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

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.

WTDW your PH.D. - Staff Scientist

As laid out here, I talk about becoming a staff scientist in a company. ***Follow up, I talk about some presentation skills here that matter for staff scientists****

This implies you have done a post doc (eithe acadmic or corporate) and have some product development or drug development experience under your belt. You have been in the corporate world for awhile and are, to some degree, ready to lead a team of some size.

When you boil this all down, you are just a PI like the academic world, except you are making better money. You don't write grants, but you do write reports. You don't worry about tenure but you do worry about how well the company is doing.

You can get laid off more easily than a professor can. It also happens more frequently than most universities seem to prune their staffs. This is, to a great degree, dependent on the size of the company you are at. Larger companies lay off less frequently, but when they do so it is a VERY big deal. Smaller companies, jobs are less stable at, but the potential rewards of stock options are there. Your personality will determine which you want to work at.

The job itself is really much the same. You have a project to do, and you have to work to try and get it done. the fact that the project may have to conform to corporate goals is, from my point of view, no different than the fact that you have to conform to what you wrote in your grant. People always talk of the "academic freedom", but I have always been an un-beleiver. You have, to a great degree, to follow what the subject of your grant was or you will have problems with continued funding. Attempts to make serious turns (in the academic world) are met with funding problems. For everything, there are exceptions, but for the most part I think this a true statement.

The Staff Scientist will plug away at the project. After some years, you may move up to where you have multiple groups reporting to you. Now you are setting higher level research priorities, and the groups will be plugging away. If you get high enough up, you will be picking which diseases to work on, and will be coordinating groups across mutiple sites (and likekly multiple continents).

I think a major difference between academia and the industry is that, at many companies, it is actually a LOT more collaborative than in academia. I have had a good look at Pfizer, and there all the groups that work on diseases do actually share a lot of information. There are, I am sure, hold outs, but they are WAY more sharing than similar academic groups would be. This enables you to move a LOT more quickly than academic groups as you have, to the degree they can manage, less repetition of work. The company wants to do things as few times as it can in order to get that knowledge, so the sharing is deeply encouraged.

I am, obviously becuase of my choice, biased toward the industry side. I can say that at my company we have the world experts on this one thing (won't say what, as that would peg us). There is no one, anywhere, that knows more than our group. I am pretty sure of this becuase I spend a great deal of my time off looking for any threats, and then will attempt to buy those threats. The area comprises very basic research, but with the intent that the full understanding of that area allows us to ship cutting edge products in that area. You have to be familiar with every amino acid and the function and shape of it in order to be able to put out the next generation that is faster/better/cheaper. That means we do a lot of what most people would call 'basic' research. It also means that we publish in patent applications, and then are amazed when the academic world gets a nature paper for data that is repeating what is in published patent applications....Academics should read a wider scope of article!

Cool vs. Profitable, and the overlap

I have talked about this before, but it is worth pointing out again (mostly becuase I can't find where I talked about it so may be imagining things....).

Technology/Science, when done for a profit, follows slightly different rules than the academic setting. Spefically, COOL isn't enough. I deal, as part of my job, with a lot of COOL technology. The fact that it is "cool" is nice, and certainly helps me keep myself going. I am very tied in to the coolness of things. However, cool isn't enough. Stuff has to also make us money.

To make us mony, COOL is very helpful. COOL gets noticed. However, it really has to help people do thier jobs. At the end of the day, most folks don't really care about COOL. They care about getting their job done quickly and well. The faster they can stop dealing with X, the sooner they can start dealing with Y. Getting to Y, presumably leads them to product/raise/notice/whatever motivates them.

Much of what makes us money is NOT cool. An example is Tissue culture media. Not Cool but VERY neccesary. High margin's on it, and people don't like to change from one vendor to another.

The ultimate product is one that is COOL, USEFULL, and requires the user to keep buying parts over and over and over again.

A Vector is the worst product. People buy it once, share it between every lab within spitting distance, and then you never hear from them again. A vector that allows you to sell a resin for purification is an excellent product, as people will clone in to your vector and then keep buying resin from you.

Things that are the absolute worst are things where it is COOL but just involves the same thing people were doing before but it costs more. Technologically, maybe a 'newer' or 'more advanced' way of doing things, but at the end of the day what people get is not any more useful than the old fashioned way. New for new's sake. Way bad.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

WTDW your PH.D. - Marketing

Back here I started this discussion, and then it branched out to pages talking about individual bits. Here is some discussion of Marketing. Here I pointed to this blog talking all about marketing in the life science arena. I agree with a lot that is written over there.

So - Marketing.

These people set prices of products. They pick colors that the product should be. They have to know the ENTIRE field and all the competitors and how much they cost. There are different levels to this, in that there is a differance between the head of marketing an entire product line and the product manager for an individual product in north america. Different companies of different sizes will have different levels of the marketing organization. The largest (Think ABI) has product managers by individual territories.

An example of this is that there will be someone who only worries about pricing and tactical responses for sequencing reagents in the United Kingdom. In Foster city there is someone who worries about the strategic direction overall of sequencing reagents (and for this line, worry is the right word....). The UK person will, likely indirectly, report to this person in Foster City (CA, USA). They may or may not actually know each other.

At a smaller company, there is likely just one marketing group at HQ, and they are in charge of as much of the world as the company sells to. Likely divisions have "Directors" coving broad product ranges and "Product managers" covering individual products or sub-sets of the product ranges the director they report to covers.

At the bigger company, the junior people will likely have less of a strategic view of what is going on, and will probably be entirely focussed on the tactical (day to day) responses to the market they are looking at. This includes things like "how much discount are sales authorized to give" and "where should we advertise locally" and "how much are our competitors selling for here". This information will be fed back in to the global machine and they may or may not have visibility in to what happens next. In between them and the top will be regional managers or country managers who will have progressivly more strategic visions vs tactical vision. The top person better be totally strategic (or else they are a micro-manager, and that is an all different problem...)

the smaller company, the product managers will have great visibility in to the strategy around their products. They will be deeply involved with all levels of it.

Things that marketing cover;
  • Product launch.
    • When? time of year matters. Summer in Europe, not a good idea. Christmas day, also not so good. Those are the easy ones...
    • At what price? Subject to the information and company size above, someone has to set the sale price.
    • In what form? Is it one big kit? do you sell the components of the kit seperatly? Only as a bundle?
  • Advertising
    • How much? i.e. targetted or wide spread?
    • Of what form? On-line only? Print only?
  • Product mix
    • When you launch the new do you phase out the old?
    • How do you phase it out?
    • OK, we have these 3 things, what makes this complete? (phrased differently, what else will people use with this?)
    • When do you 'kill' a product?
  • What do Customers want?
    • They catch abuse for this, but unless you inside of it you can't comprehend how much is known and how much thought goes in to this. Yes, everyone makes big stupid errors, but they really try not to. The other test is how fast do they recover from those errors?
    • This translates in to "What products do we make next"
    • ...and also in to "How much money would that product make us?"
the last point there is a big one. You have to figure out and understand how much a product that may not exist yet is going to make. You compare to other products, look at how many people work on this stuff....and then as I best I can tell you guess. BUT - there is a lot riding on that guess. Plans will be made. Priorities will be set for how fast things get through to manufacturing vs other things. It is a big deal. I don't fully get it yet.

So, a marketing person is likely to read this and say "You moron, we also do yada, yada and yada." Your right. They do. I work closely with them and these are the things that come to mind right now on a saturday night. I will probably revisit this entry (and in fact all of these entries) and edit it over time...

For the fresh Ph.D., you maybe can go straight in to a product manager role, but our company isn't the company you would do it. Mostly we look for people coming from the Application Scientist role, tech services, or sales. Basically, they have to have some business experience. Fresh scientists still think like scientists, and that is not a healthy business outlook.

WTDW your PH.D. - Application Scientist

Back here I talked about this job...

This is how a lot of Ph.D.'s get in to the business world. As the Ars technica post talks about, you will have fled the lab for many reasons. Most of which have to do with pizza, stale noodles, and the desire to never see these things again never mind eat them every day for two years. You may also not want to go to lab on Christmas day (as I did for the last two years of my Ph.D. as that is when the mice were ready....)(I would add this does nothing to making your fiancee happy...).

A Field Application Scientist has a lot of names. Included are
  • Field Application Scientist
  • Application Scientist
  • Field Support Scientist
  • Demo Whore
but at the end of the day the job is essentially the same. You are there to help the sales people close more business. You are still wearing the white coat of a scientist, but let us not pretend you are still lilly white. You say you are, but you aren't. You are there to help make sales happen or to in some other way grow the business.

That is the downer.

The upside is that you get to talk about science all day without having to actually do any of it. For those of us (myself VERY included here) who loved science except for the messy bit of doing it, this is a very attractive part of the job. Whether you are supporting an instrument(Mass spec of some flavor) a sofware package (Bioinformatics of lab LIMS system) or something else, the goal is to sell more of something.

You will be going out and talking to people and working your butt off to solve their problems. They are only talking to you becuase they have a problem, so this is the part I loved. Essentially "Here is something hard to do, you have two hours", and away you go. You have more time than that, but the point is that you are there to solve a problem. You get to think about stuff, ask lots of questions, and then put forward a solution. That rocks (or at least, that is what got me excited).

You will travel a lot. You may have noticed that biology is done all over the world. Thus, if you think about it, you will rapidly realize that the people who will buy whatever it is that you are supporting, are also located all over the world. This means you will get on planes a lot. You will be home for Saturday night ONLY for several weeks in a row at some point in the career. You will learn about all the different frequent flyer programs and be able to hold forth on the merits and problems of each one. You may even think that the rest of the world cares. To put this in perspective, I did a 250,000 air mile year one year. I was pretty proud of myself (and that indicates how warped it made me...). I was sitting on a plane next to a guy who had done 750,000 miles the previous year. He commuted to Asia every week. I didn't even know this level of travel existed. You will meet these people, feeling that you travel a lot, and find out that there are people who travel even more. For the most part, they are divorced, so that is why this job is a burn out job.

MOST, app scientists only last a couple of years. After that they move on to marketing, sales, or business development or ...they must do other things but this is what I have seen mostly.

In the course of the job, you will get good at talking. You will be giving talks to small groups, large groups, hallway groups....essentially anyone who will stand still or who the sales rep points you at. The corallary of this is that if you hated giving talks during your Ph.D., you will HATE this job. DONT DO IT.

People will abuse you. Example- I give a demo in Germany. They listen and then the questions start. "Why are you so stupid?" is the first question. They went on from there with real questions. the goal there was to make me defensive and then, once there, knock the price down becuase "our product was OK and they could work around the problems". Unfortunatly for them, I am a supremly cocky asshole so they whole stupid thing didn't really work. A simple response of just smiling and waiting for the next question really put a kink in things. Then they had to ask questions that are answerable and we ended up with a decent deal being done. The point of this story is not to talk about the fact that I have a big head (while true...) it is to say that you can't go in to this with a thin skin. All of the stuff that you have been saying to sales reps for all of your years in the lab....well people will be doing that to you. You have to be able to take that and realize that they don't really mean it.

You have to know, and beleive in, your product. This job will not work if you don't know what you are talking about. Further, if you don't beleive that what your are selling really is the solution to the problem, then you will not be able to convince anyone. People always talk about "being able to sell snow to eskimos" and while there are people out there who can sell anything, they seem to mostly focus on used cars. For the rest of us, actaully beleiving what you are saying is the best way to actually convince people.

The above paragraph leads to something that you hope you don't have to do, but when the time comes you should do. Sometimes your product ISN'T the answer. You have to say that. It is better for everyone. Your sales rep, if they don't understand that, isn't worth working with. Your integrity, your reputation, your companies reputation, everything rides on this statement. If you want a future career in this business, you have to safeguard your reputation and your integrity, as the world is a very small place and people talk.

In the course of this job, you will hopefully pick up some sales experience. You should see how the sales process works. You should understand how business's are set up as far as making decisions. You should start to get an idea of what you are good at and what you are interested in doing when you grow up. I think you should go in to this job knowing it is a transient position, and just strive to learn everything you can so that you can move on.

This job is the consumate networking job. Make use of this. All the people you are meeting are future contacts, and you should always keep that in mind. The bio world is too small, so there is close to a 100% probability that you will work with/for these people again. If you go in to sales, they are your future customers. Never forget this!


WTDW = What to do with... but I am too lazy to type more.

As I spelled out here, I would say more about sales. Here goes.

Sales people are not who you think they are. I mean, they are, but there is so much more that you probably haven't seen.

If you are still in lab, then you only know of the reagent sales people. Quiagen, Invitrogen etc... Those sales reps are one breed, and they are generally looked down on upon by the "high end" sales rep. The "high end" rep is someone who sells gear that academics, in general, can't afford. I worked with these folks at my last job, where all deals were over $1Million. We did NOT 'walk the halls' or any such thing. We only went places where we had defined meetings and the people were talking to wanted to talk to us. A demo/talk would be given and discussions would ensue. We would be back many times (over, generally, the course of 6-9 months), and would develop a friendly relationship with the people. We didn't hand out hats, or pens, or any of that. We were generally talking to VP's in Pharma, so these are senior people.

All of that is to lay down the idea that there are many different kinds of sales people. You have probably only ever seen the reagent sales people. There are some that you don't mind, and some that you can't stand. The point is that you probably try and palm them off on someone else in the lab and want to be left alone!

I could NEVER be a reagent sales rep, as the rejection is too much to take. However, they make good money. They have to work their butts off to earn it though. In this job, a Ph.D. is helpful in that you will be able to quickly cross the bridge to understanding what the customer wants and giving them that. Many of the reagent sales reps are not that technical, and they make do. Many are, and I am biased in to thinking that they are better. It is key to point out that the Ph.D. helps you push product, but that you can not pretend you are a scientist any more. Getting defensive about "when I was in lab" or any such thing is generally a turn off and doesn't help. You also have to be a sales rep NOT a scientist, and that is a switch that is hard to turn. They are not the same, and in fact the Ph.D. can get in the way of being a sales rep.

The high end sales reps get there slowly. Most come up through informatics companies or instrument companies. I don't know how you break in to this, but it is a high stress job. You have to be able to call people and get appointments to see them, as you will never get in to anywhere by just showing up. You will never get to see anyone who can actually buy your instrument/sofware/whatever by just wandering around, so these folks are masters of the phone call.

The point of all this is, that really most lab people have no idea what a sales rep does. Seriously, you don't. For the person with a Ph.D. who wants to move in to sales, you probably want to go through the Application Scientist route, as that will get you the exposure and the start of a network that will serve you in good form later.

What to do with your Ph.D. - More on Business Development

In my previous post I spelled out a bunch of choices of what to do with a Ph.D. Here I will delve more fully in to my job, i.e. Business Development. So, here is a "job description" and the plus's and minuses.

Randomness (i.e. you have no idea who/what you will be talking to/about tomarrow)
Deeply involved in company direction

Pressure because of deep involvement in company direction...

The job of Business Development is to go out and drive the whole company forward.

That sentence implies a lot. Specifically, you have to have defined "Forward", thus you end up deeply involved with the company strategy and the long term goals. You also have to know all of the short term goals. You need to know, and be involved with, the product direction. "Drive" means many things, but the main thing is to go get technology/academic partners/other company partners/information that help move you "forward".

What that all breaks down to is that you have to know where the company is headed and you have to help get there. You WON'T be part of "sales strategy". i.e. setting prices. You won't be involved in the details of product development. You won't be involved with deciding about advertising. You will be involved with:

"Do we build an instrument, buy that company that makes an instrument, or leave this whole area alone"

"Will they sue us if we do this or should we take a license?"

You will be involved with licensing technology both in to your company and out of your company. This means you will be involved with understanding the strategic reasons for doing those things. Understading that you can buy something, what the cost to buy it is, and how much it would cost (in both time, money to develop, and lost sales for being late) to make your own.

You have to be involved with the strategic understanding of how the peices fit together. If we don't do X, then Y is really off on it's own (where Y is another product). You have to work closely with marketing on this, as they are also doing this. When they need something, they may know what they need or they may need help finding the right thing, but in any case you are part of getting whatever it is in to the company so that a product can come out the other end. My personal goal is to get things off my desk. Either it should die, so we stop worrying about it and instead think of something else -OR- the deal should be done so we get product out the door and money in the door.

You have to, in this job, worry about money. It is NOT about the science. It IS about the money. It is ALL about the money. I do more science now than before, becuase I have to 'know' a bazillion different fields, but my analysis is not about cool (although I do think about cool... and discuss that here...) it is about whether we can make money with that technology or not!

Most of this Blog is about Bus Dev, so I won't ramble on any longer....

Update : I ramble on about how I got in to Bus Dev here.

What to do with your Ph.D.

So, you are coming to the end of your Ph.D.

You spent some years in Lab (because I know nothing outside of Biology Ph.D.'s, No idea what the rest of you do).

Now what?

I have been asked this question a whole lot recently, as several of the people that were starting as I left school are now finishing. Others that were post-docs are asking about my career path. Etc... Also, I just read this article (continued here), and that got my head to thinking that I should write my own view of the world (being shy that way and all...)

I talked a bit about this before. There I merely point out that finishing is worth a lot of money. Not finishing = wasted time and staying below a certain level UNLESS you punt to totally outside of the Bio world.

SO - I thought I would talk about a few of the career paths that I see for people with Ph.D. 's in the bio realm. There are probably some choices I am missing, but this will deal with the ones I know.

Academic Post Doc:
I won't deal with this one, as you can talk to a lot of them. They work in your lab. My only advice, if you want to do one of these (I didn't) is to go to the best named lab you can. Name matters. Nothing else seems to. Many seem to get hung up on "learning stuff". you will learn stuff everywhere. bigger labs have more money so you can try more stuff more freely. Also - Name counts. Always. Everywhere. No exceptions. The people who say "Name doesn't matter" aren't at top notch places or are weird.

Industry Post-Doc:
I don't have a lot of knowledge about these. You can't do them at my company so I don't see those folks. One friend did one at Biogen and it worked out for her. She learned a lot and made more than an academic. She has gone on to industry, so I can't tell you whether or not she was "blocked" from continuing in academia or was pushing toward industry anyway. *Guessing* that she was predisposed to move toward industry anyway, as that is where she did her post-doc.

Staff Scientist (Link)
This is what you become when you are the equivalent of a PI in academics. You lead a small/large group of 'post docs' or technicins in some direction to make a product/drug/diagnostic test/whatever. You operate under, ultimatly, the CSO (Cheif scientific officer). There are differnt levels of this responsibility, ranging from a small group up to being the CSO. Small companies and large companies will differ a bit in the stability of these positions, and the number of levels of management, but essentially you are doing bench research. I talk a lot more about this in the linked post above.

Tech Support
Ever wonder who answers the phone when you call a company with a question about a product? You probably think they are morons becuase they can't answer your question for the specific cell type you have in the specific environment you have under your specific questions. Your wrong. I haven't worked Tech support, but know the folks over there well. They know stupid amounts of information. We have a broad product line, and they know a lot about the whole thing. This is a good place to go if you don't really know what you want to do next, maybe aren't in to travelling, and want to get exposed to the way a company works. The tech support people have to know everything that has been tried during the development of the product, know the normal questions that are asked, and have to know what we are and are not allowed to talk about (Legal reasons). Also, they have to know the most likely products you use this product with (including our competitors). This gives you a stupendous overview of the entire market, as folks will be asking you about it every day. Many use this job as a springboard off to marketing (the overview of the market helps here) or to field sales jobs (they get sick of reacting and want to push). A few stay here for the long haul. It is a pretty stable job, as the phones have to get answered, so you frequently will live through early rounds of lay-off's in good shape if the company starts to fold. This gives you ample warning to start looking for another company.

Field Appication Scientist (Link)
You probably don't know these people. I was one when I left Grad school, and I had never heard of the job up until the day I interviewed for it. All companies have them, and the role changes a lot by company. I will give the overview here and talk a lot more in depth about these jobs in the follow up posts.

Overall, you job is to be a scientist who supports the sales people. This will range in duties depending on what company you are at. At the first company I was at, we were selling multi-million dollar visualization software to bioinformatics and cheminforatics folks at large Pharma. I worked as part of a team with the sales people. At instrumentation companies, you will be the one who demo's the machine and answers technical questions.

You will travel a lot, and in general people burn out of this job at 2-5 years. The travel is really brutal, but you will see all parts of how business works. You are a "scientist" but you have to pick up sales in a hurry or you will be useless.

For the most part, Academics don't see too many application scientists, although they may see them at meetings giving talks. Mostly these people work the Pharma world where the payoff justifies the cost of sending in two people (Sales and App Scientist).

Sales (Link)
Those of you who have not yet left academics just recoiled in horror. Your wrong. You only see the sales reps who focus on academics. There is a whole OTHER breed that does high end sales, and is totally focussed on very large deals with Pharma. Deal size here is in the millions, and their cut of that is good. Many of them are Ph.D.'s. This is hard to break in to, but you make serious quantities of cash if you do (well over $100K/yr IF you are good.) You have to make sales in order to make money.

Another level of this is like an Affymetrix sales rep (or any other instrument sales rep for that matter). You don't see them too much in academic circles, but many of them have Ph.D.'s as that allows them to understand the customer faster, lets the customer have faith in them faster, and generally closes the deal a lot more quickly.

Business Development (link)
This is what I do, this will also be a follow up post with more detail, but this is a job totally cut out for people with a Ph.D.

Marketing (Link)
Another section that will be a break out follow up post, but these are the folks that you have no idea what do. They are deeply involved in product direction for companies, and are closely tied to the make up of everything that goes out. You only really notice when they screw up, but every time things are just what you need, that is them at work. All the ad's that everyone swears they don't read - came from them. A brief note about the ads... they work, we track it. Everyone does...so although everyone swears they don't read them, quite obviously someone does as they flock to the referenced web site and sales spike in the weeks following...

A lot/most manufacturing Heads are Ph.D. level scientists. They have to figure out how to manufacture whatever has been come up with. Make 1mg of protein is easy. Making 1KG of it is WAY harder, and that is where their trouble shooting and knowledge kicks in. Most of the people looking at the transition from R+D to manufacturing are also Ph.D. level folks.

Note from what I just said. The normal way things go is R+D makes it work. Scale up (has MANY different names) transitions from R+D to manufacturing by figuring out how to make the process scale from bench prep to production lot and works out the QC metrics, then Manufacturing just does the final optimization and makes sure that the same thing spits out the end every time.

I will move on to follow up posts to spell out some of these jobs further, and come back here and edit in links to those posts as I do. I may add more jobs as I go, but these are the main ones that come to mind right now...although that last sentence will be hard to reconcile with edits added...

Continuing edits... I talked a bit about Job Interviews Here.
Update : I talk about follow on degrees here.
Update: I talk about where to put your resume here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Big Mouths

So, we were close to finishing a $100K/yr deal with this other company. I heard through another person whom I used to work with that another company was also going to license the technology. There were stalls and delays and stalls, and eventually it becaue "public" knowledge that the other company had the technology, and we killed the deal.

What am I trying to say from this example?

Don't be that guy who leaked. He cost his company a good strategic hit against us. We got rid of him from our company becuase he had a big mouth, but are sure happy he works somewhere else. Probably his new company will figure out that he has a big mouth as well, but in the mean time I am happy. He will never get promoted. He won't get really anything special at all. Many of us are happy he exists though, as we will continue to get info we shouldn't.

My policy... buy the beer but keep your mouth shut. It isn't anyone else's business. If you knew me, you would not beleive me, as I am loud and and talk a lot. Much talk, not much said. Knowing when to keep mouth shut and not fill a silence or not stop someone else from telling you something useful by interrupting is something I continue (and probably always will) work on.

More about information

Thinking more about the last post and my final comment.

It is, I think, essential to understand that nothing stays secret for too long. Leaving aside government top secret projects, which I assume do a decent job of keeping secrets, any group of people will include someone who leaks.

It is my job to know that person. Maybe I don't know them directly, but I know their friend at another company and will hear something.

Yeah, I read every press release. Yes, I read Journals (too even a much greater extent than I did in grad school!!!!). Yes, I go to shows and look at brochures. Yes, I read "market research reports". You get information from all those sources.

To get the real scoop, you have to know people.

however, the line between gossip and news is hard to tell, and you have to really know who is saying what, and where they heard it from, or you will get burned.

For example, I know there is a company for sale right now that many people would recognize. We aren't interested. I can guess at other companies that, strategically speaking, would/should be interested. Today I "heard" that this other company is buying. It makes NO sense. BUT, I don't really know the source of the rumor. It came to me n'th hand, so it makes it pretty close to impossible to judge whether it is true or not.

This date comes under the heading of gossip, not of data. Tittilaing, but not something that I will base any plans on.

All this reinforces that overused statement "Don't burn bridges", as you never know who you will need to get info from at some point in the future.

Other note : Don't be that person who leaks....

Life Science Exchange

Interesting comments on Marketing in the tools space. I have to figure out where this woman works, becuase, you know, I am nosy that way....

Different companies work differently, as we have a person much the same as her. The overlap between what she does and what I do is there, as you can't really seperate "competitive intelligence" from the people who need to know what is going on and the person who is focussed on where we are going.

I spend a ton of time reading, talking, calling, etc... to make sure I know what every company in our space is doing. Surprises = Bad. That said, we are always surprised. There is enough shuffling of people between different companies that long term secrets are hard to keep. Shorter term secrets are very keepable, but as with every industry/group on the planet, networks of friends grow and information flows.

oh yeah... and some people just have really big mouths, which is really quite helpful!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

U. FLorida Tech Transfer

So I get flyers from U. Florida (even though I have signed up for email deliverary and have talked to them within the last month). To get more info they say at the bottom of the flyer "Reference UF # 11111".... so I go to the web page and search for the number 11111 (made up the number). NO HITS. WTF!!!!! I then search for the title of the invention as put on the brochure. NO HITS. I then search for one of the major key words that I can think of. FINALLY.

You have got to be kidding me.

Don't give me reference numbers or titles if you can't be bothered to enable me to find them on your web site. This one was easy to guess a key word, but that isn't always true. What good is the reference number for anyway?


Monday, September 05, 2005


The human suffering is huge. So not to belittle that, but the next thing that a lot of companies are going to look at is "what does this do to our sales this year". You can take whatever number was in the forecast for that territory and just set it to $0. Your getting nothing from there unless you are in construction. Biotech, not happening. So, if you were in the process of closing big deals down there to place instruments, you can pretty much write that off. The money to pay for the clean up has to come from somewhere, so it seems likely the NIH budget will take a hit in here somewhere, and that is future sales for the supply folks.

The ripple effects from this will go out in weird ways for quite awhile.