Early phase businesses can be treacherous. Of the millions of startups that are launched each year in the U.S., most fail or stall out within a few years. Too many of those that survive are led by fatigued and stressed-out entrepreneurs who struggle to break even and have no real shot at finding additional funding or an acquiring partner.
But a few make it to the next level.
Here’s to one who did: Modality, developer of premium health care apps for Apple mobile devices, founded in 2006 by Mark Williams, Ph.D., was acquired by Epocrates in November. This deal is a great strategic fit for both parties, and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving founder and team.
I know Modality’s story well because they have been a client of mine for several years, and because I held an ownership stake in the firm. Among founders I have known and advised, Mark Williams brings the most powerful combination of intelligence, resilience, and humility I have ever seen. In early 2009, I asked Mark to chronicle some of the thrills, challenges, and tensions he experienced while navigating through the gritty reality of getting a business safely off the ground. Here are a few excerpts:
Another reason I am pulling for Modality — and now Epocrates — is that I have featured Mark and his startup story as a core case in my upcoming book, 6 Secrets to Startup Success, about the two sides of entrepreneurial passion.
Here’s how I introduce Mark’s story on page one of the book:
For years, Mark Williams passionately pushed the boundaries of technology, learning, and design. Long before Apple’s iPhone revolutionized the use of mobile devices, the Duke University neuroscientist hacked into his medical students’ iPods and loaded them with hundreds of anatomy pictures and phrases. The students raved about learning anatomy terms while waiting for coffee, riding the bus, or doing loads of laundry. Mark knew he was on to something, so he launched Modality, a developer of premium learning applications for the iPhone and iPad. “I was so caught up in the beauty of the idea and the possibilities around it,” he recalls, “I was not thinking rationally.”
Whether or not he always thought rationally (show me a passionate entrepreneur who doesn’t bring some measure of irrational faith in his or her “baby”) Mark Williams made the most of his strengths, paid attention to what the market was telling him, and remained open to adapting his big idea over time, as every healthy startup will have to do.
It’s not over. Mark and his talented team will continue to leverage their world-class innovation platform for iPad and iPhone as part of the broader Epocrates strategy. But, for now, I want to toast this founder, this well-deserving team, and the wise company who acquired them.