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

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.