Random Ramblings about stuff I see going on in biotech, internet and the stuff I read.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Car sillyness, and a car I WANT

Over here they have an excellent article WITH PICTURES of the new dash board of an M class mercedes. In essence it is an LCD screen with a computer drawing the gauges....

The commentary in the comments is priceless...

BTW Ferrari has had LCD's embeded in their dashboard for a while now (Enzo, 612) -- granted they don't display gauges (pure digital guages are too slow for fast cars) but it's not exactly pioneering
this is excellent... Looking here we see the flight deck of the new airbus 380 to see that, although gauges are "too slow" for a car, they are OK for a jet...If you dig around that site, you will find that screens are used in most jets and a growing percentage of general aviation aircraft. If it is OK for an F-18 (never mind the Heads up display) I am thinking it is OK for a car.

moving on from there, we get...
What happens when that TV stops working?.... thought so!
which is so much different than when my speedometer breaks...as is true in my car now. I have never understood why people think that making it a "screen" means it is more likely to break than a regular gauge (which does a fine job of breaking on it's own... If it breaks, you won't have your speedometer or your night vision, and you'll have to look at the radio to change the channell. Bummer. Oh - also you'll have to look at the shifter to see what gear your in (and it's automatic so you won't be shifting anyway...)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

How people think the web made people nasty...

wherin I feel like an old fart.

Started here to see what Scoble was talking about I clicked here, which led to here and that finally led as well to Mena here.

There is a bit of a discussion about people, essentially, not being very nice. Is the "blogosphere" this beutiful place with birds chirping and people dancing or something else? I would argue that the question was answered back in the usenet days. Blogs are just usenet dressed up. You could post whatever you wanted, and people would discuss it with you. Now, by having a blog you get a bit more control in that you can delete peoples comments that you don't like, whereas back then you didn't have pictures and someone was going to eventually call you a nazi.

I have talked before about how people trying to make the "blogosphere" be what they want it to be are a bit misguided and arrogant, and I think this trend continues.

People failed to tame usenet, and I see no reason that Blogs will be any different. People will say what they want. They will phrase it in a way that will be a little misunderstood or is a little dogmatic. Someone will take offense and call them a nazi. Repeate, wring, and rinse as needed. You can hope for something different, and you can defend your own blog, but ultimatly history is just repeating itself.

Holy crap I feel old for saying this. I think most of the people in that conversation that got me thinking this should be old enough to have looked at Usenet, but I could be wrong.

Pace of technology in Computers...

As opposed to my last post, I think the pace in computers is on a tear right now.

It is, however, I think being done for the sake of technology. I think the last few years "post crash" as people may think of it, have been what Biology is in now. New technology is made in these interludes, but just not all over the place.

The computer/internet world right now is in the "technology for technologies sake" phase. It is an invigorating phase to be in, but the shake out phase afterwards is brutal. I think of the next phase as the "Yes, but what does it do for me" phase.

I have talked about "cool for the sake of being cool" before, but it is always followed, at some point, by the "how do I make money" or "How do I answer the question/solve the problem" phase where much coolness is taken out back and spanked.

Pace of Technological Innovation

I was at the ASCB meeting this week, and was at the Neuroscience meeting earlier in the month. I talk to people all the time about their great ideas and how I should give them lots of money to fund them/buy them etc.... I, in the biological sciences, think we are in a bit of a slow down period. Note, I am NOT saying that everything has been discovered and that science is over. I AM saying that we are in a slow period. This is my, purely subjective and personal, point of view on the matter.

I think in the 90's there was a burst of technology that flooded biology. This was good. KO mice, transgenic mice, microarrays, phospho-antibodies etc.... all came along and really stood things on it's head. Now, I think, people are scratching their head and trying to figure out what to do with their toys. There is still improvement going on, but it is perfecting and incrementally improving things not fundamentally remaking things.

I think this is good, but it does make my job harder. I need badly to find the "next thing" and to do that it has to be out there. In the mean time, my feet hurt from walking past every poster at every show. And I am just not seeing the "next thing"

So - Either I am stupid. -or- I am impatient -or- People really are hunkering down and using the tools that they have developed in order to actually answer some biological questions as opposed to just serve as technology platforms.

personally, I actually think it is a good thing. People will have to get back to actually answering a question as opposed to just making a technology. They will have to think about problems and not about technoloy. I think this will lead to a lot of break throughs in human health and fundamental understandings of 'how stuff works'.

For a person who needs to license technology and isn't currently paid to figure out how stuff works....this is not such good news.

Monday, December 05, 2005

How to find out what companies want....revisited

Back when I started writing this blog, I was on a kick of talking about my day job and how I interact with university tech transfer offices... That sort of faded as not too much has changed. They are still un-usable, un-searchable, and user-hostile in their approach.

Today, I get an email (as did everyone who subsrices to the Tech-Ex email list), from a person at yet-2.com asking, essentially, how I do my job. It was parsed as "companies looking for technology", but that is my job. I am torn whether or not to subscibe, as I kind of hate what is going on here.

Between yet2.com and techex, I may end up having to pay for what is now free. I don't really like that model, as once I find what I want, the people I am talking to are going to want money as well. Further, for the most part, 99% of what we deal with is a wash-out and so I don't really want to pay to fail. I realize Pharma is working to fail as rapidly as possible, but we fail differently than they do. They are trying to wash drugs out of a program, whereas we have a really good track record of actually shipping what we set out to build. Sometimes no, but the default setting is yes. Many times, a bit of a slip in delivery...

SO - I really want to just take the tech transfer offices out back and knock them around...if they even just opened a free blog here at Blogger (and I don't even work for blogger!) then their stuff would be more findable and better organized than if they pay people to build them a web site.

Amazing. They are going to make my job harder AND make me pay for the honor!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Secret Information in Public = BAD

I was just at a MAQC meeting, which involves a whole bunch of companies trying to agree on something. It has gone really well as a consortium, and I am not normally a fan of these things. Frequently they drag on for years, hold many meetings, and make no progress. This is a welcome exception!

At the meeting are, essentially, every competitor of ours. This is a situation where you need to assume that EVERYONE cares about you. So... things you shouldn't do that I was able to snoop on.
  • Don't open your laptop and read your email. I will read over your shoulder and learn stuff I shouldn't (occured so many times I can't count)
  • Talk on your cell phone anywhere near the conference hall and not expect not the be heard. I listened to a competitor talk about the launch plans for a product we had heard rumors about. I now have a launch date and we are already preparing our response. I was sitting around a corner from the person so they didn't see me.
I realize that everyone "can't live" without their email and cell phone. I think people would be surprised to find that they CAN live without them, and that in fact at an industry meeting you SHOULD live without them. Eyes and eares are everywhere. It's not being paranoid, it is being realistic.

Another example : Recently one of our marketing directors got a call from a friend she used to work with. The friend works at a company that isn't really competitive with us, but is sort of off to the side. The friend, in long storytelling tradition, told the director about our new product and it's launch plans. Our director was floored. Turned out the friend listened to one our brand new field people talking on his cell phone in a lounge in London Heathrow. Then, she sat next to him on a flight and read his email. The new guy got a severe tounge lashing for being stupid, but it does highlight the point.

You aren't being paranoid, they really are out to get you.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Getting Caught up in it....

There are big things afoot in the industry.

Companies for sale. Products being release. Big stuff!!!!

But you know what....I still have to do my job.

Unfortunate, but true. With everything going on, I still have to put one foot in front of the other and get stuff done. Getting caught up in the hub-ub, calling friends, gossiping etc... is all fun, but it doesn't pay the bills. I get a bigger buzz out of doing some of the stuff that gets talked about, but that is much harder work.

Why keep doing it?

I guess it comes down to me wanting to be the one who is being talked about, not being one of the ones doing the talking.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Links about post Ph.D. life, and comments on them

Here, focussed on CS degrees. I don't agree with the top bit, but the warnings section is good. The statement "Don't get a Ph.D. if you don't want to do research is, to my mind, old school. I don't "do" research (althogh I am not divorced from it), so don't agree with this part. The warnings section is rock solid.

More on CS thesis.
There seem to be a lot of sites out there about Ph.D.'s in CS. Less in other fields (or my google mojo bites...)

A bunch of links, some better than others... The third link is very true in my case. Professionally I totally seperated from my base when I went commercial. Now years in to it, I have new network, but it is tough at the beginning. This mates well with my discussions on interviews. There is a lot here for the humanities that carries over to what I have been writing, so they may not be as weird as I thought they were. Still seems weird to have paid for graduate school (yes, in biology we are paid to go to school....).

Humorous take on why to get a Ph.D...ummmm I went to different school!!!!!

This is an incrdibly good summary of how to get through grad school and afterwards...

There are probably more, but this is some stuff I was reading ( I really need to get a life...)

Presenting Science in order to get money

Recently we went through the process, as we do somewhat quarterly, of reviewing projects to see what we keep working on and what we kill. In addition we go over what has just launched, what is about to launch, and general other strategy discussions. Leaving aside what actually happened in the meeting, here are some take home messages of how to talk people out of money, or how to keep your project alive. These cover more than just this kind of presentation, so are probably generalizable to other fields.
  • If you want a "YES" and you get it, shut up. More talking on the subject can only lead to "NO". You already have the yes, adding more to the discussion only hurts. You can't do better then yes. If the person was already disposed to agree with you, and therefore they say yes before you have made it all the way through your presentation, STOP. You don't need to do the rest of the presentation just because you can, you need to STOP. We know you work hard, talking more doesn't make that more/less clear.
  • On projects that are known to be unpopular, the less said the better. If you get grilled, it will happen whether or not you have a lot prepped. If you are up there for less time, and no grilling happens, count yourself lucky and sit down. The project lived to fight another day.
  • ALWAY assume that senior management talk to each other outside of the room. Don't change your presentation based on thinkning that A knows something because you think B talked to them, but don't be surprised when controversial things you are going to present go smoother or downhill more quickly. I watch as A and B talk outside, and there is communication there and surprises are prefaced and groundwork is lain. IF this isn't happening, run for the exits as your senior management is incompetent and your company is in deep doo doo.
  • Too much detail won't help. You should not ever assume that people want to hear everything. Hit the high points, get the approval, and get out the door. If you give too much detail, eyes glaze over and you move on....It just pisses people off an makes them tune you out. If you actually have something to say, then they will miss it as you already put them to sleep and they aren't paying attention any more.
These really tie in to what I had said about presentations, and it is really a lot of follow on to that, but the point is - Public Speaking matters. The more you do it, and the better you get at it, the easier your job is.

Personally, I suck at written stuff but am pretty good at speaking. This was pounded in to me in the field, so I am biased toward encouraging everyone to get in to the field. Customers will beat you up. Learn or die (or intellegently be designed....)

Monday, November 14, 2005

More not to do at an interview....

Don't, and I base this on several from today
  • Wear a T-shirt with a sport coat over it. Some stylish T-shirts, OK. Not a crappy white one.
  • Say "This is my dream job" with stars in your eyes. If your impressed by me, I am not by you, as you will be working with people smarter than me. We pay people to give good solid answers and use their brains, not blow smoke up our rears. IF - I read it wrong, and you were trying to brown nose your way to a job, then your horrible at it and you should move on...
This may be a continuing thread over time, and I am sure HR people have many worse stories of people doing horrible stuff, but I always imagine those people at lower level positions. Both people mentioned above have high level degrees. Conclusive proof that education doesn't actually teach you useful stuff.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Yahoo Finance Message Boards : Fiction or Nonsense?

Anyone who reads the Yahoo message boards for financial leads should just save themselves a lot of time and mail their money directly to me. I promise to use it in some decadent and wasteful manner, with possibly completly frivilous side effects.

Why would I say such heresey? Becuase I know what is happening at our company. I am, technically, an insider with access to non-public information. This makes reading the message boards entertaining becuase everyone who actually posts (and let me be clear here, I DO NOT POST on them) claims to have the knowledge that I actually have. Except in cases where two people are arguing and there are only two possible outcomes (thus, logically, one of them has to be right) I find it almost universally true that the people have no clue what they are talking about.

Posts normally demonstrate that the people, in fact, haven't even read the most basic bits of information about the stock they are talking about. I can't give good examples of this, as you would then figure out where I work, but people should be able to read our 10-Q's and other filings and refute the message board people in about 1 minute. If you cheat and use google, then your time may be even faster.

When people say "I have inside information" they NEVER do. They post some amazing drivel that I am ashamed to read.

I will say that the posters are all talked about at work. We cheer on their next bout of stupidity with great enthusiasm. When a particularly ripe nugget of stupidity is posted, word travels quickly and everyone reads it.

I apologize for not being able to give solid examples of the nonsense, but to point you to a company would sort of give me away. BUT - Please please please please don't base your stock picks on what you read on message boards. OR - if you insist, please leave me a note in the comments and I will send you some sort of address to which you can mail the money.

Friday, November 04, 2005

problems with Blogs

The real problem with a blog in my job is that I travel. Others are able to do that, but I have to do the rest of my work as well, so posting has been light although I have stuff to be said...

Oh yeah.... and Civ IV was released, so that didn't help...

Addictive computer game series should be illegal, as they consume WAY too much of my time.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Response to Questions

Two posts earlier I was asked some questions by Suhit in the comments... Here be answers. He is talking about how he, as a non-tech person, can break in to tech. He is looking more on the IT side of things, but thinks much of what I am on about may hold true. He may be right, but I am not too helpful there (of course thinking that I am always correct....)

My idea was to learn technology and understand it the way I would do if I was investing in the stock market. Enough stuff to differentiate between what the individual companies are doing and its strategic importance and the direction of the entire industry but not as much as a tech guy.

Is that a good way to think about it?

What do you suggest? How do I get upto speed on something?

Also, how will you assess what I know?

My thoughts on this:

Dangerous. Knowing where the industry is going is neccesary and useful, but you need to have some idea of where you want it to go. I resonate better with people who say "I think that *this* is interesting and that by bringing together *these guys* and *these guys* maybe we could go there" or "This company is doing cool stuff, and that will lead to here and that is cool becuase then you can do this". It can be from what they have said they will do, but I want you to have an opinion about it and beleive it. You need to show some passion about things and have picked winners and losers. I want you to think that some company is wrong, becuase by doing that you will have to have a reason and you will have to have put some thought in to it. Just reciting back to me what the industry is doing now is, I think, a base level criteria for being at the interview. If you can't do that, then you shouldn't be in the business. Having a truely beleived in opionion about stuff is harder, but more attractive to me.

I will PROBABLY disagree with you. I am rather opinionated that way. However, this is NOT a negative. We are on a streak now of only hiring people who I think are wrong, but the showed intellegence in their arguments and showed that they actually beleived what they were saying.

I keep saying "beleived" and I mean that in far more than the "your lying" sense. I mean that in the evangelical religious sense. BUT - you need to be able to change this deep beleif on a dime when the data says you should. When is that? I don't know... you know it when you see it. I am probably to quick to change my mind sometimes. I can, and this annoys the hell out of my wife, very deeply and truely beleive the opposate side of an argument with only a minutes warning. If I am wrong, I have to change, becuase reality doesn't really care too much about my opinion. If I can sense that you are like that, I will be more likely to push to hire you.

The warning I would attach to that last paragraph is that not everyone agrees with me. There are, and they are also succesfull, people who beleive in the "Full speed ahead=we are right, you are wrong and reality doesn't matter" statements around. I don't mix well with them....

I had previously said "Be yourself" during interviews, and this is a case where you are going to have to do that as you don't know whether you are getting me or the other guy ahead of time.

How will I assess?
I will ask questions and see how you answer and what you say and whether you listened to my question. Can you answer my follow on questions? Is there depth to your answer, or are you just parroting stuff back that you heard elsewhere? Summed up above as "Do you beleive?" because you have to understand in order to beleive (where this concept departs from the religious overtones).

Is this a good way to think about it?
Yes, subject to caveats above. Did I mention beleiving?

What would I suggest?
Read everything in sight that you can understand. There are lots of intro's to this and intro to that and intro to the other. Read them. Know them. Read and understand company reports. Annual/quarterly reports have to have the dirty laundry in them. I know what is "known" in the industry and what is in the reports goes beyond what even most in the industry "know". It is all in there in small print. Read everyone of those that you can get your hands on for the industry you want to go in to and know what they say. You will get a fuller understanding of what the real issues are.

Skip market research reports. Frost and Sullivan and the ilk are, for the most part, more useless than toilet paper. If you have to use that, you probably are in trouble. People buy these to justify their jobs and to show that they are spending money. Reading the ones for our industry is dangerous as what they "Know" about our company is so funny that you may hurt yourself laughing. Using that as a baseline, you have to assume that the rest is crap as well.

Read the PR. It is fluff, but gives a big sense of where people SAY they are going. Go back to the quarterly reports and compare. Frequently entertaining for the complete opposate picture they present.

Know where the money comes from. Who are the customers? How much money do they have? How can they spend it? You may have to ask people this, but it is always good to know.

Other.... I am sure will come to me, but as a homework assignment goes that is probably pretty heavy lifting....

Don't lie during interviews.....no really.


No really. Today the gentleman that I was interviewing for a more senior position made claims about working somewhere as a consultant. I asked some more about who he knew there, and got that he really had only read the web site.... the problem was that I was working at that company during the period that he claimed to be working with us as a consultant. In fact I was the one doing the job that he claimed to be doing. We were a start up with one site, so it's not like he could have worked at another office. There were, at varying periods, between 20-40 people at the company. He was completly lying.

Lesson : The world is a very small place. You will get away with the lies sometimes, but others, like this interview, you won't.

Note: I didn't tell him during the interview, or after. He will never know that he was totally caught out in the lie.

Further, I told others that had him later in the day so that they could follow up. There is another woman, who wasn't interviewing him, that worked with me at that previous company, and so between us we gave people questions to ask about that company. We also gave them the answers. He failed all which was entertaining to all of us. He was led on a bit just to screw with him and see what he would say about this company that in reality he never worked with. His interviews late in the day were all cut very short and he was out the door early. If this happens to you, now you know why.

Monday, October 24, 2005

...more about non-tech in to Tech companies

On my drive home I was thinking about what I had written, and may be a bit harsh. We are hiring people in with minimal tech experience, but we bring them in as Associate product managers. These are the junior wood chucks of marketing (this is a great example of a statement that will get lost in translation to most other countries, and something I wouldn't say overseas at all) (to translate - a junior wood chuck is the absolute lowest person in the organization. They have full authority to make coffee, but not much else). They are brought in there because they will be taught stuff. Then they learn and learn and learn, but it is a long road from there to the top.

My other comment about "once in it is easier" really rings true. Then you have experience, so the whole "doesn't know" is quantifiable to us. You have proof that you do know, so that discussion moves on to what kind of shoes you wore to the interview etc... (and I am only half joking here, as I have heard that said during a review. I already hadn't respected that person, and that comment did nothing to help...)

It really is all about Risk to us. The more evidence we have that you will do a good job, the more likely we are to hire you. For those with a tech degree OR lab experience (essentially, do you know what we are talking about) we know that we have 1/2 the battle won. We, obviously, push a bit on the tech experience to make sure you aren't completly full of it. Then we just push on the business side. SHow Tech mastery, and some business thoughts, and risk to us is managable/understandable.

Lacking the lab experience/degree then we have to push on the business side to see where you are or how good you are. If you are fresh out of school, then that is hard as well because then we have an unknown business person with no tech background. Risk, to us, is maximum. For a cheap enough salary, you are attractive. At that salary, you probably can't live in San Diego.

For experienced business people, it is a bit easier. We will push to understand your business thoughts, and will make sure you understand HOW to learn the tech info. At that point we are looking to see if you have shown the ability to learn other things in the past. Risk to us is the same as for tech with no business. Managable/understandable.

So - These posts sound like some serious downers for the non-tech person getting in to the tech world. Yes, empiracle evidence shows they are there. How did that happen? I dug around and asked some, and here in a very unscientific poll, are some answers..
  • Worked for a friend at a start up for 5 years. Got the experience that way. Start up stopped, then we hired
  • Came up through Sales. Sold other stuff, then transitioned to technical products, then too marketing (step down in salary to make the jump) then rose up the ladder
  • FINANCE. Many/Most/?All? the people in finance DO NOT have tech backgrounds. CFO's don't, in general, have the strong tech background. It isn't needed.
  • Started as associate product manager, and over 10 years worked way up to Senior product manager.
    • next step is director, and this person will have to leave to do that and that will be a loss for us. This problem is trying to be solved, but is hard. Lot of institutional knowledge in her head.
    • This is the long slog up. The education has been pretty hard, but she is really bright and works her butt off, so has made it
So - it is doable.

Taunton, a clueless publishing house

The following email, with names removed, is the response from Taunton to my wifes question... This is, while outside of my direct involvement, a walking talking example of how NOT to respond to customers. My wife really wants this book, so was trying to find out how to get it... These would be the publishers suing Google right now, which is a whole seperate other laugh.

Their response is at the top with my wifes original email down below.

I will say, upfront, that if I ever catch customer service at my company giving this kind of response I will be pissed. "We have no evidence"....um....$300 counts as evidence. Run a search yourself. The undertone here is telling the customer they are an idiot. If push came to shove, and they weren't going to ever re-pront, which is what it looks like, then just say "We are sorry but we don't have any" but saying "Look at Ebay" or "We don't see any evidence" just makes you look stupid and out of touch and pisses people off....

So - we post online and see if anyone ever see's it. With the other response, I would have just said "bummer" and let it go, but the stupidity assumption on their part annoys me a lot....

> From: CustomerService@taunton.com
> To: *****wife email address *****
> Date: Mon, 24 Oct 2005 11:47:32 -0400
> Subject: Re: Product Inquiry
> Dear Ms. ***wife last name***:
> Thank you for your inquiry. I apologize this book is so difficult to find.
> I have confirmed that it is out of print and there are no plans to reprint
> it. We really do not have evidence that this book is so high in demand.
> Unfortunately, we do not have any copies for sale. Perhaps you can try
> EBay or other online book sources. Good luck and thank you for your
> interest in Taunton Press publications.
> Sincerely,
> ***removed customer service person name****
> Customer Service
> To: <customerservice@taunton.com>
> cc:
> 10/22/2005 Subject: Product Inquiry
> Dear customer service,
> I've been trying to get a copy of a book called, "Knitting Lace: A Workshop
> with Patterns and Projects" by Susanna Lewis which was published by Taunton
> Press in 1992(?). To my surprise the only available copies I could find
> were selling used, online from 150 dollars (some in "good condition" for
> 300$)! Since there is no way I can afford to pay these prices, I have a
> couple of questions. If the book is that much in demand why was it
> discontinued? Is there a way I can get a copy at list price (between 20-30
> $)from Taunton Press directly? Please let me know.
> Thank you.
> Best regards
> ***Wife Name****
****Removed address and Name****

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Non Tech People in to Tech positions

So, two posts ago I was asked about a non-tech person getting in to business management in a tech company. What would I look for? I will add to that and say What would I ask in the interview? What would I expect you to know?

This is, becuase it is all I know, limited to the biotech world. It may carry over to the computer world, but I am not doing tons of interviews there so I can't really say that. My previous company was a bioinformatics company, and I only did a few interviews there and they were on the sales side of things.

So... with that salt helping..

What am I looking for?
  • You better know some of the tech. If you don't you are dead. You better have taken some courses or have some link to the technology. I don't think we can take a complete Biology virgin and do anything with them.
    • That said, for an associate product manager, which is the bottom of the bottom for marketing, this would probably get waived IF you had a some (1-3 years) of business experience in a related field.
  • You better, more specifically, know OUR technology. Take classes, talk to people in the field, read books, but you have to do have done something so that I can think you will be able to learn what you don't know
    • The risk we are taking is that you won't learn it, so to overcome that you have to show me that you have learned some and will be able to learn the rest. I will have to, at the interview review, be able to say "I think he can learn what he needs to know" or "She seems bright enough to pick it up" or variations on that phrasing. Essentially, you will have to get the tech eventually to some level so I have to beleive that you will be able to do that.
  • Stratagic thinking goes a long way. I am specifically talking about marketing or business development here. The tactical stuff that I do on a day to day basis could, I think, be taught to a rather bright monkey. Take license pass to legal. Take Red-line and send to customer. Take product brochure and buy advertising....etc. The day to day stuff you have to get right, and is critically important, but does posess a high degree of "programmable" work. The trick is looking 2 months to 5 years out. Where are those tactics taking you? Why are you placing ad's? Why are you licensing this technology? Why are you....doing any of the day to day stuff you are doing? What is the context and the goal?
    • SO - that leads me to try and figure out how well you think strategically. Given that if you are better than a reasonably bright monkey, we can teach you the day to day stuff. But will you take it to the next level? Will you be able to contribute to bigger picture ideas? Will you be able to be more than a smart monkey?
    • This, for a non-tech person trying to get in to our company is a ticket they can have that the tech person may or may not have. If I beleive that you will have something to add there becuase you "Think differently" (to borrow from Apple) or whatever you want to call it, then you stand a better chance than the average Joe/Jane.
      • BE CAREFUL. If you trot out some Thinking Different and I get the sense you are being overly clever just to impress me, then you will get dinged hard. Being different just for the sake of being differnt is terminal. It needs to make sense. It needs to be a good idea. It needs to flow from you naturally (related to my interview point of "be yourself") or it will just sound like a contrived thing that you have trotted out there in order to try and set yourself apart during an interview. I am likely, in a fit of boredom, to just try and rip it apart. My comments during the review are likely to be "engaged in verbal masturbation" or some such. These are not the comments you want flowing from my mouth as they do not lead to your employment.
    • This does NOT have to be some big thing, but can be just a series of little things.
    • If possible, see if it has been tried in our field before. This is related to know our company. If you are going for a marketing position, it would be a good idea to have looked at what we are doing now and understand our position and placement of advertising and positioning. If business development, you better know where our CEO said we are going. You better, in fact, know everything publically said about where we are going. Some ideas about how to get there will help you.
  • The non-tech person will have a higher bar on business questions than the tech person, so the above comments are more required for them than the tech person. You have to realize that "Doesn't have the tech backgroud" is something that is going to be said, so given that hole, you need to have ideas about other stuff to get over it. You need to be more prepared than the tech person to answer business questions.
Book learning doesn't count. I don't know how to say this any more bluntly, but I don't care what you did in class in your MBA. While interesting, and a good sign that you completed, it doesn't actually tell me how you will work. I have been through more school than you have, and it didn't teach me too much, so I don't give you too much credit for it. It is a ticket that you have that gets you in to the interview, but don't rely on it for too much more.
  • Example of a good way to use it " I haven't done this, but an idea from class would be to do X, how do you think that would work?"
  • Example of how NOT to do this " I would do X." with no further qualifiers.
If X is stupid, then in the first example, I will explain that nicely. In the second example I will just think you are a know it all book worm who will be a pain in the butt to have around as you will keep doing theoretically interesting stuff that doesn't earn us money or is stupid for some technology reason that you don't know becuase you don't have the tech background to catch yourself.

Non tech people have a harder road to get started, but this falls away after a few years. I would say them getting in the door is MUCH harder, but once in (assuming they are bright) that they are fine.

I think that they are capped in how high they can rise in many companies. No all, but many. For Biology, you see an awfull lot of MD's and Ph.D.'s in the CEO office.

I want to point out here on the end a significant point. If you are outside of biotech, which is inherently technical strategy to some level, then this won't apply. For the head of many companies in the computer space, they are essentially developing commodity goods. The software programs are being sold to a non-tech audience and so having a non-tech person in charge, and having many non-tech people on the business side, is probably fine. In fact, it may even be an advantage as they won't get wrapped up in the technology and will be able to look at the product and go "Dude, this sucks" whereas tech people, with an inherent understanding of a lot of the background, will not catch a lot of the problems.

SO - that is just a further qualification of the "This applies to biotech" that I started with.

Suhit - you stated in a previous comment that you didn't agree with some points. Please spell that out and either I will explain myself more fully (which may lead to you agreeing even less!) or soften what I was saying. Either way, I would be interested in hearing that.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Cultural differences in Sales

Being a world wide company, I get to deal with people from all over the world (logically stunning opening sentance, I know). Thus, we deal with many cultures within, essentially, most conference calls. There ARE cultural differences across the world. Stuff is done differently everywhere. How you talk, what you say, how you close the deal. ALL changes across the world.

However. Much doesn't change.

People buy stuff from people they like/respect/trust. There are versions of this, but at the end of the day people are pretty loyal to GOOD sales people. Good can be defined as "good" or as being "powerful" if that is the way your country swings, but I think it fair to say that good sales people, in ANY country, can overcome product loyalty from the customers.

This came up recently in a discussion with the german application scientist. He was saying, as he gave a very boring practice talk to a group of us that wanted to die, that in Germany people wanted all the data and they didn't care how long it took. Further, germans only bought based on data, not on emotion. He, and I want to state this quickly before I get yelled at, is german. born, raised, educated, and scientifically trained in Germany. He was WRONG. I have sold in Germany. Very well in fact. I was selling with a French guy. We were an excellent team, but we certainly weren't german and we weren't dumping data on their heads. I was, in addition, not making jokes and was a lot better dressed than I was when visiting academic labs, but we weren't boring the pants off of them.

You make the changes you have to make to fit the cultural role of a sales person, but you still have to 'entertain' the audience, and you still have to connect with the customer. Without the connection, they will NOT buy. Even if they are German.

Job Interviews for Business positions in the tech world...

EDITED to add this disclaimer :
This post really talks about me (and others) inteviewing people for the business side of a biotech job. I have NO IDEA what this discussion of people applying for technical positions in the company go through. Some of this may apply to them. Some might not. So take this with that addition of salt.

So we are interviewing a lot of people right now, and so every day I am asking people, in effect, "Why should I hire you and not the person who was sitting in that chair a little while ago". We only get to pick one, Why You?

Why have I selected the people that I have?

Ummm... I don't know...but I will tell you some of the knocks on people that I have said, or heard said, in recent days.
  • She wasn't technical and he didn't have her business experience...I pick him as it is shorter to teach business than to teach technical and we have a lot of business experience running around.
  • He didn't listen to the questions and answered before I was done....meaning he didn't actually answer what I was going to ask.
  • He said "Team" too much. What did he do? Did he actually own any part of the thing? Did he own the outcome? I don't want someone who goes to meetings, says a lot, but doesn't come out with anything to do because they have dumped it all on my head.
  • He is in for sticker shock moving here from Iowa, we'll never get him becuase he won't be able to buy a house.
    • OK - this isn't fair, as we wouldn't know that he wouldn't accept, but it is the reality of trying to get people to move to San Diego. They are all over it up until they look at house prices...and then their head explodes. We did feel this guy out for the offer, and forced him to look at housing, and then he withdrew his name.
    • NOTE about above. This followed the week before when we made an offer to a woman to move from New Jersey, and she declined after sticker shock. Once bit, twice shy. We warn people before the interview, but I don't think it sets in until they are looking at an offer. I know that is the way it was for me, but I still came.
  • He really didn't know anything about the company.
  • He wanted to work here because it would be an easy commute not becuase of who we are.
  • He said he hated travel, which is odd for a position that states it will have 70% travel.
SO - If, as several of the people leaving comments (Hi sreen) are going for job interviews, I would say or hear any of this about you....it doesn't help you.

Rules, and these are repetitive to what you will hear elsewhere, and include 1 thing you can do nothing about....
  • KNOW OUR COMPANY. really...you should have looked at our web site and you should know a bit of our history. Know how much money we make. know what our goals are (listen to the replays of our quarterly conference calls in the investor section of the web page). You should understand where we are going as a compay if you want me to think you will help me.
  • KNOW THE PRODUCTS YOU WILL DEAL WITH. To the extent possible, you should know what your talking about. You won't know everything, as we don't publically announce the products we are releasing in 6 months, but anything that we have been selling for greater than 6 months, you should have under control.
  • BE YOURSELF. This is the one that you have no control over, but that is the most important for your future happiness. If you are going for a finance position, I don't want you to be like me. If you are going for a business development position, you should not be anti-social or shy. If you want to be an application scientist, you should be able to talk in public. ETc... there are personalities that match to jobs or too ways of doing jobs, and I (and I think everyone else, whether they admit it or not) have 'ideas' about what those are. If you are in the interview so focussed on who you think I want to see, I will likely be annoyed becuase I can sense something doesnt' feel right, but I won't know what it is. You will get dinged becuase I just didn't like you. This is related tot he BE YOURSELF. If the job is going to be totally wrong for you, you are probably being done a favor by not getting it.
    • STORY : As an Application Scientist, I worked (and this is obvious...) with other application scientists. There was one guy who just wasn't flexible. He was going to give you THE talk he was going to give, regardless of what you wanted to hear. He wasn't evil, he was just very set in his ways. He was miserable in the job, as he was constantly being beaten on for not being the right fit. He moved off to an internal product design position, and flourished. Unfortunatly, he doesn't get those 2 years of his life back.
  • WHAT YOU WEAR MATTERS. You never lose points for wearing a coat and tie (men) or a business suit (woman, and yes I probably have that wording wrong)... point being. I will be in business casual. You should be better dressed than me. This is stupid, I freely admit, but it is true. You are being judged on it.
I will say, just to mess with you a bit further, that I am normally totally unprepared for an interview. I am working on something, Outlook tells me that I have an interview, so I start to wrap up figuring that the schedule will be behind, and then you will show up. I will then be scambling to find out about you and your past and why you want to be there and work with us. I have not thought this through ahead of time, so part of what you are being judged on (and this is probably very specific for me...) is your ability to help me figure out what is important about you. If I think I haven't got anything, I will just flat out ask "What should I know about you for when we make the decision?". This is not the best sign, becuase it means I am running out of time and realized that I need something coherent to say at the discussion meeting.

So - you go in. I will bet, that for the most part, all the hoops that are jumped through don't matter. I think, and my Uncle who is older and a judge said this to me, that the decision is made on how I am going to think about you in the first minute or so that we meet. Most of my questions are pre-set to be judged against this filter. I think most people do this, and the other criteria that are out there are just to give us a way to put that bias out for general review.

I won't tell you "relax" or anything like that, as that never worked for me, but I will say just roll with it, know as much as you can, and be yourself. Say "I don't know" if you don't. BS'ing me won't help you.

This is related to What to do with your Ph.D.


It probably isn't a surprise that I am not a big proponent of "intellilent design" and am embarrassed that in Pennsylvania (PA , as there is no way I spelled that correctly!) right now there is a court case going on about this crap. In that vein, you should understand why I think this is funny.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Presentation Training

Today I went to "presentation training class". I have been several times before to different versions of this, and include some sales trainging classes that I have been to before. Always worth it. I haven't been to a bad one yet. Other people tell me they have been, but this was good. Even if you don't follow what the people say exactly, you should be able to learn something. So...what did we learn today.

When giving a scientific talk pre-sales (say if you are an application scientist), or if you are in Bus Dev and are pitching a large OEM deal...
  • Less is more
    • Too much on your slides, and too much information, takes you off message and you don't get where you want to go.
    • This idea is one near and dear to my heart, but one that most scientists lose track of.
  • Engage the audience
    • Specifically, don't start you talk with "Hi my name is...." or "Thank you all for coming" or any of the other stock phrases that people use.
      • Starting with a statistic, or a statement of why you are there or something not normal sets you apart.
        • That does NOT mean shocking or surprising, but it does mean no "Hi my name is"
There was more to it, and we went through video-taping of presentations we had prepared, which I always like as it really helps a lot. But, the points above really capture the points I got out of the day.

In an endorsement of their work, I do highly recommend the company that did it ( http://www.twoconnect.net/index.htm ) 2Connect.

Random thoughts...give people what they want.

In software, this guy sums it up as well as you can. Another way of saying it is "give people what they want" or don't fall for cool.

Scoble chimes in (although maybe he was first...) with a post that I thought was kind of neat. Here he is listing off a couple of Web2.0 companies in a way that is indistinguishable from how one might show a 1.0 company...list of sites for you to go to.

So - I am too lazy to go through and talk about everyone getting all fired up, but reading anyones review of the recent web2.0 conference should convince you that people are all fired up. At the end of it all, and I am more of a user now than I was when I worked at a software company, I don't really care what the software is written in, where the data comes from (within the reason of it being accurate) and what portal it is part of. I just want something that helps me get something done.

This has never changed. I find the discussions about the web2.0 talk with some teen agers to be truely funny. People are surprised that teenagers are cheap, want to go to parties, and will try and get laid in college. The fact that this is a new flash is, to me, really the story here.

People keep dressing the pig up, but at the end of the day it is still a pig. New stuff, just because it is new, won't get you too far sustainably. New stuff that catches hold becuase it lets you do something better or different that actually has some benefit to you, will work. That benifit, if you are one of the teens above, is really all about going to parties or getting laid. Nothing more and nothing less. When I was in high school and college we had ways of doing this as well, they have just co-opted the computer network built to protect the free world to a, in my opinion, far better purpose.

The whole hub ub about the "new web" leaves out the fact that many of the problems being solved are not really problems at all. Long term, not a real good plan. Probably a good bubble to be had, many people to be made rich (and probably not me amongst them) using complex words and waving their hands a lot. Hopefully lots of guys in goatees acting important (extra points if they are dressed in all black and are bald). Out of all that will come a couple of useful services. The world...will continue to revolve on its axis.

I would add that, to no one's surprise, others are more eloqent than me.... Joel says what I want to say, but he makes sense saying it.

Friday, October 07, 2005

more about a technology portfolio

following on from yesterday, and continuing to avoid the "why don't you build a database, as that is what you need" (response...I know, but that doesn't matter) (and further adding, that for those of you still in academia, just becuase you go to industry it doesn't mean the world becomes all peaches and cream, the problems just change.)

So - once you have trapped all of that information on your licenses, now it is time to trap information on your own patents.

  • What products use what patents?
    • And how much money do those products earn. Patents cost money to maintain and file. Are you earning enough to make it worth keeping them active?
    • Is there a strategic reason to keep the patent even if there are no products using it? How much is that strategic move worth (in dollars?)?
  • If you don't have the patent, can you protect the product some other way? I haven't seen this work yet, but in theory you can have trade secrets or some such. Biology is a hard place for trade secrets, as few scientists will respond to the "trust me" and "it works" points of view. In general, you have to tell them how things work. This kind of destroys the whole "Trade Secret" kind of thing.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Tracking a Technology Portfolio

Oh my... We have a lot of licenses. Both in and out. We haven't got them very well organized, so I decided to do something about this, as I am the one who gets the nasty grams from people we haven't paid. This entry should serve as a note to those of you who didn't really pay too much attention during the LES or AUTM seminars (that would be me...).

I have started on the task of "self-auditing" ourselves to make sure that every license is being tracked for how much we pay them, when we pay them, what we pay them for ( a description of the technology), and when we stop paying them.

Going forward, all of this information will be entered when a license is done, but I just wanted to touch on the high points of things that you need to look out for.

  • when do you pay them?
This matters on the cash flow front, and for when you have to make a decision to renew or not. If you pay quarterly, you will have more snap shots in to how that license is performing, and will know more accuratly when to kill than if you pay yearly. Yes, you can always get the number from current sales etc... but it is easier if you work with static numbers.
  • When do you stop paying them?
This matters as I am sure every company has paid past when they were supposed to or allowed to. Everywhere I have been I have seen that we pay past the end of a license. Few people have ever complained about this, but when you realize you have done it and you try to renew, they do have you over a barrell as you have been selling without a license for awhile and that is, as a general rule, bad.
In addition, many of our license say "Until expiration of the patent" which is hard to figure out when is at the best of times. For this, you very frequently need an IP attorney to sort it out. Not a good thing, as they are expensive. However, paying people past the end of their patent is also stupid. Anyone who didn't know that Roche PCR patents were expiring (was hiding under a rock) would have kept paying steep royalties longer than they had to. That is many % margin that you are throwing away, so you have to find this out and track it...
  • When do you have to tell them x?
Where X= "we would like to terminate" or "we would like to extend" or "we would like to exercise the option we have" or ......
If you don't know the date, you are likely to miss it. Missing is bad (or innocuous, but certainly rarely good).

  • What did you license, in language that the people who need to figure out which license applies to which products can understand. Legalese should be banned from this section. In my world, I am reducind this to molecules, vector names, cell lines, techniques, whatever that the people who decide which license applies will understand.
    • This can't be emphasized enough. If people don't know what licenses are available/already licensed, they will not apply the right royalties to anything. Just won't work out, and if you get audited you will be dead in the water.
How Much?
  • Upfront Money? How much money do you have to lay down when you sign the deal. Frequently called a "license fee" but if sometimes dressed up in other names. Ranges from $1,000 to over $1M. You pay more for an Exclusive license than for a non-exclusive.
  • Royalty? what is the royalty rate and what is it computed on? Net Sales? Gross Sales? We nearly always (can't think of an exception right now) go with Net Sales, but that is just us right now. There are plus's and minus's of all computations, so just make sure you know those. Overall, a rate you pay.
  • Combo Clause? If you sell the product in a "kit" with another product, what percentage of the sales price of that kit should you pay royalties on?
  • Royalty Reduction? If someone else has a patent, that you don't currently know about, how much does the royalty in this agreement fall in order to cover the cost of that patents royalties if you have to license it as well?
  • Yearly Minimums? Creditable? How much money do you have to guarentee for every year. For that money, how much of it is creditable against your royalty payment. Ultimatly you want to make sure that it is and that you sell more than what it takes to cover it. If we are paying minimums, we want out of the deal, as obviously something is wrong. The only exception to that is if by paying the minimums you are holding the exclusive on something that is blocking a competitor. You don't have to use it, you just have to be in their way. This is slimy....but....
  • Transfer pricing? If you aren't paying a royalty (and sometimes even if you are), this is the price that you agree to get product from them for. Make sure to cap price increases, as these folks will have a very good idea of how badly you need a product. If they get mad at you, look for some steep price increases if you haven't capped the price increase per year.
So - you go through and trap all of this info. Then add in a bunch of columns of royalties, and then you have a mega-momma sized spread sheet. If you haven't become a black-belt in Excel, you are screwed. For anyone looking to get in to the business side of things, buy a book on excel or take a class or teach yourself. What ever - just do it. Without Excel jujitsu you are hosed.

...this post has rambled on enough, and it is late and I have to get up early, that I will carry on tomarrow. Class, please talk amongst yourselves.....but don't bring up databases and say "why are you doing it in Excel and not building a DB" , as the answer is not one I am proud of....Essentially, I am not allowed to. I love IT.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Anonymous Blogging.

So this guy bashes this guy for writing anonymously and says "You’re making bloggers look like a bunch of scared complainers." This is so wrong on so many levels.

Reasons this is wrong.
  • Assumption : anonymous blogger has a choice and could leave. No medical precondition or anything else that might make getting a new job problematic. No news if he has a spouse/other that tie him to that area. No allowances for that. Just the statemet that you should leave if your unhappy. Perhaps they guy likes more than he hates and just wants to effect change...
  • The "your making bloggers look....." implies that there is this tribe of bloggers who have to follow these rules that are unwritten and we should all trudge along in this single file line doing the exact same thing. BORING! and really kind of missing the point. Bloggers come in every shape/size/color/reason etc... and so thinking ther are all the same just labels you as an 'original' who doesn't like these newcomers coming along and screwing up your little party. Exclusionary, pompous, presumptios and just down right wrong.
    • Really - your the problem. Telling people waht they can and can not write because it doesn't conform to your 'rules' gives bloggers a reputation as exclusionary and elitist, which I would argue is far worse.
  • ...and yeah - I'm anonymous, so I guess I am all of those things that he lables the microsoft guy. I happen to like my job and enjoy where I am working, so I don't know if I get tarred with the same brush or not, but it's still kind of a BS thing to say.
  • The assumption is made that becuase the guy writes so much that he must do it at work. That is such a classic whiny jealous writing statement that it almost isn't worth dealing with. Suffice it to say - maybe it doesn't take him as long to write as you? It's this little devious back handed hidden snide comment in an article where the writer is trying to take the moral high ground. Priceless.
Summary - no summary possible. This is just a whiny diatribe by someone who styles themselves as an "A list" writer and shows their true side here.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Why 100% good isn't neccesary.

Scoble says here that he is getting yelled at (and if you look for it, you find it pretty easily) for supporting a "crappy" format. This is asinine. as he points out, as a user you don't care what the Spec says. People have been bitching about Perl for longer than most people remember, and still it is very widely used. Why? becuase it works. People have been complaining about Windows forever as being technologically a copy cat, buggy, and crashing all the time. Last I checked a vast majority of the world who uses computers uses Windows (personally, my house has a Mac, 2 Windows machines , and a Linux box....). Many people declare MySql to be inferior to PostgreSQL. I think MySql is more popular. C++ might be a "superior" language, but C seems to work fine so lots of people keep using it.

At the end of the day people will use what works, not what is "the best". Always keep this in mind when developing a product. In software this has been called the 80% rule. In Science, it is making sure that you cover the most common use cases and knowing the limitations where the enzyme/kit just won't get it done.

Overall, getting to the 100% best solution probably isn't worth the effort. You will make so few people happy (vs what 80% got you) and you were probably late to market. So, your late to market, you blew more money on developing it (and thus may need to charge more if you have made a habit of working this way on all projects) and only a small percentage of the people on the planet actually care about the little bit that you added to the end.

The people yelling at Scoble don't get it. Their opionion, while loud, is uninteresting. Ship something, then you are relevant. Carping is useless. I mean, you do have a right to complain, but if you are just going to gripe you shouldn't expect to be taken seriously.

I tried to use this to explain my C average all the way through college, but my wife hasn't bought that excuse.

Technical people in management

Some links for this post.

Joel Splosky, who you should read all of at all times, but this post in general talking about management of tech companies. He is talking about computers, but just do a find a replace for biotech and you will get my feelings on the matter.

This book, which is what the above post by Joel is the intro to. The site is fine, but go read the book.

All of these things point toward something I am seeing a lot of. Basically, highly technical folks who have made the jump to other careers in tech companies have it easier than the folks who don't have that background. I see both types, and both CAN be succesfull, and both can be complete and utter failures, but I think the tech people get to cheat.

My own view -> I can sit in the R+D meetings and smell BS. For the non-tech people, they may not smell the BS directly. They have to rely more on reading the people presenting. I do that as well, but I also have an added filter. People who are not confident of what they are presenting, won't be beleived as well as those who are confident, but you have to factor in there that the person may just be a big dork and shy and hate sunshine. They could be presenting nobel prize level work, and they would still be that way. For the non-tech person it is harder to smell that than for the tech person. When you are making big money bets, you have to be able to tell the difference.

So, you the reader might say, "Your saying ALL management should have Ph.D.'s. You have one, so you say everyone should."


I am not at all saying that. I work for a guy who doesn't have one, has huge responsibility, and is probably the most on top of it person around. He has different skills than me, and relys on a lot of the rest of us that DO have them in order to make some of the key decisions. Also, and this may come as a shock to you, but many scientist's at the bench really don't have a lot of commone sense, so you shouldn't put them in a business setting. They would make some very dumb "scientist" errors. They can't go straight from the lab to management. They shouldn't. It is why MANY start-ups fail. The scientist thinks that becuase they came up with the idea in the lab that "I must be smart" and "I ran a lab real well", so they make the assumption that they can run a company. They rush out, flail around, and go home. This happens a lot. MANY MANY Ph.D.'s are not at all suited for working in management/business roles. The converse is also true. MANY MANY Non-Ph.D.'s are suited for working in Tech management. Many also aren't.

The non-tech people find other ways to work, and probably have more experience (you know they didn't spend 4-7 years in lab getting a degree, they spent that time in the real world doing work...) so they get stuff done and make decisions. The good people are good, whatever they are doing. The bad people are bad no matter what degree you give them.

No one with a Ph.D. can, with a straight face, say that everyone who has one actually deserved it. Everyone has the story of the person whom the school just "graduated" in order to get them out of there. Those people shouldn't automatically be put in management of companies.

Summary :

Ph.D. - helpfull for understanding, and a usefull tool for cheating and understanding when BS is being presented.

MBA/Other - much experience in getting through life without a Ph.D. AND longer track record of doing it in business. Also probably picked up a large whack of a tech education through the years of working

...have to admit I am thinking of getting my MBA at night school, but haven't figured out if it will help me at all.

AAAS and "job' direction

So I was just reading through the "next wave" section at AAAS. Specifically this article, as I have been a little facinated by how people make the decision about what to do once they finish their Ph.D. I only decided, really, what I DIDN'T want to do. After that, I was lucky. No other real explanation as to how I got where I am other than blind luck. I certainly didn't have a plan.

SO - with several friends graduating, and the start that I put up to talk about different jobs that you can do with a Ph.D. that no one in grad school told you about, I started looking around. You would be right to point out the absurdity of the order there, and that maybe I should have looked before writing, but you obviously do not know how big my head is! While the size of my head does factor in to this, it is also worth pointing out that if you ask 10 people for the answer you are likely to get 15 answers, as at least 1/2 the people (myself included) will qualify the answer 20 different ways.

My objections to the next wave site, and to the other discussion that I see are as follows.
  • No one lists what the "job choices" are. They all presume you want to work at the bench.
  • It doesn't seem like too many of the industry people writing there have actually been in Inudstry that long.
That said, the chart below (that I borrowed from the next wave article) is an excellent summary of academic vs business lab work.

The first article emphasized that research in industry is:
  • team oriented
  • directed toward a specific market or product end
  • generally faster and less all encompassing
  • company funded
  • more patent than paper oriented

Whereas research in academia is:

  • individualistic
  • generally slower and self directed
  • enquiry-based and all encompassing
  • externally funded
  • paper oriented

In the second article, I talked about some of the more personal aspects of the choice between academia and industry, including:
  • your personal values (preferred work habits, rewards of work, forms of advancement, social values)
  • what kinds of questions you want to address with your research (nature-based or practical)
  • assessing your research skills base (what skills do you have already, and what skills do you still need to acquire?)
  • assessing people skills (yours and theirs)

And in this article, I've given you an idea of some of the important practical considerations for landing a job in either arena:
  • publishing record
  • your job network (size, strength, and appropriate focus for the career of interest)
  • the little things (communication styles, reward systems, work habits)
...and I can't get the links in the quoted text to work like the original here, so you have to go there and click on them. The point is that the summary table is really good.

My point is that there is far more to life, and the knowledge that you have from spending those years at the bench, than just doing bench work.

I hated/hate bench work, and I love thinking about science. I am free of the bench work, and knee deep in science and happy. Your milage may/will/should differ based on preference/personality. I will always say, however, that people SHOULD, be aware of the choices they have. Hating the bench shouldn't force you from science! Unfortunatly, I know it is.

....when given the chance to engage in lawsuits


No, you don't know the outcome before it starts. That is very nice that you are "right"... it doesn't matter. No one knows what will happen in court, so you better be sure you are OK with losing when you go in. If losing ends the company, then don't go. If winning doesn't completly knock your competitor out, then don't go. Settling is always cheaper and better.

Maybe if you are the underdog you do it to get noticed, but there must be some form of settlement that gets you where you want to get. Go for that. Use it all as a tactic, but court itself (IN MY OPINION) is not where you actually want to end up.

I have now watched a lot of decisions come out of courts, and it doesnt' seem like any of the companies involved actually got too much of what they wanted. Obviously there are exceptions, but I don't think most people even covered the costs of going.

Youve got to budget, essentially, $10M for a good case with a decent amount of discovery and depositions. More for international. Even more for a really complicated thing. Lots of expert witnesses, add for that. Once it goes to appeal, you have to add on a bit. Hope to win on appeal and then have the supreme court not hear it. I don't know the cost for ending up there, but I don't think that is cheap. Just a guess though, as I've never watched that happen.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Technology Transfer and OLD products

A little further discussion of a paragraph at the end of this post (last post)

So, we get a notice today from a Tech transfer office saying, politly and indirectly as these things do, "Your product is all over our patent". We get these letters on, essentially, a daily basis. Most are completly full of it and just seem like tech transfer offices fishing for money, hoping we license something without thinking. I actually don't understand them, but we (I....) look in to it, mutter about what a ludicrous stretch of the claims this is and move on....

The actually funny part about most of these letters is that they are for products, in general, that have been on the market for multiple years. This, for the most part, means that there really aren't big sales attributed to them. With exceptions, that form the basis of whole areas of the company, old products are just old. They are on the slow slope toward death, and the reviews of them include such calculations as "is is worth just making one big last batch and then discontinuing it?" and "How much does it cost to run the freezers on this?" and other such moribund conversations. (Note, that for the most part a business development person isn't in these meetings, so those looking for what I do for a living - > not this! Product managers/marketing get that fun). So - we get these notes about these moribund products. I dutifuly call them and ask to see what the problem is ( think - getting a speeding ticket "whats the problem officier?") and they spin some sort of story. I point out some problems with the story ("your smoking crack" is not something I say) and then we get down to the details of what they want. They ask for a big number. I don't laugh. I may mute the phone, but I don't laugh. I explain that it is a dying product and would they just like us to pull it from the market. This normally sort of shocks them, as this is not what is expected. Many will go away at this point and not come back. Some will drag the conversation on through several more calls just to make sure we really aren't infringing. Only once have I had to make good on that promise. They beleived we were infringing. I, and legal council, didn't. The product was doing $50k/yr down from a peak of like $600k/yr. They said "see you in court". We pulled the product that day. They were shocked. The follow on call was
  • "you removed the product from sale"
  • "Yes"
  • "Why?"
  • "You said it was infringing and you were going to sue us, so we have to license or remove. We have no choice."
  • "We didn't want you to do that"
  • "Huh? What were we supposed to do?"
  • "License. We are more than willing to license"
  • "But you wanted $300K upfront with a 10% royalty. We won't earn that back anytime soon. The product was dying, so we just sped up the process."
  • "would you put it back if change the terms?"
  • "1% - maybe, but probably not. That product was so close to death that any effort we put in to it makes it a dead product. labor is money, and the effort it will take to deal with this will make it a money loser"
The conversation went on for awhile. We never put the product back on the market, as it just wasn't worth the effort. Once we had taken it off, it would take legal paperwork to put it back on. The bill is too high.

So - Be careful what you wish for. If you are looking at a product from a company that isn't core to what they are doing, has been out for awhile, and hasn't really seen any advertising anytime recently - they are just letting it die it's nice slow death over in a corner so you probably can't hold them up for big money. Small money - maybe. Big money - Not happening.

BioTech Patents

There are always discussion on Groklaw and Slashdot about the use of patents to protect inventions, with the general feeling of the people who post comments that patents are evil and should be outlawed. There is rarely any discussion of what you would put in it's place, but I just want to put a few notes out here about projects moving through the system, the process, the time, and the money. I work for a large tools/reagent company, so this mirrors the process of that kind of company. There are some simplifications here, but the outline covers it all.

Start :
  • I get lucky and the most brilliant idea in the world comes in from either internally or externally.
  • We check the IP and we don't have to license. (1 week)
  • Marketing puts together a forecast and makes comments on whether or not we could sell the eventual product (2 weeks)
  • R+D gets to work (6 months to 3 years)
  • R+D complete -> Pass to scale up group and QC
  • QC / Scale up (6-9 months)
    • keep in mind you have to do stability studies if you are selling a protein, and those take time (6 months) so you try and get those started.
    • You have to make sure you can make a protein Cheaply and in high volume
      • labor = money
      • buy size from your suppliers = money
      • change over of equipment = money
  • Manufacturing batches and final QC (1 month)
  • Launch
So you can see the total here, and this is for something we didn't have to license, is as quick as 1 year and as long as 3 years. Licensing on the front end can take from 1 - 5 months depending on all kinds of flexibility/vacations of anyone in the process/motivation of both sides.

If you assign some FTE's to that, which in San Diego bill out between $150K and $400K depending on which step you are at and who they are, and you see that you can pretty rapidly get a lot of cost in there. You spend a lot of that money before you know if your product works. You spend the rest of this money before you know if it sells.

Why do you spend that money? You expect to make money back. You expect to make a multiple of that initial money back. The bigger the multiple the better, but a first pass of a Net Present Value better be positive at the least. Otherwise, just put the money in a savings account as you will do better.

So - how do you protect that investment? Patents. No other way. Otherwise I will just copy what everyone else is doing without having to spend the R+D time. I won't have to worry about marketing, as I am just copying things that I know will sell. There is no risk to me. I would never take a risk as there is, in fact, no reason to. By taking the risk I will spend more than my competitors and will soon go out of business. They will release to the market second, but they will not have the same cost structure I do. A great example of how this works is Dell. They have the lowest cost structure as they, essentially, don't do R+D. A typical tools company is spending 10-20% on R+D. For Pharma and Biotechs, it is higher. If you get rid of those line items, you see that you can charge much lower prices for your products, and will quickly be able to dominate an industry.

We make me-too's of OLD products that either were never covered by patents or have come off patents (Taq being a great example here), and they are cheap. The margins have been totally beaten out of them, but there is still something there so you might as well have it. Helps you have a more complete catalog and be a more complete solution to your customers, but there is no way you can do R+D on those things.

So, I hate the patent world, as we end up in court, and as my previous post talks about there is nothing good about that.... On the other hand, it allows us to make margins that support the R+D and allow us to drive forward.

Patent Infringement : Settle or Fight

So, We are only involved in a couple of lawsuits at a time, so my exposure to this is limited to the few patent suits that are on going now or in the recent past. Thus, you should take this with the size of salt you think you should...

What I have seen so far :

  • Law suits are messy. Being "right" in a scientific sense is totally irrelevant.
  • Lawyers will bill lots of money.
  • A "jury of your peers" is a joke. The esoteric crap this is being fought about is hard enough for most Ph.D. level folks to get their heads around. Expecting a jury to do that is a useless hope. You will get a "random" result. Role your dye with care...
  • Damages are randomly determined. The rules for this are somewhat set...juries just don't seem to follow them.
So, look at the Vioxx trial to see how well a jury understands scientific presentations. After the first trial they interviewed the jury, who admitted they didn't understand a word that was said but instead focussed on feeling bad for the widow. So they awarded her a lot of money. Whether Merck is "right" or not doesn't matter, as the jury didn't understand it anyway.
  • Thus you rely on appeal....
The appeals court actually uses it's brain, so you stand a chance here if you are right! If you aren't right, you should try and settle before you get here.

Overall : Fighting is good for you if you win. If you don't win, fighting isn't good, so it really comes down to what kind of gambler you are. If you don't win, and then go to appeal, you are going to spend a year, and the lawyer fee's that go with that, before you get another shot. Do you have a year? No matter what happens, it will be a distraction, it will cost a lot of money, and it will go on longer than you want.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

WTDW your PH.D. - Reading material

continuing this brain dump....

There are sites that I didn't read until I got in to business. Honestly, I didn't even know they existed...

so, for those in school who are curious....

You will read the following more religiously than you should.

Genomeweb : Where to find out who laid off, who acquired, and who announced what. This is, sadly enough, the first thing I read every day.
BioITworld : Informatics focus.
BioFind Rumors : You have to keep in mind that no one who is happy with their jobs posts here... not everyone is this unhappy. Good place to see who is for sale, as very frequently you get the drop on things there. BUT -> there is an awful lot of crap here.
BioSpace : Jobs Jobs and more Jobs. Also News, but mostly Jobs. Monster is good, but this is better.

Application Scientist - Giving software Demo's

I thought in my Application Scientist discussion that I sort of brushed over giving software demo's to scientists. Having spent 3 years doing it, multiple times per day, and while looking for people to give us $1M and up, that I would share my thoughts on the matter. So, take these as you will. I don't know if these are also applicable to other software demo's, as I haven't given those, but I think a lot of it just makes sense.

  • Know your software. Seems kind of stupid, but really I mean it. Know it. Know where everything is. Know how everything works. Know how to do everything. Know what the screens mean and what QUESTION the screens are answering.
  • Know the subject matter. When someone asks you a question you have to know what they are talking about. this seems stupid, but I have seen any number of folks screw this up. This is the primary reason most sales reps can't give the demo's. The 'field' knowledge (i.e. all that useless information that you loaded in to your head during your Ph.D.) is what you have to have down. Otherwise you are wasting everyones time, and the sales rep could also have NOT understood. You wasted money by coming along. Go home and study.
    • NOTE: You will not know everything, and I don't mean to imply you should. I do mean to say that you should understand the question. Just as you probably ran in to at your thesis defense, you can say "I don't know" or ask for more detail or whatever. BUT you should have understood the general thing that is being asked!
So - those two points above are key. With them, you should be good to go...well except for the actual presentation and the data. I am going to assume here, because it is all I know, that you are demo'ing scientific software to scientists. This means that you are working with experimental data. Many companies have sample data that you work with, and I have done that. Others use data the customer gives you, and I have done that. Either works. It is just a matter of how you go about it.

My steps of going in to presentations:
  • Have a prepared "path" through the software that is going to show off why it will help you analyze your data and get you the answer either more quickly or by showing you something that you wouldn't have been able to see some other way.
    • NOTE: I did not say "Show every screen" or "Show every menu" or really talk at all about showing everything. Showing everything is a "feature dump" and is really boring to sit through. Also, most people won't use most of the features. They really only care about getting answers to their questions....
  • Which leads to ASK QUESTIONS OF THEM
    • Ask "What are you looking for" or "What are you working on" or "What stage are you at" or "what are you using now and how are you using it?". All of these will tell you what kind of questions they are trying to answer. You should immediatly ditch point 1 above and focus on showing them how to answer their questions.
      • Note that it doesn't matter if you are using their data or your data, as becuase you know the field and your software, you can move through this....
    • With the questions in hand, and showing them how to answer their questions, you need to focus on why your solution is better than whatever they are doing now. If it isn't, don't say it is. People aren't that stupid. If your solution isn't either easier, faster, or have more power, then you shouldn't be trying to sell this and I can't help you. I didn't take that job...
    • In the process of showing them the above things, weave it in to a story. Way up top I said "know the field". that means you need to know the workflow that they are likely to be going through. If you don't, Ask them. Do the workflow. Where your software adds something, point that out.
      • the way I did this was to have little "stories" about every screen that I could end up at. Each story was a little way of using the screen that answered a question, or how the screen showed you some bit of information that fit the workflow, or something. A LOT of this is determined by what they have asked for.
  • Don't take more than 45 minutes.
    • NO ONE CARES that much. If they have alloted more time (and you should have asked) then they may sit longer, but you better read the crowd and notice that. People that are doodling, sleeping, or passing notes = bad. laughing, interuppting you to ask questions = good. You can't count on the good points though, as in different countries people behave differently. The japanese won't interrupt to ask a question and probably won't laugh. I didn't waste time trying to sort out the German sense of humor as it was alien to my sense of humor. When English is a third language, you are far more likely to make an ass of yourself than you are to entertain them. Be enthusiastic, but humore is dangerous. I broke this rule A LOT, and sometimes got away with it...but I know I was playing with fire....
  • I will repeat
      • Some call this mirroring or reflecting or whatever. The point is that they want to see something so you should endevour to give them that.
      • This really really really means that prepared demo's = BAD. While I am sure that you think you are showing people what they want to see, the only real way to know that is to actually ask them. Most of the time, they will tell you. There are some cultural caveats here, but lets assume that your not in Japan.
  • FOCUS on HOW it helps them do their jobs
    • In a pharma, it is all about getting the drug out. In academia it is all about the paper. Focus on how your software helps the person/people do their job better/faster and how that will translate to them being succesfull. If you don't know how to do that, then you haven't paid attention to the points above about knowing, and you should instead just ask. "How is success measured?" or "What are you looking for our software to be able to help with?" or "What are your critical problems that you think our software can help with?". The follow ups to these questions is normally more questions along the lines or "if we do that, what is the next step"
  • Answer their questions when they are asked.
    • DO NOT ever (with the exception I will talk about in a minute...) NOT answer a question.
      • "I don't know but I will get back to you tomarrow with an answer" is a totally acceptable answer, provided that you do get back to them with an answer.
      • You can defer a question to a couple of minutes later with a statement of "Good question, the next step of the analysis will show that" or "Actually, I will get to that in a minute - Are there any more questions on this step/screen before we move on?" -or- "excellent segue - hopefully what I will show you in a minute will answer tha" -> this HAS to be followed up with (after you have done whatever) "Did this answer your question from a minute ago?"
      • Answer what they asked, not what you want to answer.
        • no really....Don't just ramble off some prepared BS. Answer the damn question. This is absolutly critical. If you pull this crap in Germany expect them to snort at you, call you a name, and then point out that you were full of crap and haven't answered the question. Trust me on this, I tried it....
        • There are, however ways to answer questions and ways to answer questions.
          • The answer is ALWAYS Yes (except when it is categorically no)
            • This means you always start "Yes" but sometimes it is "Yes, but there are a few limitations....."
            • A categoric NO, when it is true, is fine. If there is any flavor of Yes possible, then answer Yes. "Sort of" is really bad phrasing of an answer. Don't say that.
      • Long Rambling answers waste time and make you look stupid.
      • Don't answer more than they asked.
      • Wait until they ask the entire question before answering.
        • You haven't heard it all before. Trust me. Your being rude and you will probably not answer what they want you to and you may in fact even say something that points out a flaw or raises a question they haven't thought of.
          • I will repeat this again. LET THEM FINISH TALKING BEFORE YOU START. I suck at this, and authorized sales reps to kick me under the table when I started to interupt.
        • to repeat : RUDE and YOU DON'T KNOW (but yeah, your probably right that they will ask the same stupid question everyone does....)
        • As a bonus on this, by letting them finish and saying "good question" you make them feel good. By cutting them off you make them feel like another of those dumb morons. Good=Money. Moron feeling = No Money.
  • Dress appropriatly.
    • This varies by industry, but jeans are right out. Business casual is what we were always in
  • Don't get rattled.
    • You will be insulted. Your software will be insulted. Whatever....
    • if people say things that are grossly inaccurate as a way of typing your software, then you are in judgement territory...
      • If it is critical, then you may want to politely correct them
        • "My understanding is that...."
        • "I think I wasn't clear on a point here, so... sorry about that but lets step back a second as this is important"
      • If it doesn't matter, then letting it go may be better. Just be certain it doesn't matter.
        • The customer is always right, unless they are wrong in a way that will cost you money
  • From leaving the car to getting back in the car, assume that you are being listened to.
    • Game on from start to finish. Once you are in the car you can laugh about how stupid that guy was or whatever. Before then, and on the walk out to the car this is critical, you are still on display. You have no idea who will hear or see, so assume that the worst possible thing could happen.
  • No really -
    • Don't talk politics
      • Hard if you are an american working in Europe, but worth staying out of even more because of that.
    • Don't talk religion
      • Can't think of a time to break this rule....
    • Not too many personal details
      • enought to be human, but a story of cleaning a dirty toilet is probably too far...
      • Your divorce is also out of bounds...
      • as is your most recent conquest...
      • and any bodily function....
    • I have seen/heard all of these rules being violated. I was blown away every time....It never goes well.

This all boils down to
  • Listen to the customer
  • Know what you are talking about
  • Be polite
  • Know your shit.