two weeks before the liman bankruptcy I’ve sorry two weeks after the Lehman bankruptcy so it was wasn’t entirely sure you know if I even had Health Health coverage but but ultimately once we understood you know if we put the limited partners first and try to maximize things for them. It would be in our best interest as well and that’s really been the ethos of tonight capital ever since then put the limited partners first and put and if you do that good things happen for for everyone.
Alejandro Cremades: And what what are the assets under management that you guys have today for the people that are listening I mean any any any high level over you that you can give us you know on the firm message under management types of investments and then also number of investments.
Ben Boyer: So.
Ben Boyer: Yeah, um, and and I don’t have the exact numbers on the number of investments. We’ve historically made. But we’re today managing about a billion and a half dollars as I said it’s a small partnership. It’s just 5 of us and and yeah, we’ve we’ve all all 5 of the partners have had.
Alejandro Cremades: Um, now.
Ben Boyer: You know, tremendous success my my area of focus at tonight had really been around um ah mobile marketplaces vertical applications I also did a fair amount of our international investing and while that was not ah you know the core of the strategy. Um, we have the ability to put up to 20% of every fund into international investments and that tended to be businesses that I pursued and I I ran a ah strategy in China early days which was quite successful and. Today we have one remaining chinese investments. Ah a great business called comveni to be and and also one investment in in Indonesia but but but ultimately we’ve we’ve all had a number of Ipos and and successful outcomes.
Alejandro Cremades: Now, Let’s double click on what you are alluding earlier on on finding you know teams I mean when it comes to to Pattern Recognition. You know there’s a lot of people that talk about Pattern Recognition. Talk to us about Pattern Recognition. What what does that mean and how do you guys think about that at the firm.
Ben Boyer: Yeah I mean it it really defines success or failure within venture capital I don’t think venture venture capital is is the hardest job out there having operated in ah in a startup I I definitely think it’s harder to do that than be an investor. But it very much is an apprenticeship business and the reason for that is you have to start being able to discern patent both good and bad um and when you see a bad pattern it provides you with an opportunity to miss miss an investment that was going to be a mistake or a problem. Um, and on the positive side if you can see some of the patterns emerge for success. Um, that also becomes something that you can pursue might forward. Um, all that said you know venture capital is not a perfect science if it was we could create an algorithm to to invest in businesses and. The the gen you know the generative Ai stuff is really interesting I think we’re we’re long ways away from it replacing venture investors I think those tools can actually get helpful screening lots and lots of opportunities. But the reality is um, you know you go no go decisions really are as much art as as science and really understanding team and being able to. See how people interact with you and interact with with questions particularly some that are hard. Um, because sometimes you learn a lot when you put someone in that position and ask them. You know something challenging. Um and and the reason for that is you know at the end of the day these are are businesses that are operated by people.
Ben Boyer: And as long as people are involved. You know you could have a great management team with the right pedigree and background. But if if the founders aren’t getting along and you typically only know that if you spend a lot of time with them individually together and then spoken to. Um, the e staff so you understand what the executives are saying about the interactions there. Um, you know it takes that to really discern whether or not you know this is going to be a functioning team going forward, but that’s just 1 example.
Alejandro Cremades: So what are the 3 things that you see perhaps repeat a lot on many of those companies that you guys have invested in that went on to do Ipos and and did incredible stuff.
Ben Boyer: Yeah I mean so ah, part of this part of this answer is going to be ah based on the stage of investing that tonight did so. Tanaa is an early growth stage investor what that means is we’re we’re typically leading second institutional rounds. Um back when I started a metro capital that was very clearly a series b and you would typically see c funding really not be institutionalized. It’s really friends and family. And then the series a was when the first institutions would get involved and then when the product of service started to touch a customer at some capacity. Um, even if there was very early revenue or no revenue. That’s when Tana I would start looking at an investment what we were trying to manage was tech risk so we didn’t want to take on any tech risk. Um, and back in you know, 2000 you know there was tech when you would go after different hardware opportunities or sometimes semiconductors if it was pre-tape out things like that. Um Techris means less now as you’re thinking about software. You’re thinking about. Um, ah mobile marketplaces and and applications and things like that. There really is not a lot of tech risk if any what it is is adoption risk and we’re pretty good at it’s sort of evaluating that. Um some of the stuff that we we focus on and care about is.
Ben Boyer: We care about who’s around the business and and what I mean by that is who you know what institutions have already gotten gotten actively involved with the business. Um, you know who are those people at firms. Um it. It really doesn’t matter at least to our stage of investing to coinvest with groups where you know how they’re going to react. And not only good times but bad times what we have found is like these things are fragile not all of them are going to work and there’s going to be times where even the best companies are struggling and.
Alejandro Cremades: Are.
Ben Boyer: Ah, question of of how an investor responds during that time is incredibly important to our success Criteria and the reason for that is we’ve invested with in good good markets. Good good products and good teams where the syndicate was weak. Um. Where you were dealing with groups where they weren’t going to be able to raise additional capital in which case maybe they never wanted to exit the business Even if it became very obvious we should exit the business or you had teams that were struggling to raise a new fund and because of that they were just looking to get liquidity even if they were selling the business short and So. We had just constantly seen a sub-optimal series of outcomes where businesses hit the other criteria. Well and so we moved away from making those investments and I think that was ah a very important screen for our investment decision that that ultimately went a strong returns going forward. Um, the the founder’s interpersonal. Relationship. Um as well as their their background and experience is also incredibly important to us. Um, you know we’ve seen a number of situations where founder divorce leads to implosion of the business and. And it really the amount of destructive behavior that we’ve been witness to is incredibly um, it’s been significant and it’s incredibly sad. Um, you know these things are hard to build even if everyone is getting along swimmingly but you know if you add in the complexity of of internal strife.
Ben Boyer: And you start seeing the business sort of devolve into feeddoms. Um, you know you’re not in any position to deal with turbulence as it as it arrives so spend a lot of time trying to understand the founders where their strengths lie. How? Well they have divided up responsibilities Wosome responsibilities to really accentuate the strengths and protect against weakness and deficiencies and so that’s another sort of learning and it it took it took a while for us to get that and I think got pretty good at that. All that said like marriages you know they don’t always work and so you go into it with with all the the belief that it will and all and for all the right reasons. Um and and sometimes they don’t and then trying to figure out how you work 1 or you know multiple out of the business is something that. I think we’re reasonably good at we’re active investors who are typically taking board seats. Sometimes we take an observer seat. Um, and so we try to be you know, helpful to the business in managing through good and bad and as I said even our best companies will hit air pockets some time to time. Um, the third piece of this is. Really trying to figure out if revenue is not necessarily the north star for investing for us. We’re okay taking on you know, sort of that that revenue monetization risk if we can um understand what the path looks like.
Ben Boyer: But we we really need to to understand what the proxy is for demand whether or not there really is a market for this because there’s countless examples of companies that built amazing technologies that haven’t been adopted or they were just too early. Um I think that more times than not the the thesis was was right. But if it’s going to take an extra four or five years you miss the market. You’re not gonna fund the business for four or five years where there really isn’t any any real pull for the the product or service and so trying to understand what and what metrics around engagement. We do a lot of our diligence through customers and that doesn’t need to be a paying customer but it needs to be ah, a pay deck. And alpha it can be a you know software that was developed that a bunch of friends of the company are are utilizing and really understand is the value proposition that the the management team is articulating us actually being felt by these early adopters of the technology. Um, on the consumer side. It’s a little bit easier because you you basically get to throw these applications out into the ether and see how people engage with them but on the enterprise side and with within tonight about 70% of our investments with with enterprise. Um, we we we really do spend a lot of time with the customer.
Alejandro Cremades: Um, so talk to us about April Twenty Twenty because it sounds like you know you were on this path on the investment side on the other side things change you know where you are now blending both the founding side on the investment side. So what happening in 2020
Ben Boyer: Yeah, so you know I peeled back a little bit earlier in and and you know for for me covid hit in the beginning of 2020 and the reason for that is I had a very large investment in China. And so as the first wave of covid hit China was quite devastating I started to get alarmed that you know at least what we had seen with other ah pathogens is um, you know they don’t. Really think about orders or there is no concept of of ah protecting the order from a pathogen that as long as we have you know air travel and and people um you know, being around the world at any given time and then moving you’re going to have a spread and so. Watching the first wave hit China got me alarmed as we started to see cases in the us that’s when I you know I started to have a I would dare to say an emotional response to to covid. Um, that you know I read in the past about the spanish flu and other pandemics and it felt like wow this is. Really happening that I’m actually going to you know experience one of these in in my lifetime. Um, some of my early investments. Um, you know are are companies like lyft and ah eventride and kayak and you know as covid the initial covid wave came to the us and and we started to shelter in place.
Ben Boyer: By the end of March those businesses were just devastated and the us economy if you looked at it was effectively turned off for for a period of time the whole global economy was as well and that’s when you know I really started to to think a lot about the problem. Um. And you know I can’t tell you what happened I I was sheltering place at that point I was living in Los Gado so I was in the bay area in Santa Clara County which was the first county that went shelter in place in the country and um. And I just started thinking. You know there’s got to be some answer to this I don’t know what it is I’m not an infectious disease expert an epidemiologist but you know the world is dealt with pathogens forever. We deal with them on a daily basis. Um, and and there must be some organization out there that has some ability to provide guidance to get my daughter back into school to get um all of us to to start reliving the life that we were before and for whatever reason I started to focus on hospitals. Um. And my father’s a surgeon so I suspect he deserves some of the credit. Although I don’t remember having a conversation with him about this? Um, but you know if you think about it ever since the advent of the hospital. It’s the 1 communal gathering place for the sick and if generally speaking you and I can go into a hospital and receive care despite the fact within the 4 walls in the hospital.
Ben Boyer: have cdf pneumonia mrsa now they have covid then maybe they know how to stop the spread of an infectious disease and so I became a student in infection prevention and hospitals I was reading as much as I could and what I learned is. It’s pretty simple and it’s very consistent. Um the way hospitals think about. Infection risk is against 3 dimensions. They think about hands. That’s why you have to scrub in and scrub out one of the things I learned in in learning about infection prevention hospitals was scrubbing in and scrubbing out was something that was born after the the spanish flu. That during that pandemic a red cross nurse had recognized that there were worse outcomes with Frontland workers that didn’t practice hand hygiene and specifically they were looking at pregnant women that came into the hospital healthy that ended up getting spanish flu and many of them dying. And so this brilliant red cross nurse recognized this and and that became you know part of the protocol going forward which which is everyone has to scrub in into grow out. Um hospitals also think about risk associated with error and to mitigate that they typically use filters. And then surfaces and and and for that they’re typically using chemicals I was expecting to find a bunch of technology in in the hospital and in in terms of infection prevention and I didn’t but what limited technology I did find was uvc light. Um.
Ben Boyer: Wish I could tell you I was an expert in it I was not a yogaicidal that was the extent of my my understanding but what I learned was that the hospitals with the lowest in Incidentds of what are called Hahais or Healthcare carequired infections which are these are secondary Infections. You do get going to the Hospital. So think about going. Into a hospital to have a knee surgery you you could get a staph infection going in for an Mri. You could catch something called C diff which is ah a stomach yellment the hospitals that have the lowest in incidents of that I use Uvc light to disinfect um spaces.
Alejandro Cremades: Um.
Ben Boyer: And I learned that uvc not only disinfects surfaces but also air I also learned that it’s perfectly safe and sustainable. Um, and that you could leave an Apple out and run a disinfection and then eat it afterwards and there’d be no impact whereas if you spray a chemical. Um, you would have to destroy the food that’s interactive with it clean the plates and and like and I just fell in love with this idea that the answer to covid could be as simple as turning on a light um and not an engineer by training and and and canly I was not looking at starting a company at this point. Think my interest was really around. Maybe there’s an investment that tonight I could make maybe there’s a company out there. Um, that will build systems that will um, see increased demand as a result of of the pandemic and so I get a market mapping I started to look at at the various products in the space. There’s one venture backt startup in this category. It’s a company called zenax. They’ve been around for fifteen or sixteen years and they had built a product that had ah a wonderful body of of evidence that showed that it was effective at at disinfecting.
Ben Boyer: Hospitals and reducing the incids of hahais but they were charging 125 to one hundred and fifty thousand dollars for the product and it didn’t make sense to me why that product was so expensive. Um, as I said non engineered but I have worked with a bunch and so I reached out to the former product. Ah, head of product and engineering for 1 of my portfolio companies. His background is mechanical engineering. He worked it at it. He also worked at a medical device startup and so you know he’s he’s lived his life in healthcare and and hardware and I said look I don’t know what I’m doing I’m sheltering in place. Um, you know the the world is falling apart but I’m doing a bunch of research in uvc I don’t know if you have any interest in in in digging around the space with me. But if you do I’ve got a bunch of stuff I can send you and he said sure and so I sent him a bunch of stuff and you know it’s probably a week later he called me and he said it’s just the life with the timer. It shouldn’t cost one hundred and twenty five thousand dollars and he had sketched out. You know, effectively on a napkin what he thought this product should look like what it should do and he said look I think I can build something like this for a fifth or a sixth of the cost of the zennix product and I’ll make it even more powerful. He also wanted to embed an lt up in the device. You know to create an iot-enabled product and you know I didn’t believe it. It sounded too good to be true and so the investor in mesa we’ve got to do more diligence and so we found um, an individual.
Ben Boyer: Who had ran calosha for more than a decade. Ah, a very brilliant scientist and Dr Richard Rade and Dr Wade has taught at Harvard and Oxford and and we had the opportunity to to sort of pitch him on the idea and his eyes got bright and he just said I love uvc. It’s been the gold standard for you know disinfection for decades. Um, and he said I think it’s time is now. Um, it’s really just been a technology that’s lived in in healthcare but given everyone is now dealing with these these infections I think you know there’s going to be real interest in it and bringing the technology outside of of healthcare. He also called out the fact that in Leadingoha for California he dealt with thousands upon thousands of exposure lawsuits from chemicals. So chemicals are not good for people. They’re not good for the environment. It’s a petrochemical process. They’re very carbon intensive to create them. It’s even more carbon intensive to transport them. So. Think about a gallon of of Clorox. You know weigh 7 8 ight nine pounds in moving those all all throughout the country and so he he just said they’re really bad for the for the country they’re they’re really bad for people to properly apply chemicals. You should actually have a mask on. Um, depending on the chemical type and if using and the letrospectray you should potentially be in full pp and he said you know the beauty of uvc is. You just put it in a room shut the door and let it do its thing and and you don’t have to worry about anything and.
Ben Boyer: And we said well that that’s great Dr. Rig we’re glad you’re excited about this but what are we missing? Why is it that we’re going to bring a product to market. That’s a fifth of the price of xynax and it’s going to be effectively a better product. It will disinfect the same size space faster and his coming was. You know you’re not missing anything. He said you know historically these products have only been sold into healthcare and he said that the pricing in this market is just an artifact of our screwed up healthcare market he said it’s the reason why you if you go into the yeah er for an x-ray it can cost you know two thousand three thousand dollars he said the pitch that the vendors in this space make to the healthcare system says look if we save you 3 to 4 ais it pays for the hardware egis in the us on average you know can cost you know $30000 and so that pitch rings true which is I’ll pay this amount of money upfront.
Alejandro Cremades: Um, with the coton.
Ben Boyer: Um, if I mitigate a couple of hais. You know every year it will more than pay for for the hardware despite the fact these these systems shouldn’t cost that much and you just said look if you guys can really build this I think you’re going to be disruptive in healthcare but I also think you can bring the technology out. And so that was the moment we decided to to launch the business and we incorporated in April of 20 we raised a seed round very quickly. Um, it was an incredibly challenging time to build a company because that was. Shelter in place I mean I wasn’t even sure it was legal for me to be going to an office but I was meeting with my two cofounders. Um, ah the mechanical junior pulled in ah, another cofounder that had experience in building hardware and we were spending countless hours on this. Um and it was a very trying time for me personally. Trying to manage two jobs I had a portfolio in many instances that was was very impacted by ah by covid and had to shut down services and and the light and so I was working as many hours as I ever have in my life. Weekends were the same as weekdays or was you know you were working until 11 or 12 at night on on weekends as well. But we were were really we had ah I would say an energy that was driven by this desire to be a part of this solution. We recruited a phenomenal team.
Ben Boyer: I think a lot of people just wanted to to get involved like we did. Um, we raised money from incredible investors. So we’re backed by the earliest investors and in Amazon Tesla Spacex Google
Alejandro Cremades: Come how much have you guys raised today.
Ben Boyer: We’ve raised the exact number I think is one hundred and seventy million dollars um a hundred million came in in the middle of last year um
Alejandro Cremades: Got it. So. So obviously you know incredible run you know with with a company and it’s such a short period of time that you guys have been able to raise all that money too. I guess the um, the question that comes to mind is if you were to go to sleep tonight. And division of our zero was fully realized what would that world look like.
Ben Boyer: Yeah, um, what stood with what started is this infection prevention technology to help respond to covid has morphed over time to healthy buildings infrastructure. Um, we have this realization working on rzero that the world had just accepted that you know in the us 40000000 people get influenza every year 20000000 people get norairrus ah Rsb. You know we would kill old people and infants at a ah, reasonably high rate. Um that we would have you know healthcare costs. Plus. Ah, loss of productivity impacted the economy you know in in the tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars on an early basis and we realize you don’t need to accept that. Um, you know if you think back to to when we were all sheltering in place. There was no influenza There was no noroirrus. There was no rsv. And obviously you can’t have a functioning economy where people don’t interact. But what you can do is create spaces that are safer and we focused on what science was out there to to do that and so we started to build not just this first product. But. A suite of different products that do different things that make it such that we can reduce the infection risk of any space if you give us a room we can make it such that it is less likely to be an area where people will get sick and so that to me is the vision for our 0 going forward. You know and.
Ben Boyer: It is an incredibly exciting proposition that we can just help reduce sick days that we can make it such that people are less likely to get sick in in our zero protective facility than one which doesn’t have our technologies. Um. And I think about the influenza often one we had a very bad influenza year last year but influenza is often a top 10 leading killer in the us we don’t think about it like that simply because you know you and I get it. It’s not going to kill us or you know it’s going to make you feel bad for a week maybe two weeks but but ultimately. Influenza does kill people over the age of 65 and which is why it’s so important for people to get um ah the flu shot on a early basis and in that population. But the way it’s typically spread is through schools so you have waves of influenza that go in and spread in in this environment. And those kids spend time with their parents and their grandparents some of which you know have compromised immunity or just age and now those are the ones most at risk and so if we can sell our systems into schools and slow the spread of these infectious diseases. We can save. People. You know my parents age and that that to me is that’s that’s the real impact that’s the opportunity you know for this thing to really be able to change society. Um, and and ultimately that’s that’s the goal of the organization.
Alejandro Cremades: And now if you were to back in time. Let’s say you were reflecting here and and efforts to put you into a time machine you know and I put you back to the time where you were still at Stanford and you’re able to give yourself 1 piece of advice. You know before launching a business.
Ben Boyer: Is.
Ben Boyer: Um, um I would say ah my my best advice and I I think I was lucky.
Alejandro Cremades: That B and y.
Ben Boyer: I worked in venture capital before launching the business was um, really to know your investors. Um the relationship that you are forming with an investor that comes in and leads your series a or series b and in our case, we’ve had 3 finance 3 3 series sort of formal formal institutional rounds and one c round. But um I came into our 0 knowing how important those relationships were going to be it was going to be a long-term build with them. Um and knowing how these investors are going to act. In good and bad times. Um, was potentially going to define success for the business. Um, our ah our seed investor a guy named Duncan Turner at sosbi acc credit him with would truly. Helping us to deliver the first product s Usb is like the y combinator of hardware startups. They’re incredible through building a hardware company. Um, you should start with a conversation with them I don’t think there’s any group better out there than those guys. Um, and they provided us true engineering resources and and people we could go to and ask questions when it was a team of 3 people trying to figure out how do we get this thing to market quickly. Um, our series. A investor was Ira Aaron prize from dbl partners dbl stands for double bottom line investors.
Ben Boyer: Um, these guys effectively created that that that entire johnre of investing if you will where you’re you’re focused on not just profits but a second bottom line of doing good making the world a better place. Um, is claiming to fame as being you know one of the earliest investors in in Tesla Spacex and be still in the tesla board but the support that that he and his partnership have provided to the business is is immeasurable. Um, you know I don’t think there is an investor that works harder for his portfolio companies than than ira um ra dias um, at ah, ah, excuse me at the world. Innovation lab has been an incredible partner to the company. Um as well. Ah. And ah, and really you know the the relationship between investors is is ah is almost as important as the relationship between the founders and or the Ceo and and the investors and and he and ira work incredibly well together. He’s an incredible enterprise investor with a tremendous track record and and experience um and and and you know to have his insights around the business and be able to open up the doors that he’s open has been you know tremendous.
Ben Boyer: And then our series c was led by Casey De Poe an investor named Tom Burch and Tom manages the entirety of the venture effort at at a cdpq which is quite large and he put on the board. Ah, an individual from ivanno Cambridge. But but between the 2 of them. They’ve been really great partners but you know the business is one that that has effectively had 2 2 lives already even though you know we’re we’re three and a half years old and we’ve been selling a product. Our first product for only 3 years or a little less than three years we had the covid response period where we had tremendous amount of demand. We weren’t entirely sure who our customer was we were selling this thing to enterprises dozen professional sports teams schools correction facilities. You name it. We had a customer. Um, to the post pandemic period where we actually have to understand who is our customer. Um, and you know where are we seeing repeatability and what are the additional problems. We can help solve for them going forward and that transition is not easy. Um, and. The support that we got from our investors as we made that transition was incredible. We brought on a world class Ceo a woman by the name of Jennifer Knuckles who’s been leading the business since October and has done a phenomenal job.
Ben Boyer: Our founding Ceo did a good job of ideating the product but he was a first time Ceo never had enterprise experience and and it was time to bring on a season veteran that is you know has has built large organizations and she’s done that. I knew her personally before starting the business and it’s been nothing short of a pleasure to have the opportunity to work even closer with her as as the the Ceo of the business. Um, but you know this investor group has provided a tremendous amount of support for the company. Introductions as I said yeah they work tirelessly and Ira is the one that’s been around it longest that him in in Duncan Duncan on the seed side hasn’t had a works Seat Ira has and and I just can’t say enough positive things about about him and and the work that they’ve all done to help to business.
Alejandro Cremades: I love it. So ah Ben for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Ben Boyer: Yeah, anyone that wants to ping me if it’s regarding our zero I say Ben at rzero.com is probably the the best way Ben. At rzerodotcom. Otherwise if you want to talk finance and investing then at tonightcapital.com and tonight is t e n a y a then capital dot com but happy to connect on either.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! Well Ben thank you so much for being on the dealmaker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us today.
Ben Boyer: Thank you Alljandra It’s a real pleasure to have the opportunity to chat with you.
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