The importance of advisors and senior team members
Fund your way. Episode 6. Jose Maria Amich from Zeta Surgical
The sixth episode of “Fund your way” dissects the story of Jose Maria Amich (CEO and Co-Founder of Zeta Surgical) and his experience of raising $5.2m as a Seed Round. Zeta Surgical develops surgical navigation and robotics tools to make minimally invasive surgeries easier, faster and more accessible.
Zeta Surgical is the first real venture-backed startup for Jose after his graduation from Harvard. While studying in college, he founded a social venture in cooperation with Mass General Hospital, aimed at providing inexpensive, reliable and universal glasses for children using so-called pinhole lenses. Later Jose spent half a year in Kenya conducting a pilot study.
“It was a great entrepreneurial experience, as I could see the whole process from the idea, image up to the manufacturing of the product and the real impact on customers,” concludes Jose.
Jose has always been drawn to medicine as his mother is a surgeon. After giving up on an early-childhood wish of becoming an 🏎 F1 driver, becoming a doctor was an intended career path that Jose envisioned. De facto, the differences in education systems between the US and EU played a crucial part. In the USA you can go to a medical school only after graduating from college, which Jose intended to do. However, while studying at Harvard, Jose found 💡 something more compelling to him than practicing medicine.
Jose admits that he made a lot of mistakes throughout the years and keeps making them regularly. And if he could choose, he wished he were able to see the nearest future to avoid making new ones. Watching his favorite TV series, such as Office, Breaking Bad and Maniac undoubtedly can not be considered a mistake.
Zeta Surgical developed from the initial interest of Jose in surgery and healthcare that intersected with robotics and mixed reality fields during his study. Even before graduating, Jose and his co-founder Raahil were working on computer vision algorithms that became the ground for today’s product. Their prime research and idea led to the cooperation with a renowned professor of Neurosurgery at Harvard, William Gormley, who has been focusing on image guidance for surgeries for decades.
Jose identified an opportunity that can be captured when he analyzed the present state of affairs. He recognized that the majority of medical procedures are performed without any real-time computer guidance which leads to a relatively weakened precision of such procedures. Therefore, the solution that the team at Zeta Surgical is developing, helps to widen the list of surgeries and procedures that can be performed by doctors with much-needed computer support.
The current seed investment round is the first official one for the company. In practice, it consists of two sub-rounds — the smaller one happened as the result of Y Combinator Demo Day and the second larger one was a follow-up. The fundraising for a hardware company, especially a healthtech one, is very different compared to a fintech, for example.
“The risk is linked to the technical aspect of the company’s product as it has to undergo a lot of verifications and approvals by government units.”
That is why Jose and the team primarily looked for investors with knowledge in those fields.
“We looked for investors who had previous experience with medical devices. This way we talked with people who understood what it takes to bring a new solution to this market. Moreover, they can share with us their wisdom throughout the whole lifetime of a product.”
Anyway, it was not an easy ride for Zeta Surgical as it took a lot of rejections and fruitless calls to finally secure the funding. There were three main areas that potential investors focused on their concerns, which Jose and the team had to address:
- Technology and Intellectual Property. Zeta Surgical had an advantage as the majority of the hardest backend part of the product was already in place.
- Market. As a way of confirming the market opportunity, apart from raw data Jose introduced investors to the real surgeons that validated the need for such product.
- Team. Jose, a first-time founder and recent college graduate, highlights that
“We created a support network of advisors and senior managers, who can help and guide us during the most important decisions and moments. And that is how we assured investors that we can do the job.”
Jose constantly adjusted and improved the pitch deck after speaking with potential investors and advisors. However, not all feedback was productive and in some cases, Jose had to restructure and reorganize the strategy based on further communications.
“Initial comment we received was to focus on one implementation of technology and go deep in it. However, soon we realized that investors do not want to invest into a product that works only in one small niche. So, we moved to present our company as a platform with a timed pipeline of solutions that shows our future growth plan.”
The great example of a similar approach that Jose mentioned is the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine case: Moderna states on their website that “if using mRNA as a medicine works for one disease, it should work for many diseases.”
Jose moved from heavy technological pitches that he had at the beginning to ones that include more information on the market and strategy.
“We used the following progression when we pitched — we started with the current state of the market and identified the problem, then we moved to the reasons behind the problem, and we finished with what we do to solve this problem.”
Speaking of further advice, Jose mentioned that he
“Wished he focused more time on firstly securing the lead investor because after that the round closes much faster. You get some introductions, some co-investors are joining in, they do due diligence together.”
For Zeta Surgical, Innospark Ventures became the right partner as a lead investor.
“They play an important role in the ecosystem, which is very important to us,” concludes Jose.
🗣 I wish Jose and the whole team at Zeta Surgical the very best in their journey. I’ve had several experiences in bringing hardware technologies to the market and know for sure that it is a long process that requires a lot of effortful work. By all means, nobody is insured against mistakes. However, the key skill that we all, especially founders, have to develop is the ability to learn from the mistakes and try not to repeat them over and over again.