TCA Member Spotlight: Dr. Shadi Battah

Dr. Shadi Battah (pictured with his wife Carisa) is an Intensivist with the Alaska Hospitalist Group, as well as an active angel investor.

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you end up where you are today?

I come from a middle class family. My parents are both educated and focused on education and achievement. My dad is an electrical engineer, and my mom is a sociologist. I have three sisters and one brother. I was born in Lebanon and lived most of my life in Jordan where I went to high school and medical school. Shortly after graduating I came to the States to pursue internal medicine. I was in Cincinnati OH for three years, and then I went to Albuquerque NM for a specialization in pulmonary and critical care medicine. I spent three years there. So that’s my education track.

Shortly after finishing in New Mexico I went to Alaska to start practicing critical care medicine. I followed in the steps of two of my previous colleagues who were trained at UNM and ended up in Alaska, I figured I might as well go and check it out, and little I’ve known that I’ll meet my wife there and end up spending the majority of the past decade in the last frontier!

As I developed my non-clinical skills, I started getting interested in health care innovation, and I always liked the entrepreneurial aspect of small business, so I started dabbling in angel investing using public platforms around 2014 – like Angelist, WeFunder, and Funder’s Club. Just to try and stay on the cutting edge of things. I also did a couple of projects in real estate on the East coast with one of my friends.

I eventually ended up putting together a small fund with a group of my colleagues. I’m managing the fund and allocating with a focus on investing in healthcare (especially digital health) and tech.

 

Can you talk about your reasoning for creating the fund?

I really believe that health care innovation is very needed, and we need to look at solutions that achieve what the Institute for Healthcare Improvement calls the “quadruple aim”; solutions that provide better patient care, improve the quality of care, at a lower cost, while giving both the patient and the health care provider the best experience possible in terms of the interaction and communication. That’s my basic screening tool.

The other aspect is that I’m a big believer in the middle class and small business. I can put my money in many places, but I prefer investing in entrepreneurial hard-working people, in the local economy, and in real job creation. Startup investing is risky, but at the same time I know the money goes directly to actual people, to creates jobs, and to creates the potential for change. That’s the nuts and bolts of why I’m doing this.

 

Is managing that fund something you’re looking to bring more people in and expand on, or is it more of a sideline for you?

Let’s put it like this: COVID-19 last year derailed my timeframe quite a bit, because I’ve been heavily involved at the bedside taking care of patients. The situation created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty and there was a lot of time spent on managing the consequences of the COVID pandemic, which didn’t leave much for other aspects of what I like to do. At the same time, COVID accelerated adoption of digital healthcare platforms and telemedicine, there has been that kind of activity.

Going forward I am thinking about how to further this part of my investing journey. Possibly consulting, and raising larger rounds. But it’s a moving target right now, I’m not sure to be honest.

I’m also pursuing my MBA. I’m more than halfway done, and it’s through University of Massachusetts, I’m learning a ton and I think that’ll really help me make a better-educated decision in how to proceed.

But you know, I love clinical medicine, and I love the bedside, taking care of patients, talking to families, seeing people get better, or if they’re not getting better, helping them through end-of-life situations. Even if I end up spending more time in Ventura capital , I always want to have my hands on the pulse of the healthcare industry and the best way to do that is to continue to be engaged on the clinical care side, at all times. The nature of what I do allows me to scale my number of shifts up and down depending on what else is going on in my life, which is a blessing because it’s not an option for a lot of people.

My perspective, right now at least, is that I want to always be involved in clinical medicine, and telemedicine, even if not in the same capacity or total number of hours that I’m spending now. I think keeping a close eye on what’s going on in the clinical side comes in handy for an administrative job in healthcare in terms of recognizing what’s necessary and what areas need innovation.

 

How did you end up joining TCA?

One of my friends in New York told introduced me to Eugune Cho, the CEO of Discover Echo. I ended up syndicating some money alongside TCA’s investment. TCA was the lead investor, and I met Dean Rosenberg over the phone, discussing TCA’s due diligence. Eventually I was introduced to Ashok and Sergio. I really liked the conversations and people a lot, and few years ago ended up becoming a remote TCA member.

 

Tell us a little about your family.

I’m married, we have three boys. My wife Carisa took a unique path in her education. She did her undergrad in psychology (with minor in math and biochemistry) at USD, and after working in psychology for few years, she went to school to pursue nursing, and most recently completed her masters degree in nursing education and was an adjunct professor at University of Alaska.

My three boys are Sami, Ramzi, and Zayne. They’re all young (6, 4, and 2 years of age), and keep us super busy. We’re hoping as life goes back to some kind of normalcy and the kids go back to school that Carisa will be able to resume her work in nursing education or some clinical nursing in a part-time capacity, hopefully in the next two or three years.

 

Is Carisa also interested in the business and investment side of healthcare?

She says that she doesn’t like the business side of things, that she’s more focused on the educational aspects of healthcare, but I find myself often bouncing ideas off of her, especially when it comes to tech platforms that have something to do with social media or e-commerce. She has a good eye for what might take off. I find myself often reflecting on her use of certain apps – a while ago I ended up investing in a pre-IPO company based on her recommendation after using the app and experiencing their service, and it did REALLY well after the IPO. So she has a good eye for things, but she doesn’t really want to get too far into it.

 

You’re relocating to California. Will you be coming to San Diego?

We have family in the Bay Area, including Carisa’s grandmother – who is 97 – so we are trying to spend as much time with her as possible. We live next door to her right now. Down the line I think we are very interested in moving to San Diego, considering my wife’s love affair with the city – she loves San Diego, and she always talks about the city, I think the 4 years she spent there in undergrad had a profound impact on her. Not to mention she loves the weather as well. For me, being part of the TCA Community has been extremely valuable: the amount of learning I’ve done the past three years has been amazing, and the people I’ve met and connected with and became friends with is invaluable to me. I think moving to San Diego would be a natural transition when the time is right.

 

What did you do for fun pre-COVID, and what are you doing these days? 

Pre-COVID I played a lot of soccer, both indoors and outdoors. That’s actually how Carisa and I met; we met for the first time during a coed game in November 2010. We’ve been playing together ever since, though sometimes on different teams. Soccer has always been a big part of my life; unfortunately COVID has thrown a big wrench into that. Chess has also been a big part of my life, I’ve been playing since I was 5 after my dad taught me. He was a good player – it took me like 10 years to beat him! I play chess almost daily, one short game per day, it’s my way to decompress. I also love to read – nonfiction, with focus on economics, politics, and philosophy. I read a lot in healthcare as well obviously.

We’ve been doing a lot of hiking whenever we have the chance. We go to places that the kids can hike with us too, we can’t be as crazy as we were ten years ago. We’ve done some mountain climbing in Alaska, but we haven’t done much since the kids. I also used to mountain bike a bit when I was in Albuquerque. Carisa is a great snowboarder and skier, and did some skydiving when she was in San Diego a while ago!It’s hard for me to watch her snowboard sometimes because it can be pretty scary –  she’s very good and she takes on the difficult paths. We like to travel a lot, to Europe, and the Middle East to visit my parents as well. After we beat COVID, and we can resume flying internationally, I’d like to reconnect with my siblings. They’re scattered all over the place. One of my sisters is in Canada, another is in Finland, my brother and other sister are in Amman, Jordan near my parents… Hopefully soon we can see them.

 

Can you share your opinion of the COVID-19 vaccines?

Our historical experience with coronaviruses is that they mutate, and with enough mutations it can impact the efficacy of the vaccine. I think about risk in a Swiss cheese model: to prevent an unfavorable outcome (infection in this case) we need as many layers of protection as possible. That way there are no perfect holes that can alights go through all the layers leading to a bad outcome. Vaccines are one layer, the mask is another, minimizing gatherings and social distancing is another… All of those precautions are important, and it’s prudent for all of us to continue to think in that direction because we still don’t know how things are going to unfold. We already have a couple variants and there are reports already about the concern over reduced efficacy of the current vaccine against the South African variant .

Now whether the vaccine will make a dent on transmission, that remains to be seen. It depends on how fast we can roll it out, and how many people will agree to take it, and how fast the virus is going to mutate. That’s a wild card. I’m almost certain that we’re going to be talking about a yearly COVID shot as more variants show up. When we get to the point that there’s a variant for which the vaccine is only 30% effective (let’s say), it becomes difficult to control these variants without putting together a new vaccine

At that point you start thinking, okay, we need to develop a COVID vaccine with one or two new mRNAs to reflect the changes in the viral structure, similar to what we do with the flu shot. Based on immunological studies and data, we decide which variants we include in the vaccine. Luckily working with mRNA will give us more flexibility. We’re manufacturing the vaccine now, versus growing a virus in a chicken egg (like flu vaccines). That’s a silver lining – in addition to pushing digital health care and telemedicine on the adoption curve, COVID has advanced vaccination science by years. The advancement in the use of mRNA technology is really exciting, with vaccine development as well as potential impact on use of mRNA in cancer treatment. I’m hoping the tech will allow us to adjust as needed, because I’m sure we’re going to get to a point where we need a new round of COVID vaccines.

 

Is there any message you’d like to leave us with?

In between the pandemic and the health care outcomes and the economic outcomes, there’s a lot of fragility and a lot of divisions, but the way I look at it, we’re all in it together. Whether you are on the right or the left, from here or there, we all live under the same sky, and we face the  consequences of our decisions collectively and together.

It’s time to embrace each other in this environment and focus on what really matters, on how to carry along with this American experiment. It is unique, it is the only place that I want to be, but you know, nothing can be taken for granted, things need to be protected and worked on. We are in a time where we need to rethink how to really protect the middle class, how to best advance the economy at a time when tech is changing so fast that it’s rendering a lot of people outside of the new economy, leading to things like prolonged structural unemployment.

How do we deal with this? How do we deal with the fact that the infrastructure and industrial base has been gutted over the past two or three decades, as we’ve transitioned to a nearly full-service economy? Also, COVID has exposed issues related to reliance on the extended global supply chains. The lesson is to think local. Think regional, support small business, think about neighborhood and community. I only do as well as my neighbor is doing. Let’s embrace each another, despite the political polarization and fragility that we see. We need to come together and agree on facts, truths and science, and move forward.

TCA Sponsor Feature: Ascent Private Capital Management

Jonathan Miles (4th from right) and the Ascent team

 

Tell us about Ascent, what services can you provide that TCA members would benefit from?

Ascent was set up by U.S. Bank in 2011 to help our largest clients manage the sustainability of family wealth. We’re designed to solve for sustaining family wealth for multiple generations. A lot of times, wealthy families are subject to the “three generation rule” – shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations. We were established as a boutique within the bank to work with families, $75 million and up, to help them with their banking, investments, financial management, and ‘wealth sustainability services.’ Some of these are services offered by other boutique family-office-oriented firms on an à la carte basis, while our approach is to take a team approach and customize the engagement for each family. Whereas many other firms focus on offering individual services such as managing a portfolio or lending money, our focus is on serving as a family’s financial home, for current and future generations.

I’m part of a team focused on California and split my time between San Diego and Los Angeles. Most of our team is in San Diego while we also have people in Newport Beach and San Francisco. Virtually everything a client may need is provided by people on our team. Our team includes five managing directors who service every client as a team: Investments, Banking, CFO Services, Wealth Sustainability, Client Experience.  Even though a client may not have investments, I’m still involved to help add perspective on the economy and investments, and add context for other decisions. That’s probably one of the big differentiators for us, as we think about who our competitors are in the market. We don’t fly people in from New York or from Chicago; a lot of the expertise clients need is already on the team. In addition, there are additional investment, banking, wealth planning, charitable services, trust services, etc, at the national Ascent and U.S Bank level. We’re a boutique with the footprint of much larger organization. We work with individuals, families, family offices and family foundations, and non-profits in our local communities.

What unique skills and experience do you bring to the table for Ascent, and what value can you add for your clients?

My background is institutionally focused. Prior to Ascent I was in institutional consulting specializing in alternative investments. Most recently with Wilshire Associates in Los Angeles (national investment consulting firm) and prior to that I was at Mercer in Chicago (another consulting firm.) Prior to moving into advising other investors I was at a hedge fund for many years trading credit and option strategies. An institutional consulting background is very relevant for our clients. We think of our families as institutions because they need to think multi-generationally, just like a foundation or endowment, taking advantage of their scale and investment horizon versus the average individual investor. Not only do they need to think differently, there is the added complexity of taxes, potentially the distraction of still operating a business, issues of how best to transfer that business to the next generation, or even how to maximize the after-tax wealth of the next generation. We’re always looking for the most tax-efficient way to achieve these and other goals. Our team solves problems like these regularly.

From an investment perspective, I have a heavy alternatives background, as do many my investment peers across the firm. Investing in alternatives is an important part of many client portfolios given the variety of strategies and opportunity for higher returns. This is a big part of why I’m involved with TCA. TCA is startup venture capital, which is not a common thing for most retail investors. It’s more of an angel investor/institutional marketplace. That’s where my interest and desire to work with TCA comes from: confluence of my interest in alternatives, supporting entrepreneurs , and being a part of the San Diego start-up/venture ecosystem. I think I said this on the panel I did with Caitlin, is that being part of the ecosystem is very important for us and we want to support this community.

I moved to San Diego to join Ascent and become part of the San Diego community, joining and supporting TCA was something I advocated for with management. I’ve been here for two years, I moved for a lifestyle and career change. I like San Diego so much better than Los Angeles. I have two kids, they’re still in Los Angeles, and most of my free time is spent with them so my hobbies went on the backburner: my hobbies are being with them, doing what they want to do. I end up doing a lot of Lego model building and crafting. If you come to my house, it’s full of models and crafts my kids and I do together. I don’t miss L.A. all that much – but please don’t tell the Angelinos!

My specific interest in early stage investing is that I have a history of being entrepreneurial and prior to my decision to go into trading, I was president of my college’s Entrepreneurship Association and even started a couple of businesses. One of them was an idea for fundraising to help pay for the entrepreneurship association and other clubs. I had a marketing plan and support from other student organizations but the school had a contract with the bookstore on campus and they didn’t appreciate what I was doing, even though I was trying to help the organizations raise money.

After college I ended up going into investments, focused on trading and the markets. I went down that path because investors are accountable at the end of the day, the P&L, I either made money or didn’t. It’s similar to being an entrepreneur in that you have an idea, you execute on it, and it’s successful or not. In my mind it’s parallel because you’re taking control over the outcome of your life, not letting someone else decide. A successful entrepreneur, like a successful trader, has the skills to figure out how to make money. One reads the capital markets, the other reads commercial markets, both have a view on where their markets are going . Coming full circle to where we are today, when I heard about TCA I thought “I want to be a part of this.” I can’t necessarily be an entrepreneur – but I can make the most of the path I’m on by being part of the organization.  My entrepreneurial spirit led me to join Ascent to help build an office that had no AUM. I approached it as an entrepreneurial decision.

 

TCA Member Spotlight – Nii Ahene

 

This month’s TCA Member Feature is Nii Ahene, Co-founder of CPC Strategy and Chief Strategy Officer of Tinuiti. A Bay Area transplant, his Angel Investment interests lie in Innovative and Disruptive 5G-Oriented, CPG, and B2B SAAS Organizations.

 

Please describe your personal history – your career, personal interests/hobbies, and what you’re currently doing for work.

I got my career started back in the early 2000s when I was still in college. I grew up in the Bay Area, so I saw the first dotcom boom and bust when I was still in high school.  I attended UC Berkeley from 2002-06. While there, I started doing freelancing for companies locally in the Berkeley area, helping them with their marketing, setting up AdWords accounts –  that’s how I got into internet marketing in general, back in 2003. I ended up starting up a small company, but I couldn’t figure out how to get that to scale so I closed it down when I graduated and took a job at eBay.  I was a product manager within their internet marketing department, then moved up to algorithmic merchandising. Six months into my eBay career, I started CPC Strategy, the digital marketing agency I grew with a couple partners here in San Diego in 2007, which was the start of my entrepreneurial journey.

We sold CPC Strategy to Elite and Mountain Gate Capital in 2018. The agency had grown to about 135 employees, we managed north of $350 million in ad spend for over 400 clients across Google, Facebook, Amazon by the time we exited. Post-sale, I’m still working full-time with the agency, as part of Tinuiti; I’m our Chief Strategy Officer, navigating the company through M&A opportunities and strategic partnerships. I’m very excited about what we’re doing as a larger agency. We’re the largest independently run agency in the United States, managing up to $1.5 billion dollars of ad spend for over 900 clients. Very similar to what we were doing with CPC, but we have higher-level relationships with our partners at Google, Amazon, and Facebook.

When I’m not at work, I’m typically working with my portfolio companies. I’ve made a number of angel investments outside of TCA. I’m involved in those companies to varying degrees, from advisorship to hands-on assistance, helping them think through strategic challenges. For fun, I do like to travel, I have a goal of visiting all seven continents before I’m 40, and ideally doing it in one year. I’ve visited six already, so we’ll see if 2020 or 2021 is the year when I finally get down to Antarctica!

 

What circumstances led you to taking an interest in angel investing, and TCA in particular?

At CPC, we didn’t have the opportunity to raise outside capital. I think of it as a long 13 year MBA in a lot of ways. I got into angel investing because it’s an opportunity to be involved in the early part of an organization, and to providing guidance to founders which is something I’ve come to enjoy. I’ve been a part of other founder mentorship programs, and to be able to apply capital to that with mentorship is the best of both words and allows me to combine two of my passions, investment capitalism and providing guidance to other business owners. When I heard about TCA and the great work they’ve been doing, especially the newer model the ACE fund developed, it was an exciting opportunity to be able to meet and work with more founders and see a greater variety of businesses and potential ventures.

 

How has your personal background influenced your investment strategies – how have you been able to leverage your areas of expertise?  

Over the course of my career at a digital marketing agency I’ve seen hundreds if not thousands of companies. We’ve helped hundreds of companies with their growth, especially consumer companies on the internet.  While building CPC we’ve been able to create lead magnets, and digital marketing campaigns have allowed us to grow in scale, leveraging content and webinars, so I’ve got a very good sense about B2B and raising market awareness for service, as well as the B2C market from an internet marketing standpoint. That allows me to take a look at a company’s metrics, their unit cost and understand the best way for them to raise awareness – or if internet marketing even makes sense for them. And given the fact that we’re spending an increasing amount of time on digital or connected devices, that gives me an interesting opportunity to be able to evaluate both consumer and b2b deals whether it’s internet marketing, their content plans or paid media plans, helping businesses determine if their plan makes sense. In addition we built up – for an agency of CPC’s size at exit – a pretty robust b2b inbound marketing and insight sales team. I didn’t think I was a sales guy until I booked my first sales team, so seeing how that works, putting up the processes, tweaking Salesforce and Marketo to be able to work together and generate the right leads and have the right leads surface for our sales team… that entire process and the metrics behind it, that’s another passion that I kind of picked up along the way. And as I look at other companies and I see where they are in their process, that’s another place I feel like I can use my experience, examining how companies put together their sales teams, and what their sales processes and sales enablement looks like.

 

Are there any lessons you’ve learned from your own experiences that you’d like to share with other investors, especially those interested in angel investment?

I’ve been a product manager on and off for the last 15 years and whether it was working at eBay or working within CPC or Tinuiti, I would say that a lot of entrepreneurs underestimate the complexity associated with tech and having the right team, the right infrastructure, the right scalable processes around their product. Just because you have a product that’s brilliant doesn’t mean you’ll get product adoption. I see a lot of pitches where people have phenomenal tech but when asked about marketing they don’t have a specific plan. When I ask about sales processes, how they’re going to get in front of targeted leads and targeted accounts, there’s nothing there. I’ve failed in launching SaaS within organizations, so I’ve seen what that looks like, and what a challenge it is to be able to cut through the clutter in crowded markets. I would say that paying attention to what your go-to market strategy is, is just as important as having great engineering behind the product – but having great engineering to be able to be sure you can ship your product is equally important, so I’m not enamored with SaaS companies unless I see traction. There you can signals you can look at to determine if there’s traction that’s sustainable and long lived. Signals like client churn, logo churn, how quickly the product has evolved, the ability for a development team to be able to present a clear plan for what they’re going to do (and getting there), understanding the level of technical depth within a specific area, the company’s approach to infrastructure and thinking through cloud options between the big cloud providers – Google, Amazon and Microsoft. Those are all areas where having that conversation lets you know the maturity of the management team. When they’re coming back to you with questions or they don’t understand why these questions are being asked – if you’re already an investor that’s an opportunity to get them some guidance, and if you’re not invested yet that’s a sign they have a lot of growing to do to be able to tackle those challenges.

 

 

What impact has joining TCA had on your investment strategies? Have you benefited from TCA membership in ways unrelated to investment?

TCA has exposed me to the entire bio space, an area I don’t have first-hand experience with. I have friends, family, colleagues that are in that space, but personally I never been involved in that space, so it’s a whole brand new world, and there’s different aspects and multiple layers to evaluate companies that I’m discovering, which is exciting from an investment standpoint and being able to participate in that via the fund has been awesome.  I hope to be able to develop more interpersonal connections, but the people I’ve met in the organization and had the opportunity to connect so far with have been awesome. I can see that the organization is healthy and full of like-minded and diverse membership.

 

 

Are there any organizations you support and would like to highlight? Any causes, events, companies that the startup community, TCA, or San Diegans in general would benefit from knowing about? 

The Lavin Entrepreneurship Center at SDSU is an organization that I’ve supported financially as well as through mentorship. It supports a cohort of students being taught lessons in entrepreneurship. I’ve been a mentor there for 3-4 years, it’s a phenomenal organization with great people running the program, I’d love to put on the radar for people who haven’t heard of it before. A number of great friends have come out of that particular organization, Pure Vida (Bracelets) recently had an exit, Blenders Eyeware recently came out of there too, it’s been awesome to see a number of companies come out of that program. CPC and Tinuiti have been involved with Startup San Diego over the last decade, hosting events here at our office. These two organizations are connected to our entrepreneurial ecosystem. I think San Diego as a region needs to do more work bringing the different organizations together, but as long as there’s some interconnective tissue, whether it is members or conversations, I think we can strive towards making San Diego a beacon for venture and angel activity.

 

 

Why did you decide move to San Diego, and how has it benefited you personally and professionally? What makes it unique and stand out from other places you’ve lived? What excites you about the future of San Diego?

I moved down to San Diego from San Francisco when I was 23, back in 2008, so I’ve been here for 12 years. I came right before the recession, during Facebook’s emergence in the years before they went public. Coming down to San Diego was interesting because I went from a situation where venture was on everybody’s mind to one where you really had to work to find people who were thinking about ventures and startups. But what I’ve seen over the last decade is that energy, that entrepreneurial spirit, has absolutely become a part of the fabric here in San Diego. I’ve joined other organizations like EO (Entrepreneur’s Organization) and I’ve met other business owners and I think that the right balance has been struck here, between looking for home runs but also ensuring that we’re building businesses that are meant to last, our startups are not just burning money and not being good stewards of money they’ve raised.

We have several great universities, the talent here is just as good if not better than the Bay Area. We’ve been able to forge relationships with the universities that I don’t think, at least operating on the scale we did at CPC, would have been possible if we were dealing with Stanford and UC Berkeley –  but we were absolutely able to do with SDSU, USD, and to a lesser extent UCSD. I think the right components are here, I think the weather absolutely is something you can’t underestimate, and the Bay Area is only an hour away thanks to our very convenient airport. Not to mention the costs of living here are significantly lower – still an expensive place to live but less than the Bay Area! I think all those factors make San Diego a very attractive place to do business and I’m excited to see larger organizations like Amazon, Apple, and Facebook open offices here, alongside our thriving entrepreneur ecosystem.

TCA Member Spotlight – Angela and Sonia Steinway

Angela and Sonia Steinway

December’s Feature Spotlight introduces TCA Members Angela and Sonia Steinway. East Coast transplants by way of the University of Pennsylvania, they’ve chosen La Jolla Shores as their new home and TCA as their vehicle into the San Diego startup and innovation lifestyle!

 

Can you tell us a bit about yourselves – how you started down your career paths, where you’ve ended up at this point in your career, and what you do to blow off steam when you’re not busy?

 

Angela:

When I was at the University of Pennsylvania, I tried to start my own medical device company. I invented a device and received a provision patent, but I quickly learned that it takes a lot of money – and I had a lot of student loans. Instead I joined Oppenheimer after graduating as a research analyst covering the medical device and diagnostic space. I stayed there from 2007-09. There was a lot of M&A activity, so it was a really fun time to be on Wall Street, and I learned a lot.

After the market crashed, one of the companies I had covered was looking to start an investor relations program. With my interest in entrepreneurship – and the fact that people weren’t jumping ship from this company –  I thought it was a good time to switch paths again, so in March of 2009 I moved to Integra LifeSciences and started their IR program. When I joined, we were near $500 million in market cap; we’ve seen a 10x appreciation since then, to nearly $5 billion in enterprise value today.

Once the program was established and running, I picked up responsibility for corporate finance and strategy and also became heavily involved in their M&A activity. We did over 18 acquisitions while I was in that role. When we moved to San Diego in 2017, I changed to a sales role to get more commercial experience.  I had the corporate finance and strategy boxes checked and wanted to get experience on the commercial side of the company as well so I did national contracting for a year and a half. About a year ago I became the sales director for one of our fastest growing lines –  regenerative skin substitute products – and currently manage a group of 55 salespeople nationwide.

Outside of work, I dive as often as I can! I’m part of a local nonprofit social meetup scuba group organizing dives in La Jolla Shores, buddying up and going out a few times a week if possible. We’ve been to some cool dive spots in the world. We used to be exclusively vacation divers when we lived back east – and Sonia is still primarily a vacation diver because the water is too cold for her. We’re doing a big diving trip in Honduras this spring.  This fall we went to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

Sonia:

I am an attorney by training. My particular focus and passion is consumer finance and regulation. I started out working with people filing for bankruptcy leading up to the 2005 Reform Act, and was amazed at how bankruptcy laws act as an additional social safety net, allowing people to get out of the hole so that they aren’t scarred permanently. You couldn’t have a thriving start-up sector without bankruptcy; if you knew you couldn’t declare bankruptcy, you would never be able to start a company because you’d be at risk of getting permanently stuck with the debt.

Angela and I met my first day as a freshman in college. After graduating, I went to work for Bain & Co. doing management strategy consulting. I wanted to help businesses solve problems, learn to speak business lingo, and develop the skill of thinking like a consultant in 2×2 matrices and 3 bullet points. I then unlearned all of that going to law school at Yale, where you speak in 600 page briefs and footnotes. I was still interested in consumer finance. By that time, Dodd-Frank bill had made massive changes in the industry, and it gave me the opportunity to do some regulatory consulting work.

But after working with banks to implement the new rules, I realized that, while most of the time regulation is incredibly important, it often doesn’t help individual consumers. I wanted to engage more with people to empower them to make smarter financing decisions.

At the end of clerking – I worked for two judges, one in Delaware (home of corporate law) and one for the U.S. Second Circuit in New York – I met the person that would become the cofounder of my consumer auto finance company, Outside Financial. I actually deleted his email at first because I thought it was too crazy an idea to become the founder of a startup. I’m more risk-averse; Angela is the entrepreneurial one. But I “undeleted” the email and forwarded it to Angela. We decided that since she had job stability and health insurance, it would be amazing to operate in this innovation space as the founder of my own company. We’ve been running it for 3 years now, operating remotely – my cofounder is still in New York. It has been a fascinating learning experience being in a startup on every level.

Outside of work, my personal passion is rock climbing – I love to climb, I would climb every day if I could. I’m also a competitive crossword puzzler. We also have a nine-year old son, who we spent most of our other free time with. He wants to be an entrepreneur when he grows up, so I guess we’re doing something right.

 

What led you to taking an interest in angel investing, and TCA in particular?

 

Sonia:

There’ve been a number of paths that led us to angel investing. We’ve both felt some skittishness around the future growth of the market, and we were looking at alternative ways to invest our money. We both also firmly believe in the power of innovation and entrepreneurship when it comes to growth and opportunity, and we believe in building and investing in our community. We love San Diego, and we want more companies to thrive here so that people can have great qualities of life here. San Diego has developed such a strong and rich community and we see entrepreneurship as a great path for continuing to grow and enrich that community.

Angel investing feels like this amazing way to not only grow wealth through investment, but simultaneously create good sustainable jobs and give entrepreneurs a chance to thrive – so it really fit in with a lot of our personal goals. But because we’re totally new to angel investing we didn’t feel comfortable doing it on our own; we wouldn’t see enough good deals or be able to vet good deals, and we wanted to learn from other people who know how to do this well. We canvased the landscape of local organizations that do angel investing and discovered TCA. We’ve learned so much from attending meetings and speaking with other members, but also really enjoy the camaraderie at TCA! We’ve devoted a lot more to angel investing than we ever thought we would before we were angel investors! We’ve made one investment separate from TCA and being in TCA has really informed how we’ve thought about that – the questions we’ve asked, understanding how that process works – which has been great. It’s fundamentally an investing group with the goal of earning money, but the social aspect has been really amazing and we love the people we’ve met.

Angela:

When I was at Penn, I was heavily involved in a student incubator called the Weiss Tech House. After gaining some work experience, I came back as an alumni advisor and a judge and mentor for student startups coming out of that program. That was something I enjoyed doing with my spare time when we lived in New Jersey. When we moved here, I was hoping to find something that would fill that gap, and although I haven’t gotten involved in TCA as much as I’d like to, it stimulates that part of my intellect and gives me an outlet for that impulse.

Sonia:

We love going over deals together. Angela has a background in life sciences and deeply understands that space, I have a tech and regulatory background, and we enjoy meeting in the middle to bounce around our thoughts about the deals. Our rule is that we both have to want to invest in something, we both have to feel strongly about it, before we go through with it. It been really cool, almost a romantic couple activity to do this together, we get a babysitter for TCA dinners or other functions, it’s been really lovely, (laughs) keeps the magic alive!

 

How has your personal background influenced your investment strategies?

 

Sonia:

My investment thesis is probably a little more targeted and narrow than Angela’s. I want to see companies that are going to make a meaningful difference in the world. It’s easiest to see that in something like life sciences, whether it’s a life-saving technology or something that provides a meaningful quality-of-life improvement. But even with other kinds of tech, I want to see that there’s some element of societal progress in their offering. I’m also really interested in non-traditional founders, particularly women. These are the traits that make me more excited about an investment opportunity. We’re not to the point where we wouldn’t invest if a company was not fitting in these boxes of a non-traditional founder or a high-social-impact product, but that’s probably where we would ultimately prefer to invest.

Angela:

I like to think about whether companies would be a good investment from the context of having been on deal teams for a public company; would I acquire this startup if I was an established company in this space? The other factor I look at is the leadership team, and whether they can build a team that can execute on their proposed business plan. In my experience, so much of the success I’ve seen, whether they’re going to hit their earnout payments after they get bought, is from entrepreneurs who are not just “The Person” handling everything themselves but a person that can build a team. And the last piece of it would be does it make sense from a financial standpoint, do they have a strategy, do they have a good commercial plan? These are the same three areas of focus I’ve been developing over the course of my own career, and so I’m trying to apply what I’ve learned from my own experience in determining whether a company has these elements for success and is a worthwhile investment.

 

Can you share any lessons you’ve learned from your experiences that our readers might find helpful?

 

Sonia:

We’re so new to angel investing that we haven’t yet screwed up badly, thank goodness! I’m sure we’ll get there. I can say, as an entrepreneur myself and watching other entrepreneurs going through processes like fundraising with TCA, the largest lesson I’ve learned is to build your network far in advance of when you’re going to need it.  Try and take in as many diverse viewpoints as you can, because every entrepreneur thinks that they’re facing issues for the first time, that nobody’s ever dealt with their particular issues – but the stronger your network, the more you realize everybody faces the same challenges, and you can lean on those people to help you make smarter decisions.

 

Are there any organizations you support and would like to highlight? Any causes, events, companies that the startup community, TCA, or San Diegans in general would benefit from knowing about? 

 

Sonia:

If anyone would like to know more about Barbara Bry’s mayoral campaign, I would love to talk about her. She was a former TCA member, before she became a City councilperson, and we were drawn to her by her stance on scooters. She’s also a Penn alum, and a successful angel investor who believes in funneling her success back into the community, particularly funding female entrepreneurs, which has made us very excited about her ability to foster innovation, attract the right kind of jobs, and bring more talent to our community.

 

Why did you decide move to San Diego, and how has it changed your life? What makes it unique and stand out from other places you’ve lived? What excites you about the future of San Diego?

 

Sonia:

We came to San Diego on vacation about 8 years ago and absolutely fell in love with it! We’re both analytical, so we had a spreadsheet with different factors we were looking for in a city when we were thinking about where we wanted to live, but when we got here we immediately thought, “this is it, this is everything we want.” It then became a question of how we could make it out here. I ended up going to law school back east, much to Angela’s chagrin. When I was done clerking and after founding my startup, I was working remotely, and it turns out there’s a lot of auto finance talent in the area – there were some legacy companies that left and their people didn’t want to leave San Diego, so they stayed here – and we’d actually engaged consultants and experts here, which felt like a sign.

At the same time, Angela’s work wanted her to move to a more commercial role, which she could perform from many different places, and so we felt this was the time since everything was trending in that direction. We came out here on President’s Day weekend in 2017 and found the perfect home on the last day of our trip. It just came on the market that morning, and we were the first people to see it. We put in an offer right away… and then told our families, “Surprise! We’re moving to San Diego!”

We love the climate, the weather, and how active and outdoorsy San Diegans are. When we were living in New Jersey we’d go hiking and people thought we were crazy for spending time in the woods.  It felt so warm and welcoming here. We’re both vegetarian, and the food is so much better here (I’m a big farmer’s market person). In terms of entrepreneurship, I’ve always felt that New York is too big and too much is going on – yes, there are lots of resources but navigating the massive ecosystem can be challenging. Whereas here, it’s a little easier to wrap your heads around things and meet folks, so I’ve definitely enjoyed getting engaged in this community in a way I don’t think we ever did when we were living back east. When you find the right home, it feels like everything clicks into place!

 

 

TCA Member Spotlight – Aniqa Hijazi and Faisal Mushtaq

Aniqa Hijazi and Faisal Mushtaq

TCA San Diego is excited to announce the start of a Feature Showcase series highlighting TCA members, sponsors, founders, and other prominent San Diego Startup Community members! We want to spotlight some of the exciting people and events in the TCA ecosystem and the diverse paths our members have taken on the road to angel investing in San Diego!

Today we are featuring Aniqa Hijazi and Faisal Mushtaq – a married couple, both TCA members actively participating in our startup ecosystem, and looking to use their expertise in finance and engineering to help raise San Diego’s profile in the tech innovation sphere through launching the Southern California Technology Conference – TechCon SoCal!

 

Q: Let’s start at the beginning – tell us where you are from and how your career has led you to San Diego.

Aniqa: I was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan – a historic hub city with a long tradition of art, culture, and irresistible food! Traveling the world has always been a passion of mine, and I was lucky enough to be exposed to different cultures at a very young age.  I received a full scholarship and came to the USA for my Bachelor’s degree – a huge personal accomplishment, as I was the first female in my family to do so.

On the professional front, I began my career in the financial services industry in New York, then transitioned over to public accounting and went on to obtain my CPA license. My career has been a blend of both finance and accounting, ranging from Fortune 100 companies to start-ups. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of some phenomenal companies such as Morgan Stanley, Ernst & Young, Cisco Systems, and Ecwid. Presently I’m working as the Chief Financial Officer for Ecwid Inc.

Faisal: I grew up in Pakistan and graduated top of class from one of the leading engineering universities in the country. This opened several international opportunities for me, but I ended up deciding to pursue my Masters in Electrical Engineering at Purdue University. Moving from the third most populous city in the world to West Lafayette, Indiana – with 50 thousand people – was an interesting experience indeed!  I love traveling and have been fortunate enough to visit many countries. One of my fondest memories is a month-long backpacking trip through Europe. I’m a big fan of electronic music and even aspired to become a DJ at one point in my life!

Aniqa : We were introduced by our mutual friends. My best friend was married to one of Faisal’s friends from the Engineering department. At the time I was living in New York and he was settled in the Bay Area. We were engaged for 8 months and then tied the knot in an extravagant wedding in Pakistan. Six months after getting married, I moved out to the Bay Area after wrapping my work in New York.

 

Q: How did you end up coming to San Diego from the Bay Area?

Faisal:

It was during a summer internship in Newport Beach that I was first exposed to Southern California, and I instantly fell in love with its scenic beauty – and the warm weather. My next move was from Indiana to sunny Northern California, spending  the next decade in the heart of Silicon Valley, at the forefront of innovation and creativity in the tech industry.

Aniqa: Faisal took a job in La Jolla and started commuting back and forth. After 2 years of what started off as a 6-month long ‘lets try it out’ experiment, we finally decided to move down. I’ve lived on both East and West coasts, Northern and Southern California, and let me tell you, there is no place like San Diego. Not only does it offer beautiful weather along a breathtaking coast, but it is also one of the most diverse and dynamic economies of the country, with a promising future.

Personally, San Diego has been great for us: 9 years, 4 beautiful kids, amazing life long friends. So much to be thankful for. We couldn’t be happier with the decision!

 

 

Q: What led you to taking an interest in angel investing, and TCA in particular?

Faisal:

During my career, I’ve been a part of several successful startups and played a key role in fundraising, leading to eventual exits. I have also been mentoring startups for over five years, both here in San Diego as well as the Bay Area. Having been on the startup side, we decided to

look into angel investing to diversify our portfolio and began investing through Angel list syndicates.

I was introduced to TCA by a friend, and after attending a couple of meetings as a guest decided to become a member. I have been extremely impressed by the quality of the team and the methodical investment process that TCA has put together. I feel that the ACE fund raised by the San Diego chapter has been a game-changer for the organization, and we’re happy that other chapters are following our lead and adopting their own funds.

 

Q: How has your personal background influenced your investment strategies – how have you been able to leverage your areas of expertise?

Faisal:

I have 20+ years of experience in technology companies ranging from startups to large fortune 500 companies. I have been personally involved in raising funds for several startups and have led development of multiple products from inception to market launch to multi-billion dollar run rate. My interests have been in technologies ranging from Autonomous Driving, Machine Learning and AI, Telecommunications, Cloud, IOT and Mobile. These extensive and diverse experiences have helped me in doing due diligence on potential companies looking to raise capital.

Aniqa is a CFO and has extensive experience in corporate finance, public accounting, and business partnerships, and has been in finance leadership positions for multiple companies. As a couple we are quite like minded in terms of areas of interest. Our expertise compliment how we approach an investment opportunity. I primarily focus on the technical due diligence, assessing the viability and feasibility of the technology while Aniqa focuses on evaluating the financials, business model, GTM strategy, and deal terms.

 

Q: What impact has joining TCA had on your investment strategies? Have you benefited from TCA membership in ways unrelated to investment?

Aniqa: Joining TCA has been a wonderful experience. Members go out of the way to foster an inclusive environment, and their willingness to help each other and connect at a personal level is highly commendable. We’ve made some great friends at TCA during this short time.

Seeing how well the entire investment process is structured and operated makes writing those checks easy!

 

Q: Are there any organizations you support and would like to highlight? Any causes, events, companies that the startup community, TCA, or San Diegans in general would benefit from knowing about?

 

Faisal:

There has been a significant growth of startup ecosystem in San Diego over the past five years.  I have been involved in several organizations including CONNECT, TIE, OPEN, and all of them are playing an amazing role in promoting entrepreneurship in the region. I hope to see more collaboration among the investors, academia, and industries of San Diego, creating more innovation and entrepreneurship through stronger connections and cooperation between them.

I am especially excited about  Southern California Technology Conference (TechCon SoCal) that we are launching in San Diego on Sat, Jan 25 2020. It will be a day-long event bringing together industry executives, investors, technologists and innovators developing cutting edge technologies with an eye for anticipating the market needs of the future. Our goal in creating TechCon is to showcase the technological depth and breadth of the SoCal region, bringing together thought-leaders at the forefront of innovation in the following areas:

  • Future of Mobility/ Autonomous Transportation
  • Semiconductor
  • Artificial intelligence & Robotics
  • IOT / Digital Health
  • Cloud Infrastructure, 5G and Big Data

The conference will include speakers from successful large companies, unicorns and startups from Southern California and the Bay Area. Through a blend of insightful keynotes, dynamic panel discussions, and interactive case studies, TechCon will create a vision of the connected and autonomous future our speakers are building towards. It will also include a “Playground” where promising startups will have the opportunity to showcase their offerings. This event is being actively promoted by multiple organizations including Tech Coast Angels , UCSD, TIE, OPEN, SDVG, IGNITE, CONNECT and many others.