Sabeen Shaikh has nearly two decades of experience within corporate and innovation roles in the healthcare industry, offering executive leadership for multinationals, start-ups, investment firms and governments seeking to commercialize new technologies and develop effective go-to-market strategies. Sabeen, an Ohio native, recently relocated from Australia to San Francisco and chose CANOPY as the base of operations for her diverse roles: board director, speaker, investor, and managing director of Crescent Strategy Consulting, a global boutique consulting firm, which specializes in corporate and commercial strategy guidance for companies, as well as Executive-in-Residence roles with growth stage health technology start-ups.
Why did you choose to move to San Francisco?
I started my consultancy in Australia to become more involved with innovation and to help nurture and provide guidance for commercial opportunities that were otherwise being missed. That consulting role expanded from mentoring startups to working with venture capital and private equity funds, multinationals and governments. As things went global, I knew I wasn’t going to stay in Australia and as I looked at next steps, I chose to return to the U.S. and settle here in San Francisco, a hub of innovation where I’d have enough visibility to take what I’m doing to the next level. I decided to make the move in March 2020, but relocating took longer than expected because of COVID and pandemic-related border shutdowns. I’m transitioning to do more business out of the U.S., but I’ll always have overseas clients in various governments and through various partnerships.
Given that you wear so many different hats, how do you benchmark success across the board?
I measure success by benchmarking whether I am driving value for each of my customers and being a catalyst for growth or change. I am passionate about healthcare and access to new technologies, regardless of the market, so for me it’s important to make sure that every type of customer in my ecosystem is able to move forward because of my services. One of the topics I advocate on is frugal innovations and reverse innovations, and how developments in Western markets might not be relevant in developing markets or emerging markets, where revenues are much lower and infrastructure is significantly varied. It seems so obvious, but that’s not how multinational device companies have approached things, or how healthcare, generally, has been approached in the past. I set aside time every month for pro bono work to help broker deals with multinationals seeking to enter developing markets, while making sure the right healthcare innovations–those offering sustainability and scalability–are being brought to the table.
Can you share any details around recent wins?
Only at a high level, because so much of my work is privileged. I’m currently working with a company and we are about to finish up its acquisition to a multinational. I’ve also helped to develop a number of ecosystems globally within innovation–some of which I’ve been working on for years. Recently, I’ve worked on the deployment of significant capital funding within the healthcare ecosystem of Australia where we’re continuing to set up more structures for innovation support, funding, government support and multinational support. Five years ago, many of these programs did not exist, and I am humbled about my involvement in helping to create that, and seeing more startup success stories coming out of this country.
What advice would you give to someone who is keen to follow in your footsteps working at the intersection of many different organizations and companies?
My advice would be to really know your value proposition. As a person, if you’re looking to do something with others in your own business or start working with different groups, you should really know what you can deliver or how you can add value to drive the most opportunity across different stakeholders. Also, to remember to slow down and enjoy the journey more, and be flexible with your goals. Everything in life has its pros and cons. It is up to you to know what works for you and/or how to accept each situation and make it work best for you.
Something you know now that you wished you’d know sooner?
The greatest lesson in my career has been how to effectively work across different cultures and different personalities, and realizing that not everyone does things the same way. I was born in Michigan, and the multinational I was working for in Ohio moved me to Australia in 2013 to oversee a business unit and lead a national team there–a change that forced me to completely change my tactical approach to conducting business. On my first day, my team members said, “All you Americans are cowboys, and think you can come here and change things, but that’s not how it works here.” Adapting my working style was exciting, and while that role was supposed to be a two to three year expat assignment before I returned to take a more senior role in the U.S., I fell in love with Australia and with innovation, and decided to step away from that company. My global career experience has also given me an appreciation and greater understanding of people on a personal level.
Is living and working in San Francisco, post-COVID, what you envisioned?
I didn’t know San Francisco before so I don’t have any point of comparison, but I’m really enjoying being here. I think I’ve arrived at the right time and I’ve had a very active social life–there’s no shortage of activities or people to meet, places to go out to eat or things to get involved in, so that’s been fun. I still work globally, and working across the different time zones has probably been a bigger challenge than settling into San Francisco. One of my external observations as a newcomer to the city is how integrated everything is here through networks versus alumni businesses. Building networks is so integral to the work that you’re doing, the people that you’re meeting and any opportunities that you have.
Why did you choose to base yourself at CANOPY?
A floating desk at CANOPY is the perfect solution for all of my professional workspace needs. When I first looked up coworking options in San Francisco, I saw photographs and stories in magazines, including Dwell, which I love for the way it approaches interior spaces. When I arrived to take a look in person–it was so early in the morning that the only person here was another member, who gave me an impromptu tour before the staff came in–I loved the brightness of the space, the greenery and mix of design. The Membership structures are also extremely flexible. I have the option to use a thoughtfully designed conference room or phone booth, and move between the couches, and communal tables, or upgrade from a hot desk situation to a dedicated office. Socially, it’s been wonderful. While I bring in other consultants for projects, essentially I work independently, and everyone here is really warm and welcoming. From a productivity standpoint, I feel really charged.
Have you worked from a co-working space previously? Pros and cons?
I was partly remote in Australia so I’m quite used to having a hybrid working situation. Before COVID I worked from home or cafés two days a week, and then moving to the corporate offices of my partners or a WeWorkⓇ the rest of the time. Coming to SF, I wanted more consistency in terms of the place I’m going, the people that I’m seeing, and a more comfortable setup. Another thing I really like about CANOPY is that everyone here is more mature, professionally, than at a WeWorkⓇ or somewhere like that, so I feel I fit in better, and that so many different industries are represented–I can speak with a media attorney or someone in finance, which further enriches my interactions and perspectives. I think working fully remote or fully in-person has its own challenges but both can be done successfully as long as you have the right tools in place. For anyone considering a hybrid or co-working model, I would point to how it can offer an increase in productivity: you have the opportunity to bring team members together for community work, brainstorming ideas in hallway conversations together, but then also have that separation to be able to do deep work.
Do you have any essential office amenities, things you’ve grown to love?
I really like the amenities that CANOPY offers–Aesop cosmetics, for example–but I think the one particular amenity that I can’t live without is Brian, the barista. He’s very social and will chat to anybody at any time, and gives me access to caffeine, my workday lifeblood! Another boon is the ability to book out the right rooms, pull the curtains and know that everything is soundproofed. I’m involved in many confidential projects involving different governments, and it’s important that nobody can see who I’m talking to or hear what’s being said. It’s something I have to be really careful about, and I feel very comfortable having those conversations at CANOPY.
A skill everyone should master?
Sales. It teaches the art of deep active listening and understanding another person’s needs.
A fact everyone should know?
Domestic cats have a higher kill rate than African lions – domestic cats kill more than 30% of their targets while the lions have only a 17-19% success rate.
Do you have a favorite podcast, book, or a band you’d recommend to anyone?
I listen to Lewis Howes’ podcast School of Greatness weekly and I love the Irish singer-songwriter James Vincent McMorrow. The best book I’ve ever read is “How to Think Like a Roman Emperor” by Donald Robertson.
One destination you never get tired of?
Thailand. My favorite spot is probably Krabi, but there’s so much to see in Thailand. You can always go back and have an amazing experience no matter where you go.
What are your favorite things to do during your time off in San Francisco?
I think my favorite thing is going on walks for hours and going from neighborhood to neighborhood because they’re so different. The Mission is always buzzing–on a Saturday or Sunday, you can walk down the street and discover a Mexican restaurant next to a perfumery and a store with jackets that are too cool for me to pull off! I haven’t been to Japan myself, but Japantown offers the same sensory experiences I envision to be typical of Japan: everyone is speaking Japanese, there’s a guy playing his flute on a street corner, and the food is some of the best Japanese I’ve had. I learned to sail in the past few years and I’m keen to take more courses and get involved with the sailing community here in San Francisco. I also happen to have an opening in my friendship group for someone that has a boat!