Eric Lefkofsky is one of Chicago's most successful technology entrepreneurs. His entrepreneurial ventures include Groupon, Echo Global Logistics, Lightbank and, most recently, Tempus.
As the founder and CEO of Tempus, Eric has led the company — which uses machine learning and genomic sequencing to better understand cancer tumors — to become one of Chicago's most valuable technology startups. Tempus raised $300 million last year, bringing their total financing to more than $1 billion and their valuation to $8.1 billion.
The most recent infusion of capital has allowed Tempus to expand beyond oncology to additional areas, including mental health, cardiology, diabetes and infectious disease — including COVID-19. Last November, Tempus announced a collaboration with the Yale School of Public Health to develop an at-home, saliva-based, COVID-19 diagnostic test.
In a conversation moderated by Paragon Biosciences Founder, Chairman and CEO Jeff Aronin, Eric discuss his career-long entrepreneurial journey, lessons he’s learned along the way and his vision for the future of Tempus.
The Tales from the Trenches series invites seasoned healthcare entrepreneurs to the MATTER stage to share their journeys — from how they got started to what they’re trying to accomplish and what they’ve learned along the way. Tales from the Trenches is sponsored by Paragon Biosciences.
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Speaker 1: (00:09)
Welcome everyone to tales from the trenches, which is a series that matter produces together with Paragon Biosciences. Uh, my name's Stephen Collins. I'm a CEO of matter today's program is part of our tales from the trenches series, where we feature accomplished healthcare entrepreneurs who share the stories of their journeys, the highs and the lows, and what they've learned along the way. Uh, we collaborate with Paragon Biosciences to produce this, uh, series Paragon, uh, creates and builds and scales life sciences companies. They have seven portfolio companies today that are harnessing emergence, emerging technology platforms, such as gene therapy and cell therapy and artificial intelligence to solve complex diseases. Our guest today is Eric lift Koski. Eric is one of the most prolific and successful tech entrepreneurs. He built Groupon and echo global logistics and inner workings and other companies. Uh, and until recently he was not focused on the healthcare sector.
Speaker 1: (01:10)
His current company, Tempus is transforming precision medicine from a concept into reality. Uh, they've amassed the world's largest library of clinical and molecular data. And Eric's built a team that harnesses all that data to improve both patient care and research. Uh, their most recent financing, uh, valued the company at more than $8 billion. Uh, leading the conversation today with Eric is Jeff Arone. Who's the chairman and CEO of Paragon Biosciences. And Jeff is, uh, simply put one of the most successful life sciences entrepreneurs he's been creating and building companies for 30 years, and his businesses have helped millions of patients and created thousands of jobs and more important than all of that, of course, is the fact that he is a founder and is the chairman of the board of matter. Uh, it's rare, uh, in these conversations that we get to have two such extraordinary entrepreneurs in discussion with each other. Uh, and I hope you all enjoy the conversation with that, Jeff, I turn it over to you.
Speaker 2: (02:16)
Great. Thank you, Steve. Um, look, I'm, I'm really excited to have the opportunity to talk to Eric today. Eric is, uh, not only one of Chicago's great entrepreneurs, but truly one of the great entrepreneurs in the country. Um, starting out in the world of technology, he's, he's evolved into other areas and, uh, doing some really interesting things that I hope and look forward to talking about today. So as soon as Eric jumps on, we can, uh, begin, Hey Eric, Hey, how are you? Great. Well, it's great to be with you looking forward to, uh, to, to talk a little about your entrepreneurial journey and, uh, some of the great things you've been able to do. You're, you know, certainly, uh, an inspiration of many who are, who are entrepreneurs and, um, you know, that's why we do this. This is an opportunity for so many of those people, especially in the healthcare sector where building companies is often harder, cuz they have advanced degrees.
Speaker 2: (03:28)
It's a little later in their career and here in your journey will be certainly inspiring. You know, I'm, I am, um, I'm real. I really admire the work you've done in building multiple companies, putting yourself out there. And in, in the work you do the question I get most often Eric from young entrepreneurs is when do I start? How do I get started? How do you think about that? Cuz there's every part of your life there's risks and challenges. You're graduating college, starting a family. How did you think about building companies? When do you do it?
Speaker 3: (04:06)
I think, you know, first of all, thanks, thanks for having me, by the way. It's great to be here. Um, I think that the short answer is, at least for me, you, you start, when you are compelled to start, you start, when you, you, you kind of have a problem that you just feel like, oh my God, someone's gotta solve this. And uh, and you know, you just can't let it go. And, and really the, the, the best businesses I have seen, um, are always when there, the, the problem comes first and the solution comes first and making money comes second. Not it's easy to say when you've made a bunch of money. So like, I don't take that lightly. Cause I think earlier in my career it was like, how do I make, how do I make money as fast as I can, but as you, but you start to realize as you get further down the road, that really, and that's why some of those businesses aren't great, right?
Speaker 3: (05:02)
Cause you're trying to be shortsighted. You're trying to just, um, focus more on the outcome and the output and the input and the input for us, for me, at least now for the past, probably 15, 20 years has been look, this thing is something's bothering me. Something's annoying me. And I, I, I become convinced I can see the answer and then I'm like, no, that's not the answer. That must not be the answer. And then it just keeps haunting you and keeps coming back at you. And one of the things I've kind of realized on this is you can, you can have a problem and you can have an answer in any industry. Like just like just like just, you know, another there's great. We've seen great technology companies in, for example, in law where the guy who built the tech, wasn't a lawyer and certainly people build amazing healthcare companies.
Speaker 3: (05:52)
They're not all doctors or have their PhD. Um, you can build a great technology company and not be a software engineer. Um, so I think don't be afraid to like jump in, um, if it's, if it's really at the right time and in my mind the right time is when like, look, I can see it. I can just see how, if somebody would just do this thing, it would be unbelievable. I'll give you one example. And I'll, you know, look years ago. Um, my, so my oldest son's 22 and when my wife was pregnant with hi him, um, she had, she was like, she was wearing jeans. Okay. And at that time, the, the jeans that would fit pregnant, women were like horribly designed. And she's like, this just sucks. I want to, I wanna wear normal jeans. So she, we had, we happen to have a clothing company.
Speaker 3: (06:42)
We were making children's clothes way back. So she went out and bought like five pairs of jeans and she bought stretchy fabric. And she had like our, the people in our sewing factory cut out the part of the genes put in the stretchy stuff and she made unbelievably cool genes for pregnant women. Now this is 23 years ago. People would be like, I gotta get those, I gotta get those. And so she would say to me over and over again, I should start a company one by way. There's like huge companies that do that now. Right. So she saw a problem. She figured out a solution and, you know, had she wanted to, she could have and should have taken the risk. And that's, that's how it begins.
Speaker 2: (07:20)
I love it. I great answer for, especially for entrepreneurs. Um, you know, and it leads me to the next question, which is often, I am amazed by how many great, how many companies are trying to solve the same thing over and over and over incrementally. Yet there are giant needs out there that nobody's even looking at. How is it that you who have started many companies? I'm sure you see the same thing. What AR what is it that you're seeing? What areas are you looking at in the future where you see a lot of, of opportunity and a lot of need?
Speaker 3: (08:02)
Well, I mean, obviously the one that, the one that, um, you know, I've been, you know, almost singularly focused on for the past now, all five and a half years is, is temp. And it's, it's the area that I think is most exciting right now. And that, that, that includes really some pretty exciting spaces like clean technologies and, you know, blockchain and autonomous driving vehicles. And there's a lot of really exciting spaces, but I think they all really, um, are small compared to, um, uh, health technologies and in particular, um, molecularly oriented, um, health technologies. And I think the space that is really crazy exciting is how do you bring, um, the, the, the, the kind of traditional benefits of technology, big data machine learning, artificial intelligence, how do you bring that to healthcare? And up until recently, I think it was very hard, like almost impossible, but, um, in the past, let's say 10 years really having nothing to do with healthcare, a bunch of these background technologies were built and got to scale for other industries that just happen to be necessary to structure, harmonize vast amounts of healthcare data.
Speaker 3: (09:19)
So like AWS built AWS for eCommerce, but it it's, it that the, the cloud revolution that ensued and the ability to run really low cost cloud and compute is essential for big, for the big data of healthcare. And, um, you know, Google and Facebook, uh, and a bunch of companies built really cool technology in using optical character recognition, mostly for, um, pictures for your friends, right? So you could like, you know, for social purposes, but that technology is applicable to pathology slides and radiology scans in healthcare. So I think one of the most exciting spaces is like, okay, for the first time ever, you can actually bring tech to healthcare. And, and at the same time you have this crazy molecular revolution occurring where one of the new data modalities you can generate at low cost is molecular data. So companies that can figure out how to do that, we're focused on AI enable diagnostics at Tempus, but companies that can figure out how to do that are gonna be really powerful.
Speaker 3: (10:24)
Um, I think, I think, um, I, I tend to think this comes in three waves. I'm, I'm convinced the first wave and of real scale is gonna be AI enabled diagnostics by real scale. I mean, um, a company, the size of Netflix or Google or Amazon, um, will, will be born in that space. Um, so I think AI enabled diagnostics is really the first wave. I think AI enabled therapeutics is the second wave, and there will be a company born in that space. That's also that size. And then I think the third wave is probably AI enabled clinical care clinical delivery, which is really futuristic. That's like, you know, you walk into a hospital and they're scanning stuff and robots, and really using AI to like treat you. But the first two AI enabled diagnostics and AI enabled therapeutics in my mind are the two most exciting spaces anyone can be in cuz you can use technology to do things that were just impossible five or 10 years ago.
Speaker 2: (11:25)
I, I completely agree. And um, we we've moved into temp already, which is great. But when you, you know, you came for, you came from a great, uh, track record of technology driven companies. I came from biology driven companies and we've based on what you just said. We ended up at the same place where I'm using technology, AI, molecular diagnostic, we're using all, um, computational science to do better biology. You're using, you, came from technology and you're in the same space. There's certainly challenges coming from each direction. What did you have to learn? What, what has been the, the, the path to get into the life science, the, the healthcare space that you've taken?
Speaker 3: (12:19)
Yeah, I mean, so for me, first of all, big, big part of this for me at least was, you know, I, I had a, a different journey. So, you know, my first company, um, you know, I'm, I'm 18 years old and uh, you know, I got into business I'm 18 years old. I'm, I'm going to university of Michigan. I had a friend of mine whose dad owned a carpet store, little tiny carpet store. And he was, and he, and one day he said to us, now I have all these little remnants in the back of my, in the back of my store. It's 10 by 12 or 12 by 12 carpets. Why don't you guys take 'em up to university of Michigan and you know, you can sell 'em, there's 50 of 'em and you can keep the money. So we load, we just select great.
Speaker 3: (13:00)
We load 'em up. We drive 'em up to U OFM. We sell the remnants from that moment on, I was kind of, um, hooked on business, right? But this path, for whatever reason, I think this, my path was I started companies and then sell 'em or they worked, or they didn't work. And I go to the next company and I ended up for whatever reason, bouncing between a few different industries. And I think early in my career, what that taught me is that, uh, you can really learn any industry if you just submerge yourself in it. Um, and so, you know, I've been in promotional products, I've been in printing, I've been in logistics, media, buying eCommerce healthcare, and each, each time you have to get into a new space. You know, you, there is a big learning curve, but that learning curve is maybe a year, six to six months, 12 months.
Speaker 3: (13:54)
I mean, it's not 10 years. Right. And I think that was one of the aha moments I had in healthcare. I never thought I would get into healthcare, but you know, my, you know, six and a half years ago, my wife's diagnosed with breast cancer. And at that moment you don't have a choice. You're gonna, you're gonna, um, you either are gonna like be blind and know and know nothing, or you're gonna di dig in. And what happened to me was when I dug in and really kind of got submerged in it, um, I had this like aha moment, about three months in where once I understood enough of the biology and really the terminology to converse with somebody without being like in the dark, I realized that at least in the case of cancer, that, um, I was at much more of an even playing field than, than you would think, because the inherent problem with many diseases is once the standard of care fails, what it basically means is that the best doctor in the world versus the worst doctor in the world are gonna deliver a very comparable result.
Speaker 3: (14:59)
It's very bad. And so at that moment, I started thinking like, well, why don't you guys try to get your hands on some data? Why don't you try to use technology to help you? And so that's what kind of, you know, got me into it. But I, but I do think back to your main question, like, uh, the, the convergence of these two spaces is, is gonna be wild. It, I mean, people talk about it today. There's a lot of talk, but it's really, the convergence is gonna be really traumatic. Whereas I think that's why I talk about when you think about AI enabled therapeutics, the, the drug, the drug company of the year 2040 will rely far more on, uh, zeros and ones than they do on chemistry. And that's a big change from a world that is like 99% chemistry, 1%, uh, data.
Speaker 2: (15:55)
I, I completely agree. Look, I, I say today, if you were doing biotech, even biology based companies, five years ago, you weren't doing biotech, cuz it's evolved with genomics and artificial intelligence and engineering all coming together. And that's really a big part of what you have done is you've been in the front of this and it's, you know, when you began, it wouldn't have even been an, an opportunity if big data was in cancer centers, why, why was it not there? And how did you see this need and what are you doing about it?
Speaker 3: (16:38)
Yeah. What, what happened what's interesting is like for me, at least, you know, I, I didn't wanna start another, uh, company. And so, you know, and I think you get to a point where you're like, uh, I try to talk myself out of starting another company instead of talking myself into starting another company, but I had this, you know, um, so I, I, I had, when she was being treated, I was hoping that I could find somebody who was doing this. Um, and I actually, we had her sequenced at like four or five places, including the most well known sequencers at the time. And I reached out to a ton of people in the space trying to figure out who was integrating molecular data, you know, broadly in cancer and who was building big data sets and who could, and you know, like it just wasn't there.
Speaker 3: (17:26)
And so we started collecting all this data because I was afraid that at each turn, things could get worse from started collecting all this data. And what ended up happening is I got so submerged in collecting data for her, integrating it, having people, um, make sense of it, that, um, about halfway through her chemotherapy, um, we ended up changing her, her chemotherapy regimen. And at the time, um, you know, her oncologist was like, this, this is kind of crazy, but what's nuts is that the decisions we made that were data driven six years ago have really become the standard of care. Six years later, we just had in, we had access to data and insights long before other people. And it became apparent to me like, okay, wait a minute. This was, you know, for me, at least it was like, this was super painful and super hard and super miserable and took a bunch of money and a bunch of time.
Speaker 3: (18:25)
But the process of collecting all this data, uh, was you could, if you, you, I could imagine you could build a, a company that could do this and make it not painful and not miserable and not super costly. In fact, you could do it at scale and it would be pretty cheap. And so I started thinking like, why doesn't somebody do that? And I think a lot of times what happens in these, um, especially these big established industries is you, you just, you get really successful and you have these great businesses and they're making tons of money and you're, you know, you're, you're really important and it's very hard to be like, all right, I'm gonna displace myself. Like one of the greatest examples is Netflix. Like one of the things you give Reed enormous, the guy that runs Netflix enormous credit for is this guy had a business that was killing it.
Speaker 3: (19:17)
He was doing great mailing videos to people's houses. And he had to decide to basically obliterate that business to go digital. And I've had this conversation, I'll have it like with Memorial Sloan Kettering or MD Anderson. And I'm saying to them, you guys are absolutely the best today, but the model that made you the best is an antiquated model. And it's very likely that because you're the best today in cancer at least, or two of the best, you're like unwilling to accept the fact that you need to kind of entirely redo your model. And so it created an opportunity to kind of jump into the space
Speaker 2: (19:56)
That that's right. And I point is really good. And many entrepreneurs undervalue, big institutions cannot innovate well. They just, for whatever the re you give a few examples of why, but that creates these opportunities. And so many people say, well, if they're not doing it, it must be, how could I ever compete with them? You didn't let that stop. You, you went out and said, I'm gonna go across all your companies. You've been able to say, I can compete with them. Verse being, you know, intimidated or, or thinking the big institutions should be able to do it.
Speaker 3: (20:40)
Yeah. Look when we started temp, I mean, and you, you know, you were, you were there, you said early on, I mean, people thought like, eh, no way. And I remember even if you'd asked me, I just said like, um, at the five year mark, if we've got 50 people working for the company and we've got a couple of hospitals giving us data, that would be awesome. And I never would've imagined that we would have, you know, 2000 people and would, and would have, uh, over a third of all cancer patient data in the us kind of flowing through Tempus in some way, shape or form. And so, um, I couldn't have imagined it, but to your point, I, I, wasn't afraid of it. And I think the reason I'm not afraid of it is I'm not really listening to the noise. I'm really trying to be focused on the problem and how to solve it.
Speaker 3: (21:28)
Even by the way I spent about 95% of my time on a Tempus and about the other 5% is split between life bank and Groupon. And if you take Groupon for a minute, like even now, like I'm still thinking about that problem and how it's unsolved, like Groupon has not solved local commerce. We have not made it like you don't open up the app and, and like go consume a massage or a restaurant or whatever, but you do do that for hotels. Right? You do it like, you'll go to Expedia, you'll go to booking.com. Why, what is it about, what have they been able to do with hotels that we've not been able to do with restaurants and, you know, bowling alleys and, you know, salons, nail salons. And so I think a lot about like, what have we done wrong and how do we solve it?
Speaker 3: (22:17)
And I'm still on that province. It's 11 years and I'm still on that problem. I could be on for another 11 years. And I just, every, I keep thinking of new ways and we should do this and change that. But I just, you know, it's more like, how do I solve the problem? Not, um, and so that keeps you just unde deterred from a lot of the noise, even though people are saying like, you should do this, or you should do that. If you just kind of, and I think, look, same with you. I mean, my guess is, is you've, you know, been on some of these, you know, different drugs and targets. You just get consumed. You're like, I just need to, you know, keep marching this thing forward and I'm not gonna care. The people, you know, say this or say that he's gotta keep marching. I
Speaker 2: (22:54)
E Eric, you are, this is such great advice for people building companies. It so much is noise that is irrelevant to actually solving the problem, which is what your focus should be as somebody building a company. And so it's great advice. One other thing is you mentioned how you spend your time. Is there something you do every day that you think helps make you successful?
Speaker 3: (23:26)
I mean, I've always, um, you know, first of all, I think, uh, I, I, I'm very regimented, so I I've always had pretty good balance, like, and I do tell people, I think it's very easy to become like a, like a, I don't know if it's like a hamster in one of those wheels where you're just running around. I, I have a pretty regimented existence where I've always worked, you know, 10, 11 hours a day. And I go hard. Like, I'm not, you know, talking to people for a half hour. I'm not like surfing on the internet. You know, I'm not taking a long lunch. I go hard and I, I try to work as I try to get as much done as I can, but then, you know, come and I, I happen to work early and be done early, but once I'm done, I do try to put it mostly down.
Speaker 3: (24:13)
Now, it's, it's harder in a world where, you know, your phone, like you're bored. And so you check emails eight o'clock at night, cuz why not? You know, but in general I try to put it down. I try to not work on Saturday or Sunday, you know, I try to really have space and it's, it's been a huge benefit to me cuz I think you having that time where you just turn it off, um, allows me to think, and I'll find that like by having that free space, you know, every once in a while I have great ideas and I find that when I don't have that free space, when I'm just like just running and running and running and running, you don't have great ideas. And I also try the other thing I do, which has been awesome. And like in a world of COVID, this feels like I know brainer, but I read a blog post outta years ago, I started working from home when no one was working from home, you know, or very few people one day a week, I would take every Friday and work from home.
Speaker 3: (25:10)
Um, and the reason you'll, you'll appreciate this. I think, you know, more than most when you're running a large organization, um, what ends up happening is you lose a lot of your day to what other people need and what other people want. And they're legit problems. They come in your office, they got an issue, they got a problem, they got an email and you just can't like, and you're also being super like scheduled. And so I started taking Fridays off maybe 10 years ago, says whatever seven years ago, years ago. And it was like one day when I could work. But it, I wasn't, people weren't walking in my office. They weren't like, you know, trying to grab time. And I, I found that to be super productive. So I think if I was giving advice to people in terms of like how to manage their, their time, I think you, you have to create boundaries where you disconnect and you have to create boundaries where you can actually think.
Speaker 3: (26:03)
Um, and I, and I also would suggest and look you, and I would probably say the same thing. Um, the, one of the common threads among all people who are successful is they took enormous risk. At some point, there is no, it's very rare. I mean, there's always Google where guys are hanging out and they're at Stanford and they develop an algorithm. The next thing you know, they, you know, but in general, you know, 99.9% of people that are successful had to take risk and most of them had to have some failure in their past and then take risk again. And you just can't be deterred by it. You have to just kind of accept the fact that if you want to go solve a problem, if you wanna do something that you're gonna be really proud of, if you want to kind of take that leap of faith, it's gonna be risky and it may not work out and there's gonna be bumps and you gotta get back up and keep going
Speaker 2: (26:56)
That, you know, I, I think you, you really hit on something there, which is it. It's one of the, there's so many brilliant ideas. And we work with university research and, and advance that science. And I see the fear that people have to, to, to leave a safe place or do something that is a little risky. And I give you enormous credit. You've done this over and over and you're putting yourself out. There is another risk that people underestimate. Can you talk a little bit about, you know, once you've the, is it the hardest one to do your first one or is it, is it hard all the way along cuz you've done it multiple times and then what, what pieces are harder beyond the risk? Is it learning the industry, finding the need? How are you thinking about some of those risks reward a as you're building it now, Tempus, obviously you had a personal connection.
Speaker 3: (28:04)
Yeah, I think look, I mean, I would say, um, in my case I was a bit fortunate that, you know, I kind of became an entrepreneur at 18, um, and then had the bug and never went back. Um, I do think I, I encourage, uh, people, um, to take risks earlier in their career than later only cuz I, I do think that the, the, the, the trade off gets more significant when you get married. When you have kids, when you, when you're later in your career and you're leaving behind, you know, a, a bigger salary. So I think there's a, definitely a trade off that gets harder. The, the, the older you get. But, but I would say, look, we've seen plenty of people, you know, that kind of, uh, take the leap of faith and start their own company at, at 30 or 40 or 50 or whatever.
Speaker 3: (28:59)
I mean, so you can do it any time in life. Um, and so I would worry less about that. I would worry about, um, I would worry about the motivation for why you're starting the company. And I would, I would want that to be really pure. If you, again, it can back to what you and I talked about at the beginning, if you've identified a problem and you're convinced you've got a solution and you just can't live in a world that doesn't at least see this thing come to fruition, then you should start your own company and not look back and don't worry about it. And you'll be super happy. Um, if you are, if you're doing it for all the wrong reasons, it likely won't go well. And you know, there's no, there's no. Um, again, I think you, and I, you know, would say the same thing.
Speaker 3: (29:46)
Like this has not been an easy road. It wasn't like, oh, you know, Hey, uh, let's just hang out and make some money. this is a long journey. Uh, you worked, you know, you know, at least in my case, I've worked really hard for a long time and you, you can't be afraid of that side of it either. Like it's, you're taking risk and it's never easy and you're gonna work your tail off and that's not easy, but, um, but if you're doing it for all the right reasons, it is easy, cuz you're like, I, you know, it's like raising kids, right. You know, you're, it's not easy raising kids, but there's a lot of the, the, the good that comes with it is just awesome. So you, you do it and you do it again. You do it again, but there's a lot of, you know, tough moments and the same thing and with the business. So you just have to be gotta get into it for all the right reasons. And I think you can get through the top parts.
Speaker 2: (30:37)
That's great. And you know, one of the things I really admire is people who take the risk to build companies and you've done it multiple times. What, you know, I often hear back after these, when people get to hear some of the challenges you face cuz they forget, they only see the great success at the end. Can you talk about some of the challenges as you've faced, as you've built these companies along the way and kinda what kept you focused and, and, and stay in the course?
Speaker 3: (31:07)
Yeah. I mean, in my case I actually had like kind of three careers. Um, so what's weird is I I'm, I'm 18. I get into business at 18, I'm selling those carpets. Um, I realize that, um, I'm good at it and weirdly, um, and it's a long story, but I, I basically had figured out that there was a cause people were getting kicked off campus and I figured out there was some way not to get kicked off campus. And so I actually made, uh, a in relative terms, a crazy amount of money when I was in college, I used to tell people I've never been richer than I was at about 2019 or 20. You need like 50 grand. And you're 19. You're like the richest guy on the planet cuz like only spend money on, you know, beer. Um, so I had a career where I made a bunch of money.
Speaker 3: (31:54)
Then, then after that and I went to law school, but after law school I had a career where I had really significant issues. I had two companies fail, one that I had started, one that, um, I went to work for. But two companies failed within a pretty short period of time and was called Brandon and was called halo, which is the one I went to work for. And so I had this like period of like five years where everything fell apart and including like I thought I might have to go bankrupt. I had no money. Like all the money I had made was gone. Like, so really high, really, you know, a bunch of highs, a bunch of lows. And then I had this third career at the end of that period, which was about 2001, you know, I'm, I'm like I got no money of being sued, you know, cuz cuz cuz halo went bankrupt and we all got sued.
Speaker 3: (32:42)
It was a mess and disaster. I've got no money, you know? I mean I got people like knocking on my door, like giving me subpoenas. Uh, I mean it was a pretty big, low. And at that moment you have to make a decision, like what are you gonna do in my case? I, again, I, I kind of stumbled upon this, this, this problem that I wanted to solve. I got really excited about solving it and ended up starting a company called inner workings, which did really well. And that kind of, for me kicked off this, um, streak of companies that have worked, you know, kind of five in a row inner workings Zco mediation group on campus. So I'm, I've started five companies in like whatever 20 years and, and, and those have all done well, but I could have easily given up and gone home when I was, uh, at, at that low. Um, and I think if I was just thinking about the money, I would've gone home because I'd be like, I got no money. I'm getting sued, I gotta get a job. And um, but I was, I was, I think, thank thankfully thinking about, um, the work I wanted to do and the problems I wanted to solve and it just kept me, kept me open
Speaker 2: (33:49)
Eric. That's great. And you know, I think it's so great for people to hear it. You know, your, and one of your points is, you know, what is your motivation? How do you, you know, why is it you're starting it because I, I see that as well. If it's the right reason people will do well, you'll figure it out. And often you have to pivot and pivot and evolve. One of the things I've noticed that you've done brilliantly, even at Tempus is now you're evolving into other areas. And could you talk about that a little bit, that, that, that evolution and, and growth.
Speaker 3: (34:26)
Yeah, so we, we started in my case again, you know, so here here's my wife and trying to figure out, bring data to cancer. And what we realize is that the way the, the, the big data that you had to kind of figure how to combine was, um, was molecular data and clinical data. So we needed to kind of get our hands on molecular data at the time, genomic data and combine it with clinical data and make some sense of it. So we set out to kind of do that again. It was kind of fortuitous. I, I reached out to all the big labs to see if they would like, kind of give me some of their data so I could try to figure how to make it more, more useful. Of course they all said no. So we had to open up a lab.
Speaker 3: (35:07)
And so we started sequencing patients, um, in cancer. And I remember when we opened the lab, uh, I got a call from one of the largest companies in the space the most well respected saying like, look, you're, you're gonna fail. You have no idea how hard this is and you shouldn't do it and you should get out. And of course today with like the largest sequencer of cancer patients in the us. And I mean, you know, uh, but you know, it took us a while to figure out how to do that. Um, and once we, once we had kind of figured it out, we realized like, oh my God, what we really have done here. It's not just that we can sequence cancer patients and connect that to like other healthcare data. We really have built a platform to combine multimodal healthcare data. It really doesn't make a difference what it is we can take, we could take a cat scan plus a medical record and make it smart.
Speaker 3: (35:58)
We could take a genomic test plus, uh, a pathology H and E and make it smart. We just had gotten very good at that. And so we started thinking like, well, can we do this in other areas? And we really realized that like technologies like ours, basically AI enabled diagnostic will do the best. Anytime. There is a large amount of varied phenotypical and therapeutic data. So the, the patient population is old. They're young, they have hypertension, they have, you know, autoimmune diseases, they, whatever, you know, there's variability and there's a bunch of drugs they can take, right? So like, depression's a great area. There's lots of variability of depressed patients and there's many antidepressants. And any time those drugs are given with some amount of trial and error, you, you can rest assured at least I think eventually technology will remove all that trial and error.
Speaker 3: (36:51)
So one day a company like Tempus will tell every depressed patient exactly what antidepressant has the greatest likelihood of working for them in what order in what dose. Um, and so we did that in, for major depressive disorder, bipolar disease and depression. And then we were like, well, can we do it in, you know, infectious disease? Can we do it in type two diabetes? Can we do it in cardiology? And it's, we've proven to ourselves that we can do this. We think anywhere there's that variability. And so now we're in a, in a bunch of diseases. Like, again, it's not gonna work in Alzheimer's, it doesn't work any, anytime. There's not a lot of drugs. I can't the smartest diagnostic in the world won't help you. But when there is that, um, mismatch, it's pretty powerful with
Speaker 2: (37:35)
Technology. I, I, I agree. That's great. You know, it is, there are so many diseases where you, you have to be on a drug so long to, before you realize, is it writers or wrong and there's mortality in that period. And if you can know upfront based on somebody's genomics, you save all that time. It's a great vision and, and important work you're doing. One of the questions that's popped up is around interdiscipline approaches and people style. I see this often in, in, you know, the combination of genomics, AI engineering, biology, um, we, we, the person, you don't just need someone who knows chemistry anymore biology. We need to have all these people working together. Are you seeing that? And, and how are you hiring people based on that? How, what skill sets are you looking for?
Speaker 3: (38:33)
Look, it's crazy to me. Um, and we're, we're just, we're in a unique spot. We're kind of, uh, in, in, in, in just uncharted territory. So we have about 2000 people for those people. We have as many lab techs, about 500 lab techs, as we do software engineers that just write code. So normally, and we also have hun, you know, a few hundred PhDs people with confrontational biologists, IANS, like, but normally you're like kind of skewed one way or the other. You're either like heavy lab or heavy science, you know, you know, or, or heavy engineering. It's rare to have a company that's equal in all these different areas. And so we do spend a lot of time because normally what ends up happening is your culture has a dominance. It's either, you know, the MDs are dominant or the PhDs are dominant, or the genomicists are dominant.
Speaker 3: (39:26)
Somebody's dominant in our world. No one's dominant. And so we spend a lot of time trying to think through how do 500 software engineers interact with 500 scientists across all the disciplines? How do they interact with 500 lab techs? Like how do these people all interact? And, um, how do you make it work without turning it into like this giant, you know, mess? And, you know, we've got some good processes that I think have, have helped us, like we have these quarterly roadmaps that keep us together, but it's, it's a, you're a hundred percent, right. It's very complicated. And it's one of the biggest challenges of the future of healthcare is integrating all these different disciplines.
Speaker 2: (40:07)
It's also, I, I, I, I like that. And it's the challenge that we're running into in many companies, um, is there aren't even the skill sets developed yet. There's not enough people who can do, like I have a synthetic biology company or a gene therapy company. They're learning as they're doing it. You're pulling outta universities. Are you finding the talent you need in Chicago or are you having to expand
Speaker 3: (40:39)
Well, um, of our couple thousand people, there's about a thousand or so maybe a little bit more in Chicago. Um, we, we, we've tried to meter the headcount ads in Chicago, so we have big offices now in San Francisco, New York, Atlanta Raleigh is coming online now and then, um, smaller offices and other places. But in general, I, I think, I really think of Tempus. It's weird. And, and I'm saying this, that in Chicago, but I don't think of Tempus as being owned by Chicago. I, I just, I think may maybe because I have delusions of Grande jury in terms of what Tempus will be, um, which I don't know if it'll, I mean, obviously the jury's out, but if, if Tempus becomes what it could become and becomes a really, um, important big company, just feel like it's owned by the country. I mean, it's definitely owned by the country, but I'm not sure it's owned by any geography. We find amazing talent in Chicago. We've always found amazing talent, but this is the first company that I kind of think about is really, it doesn't make a difference if our San Francisco office is bigger or our New York office is bigger. Like, so be it we'll go wherever the talent is.
Speaker 2: (41:48)
That's great. Well, it's super important work and I'm really glad you're doing it. And I know Chicago's glad you're at least partially in Chicago. Um, you know, one, one last question I see Steve popped on you. Um, one of the, what your you're also one of your passions is art, and I know you and your wife are collectors and, and do a lot in, in the art community. Is there, is there a, um, is there any connection between the skills that you've developed in the business world and building companies as there is collecting or, uh, is it completely unique?
Speaker 3: (42:27)
I mean, I there's definitely, so not in, I don't think at all in building like a temp or a Groupon, but we have this light bank and I think I tell people all the time, it's like identical. I mean, you, you, you, you find things, you like, you, you gotta do it a while. You're gonna have a lot of zeros. You you're gonna buy a lot of bad art before you figure out how you buy good art. You're gonna invest a lot of bad companies until you put out, invest in good companies. So I think investing in startups and buying art is really similar. Um, but you know, but because it's passive, you're just, you're like placing bets, you know, and, and you eventually come upon the things you like and come up with the reasons why you like it. Um, but it, it does take a while. I, I, I mean, it's, I think we've gotten good at buying our early on. We, we, we made some big mistakes.
Speaker 2: (43:19)
Well, great. Well, well, Eric, thank you for taking the time today. Listen, you, you really gave great, uh, insight and I'm sure all the entrepreneurs and, and people at met are, are really appreciative. I enjoy talking to you
Speaker 3: (43:35)
And you too. Thank
Speaker 2: (43:35)
Speaker 1: (43:36)
Jeff. Thanks. I didn't know where you're going with that last question, but I love it. And, and thanks to both of you for what was really a fascinating and inspiring, uh, conversation. I hope you all have a great rest of your day.