With no leader and their debt coming due, the company struggled to survive. On June 22nd, 2009, unable to pay its liabilities and fund operations, Clear shut down and filed for bankruptcy.Ankith Harathi
No one thought it was a good idea. The founder quit and the company was bankrupt. But after one dinner meeting, Caryn Becker decided to go all in on this crumbling business. Just last month, she took the company public at $5.8B Here’s how that meeting went 🧶👇
1) Clear was started in 2003 as a response to the need for passenger identification after 9/11. TSA had just recently been formed and were struggling to catch-up with the demands of the modern day. Their strategy? Public and private partnerships. That’s where Clear came in.
3) These weren’t your typical VCs. Clear raised from General Electric, Lockheed Martin, and Lehman Brothers, which resulted in a highly leveraged balance sheet. $30M of debt. The economy was booming so Clear didn’t have any issue paying back the interest on its debt.
4) But then the recession came. Disaster struck millions of businesses – including many of Clear’s investors. As consumer and corporate travel vanished, Clear watched its business evaporate. Steve Brill lost faith and didn’t stick around for long. He quit in early 2008.
5) With no leader and their debt coming due, the company struggled to survive. On June 22nd, 2009, unable to pay its liabilities and fund operations, Clear shut down and filed for bankruptcy.
7) “That’s impressive by today’s standards, given that less than 10 percent of fund managers are women. But in 2002, it was almost unheard of” During the recession that crippled Clear, Caryn shut down her hedge fund – despite still managing more than $1B of investments.
8) With incredibly broad industry experience and a reputation for being “The Fixer” Caryn looked for her next project. There was something about Clear that attracted her.
9) “I didn’t want to die and have people say, ‘She picked good stocks.’ I wanted to build something that made the world a better place” But all the logical signals were telling her no.
11) During a casual dinner meeting with some friends, she told them she was thinking about Clear but was hesitant given everything happening in the world. Her friends immediately quipped “I love Clear!”
12) “The company went bankrupt, took your money, didn’t provide a service, didn’t answer the phone and tell you where your biometrics were” They still loved it. “That says that there’s an opportunity there, that people valued it after it’d gone out the ugliest way”
14) One of her first changes – aligning the cost structure to match their business model. Clear was in 18 airports at the time, but 80% of their members only came from six airports. Caryn carved Clear into a hyper-efficient machine over the next decade.
15) Things finally seemed to be paying off. Then COVID-19 happened. Caryn and Clear saw COVID unfold firsthand. As they monitored travel patterns, they saw the impending shutdowns coming before many countries and governments took action.
16) “One of the benefits of age is living through a few crises. And so, after living through 9/11 and living through the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, we think it’s management’s job to look around corners” Caryn started streamlining the business to only essential operations
17) And then, she did something even more brilliant. Caryn organized the development of HealthPass – a digital tracker for COVID test results, vaccine status, and health surveys – using the same biometric tech that powered Clear.