Climb Higher

by Seth Bannon

Founder & CEO, Amicus. Y Combinator alum. Forbes 30 Under 30 for Social Entrepreneurship. Vegan.

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Biotech in the Garage

Much like the costs of sequencing the human genome,1 the cost of founding a biotech startup is dropping precipitously.2 If current trends continue, biotech companies will soon be founded in garages, funded off their founders’ credit cards.

The exact same trend that happened in software over the last decade and happened in hardware over the last 5 years or so is happening in biotech now. A smart software developer can build and launch a web or mobile app and get paying customers for under $2,000. The same will soon be true for biotechnology.

Here are a number of trends that are fueling the steep drop in the costs of founding a biotech startup.

1) Biohacking spaces & shared wet labs.

Research intensive companies used to have to either grow out of a university lab or spend quite a lot of capital on their own lab. Now, they can get off the ground in biohacking spaces like Counter...

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Startup Solidarity

We often hear about how the startup world is different – about how it’s less zero-sum and more communal than other industries. Recently I had the (mis)fortune to experience this first hand.

Last year, my startup Amicus nearly died. Running out of cash, we needed to find a way to cut every cost possible. We had to let go of some amazing people, cancelled every non-essential service and perk, and asked companies for free months and refunds for time when our usage hadn’t been as high as expected.

Some companies said no. Others bent over backwards to help us survive. Some gave deep discounts, others free months, and some even refunded us for past months when our usage didn’t match the plan we were on.

I have trouble imagining companies like Comcast or Bank of America or ADP giving refunds and discounts when they’re not contractually obligated to, just to help a struggling startup push...

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The dangerous allure of the “Billion Dollar Startup Club”

Yesterday Forbes published a piece on “The Billion Dollar Startup Club”. As more attention is paid to the world of entrepreneurship and more and more people are aspiring to start their own companies, there’s a disturbing trend developing of people deciding to found a company simply to get rich.

More and more, I hear the question “what do you hope to achieve by founding X” answered with “we want to make X a billion dollar company”. That’s often followed by some mention of “disruption” or “innovation” or even “impact”, but the core purpose of these founders is clear – to make boatloads of money. Aside from the fact that there’s already an industry for those primarily interested in accumulating wealth, that’s a recipe for startup disaster.

While it appears the vanity $1B mark matters even to some entrepreneurs en route to big success,1 the harms in striving to be included in the “billion...

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Mistakes You Should Never Make

I was walking to a team meeting where I was going to announce that we would likely have to lay off nearly all of our employees because we unexpectedly had almost no money left, and that it was all my fault. On the way, my co-founder and our CTO stopped me and said “I’m resigning. And I’m going to tell the team why.” He then told me that he had lost trust in me as a CEO and as a person. And our third co-founder, a friend of mine for 11 years, was resigning too. Having slept only an hour the night before, I could barely process the news.

I had hit rock bottom.

In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz says “nearly every company goes through life-threatening moments… it’s so common that there is an acronym for it, WFIO, which stands for ‘We’re Fucked, It’s Over.’” He estimates that most companies go through at least two, and sometimes over a dozen WFIOs in their lifetime. This...

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“Vacations are for the weak”

We all understand the absurdity of that old adage “sleep is for the weak”. That attitude has been put to rest by a bevy of studies empirically showing that sleep in fact makes you smarter, stronger, and more creative. But when it comes to extended rest and relaxation, there still exists a sort of taboo.

I recently got back from a five day holiday vacation to the Puerto Rican island of Culebra, planned last minute because I felt dangerously close to burning out. Every time I talked to anyone about the trip, I included the disclaimer “it’s only my third break since Amicus was founded”. Every time. It was only once I was lying on a beach that I realized what I was doing: I was making excuses for taking a break because I felt guilty. To my teammates, to my friends, to fellow entrepreneurs. I might as well have been saying “vacations are for the weak”.

Professional runners take long breaks...

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The Times, They Are A-Changin'

For the first time, I’m excited about what’s happening in the world of entertainment. In an industry that has long resisted the sort of disruption technology has brought to other fields, 2013 is starting to look like an inflection point.

Just last night, an Internet company (Netflix) won three Emmy awards. And while the top prize went to a show from a more traditional network, the producer of that show credited Netflix for its success during his acceptance speech. An industry that has long resisted disruption from the tech world instead lauded an Internet company on stage, and offered it their most prized honor.

Last week, a video game (Grand Theft Auto V) reached $1B in sales in just three days. It achieved that milestone faster than any movie, any album, any book. A piece of programmable content is now the fastest growing entertainment property in history.

And at Sundance this year,...

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Paul Graham Thinks You Should Exercise

We all know that exercise is good for one’s brain and body. The benefits are well documented. That didn’t stop me from making a decision many entrepreneurs make – I decided I no longer had time for it after starting Amicus. In the time it would take to head to the gym, I could get through a dozen emails, mockup a new feature, or talk to some customers. So I spent more time working and less time working out.

Soon I was having trouble dealing with the stress of Amicus’ ups and downs. I had trouble sleeping and even started snapping at my teammates. It got bad enough that I turned to mentors for advice on what to do. I was surprised by the feedback I kept hearing: “exercise more”. So I started irregularly hitting the gym. I didn’t make a real lifestyle change, however, until Amicus got accepted into Y Combinator last year.

Our first day of YC, PG stood up in front of the batch and said:


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Disrupting New Domains

“We can still learn from history the invaluable lesson that an enormously powerful and profitable evil can be overcome.”

–David Brion Davis

Entrepreneurs have an inherent distaste for entrenchment, and seek to disrupt it wherever it exists. Because of the history of Silicon Valley, entrepreneurs are typically focused on market entrenchment. The organizations being disrupted are market goliaths – the Microsofts, IBMs, and Oracles – that use their connections, capital, and incumbency to stifle innovation. In our world, those that bring about this disruption are heralded as innovators and held up as exemplars.

It’s time we expanded our field of vision. There is another category of powerful entrenched interests in our midsts – another flavor of anachronistic goliath. These kind don’t look to protect their market caps or their cash flows; they look to protect their influence and their...

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