Dr. James Min (Jim) may have come from humble beginnings, but he had the smarts and big dreams to take his ideas and passion and turn them into a multi-million dollar company, dedicating his life’s work to building a meaningful business.
Within one year, Jim took his company, Cleerly, to whole new heights, going from 15 employees to nearly 100. During his recent appearance on the Dealmakers Show, Jim discussed how he built a business around his love for biology, medicine, and patients. As well as how scaling and fundraising work in a company built around passion.
Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.
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Born in Norman, Oklahoma, and raised in southern Wisconsin, Jim spent his childhood in small-town America, growing up in humble beginnings. The primary residents of his hometown were farmers or faculty of the small university in town. After high school, Jim left the small town and has since lived only in large cities such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.
Science has always been a passion for Jim Min, and it led him to a major in biological sciences at the University of Chicago. To Jim, it was the lure of understanding fundamentally new biology and, in particular, how it can fundamentally and positively affect human life that really drew him in. After college, Jim attended graduate school but found that studying science in isolation wasn’t fulfilling when it did not directly impact human life, which led him to attend medical school to become a physician.
From there, Jim’s interest in coronary heart disease understood through advanced non-invasive imaging led him to begin study using a newly-introduced technology, the 64-slice CT scanner that enabled exquisite imaging of the atherosclerotic plaque buildup in the heart arteries. Jim moved to New York City in 2005 to lead a cardiovascular (?) CT program. During his time at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Jim began to leverage CT for its use in the evaluation of symptomatic patients with suspected heart disease, as well as to use it for cardiovascular disease prevention.
Where It All Began
After 15 years working with patients and performing large-scale clinical trials, Jim realized that performing detailed cardiovascular CT assessments for comprehensive disease phenotyping was too time-consuming, consuming up to 8 hours to analyze a single patient’s image. While useful as a research tool to understand new vascular biology, this time-intensive analysis precluded its utility as a clinical tool in daily practice. To integrate these advanced evaluations into clinical practice, the analyses needed to be automated or semi-automated to scale globally. In 2013, Jim and his team began to integrate advanced machine intelligence with a new-found knowledge of vascular biology that they learned from the performance of an array of large-scale clinical trials. With this, they began a journey to create products and services that would touch each stakeholder of the cardiovascular care pathway.
Another challenge that Jim identified was the translation of information from advanced imaging for the digestion by non-imagers. He realized if physicians or patients weren’t formally trained in advanced imaging science, they would know to understand the importance of the output of the imaging. So translational tools would be needed to communicate effectively to every stakeholder in the care pathway in a manner that would empower and educate them.
How could Jim and his team create a comprehensive, scalable, understandable, standardized, accurate, and precise solution? That was the focus of Cleerly, a mission-driven company that was born in 2017 with a mission to help support the identification, treatment and prevention of the leading cause of death in the world – namely, heart attacks.
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The early days of Cleerly were like every other startup; the opposite of glamorous. The initial process focused on product development – delivering a minimum viable product, and then advancing feature sets within the product to gain regulatory approval. After two and a half years of work, Cleerly emerged from stealth mode with 2 FDA-cleared products, entering into the next stage of the company to offer Cleerly’s products and services to the clinical community of providers and their patients
Cleerly’s business model included two major commercial market verticals. First, the company found enthusiasm from health systems — including hospitals, private practices, and integrated delivery networks. Second, Cleerly works with health plans. It is estimated currently that ~40% of healthcare dollars in the U.S. are simply wasted, and Cleerly leverages its precision diagnostics approach to identify the “right patient for the right treatment” in a manner that can improve health whilst reducing the overall costs of care. Specifically, Cleerly comprehensively and quantitatively analyzes heart disease within every artery and its branches to inform the clinician and the patient of how to effectively treat it to stop the progression of and stabilize heart disease.
Raising Capital and Scaling
In just two financing rounds, Jim raised just under $60M of capital. The first round was roughly $8.5M, and the second was $45M. Jim says “We have made a very active attempt to make sure that we build at hypergrowth pace while making certain to maintain our Company’s purpose, mission, values and culture. Further, we have had the good fortune of working with an investor syndicate who is well-versed in the digital health and diagnostics space, and who help govern the Company with important insights.”
There are four major categories to building a company:
- The purpose. What is the addressable market, and are you doing something that positively impacts the world?
- The people. Do the people within the company have the ‘muscle memory’ of experience to effectively scale a company with a strong foundation?
- The product. Does the product or service fulfill an important and urgent unmet need?
- The numbers. The numbers include capital raising and revenue generation.
One of the best moves that Cleerly founder Jim Min made was to choose a leadership team and employee base that was excellent at communication, organization, and keeping the team focused, despite growing from 15 employees to 100 in less than a year. Then the team is able to rally directly behind the company’s mission and purpose.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Jim 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.
The Future of Cleerly
Cleerly products and services are best-in-class and are applicable across the continuum of heart disease severity and presentation. In this vein, the Cleerly team can envision a world without heart attacks and aspire to a time when advanced non-invasive imaging of the heart can be leveraged to eradicate heart attacks in a manner similar to mammography for breast cancer and colonoscopy for colon cancer. Jim says the best way to treat disease is to simply prevent it, and the best way to maintain heart health is to never have a heart attack in the first place. Cleerly’s solutions now support the enablement of these efforts.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- Turning your passion into a sizeable company
- Getting your product to market
- Four major categories for building a successful company
- Staying on the mission