Daniel is CEO and co-founder of Modernizing Medicine. In 2015 Daniel was named EY Entrepreneur of the Year® and the 2015 Technology Entrepreneur of the Year by the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, as well as honored by Florida Governor Rick Scott with the Business Ambassador Award. In 2014 the Sun Sentinel announced that Daniel earned the title of Excalibur Awards Palm Beach Small Business Leader of the Year for 2013. Most recently he was named to the inaugural ‘South Florida Ultimate CEO’ list by the South Florida Business Journal in 2016.
Since founding the company in 2010, Daniel has led his team to raise over $85 million in funding and to employ over 500 employees.
Daniel has led the company through two acquisitions. In 2015, the company acquired gMed, Inc. to offer a full suite of gastroenterology-specific products and services, and in 2014 acquired Aesyntix Health, Inc., enabling Modernizing Medicine to provide revenue cycle management and inventory management to its customers.
Luckily for us, Dan gave us a chance to ask him some questions about his business, life, and career. Hope you enjoy!
1. Dan, mind telling us about your life growing up? Where did you live? What was childhood like? How do you think it may have shaped who you are today?
Although I was born in New York, I grew up in Lake Worth, Florida, and consider South Florida home. My mom is a law professor and dad a doctor — so having an entrepreneur for a son was a huge disappointment for them. I had a great childhood and was always into gadgets and technology (and trouble), so it’s no surprise I took the career route that I did.
2. From what we’ve read about you, you’ve been entrepreneurial since your college days at Cornell. Did your entrepreneurial spirit kick in there or was it beforehand?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur. When I was 6, like so many other budding entrepreneurs, I opened a lemonade stand. Quickly realizing that my COGS were $0 (as my parents financed my endeavor by purchasing the packets of Crystal Light), I skipped the whole “add water and ice part” and simply sold the powder for 25 cents each packet. Huge margins (for me, anyway)! My entrepreneurial spirit continued to grow and my college education gave me the basic tools I needed to turn drive into reality. I’m a firm believer that entrepreneurs are built, not born — you need that spirit, grit and a dose of reality-distorting vision to see what others cannot; but the tools to build a successful business are gifted to us by teachers and mentors and then forged into something more powerful through sheer force of will.
3. What qualities do you think separate successful entrepreneurs from those that either don’t make it or flat out quit?
Grit. Period. Full-stop. There’s no doubt about it – starting a business doesn’t come without its challenges and it’s not for the faint of heart. Passion, and the willingness to pursue that passion even with ups and downs, is a powerful asset. It has the ability to bypass fears of failure and risk-taking, and ultimately spearhead success. By the way, there is no shame at all in quitting when it’s a bad idea (or simply an idea that won’t take hold). The ability to fail fast, whether it’s a company or a concept, is a gift. Move on and try again.
4. Tell us about Blackboard Inc. How did you conceive of the idea for the company? What was your initial mission? How did that evolve?
During my sophomore year at Cornell, I took an intro to business statistics class. My professor taught the hundred-plus students about the concepts of standard deviations using twin dimly-lit projectors. I furiously scribbled down notes, but wasn’t able to pay attention to what she was teaching. Rather all of my concentration was focused on how well I scribed. Realizing this process wasn’t working for me and I wasn’t actually learning, I offered to take the professor’s lecture materials, digitize them and put them in a place where we could all access them – online (well, to be fair the term “online” really didn’t exist in 1994, but the libraries and dorms were newly “wired,” and we used all of this new amazing networking to play Duke Nukem and Doom). Pretty soon, more professors wanted to post their materials where students could access them, so I had to bring my best friends in on the new “gig.” We wrote some software to help us keep up with the demand and voila — the edTech company CourseInfo was born. It was such a benefit to both professors and students that the concept grew like wildfire across the campus. In 1998, we merged with Blackboard, and by 2006 the system was used on more than 40% of U.S. college campuses. We eventually sold it for $1.6 billion. Not a bad first job out of college.
5. You raised over $100 million for Blackboard. Many entrepreneurs are hesitant to raise money, especially venture money due to loss of ownership. Why did you go that route?
While this may sound a little sarcastic, but I have to say it: you can do things with money that you can’t do without money. Silly maybe, but true.
It’s about scale. You shouldn’t use money to invent – you should use the funding to take an invention to scale. Money is the fuel with which you launch your rocket, and should be NOT the means by which you hire the people to design one.
If you had to do it over again, would you do it the same way? What advice would you give to entrepreneurs with regards to raising capital?
No, I wouldn’t necessarily do things the same way. Dilution sucks. You should only raise what you need to get to the next level and not pad your balance sheet with rainy day funds. Every dollar of dilution you can avoid at an early stage will pay you back many times over.
6. Not many people in this world have experienced an IPO first hand. What was it like? What did you learn from having an IPO for Blackboard?
I must admit, the process was pretty exciting. Not many entrepreneurs get to take the company they build with their bare hands public. Managing “The Street” can be far more challenging than managing a private company board, but the benefits of having public currency provide a counterbalance to those challenges.
7. Once you sold Blackboard you “retired” to Boca Raton. What did you do in “retirement?”
Ha! I tried to enjoy “retirement” — I really did. I tried everything I could — being “super-dad,” exercising daily, playing golf, tennis, boating, you name it. Truth be told, I was miserable (except for the super-dad part — that I liked). My golf and tennis games didn’t improve in the first two weeks, but I did develop quite a tan. My wife knew me too well, and I got her blessing to return to my entrepreneurial ways after making a single promise — to “get a checkup.” Sounded reasonable. Turns out I was in decent health, but my newly beautifully bronzed skin led my doctor to refer me to a dermatologist for a skin check — “just to be safe.” That dermatologist was Dr. Michael Sherling, and little did I know, this encounter was all it would take to end my retirement.
I wondered why this young doctor wasn’t using technology in his practice — after all, he seemed tech-savvy, and held both an MD and an MBA. The reason was surprising to me – there simply were no health IT systems built specifically for dermatologists, so the ones that were on the market wasted a lot of his time. It was simply faster for him to use paper. They needed their best medical assistant in electronic form – one that remembers their preferences and workflow. Dr. Sherling and I decided to build an Electronic Medical Assistant® (EMA for short) for medical specialties to increase day-to-day efficiencies and ultimately enable doctors to spend quality time with those who need it most: patients. We created Modernizing Medicine’s flagship product, a specialty-specific EHR system, EMA™, now used by over 35 percent of all US dermatologists and more than 10,000 providers across eight other healthcare specialties.
8. I personally believe that the traditional definition of “retirement” should make retirement seem like a four letter word. Do you have your own definition of retirement? If so, what is it?
Retirement should entail doing exactly what makes you happy, and that’s such a personal decision and lifestyle choice. For some, it’s retiring to Florida and hitting the links each day. For others, it’s circumnavigating the globe (although that doesn’t sound so bad either). For me, it’s creating novel ways to solve problems. I hope I never stop fixing things that I see are clearly broken.
9. So much for “retirement.” Looks like you got right back into it with a pressing need in Healthcare. Tell us about Modernizing Medicine and your EMA app. What fundamental problem are you trying to fix?
We started Modernizing Medicine with one goal in mind – to save physicians time. Our EHR system, EMA, is an Electronic Medical Assistant and holds a distinctive position in healthcare technology. Surgical and medical specialists needed an efficient way to replace either antiquated paper charts or outdated technology not built with their specialty in mind. Specialty physicians needed help to do what they do best, faster and more efficiently. We believe that an EHR system shouldn’t get in the way of how a physician practices medicine. Instead, it should function intelligently and anticipate their next move – like a true assistant. To turn our idea into a reality, we thought about the core concepts needed to drive the technology — cloud, mobile and data-driven — then hired a team of practicing physicians and taught them how to code software. Developing technology for doctors, by doctors. EMA intuitively adapts to each individual doctor’s unique style of practice, remembers preferences and automates outputs. Once we created the data-driven EHR technology, we then built a full suite complete with practice management, revenue cycle management, telehealth and more to address the clinical, financial and operational aspects of specialty practices.
10. Have you raised any capital for Modernizing Medicine? If so what kind of financing have you done?
We’ve raised $87 million over five rounds — each time raising only what we needed to get to the next “level.” Most recently, we completed a $38 million Series E financing in September of 2015. But what’s interesting is how we got our start. Remember early 2010? We were in the midst of the Great Recession and nobody was interested in writing checks. Even with the success of Blackboard, investors were extremely hesitant to get involved — only a handful were seriously considering investing. We asked our beta users to be references for these prospective investors and something amazing happened — our beta customers wanted to invest. Our customers knew how different we were from other health IT companies and realized our potential. Our betas turned into investors, who became evangelists — driving our initial and ongoing success even to this day.
11. What are your goals with Modernizing Medicine? Do you hope to go public again?
We just want to build a high-growth sustainable company. We’ve adapted with changing healthcarepolicies, and will continue to look for innovative ways to truly “modernize medicine.” This is an amazing time for a company like ours — we’ve been building a company focused on improving the efficiency and outcomes of medical practices. Healthcare in this county is about to shift from doctors being paid for what they billed, to doctors being paid for how well they treated their patients. We are uniquely positioned to help practices make this change. As for going public again — I’ve learned that it’s not an “exit” per se, merely another financing event, so as a founder and CEO I need to be open to multiple different methods of raising funds.
12. What would you say was the biggest career mistake you ever made? What did you learn from it?
I’ve made countless mistakes in my career. I’ve learned a handful of ways to fail a company, dozens of ways to hire the wrong people, hundreds of ways not to make a product and thousands of ways to make a bad decision. They are all good learnings and I just try to make entirely new mistakes each day.
13. What advice would you give to any aspiring entrepreneur?
Surround yourself with positive people and those who buy into your vision. Consciously choose to listen to the motivators who believe in you and tune out the naysayers who want to bring you down. The taste of successes is just a little bit sweeter after having to swallow the bitterness of the people along the way that won’t believe in you or your ideas.
14. What is your biggest accomplishment personally or professionally and why?
After fashioning a makeshift saddle on the family Great Dane, having all 3 of my children avoid a trip to the emergency room and a race to the vet are huge accomplishments. (Please don’t tell my wife or PETA).