We have had speakers talk about entrepreneurship and startups before as part of EMBA colloquia. What made this particular group interesting was that the founders of the startup (Dr. Gregory Licholai and Dr. Scott Dessain) and the VC (Scott Fishman), who invested in this start up, were all in one room. This was an interesting mix of speakers as we got to hear from both sides.
When the question was posed to the class: “How many of you see yourselves as entrepreneurs in the future?" More than half the class raised their hands including yours truly. The speakers joked that they are going to crush the souls of these budding entrepreneurs.
A whole spectrum of topics were covered during this session: the definition of entrepreneur, lessons learned from startups, how to approach an angel investor, what does a VC look for in a founder, what are the red flags, what struggles would a founder go through before the company become successful, etc. The whole session was very interactive with the speakers responding to a variety of questions. Some of the key questions and answers that I jotted down are below:
- What’s the definition of entrepreneur? An entrepreneur is someone who makes the impossible happen from nothing and is someone who has a cogent value proposition and will be able to bring sustained long term value to investors.
- If you are given a choice between an A+ management team with B+ science and A+ science with a B+ management, what would you pick? The recommendation from the speakers was to pick the A+ management team.
- What does the VC look for in founders? Other than the fact that the founder should have an idea that has an obvious demand in the market place and is likely to make money, the founder should have the enthusiasm and the passion for the idea. The founder should also have adaptation skills. When you hit the rocks, your ability to stand up and run every time you stumble and fall is going to be crucial.
- What are some of the red flags that a VC would watch out for in a founder? Using the word exits, payouts etc. during the initial conversation.
- What are the struggles that a startup will go through? Startups should be prepared to stay in the valley of death for an extended period of time before it starts to go up. All the leading pharmacy companies such as Genentech, Biogen, and Genzyme stayed decades in the valley of death. The founder should be prepared to do everything including doing menial jobs, such as serving the food, cleaning the toilet etc.
This session reminded me of a speech from Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder: "As an entrepreneur, pick something that you think is interesting, that is the intersection of genuinely creating real customer value and just stay right there and let the wave catch you." The question is how many of us have the appetite to stay right there in the valley of death and let the wave catch us.
In the end, if you asked me whether I would have chosen a session on data analytics over entrepreneurship, I would have gone with entrepreneurship any day. I walked out of the door with a more elevated than crushed soul and I would not be surprised, if many of my fellow friends turned out to be highly successful entrepreneurs. Amen!!
This blog is written by Yasim Kolathayil with inputs from his wife Pramila Moideen and dear friend Amy Romano (EMBA class of 2015). Yasim Kolathayil is a Manager in the healthcare practice of Deloitte Consulting. Yasim is passionate about healthcare delivery and has significant experience in provider and payer space.