When it comes to the entrepreneurs that Stibel and team partner up with, having an undying passion for the pursuit is something that goes a long way. This holds true for Cavan Canavan, Co-Founder/CEO of FocusMotion, a data-driven orthopedic recovery solution that automatically assesses and monitors pre- and post-operative patients. Since FocusMotion’s launch in 2013, the determined CEO has lead the tech startup through a process of transformation with the help and guidance of the Stibel team, who became an active investor back in 2015. The partnership continues to flourish to this day with the team supporting FocusMotion’s quest to build the deep learning and diagnostic AI that will one day transform human recovery.
Q: How did you first get involved with Bryant Stibel?
A: We had actually gotten two different introductions to Kobe’s team and were invited down to have a meeting with him. Then, after that initial meeting with Kobe, Jeff and team were nice enough to meet with us and talk about our company. I don’t know that a lot of people knew that Bryant Stibel was really an entity at the time as it was the very early days of the company, but we were looking for investment and had to convince Jeff and his posse of people that we were a decent company to invest in. We sat down with the team and they became an investor in the company in early 2015.
Q: What do you think the team was drawn to in FocusMotion?
A: Bryant Stibel was one of FocusMotion’s earlier investors. I think the team was interested because they understood that what we had was new data, that other people didn’t have access to, and what we were enabling was a very new way of looking at and processing this data. To summarize this with an example: if you want to build a computer vision algorithm for a cat, you can find tons of cat photos as data to build it; but, if you want to build an algorithm for a way of understanding something, like a total knee replacement to do a recovery profile, you have to basically create the data. To do that, FocusMotion opened a movement collection farm in India to farm the data necessary to build that algorithm. I think Jeff Stibel, early on, saw the potential for what we were doing, much farther out than what other people did because I think he saw the advantages of the learning aspect.
Q: What do you enjoy about working with Bryant Stibel?
A: I really appreciate the ability to drive to Malibu and sit down to review the company with the team anytime we ask for it. They build strategies to basically give us an idea for what they think we should be doing and ways they can help. One of the biggest things that we appreciate is their candor. When working with investors, it’s easy to feel like they’re not there to truly help. But with Bryant Stibel, it really feels like a team effort. One of the best conversations I remember having with Jeff was after facing a challenging quarter and he was able to reassure us, “Yes, this situation is challenging, but we’re going to get through it and we’re going to help you.” Through the ups and downs, we feel like Bryant Stibel has been there to shoulder the weight with us.
Q: How would you describe the Bryant Stibel team as a whole?
A: I think what you have is a group of very sincere people, that have known each other a very long time, that work very well together and are around the LA scene, but are not the LA scene. Our main point of contact really has been Pete Delgrosso – he has been phenomenal. Jeff and Pete have been the drivers of a lot of our meetings. I think Jeff Stibel is an absolutely brilliant person and strategist.
The thing I like most about their team is that they’re sincere. Anytime I reach out, I get a response. Anytime I ask for something, they are very quick to say they’ll help us out or advise in another direction – but it’s always quick, it’s always sincere and it always feels like they’re “in the trenches” with us. That’s been really helpful. As an entrepreneur, sometimes it feels like you’re being pushed off on your own little lifeboat; whereas I feel like Jeff and his team kind of swim out to meet you, in a sense.
Q: Where do you believe Bryant Stibel has made the biggest impact at FocusMotion?
A: We were transitioning as a company last year – we had started off as an OS agnostic algorithm company and I think that’s what piqued their interest. We were going to map human movement the same way that Siri maps speech. The problem is that none of those markets took off. We had been to Nike, Under Armor, Reebok, Puma, Adidas, Sony, Samsung, Google – you name the company, we approached them as far as tracking health or fitness, but no one really wanted to move their algorithm beyond counting steps and we were just treading water.
We had a few challenging quarters, so we met with the Bryant Stibel team for a deconstruction. It was a bitter pill to swallow, sitting down with a group of trusted investors and hearing them say, “Hey, it’s not doing well, and we don’t believe this is the right thing to do. What would you do instead if you were enabled to?” It was extremely helpful to be able to sit there and brainstorm with them and at the same time get the agency to feel like we could move in a positive direction if we just tightened some things and adjusted our strategy.
Q: What was the result of the deconstruction?
The Bryant Stibel team recognized the value in our product and helped give us direction, saying “this is how you can get to a point where you will be fine, and this is how you transition smoothly.” That’s something neither me nor my cofounder had done before – to navigate what was essentially a pivot. Meeting with Bryant Stibel gave us the ability to look at our finances and determine some things to bring in revenue while at the same time focusing on what we were pivoting to on the backend. I remember leaving that meeting and I was upset because we needed those significant changes, but I think I was more upset because they made the right recommendations and we hadn’t realized those solutions first. Those are the toughest conversations for entrepreneurs. I think it was a brilliant conversation to have with them and they were able to help us deftly navigate this pivot.
Q: Were there any unexpected benefits of working with the team?
A: Upon the announcement of the Bryant Stibel investment, we got a ton of inbound activity just from the name Kobe Bryant being associated with our company. It was a lot of fun to ride that train after the announcement. On top of that, we have other companies that write us for introductions to Kobe and Jeff and the team. Bryant Stibel was nice enough to include us in their own announcement at the New York Stock Exchange in 2016. It was a humbling experience to be invited along for the ride when we are one of the smaller companies that they have invested in.
Q: In what ways do you think the Bryant Stibel team supports entrepreneurs specifically?
A: For us, working with Bryant Stibel is about having someone sit down with you and have an honest moment. As an entrepreneur, I think sometimes you’re stuck on an island; you’re deep in a profession, deep in a market – it’s nice to be able to sit down with a team with an outside perspective that has the experience to say, “Okay, you’re saying this but we’re seeing this, and we’d like to work through the problems that we’re finding with you and to approach them with you.” At the same time, I think working with their team has given us agency. Whenever we are concerned over something that might be an issue, we have a meeting with the Bryant Stibel team. If they agree with a plan of action, then my team can usually take that decision to other investors because Bryant Stibel’s confidence gives us the ability to move forward with a decision in places of uncertainty.
Q: How do you think Bryant Stibel will continue to be influential to the success of FocusMotion?
A: One of the major things that Bryant Stibel has been influential with is they have been very open with making introductions and really stretching their network to connect us. As one of the smaller companies in their portfolio, I’m humbled all the time by the amount of time that they give us and the way that they stretch their networks for us. They have been firm believers in the product and in us, and when they speak to people, I feel like they represent us in the best possible light.