Why would anyone want to start a biotech or any company? The answers to this question are as varied as are personalities. If you choose this path, your answers will be different from mine. Your answers will determine the type of company that you wish to start.
In my experience, entrepreneurs found businesses for three main reasons or combinations of these reasons. These include a strong desire to accomplish something of importance, a need for independence, and a wish to get rich. Particularly, for those who enjoy what they do, the latter reason is often more a by-product of fulfilling an important need rather than a primary motivation. For me, a sense of fulfillment and autonomy were always the key drivers. Money did come later, for which I am grateful; but it was a consequence of doing something that is of value and that I enjoy.
First and foremost, the type of company that one founds is a key choice. By type, I am not referring to retail versus B2B or oncology versus autoimmune; etc. These are clearly important choices. However, I am focusing on something more fundamental; i.e., what internal goal, integral to who you are, are you trying to achieve? Obviously, this question is critical for anyone, regardless of their business aspirations.
If you pursue starting a business, you should be clear about your reasons for doing so because it will affect how you spend much of your life going forward for as long as you are involved with it. If you do, it will challenge you on many levels. It is my hope that our experiences might provide at least some guidance.
As I mentioned in the previous blog, I started a side rental real estate business while still working as a pharmaceutical scientist. It made money, but it did not create value in the sense that ABS does by speeding and enabling biomedical research. That was and is a meaningful value to me and others. Clarity about your needs and motivations will make your path more meaningful and help when difficulties occur.
The issue of autonomy is a bit difficult to explain. It is self-direction and independence. There are undoubtedly many ways to achieve these without starting a company. For me, it was starting ABS. It is the way try to run our business and the kind of culture that we try to create where, I hope, others can be heard and achieve their goals.
Based upon my limited business experience when I started ABS I did two things, which were and are unusual for starting a bioscience company. They have shaped the kind of company that we are and how we grew to serve our clients.
First, although my funds were limited from very leveraged real estate investments and cashing in my 401K, I started ABS without any outside investors. This was based in part upon my need for independence. In starting a business, I did not want to go from one boss to another. Also, at the time, I knew little about fund-raising from investors. So, this option was less viable at the time. Since then, I have had many opportunities for outside investment, but there has been no need to do so. The downside has been that we could have grown faster with outside investment.
The upside has been that from the start I chose my direction. For example, over 29 years in business, ABS’ growth has been very good, but there have been a few challenging times. During those difficult times, investors, not seeing the returns that they might want, could have pulled their investment rather than taking the long view or looking at the needs of ABS employees. This is an example of what I mean by choosing the type of company one founds.
Of course, there are other paths to autonomy, independence, and much greater monetary success that I have experienced. I expect that had I chosen another path and sought outside investment, ABS would have grown differently. These blogs will focus on this path and the type of company that our team and I have grown and grow with over the years, and how it continues to grow and evolve. Is this the best choice and best model to choose? Like most things, it all depends on who you are and your goals.
One can certainly achieve autonomy and independence working with investors. The world is filled with such examples. In later blogs, I will provide some insights into fund-raising, but the focus will be on the path that we have followed and found rewarding.
There are certain goals that are ill-suited to the approach that I have chosen. ABS is a service company that has grown organically. A business that wants to pursue a cure for a major disorder may require significant funding to get the project off the ground within a reasonable time. Some money might come from government funding, but it could be a long road on which to make progress without outside investment. This will be discussed further in a later blog.
I mentioned that there were two things that I did there were unusual at the time that I founded ABS. The second was the idea for the business that we created. This and how one selects an idea for a business are the topic of the next blog.