For 20 years, I’ve been investing in startups. It’s no revelation to me — or anyone else — that startups are hard and require immense sacrifices from their founders. But, one year into being a startup co-founder, I have to admit it is even more all-consuming than I ever imagined.
The idea for R-Zero was born in the earliest days of the pandemic. 9/11 changed so many aspects of our society, I recalled at the time — we formed the department of homeland security, hired 14k TSA agents and to this day you can’t wear your shoes or carry a bottle of water through security — and this is likely to be much more impactful. My thoughts turned to: what will the pandemic change?
Within weeks, Eli Harris, Grant Morgan, and I had a specific focus for our startup: to leverage the proven efficacy of UV-C to disinfect both air and surfaces. The UV-C system we developed is deadly for pathogens, but friendly for our planet. No harmful chemicals, just the safe, proven power of UV-C light. Think: a workplace or school that gets disinfected every night, without employing harmful chemicals.
We incorporated R-Zero on April 7 of last year, shipped our first product in September, and booked $5 million in 90 days. That mind-bending speed enabled us to stand up a company, build a team, and launch a hospital-grade connected bio-safety device in nine months. Most high-growth enterprise companies don’t achieve $5 million in bookings even in their second year of operation; we did it in one quarter.
We’ve had two rounds of financing, a seed financing in May and then a $15 million Series A round in August. Today we employ 45 people.
Of course, part of the speed and urgency comes from launching a pandemic-related solution during a pandemic; given the state of the world around us, it’s nearly impossible to say, “I’ll get to this after the weekend.”
Part of being an entrepreneur means stepping out of your comfort zone, often multiple times every day. I’ve worn so many different hats over the past year, and have repeatedly been forced to make scores of decisions with limited experience and very little data. As a VC, I got used to being forced to make decisions with imperfect information, but it’s nothing like this.
A year ago, my initial thought was that I would invest in this new business, take a board seat and help manage the initial steps of setting up the business. I learned a lot about disinfection in the process, in particular, that it is an industry dominated by really old companies: P&G, 3M, Ecolab. These businesses are over 100 years old, and they have basically been selling the same products the entire time. The industry was ripe for renewal and innovation.
It didn’t take long for me to realize there was no time for “I’ll just help get this going.” My only choice was to be all-in and attempt to manage two full-time jobs — Tenaya Capital and R-Zero.
Of course, all in means 100% in. There is no such thing as work/life balance. I work, eat and sleep. My 5 a.m. workout is the only self-care I’ve been able to manage. Given the harshness of winter here in Utah, I’ve had weeks in which I never stepped outside.
All along the way, I’ve witnessed firsthand the sacrifice this requires of my wife and 12-year-old daughter.
My wife, Jo, has virtually no support from me, either as a husband or father. To keep our household functioning, she has to wear all of our family’s hats. I’m constantly in the dark about significant elements of the Boyer family’s doings. If I was a single parent, I couldn’t have embarked on this journey. If she wasn’t willing to sacrifice her own happiness for my desire to build, this wouldn’t be possible.
None of my co-founders are married with kids. Jo has been forced to carry the weight of the family and also experience the tremendous stress I carry, but in many respects, she doesn’t have a full opportunity to enjoy the small victories that have made building R-Zero the most impactful work of my career.
Our daughter doesn’t have much time with her father. I only have 18 years to share with her before she leaves, and I’ve sacrificed one for R-Zero. In contrast, just being a VC was demanding but there was still balance in our lives and as a family, we collectively enjoyed weekends and holidays.
Why am I telling you this?
It occurs to me that I never truly gave enough credit to all the people around entrepreneurs — family and friends and other supporters — without whom the startup life would not be sustainable. Intellectually, it seemed to be a given, easy-to-understand fact. But the reality is much more intense than any written account can convey.
I am grateful to have stumbled upon a significant way to give back to society, to make a lasting positive impact on the health of people in workplaces, schools, and prisons across the land. But it is all possible only because other people are making daily sacrifices that are hard to see and even harder to adequately acknowledge. I am truly grateful.