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Boldly Growing: A Start-Up Founder’s Guide to Sustainable Success

Author: Reginald Gordon

Published: June 5, 2023

Austin McChord is the founder and former CEO of Datto, an innovative provider of comprehensive backup, recovery, and business continuity solutions, Austin led the company through its acquisition by Vista Equity Partners in 2017, and subsequent $4B+ IPO in 2020. Austin is a Forbes 30 Under 30, was named Ernst & Young Technology Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016, and earned recognition as one of the nation’s top 50 philanthropists in 2017. He holds several patents and has been a featured keynote speaker at national technology conferences.

Building from the Ground Up

Austin McChord:

At first, Casana’s office was a vacant old conference room — an auxiliary space at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I looked around at a team of four who simply shared the belief that a toilet seat had immense potential to do something great in the healthcare space. It was exactly what you would imagine the beginnings of a start-up to be.

This wasn’t my first time starting from scratch, however Casana is a unique experience: the industry is different, my experience is different, and the team is different — the only thing that’s the same is when starting in a new industry there’s some days I have no idea what I’m doing. Frankly, that’s what makes it fun.

So, what made me want to help bring someone else’s dream to life this time around? As both an investor and CEO, the key component of this technology is it’s truly effortless — it doesn’t take any additional time out of your day. We live in a world of companies and products demanding your time and attention. The seat could save valuable time for both providers and patients, potentially replacing doctor’s visits and hopefully someday hospital readmissions. By unobtrusively collecting key vital signs, you might even forget it’s there. It’s technology like this that truly makes our lives better, which makes turning this vision into a reality an exciting challenge that I’m pumped to work on every day.

“If it’s just a research project, it might as well have never happened. If we really want to do something impactful, we’ve got to deliver and get it to market.”

Scaling in a Highly Regulated Environment

This technology and genius only matters if we can make it to market. As an average consumer, you don’t think about the level of scrutiny medical devices undergo. Unlike other industries that launch products every day with minimal oversight, you’ll discover that the government has put a lot of time and energy into ensuring that medical devices sold do exactly what they claim to do, and are safe for people who use them.

It’s an interesting challenge to take that energy and desire to push, push, push, in a start-up environment while simultaneously working within a regulated environment. All of the words the media has used to describe me over the years — leader, risk taker, fearless — are not relevant in this industry. There are incredibly high standards around proving out what the device does, how it works, and how it is tested — all stringent and important regulations to help protect the consumer.

In some ways, I wish my printer came with these same requirements, where I could actually believe what the manufacturer claims about the product. If they did, however, new printer models would likely never be released because the testing required would be too onerous. This is the balance we chose to strike — developing a clinical-grade medical device out of an unexpected product — a toilet seat.

“We’re explorers and we’re bringing the regulators along with us.”

The regulation should not be seen as a fight, but instead as a key part of the challenge. We’re explorers, and we’re bringing the regulators along with us. As the first FDA cleared toilet seat of any kind, we’ve charted new territory, and have the opportunity to do something that no one else has ever done before.

Sustaining Success in a Start-up

Sustained motivation hinges on making daily progress. Every day we push that ball up the hill a little bit further. It’s all about taking the insurmountable task of bringing an idea through an incredibly intense regulatory regime, and then breaking that apart into thousands of individual steps. At the end of each day, we are able to look back at all the steps, the numerous flights of stairs we’ve climbed, and look ahead to see how many fewer there are to follow.

Casana is going through the process of transitioning from being research-oriented to being a fully-functioning business with sales, marketing, and all of the other components necessary to go to market. How we talk about the company and its performance will be drastically shifting. The new challenge becomes balancing our scientific goals and our quarterly numbers. As we bring these seats out into the wild, it’s going to feel really different working here a year from now, and that’s exciting.

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint. In this industry, it takes a really long time to get where you want to go compared to anywhere else. The rewards, however, can be exponentially larger.”

There’s three key principles when it comes to sustainability in a start-up:

  1. Hire the right people. Curious individuals will always be hungry to learn and grow, and a start-up requires this type of mindset in order to succeed.
  2. Manage your resources. It’s really easy to spend money in a start-up, but by prioritizing needs and forecasting appropriately you can better budget and plan strategically for additional funding.
  3. Be transparent. I stated at the beginning of this piece that I had no idea what I was doing in the medical device industry. I have successfully exited a company. By being fully transparent with my team, we develop trust and loyalty so we can all achieve something great.

What’s Next for Casana?

After recently obtaining FDA clearance for heart rate and blood oxygenation, our team is heads down in pursuit of additional clearance for blood pressure before taking the Heart Seat to market. It’s going to be fantastic when we get this product to market and the world will be able to benefit from our hard work. I am so lucky to be part of this team. Who would have thought that a toilet seat could be the thing that makes a dent in the universe.