A Forum on Failure Stirs One-Liners and Personal Anguish Among CEOs
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to Palo Alto, CA, and eventually was acquired in 2005 for $10 million by Oregon’s Tut Systems.
“In hindsight, you see it all,” Shaw says. “But you don’t see it in real time. And as an entrepreneur you tend to believe that you can still pull the rabbit out of that hat.”
When Senturia asked, “How do you handle greed versus rational behavior at the board level?” Kalb lamented, “it was beyond my earthly understanding” when the board of Continuous Computing rejected a $250 million buyout offer for the company.
“Selling companies is like hors d’oevres,” Senturia quipped. “When it comes around, take it.”
Nova related that she was a researcher in the early 1980s at Hybritech, which became a progenitor for San Diego’s biotech industry after the company was sold for roughly $500 million to Eli Lilly.
“It was a fast company,” Nova says. “We were a young company. We didn’t know anything… And when the company was purchased by Eli Lilly, it was like ‘Animal House’ meets ‘The Waltons.’ ”
Nova later joined another San Diego startup, Ligand Pharmaceuticals, and realized soon afterward that the biotech’s basic technology was a dead end. She said she had the unenviable job of telling Brook Byers, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, that the firm’s venture investment in Ligand was a mistake.
“I told Brook Byers, who is like a god, that this technology didn’t work,” Nova said. “He had just purchased oceanside property in Arizona.”
Instead of shutting the company down, however, Nova said she worked with other founders to start over with different technology, which they acquired from Ron Evans’ laboratory at the Salk Institute.
Summarizing her philosophy, Nova says she hates failure and hates to lose. “There is failure. There is personal failure. There is company failure. And then there is change.”