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10 Lessons Learned. My personal list.

10 Lessons Learned. My personal list.

I was asked to give a project update to fellow ‘tenants’ at the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst yesterday. It was actually an interesting exercise for me because I decided to summarise my life’s work on one pictorial slide, and summarise what lessons I had learned along the way on another.

I don’t propose to share the pictorial CV here, though I would recommend the exercise of creating it (for mine I included “value over time”, “jobs”, and “companies founded”). Not pretty! In my case the crash of 1999/2000 was the most obvious event on the value graph. I basically lost everything (including, when I announced that I was going to do another startup despite the demise of the last one, my exasperated first wife) but I learned all my most useful stuff from the experience.

What I will share is the LessonLearned list. I don’t have much time to explain each item right now, but here is my list. What is yours?

  1. Hold 12 months cash, at all times. Not having 12 months cash should be a sack-able offence for all CEOs
  2. Follow the money. For me right now that means ‘Look to China’ as anyone who has read my recent blogs will know
  3. Overheads are illegal. Oh dear oh dear I wasted SO much money in the past
  4. Motives matter. Understand YOUR motives, staff motives, customer motives and investor motives and success is yours
  5. Assets matter. In Life Sciences in particular we are bad at defining what we are doing in terms of assets
  6. VCs currently don’t matter. Again, this might be Life Science centric. Sorry VCs
  7. Avoid Founder Syndrome mistakes. That is a whole different list including the top 10 reasons why Founders get sacked. See below. Easily avoided
  8. You have to make time to really think. Most of us don’t. We get too busy ‘doing’ and this is a big mistake.
  9. It only just works. All ambitious businesses are like this. Get used to it: Serene to the outside observer. Paddling like mad under the surface
  10. Where are we in the 10 year Boom-bust cycle? This was one of the lessons from my CV graphic: I should be very afraid of any year ending in a 9. (By the time it is a 10 it is too late to be afraid)

And for the Bonus point?
Be Humble. Because you still don’t know much on your own.

Meanwhile here is the list of reasons why Founders get sacked, taken from analysis of biotech investments in the UK (with thanks to the investors who gave their candid and very private assessments on a specific case-by-case basis):

  1. Get the speed of development wrong. Most founders plan for too fast, and deliver too slow
  2. Inflexibility. The vast majority of successful businesses are nothing like the original business, technology or products at startup
  3. Act like a prima donna. Once you have investors, you are part of a team
  4. Buddy up with an inadequate joint-Founder. Business ‘life expectancy’ of a poor commercial co-founder? 18 months
  5. Conceal bad news. Self explanatory. Your Board is your team not your opposition
  6. Forget to bring in execution skills. A particularly European failing
  7. Aim to be right rather than rich. A particularly academic failing
  8. Tinker with recruitment. Or recruit in your own image. A homogeneous team is no team at all
  9. Lack of market focus. Even in life sciences, you need to fixate on the end customer as well as the intermediate steps
  10. Failure to sell stuff! We are ALL in sales. There is no such thing as good technology that doesn’t sell.

So that’s my lot. A quick braindump today rather than a thoughtful piece. But I REALLY DO want to hear and share your #LessonLearned list please.


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