Category Archives: Communications

The Successful Life Science Company: Three Tips to Insure You Survive Your Success

By: Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

Keeping your expanded team well informed, supported and rewarded will insure the continued growth of your company.

Keeping your expanded team well informed, supported and rewarded will insure the continued growth of your company.

What do you do when things start to go well?  Sounds like an odd question but it is something that every Life Science entrepreneur should consider even in the early days.  It is very easy to lose sight of the intangible contributions of your early team as you start to have some compelling profits and the company is growing.

The early days
When you are just getting started, you will have a small but very passionate, focused and solid team.  (If you don’t have this, you soon will not have a business at all).  You can easily sit around the same table at lunch and share what is going on, your ideas for what should happen next and anything else that concerns the company.  Furthermore, everybody is more than willing to put in the insane hours and total commitment it takes to build your company’s success.

What happens when you start to see success?
You and the team have launched your first product or service and you are beginning to see revenues and maybe even some profits.  At this point you and the early founding team may have added a few more people but it is still possible to squeeze together in the same room.  Whether you realize it or not, the culture of your company is by necessity changing.  With the growth of your company, the way that you communicate and get things done needs to scale as well.  This is where some processes and procedures come into play.  Ad Hoc worked well when it was just three of you.  This cannot work as the team grows.  There needs to be communication between the R&D and Sales & Marketing teams but it would be a waste of time and resources to call all of you sales people in for every R&D meeting and vice versa.

Nurturing the goose that laid the golden egg
At the start, everything was about getting your first product or service to market.  Now that you have successfully launched, you need to grow and expand profitability by boosting sales with your commercial team, reducing costs with your operations team and begin and expand your market reach with ‘follow-on’ products (or services) by launching your next product development effort and/or business development efforts.  You need many more hands to get this all done and so the team will now grow significantly (sometimes doubling and tripling in size).  Many will bemoan the loss of the ‘small company feel’ but if you hope to be successful transforming the company from its startup roots, this  is essential.

The easier part here is to start to adopt some of the tried and true processes and procedures that are often associated with large established companies (you just need to scale these down to fit your company so that you don’t import a bunch of bureaucracy).  The hard part is maintaining a positive culture.

Keeping it ‘real’ with the new team
Your company works best when everyone’s individual goals and aspirations are well aligned with the company.  In the early days, only those people that shared your passion and vision would have joined as founders.  By definition you are all aligned and that is partly because you will each individually be successful if the company is successful (financially, better reputation, etc.).  Later employees will often not be well aligned as they do not have the same interests and passions as the founders (the link between their personal success and that of the company will usually be weaker).  However, the company will do best when it can utilize all of the talents, intelligence and ideas of everyone on the payroll.  Get this right and you will see a continued positive impact on the bottom line.

Tips for Boosting Innovation as Your Company Grows:

  • Adopt empowering HR policies.  Consider why someone at the bottom of the compensation scale would want to share their good ideas with the company.  Perhaps there is a monetary reward, opportunity for promotion or other benefit that would encourage this and other employees to ‘go the extra mile’.
  • Nurture a culture of respect and fairness.  A company where employees can share their concerns without being afraid of repercussions is critical.  So is taking care to recognize excellence in the company and to reward it frequently.
  • Maintain excellent communication with the troops.  There is confidential stuff for sure (but share as much as is appropriate).  As the company grows, you may wish to have quarterly ‘State of the Company’ meetings (both in-person and remotely with those in the field), a company newsletter and other tactics for sharing how the company is doing on a regular basis.  This will allow everyone to better connect what they are doing as individuals with the ultimate fate of the company (kind of like in the ‘old days’ when the three of you founders plotting over a pizza at lunch).

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The Power of Story: 3 Key Steps to Connecting Your Vision with Commercial Success

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

open book with watch on it

Take the time to craft the ‘story’ of how your offering will impact your customers to provide a focus and direction to your commercialization efforts

There are a million things to do to get your new ideas and discoveries into a finished product that will delight your customers.  This can be a very overwhelming experience as you are not only trying to determine what your product will be like when you launch but also how to talk about it to your investors, your prospects, partners and your team.  One unifying principal that can help here is to use the power of story to guide you through this process.  Think of the story you would like people to tell about your company and its product(s) years after its success.  When you take the time to do this, the path to success will seem a bit less treacherous.

Easier said than done
The key here is to focus on the interests of your target audience and realize that the narrative will be different for each of your stakeholders.  This is kind of like trying to come up with a story that will appeal to both children and adults (perhaps using a comic book version for kids and a novel for adults).  However, as challenging as this might seem to be, the process that you will follow to create the story of your company will ultimately provide you with the insights and focus you will need to move your company forward.

Step 1:  Start with Your Future Customers
Your new product will provide some new outcomes for your future customers.  This could be a new diagnostic test to guide medical treatment, a new tool or kit that will allow researches access to new information or perhaps even a significantly improved version of an existing product or service.  In each case, you need to find out how badly your customers would wish to overcome a particular issue and ultimately if they can envision your solution to it to be compelling.  From this effort you will know what your product or service needs to do for your customers (not just what it can do but what it must do).  This is the most critical story to get right.  You will be basically retelling this story of how your product or service impacts customers to your other stakeholders in the following steps.

Step 2:  Delight your Board and Investors
Use the insights that you gained from the previous step to build enthusiasm on your Board of Directors.  Being able to share testimonials from future customers, and statistics like, “90 percent of the people we targeted in our initial outreach said that they would pay $$$ today for our offering to fulfill this critical unmet need.”  Testimonials like this go a lot further than statistics from market reports that have been shoehorned to fit your business case with these stakeholders.  Remember your ‘audience’ prefers non-fiction over fiction here.

Step 3: Putting It All Together with Your Team
The feedback from your future customers in Step 1 will become the minimal set of performance and pricing characteristics for your first product(s).    Your development team can use this to produce the first prototype for alpha evaluations.  Your commercial team will have key insight into what will be a compelling value proposition to use to reach and win new customers.  If your board and investors liked your ‘story’ so far, they will have validated it with their approval and perhaps even some additional funding.

In Summary:

  • As early as possible, find out who will buy your products and for how much and why (what impact will your offering have on your customers).  – The Customer Needs and Solution Story.
  • Use real prospective customer feedback to further convince your stakeholders (Board of Directors and investors) to support your team.  – The Rags to Riches Story –non-fiction version
  • Provide your team with real outside feedback to guide your development efforts towards making the right product for the right customer at the right price at the right time.  – The Life Science Idea to Successful Biotechnology Company Story

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Taking Your Show on the Road: Using Your Science to Boost Sales

Green Comet

Dazzle them with your science and you will get more than just sales leads!

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

The technical roadshow can be a great way to build excitement for your product(s) with potential customers, build your brand and engage with the researchers and other professionals whose feedback is most valuable to you.  Use these tips to make the most out of the time and effort this requires to make this work for you.

Maximize the Impact of Your Technical Roadshow with These Tips:

      • Frequency – Schedule one or two roadshows per month.  Most academic departments and even some biotech firms have regularly scheduled ‘Journal Clubs’ or ‘Brown Bag’ lunches where speakers are invited to share their work.  These are ideal venues for your technical presentation.  Give each of your sales team members the opportunity to schedule these.

 

      • Content – The goal of these presentations should be to excite your audience about the science.   Interested attendees will seek to learn more about your company, your technology and your products afterwards (sometimes even during the Q&A session).  Keep the sales stuff out of the presentation other than perhaps a slide that briefly describes your products  and focus on how your product has impacted the field.

 

    • The Presenter – The presentation should be given by a scientist traveling with the sales person who scheduled the event.  Make sure that the science and business side are kept separated by having the sales person introduce your speaker and take all questions regarding business (pricing, scheduling demos, etc.)  Nothing turns a scientific crowd off faster than a sales pitch masquerading as a technical talk.  The other benefit of having two people at these events is that the sales person can provide valuable feedback on how well the presentation is being received and where improvements might be made to increase impact.  On the other hand, the speaker can assess how well the audience is interacting with the sales person and provide them with equally valuable feedback for how to better connect with potential customers.

 

  • Duration – Keep the presentation concise and focused.  The presentation should be about 20 slides long and take about 25 – 30 minutes max when you are rehearsing it without interruption.  This will allow for enough time for questions during and after the presentation.  Your goal here is to engage with your audience and the more questions the better.  The comments and questions from your audience are a goldmine of information on how well your technology is perceived, what might be trends in the field that you should be following and even what your next product iteration might be.  (Another reason why it is good to have two people at these events is that they can take notes of all of these insights)

Preparing and delivering a compelling and effective technical roadshow program is not trivial.  There is a lot of work required to not only get your slide-deck right but also making the event itself work well (measured by lots of questions from your audiences and ultimately lots of strong sales leads).  Stick with it, it gets easier over time and you might even find yourself enjoying this!

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The Impact of Information Technology on Conflict Resolution

art illustration of boxers on a ring

Successful negotiation is not about beating the other guy, it’s about winning together!

By:  Michael Kaiser

It is an accepted truism that conflict is part and parcel of human nature, and just as is the case with military and diplomatic conflicts, the business community is not free of conflicts both internal and external, some resolved and some not.

Of course the impact that business executives or employees experience when they fail to resolve a conflict with a partner or clients does not compare with the most feared and violent form of conflict: war.

Conflict resolution in the business sphere is complex for the same reason that a diplomatic one is, namely: negotiating an agreement that is acceptable to the disputing parties requires a give and take disposition from both sides.

In the early 1980s Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project released their book “Getting To Yes. Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In”. In it, the authors explain that the reason we negotiate is to get better results than the ones we would get without negotiation; they coined the acronym BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) as a standard that should be the measure of negotiations. Some of the key points of the BATNA are summarized as follows:

  • Separate the people from the problem
  • Focus on interests, not positions
  • Establish precise goals at the outset of negotiations
  • Work to create options that will satisfy both parties
  • Negotiate successfully with opponents who are more powerful

The last point merits special attention because it is in line with our IT-intensive society and its impact on the conflict resolution process. For example, consider the perceived advantage of what is known as Information Asymmetry, the Condition:

“… in which at least some relevant information is known to some but not all parties involved. Information asymmetry causes markets to become inefficient, since all the market participants do not have access to the information they need for their decision making processes.”  InvestorWords.com

That perceived advantage is a rather ephemeral one because:

“With increased advancements in technology, asymmetric information has been on the decline as a result of more and more people being able to easily access all types of information. Information Asymmetry can lead to two main problems:

1. Adverse selection- immoral behavior that takes advantage of asymmetric information
before a transaction. For example, a person who is not in optimal health may be more inclined to purchase life insurance than someone who feels fine.

2. Moral Hazard- immoral behavior that takes advantage of asymmetric information after a transaction. For example, if someone has fire insurance they may be more likely to commit arson to reap the benefits of the insurance.”  Investopedia

It can be argued that the easy access of information via the internet, the use of cell phones, e-mail, teleconferencing, etc. has adversely affected the conflict resolution process inasmuch as the more personal face-to-face negotiations of the 1980s have been replaced by a plethora of IT applications.

The BATNA approach is not completely obsolete and can still be of use in some cases where an opposing negotiator makes a final offer to resolve an existing conflict with an unexpected demand based on relevant information (i.e., information asymmetry) only available to him/her. But, surprise, now the other party that may have been perceived as weaker is no longer forced to capitulate on the spot; instead he/she would pick their iPhone, android or iPad, connect with their legal or financial advisors, and regain transaction equality by means of information technology.

A final advisory:  current data mining and acquisition technologies significantly abbreviate and/or accelerate the “Go/No Go” factor in a negotiation process, be that in politics, real estate or the life sciences, but can never replace the instinct and creativity of the human mind.

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Avoid the Siren Song of ‘Going Viral’: The Most Powerful SEO is Great Content

Pencil, Pen and Ink Pen

Great writing is the best way to attract a great audience and great customers!

By:  Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

The promise of the ‘viral potential’ of electronic media is very attractive but ultimately is a lost cause if what you have to say is not compelling.  Whether you are setting up your company website, kicking off a blog, launching a Facebook page or using any of the other avenues for communication that are available today,  the most important question to answer is: “Who would want to read this and why?”

It can seem overwhelming and there are firms that will promise that with just the right Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that your message will soon be in front of millions of potential customers.  Even if this were true, remember that although it just took a mouse click to visit your site that it takes the same amount of effort to click away from it.  Your goal is to attract the attention of people that will actually find what you are saying to be valuable to them.  Whether this is a blog post, or a section of your website, an interested visitor is more likely to further explore more of your content and in time may even include a request for more information, ask for a quote or even make a purchase from your e-commerce site.

The secret to making this work is to provide only quality content. You will be much better received by the viewing public by offering an insight or a new perspective on the latest trends in your field than an ad for your product or service masquerading as an interesting article.

Writing great content is easier said than done.  In the end whether it is great or not is something your readers will determine.    Here are a few tips to help you get started:

For Blog Posts, Newsletters, White Papers and Application Notes

  • Write down a list of ten article titles that are interesting to you. (If you find it difficult to do this at one sitting, consider a different topic area.  If the area you plan to write about is truly aligned with your interests and passions this should be easy to do)
  • Over the next month, start writing the articles for each of these titles.  Don’t worry if the English isn’t right or if they seem a little bit rough at the beginning.   Remember, this is a first draft
  • Allow a day or two before revisiting your first drafts.  Those that are good but need work will be easily distinguished from those that should be discarded with the clearer perspective you will have by reviewing them after a day or so
  • Consider adding  pictures, tables and/or figures to increase the visual interest and clarity of your pieces
  • For blogs, consider keeping them to one topic per post.  If when writing your post you find that there are several topics in it, split it up afterwards.  (This allows you to increase the focus and relevance of each piece for the widest possible audience)
  • Once you have 10 to 15 of these articles prepared and edited to final form, you are ready to publish them.

For Websites and Facebook Pages

  • Be sure to check the site statistics from time to time to see which of your pages and/or content are most interesting to your visitors.  Use the site analytics data to help you to improve your content over time by providing more of the things that you audience has shown an interest
  • Edit your drafts with an emphasis on ways to make things more concise if possible. (Less is more here)
  • Consider using bullet points and short descriptions rather than full sentences and paragraphs where possible
  • Take advantage of illustrations, pictures and short videos to tell your story and/or explain your technology
  • Consider using bolded or otherwise highlighted lines to head each paragraph of a multi-paragraph piece.  This allows site visitors to quickly scan your material and focus on those areas that they find most interesting and relevant to them.  Not everyone will want to read your entire piece

Creating quality content is a big job and requires significant time, effort and commitment to keep delivering the fresh and original materials that will engage your audience and advance your commercial goals.  However, the extra effort you spend here will provide for far better outcomes than any SEO gimmicks and other tricks.

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Where Does the Science Belong in the Life Science Startup?

Old microscope

Give your customers a chance to ask you about your science.

By: Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

One of the best things you can do for your new Life Science Company is to engage with potential customers through your innovative new technology.  However, there is a time and place for this.  The following simple Do’s and Don’ts will help you to get right what most companies (even some of the big ones) get wrong.

Although science is at the heart of your company, it is the products that you have created that are based on this science that are most meaningful to your customers.  Think of it this way, you likely selected your cell phone or car based on what these things can do for you and how they impact your life.  This is the same thing that happens when a Life Scientist is looking to purchase new products that will help their research program.

This means that it is vitally important to clearly communicate how your product (not your science) will impact a customer.  Once a potential customer is intrigued by your product, some of them (not all) will further be interested in your science and/or technology (often to validate the claims you made earlier).

Do:

Blog:
Start a blog (linked or part of your website) where you discuss your science.  Don’t make this an ad but share applications and ask happy customers to guest blog for you to connect with others in your field.  In time, this can help you and your company become considered subject matter experts which will ultimately drive new prospects to contact you.

Write White Papers
Pick key applications using your product and share them as white papers.  These should be accessible from your website.  Consider posting downloadable versions in a PDF format for convenience.

Produce YouTube video:
Creating quick 2 – 3 minute how-to videos and/or application notes in video format is a good way to take advantage of this medium.  When people are searching for solutions on the web, having some videos can help improve your rankings and your chances of showing up high on the first page of the search results.

Create Tradeshow Booth Graphics:
Have compelling graphics that catch the eye and perhaps some copy that emphasizes the impact of your product (e.g. allows you to measure something new for the first time, is higher throughput than the competition, produces data with tighter CV’s etc.)  You will have plenty of time to discuss science should visitors wish.

Don’t

Explain your science or technology on your Website homepage:
This is where you clearly indicate what you are offering.  This is what you offer not who you are.  (A quick survey by the author of over 500 Life Science company websites showed that nearly 80% of them got this wrong)

Load Brochures and other Sales Collateral with lots of content about the science:
Make sure that the number one message here is how your product will positively impact your customer.  On longer format pieces like tri-fold brochures, a brief very high level summary of the technology behind the product can be appropriate but his should clearly take second place to helping prospective customers see how your product or service will affect their research program.

In Summary:

  • Put the impact of your product on your customer’s research first in your marketing communications
  • Back up your claims with the science in a succinct  way
  • Create a separate page on your website where all of the detailed description and other resource material can be easily found

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Building Buzz while Avoiding the Buzz Saw: Public Relations and the Life Science Start Up

Honeybee on a flower

Get the PR buzz you want, avoid getting stung by bad press

By Andrew Johnson, Ph.D.

You have a ton of things to do to get ready for your product launch at the upcoming trade show.  You have got your website in great shape, you have product on the shelf, trained your sales team and/or partners and have a great booth.  You have even spent some valuable marketing dollars to promote your product.  Public relations is often neglected and mainly because it is often confused with marketing.  In its starkest definition, marketing looks to build a positive image and its products to a target audience though advertising and other paid means.  Good public relations looks to do this in an unpaid and perhaps more organic matter.

Public Relations is…
A good PR strategy will include interviews with reporters (both in trade journals and potentially in the mass media as well), speaking engagements, arranging to be on influential panels at scientific meetings and, if appropriate, on state and local panels when your products could have an impact with the general public like a new diagnostic or therapeutic offering.

Why You Want a Professional for This
This is often an effort that is best delegated to a professional.  A good PR consultant will often have a ready contact list of key people that will get you the interviews, articles and speaking engagements that will not only help to increase your visibility to potential customers but will also generate the valuable but hard to grasp concept of ‘buzz’.  A PR firm or consultant can also help to resolve any bad press or negative reactions in the media and on the web should that occur (that’s the buzz saw, in case you were keeping track).

Quick Tips:

  • Do develop a PR strategy with a PR Firm or experienced consultant
    Unless someone on your team is an experienced PR person with all of the contacts you need, include this in your business plan budget as part of your commercialization plan.
  • Do Make sure your website is up and running and contains compelling content
    When your PR activities generate ‘buzz’, you want interested parties to have ready access to additional high quality content.
  • Do prepare a ‘Media Kit’ to better manage your brand and image.
    Put a tab on your website that contains high quality images, logos and other resources that journalists and other media folks can use when they write about your company.  This gives you better (not absolute) control of how your logo and products are conveyed and helps to generate the positive impressions you hope to foster.

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