The Successful Life Science Company: Three Tips to Insure You Survive Your Success

Let’s welcome back a favorite colleague of McCormick LifeScience Consultants, LLC! As a friendly reminder, Mr. Andrew Johnson, PhD, Founder and President of UpStart Life Sciences, has twenty years of experience launching instruments, reagent kits, and software products into genomics, proteomics, and cell biology markets. Applying his business leadership and cell and molecular biology expertise, he has a unique perspective on how to bridge the gap between scientifically interesting technology and compelling commercial products.

Tell us Andy . . .

What do you do when things start to go well? Sounds like an odd question, but it is something that every Life Science entrepreneur should consider even in the early days. It is very easy to lose sight of the intangible contributions of your early team as you start to have some compelling profits and the company is growing.

The early days . . .

Picture Credit: ©Pakhnyushchyy

Picture Credit: ©Pakhnyushchyy

When you are just getting started, you will have a small but very passionate, focused and solid team. (If you don’t have this, you soon will not have a business at all). You can easily sit around the same table at lunch and share what is going on, your ideas for what should happen next and anything else that concerns the company. Furthermore, everybody is more than willing to put in the insane hours and total commitment it takes to build your company’s success.

What happens when you start to see success?

You and the team have launched your first product or service, and you are beginning to see revenues and maybe even some profits. At this point you and the early founding team may have added a few more people, but it is still possible to squeeze together in the same room. Whether you realize it or not, the culture of your company is by necessity changing. With the growth of your company, the way that you communicate and get things done needs to scale as well. This is where some processes and procedures come into play. Ad hoc worked well when it was just three of you. This cannot work as the team grows. There needs to be communication between the R&D and Sales & Marketing teams, but it would be a waste of time and resources to call all of your sales people in for every R&D meeting and vice versa.

Nurturing the goose that laid the golden egg.

At the start, everything was about getting your first product or service to market. Now that you have successfully launched, you need to grow and expand profitability by boosting sales with your commercial team, reducing costs with your operations team, and begin and expand your market reach with ‘follow-on’ products (or services) by launching your next product development effort and/or business development efforts. You need many more hands to get this all done and so the team will now grow significantly (sometimes doubling and tripling in size). Many will bemoan the loss of the ‘small company feel’ but if you hope to be successful transforming the company from its startup roots, this is essential.

The easier part here is to start to adopt some of the tried and true processes and procedures that are often associated with large established companies (you just need to scale these down to fit your company so that you don’t import a bunch of bureaucracy). The hard part is maintaining a positive culture.

Keeping it ‘real’ with the new team.

Your company works best when everyone’s individual goals and aspirations are well aligned with the company. In the early days, only those people that shared your passion and vision would have joined as founders. By definition, you are all aligned and that is partly because you will each individually be successful if the company is successful (financially, better reputation, etc.). Later employees will often not be well aligned as they do not have the same interests and passions as the founders (the link between their personal success and that of the company will usually be weaker). However, the company will do best when it can utilize all of the talents, intelligence, and ideas of everyone on the payroll. Get this right, and you will see a continued positive impact on the bottom line

Toto's Tips
Boosting Innovation as Your Company Grows:

  • Adopt empowering HR policies. Consider why someone at the bottom of the compensation scale would want to share their good ideas with the company. Perhaps there is a monetary reward, opportunity for promotion, or other benefit that would encourage this and other employees to ‘go the extra mile’.
  • Nurture a culture of respect and fairness. A company where employees can share their concerns without being afraid of repercussions is critical. So is taking care to recognize excellence in the company and to reward it frequently.
  • Maintain excellent communication with the troops. There is confidential stuff for sure (but share as much as is appropriate). As the company grows, you may wish to have quarterly ‘State of the Company’ meetings (both in-person and remotely with those in the field), a company newsletter, and other tactics for sharing how the company is doing on a regular basis. This will allow everyone to better connect what they are doing as individuals with the ultimate fate of the company (kind of like in the ‘old days’ when the three of you founders plotted over a pizza at lunch).