Don’t Be Naïve: 7 Things to Know Before Taking a Biotech Startup Job
(Page 2 of 4)
have to have a pretty healthy ego to do what they do, but he often seeks to understand if the person is self-aware enough to know his or her weak spots, and humble enough to work on improving in those areas. A smart job candidate would be wise to probe, tactfully, to get those same answers.
Get to know as many people in the company as you can, other than the CEO. Get to know the team you’ll be part of, with whom you’ll be spending many hours, including some nights and weekends. While the person attempting to hire you is putting on the organization’s best possible face, others inside may provide a more candid view of the day-to-day reality. These people can give you some straight dope on how fairly people are treated, the morale of the shop, how much sacrifice is involved. The chemistry among these folks, how they work together, is important to witness at close range.
“The thing that’s going to make a company succeed or fail is a combinatorial thing,” Gilman said. “Every relationship is really significant.” Often in academia, Gilman says, you’ll encounter people you dislike working with, but they tend not to stay long, or they can be avoided. “If there’s an asshole in the midst you can usually outlast them,” Gilman said. “That’s not necessarily true in a company.” As More put it, “know your company cold. Not just your role. Know backgrounds and stories of your colleagues. This stuff matters.”
How far along is this company in development? Does it have a shot? Everybody knows biotech is a high-risk business. There are no sure things. Startups by their nature are testing out unproven concepts for new drugs, devices, or diagnostics. Anything can fail, at any time, for any reason—even after a product is on the market. But what startup employees should ask is whether the opportunity in front of them is a pipe dream, or something with a real shot. Who are the scientific founders, and who is on the scientific advisory board? Are they credible? Is the management team (not just the CEO) capable of taking the concept to the next level? This is also where you dig into the scientific literature that’s related to the company’s core concept—not just the stuff the company presents to you—and try to understand just how validated its concept is (or isn’t). Many supposedly groundbreaking studies in academia, that get published in top journals, are nothing but bunk that can’t be reproduced anywhere else. You need to find out how validated the scientific concept is.
This is also where you dig into the finances. How much money has the company raised since its founding? How much cash does it have in the bank? How long is the company’s operating runway at its existing cash spending rate, if it were never to raise another dime? Who invested—top-tier investors with good track records, or friends and family? Do the investors have a track record of seeking quick flips, or do they tend to be long-term company builders? How much progress has the company made in further validating its concept since the founding? Where does this company stand vis-à-vis its competitors? If the company hits its stated milestones, will it be a steady-as-she-goes story of staying in business, or will it likely take off like a rocket ship?
Nothing is guaranteed about the outcome, but answering these questions could give you a sense of the worst-case scenario, the best-case scenario, and things in between. If you’re comfortable with a worst-case scenario of something like 18 months of work in an exciting or challenging new position, alongside talented colleagues, before everything goes kaput, then that’s a good sign.
If that sounds like a terrifying lack … Next Page »