Friday, January 15, 2016

Epic Systems is the startup Dragon that eats Unicorns for breakfast

It occurred to me the other day that I have never seen Verona, WI-based Epic Systems mentioned on any of the lists of Unicorns (CruncbaseCB InsightsFortune). This is puzzling considering Epic has dominated the electronic medical record market for more than a decade, pulling in well over $1B in annual revenue and growing at breakneck speed creating a quarter of all new jobs in Dane County over the last decade.

Epic is particularly popular amongst the prestigious academic medical centers like Mayo ClinicVanderbilt University and Partners Healthcare, as well as with mega-systems like Kaiser Permanente and Providence Health. They may have lost the coveted DoD contract to archrival Cerner, but they won nearly every other high-profile contract up for bid.
Anybody who has visited Epic’s corporate headquarters recently can speak to the enormity of what Judy Faulkner and her right hand man Carl Dvorak have built just outside of Madison, WI. When roaming the campus it’s easy to forget you are in the middle of Midwestern farm country because the company has built a culture teeming with a youthful free-spirited ambition that feels more like Silicon Valley. The selected images below show just a small taste of the fantastical environment that is the Epic campus.

If the only prerequisite to joining the Unicorn club were a valuation of $1B+ Epic qualified back when the number of members could still be counted on two hands. But clearly that is not enough otherwise Epic would be counted. It’s hard for me to imagine they have simply been overlooked by the analysts.
I wonder if the unspoken requirement to join the Unicorn club is bending over to get screwed by the venture capitalists? After all, the term was originally coined by venture capitalist Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures, and the manipulative genius of the term is that somehow VC have been able to convince the new generation of “tech bros” in Silicon Valley that achieving Unicorn status is the new IPO.
Judy Faulkner has never taken a penny from investors. Instead she has built a product capable of supporting itself with revenue from day one, and personally spearheading all deals.
Is there another example of a software company growing to the scale Epic has achieved without taking any outside investment? I can’t think of one.
Most entrepreneurs and VC would tell you what Epic has achieved is impossible and the only way to achieve scale and sustain growth is to take venture capital and spend it aggressively.

No venture capital and no sales team!! Epic is truly such a unique company it would be demeaning to call it a Unicorn. I think it belongs in a category by itself — the first and only startup Dragon.

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