John Douglas Steuart is a venture capitalist and entrepreneur based in Berkeley, California. The semi-retired businessman has been focusing on investing in companies that specialize in technology.
John holds a degree in economics and taxation. Moreover, he is also a Certified Public Accountant. Right after graduating in 1988, John co-founded Savvy Properties. John and his co-founder, Michael Kraszulyak, aim to provide a world-class housing facility in their area. The company started by offering affordable housing units for students. Savvy Properties now render other real estate services such as accounting, expense tracking, marketing and advertising, property maintenance, property inspections, rent collections, etc. From a very few employees, Savvy Properties now provides job opportunities to many people. At present, the company serves in Berkeley, North Oakland, Albany, Pinole, Emeryville, and East Bay.
Following the establishment of Savvy Properties, John Douglas Steuart ventured as an investor in Alafi Capital Company where he served as the Chief Finance Officer. For seven years, he led the company to profitable investments. He served as an interim portfolio company, implementing computer systems, financial controls, audits, and legal processes. He oversaw a collaborative venture between A/W Company and Washington University that resulted in technological breakthroughs.
When he left Alafi Company, he co-founded Cybergold which is an internet payment and loyalty marketing company. As the company’s COO and CFO, he managed mergers and acquisitions, financial reporting, investor relations, sales and marketing, and operations. Under his management, he raised $24 million of venture capital funds. The company expanded from three co-founders to a hundred and fifty employees. In addition, he oversaw the offshore development subsidiary in St. Petersburg, Russia where he saved $5 million per year.
According to an article published on April 17, 2000, MyPoints.com Inc. agreed to acquire Cybergold Inc. in a $157 million stock swap. John spearheaded the merging of these two internet loyalty companies as the CFO. He supervised finances, SEC compliance, and cost-cutting schemes to generate income and improve the operating margins.
In 2004, he co-founded Claremont Creek Ventures. He also became the managing director and led the firm’s most profitable investment in the healthcare division.
At present, John D. Steuart is still part of Savvy Properties. In addition, he is the executive chairman of County Sports Zone and SchoolDuels, which are online sports communities for high school students.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
If you’ll look at my profile, I mainly worked with technology and healthcare companies. Many people would ask how it was possible for us to build our own company without any connections or rich family relatives. So, we studied the process, made researches, and made it happen. Through experience, we definitely know how to make business in an easier and faster way. That’s what we put on the table. We invest in companies that we see can be successful in business— companies that envision technology and healthcare to a higher level.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Well, nothing exciting. I’m getting old so I see to it that I don’t compromise my health. In the morning, I do a little exercise in my neighborhood, have breakfast, and start working. These days, I manage the business at home. I have a team, so I don’t do everything on my own. I just see to it that everything is in place.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Well, research is very important before anything else. Aside from the knowledge and passion that you already have, you must always do extensive researches to support your ideas— and that’s basically how I usually do it. Working with my team has always been one of the best things as well, and with that I always make sure that everyone is involved and everyone throws their idea to better execute the plan the way how we want it to be. After that, I partner with great people to bring the idea to life, and start putting its purpose together. Although, having a business partner is not always the first option if I, with my team, can already bring the idea to life.
What’s one trend that excites you?
There are two things that excite me. First, I get excited when my team comes up with a new technological solution to improve healthcare services that really works. Second, when I get to trade stocks at Natera. As an investor, that excites me even more.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I keep myself updated. I always read books to enhance my leadership skills, my knowledge and expertise in the businesses, and I always try to have a reality check— assess and look into what’s happening around the world, specifically in the fields of my businesses and affiliations. Only by keeping your mind, body, and heart aligned to your goals could you be more productive every single day. Also of course I try to get enough rest when I can.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Believe in yourself and don’t give up easily. If there’s a problem, there’s definitely a solution. Take as much time you need to learn from your mentors. Don’t be scared to go for something you think is worth the risk, because you never know what impact your decisions will make in the future.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
That’s a tough question. I guess since we’re now living in the internet era, everything’s already available online and everyone could just google everything, and I’m not a person who says something that’s not based on thorough studies and researches because I love research myself. I just couldn’t think of any, but one thing for sure is that now, more than ever, because of the pandemic, our healthcare systems need more and continuous support.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
If you are working on a team, try to know your colleagues because nothing is more important than being on the proper investment team. Collaborate with each member of the team because everyone has different skills to offer so make use of those skills. The bottom line is to learn to work with people because you can’t do everything on your own. Plus, you’ve got strategies to try and improve on. Involve everyone.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
There’s no single strategy that stands out in business, but I think perseverance and passion are essential characteristics of all successful businesses. Of course, being smart and other traits help too. But to be different from other entrepreneurs, you have to be intuitive. Learn to weigh your options. Know when to push forward and when to stop. When facing adversities, think outside the box and when opportunities emerge, take advantage of them.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In 1991-1993, we lost money once at Alafi Capital. We had a project in St. Louis. We wanted to build a product called portal imager. It was a way of having a new view into where a linear accelerator for radiation therapy beam was going. If I am doing radiation therapy, I really want to hit the tumor. We built this plastic optic device that was pulled the magic was in the fiber optics hooked up with a camera. We sold a couple and thought it was salable. We decided to speed it up and build a sales force but what we didn’t realize was that those companies the organizations that bought our product were places like hospitals that do researches. They were looking for new toys to generate new research results and write a new paper and publish it. But other than these companies, nobody else in the world would want it. The company went down until I had to file for bankruptcy. Not only didn’t it work, but there were also a couple of hundred dollars of unpaid bills. There was no way to overcome that situation, but I learned a big lesson. Understand your potential market not just to sell prototypes but you have got to have a large class of customers.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Invest in healthcare. I tell you, that’s what the world needs today. But, make sure you have enough resources, enough knowledge, enough support, and you’re ready to face failures. That’s where and how everything begins.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
We all have something that we love spending our money on, may it be on foods, clothing, gadgets, or whatnot. Well for me, I’m not one of the “youngsters” anymore, so I always choose to spend my money on something that is actually beneficial for my health— that’s on vegetables and fruits, and some cereals. I have to be healthy to continue supporting my business ventures. Although I still give in to some guilty pleasures, I would of course speak about the healthy ones instead to inspire many more people especially the young ones to always look after your health. As cliché as it may be, but health is wealth indeed.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I would say RingCentral. The pandemic has made it very challenging for us to work the way we used to, given real-time communication is paramount in the business. With this software, we somehow manage to report almost everything quickly as it has cloud PBX and a multi-level IVR that makes all the daily communication easier for all of us.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I liked The Checklist Manifesto. It basically talks about how a minuscule step could easily be overlooked, but actually plays an important role in the process of creating a whole. Dr. Atul Gawande, the author, is a surgeon and a Harvard professor. Aligned to my ventures, I understand how he put that sometimes, we really have to check ourselves by checking on others. It may be true that high-profile people are already credible in their fields, but it’s okay to admit that we also make mistakes and overlook some things, that we will not be able to see unless it is pointed out by the people around us. A tiny step, a simple checklist, makes a big difference.
What is your favorite quote?
“We are all plagued by failures – by missed subtleties, overlooked knowledge, and outright errors.”
This quote reminds me that no matter how far I have already come, no matter how expert I may be called and considered in my field, humility must not take the best of me. This is true to everyone. We always have to reevaluate and reassess ourselves, and only then could we take another step forward.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.