Team Passions and Motivations

In a small venture-funded biotech, the leadership team consisted of the academic who had made the original discovery, the CEO selected by the venture capital firm, the Vice President (VP) of Clinical recruited from a large pharmaceutical firm, and the VP of Commercial who came from another small biotech. The academic was only interested in the science. The CEO was 100% focused on striking any deal with a large pharmaceutical firm; one willing to pay early milestone payments. The VP of Clinical brought with him all his bad habits from his previous employer, coupled with a grudge against big pharmaceutical firms. The VP of Commercial clearly had experience in preparing their product for the market, but was fully dependent on the academic and the VP of Clinical for the data she needed to prepare for product launch.

The VP of Clinical was headstrong in his insistence that any deal with big pharmaceutical firms should be for funding only and resisted any deal that involved participation of employees from those firms. The academic was interested merely in perfecting the molecule and left all that messy clinical work to the VP of Clinical. The VP of Commercial needed the cooperation of both the academic and the VP of Clinical to help better define the market and to position the product.

The academic unilaterally selected a tablet formulation. Unfortunately in the most lucrative market for this medicine, patients were typically post-operative and could not swallow tablets: they required Intravenous (IV) therapy. The Project Manager was completely frustrated. She could not get the leadership team to sit in the same room for a project review. The head of Information Technology worked nights and weekends. The only technology flexible enough for all the changes coming his way was Microsoft Excel. The cacophony of signals+ to the other 100+ employees resulted in this biotech launching a product that had no market.

Funding agents look at the team, specifically the passions and motivations of the team. These passions and motivations can be much more important to the funding agent than any intellectual property brought to the deal. They look to see the team has what it takes to overcome every obstacle placed their way in order to achieve blockbuster+ success. Blockbusters are found due to those passions and motivations of team members that carry them through any setbacks, and animate them to push through in those unexpected, perhaps initially unpromising areas, to that next breakthrough.

Funding agents look for a bias toward making money. It’s a habit we want instilled from the git-go. We get good at finding and launching blockbusters by all the practice we gain in finding and launching sub-blockbusters. This must be the attitude of the team. They will have too much passion for their work and we recognize that passions can often be misdirected. It’s important for the funder to see that they can be channeled toward activities that perhaps are less mentally exciting, but none-the-less are integral to the funding deal. The team provides promising sub-blockbuster products to the funding agent in exchange for continued funding of blockbuster pursuits.

Boot camp is all about building the team and finding ways to shake-out that team. The full team is not expected to be in place by day one, but by graduation key team members will have been in place long enough for us to make a fair judgment as to their likelihood for success. We don’t view passions and motivations in the abstract or in CVs. We watch them in action. Our evaluation of the attractiveness of this investment, then, hinges on our on-the-ground assessment of the performance of the team in boot camp.

In the end, 98% of your performance assessment is based on the team. You wouldn’t have gotten in the foyer of this exclusive club without having an interesting science or technology. You won’t get into the game room without having an interesting team (and a means to keep it interesting). We recognize that passions and motivations go through cycles, typically starting very high and quickly dropping off at the first setback. We’re looking for staying power that survives decades and across many ups and downs. We’re looking for evidence the team can get beyond key behavioral moments+.

  • The Fab Five (quantity illustrative) are the co-conspirators. They were involved very early on in the effort, and have caught the bug. These are the individuals who form the backbone of the team that will carry it over decades. Above all it’s the Fab Five that carry us through the ups-and-downs of fortune: through the key behavioral moments.
  • The Special Types can be very difficult to find, recruit and nurture. These are the personality types that make sure your team doesn’t lapse into routine or deadening sub-blockbuster aspirations. They don’t settle for the status quo, regardless of how recently that status quo was formed. They push the team to not settle for commonplace answers.
  • The Business Manager does not need to be a technical expert in any scientific area. He or she needs to be an expert in finding new and innovative ways to generate cash. This is the individual who spends all their waking hours thinking about that next money-making venture. They are in charge. Even the Fab Five report to this one point of responsibility. The mission, the only mission that allows us to play in the sandbox, is the blockbuster pursuit. But we need interim funding in order to be allowed to engage in that pursuit.

The team is not expected to be in place by day one, but a recruiting plan must be documented. Key is the maintenance-level funding that allows you to recruit the best individuals with more than a promise. On the other hand, the promise of outrageous success should be the key motivation for anyone joining this venture.

It’s the passions and motivations of the leadership team that cascade down to all the other players. As a funding agent I’m looking for the emotional attachment the team has for the leadership that will survive any future upsets in the fortunes of the endeavor. As a funding agent I want assurances there is something there that will carry the team through the ups and downs of the pursuit; something deep within their personality that they can dip into when we need that extra push. And I’m looking for an identification of the self with the goals of the group.

What are some of the telltale signs of these passions and motivations? There is no one checklist; rather there are subtle, unscripted signs that are sensed by the outside observer. The team starts to view the world around them, even in their simple domestic chores, as somehow changed due to an incessant back-of-mind cycling of thoughts about the pursuit. Conversations become tainted with analogies back to work. Simple household items are viewed as to their applicability to that latest challenge in the laboratory. This is how we know the team is committed and will succeed should Mother Nature give them half a chance. This is where we will want to place our funds.

Home Page June 2010