Byron Myers (Flex Weekend '10) is the founder and vice president of marketing at Inogen, the first Rady company to go public. Listen in as we ask him a few key questions.
- What is Inogen? Inogen is a medical technology company that develops, manufactures and markets innovative portable oxygen concentrators used to deliver supplemental long-term oxygen therapy to patients suffering from chronic respiratory conditions. My co-founders and I created the company to solve a clear problem that we identified in the market – that the available oxygen therapy options severely restricted patient independence and mobility. We created Inogen to improve the life of Mae, a beloved grandmother, and the millions of individuals like her using supplemental oxygen therapy. In my day to day role with the company I lead our marketing department as well as our direct-to-consumer sales channel. We believe our direct-to-consumer strategy has been critical to driving patient adoption of our technology. Since adopting our direct-to-consumer strategy in 2009, we have directly sold or rented our Inogen One systems to more than 40,000 patients, growing our revenue from $10.7 million in 2009 to $75.4 million in 2013.
- Can you fill us in on the recent IPO for your company? Inogen completed a successful IPO in February 2014 raising $52.5 million for the company, which is net of underwriter fees. This capital will enable us to continue to realize our commitment of delivering innovative and efficacious respiratory products by executing on our strategy and achieving the many milestones that we have ahead of us. Through my education at Rady I was able to interact with entrepreneurs and executives who had taken companies public, so I had a good idea of the process, but seeing it first hand was quite an experience. I was amazed at the amount of time and number of people, both internally and externally, that it took to complete the offering. The process concluded with a trip to Nasdaq’s office in Times Square as we were able to watch the first trade and the start of our new journey as a public company. Shortly thereafter our CEO and CFO hosted our first public earnings call and 10-k filing, which can be found on our website at investor.inogen.com.
- What is the best things about being an entrepreneur? The worst? One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is the satisfaction of seeing the direct outcome of your work. It is highly rewarding and continually motivating to know that every day we are improving the lives of oxygen therapy patients. One of our first goals when creating the company was to improve the life of Mae. After we gave her the first Inogen One that we manufactured, we turned our attention to the millions of others on oxygen therapy to restore their freedom and independence in the same fashion. I am extremely proud of what we have been able to create as a company in terms of the impact we’ve been able to have on patient lives, our industry, the careers of our employees, and our community. The worst part of being an entrepreneur is personally dealing with the uncertainty and unknown when first starting out. The perceptions surrounding starting a company are generally correct – namely, the highs are high and the lows are low. We’ve been fortunate to have some success over time, but we have had a number of challenges and obstacles to overcome along the way which require much more effort than your regular corporate job. As with any other challenges in life, the way we have responded and overcome them has helped to define our culture as a company and provided tremendous learning as individuals.
- Have you always been entrepreneurial? Not really. I don’t buy into the proverbial lemonade stand as a required prerequisite of a successful entrepreneur. I believe anyone can make themselves into a successful entrepreneur if they are willing to fail. Everyone wants to be their own boss, work on something they are passionate about, and solve an unmet problem, but not everyone is willing to fail, due to both perceived social stigmas and financial realities.
- What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs who are just starting out or considering their options? There is no better time to start a company than right out of school. Many students or recent grads don’t have mortgages, families, and other commitments that limit many others later in life from venturing into the unknown. On the other hand, I completely understand that students and recent grads have a significant amount of pressures of their own. I believe the largest issue limiting recent grads from becoming entrepreneurs is the fear of failure. Immediately after school, families/friends/student loan companies, expect you to get a good job at a good company. I felt this pressure first hand as we were starting Inogen – after graduation my friends launched their careers and received great paying jobs while I got a job waiting tables so that I could focus on the startup. The societal pressure to avoid failure results in mediocrity. If more students could abandon their fear of failure early in life, we would have an explosion of new companies, technologies, and jobs.
- What keeps you motivated? We’ve transitioned over time from a startup to a growth oriented public company. What has kept me motivated from the beginning and still to this day is the impact that we are having on people’s lives. It is extremely rewarding and motivating to know that the work that we do directly translates into an improved quality of life for people who use supplemental oxygen therapy. We started the company out of a personal need to improve the life of a grandmother, so we have been focused on improving patient lives from the beginning. Today, we believe we are the only manufacturer of portable oxygen concentrators that employs a direct-to-consumer strategy in the United States, meaning we market our products to patients, process their physician paperwork, provide clinical support as needed and bill Medicare or insurance on their behalf.
- How did your experience at Rady help prepare you for your current role? Rady really helped me connect the dots between a theory based undergraduate education and the real world education I received from starting a company. For example, as an Economics/Mathematics major at UC Santa Barbara I learned about economic concepts and mathematical theory, but I didn’t learn how these concepts applied to the real world. Since my course work was so theory based I sought out the Technology Management Program at UCSB and met the 2 other individuals who I would later start Inogen with. However, at Rady, I learned how to mathematically optimize a price structure to maximize profit using only basic concepts from my undergraduate education such as demand curves and derivatives. I still use this practice today at Inogen to optimize our prices. This is one example of many where Rady effectively bridged the gap between abstract principals and true business needs with a solution oriented approach.
- What’s next for you? Going public was really just another milestone for us towards our mission of providing freedom and independence to oxygen therapy users. I plan to stay at Inogen for the foreseeable future to continue what we’ve started. We have come a long way, but as we’ve grown we’ve continued to expand our goals and expectations. I enjoy speaking to students at UCSB about entrepreneurship and encouraging them to take a bold leap away from the pack and to start a company of their own. Even though I’m up in Santa Barbara, I still keep in touch with my Rady classmates and have enjoyed watching their careers and accomplishments grow.
Kristine Page is a digital strategist at the Rady School of Management. When she’s not tweeting, sharing photos on Instagram or writing Rady stories, you can find her sipping iced coffee and expounding on the merits of the latest Facebook changes to anyone who will listen.