Chris Paquette: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO of DeepIntent
As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Paquette.
Chris is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of DeepIntent, a marketing technology company he co-founded on the principle that digital media can influence positive health outcomes. MarketMatch™, the company’s marketing technology platform for the healthcare industry, currently supports advertising campaigns for over twenty major pharmaceutical companies and dozens of media agencies in support of more than 200 healthcare brands.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
In college, I received a degree in Bioengineering with a specialization in machine learning. My first job out of college was in advertising technology, and I then went to work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to build one of its data science teams. While there, I often spoke to patients about the difficulty they had finding information about their disease diagnoses and treatments. Those conversations resonated with me because, during my childhood, my father became ill with cancer, but the doctors misdiagnosed the type of cancer he actually had. If he hadn’t trusted his gut and sought out a second opinion, he wouldn’t be here with us today. It occurred to me that if we can arm patients with the right information before seeing their doctor, they can get more out of that first visit, and that might actually save lives.
I founded DeepIntent to solve the challenge of getting timely information to patients to enable them to have more informed conversations with their providers about their health.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
My business partner and I self-funded DeepIntent in 2016 and, as entrepreneurs, we were young and wet behind the ears. Being so focused on growth, we were quick to jump at opportunities that didn’t make sense for our long-term cash flows. We had a lot of faith in venture capital and believed that our early successes would make it easy for us to secure VC funding. What we found was that we couldn’t have more wrong! By 2017, capital had all but dried up for new Demand Side Platforms (DSPs) in the ad tech ecosystem, and over the course of a year, we found ourselves in an increasingly dire cash flow situation. Fortunately, we found a different route to funding: corporate investors. My partner and I counted our blessings the day we closed that deal! The lesson learned was a hard one, but ultimately cash flow is king.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I strongly believe that my flexibility and an unrelenting drive to realize my vision, along with a great team, are the main reasons for our success. I frequently describe myself as a “product CEO”, which means that at some point I have been involved in essentially almost every detail of the business. As our company quickly scaled, I needed to re-assess my personal role and contribution to the growth of the company. Despite the fact that I had been involved in most of the day-to-day decisions, I was flexible enough to recognize when I had reached the point when I needed to build a world-class team — one to whom I could delegate critical decision making. That meant trading in some of my favorite aspects of the business (technology, product, etc.) for other tasks that are crucial to leading a growing business (strategy, marketing, hiring processes, etc.).
Now that I’ve become further separated from the minutiae of daily business decisions, I realize how critical it was for the business that I develop myself as a professional CEO.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
- Celebrate the small wins, and especially celebrate your team’s wins. When you’re building a new company, things happen so quickly and frequently that it’s easy to just be focused on the next goal. It’s important to remember to step back from the frenetic pace of the business and recognize the people on your team who are making the magic happen every day.
- Don’t overlook the importance of your own sanity — about a year ago I was approaching a near-critical zone of burnout. I was intimately involved in too many aspects of the business and it became impossible to not work 14–15 hours a day. My health took a toll and I wasn’t focusing enough on other important areas of my life. I needed to restore balance in my own life in order to continue growing the business. In response, I built a strong team around me who could help carry the growth forward — one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made.
- The road to success is paved with twists and turns; a lot of people think success stories in entrepreneurship follow a straight path — you launch a business, grow, and have a successful exit. The truth is that success is rarely ever a straight line. Entrepreneurship is as much about course-correcting and failure as it is about the wins.
- Stay true to your vision — it’s the reason people do business with you. Our clients often boast about how happy they are to be working with us because we’re a company that is innovating and helping build technology to improve patient health. It’s a far cry from other vendors in our space that exist simply to make money and sell advertisements. Our vision and belief is weaved into every decision, every piece of software, and every piece of marketing material we create. Our vision is our biggest differentiator.
- Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up — -when you’re scaling 3x year-over-year for four years in a row, there is no doubt that some aspect of the business can’t keep up with that pace. The growing list of requirements your clients have drastically outpace your team’s ability to incrementally improve upon existing processes. Sometimes you need to put the brakes on and rebuild the processes that are the most strained from the ground up. It’s scary because anytime you rebuild a part of your business, there’s risk and stress placed on other parts of the organization. However, that short-term hit in productivity and increased blood pressure yields an organization that is better prepared to scale and meet the demands of your clients.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It’s incredibly important to maintain balance in your life across what author and wealth advisor James Hansberger has coined “the 5 F’s” (Family, Friends, Faith, Fitness, and Finances). Once a quarter, an entrepreneur should do a self-check-in and assess what they want to focus on in each of these categories. I wish someone had told me about “the 5 F’s” before my journey started because early in my career, I made choices that prioritized my business above everything else. Slowly, over time, I learned that the consequences of making those decisions can lead to lost relationships. Everything requires your attention, but having a framework to help prioritize your time is of the essence.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
In 2017, when my business faced almost certain collapse because of cash flow issues, my wife, Kelly, wrote me a check for $15,000 to cover payroll and some expenses that we were paying. Even though I ultimately didn’t cash that check, the gesture was symbolic of her support for me in my long journey growing the business. I think it’s important that people like her — those unwavering supporters and believers — get the recognition they deserve for their roles as the unsung heroes of startup success.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Personally, I’m still working on finding that perfect balance of work and life.
Professionally, I’m working toward my goal of continuing to grow DeepIntent to become the industry leader in our space!
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
DeepIntent is a part of the broader American healthcare system. Currently, that system is plagued with inequality and inefficiency. If nothing else, I hope that the work we’re doing will demonstrate the immense value in using patient health information in a privacy-safe way to not only help mitigate the inequalities and inefficiencies but more importantly to improve patient’s quality of life and even safe lives.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Related to my answer above, I’d like to start a movement that helps fix the healthcare system in the United States. In the U.S., more than 60% of personal bankruptcies are due to medical bills, and we spend, in aggregate, twice as much on healthcare than the United Kingdom — for worse outcomes. While we pride ourselves on being the greatest country in the world, we’re woefully behind other nations in healthcare, and that’s something we need to fix.
I believe that as consumer devices, like phones and laptops, gain the ability to interoperate with electronic healthcare records, patients will have the tools needed to take more ownership of their health. When patients better understand their health, they’re empowered to make more informed decisions that improve their quality of life. While this isn’t the single answer to our healthcare system’s problems, empowering patients to be more proactive about their health can drive down the cost of healthcare drastically.
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Learn more about DeepIntent here