Nick Desai is a multiple-time entrepreneur who has raised over $100M for his most recent startup venture alone.
During his recent appearance on the DealMakers podcast, Desai shared his evolution through several businesses, the decision not to get too comfortable, how much the wrong boards and investors can cost you, as well the more sustainable future of healthcare he and his wife have been creating.
Be Wary Of Getting Too Comfortable
Nick Desai was born in Mumbai, India, but grew up in the suburban paradise of Irvine, California.
Despite the challenges of being an immigrant child, he counts it as a very privileged upbringing. He comes from a family of business owners. His grandfather and father both owned their own companies. Even his wife’s father owned his own business.
A traditional job was really a foreign concept to him growing up. Holidays and weekends were just like any other days, and his parents worked hard on their companies.
Nick applied himself to his studies. He was someone who didn’t like not having the answers for things. He always wanted to know how things worked. His father who was a mechanical engineer explained how engineering is a way of thinking and encouraged him to pursue it for himself.
So, he dove into it, and specifically electrical engineering, all the way through his Master’s. It taught him a lot about how to think through solving problems.
Out of school, he did end up with a job.
He was working at Rockwell Science Center. He had his own condo, a car, and plenty of money for being single.
When he told his mother he might start a business of his own in a year or two she wasn’t pleased. In fact, she even told his boss that she wanted him to quit. She didn’t want him to end up being stuck in a traditional job.
She knew if he got too comfortable, and the longer he got accustomed to that situation the harder it would be to make the leap.
Looking back now he says that a lot of people will tell you that you should go work for a VC firm or get an MBA and work for others before you try to start your own business, but the best thing to do is to just get started. It will force you to learn what you need to know. Usually a lot faster than other options.
In fact, his top advice today is not to be afraid to make mistakes. You will make them anyway. The faster you can do that, the faster you’ll find the best path forward.
The Importance Of Choosing & Managing Your Board Carefully
Nick’s first venture as an entrepreneur was Zkey, an early tech startup. Back when VCs still sent term sheets by fax machines.
In just a couple of years, the NASDAQ had soared from just 1,500 to 5,000, and the Dow Jones was hitting a new high too. There was a lot of money in the markets.
They received an acquisition offer from a big multi-billion dollar public company. Unfortunately, his board turned it down. They wanted more.
Of course, the markets crashed, and that offer vanished. Then the board said they would sell if they could get the previous offer. The offers kept on going lower and the market went down.
Ultimately they did end up getting acquired by one of their customers. Only for much less. That meant no returns for common shareholders, including him as the founder.
Good investors invest in companies for entrepreneurs to run. Nick now says “When they try to run your company, you have to push back.” You want them working for you, rather than positioning yourself in a situation where you are just reporting to higher-ups.
Once An Entrepreneur, Always An Entrepreneur
Nick says “If you do this for a year, it gets in your blood, and nothing else has the same feeling because instead of living in the world of tomorrow, you are creating the world of tomorrow. You’re creating the world everyone else is going to live in.” It is a feeling that is bigger than money.
Through some consulting work, including for some hip hop brands and magazines, Nick ended up rolling into his next company, Juice Wireless.
Back before the iPhone and selfies were a thing Juice Wireless enabled people to take pictures on their mobile phones and post them to their MySpace pages.
They attracted investment and it took off.
Between the iPhone showing up and the Great Recession of 2008, Juice Wireless didn’t exactly end the way they planned. Though that hasn’t stopped him from going at it with two more companies since then.
The next was FitOrbit. A digital fitness startup that attracted investment from Blue Cross and Spark Capital among others. Here he learned some big lessons about sales, especially in America. They found out that people aren’t as concerned about spending on their fitness as you might think.
What people need can often be very different from what they are happy to spend money on. Like online personal training that requires them to do work, versus Netflix that enables them to essentially do nothing. FitOrbit ended up selling to one of their investors.
When Nick’s son was born and needed medical attention he and his wife quickly encountered how inefficient the world of healthcare was. Even being well connected and privileged by many measures, they still found it a nightmare.
Together Nick and his wife came up with a concept to solve it. Today that company is Heal. Heal is solving access to care for all, and creating a more efficient and sustainable healthcare system for everyone.
They’ve already raised $165M from notable investors, including Lionel Richie, Humana, and the Taiwan Sovereign Wealth Fund.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Nick Desai was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- How Heal works and the problems it is solving
- The future of healthcare
- How success often just relies on not giving up, and embracing the noes