Thoughts on Startups

Learnings on Opening a Lab

Posted by | Thoughts on Genomics, Thoughts on Startups | No Comments

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything here. However, I have a good excuse! We’ve been busy opening a next generation sequencing lab!

Last year, by Dad and I were looking heavily at the space. It’s been a long time dream of his to build out a genome sequencing facility and it’s been a long time dream for me to once again blend software and life sciences (dabbled with this on my first company). Through a series of fortunate events, we had the opportunity to pull the trigger in September this year so we founded The Sequencing Center.

Since then, we’ve been working hard on the website, building out our marketing and content strategy, finding lab space, and so much more. My sister came on board to help out with everything as well, from social to account management. It’s been an all hands on deck situation. Now, we’re bootstrapping this and funding this from our day jobs, we haven’t quit the primary jobs so it’s double duty 7 days a week.

Just recently in March we found our new lab space. It’s a 1,400 sqft former surgery facility that met all the specs. A little old in age and a bit dirty but nothing a bit of TLC couldn’t solve. We signed in the middle of March and have been purchasing equipment since then. Here’s a list of just random shit that we learned throughout the process.

Getting used equipment takes forever. Seriously. The vendors in this space take forever to get anything done. Emails are usually responded within 24-48 hours, they’re highly unhelpful, and getting the equipment through QC often takes weeks. If you’re building out a similar lab, make sure that you have about 3 months of capital allocated just for the lease for while you’re purchasing equipment.

The price you see is never the final price. While this is pretty much true for most purchases, it’s especially true in this field. The vendors we worked with would provide insanely high quotes that we would haggle on heavily. As an example, one vendor quoted us $20,000 for a device which was about $6,000 more than another. However, they also had another piece of equipment we needed that the other vendor didn’t so we proposed to purchase the other piece of equipment at full price if we could get the $20k unit for $14k (a $6,000 discount). After adding a bit of added pressure to close the deal, they agreed. Everything is negotiable and if you’re a small startup on a budget, fight for the discounts.

The laws and regulations are extremely vague. Our lab is technically BSL2 rated which means we can handle a variety of sensitive organism. These aren’t likely to kill you but you have to have a BSL2 lab to handle them. Here’s the kicker: BSL2 labs don’t actually have a certification. This sent us down a rabbit hole because we assumed there was something we needed to prove that we could handle these organisms. However, after calling the EPA, CDC, local health inspector, and reviewing the 438 page document from the CDC on biosafety labs, we couldn’t find anything. Then, after talking with an equipment certifier to certify our biosafety cabinet, they said that only BSL3/4 have hard requirements. BSL1/2 have more “guidelines” than anything – an area of grey operation. As long as you had the proper certified equipment, manuals, processes, etc., then you should be fine.

Electric outlets. Make sure that you know the amp and volt limits of your outlets. Then, make sure that when you buy big equipment (such as a -80 freezer) that they map to your outlet specifications.

Have all refurbished equipment go through quality control. Make sure that in each of the invoices that you sign with resellers/refurbished vendors that they include the quality control inspection. Often times this just means turning the machine on and making sure it has some basic operations (centrifuge spins, freezer holds temperature, etc.). This is really more of a small insurance policy for you than anything else and will save you headaches.

Do a full run through the lab before accepting clients. This seems like a no brainer and fortunately it’s not something we’ve messed up on (yet!). However, this is extremely important because if you’ve accepted clients before the lab has completed a full run through and one of your equipment pieces fails, it could take weeks or months to fix. This will provide you with some pissed off customers and a hurt reputation.

We’re on the cusp of opening up our lab after a few months of painfully getting all of our equipment. We have 2 more major devices that we need and then we’ll be good to go. It’s been a journey so far and it’s only just starting. Should be fun!

The Balance Between Quality & Speed in Product Development

Posted by | Thoughts on Enterprise Software, Thoughts on Startups, Thoughts on Technology | No Comments

I’m going to make some controversial statements in this post regarding product management. If you’re currently a product manager, I’m sure you’ve been peppered with the “do this! don’t do this! you’re a bad PM if you do this! 10x PM’s do this!” rhetoric. Honesty, it’s exhausting. Earlier in my career, I read a ton of books on how to be an effective product manager. What stuck out to me is that these books often pushed opposite agendas – sometimes even within the same book.

Having gone through some of my product management career thus far, I’ve realized that there is no silver bullet to doing a good job. In fact, it largely depends on where you’re at in the lifecycle of your company, the industry, the team you’re working on, etc. These books often write about a set of criteria PM’s must meet. They pain the picture of a panacea outcome if you do these 10 things. That’s never the case.

What I learned early on (and quickly) is that there is a very hard balance between delivering high quality products and delivering them in a very rapid format. These aren’t mutually exclusive but they are very hard to balance. Sometimes they shouldn’t be.

For example, let’s say you’re losing a ton of business by lacking a major feature set. The company has put it off for too long and it’s now a top priority in order to help sales to stop losing in competitive deals. To create a feature parity product would take you a minimum of 9 months. Looking backwards, you know that you’ve lost $900k in the last 9 months to competitors because you lack this feature, so it’s safe to assume that over the course of this entire development of 18 months, you’ll lose $1.8M.

Do you build as fast as possible and ship something “good enough”? Do you go for a high quality product and release later?

Personally, I’d opt to release something that is barely good enough. Something that is almost embarrassing but paints the vision, dream, and demonstrates that we can accomplish the basics of what our competitor can do, refocusing the sale back onto features that you crush competitors on.

On the other hand, let’s say that you’re trying to leap frog the competition. Time is on your side and the feature you’re developing is very complex with a high barrier to entry from a user experience perspective. You know that if you ship early, its going to have little to no adoption which will make iterative testing and development challenging since you could be stuck building in the dark.

Do you build as fast as possible and ship something “good enough”? Do you go for a high quality product and release later?

In this scenario, I’d say build a high quality product with lots of UX/UI iterative testing, prototypes, etc. before you commit to engineering on it. This is going to take a lot longer but you know that by doing this, it’s going to make the adoption a bit easier. Plus, you’re confident you have time on your side since you’re blazing a new path through a different aspect of the market.

My opinion is this: product management is a case by case job description. There is no silver bullet method to building great products because every company is in a different place. A super fast, agile, and “release often” approach may not be appropriate for monolithic, highly audited and complex industries. A PM must understand the vertical and adjust their style to match the most effective form of delivering product in that organization.

This isn’t to say that the paradigm can’t change over time. Often times, it’s the product department helping create ways to be more efficient and deliver products in different ways. However, these things don’t happen over night and require a flexible product management style.

As the title of this post suggests, it’s a constant battle between delivering very high quality products and delivering products very fast to the market. They’re not mutually exclusive by any means, but rarely (in the real world) is the environment setup to enable both to happen.

Why I Joined Crimson Hexagon

Posted by | Thoughts on Life, Thoughts on Startups | No Comments

It’s never easy trying to figure out where to build your career at next. Finding a new job is a lot like dating and getting into a marriage. Although, with finding a new company to join, you have less time to figure out what is really happening on the inside.

After the previous startup I worked for had some turbulence, I found myself having a unique opportunity of having a lot of time to find the right place to join. I wanted to join a professional company that wasn’t trying to hit the “hyper-growth-hockey-stick”. The ideal company I was looking for was one with solid business fundamentals, a professional team that still knew how to have fun, one that didn’t have a cult-like culture, and one that valued each individual.

I interviewed at 31 companies all over the country. From Seattle to Colorado to NYC to Boston, I went through it all. Some didn’t like me; some I didn’t like. I stepped out of my comfort zone on a biotech company, tried out a massive corp, and even fresh 10 person startups. Initially, I had the notion that I didn’t want to do another marketing company. But through a mutual friend, I was softly introduced to Crimson Hexagon. I got lunch with my now boss, Josh, who laid out the company in full transparency. He didn’t sugar coat anything and was completely frank with the state of the product management organization, what they need, and where the current state of the product was at.

There was no talk of “we’re valued at $800M because of some BS numbers” but rather focused on telling me the real revenue, the path to profitability, the retention rates, and everything in between. It was a complete breath of fresh air. Apart from that, his knowledge on product management made me comfortable knowing that I could potentially learn a lot from someone like him.

Apart from all of those factors, there was one that helped sealed the deal: scalability. We spent ample time talking about the scaling challenges of growing in massive corporations, what it means from a PM perspective, a strategic view, and what it meant to my personal career. Interestingly enough, with my desire to build a company someday in the healthcare or genetics world, we talked about the areas of learning that would be beneficial to me that I would learn from Crimson Hexagon.

Although it was “another marketing company”, I felt confident and decided to join. After my first week there, I feel like it was by far the right choice. My perception on building another marketing platform has been completely overturned based on two customers I met with already – both multinational billion dollar corporations. It was incredible to see how they’re using the product in very meaningful ways that transcend the normal marketing mantra of “buy my shit”. These companies are using our platform to take political stances that helped generate positive human rights reforms, understanding the current election sentiment, or even how different products are penetrating the markets from a consumer buying perspective. It was truly fascinating to hear their stories and it completely changed my mind about the space.

I joined Crimson Hexagon because I believed that I could provide substantial value to their organization and that I could grow a lot personally and professionally from them. After being proven wrong on my own marketing biases, I’m even more excited than ever before about the company and the product.

If you’re interested in joining a company that care about you, that focuses on sustainable growth, that has a product with large potential, that is utilizing modern technology, that has a brilliant team, that is doing amazing work in machine learning, that is on it’s way up, check out their careers page or reach out for a transparent view and conversation into what the company is all about.

Thanks for bringing me on Crimson Hexagon!