Who I am: Cain
As a firm, the team at KdT has decided to publish long-form Bio’s to help the folks we work with learn more about who we are as people. We think that the openness and vulnerability that comes from sharing our stories will help enable our dialogues with all our partners, most importantly, current and future KdT founders. Here goes nothing…
Although born in the ’80s in New York City, I consider myself a southerner. Not only are both my mother and father from Tennessee, I moved back home to the Volunteer State when only 5 years old. I also think I was the only New Yorker who grew up saying “yes ma’am” and “y’all.”
Growing up in Nashville, it was immediately apparent that two things really got my gears turning: science and competition. Sports satiated my competitive thirst, while labs, science olympiads, and books began to reveal to me how the world worked at a molecular level. I couldn’t get enough, so much so that I spent the summer between my junior and senior year of high school at Brown University taking Organic Chemistry.
That summer at Brown had me hooked, and I eventually matriculated there following my senior year of high school. As a fairly conservative and closed-minded southern male, that first year was an eye-opening experience. I am forever grateful for the folks that helped me open my eyes to inclusion, tolerance, and the unique human experience. My years in college were filled with as many economic and science classes that I could get my hands on thanks to the “open curriculum” while still getting my competitive fix as a Rugby player (fullback).
Starting after my sophomore year, most non-beer drinking time was spent in the lab, and I was lucky enough to spend a summer with Dr. Fred Kaplan at the University of Pennsylvania who was studying a rare and debilitating condition known as Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP). My lab time at Brown was spent under the guidance of Dr. Kristi Wharton studying the same pathways implicated in FOP in Drosophila, better known as fruit flies. I said goodbye to Providence, RI in 2007 with a degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and headed down to the Big Easy.
I had an amazing first three years of medical school at Tulane University, in a city that was fresh with scars following the “big storm”, Hurricane Katrina. My class was the first class to be back in New Orleans, which was a special time to learn medicine, as all hands were needed to rebuild homes and people.
Although my days and nights were filled with anatomy, physiology, and the other requisites of medical training, something was missing. It took me a while, but I finally figured out that I missed the discoveries of the lab, the creativity of learning something that wasn’t yet in a book or paper, or better put by one of my favorite books Arrowsmith:
He was homesick for the laboratory, for the thrill of uncharted discoveries, the quest below the surface and beyond the moment, the search for fundamental laws which the scientist (however blasphemously and colloquially he may describe it) exalts above temporary healing as the religious exalts the nature and terrible glory of God above pleasant daily virtues. With this sadness there was envy that he should be left out of things, that others should go ahead of him, ever surer in technique, more widely aware of the phenomena of biological chemistry, more deeply daring to explain laws at which the pioneers had but fumbled and hinted.
With that realization, I took a year off and went to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) through a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) fellowship. The fellows actually lived on the NIH campus in a former “cloister” (thus the name the Cloister program) which was an absolute trip. My commute was a 5-minute walk next door to Building 37, better known as the National Cancer Institute (NCI), to the lab of human carcinogenesis run by Dr. Curtis Harris. The year was spent studying non-coding RNAs, trying to elucidate what this dark matter of the genome that doesn’t code for proteins really does.
Importantly, it was during this year that I made my first personal investment in a startup, Firefly Bioworks, an MIT startup being spun up with the involvement of one of my close friends from undergrad. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that they made particles that allowed me to further multiplex the bench research I was doing (cheaply), and most importantly, the particles worked. I said goodbye to almost all the liquid money in my bank account and decided to do my best to try to help this startup succeed. Fast forward 4.5 years and Firefly was sold to AbCam for a good sum of money while returning investors several times their initial check. Needless to say, I was hooked helping meaningful technologies be translated into the world.
After finishing medical school, I headed out west to Stanford to train in Anatomic Pathology. Diagnostics always resonated with me: 1) because I like having the answer and 2) I felt like a saw an ever-increasing role of technology in the diagnostic process. While training, I was lucky enough to be able to research a rare jaw tumor, Ameloblastoma, where we discovered the causative genetic mutation . Turned out, there was already a drug developed to target this mutation, and our discovery turned into a clinical trial with several patients having complete responses to the drug. This discovery remains the most meaningful achievement of my life, and to this day, I continue to help Ameloblastoma patients navigate their journey with the disease.
I finished my training in 2015 as Chief Resident and joined Stanford’s Department of Pathology as faculty for a year to continue our ameloblastoma work.
Countless hours at the microscope and in the lab during residency were balanced by spending any time I could on the fabled Sand Hill Road, forging deep relationships with some of my closest friends and colleagues today. By having unique knowledge of the inner workings of the hospital and a broad scientific and research base, I was able to start to inform the opinions of several investment firms who were starting to become very interested in the intersection of science and technology. Lucky for me, several of these folks took me under their wing, and shared not only their knowledge but also deal flow, allowing me to become a true seed investor. I remember meeting with Josh Hoffman, the CEO of Zymergen, in the Stanford Hospital Cafeteria because I was on call at the time. I wrote him a check then and there. Fast forward to today, and Zymergen is worth over $1B.
Investing in early stage companies is very different from operating within one. Great board members have patterns and paradigms etched in their head from not only prior investments and study, but also from logging operational hours. With that in mind, I joined an early-stage endeavor, Grand Rounds, an amazing healthcare analytics and services company, to both further the impact we could have on healthcare while also seeing the tremendous growth and scale that the company was starting to experience. It is rare to truly be able to live through hyper-growth. Venrock/Greylock/Blackrock-backed Grand Rounds provided a front row seat.
During my time there, I was lucky enough to build a pathology program that today supports over 4 million customer lives in addition to helping lead the clinical analytics and data science team. My time and amazing colleagues at Grand Rounds taught me endless amounts about service, product, sales, growth, and leadership.
Finally, in the spring of 2017, I could fight my own entrepreneurial itch no longer. My dream had always been to start my own Venture firm, and finally, my remarkable wife Ashley put her hands on my shoulder and gently said: “You will never know until you try.” That month, I quit my role at Grand Rounds and started KdT Ventures from the mountains of North Carolina. Fast forward through hundreds of thousands of flight miles, tens of thousands of meetings and phone calls, and an amazing portfolio of frontier science companies across our Funds, and KdT is poised to continue to set the standard for early-stage science investing while helping entrepreneurs re-architect the world at a molecular level.