Lisa Alderson is the co-founder and CEO of Genome Medical which is a telegenomics technology and services company allowing access to genomic-based medicine. The company has raised over $60 million from investors such as Canaan Partners, GE Ventures, Perceptive Advisors, Kaiser Permanente Ventures, Techammer, Casdin Capital, Manatt Venture Fund, and Samsung Catalyst Fund to name a few.
In this episode you will learn:
- Getting inspiration from other cultures
- The human element and the human story
- The future of medicine
- Why keeping up momentum is so important in a startup
- Lisa’s two keys to making it as an entrepreneur
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About Lisa Alderson:
Lisa Alderson is the Co-Founder and CEO of Genome Medical, Inc., a digital health company bringing genetics to everyday life. Through its nationwide genomics telehealth service, Genome Medical provides expert genetic healthcare for individuals and their families to improve health and well being.
Prior, Lisa Alderson served as the Chief Commercial Officer and Chief Strategy Officer of Invitae (NYSE: NVTA), a rapidly growing genetic information company. Lisa Alderson was also the former CEO and president of CrossLoop Inc., a marketplace for technical services (acquired by Nasdaq: AVG).
Prior to that, Lisa Alderson was part of the start-up team at Genomic Health Inc. (Nasdaq: GHDX), president of Cinema Circle Inc., (acquired by Nasdaq: GAIA) and the former manager of strategic planning at The Walt Disney Co.
Lisa Alderson has an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School and a B.A. from Colorado State University, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude.
Connect with Lisa Alderson:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we have someone that has quite an incredible professional career and entrepreneurial journey, and I think we’re going to learn quite a bit, and we’re going to learn as well about the different cycles like going from the Dotcom to now, COVID – you name it. So, without further ado, Lisa Alderson, welcome to the show.
Lisa Alderson: Thank you, Alejandro. It is so fantastic to be here with you and your listeners today.
Alejandro: So, originally born in Minnesota, but grew up in Colorado. How did this happen, and how was life growing up there?
Lisa Alderson: Yeah. I love Colorado. I am an outdoor adventurer and a bit of an adrenalin junky, and Colorado is a great place to do that. You’ve got mountains and great outdoors. Yeah, I was born in Minnesota. My family is there. I definitely grew up with the Midwest niceties and authenticity, and that has stayed with me to this day. So, I love both of those states.
Alejandro: Very cool. In your family, was there anyone that was business-driven, or how did you get the influence for business and building companies?
Lisa Alderson: Definitely. Actually, my father was definitely entrepreneurial. In fact, the reason we moved from Minnesota to Colorado, we had taken a family trip to Colorado, and my parents fell in love with it, and they’re like, “Let’s move.” So, he had this adventurous spirit and built a number of businesses quite successfully. He was definitely an early mentor for me, and I think put me on a journey of interest such that I was starting companies when I was 19. So, it has been very much a lifelong passion for me.
Alejandro: What got you into journalism because that’s what you studied in Colorado State University?
Lisa Alderson: Yeah, that’s right. I grew up and went to high school in the 1980s, and somehow at that point in time, I had this spark of interest in television, documentaries, and telling the human story. I became connected with the local cable station, and I was enamored with broadcast journalism and the ability to share knowledge, and information, and insights. That was an era where journalism told both sides of the story. In particular, I loved the human story. So, that was my first chapter of my professional life. I was running the teleprompter, and I was a camera operator on the evening news of our local cable station when I was 16. I’ve always been a motivated and driven person starting at that early life stage. I would say my career experiences have followed my life passion. When I was 16, I loved TV and entertainment, and so that was passion one.
Alejandro: How do you think that has shaped the way you have been able to, later on, do your professional career and entrepreneurial journey, the storytelling side, because storytelling is everything when it comes to business?
Lisa Alderson: You know, it really is, and in particular, I think one for recruiting and hiring great talent – it’s all about the vision. It’s about the mission. It’s about building culture, but it’s also about the human story. In the case of Genome Medical, the impact we have on individual’s lives and families, so there is this continued theme around storytelling that is so important. I think that passion and interest, the spark for humanity, and understanding people’s stories. It’s also a big motivator for me today. It’s part of what drives me on my current journey is that interest in helping people, and frankly, improving quality of life and health. We’ll come back to that. Yeah, I followed my passions and started with television, media, entertainment, and consumer, and then moved more into hardcore technology. Then, I found my way into genetics and genomics. I think my insights from all that are about how to be an adaptable entrepreneur and listening to those passions in pursuing those passions.
Alejandro: Absolutely. We’ll get into where you are now and this incredible business that you’re building in just a bit. But before that, so that we can continue to get to know you a little bit, what happened after school because you got your first break into doing your first business, which was a television production type of entity, but then you ended up living in Honduras. It’s unbelievable, the shifts here that are happening. So, tell us a little bit about this.
Lisa Alderson: The backdrop is, I grew up in Colorado. I went to Colorado State University in Fort Collins, and in part, because I had this passion for journalism and had been part of an International Radio and Television Society Fellowship in New York City, and worked on CBS evening news. I saw some of the highs and lows of television production. It’s a pretty cutthroat industry, candidly. There was a sense of what I loved about having started campus television, which went on to become one of the top journalism programs in the country, in part because it was a student-run and student-produced television program, which I had been a big part of that story in terms of getting it funded and raising money and ultimately had over 100 student volunteers by the time I graduated. So, really set that on its path. I would say the thing that was most instrumental about that for me was this vision that you could conceive of an idea; you could execute on that vision, and then you could build something over a pretty short period of time – in this case, three years, that then had such robustness that it continues on today. This was, let’s say, more than two decades ago. So, as part of that, it became the spark for me around building things that are meaningful that are going to touch lives of others. That really is my first foray into entrepreneurship. But with that as backdrop, I was antsy because, at this point, I was in my young 20s, but I had been in Colorado and Fort Collins, which is a lovely town, but felt like I wanted some exploration. So, I ended up finding that, of course, for the two years that I was in Honduras. Over that two-year period, I had such a wonderful opportunity. I did a bit further in the journalism side of things and covered some breaking news for WTN out of London, and others. Then, I also worked a bit with the U.S. Embassy and really created a further passion in my interest and efforts in helping humanity. In Honduras, it’s really a very poor country. There were such heart-wrenching – again, the human story, where many children were impacted and frankly, dying of dysentery and such preventable health factors. I really loved my time there in getting to know the tremendous richness of the Latino culture and improved my Spanish, and just really loved the ability to discover a new culture. I did make my way back to the United States, and came back and went to business school. It was a wonderful chapter, and I think created an empathy, on my part, of the human element, the human story, and what we as individuals can do to affect and improve life for others. So, it’s always been a bit of a passion for me.
Alejandro: Got it. You went to Harvard Business School, and I’m sure it opened your eyes in many different areas that maybe you didn’t even know were there, but out of HBS, there are a lot of people that go out and start their own companies. You went, and you started working for a company like Walt Disney. What motivated that?
Lisa Alderson: Part of it was that when I was starting that television station, and then I also helped build a television production company following that, but that was all off of largely instinct. I felt as though I really loved the process of building businesses and saw that was going to be more of my passion and my career, even more than broadcast journalism. But I felt like I needed some more formal training, so that was the impetus for Harvard Business School. Also, the reason that I joined the Walt Disney Company, 1) I still had very much this passion in journalism, entertainment, and media, and of course, Disney is the clear leader, at least in my mind and at that point and time. That allowed me to really be able to join an incredible group in a department called Strategic Planning that led long-term strategy for ABC and ESPN and a number of the cable assets. That allowed us to build that continued training in what was the epicenter and the leader of entertainment and media. I worked with incredibly bright and intelligent people. It was a wonderful time in my career, so I really enjoyed my journey there.
Alejandro: It’s interesting how you, during your career, you’ve jumped from media to then tech to then genetics and genomics. It’s really incredible, but one thing that I definitely want to ask you about is, how was the time of living through the Dotcom Boom where you were able to raise 20 million bucks with just a business plan?
Lisa Alderson: Yeah, it was a crazy period there. Everybody saw it. It was this time where there was a vibrancy and an eagerness, and it was all about acquiring users. Companies were doing crazy things to build that userbase because then you could monetize the value of those users. As part of that, I definitely witnessed where capital was so readily available but then also witnessed the other side of that. As we came out of the Dotcom Boom, we hit with a real crash landing the Dotcom Bust, where just overnight hundreds of millions of dollars in market cap at many, many companies were just eroded. That was also a very tumultuous time to live through as a leader and manager at a company and to try to navigate such a dynamic and challenging environment.
Alejandro: Obviously, this was a very nice segue getting into genetics and genomics. I understand that it was via investors of prior companies, so how did you get into this new segment?
Lisa Alderson: As I was transitioning out after that Dotcom Bust period, and looking at successfully merge my company with another company at that point in time, I was looking for my next chapter. I first took some time off and decompressed, but through Kleiner Perkins, which had invested in a prior company, came to be introduced to Dr. Randy Scott, who, at the time, was a CEO and founder of Genomic Health. Genomic Health was one of the first precision medicine companies. Kleiner had just invested in Genomic Health. It was a wonderful team, deeply committed to the science and medicine of building precision medicine for oncology, but at a very early stage in building the business and thinking through the first product and the first go-to-market strategy. We really hit it off, and it became a great opportunity for me to learn a lot more about the medicine and the science of genomics, which I knew very little about. This was in 2000, and we were sequencing the first human genome, so very few people knew much of anything about the field. I’ve always been a lifelong learner, so I found that there was a lot from my business training and how you speak about taking your products to market and building competitive advantage that translated across multiple industries, of course. So it was a strong partnership with myself and working closely with the senior leadership team that was deep in the medicine and science of genomics to really help navigate some of those early days. Again, that was probably one of my most enriching career experiences because it was such a novel concept at that point in time. I’m super excited to have been a part of that early startup stage.
Alejandro: Talking about enriching experiences, right before you started Genome Medical, which is your most recent company and probably the biggest one that you’ve built yourself, which is remarkable – and we’ll talk about it in just a little bit. You actually were part of Invitae, which is a company that you helped from the very early beginning being one of the first employees to go in. You were able to also be part of the remarkable journey of taking the company public. How was that experience?
Lisa Alderson: Oh, it was such an incredible – it was always on my bucket list, but it’s one of those where – it’s hard to have that actually happen. Genomic Health had actually gone public, but I wasn’t at the company at that point in time, even though I was part of that earlier startup stage of the business. At Invitae, which I joined at a very early stage, it was so rewarding – going back to that story I gave where my first entrepreneurial experience of building something. In the case of Invitae, it was at the concept phase and a very small team, a handful of people, at the point that I was joining. It was an incredible path to be able to – at the time, I was the Chief Commercial Officer, so built out the commercial side of the organization, helped launch the first product into market, and commercialized the approach, build revenue, take the company public. It was an amazing journey to be able to see. And hats off to Sean George, the now CEO, who was president at that point in time, and Randy Scott, who was the CEO at the time of the IPO. Just an incredible management team and such a great, powerful, big vision. The company is executing so tremendously against that vision. It really is rewarding to be able to see a company through that exciting stage and build products and services that are so meaningful for patients. This is all about genetic testing and creating easier access to genetics for patients all over the world.
Alejandro: In terms of seeing a company that does the full cycle, like Invitae, I’m sure that you were able to get a lot of lessons from it, and a lot of lessons that I’m sure that you’re implementing now at Genome Medical. What’s that one lesson that you knew that absolutely for sure you were going to implement on your most recent company, Invitae?
Lisa Alderson: Yeah, Invitae was instrumental in the path to founding Genome Medical. So at Invitae, we were very focused on how we could open up access to genetic testing and built this vision for a one-stop journey for all things genetics. What I saw as the continued market need as we gained success and traction at Invitae was that you have these incredible tasks that are just built on depth of science and medical management guidelines, but it was still a huge impediment in getting those tests to patients. The reason being is that there is a service delivery gap in being able to elevate the knowledge for clinicians in so many different clinical areas such that the clinicians could identify which patients need genetics and genomics and would most benefit, and the clinicians need to know what tests to order. The clinicians need to be able to interpret the results and use that to change clinical care for the patients. So, Genome Medical was really founded with the vision of how do we bring forward access to genetics and genomic-based medicine? How do we democratize that access because there are so few specialists in the field? So we are tackling many of those service delivery challenges in working to bring genetics and genomics to patients everywhere as part of just routine medical practice.
Alejandro: Got it. At about 2016 is when you decide to make a shift, a shift of gears here, and start your recent company. Tell us about how you came up with this idea and how you brought it to life.
Lisa Alderson: It started with a vision of would this be more of its own company or something that at Invitae could become almost like a service line? There are some complexities because in running and operating a lab, there are actually some regulatory barriers that prevent labs from practicing medicine. Part of that is self-referral issues, and some of that is laws, and there’s complexity there. Ultimately, through some exploration with the senior leadership team, and even the board, it felt like that would need to be its own company, and it would actually be quite a complementary business because you need both molecular diagnostic testing and you need medical services. You need clinicians who are knowledgeable in genetics and genomics to overcome those challenges that I noted. Ultimately, with great acceptance and excitement from Invitae, I launched this as its own business and in partnership with my two co-founders, Dr. Randy Scott and Dr. Robert Green. Randy, as I noted previously, is a visionary in the field of precision medicine, and he can see where the world is headed about a decade before everyone else. Then Robert Green is a leading medical geneticist at Harvard Medical School and Brigham Women’s Hospital. He has been a fundamental force in helping to guide us on our journey in building a business that is effectively shepherding in a new era of genomic-based medicine and doing that in a medically responsible way.
Alejandro: What ended up being the business model here?
Lisa Alderson: We are a medical practice. We are set up as a nationwide telehealth medical practice that is democratizing access to a lot of specialists, and these are leaders in their field coming out of prominent academic centers and leading health systems. We employ a team of geneticists and genetic counselors and PharmDs, and others that are specialists to be able to create effectively next-day on-demand appointments that are virtual via telehealth, either video consultations or phone-based consultations. It allows us to be able to provide ready access to clinical expertise. We then provide an upfront consultation with the patient. We order testing as appropriate and even do benefit investigations to make sure whether or not testing is covered by insurance. We then get the results, convey those results back to the patient, and now develop a personalized care plan to enable them to utilize those genetic insights for the benefit of their care. That is shared with the patient; that’s shared with any other treating physicians, and we make ourselves available as the genetics expert. It’s like you go into your primary care doctor, and if they listen to your heart, and they feel like you need to see your cardiologist, then they refer you to a cardiologist. Your primary care doctor is still your primary care doctor; you’re adding a specialist to your team. So, we’re like that. We are that specialist. They are the genetic and genomic specialists that interface with other treating physicians to service that patient’s needs and provide the highest quality clinical care to individuals all over the country.
Alejandro: Very cool. A lot of people are talking about how Elon Musk has this edge with knowledge transfer where he’s able to apply different things that’s he learned, let’s say via FinTech companies that he started or now space companies or even auto companies, and how he’s able to combine all of that and apply that into his own execution with whatever he’s dealing.
Lisa Alderson: That’s a richness to that, I would say. It’s amazing, and often we silo very industry-specific, and there’s value in being a knowledge expert in a particular domain – no question. To some extent, I’ve built that up over the last two decades in genomics, but I think the more you have this, like patterns of recognition that can cut across industries, particularly when you’re trying to drive innovation. The common theme throughout my entire career has been very much about using technology to drive innovation. In healthcare, we need technology. We need service delivery innovation. We need new pricing models. We need a higher standard for patient care and customer engagement. So, all of these life lessons and richness of my experience is I do feel kind of dovetail into what is now the building of Genome Medical, and I think the richness of experience across industries can be quite an asset, particularly in digital health, where you’re trying to combine those principles of consumer-based businesses and technology-based businesses and healthcare businesses.
Alejandro: That’s amazing because with media, tech, and now implementing all of them in here, definitely, that gives you an edge. So for Genome Medical, how much capital have you guys raised to date?
Lisa Alderson: We have raised $60 million since our inception in the middle of 2016, so about four years now. We just celebrated our four-year anniversary. We recently announced a round of funding, which brought in an additional $14 million. That was just announced, so we’re super excited to welcome our new investors from that financing round as well as the continued investment and support from some of our longer-time investors.
Alejandro: Lisa, this is pretty amazing, and I need to ask you about this. Obviously, your recent investment was done in the middle of COVID.
Lisa Alderson: Right!
Alejandro: How did you manage to raise this money?
Lisa Alderson: You know, first of all, I think Genome Medical sets up the intersection of telehealth and genomics. Those are two fundamental trends in healthcare that are going to vastly improve the ease of access to care and the quality of care. Part of it is, we are in the crosshairs of two very exciting broad macro market trends. In particular, with COVID, we really worked hard to support a number of our health system partners in moving more care to virtual care, genetic and genomic-based medicine to virtual care. There was a huge push and an incredible effort across the industry. As an example, we worked with Kaiser Permanente, and they announced they went from about 15% telehealth visits to over 80% telehealth visits, and that was in a matter of a month. That’s an incredible feat for any health system. We did our portion of support in trying to move more to telehealth. I think COVID did vastly accelerate adoption for telehealth, just out of necessity. Now, we are focused on how we can continue to provide access to patients virtually because there’s still a high degree of reticence to come into the health systems and, in particular, for routine medical care. We are seeing cancer screening, so mammograms and colonoscopies have been impacted. They’re down by 90%. What’s concerning about that is that the rate of diagnosis for those cancers, colon cancer, as an example, is reported down 80% in terms of diagnosis. We know cancer did not stop for COVID. We’re simply not finding the patients because they’re not coming in for routine care. So, Genome Medical is now very focused on building a technology platform that can enable us, all virtually, to provide education, assessment of the patient, and care navigation, and identify those high-risk cancer patients, identify high-risk cardiovascular patients. Get them tested, all virtually, never needing to go into a medical provider’s office. Then depending upon the results, if it’s now an individual who is at an elevated risk, understanding the critical importance for now having the mammogram, the colonoscopy, the MRI, and flagging those individuals and bringing them in for that medical care and those screenings because we all know if we detect cancer at an early age, it’s at its most treatable stage. Unfortunately, if we do not, then it is both more challenging treatment regime and also riskier in terms of patient outcomes.
Alejandro: In this case, obviously, you guys have come a long way in the business, and for the people that are listening to get an idea of how big Genome Medical is, what can you share in terms of number of employees or anything that you can share?
Lisa Alderson: We have just over 60 clinicians. Those are MDs and genetic counselors, most of whom are full-time. We just hired our first pharmacist, PharmD, full-time. We also have a whole network of providers that are contracted and part-time with us. We have seen patients in all 50 states. We see hundreds of patients on a weekly basis, and tens of thousands annually is the pace at which we are now at. Our whole vision is, how do we improve the adoption of genetics and genomics? How do we support the clinician, and how do we open up access to the patient? There are so few specialists that many patients that need medical management guidelines for genetic testing are not getting that testing, they’re not getting access to genetic counseling, and therefore, that is what we are trying to tackle and improve.
Alejandro: Got it. Where do you think the space is heading as a whole?
Lisa Alderson: I really see first, in certain areas, so for reproductive health, we’re launching a new product there. But virtually every woman of reproductive age qualifies for carrier screening under their insurance plans. The vast majority of patients don’t get that, and if they do, they’re getting it when they’re pregnant, which means the decisions are far more limited. I would love to see a future where just about everybody – and 21 is getting carrier testing and carrier screening. I’d love to see a world where every patient at diagnosis for cancer and cardiovascular disease is getting genetic testing. It helps inform treatment decisions. It helps inform clinical care. It’s like having access to a new technology, to a new insight that we haven’t had that are just so profound that as the costs of testing comes down, the use cases, the clinical utility goes up. So we are marching towards a world where everybody will have some form of sequencing at some point in their life to better inform their clinical care. That’s an exciting world to me. That is a world that is a more informed decision tree. It allows us to start to stratify patient populations and provide the clinical care as more appropriate to those individuals.
Alejandro: Obviously, here, after all those years, different segments, different companies, now making a big difference with this business, I’m sure that you’ve had your fair amount of lessons learned. One of the questions that I typically ask the guests that come on the show is if you had the opportunity, Lisa, to go back in time and have a chat with your younger self, maybe that younger Lisa that was thinking about launching a business back then. What would be that one piece of business advice that you would give to your younger self before launching a business and why, knowing what you know now?
Lisa Alderson: I would say resiliency and adaptability. Those are the keys. Resilience because you are going to hit highs. You are going to hit lows. It’s being resilient and knowing that even when you hit one of those lows – it’s also a bit of optimism, I guess I’d say. You can power through and get yourself to that next high. Then, the adaptability piece, we work in a world that has a really dynamic environment, and certainly, we’ve seen this currently with COVID and the need to re-navigate and reposition to support patients and what they need at this moment in time. I think there’s the successful entrepreneur can have both a pinch of optimism – more than a pinch is even better. And that adaptability, and that resiliency, and I think that’s the formula for the building blocks versus some success. Having been a long-time entrepreneur and founded or started seven companies at this point, there is a muscle memory, and there’s stuff that you get much more comfortable with – the ambiguity and the uncertainty and the decision-making without perfect information. I guess the last piece of advice I’d offer there is that it’s always easier to tap to steer the ship a little as opposed to if you’re just frozen and unable to make a decision and figure out which way you’re going. You’re starting from a point of inertia, which is a lot harder to build momentum and force. So, it’s better to make some bold bats and make some strong decisions and get on your journey, and then if you need to redirect a little as you go, that’s a lot easier to do because you’ve got momentum behind you.
Alejandro: Very cool. So for the folks that are listening, Lisa, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Lisa Alderson: You can follow me on Twitter: @LisaA and @GenomeMed
LinkedIn: Lisa Alderson and Genome Medical
I’m happy to have you all reach out, and I’m very assessable. Thank you for the time today.
Alejandro: Amazing, Lisa. Thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show.
Lisa Alderson: Thank you.
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