Founder Stories: Jean Wheeler
Jean Wheeler is one of the most capable operators we've worked with, having both strategic acumen and the rare ability to actually execute on ideas. She's the kind of person you want to hang out with—she's warm, genuine, and curious. We worked closely with Jean and her executive team at Epitel, a digital health company revolutionizing how brain health is monitored by combining wearable EEG technology with cloud-based data analytics and machine-learning capabilities. We're thrilled she took time sit down and reflect on her experiences with us.
What’s your background?
I started working with investable while I was at my previous company, Epitel. We were a team of eight in a very early stage medical device startup, who had been entirely grant funded. We were trying to figure out how on earth to run, fund and grow the company. Most of my background at that point had been in engineering through startup companies and small businesses. I've gone through the fires, I've worn all the small hats. But this was the first time that I was at a level where I was responsible for people's salaries and figuring out how to take all of that on.
I'm an engineer and I love data and critically thinking about the world I'm interpreting. I’ve always been curious about what's around me. As an engineer, one piece that was always an enigma to me during the startup phases was that you do all this technical work but the business still fails or gets stalled. And that has always led me to ask, “well, why?” and be more curious about how we take this technical brilliance and then translate it into a business or make sure that it can be out in the world in a way that resonates with people.
Did you gain any new leadership skills through the Investable process?
Having investable as a sounding board and then being able to get more tools in my toolbox was really a big key in building the confidence to go out and to lead, and to enable me to be both inspired to lead and make decisions but also to have the confidence to do it. It also really inspired me to keep going.
Did you feel clear about your investment thesis?
When we went in, the investment thesis was not clear whatsoever. And that was due to a lot of communication and clarity issues within the company itself. We hadn’t really asked hard questions about who we were. Coming out, our investment thesis was ridiculously clear and obvious. I wish we had started working on it two years sooner.
Do you feel confident now in your ability to talk to investors?
I feel exceptionally more confident now. When we started working with investable, I had started my MBA about a year before so I knew basic budgeting, basic accounting, basic valuations and understanding what value is and how we create it.
I learned the ins and outs of how you relate to an investor and then how to react when they ask you what your term sheet looks like. I gained so much confidence in that. To be honest, I don't think there's any magical language I adopted—it was more that they helped me understand the company and our unique situation and what thesis we had as a company. I know now that when an investor gives you a suggestion, you go take care of it and then go back to them and say, “we listened to you and we did it”. Then they wanted to talk to us again and they loved it. It reaffirmed my faith that I knew how to do this; we took care of the things we needed to take care of, built trust, and then executed.
Did you uncover any risks or blind spots?
We uncovered tons of risk and blind spots. I think once you get those out of the way, it becomes immensely clear. I learned you don’t necessarily have to build a better thing; it's just a process of simplifying things and always asking, “how do you get the mud out of the water?”
Our cap table was messy. It was entrenched and we had two product lines that were very, very different in their market and market size. They had some fundamental base technology but really weren't headed in the same direction at all. And because of that we had some ownership imbalances in the cap table based on the value of what we were trying to fundraise for and then the value of those shares that were attributed to people differently. Working through those blind spots was huge and that's what we identified before we started the due diligence process. It did come up talking to investors and they immediately asked questions. It was an action item we had to resolve.
Do you feel more prepared for due diligence in the future?
One hundred percent. I learned what a medical or biotech product and that level of due diligence looked like from an investor standpoint at the early stage. It all became less scary to me. I've been through due diligence with a couple technical partnerships in previous companies where I had to make sure all the boxes were checked. Working with Investable taught me that there is no magic bullet, but if you compile all the relevant, trustworthy information that somebody would need to have good faith in your company to move forward it provides investors with the scaffolding to understand exactly why there's value there.
What value outside of fundraising did you get from the process?
I always come back to leadership and confidence. I was empowered with the tools to both inspire and actively lead. It was a huge, huge win for me. And now I even find myself giving advice to friends! Being on the other side of it, I’m a lot less afraid of failure.
I also highly value honesty and authenticity to tackle hard problems in a straightforward way. That’s how the Investable team operates and its's a character trait that you don't see very often in business and I respect it a lot. The ability to have those authentic, honest and open conversations, even though they were emotional (people's dreams were on the line) allowed us to get that clarity. It was 100% what we needed to deal with at Epitel. If Investable hadn't been so open and inviting to risk mitigation, I don't think we could have gotten through that. And now I know how to build that trust with my teams wherever I go in the future.