In this week’s episode of Beyond Consulting we welcome Devin Basinger, a former Accenture consultant and current SVP of People and Operations at H1.
The Beyond Consulting Podcast is hosted by Ken Kanara.
Ken Kanara: Hello and welcome to Beyond Consulting, brought to you by ECA partners. For those of you joining us for the first time, we are the only podcast dedicated to helping our listeners understand the wide variety of options they have available after a career in consulting. To put it more bluntly, “What can I do with my life after countless hours spent in PowerPoint and Excel?” I’m Ken Kanara, host of Beyond Consulting and CEO of ECA Partners, a specialized project staffing and executive search firm focused on former management consultants and private equity. Each week I host guests that have spent time in consulting and made some sort of pivot or career change. The goal is to help our audience understand all the options that they have available, and ideally, learn from our guest, both in terms of what they did right and things they wish they would have done differently. Today we welcome Devon Basinger to the studio. Devin, thanks so much for joining us today.
Devin Basinger: Certainly. I’m really glad to be here with you to talk about consulting and about what I did after. I’m excited to dive in.
Ken Kanara: Awesome. Devin, for those of our listeners that don’t know you, I would love to get some background on you. What has brought you to where you are today at H1?
Devin Basinger: Totally. Let’s see…I started my work at Accenture Management Consulting and that meant a combination of different things. I’m sure will get a little bit into that but it was a little bit of change management, a little bit of big tech implementations, some strategy consulting work, particularly with nonprofits. Ultimately, I was doing the bread and butter work of Accenture, which was large scale tech implementations, $100 million contracts, that type of thing. I really enjoyed that work while I was there. I was there about three and a half years. I ended up leaving to go to business school, which felt like the next right move for me. I ended up at MIT Sloan. I was already living in Boston at the time, so when I left Accenture to go to MIT it was like taking a very carefree walk across the bridge, where I picked up my student ID and then started classes a few weeks later. It was a really good, easy transition. When I was at Sloan I ended up starting a company called Deep Bench. Deep Bench was an expert network and we matched up industry experts with consultants, but also investors and designers who were looking for user interviews or expert interviews. I worked on that business for a few years as a founder. I was a COO of that business. It turned into a good business, and it’s still doing really good work and still growing fast, but I felt like it was the right move for me to join a hypergrowth tech company. I did that. I left and I ended up joining a company called H1. H1 is a health care data platform. When I joined H1 it was still a very small company, it had about 15 people and in Y Combinator, the accelerator in California. We were getting ready to raise our series A—this is right before the pandemic—this was in February 2020. We ended up raising the series A right as the pandemic started. As people were figuring out COVID-19, we were on a hiring spree and starting to grow. We grew our revenue and the company a lot. Now it’s been about two and a half years and the company is close to 500 people at this point. My job has shifted a lot at H1 throughout that growth, but right now, I’m responsible for people and operations within H1.
Ken Kanara: That’s incredible. Starting a health care data platform in the midst of what was one of the most devastating health pandemics that we’ve ever seen…I want to dive into that, but first, you mentioned a health care data platform, but what is it that H1 does specifically and what does that mean?
Devin Basinger: H1 effectively builds doctor profiles with data from around the world. There’s a big problem in healthcare and health care data, which is essentially that healthcare data is really messy. When you are a life science company trying to invest in treatment research or drug research, a really important piece of the puzzle for effectively doing that research is finding out, “Who are the right doctors that I should work with?” When they’re doing that research they’re looking globally, but because there’s different data standards and a lot of different data around the world, it can be hard to have reassurance that you’re using the best person possible for the research that you’re targeted on. H1 collects all that information, puts them into doctor profiles and effectively acts like a Google search engine for “who’s who” in healthcare. Now, customers will use H1 to look through millions of profiles of health care professionals around the world and hone in on who the best doctors or health care practitioners are for them to work with on their project, given whatever very specific set of criteria. It helps them understand who they should be collaborating with.
Ken Kanara: That’s incredible. Can you give us an example, so we can put a little bit of muster behind it?
Devin Basinger: Totally. Imagine that the COVID-19 pandemic comes up. People are rushing towards vaccine research and trying to develop a COVID-19 vaccine. In that type of scenario, the companies that are investing into the research really want to find the right treatment quickly. They really need to go through this regulatory process of getting a vaccine approved, but one of the things that can help them cut down their timeline is finding the right principal investigator who’s done infectious disease research in the past, who can be influential in the regulatory process and who can also help someone get access to the right patients or medical centers that have impacted patients. For COVID-19, a lot of people were impacted, so access to patients wasn’t really the issue, but they still wanted to make sure to have the best experts. In a situation like that, getting the top infectious disease expert compared to the number 40 infectious disease expert could cut down your time to market by a year or even four months, which in the context of a pandemic is game changing for the outcome of the research and the commercialization of that research.
Ken Kanara: That’s incredible, and so, so timely given what was going on in the world. Is it safe to say that most of your end clients are large pharmaceutical companies and biotechs?
Devin Basinger: Yes, our first customers were really medical affairs teams within life science companies. Medical affairs teams are the research collaborators within life science companies. They go work with doctors, they share the latest research, and they get their advice on research that they’re doing. Medical affairs is really our first market as a startup—when we were 15 people, we were mostly serving medical affairs teams. Now we’ve expanded use cases. It turns out that if you have that doctor information around the world, you’re able to use it in a lot of different ways in healthcare, not just by science companies, but with digital health startups, medical centers and payers or insurers. Now there’s a lot of different ways were able to use that database, but yes our first customer was really like life science companies.
Ken Kanara: That’s great. I’m sure, like many things, you’ll continue to discover other use cases. I can even imagine that there’s got to be some interest from different universities as well.
Devin Basinger: Yes, totally.
Ken Kanara: Good. That’s a very interesting story, and an interesting time to join a company, given that the pandemic was just in the first wave. Now, help me understand exactly what you do. You do everything from strategy to people ops, if I’m not mistaken?
Devin Basinger: Yes, so it has changed a lot overtime, but I’ll give you a quick walkthrough. You can imagine that when your employee number 15 in a 15 person company, the things that they need you to do are different than the things they need you to do when you’re 100 people or 300 people or 500 people. In a lot of ways, I’ve been able to grow up with the company and that has presented a lot of opportunities for me. When I first joined, one of the initial things that I was focused on was really the combination of the fundraising process and the business strategy that we would use in the narrative for the setting the ambition of the company—so, what is our vision…what is our ambition…what are we moving towards…what are we using the money that we raised to invest in so that we can achieve our mission as a company? In that sense, it was related to fundraising, strategy, and vision, and that was the core of my responsibility for probably the first four or five months. Then, it morphed into, “Ok, now we have our vision but we need help creating some new products to expand past our initial market.” In a fast-growing company there wasn’t a lot of capacity for launching brand new products, so I was assigned to be like an “intrapreneur” within the company, where I got a small team of a few engineers and a product person, then a biz dev person that helps to do customer validation. Then, we went out and tried to find, “what are the next products that we should build after our first product.” It bled into product strategy, then that led itself to partnerships, and that led itself to operations, which then led itself to a couple of acquisitions that we did. Along the way, one of the challenges that we had while we were scaling was really people related. In the trajectory of our company, in 2020 we went from about 15 people to 100 people. In 2021 we went from about 100 people to 400 people. We’re growing so quickly in relation to the rate of our growth. At about100 people, scaling culture became really important. It wasn’t good enough just to hire better people, hire better managers or hire more engineers. It really became, “How do we keep everybody focused on the same way that we want people to be working together towards the vision that we’re working towards?” Culture became the answer to that. I started doing culture work for the company and doing all of the trainings for everybody that joined the company. Almost everybody that joined from the last 400 people got a training from me when they joined. That led itself, naturally, to supporting our recruiting teams and supporting our HR by exploring how we create a positive employee experience for team members to join. That responsibility became very formal a few months ago. Prior to that, I was leading our operations team and then a few months ago I started leading our people and operations team. Now, I get to do some biz ops, I’m still involved in a lot of things around the company from an operations perspective, but also supporting our people team in India and in the US to hire the best people and keep the best people.
Ken Kanara: It doesn’t sound like you’re very busy at all (laughs). So, let me get this straight…it’s product strategy, operations, partnerships, and then people. Just that little bit (laughs). All kidding aside, you mentioned something interesting…so, you reach that hundred person mark and then you’re trying to scale and retain the culture that has been built, right? How do you think about that beyond, obviously, an intro training?
Devin Basinger: How do you think about scaling or how do I think about my own role in that scaling?
Ken Kanara: I guess, how do you think about maintaining the existing culture that has led to so much of the success?
Devin Basinger: Yes, it’s really a pretty tough challenge. It’s not something that you can just dive in and say, “I’m going to do these tasks and it’s going to work?,” right?
Ken Kanara: Yeah, create some KPIs and go for it, right?
Devin Basinger: It’s really a question of, “what is the heart of the company?” And that sounds very soft… it’s something that being a founder trained me to do well. Being a consultant maybe didn’t train me as well to do that. The way I approached it was, we hit an inflection point around 100 people where different teams in the business were having a hard time working together because they had different cultural approaches to getting the work done. Some teams had “a move fast and break things” mentality, and that other teams had a cautious culture for their team—”we don’t want to make mistakes…we want to make sure everything is done right the first time. We’re going to take a longer period of time to do that.” That led to clashes when different departments needed to work together on really important projects. I was assigned to help figure out what kind of company we wanted to be. The way I ended up approaching it was I did a lot of interviews. If you think about Deep Bench interviews, when you’re doing diligence you’ll do a lot of expert interviews to figure out a holistic picture what’s going on. That’s basically what I did for culture. I talked to our founders for hours. I talked to our executive leadership team, also for hours, and I went back to those core employees that had been there for a long time—longer than me, that had really seen the company grow from its infancy. They had a really good pulse on the heart of the company, even if they didn’t really define it that way. Then I took inputs from all those people and said, “if this is what I observed, this is what I think we actually care about, and this is how I would say that.” Then really rally and buy in and managing the change management process to get people to buy into, not just what you think the heart is, but really also how you’re articulating with what you think the purpose of the company is and what type of company you’re aspiring to be. Then, it’s a tough change management problem. I know the theme, generally, is what do we learn from consulting, but one of the main things I learned from consulting that I didn’t appreciate at the time was really that change management process when I was a consulting analyst—doing work on a huge tech transformation. I was assigned to do these trainings and I was assigned to do these technical walkthroughs and help train the trainer programs. At the time I thought, “You know, I wish I could be doing more strategic work than this.” I did later in my consulting career but when I was a newer analyst, I was doing these change management projects I just didn’t really have the context to understand the value that we were building. As I’ve grown my career at H1, it’s been ironic because arguably one of the most important things I do in my leadership role at H1 is help with change management and so that really has flipped itself on its head.
Ken Kanara: I think you bring up a good point because, in consulting, we pick up these things around change management and mission vision values as being “soft.” Like, okay, you got it…you have to do, it but you don’t really understand why. Then, when you’re in a real environment where things are really on the line, it totally matters, right? Even if you’re the CEO of a company and you decide, “Oh, I’m going to make this change tomorrow.” It doesn’t actually matter unless everybody in your organization has bought in. I think that’s an interesting thing for most people to get their head around—that we just we have zero appreciation for, in a consulting context, but when you go into the world that you’re in, obviously, it is real and it matters.
Devin Basinger: Yes, totally. In retrospect, I think when I was doing consulting work it was typically for really big companies. It was a little harder to personalize the people that I was impacting and their concerns for what was going on, but when you’re in a startup or a twenty person company or a 500 person company, the faces are so real. I’ve gone and met with enough of the employees that I understand and empathize with their concerns and I care a lot about them being able to adapt to these changes because that’s going to help us be successful as an organization.
Ken Kanara: Yes, and people can see whether you’re empathetic or not, right? That impacts their decisions around whether or not they’re going to join the company or stay with the company. So, you’re employee number 15…what drew you to H1 in the first place?
Devin Basinger: To answer that I really have to go back to me being a founder before, but when I started Deep Bench, I went from consulting to business school and then, effectively, to starting a company. When you are a founder of the new company, at the beginning, there’s nobody, right? It’s just you, and maybe your cofounder, and you’re trying to build something out of nothing. Every question that comes up, those that you take for granted at any existing company—”Well what days are we going to work? How are we going to get work done? What meetings do we have to have? What job descriptions are we going to have to have? How are we going to compensate people?” All of these questions come up and Deep Bench forced me to work through all those questions as its founder. That was a very personal experience. I had excellent relationships in my cofounders. Your startup is kind of your baby and you want to make it succeed and you want people in it to do well. You want to make sure that it lives after you leave. When I was leaving that founder experience, I had very high standards but maybe different standards than a lot of people who are doing their job search. On one hand I actually cared less about my compensation. My compensation was a lower factor for me just because I had been like a bootstrap founder, right? I wasn’t paying myself that much as a founder at times, and I knew that I could be happy and that compensation was not a driving factor for my happiness. On the flip-side, I was unwilling to sacrifice the quality of relationships that I have with my team and my former cofounders. When I was looking for something else to join, I knew that I wanted to be early stage. I knew that I wasn’t going to be a founder, but I wanted to find founders who really treated me as a peer and as a partner. I was really worried about being treated as just another employee in a business. The things that I joined H1 for were, effectively, that I believed in the founders sufficiently to make a bet on them. When I joined it was right before we had funding and we didn’t have a guarantee of funding. They did offer me a reasonable salary—that was positive, but really it was, are these the people that I want to work with, do I believe they have the values that I trust will build a company that I’m proud to be a part of, and are they going to treat me as a partner to help them build that vision? When I found Ian and Ariel, the cofounders of H1—you know no founders are perfect and everybody has their quirks, but I just felt that they had the right values, that they were ready to trust me and work with me and we just kept building that relationship.
Ken Kanara: Thanks for sharing that. One of the things that I’ve observed, at least being in the recruiting business, is that almost always, the first question out of the gate is “What’s the salary?” What’s the comp, right? Don’t get me wrong, but that’s an important part of things and everybody has a different situation and different times in life and I totally get that, but it shouldn’t be the only focus. I find that often it is and the one, I guess, resounding theme, and you picked up on it, is if you think about your energy or your happiness on a day-to-day basis, it tends to be more related to who you’re working with than necessarily whether you’re making an extra $10,000 a year.
Devin Basinger: Yes, totally. I think, with compensation, it’s more OK to negotiate based on that factor as you get into the later stages, but I knew I was targeting really early stage. I knew I was going to be targeting people who were taking a risk on me and I was taking a risk on them. In that sense, I was much more focused on finding people who I could bet on allowing me to continue to be a leader in the company as it grew and that potential was more important to me than the immediate compensation. I’m really happy with how it worked out. I think it worked out really well, but when I talk to folks they might say, “Well, how did you find that situation?” I didn’t know it was going to be a good situation when I joined the company. I found founders I was ready to bet on and they were interested in taking a chance on me. If I didn’t perform I probably wouldn’t be at the company anymore. There’s some survivors bias here, right? It worked out, and they kept getting on me, I kept getting on them and, so far, we’ve been successful at growing a great company.
Ken Kanara: One thing that you didn’t mention, and I’m curious to hear your thoughts on, is health care or the industry that they were focused on. Was that intentional? Talk to me.
Devin Basinger: My process for finding a company to work with was actually pretty focused and in-depth. What I mean by that is that when I told my team at Deep Bench that I was going to leave, I waited until I left to tell the team. My cofounders knew but employees didn’t really know until after I had made the exit or I said, “This week is my last week,” basically. But, when I left the company I made a LinkedIn post I said, “Hey, you know I love working with the company that I started…I’m interested in other things. If there’s anybody who has interesting people that might be worth talking to, make the introduction—I want to have the conversation. I’m going to take a couple months to figure out what I do next. I was so open to introductions that it sparked like 70 or 80 conversations where people said, “I know somebody doing this cool thing…” “I know somebody doing that cool thing…” For combo number one, I had zero filter. I was taking every single conversation that somebody wanted to introduce me to. In that process I learned what I cared about and what I didn’t care about because there were really cool opportunities that were coming up where somebody said, “There’s this business and maybe you could be the CEO…maybe you want to run this business.” Then I would think about it and realize, you know, that’s not really exciting to me but why? Why is that not exciting to me? I started to piece together really fast what was driving me, what was not driving me. That led to a handful of really promising opportunities and I think I could have been happy with each of them, but from the beginning of that process industry was not something that I cared about. I said, “I will work in any industry, I just care mostly about the people I’m working with and the responsibilities. Show me people that I can work really well with and that will trust me with important things to do in the organization, and other than that, obviously I don’t want to have any moral issues with the company, but industry wasn’t…
Ken Kanara: Sure, you aren’t working for a cigarette company.
Devin Basinger: Yeah, and I wasn’t looking for health care. I had never worked in healthcare before. The most exposure I had had to healthcare was I took a health care economics class from one of my favorite professors at MIT. Getting into it, I was learning everything about healthcare data. I was negotiating data contracts for data that we were using for our foundation. I was researching all the competitors and trying to understand what they were doing and what we were doing and how that all fits together. I found healthcare to be a really fulfilling general mission. Yeah, I feel positively fulfilled that if we can increase the accuracy of data within healthcare it’s going to have end results of higher quality outcomes for research, more treatments, more drugs that are helpful. If the research is more efficient they could be lower cost. Even though it’s a little bit tangential, I feel positive about making a difference in healthcare. I didn’t aim to be here, but I ended up here and I’m really glad I did.
Ken Kanara: Thanks for sharing that. One thing you mentioned that is really interesting is that you went on this path of self-discovery by just being open to talking to a lot of different people. What advice would you have for someone that’s maybe a little bit hesitant to reach out and have those conversations the way you did, because it obviously seems very natural for you?
Devin Basinger: Yes and no. I do love people, so talking to people is not something that I’m worried about, but I didn’t know how to frame my experience effectively and I got advice on how to do that. When I was leaving a company that I had started, part of me was like, “What are people going to think? They might…
Ken Kanara: “Did this guy fail?”
Devin Basinger: Right?
Ken Kanara: “What’s going on here?”
Devin Basinger: Some of those questions are natural. What are people going to think when I say I started a company but I didn’t work on it for ten years, or it didn’t turn into a unicorn. What are people going to think about that? I got advice from other people. I got advice from other founders that left businesses they started, and said, “How did you message it? How did you find what was next? Did you start looking before you told people you were leaving? Did you leave and then take time off to find the right thing?” And I got some really good advice. The advice that I got was first, it’s impossible, basically, to be an effective founder while you’re job searching. I very quickly decided I’m not going to do any job searching until I formally tell my employees that I’m not here anymore. Then, when I entered that time-off period, it really was like a period where I was relaxed—I did some self-discovery. I engaged in a lot of these conversations to figure out what I did want to do next. I was certainly open to a lot of different things but within two or three weeks I had a pretty good idea of the things that were important. The things that were important to me were that I really had appetite still for very early stage. I wanted to know that the company had visibility or aggressive plans to fundraise and enter hypergrowth. I wanted to find founders that I believed in and I wanted to find founders that were willing to bet on me as an early leader in their company. I found that great combination at H1. Then it worked, and it played out and there were other companies that I probably could have worked with that would have been entirely differently impacted by the pandemic, so there is a luck element here, but I do feel good about the criteria that I landed on.
Ken Kanara: That’s great. I appreciate you sharing that. It’s also that you were intrigued enough to ask for their advice in terms of framing it and just being honest about the situation as well. I think that can go a long way. You’ve mentioned Deep Bench a few times and it’s wat initially caught my eye about reaching out to you, Devin, because I thought it was such a cool kind of business to start after guidance consulting. Could you just tell our listeners what the concept was and how you came up with the idea with your cofounders?
Devin Basinger: Deep Bench is an expert network company, and we basically built a platform where, on the one hand you recruit industry experts who are in high demand from consultants or investors—a lot of private equity groups and also designers. You know, everybody wants to talk to experts and when they want to talk to them, they usually need them very fast. They’re usually informing business critical decisions and there’s generally high willingness to pay for finding the right expert very quickly. That’s the business that Deep Bench is in. The idea wasn’t mine…the idea was one of my cofounders’, his name was Ishi. Ishi was our CEO and I met him through MIT Sloan. He was playing around with the Deep Bench idea but basically needed help executing. The idea was in existence—there are other, bigger companies that do this. Our bet was that we could innovate on it and do it in a way that is either differentiated or lower cost. That needed a lot of execution to be able to experiment and see what we can grow there. I can be a strong operator and the person who basically gets shit done. That’s the role I played as an early founder, where Ishi brought the idea, I helped Ishi execute really early on. We started generating revenue pretty quickly, largely, initially through Ishi and my own efforts. Then we leveraged that initial traction to recruit other people and pitch them on the potential for making this much money without any technology. Imagine what we can do when you help bill spilled technology (laughs). Playing around with an idea is one thing, when you’re thinking of being an entrepreneur, for us, the turning point was really the point where we committed to doing it instead of taking more traditional jobs after business school. In business school there’s a lot of opportunities in front of you. There’s a lot of paths that you could take that safely make you a good amount of money but for us, where we started to really take off was we said, “I know there’s other opportunities. I don’t care about those other opportunities—I’m going to commit to this and see what we can turn this into.” It was in many ways a personal commitment that Ishi and I made together to see where it could go. We ended up working on it together for a little over three years together and I’m still close with Ishi and my other cofounders. There’s just like a very formative experience starting a company that way.
Ken Kanara: How did you attract your first client? You guys built a two sided note or two sided platform and that it sounds great once it’s built, but it’s really hard to actually get off the ground because you’re trying to manage the demand as well as the supply and there’s tons of nuances that go into each of those. How did you get your first client? What did that look like?
Devin Basinger: The first customer…Ishi was our first salesman, but the first customer we got through Sloan, actually. Somebody came and gave a presentation. They were the type of client that would be interested and doing you know these types of calls. It was a boutique consulting company or private equity shop and he said, “hey you know we’re starting this business if you just throw us a bone and the next opportunity that comes up give us a chance. If we fail to execute, don’t pay us. If we execute, pay us. They said, “Sure people give you a chance and so you know a couple weeks later they said “Hey we’re doing a research project…” I think it was actually in healthcare, but they said, “we need to talk to healthcare experts.” We’re going to do a lot of talking health care experts and in our MIT Sloan class of MBA students, you know a lot of people come from experienced careers. People would work for three to five years and then go to a school like Sloan and one of our classmates had the right experience, so we put our classmate in front of the client said what about this expert and they said, “They look perfect, let’s talk to them. We said, “cool.” That was our first revenue.
Ken Kanara: Thanks. Thanks for sharing that. So, that’s called client one. What about in terms of scaling the business, right? Because there’s a lot of different ways you can get referrals from existing clients you could grow within an account, you can do a lot of SEO and marketing. How did you guys think about sales and marketing?
Devin Basinger: A lot of it was direct outreach at the beginning. Really, we found more and more people who are willing… we kept up our “hey try us and if we fail you won’t pay us and if we succeed you’ll pay us.” We kept that up I think even until now…I think they still do that to this day in a lot of ways. Once you’re…
Ken Kanara: Compelling value…
Devin Basinger: In that way it wasn’t too hard to get a foot in the door because some of the competitors did have up front contract requirements that just operationally they require because of how they set up their legacy business, right? For us, we were just ready to hustle and earn that business. We had faith in the process that we’d built. It wasn’t terribly difficult to have people try us. Then that funnel of having people try you taught us who the best clients were. Some clients started coming back, were really easy to work with and really loved our product. Some kept spending more and more money and we said, “Hey, these people love something about us,” and then there were other types of customers that would try us and do not come back, and we say, “Hey why didn’t you come back?” They said, “Well, I have this issue…” and they were very selective about the expert they wanted…
Ken Kanara: They were tourists. We call them tourists (laughs).
Devin Basinger: Yes, they were trying it out. Maybe they were trying to get a short term need, but they didn’t have recurring needs, something like that. Then, overtime through so much customer interaction we honed in on the persona of customers that were the best customers for us to have. Then we adjusted and started pivoting all of our biz dev and outreach to the best customer personas and so we just kind of narrowed in on who worked best with us with what we had.
Ken Kanara: That’s great. I even remember, it wasn’t too long ago in consulting when it was GLG that was the big player. Now, you’ve got a lot of really kind of like formidable options, like Deep Bench, out there.
Devin Basinger: I’ll say, it was fun. We knew that they were the big incumbents and there are a few names everybody knows, and it’s an unsexy industry in many ways. We were kind of a cool, up-and-coming, MIT-take on industry. We got some good press and it was fun to hear from someone, “I’m an employee at another company, you were the topic of our leadership meeting today.” That feels good as an entrepreneur to feel like people are watching what you’re doing and paying attention to what you’re doing. Maybe, in some cases, worried about what we’re doing. I think that type of energy just builds energy. It makes me excited to keep momentum up and try to keep making change happen. That was really fun. I respect the competitors in the industry, we got to know quite a few of them, but it’s a really fun thing to be a part of.
Ken Kanara: I guess that brings me to the next topic, which is you successfully transitioned from consulting to being an entrepreneur. Obviously, there was business school in between, but it’s surprisingly the exception, not the rule, let’s put it that way. Talk to me a little bit about how you made that transition. What was difficult…some of the things you probably didn’t see coming, all that stuff.
Devin Basinger: I’ll say that consulting was good for me, it wasn’t excellent for me. When I was in college, I actually tried to start a company. It didn’t really workout. I won some pitch competitions and that was really exciting but it was not a viable business at that point in time, based on the technology available. I was really excited by trying to start a company experience. Then, the school had this culture like, well…the culture in the classes I was taking was that the smartest people go into consulting. If you can go into consulting, why would you not go into consulting. I picked up on some of those cultural beliefs. When I got an offer to go to Accenture, in my head, I thought, I’d be the dumbest person alive if I didn’t go into consulting if I had this opportunity I was really excited that they were moving out to Boston. I was excited to go to Boston. I was excited to try consulting, but admittedly, it was kind of more like an external pressure. I didn’t have any reason to believe that consulting was right for me, other than I thought it was something that smart people did that provided good career paths, but I didn’t really know what that meant. I ended up at Accenture doing consulting in Boston and early on, I don’t think it was a fit. My first year as an analyst. I think there were more people telling me I should leave the company. Not in a bad performance way, but I would talk to them and say, “Hey, here’s the type of work I’m doing, I’m trying to do this type of work, this is what gets me excited… I’m trying to find work that gets me excited. I remember I had only been there like three of four months and I was trying to make our case for the business to do some like entrepreneurial initiative, like, “Let’s mentor entrepreneurs or let’s support entrepreneurs.” Somebody I was talking to and they’d been there a few years more than me. At that point I had only been there a few months and I said, “Well, I’m going to try to do this. It will probably take me five or six months to do this.” And they were like, “Yeah, if you’re still here in five or six months. I thought, “Wait. What do you mean? I’m doing good at my job… you know there’s no risk of me… this is not an issue.” Then they were like, “no, no. I just mean if you want to be here in five or six months. It sounds like you don’t want to be here, so it seems you want to be doing something else.” And I thought, “Oh, that person doesn’t know anything. I’m going to prove that I’m good at consulting.” I stayed and I ended up staying for three and a half years, partially because I did find very compelling work within consulting during my second year and then I hung out for the promotion that I wanted and started finding business goals and things like that, but I don’t think it was a natural fit. If I spent the last six or seven years of my career still in consulting I think I would have been fine…I would have had a fine career. I don’t think I would have found my “superpower,” I don’t think I would have really excelled the same way that I have in an entrepreneurial environment. Even if I had a good career, I just don’t think I would have realized some of my unique capabilities that I found in a different startup environment.
Ken Kanara: I like how you described it as, “good, but not excellent,” because I’ve never been able to describe how I feel about my own experience there, as well and similarly, I was always looking for something different while I was there. You mentioned that you got on some projects that you did enjoy, tell me about those.
Devin Basinger: Oh yeah. One of my favorite projects…for a year I worked on nonprofit strategy projects, which was not the most lucrative project to be on within the firm, but it was really small teams working on really important, impactful things…short term projects—two-to-four months per project. I really felt positive about the work that I was doing. I usually volunteered with the nonprofits that I was supporting and had close relationships with the visionary CEO’s or founders of those companies. I saw some good examples, some examples of things I didn’t want to do—you learn from the good and the bad, but it was really meaningful work. Some of the pieces, looking back, that made it meaningful were really high impact on a small team. I got to know my colleagues really well. I got to know the end user very well— the people the nonprofit was supporting, and I got to be a trusted partner in their business. I think that was the same thing that ended up drawing me to entrepreneurship where I was building a company or I was helping founders build a company at H1. Certainly there’s some learning there but those were absolutely my favorite work that I did when I was in consulting.
Ken Kanara: What advice would you have for folks, and we kind of touched on this a little bit earlier in this episode, but you’re a consultant…you’re thinking about making a transition out of consulting. You’ve had some good experience so far but you know you want to leave…what advice would you have for folks that are considering a career change?
Devin Basinger: My approach has changed. When I was in consulting, my approach was, “I’m going to hedge my bets,” right? I was interested in exploring other options. I was waiting to get a promotion and I knew I would get promotion news in a few months, and I was like, “I’m going to hedge my bets. I’m going to apply to business schools—top business schools—see if I can generate any options there. If that option doesn’t work, I’ll see the results of my promotion, and if that doesn’t work out the way I want, I’ll switch companies and go to the job market. I had plan A, B and C. It was very logical, the way I approached it, but then at that point time…
Ken Kanara: It was like a consultant had made it
Devin Basinger: Yes, exactly. And that gave me comfort at that point in time. It did help me do what I wanted to do, so I’m grateful for that. The flip side is that when I was at business school and I decided to start a company or when I was leaving Deep Bench and ended up joining H1, my approach was totally different. It was basically just like, “I’m going to aggressively shut down options that I don’t think I’m interested in and create a scenario that forces me to pursue what I actually care about.” I would personally recommend that. I think that path has worked out very, very well for me, but there’s validity to both frameworks, in both paths. I’ll share an example, but there was a distinct moment when I was thinking of starting Deep Bench. I was starting to work with Ishi. I knew about this idea, I knew that it was an option that I could commit to building that company, but there was still traditional internships that were interested in me, I was interviewing at some really cool companies that would have had me in really cool technology and sexy tech companies and that was appealing to me. And I had kind of a moment of clarity and I just thought, “I know I’m going to regret it in five or ten years if I don’t take this chance to try and start a company. I know I will regret that.” I also know that logically I’m probably the most risk tolerance at this point my life then I am later in my life. It was a different assessment. The assessment was, if I can’t do this now, then when the hell will I ever do it? That kind of shook me into action, and I was like, “I’m going to do it now.” I took a leap. It felt risky at first—you kind of build that muscle as you engage in that, but that’s the risk. That’s what I would propose other people do: ask yourself what are you going to regret not doing? Be willing to take a risk now because, whatever your framework is, you’re much more likely to take a risk now than do it later. If you know that about yourself and there’s something you want to do, go for it now is my approach.
Ken Kanara: Yes, and psychologically it’s been proven that we tend to regret the things that we didn’t do, not the things that we did do, right? I’ve talked to tons of people that have made career blemishes where it’s like “oh shit, I joined this company for six months and I worked with assholes and I regret it, but then look what happened, right? Or that led to this and in the grand scheme of things, it is a little bit less risky than you think. To your point, earlier on your appetite for it is bigger, right? Okay…you don’t have kids, you don’t have dogs, it’s like go for it, right? I love that. Speaking of other advice that you have for us today, we are constantly building the Beyond Consulting library. I’m curious to get your recommendations for any book for our listeners.
Devin Basinger: That’s a really good question. I’m actually a poor recommender of content. My content consumption is largely reddit, which is hard to recommend to somebody. I will say that I’ve tried to start, so I read a few books every year. There’s a book that I really love and this is not business, so people looking for business books, this is not it.
Ken Kanara: Perfect, I actually prefer it. We get the most thoughtful answers and some of them are super good the less they have to do with this.
Devin Basinger: Alright, cool. So my favorite book, and maybe it’s important to note that I don’t rewatch movies and I don’t like to reread books, but this book I have reread and it’s called A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson. It’s about him trying to hike the Appalachian Trail, which goes through New England, through the Boston area. It’s just a hilarious narrative around the history of the Appalachian Trail, history of national parks in America, and then also just this really funny author trying to hike two or three thousand mile trail.
Ken Kanara: Funny encounters on the way?
Devin Basinger: Yeah, yeah.
Ken Kanara: Okay, cool. It’s going on the website.
Devin Basinger: He’s written other travel books, too, but A Walk in the Woods is my favorite one.
Ken Kanara: Alright, well, thanks for suggesting it. Speaking of websites, if we want to get in touch with you, Devin, or learn more about H1 or Deep Bench, what’s the best way to reach you?
Devin Basinger: One way is at h1.co and if you want to find me they can reach out to me on LinkedIn there’s only a couple Devin Basingers out there, so if you if you Google Devin Basinger I think you’ll be able to figure out who I am. Deep Bench is at deepbench.io. Either Deep Bench or H1…would love for you to check them out. At H1, we’re always hiring too, so if there’s people who are job searching looking for jobs, check us out. For Deep Bench if you want to be and expert…if you want to be an industry expert, this is a great place to go. We’d love for people to check both out.
Ken Kanara: Yes, check out H1 for those of our listeners that are interested in either healthcare, data, or joining kind of rapidly scaling startup. For those of our listeners that are joining for the first time, if you could please subscribe to Spotify or Apple on our podcast so you get notified of new episodes. If you’re looking for past episode it’s going to be www.beyondconsulting.info and then lastly, if you want to get in touch with me directly or anyone at ECA, it’s going to be eca-partners.com. Devin, thank you so much for joining us today, this has been a fun conversation. I really enjoyed it I think our listeners will too.
Devin Basinger: Yes, I really appreciate the invite. Thanks for all the listeners, thanks to you Ken. It’s been great.
Ken Kanara: Thanks so much. Everyone else, until next time.