Recently I have had a chance to go and visit a few local startups in an organized event to get to know the team behind some local technology startups. These events are always a good chance to meet with new people, expand your scope of knowledge and experiences. Most events don’t typically involve too many Life Science companies that interest me at face value, but I go and try to keep an open mind. I’m always trying to learn in general and at the minimum, these types of events are usually a great opportunity to learn about technology from experts in their fields. This particular night, I went to a table of a company pitching a product that could best be described as a life-style play. I went over to their table and asked a very young looking lady about the company. I could tell that she was not rehearsed in the art of pitching so I decided to cut to the chase and ask some questions. The questions were routine but the answers were very nebulas. Some more senior looking men quickly surrounded me. One had a nice nametag that read “Chairman” on it. So I posed the same questions to him, and the answers were only slightly more satisfying in as much as phrases like “Proctor and Gamble guys love this” or “our legal team thinks”. Name-dropping at a startup level is really passé and sure sign you haven’t done much with your technology. Also, I’m no fan of making sentinel business decisions based off of legal opinion, especially when I’m asking repeatedly about regulatory matters. Eventually, the CEO came over and we began talking. I offered him some sage advice and said I wanted to help. He took this the wrong way in front of the rest of his team now huddled around me. Now, I’m not one to mince words and I may come off as aggressive, especially when I’m considering an investment, but it’s often because my threshold for bullshit has been reached. Anyhow, after I made a few suggestions as to how to best save time and resources, the CEO says “he needs to go talk to an investor as opposed to a potential investor”. I shock his hand and continued to discuss matters politely with the rest of the technical team members. When I left the event, I reflected a little about the entire 15-20 minute discussion with the many layers of this team. I had a few thoughts that I think are worth sharing to my readers who may be in the position of management leadership and find themself in a situation where they are pressed by investors. First, get your team in a room and go over at least the value proposition of your company or technology. Everyone needs to be able to capture the main narrative of your company in less then 5 minutes, sometimes called the elevator pitch. Second, it’s perfectly fine to admit you don’t know something, especially a technical question, don’t regurgitate an answer that doesn’t make much sense, sometimes it’s fine to say “I will investigate further and get back to you”. Third, NEVER dismiss a question or the person asking it, you never know who that person is, what their background in the field is, and what their level of interest is. Remember, if they’re a savvy investor they won’t be salivating over an investment opportunity at any point. Lastly, remember that much of the real “job” of a startup is learning. You need to take every opportunity to evaluate your hypothesis, your business model, your technology’s USP, and some times just process the situation and how you handle it.
So much of what we do as executives in start-up or early stage companies is predicated around being able to "wear many hats". Chief Multi Tasker may be a better title then CEO. It’s rare to have the resources to macro-manage all aspects of a company at the nascent stage of developing a company. I would argue that even if you did have those resources, you do yourself and team a disservice if you choose to macro-manage.
It might be my training as a surgical resident or just my innate ability to see details from nearly every aspect of my daily life that has lead me to be very critical of people who do not have this skill. In business as it was with me in patient care, this is a skill that must be mastered.
When you get the luxury of being an investor, you also can appreciate the attention to details that management groups have towards their company. It does make a huge difference! As an investor who wants to know more about a technology or a business model, we ask question because naturally we want to know why you want our money. We probe with technical questions and business question and what we (I) often end up doing is getting a feeling about the companies personnel. One of the most important things for me is their attention to details. Nothing makes me cringe more then a technology I love run by people who are cavalier about the details of their products, their customers, their marketing, or whatever. If you don’t have an obsessive bone in your body, then don’t do this line of work. You will frustrate yourself and others as your chances of success are dramatically reduced by the lack of this personality trait.
Living, breathing, eating, dreaming, and worrying about your business 24/7 is not what I mean by having attention to detail. It is expected that you do all these things for your company. I am more interested in knowing how well you micro-manage your company, and what level of excellence you expect from every level of your company. There have been notoriously great micro-managers of some of the largest companies in the world. Steve Jobs and Elon Musk are great examples of leaders who by their sheer involvement in every aspect of their goliath companies elevated them to be best in class status. Yes they are innovators and visionaries, but they follow through and oversee every aspect of their products or services, to a level that most can't do but all should try to do everyday. If you think this is too much to ask of a start-up or early stage company entrepreneur, you will not be the only one doing a lot of thinking.
Hello world! Thanks for joining me on this journey to find what inspires you. I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce myself to you and the give you a taste of what I hope to bring to you in the years to come on this blog. First, a little about me, my resume is my past; my future is yet unknown, and my present is simply awesome! Nothing I have accomplished or involved in is anything you can't do. Yes, that's really all you need to know about me to understand what my message is to you. I'm passionate about all my projects and value the people I work with more then they know. I have had ups and downs professionally as anyone has, and please don't listen to anyone who says different. I will try my best to share with you my experiences as an entrepreneur and investor. I hope this blog forum becomes a two-way information stream between myself, my teammates, and you! So please feel free to email questions you would like answered and we will do our best to work them into a narrative that reflects our experiences.
So let's get to it. Beginnings are important! I have recently been thinking about this special time in an engagement to do business with others. I recently got involved with a great technology company that has true breakout potential in the med device space. I was eager and keen on working with this company because of my surgical background and deep understanding of the field and the non-incremental changes between this particular technology to the current state of the art. So great, the world is perfect right? Not so fast.
After a few weeks of working with the company, their seemed to be some issues with the management starting from the top down. The company was poorly capitalized despite raising a crap load of money in its relatively long history, I think at least 6-8 years of development. They had numerous rounds of funding and yet nearly no capital to 'keep the lights on' the problem is not that the company had a funding problem, the true problem was that they were not transparent with us at the beginning of our working relationship. This lack of honest transparency inevitably led to the crash and burn of the relationship. I have seen many people stretch the truth, often in an attempt to overplay their technology or company's value so I am use to it and have a fair high tolerance for BS, but there is a fine line that should never be crossed. The take home message is that if you sniff any trace of dishonesty at the beginning of a consummated business relationship, you should exit immediately. Nothing worth wild will come of it. This goes for not only investors looking at an entrepreneur to entrust money to, but EQUALY so for entrepreneurs who seek capital to launch their dreams. Don't waist the most valuable assets we all have and cherish, integrity and time.