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Biotech startups shouldn’t feel chaotic

Updated: Aug 2

Recently a client of mine asked me to facilitate a conversation with her potential co-founder. They wanted to make sure they were asking all of the hard questions before they formalized the partnership.

The potential new co-founder was worried about how all-encompassing the role would be. He has a young family and wanted to make sure he could really manage it all before fully committing.

As we got deeper into the conversation it became clear to me that this young man had an image in his head of what startup life looks like: a vortex of non-stop high-adrenaline sprints. In his mind, if he agreed to be a co-founder, he’d be signing up for 12+ hour work days and 7 day work weeks, and constant time-sensitive stress.

That image is just not true; I want to set this story straight for all of you who are exploring if a startup is right for you.

Here’s the reality: early stage biotech companies should not feel chaotic. If they do, you’re doing something wrong.

You shouldn’t be throwing ideas and money around and seeing what sticks. Early stage startups should be defined by strategy and discipline - not frenetic energy and volatility.

Long ago, I read Good to Great, by Jim Collins. It was one of the first business books I read and it imprinted deeply on me. My greatest takeaway was that the difference between good and great companies is discipline. Over the years, I’ve become an even stronger convert to that idea; to achieve excellence, you need to be able to say “no.” Your team needs to have clarity and align on what’s important so that everyone stays focused on what matters. This means having a rigorous goal setting process, making sure you have a culture of healthy debate, and committing to maintain high psychological safety on your team so that you can be thoughtful about learning from experiments.

I’d say that at least 50% of my clients are young parents who are raising families while scaling their company - and that at least 90% of my clients are in long-term relationships. They are not sacrificing their personal lives to launch companies. They work hard, they are deeply committed, and yet they have lives outside of their startups.

I wanted to make sure that you all know that startups can be calm, highly strategic organizations that are focused on supporting human talent. I promise you that all of my clients are in pursuit of this vision and I know, from my own experience, that it is possible. Sure, there are intense moments and hardy sprints, but I assure you that if you are disciplined and build an effective team, your startup will hum without spinning out of control.


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