Investor Spotlight: Alex Morgan, Khosla Ventures
Alex Morgan (@genomics_doc) is currently a Principal on the investment team at Khosla Ventures, a Silicon Valley VC fund which invests broadly in technology from seed stage funding to later stage capital investments, where Alex has a special focus on biotechnology, healthcare, data science, and AI/ML. Alex has an MD and PhD in biomedical informatics from Stanford, with a dissertation on machine learning methods in precision medicine under the supervision of Atul Butte. Alex has done additional graduate work in biology and physics. He also did a short postdoctoral fellowship in biochemistry and genetics with Ronald W. Davis at the Stanford Genome Technology Center. As a scientist, he has published over 50 scientific publications, primarily at the intersection of computer science, biology, and healthcare. As an inventor, he has licensed IP to three separate companies. As an entrepreneur, he has worked as an early employee or co-founder at a range of startups, including Personalis, DigiSight, Stimulomics, and Opal Financial.
Alex has also worked as a Senior Artificial Intelligence Engineer for the MITRE Corporation on a variety of projects for the US government. Alex is committed to improving access to healthcare to underserved communities through community service, and served as co-manager of the volunteer staffed Arbor Free Clinic in Menlo Park, where he also worked as head of IT and helped develop and deploy their electronic medical records system. Alex is particularly interested in helping to advance diversity in STEM fields, including technology entrepreneurship.
We spoke to Alex about the opportunity he sees in the 50+ market.
Longevity Network: What is your role at Khosla Ventures?
Alex Morgan: I am a Principal, and I am fairly new to venture capital, coming mainly from research and development in academia and startups. Our firm invests very broadly in a huge range of technology areas, including investments in the food, space, and energy industries. We have a special focus on healthcare and biotech companies, especially when they include an AI or machine learning component, which is my area of specialization. Being a Principal here means looking at a lot of technology areas to identify new areas of potential interest, meeting with entrepreneurs who are seeking to partner with a good investor, and spending a decent amount of time working with existing portfolio companies.
LN: From an investor standpoint, why is the 50+ population an important one?
AM: In business, large and growing market segments should always be interesting. However, as a healthcare investor, it is of critical interest as the 50+ age group is the focus of a huge amount of healthcare. Like anything in business, you need to pay close to attention to your major customer base.
LN: What do you look for in a startup/company? How do you like to be pitched?
AM: My boss and mentor, Vinod Khosla has put together a presentation on how to pitch which I think could benefit a lot of new entrepreneurs, and is general advice on putting together a deck.
For me personally, I like a pitch to be a straightforward and complete full of relevant facts and information. People in venture capital are very busy, and when entrepreneurs make it a fight to get information, it makes the likelihood of investment lessen. Providing detailed information about the team, product and vision are all obviously important. However, investors also like to know specifics about prior investment into the company and investors, what the next milestones are, and what resources are required to get there. I also come from a fairly technical background, so I like to be given a decent amount of straightforward technical detail early on in the process.
It’s also important to not include irrelevant or fairly obvious facts. For example, a health investor is going to know that diabetes is a big problem and absorbs a lot of resources. However, it is important to understand what parts of that overall landscape your particular company is actually addressing.
Finally, although I can understand entrepreneurs wanting to control access to proprietary information about their company, it is very helpful if they can provide information that is easy to forward around (PDF format) and helps provide a scaffolding for explaining the company and the investment opportunity to my colleagues to help guide decision making. Like many things in business and life, if you can understand another person’s perspective and make their job easier, then it ends up being better for you. If an entrepreneur can make it very easy for an investor at a VC firm to write a concise and yet complete investment note to their partners, then it makes the likelihood of an investment increase.
LN: Can you tell us about one of the most interesting pitches you’ve received from an entrepreneur? Favorite success stories?
AM: Things which are really interesting from an investment perspective are often just quite good across many dimensions (team, technology and market) with most of the risks seeming minimal, so making an investment decision is straightforward. bit, this level of goodness probably makes for a fairly bland anecdote. However, I have to say that some of the most enjoyable elements of pitches are when you get to try a product yourself and it is an excellent experience. For example, we are investors into Genalyte, a company which has a very unique technology (optical ring resonance) which it uses to identify a range of blood based biomarkers in parallel. When we visited the company for the first time, and they could take a finger prick of blood and do a rheumatology autoantibody panel in the fifteen minutes that we spoke about how the technology worked, the power and maturity of the technology was clear. Other fun things about this business are being able to do things like take rides in different autonomous vehicles or eat food freshly prepared by a robot while you watch.
LN: What excites you most about the health technology and/or caregiving technology market?
AM: It’s hard not to get excited about technology that helps people so directly. The technology that we invest into is trying to improve health and extend lives; it doesn’t get any better than that.
At the same time, many industry areas which we might not have considered medically related in the past are becoming much more integrated into a more holistic picture of wellbeing, so the scope of the market is increasing in this way, as well. For example, we are increasingly thinking about food as an element of healthcare and wellbeing, something people have known for a long time, but now we are applying the principles of evidence based medicine to a greater understanding of nutrition and food is becoming a data and healthcare product. Ergonomic chairs and standing desks are and example of medicalization of furniture. Our shoes are being increasingly designed with an aim of wellness and physical performance. Our interactions with electronic devices can be used to diagnose mental illness (Ginger.io) and cognitive function (Neurotrack) and shift our mood and cognitive functioning, and on and on. It’s an exciting time to be involved in healthcare technology.
Importantly, technology is likely the main solution path toward addressing the upcoming challenges in healthcare expenditures. We need to figure out how to improve health and wellbeing while using less of expensive resources like highly skilled human labor. That has very much been the traditional role of technological innovation in the commercial sector, namely providing a better product for less cost.
LN: What are some common misconceptions or mistakes you see companies or investors make in this space?
AM: It is extremely common to dramatically underestimate the cost of sales, and this is true across a range of business types and scales.
LN: What do you see as the biggest growth opportunities in the 50+ economy? Is there an area of the market that really isn’t being covered?
AM: I think pulmonary problems are not adequately addressed at all compared to much of the effort put into many other areas. It is major source of morbidity and mortality, but we have no real way to prevent or reverse the monotonically decreasing lung function that most people experience as they age. In many areas of the world there are large numbers of people continually being exposed to smoke and particulate air pollution in general, many of whom live in countries with a rapidly improving average lifespan, so those countries will have a large, aging population bearing the burden of this lifetime of exposure.
There are also still many infrastructure challenges for people who wish to age at home but experience any diminishing of their physical capacity. Most homes continue to built without things like even basic wheelchair accessibility. We aren’t building the infrastructure to support conditions which are quite common. For example, for each person, it is around 25% likely that they will become at least temporarily disabled during their working life. As we age, it is increasingly likely that something can go wrong and systems like vision, hearing, locomotion and mobility, etc. become impaired in some way. That means that existing homes need to be retrofitted to help support these challenges to independence as much as possible, and future homes should be designed to support a range of capabilities which may vary with time. There are huge opportunities for smarter homes to not only make the lives of the unimpaired better and more convenient, but certainly to increase the independence, safety, and wellbeing of all of us as we may have new or ongoing physical or cognitive challenges.
LN: Anything else you’d like to share?
AM: We are already interested in hearing from new entrepreneurs doing cool things. You can submit a deck to our investment firm’s email submission account: email@example.com
Good luck to all the innovators out there working to improve the health and wellbeing of others!