About a year ago, Alice Zhang, founder of Verge Genomics did a talk at Stanford on how she left her PhD programme and founded Verge Genomics.
A video link of her full talk is here, but there were a few take home messages from her talk.
- Set sensible metrics:
When setting up a start-up, it’s easy to dream big. But setting more intermediate goals rather than completed products can make better benchmarks for young companies with long product development cycles.
- Use a founder network:
As a founder, it is really hard to find good advice. You will get advice from your investors, your advisors, your employees, and none of which is always for the company’s best interests at heart. Being part of a founders’ network gets you impartial advice from people who have gone through a similar background as you. Also, building a personal support network for yourself is key to building a sustainable business over time. You will need support at some point or another.
- Grow into your position
From her experience at Verge, it is quite rare for a biotechnology company that is a founder that is also a CEO, and a lot of venture capital firms will bring in a lot of senior management.
“Do things that are laborious” – as a founder you will be the person who needs to kick start the company. Zhang recollects on her early hiring experience where she interviewed 1200 applicants herself. She started by looking at recent publications, emailed hundreds of people per week and was able to hire a stellar team that was reflective of what she envisioned for the company.
“Grow faster personally than your company does” – Zhang also states that it is important that you often reflect on yourself. Be aware of what you don’t know, what you need to learn and how to develop. “Whenever I found there was something I didn’t know anything, whether it was business development or drug development, I would put together a list of emails of who I think is the best of the best, and I would cold email them”.
“Stay hungry” for personal growth. Reading books, finding other founders who have gotten through it and executive coaching have all worked for Zhang.
- Bravery is not needed
Zhang left her PhD programme to set up Verge and often was told she must have been “brave” to do that. However, it never felt like a leap, but it was more like a series of questions.
Zhang states that the first question is “will anyone care about this idea”, then “can we get funding, can we build a team to build the product, can we grow the team to take the product to the next level”. It was a series of individual steps that led to the development of Verge. It taught her to stay adaptable: “people get caught up where they want to end up and the best path there when in reality the best thing you can do is to take the next step and find out more information about what to do next.
What advice would you give to your founder’s network?