Friday, June 28, 2013

A start-up messed up at its foundation OUGHT TO be fixed!

The celebrated venture investment guru Peter Thiel postulated a law that says "a start-up messed up at its foundation cannot be fixed" - Bruce Booth attempted a commentary of this law in the context of Biotech ventures through his blog post titled 'Foundings Matter: Thiel’s Law Applied To Biotech' - While Bruce's application of Thiel's law is based on a tacit agreement of the postulation, I believe this can be argued differently, as indicated by some campus talk here...

Below is my comment against the article by Bruce Booth, wherein I agreed and disagreed with the author in two independent contexts....

My comment:
It bugs me no end just how little the VC & PE literati out there ever attempts to explain all those lurid, smart theories in the context of biotech enterprises instead of solely building case-studies out of super-achieving IT start-ups that brought-in bags of cash to the VCs very early into its life cycle. This peculiar penchant among the authors for avoidance of anything called biotech enterprise I feel is owing to a general investor impatience for acknowledging the veracity of any investment that can’t be cashed out profitably within 3-5 years & thereby not showcased as a text-book case of intelligent investing. While otherwise is a decently thought-provoking & stimulating book, “Venture Capitalists at Work: How VCs identify and build billion dollar successes” by Tarang Shah is one such recent addition to my list of disappointing treatise.

Peter Thiel too probably isn’t greatly different after all, since a lot of the wisdom he’s been postulating is validated only within the narrow context of IT start-ups - Your effort Bruce, at ‘pharmifying’ the ‘Thiel’s law’ is thus a very welcome diversion.

None of the mess-ups you listed right from ‘un-reproducible science’ to ‘inappropriate capitalization’ can be contested as inconsequential in any which way & together these six make a great check-list for the entrepreneur on how not to go wrong initially & for a full-fledged due diligence by the VC either at the initial funding or an informal, abbreviated review prior to subsequent funding rounds. I however am struggling a little bit to accept that the DNA can’t ever be repaired once messed up – isn't disruptive innovation, which inherently amounts to re-coding the DNA of the enterprise /or enterprise's innovation/ business model, an accepted strategy now?

In the June 2013 issue of HBR, Rita Gunther McGrath (Author of “The End of Competitive Advantage”) talks on how the current day enterprise scenario is all about moving away from the conventional ‘Sustainable competitive advantage’ model and instead moving towards “Transient competitive advantage’ – Biotechs' that operate within an ever evolving, dynamic clinical scenario I believe can’t really base their strategy on sustainable competitive advantage & have to necessarily adapt, quickly & efficiently to the transient competitive advantage model & this may necessitate periodic re-coding of the enterprise DNA - What I quote here is what pretty much you and others said earlier regarding the need of emergence of ‘lean-start-ups’.

So instead of trying overtly to ensure all loose ends are tied-up upfront (…including the phantom scenarios!) & showcase a supposedly fine-tuned enterprise DNA to the VCs, the start-up would do good to expand the scope of the business plan to incorporate a well thought through set of situation-appropriate pivots & an alternate disruptive innovation model or two.

My two Rappen*

*on a business trip in Switzerland at the time of posting this article