Saturday, November 9, 2013

An appetite for risk?

DSC01160 (1300x975)It could be argued that struggle is at the heart of enterprise: in a free market: Resilience in an entrepreneur is more important than brilliance.

On certain days business can feel like a war of attrition.  Luke Johnson, the FT

Two days ago, I described how I returned from a few days with family in the US to a storm of problems in the UK.  ‘not things to go into in a public space, but a dense tangle of technical, operational, and political issues beloved of Ben Horowitz in his entrepreneurial stories of “The Struggle”.

DSC01158 (1300x975)Jet lagged and discouraged, I rolled into Poole Central Station just past (missed) dinner.  The wind was blowing and the waves crashing as another storm grazed the coast.  It fit my mood.

Wednesday, though, an improvement.  The weather warmed and the winds subsided: I shut the office door, opened a window, and worked on the business plan and pitch.  Most of it was routine,  rewriting the summary and slides and revising against comments.  The hardest part, though, was a request that we estimate the “odds of success”.

We are raising 650K gbp to get a return of 20M gbp in 18 months. What are the odds that the bet will pay off (eg: 1:3, 1:10,1:100?)

Its a very difficult question.  The key success factor is our product’s performance in decreasing the rate of infection.  We broadly agree that we need to do better than 10%, and know we have an 80% reduction in surface bacteria in the lab and a 35% correlation between colonization and infection. 

Is (100%-80%) * 30% < 10%?

Yes (6%), but would anyone understand the tenuous logic?

In the end, I could only say that my team and I had enough confidence to put 4 years of work into this, and we all still had firm confidence that we could deliver.

DSC01166 (1300x1075)I went for coffee with a successful plant/project manager who lives up the road in Sandbanks on Wednesday evening.  We talked about how to manage groups for success, even (and especially) university groups.  I see professional respect, aligned interests, and a light-touch management. She argued that we don’t have the same risks or motivations and it was time to crack the whip.

Today, Thursday, my drive up from Poole to London was filled with calls to assess data,  discuss alternatives, finalize plans. I pulled over to scribble on slides spread across my lap.

DSC01162 (974x1300)The pitch event started at 3 in the City.  11 minutes to make my case, I mumbled my opening lines as incantations over the first few slides: a good start assures a good pitch.  4:15, the first company starts, showing a new idea for tidal power generation.  Their CEO was really good!  I took a few pointers and went out to practice differently.  40 minutes to go: the 100 investors took a break and I found a quiet corner to relax and focus.

DSC01165 (1300x975)5 pm.  I stepped to the podium and smiled.  … Founder and CEO of CamStent…improving patient outcomes… my 3rd presentation and, significantly, my last to this group, as this will bring us to revenue in 18 months…

Afterward, folks said it was my best pitch all year.  Our table was busy with interest.  We stayed past the 8 pm deadline talking with interested people.  The event leader stopped to congratulate us: he said that for all the time he’d known me, he’d never seen me as beaten down as I was on Tuesday morning, and he recounted how he took a tough line to get me “back onto the field”.

You never know where help, or success, is coming from.

DSC01168 (1300x950)It’s such a roller coaster, I reflected to the w.wezen later, from a hotel room where the bed is the chair for the desk and dinner is a waitrose sandwith and a glass of Merlot. 

Monday the issues, Tuesday the disaster, Wednesday the turnaround, Thursday a win.  In January I might look like a genius, or could be out of business.  It’s a funny, stressy, day-at-a-time life.

'‘betting that 6% will be shown to be less than 10%.

With public gravitas and confidence.

And a private wish for “Soon”.

But if business can sometimes be a catalogue of grief, there are sublime moments too – when you feel you are on the winning side and building something enduring. Then all the worry can seem a price worth paying for an independent and adventurous life lived boldly.

Luke Johnson, the FT

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