Interview with Mark Bakken of HealthX Ventures | Carex Case Studies

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Carex Consulting Group – Your Company’s Matchmaker

In a tight job market, relationships matter — that’s where we come in. We work closely with our partners and candidates to ensure companies (like yours) secure top-tier and dynamic talent.

We take pride in working with startups and helping industry leaders like Mark Bakken build the right team from day one and scale as his companies continue to grow.

Mark Bakken is the founder and managing partner of HealthX Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on funding digital healthcare startups. A little bit about Mark:

“The epitome of an entrepreneur, Mark has seen the peaks and valleys of starting, operating, and assuming the risks of a new venture. He’s come up against payroll, had a few bad hires, and even swept the floors early on. Collectively, Mark’s companies have done over $360 million in sales and raised more than $38 million in venture capital, and he has successfully bought and/or sold eight companies.

Among Mark’s previous companies is Nordic Consulting Partners; as CEO, Mark helped Nordic achieve a #1 in KLAS ranking, where it has remained since 2012. Nordic now has over 700 consultants working across 44 states. In 2014, the company was recognized as the 46th fastest growing company in the U.S.

Prior to his time at Nordic, Mark founded Goliath Networks. He grew it to #97 on the Inc. 500 fastest-growing companies list and sold that company in 2002. Mark has worked with Eric Schmidt on Novell’s Partner Advisory Group, and was also asked by Bill Gates to serve on Microsoft’s first Partner Advisory Council, which he did from 2001 to 2007.”

Here, Mark chats with Carex Consulting Group about how he approaches team building, working with Carex to find success, and, of course, we ask what it was like to work alongside the one and only Bill Gates.


CAREX CONSULTING GROUP: In the startup world, building the right team is everything; it can make or break your company. How do you approach it?

MARK BAKKEN: Having the right team at the right time is super critical for a startup. It’s all about making sure you bring in the right people that are a great culture fit. I know that’s a very ambiguous term, but it’s very, very important. It means the people that you bring in not only have to have the right experience and the right expertise for what you need them to do — they also need to be able to get along and play well with everybody else, and respect everybody else, and hopefully, they complement everybody else. So, just understanding what the company’s core values are, and what they’re trying to do, and their mission — hopefully whoever you recruit is 100% excited about that.

On our end, we need to make sure the incentives are aligned. So, making sure our comp structures are right, the bonus plans are right, and the stock options are correct. And it’s something that the company can afford in order to hit the milestones they need to hit in order to either raise the next round, or get cash flow positive, or go public, or whatever they want to do next.


CCG: When it comes to round two, three, four, tell me about finding that next level talent after you fundraise for your companies.

MB: It’s always this little dance you’re doing with a startup. You want to make people feel comfortable that you’re going to be here for the long haul, but you’re always investing in the future, too. So, the best time to do that is hopefully, early on when you’ve created a great minimum viable product, you’ve gotten some customers, you’ve got a good core team that ends up doing everything. Then as you grow, that just doesn’t allow you to scale, so you’ve got to bring in people that you can hire at the right time, where you’re not going to spend too much money, because you’ve got to grow. Every year in the startup world, if you can double or triple sales, you’re in a pretty good spot!

So, you want to make sure you don’t hire too fast, where all of a sudden you run out of money, and you haven’t been able to hit those targets. The trick is finding people that are willing to typically work for a little bit less than they could make somewhere else in exchange for the belief in the upside of the company. Believing that their equity will be worth substantially more than, you know, a few thousands or tens of thousands more a year in salary or bonus.


CCG: Speaking of great partnerships, what was the biggest lesson you learned working alongside Bill Gates?

MB: Working with Bill Gates early on, that was a long time ago, you know, that was back when I was the young entrepreneur with all these older businesspeople that had typewriter companies and calculators and accounting firms and computers.

When Bill came in, Bill was kind of nerdy; but the one thing I learned is that he really, really valued feedback, you know, customer feedback.

And for him, customers weren’t just people using his software; it was the resellers, it was the partners (we were a partner back then), and we talked to a lot of customers. And he thought it was way more efficient to just talk to us (who talked to a lot of their customers), and we could boil it down. He was good at summarizing things, and a lot of startups aren’t great at that.

But you have to get better at that, otherwise, you lose peoples’ attention. So, whether you’re trying to attract an investor, or a customer, or an employee, or a partner, just having that ability to do that, and always staying close to your customers, and understanding what they want and what they’re willing to pay for. The value proposition that they’re getting out of, whatever your software, service, or product is.


CCG: Great advice there. So, when you are looking to find or expand the core team, how would you say Carex plays a role in that or helps you move to that next mark?

MB: Carex has been awesome to work with, and super responsive. They have a huge network of talent out there. Partially because they’re in Madison, WI and they’re close to a lot of people that understand healthcare, that have a lot of expertise but are looking to maybe move on or live somewhere else or do something like that.

So, having access to that talent for us has really helped in finding people who understand the healthcare industry, they have relationships, they have amazing project management skills, so they’re good at that, and they’re just very good people, typically. So, [Carex] knows what types of people would be a great fit, especially for startups: whether they’re on the sales and marketing side, or the project management side, or the tech development/CTO side, or implementation—obviously customer success—or even just COO of a company, or even CEO if you’re looking for that.

I would say one of the biggest strengths Carex has is really understanding work culture and getting to know what’s important for a specific organization or startup and then being able to find the right fit for that. We’ve worked with Carex for over 6 years now, and they’ve been really, really good at digging deep, getting to know our startups, our portfolio companies, and what their culture is, then finding the right people that they think would be a good fit for those organizations.

Carex is a great company that can just find some of those people (recruits) before someone else does and have them available for you and your companies. And that, for me, it’s like a huge, huge, huge secret sauce for our companies. It’s a reason why probably our portfolio companies have all gone on to raise ten million or more. It’s probably one of the reasons why we’re so successful.


CCG: We do pride ourselves on doing things differently, with a fresh approach. What part stands out to you?

MB: Carex is extremely effective at what they do because they don’t over promise and over deliver; they set expectations, and they reach out and talk to people, and they understand what the employee’s looking for, and they understand what the startup’s looking for, and then they’re kind of a matchmaker.

Sometimes you can’t just have technology do that; you have to get to know someone, and understand who they are as a person, what they’re looking for, what their beliefs are. And then also, who that startup company is, and what they’re all about, what they’re trying to do, and being able to gauge whether there’s a good fit there, and a good match there. Carex is extremely good at that.

I would highly recommend if you’re a venture capitalist, if you have venture capital funds or private equity, and you’re looking for amazing, awesome people, to absolutely work with Carex. They can find the best people that can really, really help your companies grow. They’ve helped a ton of our companies grow; as you know, it’s all about the people, it’s all about the team, and having the right team. So, finding those one or two or three other key people who can really make a difference in one of your portfolio companies, Carex is the company to go to for that.

CCG: Thanks so much for chatting with us!