I’ve been like a kid in a candy store for the last twelve months. I’ve had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of entrepreneurs and learn about technologies from healthcare to cleantech to online marketing. It’s been totally inspiring. Throughout the process, I had a tinge of jealousy for the entrepreneurs. I had an unrequited passion for getting back on the company-building side. So, in the last few months I’ve jumped back in the game, running Novophage. (I remain an Advisory Board member to two great companies, ThinkNear and Ignighter, and as Founder Partner with Founder Collective.)
Having looked at a variety of professional options, I couldn’t resist the temptation to build the third start-up of my career. How did I choose?
I spent nearly a year advising Novophage. I got to know the people – Mike, Brett and Tim. We held brainstorm sessions, went on business development calls and drank beer together. I got a sense of what it would be like to work together. We learned each other’s personalities, warts and all. That made joining as CEO a natural progression and I’d encourage anyone thinking of taking a founder role to “date before getting married.”
When we met, they were focusing on using their antimicrobial technology (powerful antiobiotic) for therapeutic applications. I wasn’t a “drug guy” nor was I convinced the market was worth the regulatory risk and capital required. Yet the parallels to my last business, Brontes were abundant. It was a great technical team with a core innovation, needing a market and problem to solve. Like Brontes, they had won major business plan competitions, but still had not yet identified the killer app. We worked through it and arrived at this concept of “green chemistry.” Essentially, we studied markets where bacteria is a problem and where we could reduce expensive and harmful chemicals with a more targeted and effective biological approach. We validated this with dozens of industry players (e.g. investors like Chevron and The Kraft Group).
Major areas of technological progress in the last 5 years
My biggest hesitation in joining Novophage is that I’ve spent nearly 12 years in software and hardware. The last biology class I took was in high school. To this day, I continue to learn about the differences between biology-focused businesses vs software ones (they’re not trivial). That said, over the past twelve months I became captivated by the technological progress in low-cost sequencing and biological engineering. While the social media revolution is transformative and everywhere in our lives, the revolution in our biological understanding is equally significant and mind-boggling.
In the end, I concluded that to start an early-stage venture, it comes down to having a good platform. Entrepreneurs deal with enormous amounts of ambiguity and risk that takes time to mitigate. Therefore, the decision to jump in comes down to believing whether you have a mission you’re passionate about, a group of people you want to work with and a business thesis that is validated enough to make you comfortable. The fundamental question comes down to … do I have a solid platform to navigate the choppy entrepreneurial waters? After that, it’s up to the entrepreneur (and some plain old luck) to make it happen.