featuring James Lochrie, Andrew Browne and Katie Greene
Here's the first video in the Zero to Seed content series.
In this conversation, you'll get valuable advice from those who've built businesses before and know the highs and lows.
Learn more about:
dealing with negative feedback
getting comfortable talking to your customers
managing your own wellness
"When we're pushing into the market, and trying to be aggressive about something different, challenging the status quo, making the world a better place by changing the way things are done, you're going to find resistance at all levels. Resiliency to that negativity is a really important step." ---James Lochrie, Managing Partner
You'll also get lots of encouragement, because we know #BuildingWhatsNext is hard work.
Video transcription can be read below.
Leah: Hey team. Thanks so much for being here today.
James: Hi Leah.
Andrew: Thanks for having us.
Leah: You bet. So, we're going to do some fun things today, starting with talking about this idea of starting your startup. So really the goal here is to give these founders a little bit of advice and encouragement to help them get that idea off the ground. So, James, why don't we start with you? Let's say you've got a founder who's watching us. They've got this idea, but they don't even know where to start. What's the first thing they should do.
James: Start you start. Just go. So, you know, I think that the hardest thing that people do is actually taking that first step. And a lot of times it's because they don't know what the first step should be. They might not be confident. They may never have done something like this before. The important thing is just to take that step and it might not be the right one. It's okay. If it's not the right one, it's important to get going. And by taking that first step, you start learning, you start learning. Is that the right direction? Am I talking to the right people? Do I have the right idea? And it allows you to start thinking about what is the right step? What, where can I take this? What do I need, what people do I need to surround myself with or is my idea completely crazy and is not going to work? So, it's important just to get going. There's a lot of nuances around that, but I think that the key is that the initiative to go is the most important thing about starting a business is actually just starting.
Leah: Yeah. Andrew weigh in on that one. Where do you, what do you do with that first idea?
Andrew: Yeah, I agree with James on that. I think as James mentioned that there's a learning process that goes into this and the only way to learn is through experience and, and the only way to experience that is to go out there and actually start. And so start can be kind of a, well, what do I start with? And some people get hung up on some technicalities of, do I go incorporate this business? Do I build a website? Do I create a logo? The reality is most of the work of building a startup is actually in the interaction between you and the, in the customer and understanding what pain you're trying to solve for them. Um, and the only way to learn that is to talk to your potential customers, talk to people that you think you need to sell to and understand what you need to build for them to buy. Um, and I think once that starts happening, it's a snowball effect and, and you gain momentum around some of the concepts and it feels a lot like two steps forward, one step back. And that is that is true. But, uh, but at the end of the day getting started you know, that first step is often the hardest and people hesitate, but once you get started and, and going it's much clearer what the next step is afterwards.
Leah: Absolutely. Okay. Katie, you've got a bit of a specialty in the health space from a health perspective. If there's a life science venture, having those first steps, what advice would you give them?
Katie: Yeah, it's definitely a different, it's a different journey for them. Um, but I think a lot of the fundamentals that both James and Andrew are talking about here still apply. You still want to go out there and discover more about the problem that you're trying to solve. You know, you might think that the problem is one way based on your experience. But I think talking to those end users, whether it's, you know, going to be clinical staff, whether it's actually going to be the patients or whether it's going to be the support of either of these groups, getting, getting their feedback and input right from the start will drastically, you know, improve the way you design the steps you take. Obviously, it's a little bit more challenging for life science ventures, because it's often a lot more expensive and the regulatory hurdles as you're building can be a bit more challenging.
I'd also say, you know, even from that, that first step, start talking to people in the regulatory space, start understanding the type of things that you'll need in place, the different pathways that exist as well, because, you know, you think you could think you need to go to a specific regulatory level in order to impact the group that you're trying to impact. But it could be that if you go a different route or come in at a different way, you might be able to hit the market sooner and build to that next level. So, engaging really early with these types of experts is huge. Typically, you know, health, Canada, the CE mark group, the FDA they're quite open to having these conversations earlier and there's a myriad of different regulatory consultants or even free advice with different innovation groups that exist.
Leah: Wonderful. Thanks Katie. So, James, could you talk a little bit about how yes, you've spoken to your customer, you're getting some of this information, but you always hear this word. Well, you got to validate your idea. Can you just talk a little bit about what that means?
James: Yeah. You know, I think entrepreneurs in general, people that come up with ideas and start acting on them, I like to say I'm sometimes delusional when I'm, when I'm thinking about ideas because I come up with this concept and people are like, yeah, but how does it work? It's just going to work. I can see it in the future. So, can't you see that? I can see that there's a whole bunch of assumptions that are built into that mindset and those assumptions are the things that could be very, very good assumptions are really the ones that will kill you and kill your product and your business. And so, the more of those assumptions, you understand are assumptions and not fact, the better your business will be, because you can manage that, those types of things.
And the more assumptions that you can look at early on and say, are those actually true? Can I go and talk to somebody? Can I go and test something? Can I go and validate that assumption and see if actually is a fact, that's what we're talking about. And that's what you do before you start investing large amounts of money, time and effort into things is validating those assumptions because it's really crappy to go and build a business or a product service, build it all out and spend all the money, time and effort, get to market and then realize, oh yeah, everybody really likes your idea, but nobody wants to buy it. Nobody wants to pay anything for it. Or nobody really wants to use it in the way that you think it should be used. Or that market is so small. You didn't validate the broader market. So it's, those types of things are just a it's, you know, we get inside of our heads. This is a very human process is making these assumptions that we're right. And sometimes we are right. And sometimes those big assumptions pay off for us, but there's a lot of things we can do along the way to take away a lot of risk inside of the business at the early stages, by just asking questions of the right people at the right time, before we make big investments of time and money.
Leah: That totally makes sense. So, it's this idea of validating this idea and getting rid of some of those assumptions before you start sort of jumping in head first.
James: Yes, removing the delusion that we have in our minds and turning it into fact? I think it's the key.
Leah: Turning it into fact. I like that. Andrew, can you talk a little bit about that though? Like that could be a little bit overwhelming maybe for a founder to all of a sudden start reaching out to those first customers and start testing some of these ideas. I mean, maybe you don't even feel comfortable talking to your customers at first. Is there something you can offer to sort of get over that sort of fear maybe of reaching out and testing those ideas in the market?
Andrew: Yeah, of course. The way that I always think about this and work with founders on this is it's much more it's much riskier. So, there's this assumption that like, I need money to do those things that James was talking about. And the reality is you actually don't and it's much more risky to raise money and invest it into building product or hiring people before you actually go out and validate those. And so the fear is, well, I don't have the resources. I need to actually build something that this person's asking for, but the fear, I think, if you want to turn the mindset a little bit, the fear should actually be, I'm going to end up building something that doesn't match the market need. And if you think about it from that perspective, then it's like, well, let's hone in on what this market need actually is and what needs to be built to serve at, and that doesn't take money to do that takes, you know, effort and time.
And the way that I would think about this from like a first-time founder perspective, or even someone just starting a new venture is to, to break it down into kind of manageable steps. Right. So look, look forward into the next three months and say how many people that should I, could I talk to that are my potential customers within that period of time and what kind of experiments can I design to test some of these assumptions. And that, that is just spreadsheet, pulling up your sleeves, pounding the pavement, calling people, getting in front of people. And those are all skills that are going to be needed and valuable at the next stage of your development as well. And so you're learning as you go. And this is a lot of people have probably heard this term of building a plane as it's falling or flying.
And that's really what this is, you know, you kind of have this vision of what this could be in the future, but you're going out and you're taking steps to validate and build the business as you go, based on what you're learning along the way. And so I would think about this as like, if I'm starting an idea, I have this, this idea and this vision for a product offering that I could put into the world. The first thing I would do is, kind of map out the next three months and, and break down your, your, who you think your customers are maybe into a couple different segments to organize it in your head. Put it on a spreadsheet and then just start, start picking up the phone, calling people, getting in front of people, however you can, and having those conversations and you'll learn along the way it'll get, easier.
The first step is always the hardest and it's uncomfortable. But once you again, get used to it and you go in with the perspective that I'm, I'm here to ask for some advice, or I'm here to learn more about the problems that you have in your, in your business that we think we can solve. Um, you'd be surprised how many people are more than willing to have a conversation like that. And in some cases, help fellow entrepreneurs. In other cases, just talk about some of the, some of the challenges they're facing that they're looking for solutions for. So that's, that's how I would think about starting
Leah: Sounds great. Katie, does this make sense in the health space as well to take those baby steps? I mean, I don't, what does that look like in the science world, in the health world?
Katie: Yeah, well, it's a bit different. It's still the same kind of steps and, and funny enough, the, the people in the life sciences or health space are probably more familiar with this experimental approach, right? So, they're used to generating this early data coming up with these early ideas based on kind of generating a hypothesis, developing methodology to test and coming up with kind of unbiased results that they use to interpret it when it comes to then taking that idea, you know, typically scientists and different people in this area are used to putting that out for peer review publication. Adapting that to commercialization approach can be actually quite challenging, but the mindset's not all that different. If you can just apply that experimental approach to going out and talking to your end users or your potential customers, it's the same type of thing. You know, your hypothesis is, you know, my idea for this product or service is gonna solve this pain point for these users in this way. And you're gonna go and validate that and talk to them, take that information and use that for your next iteration or how you build or what the first steps are. So, I think it's quite a similar path really
Leah: Isn't that. Interesting. Thanks for that, Katie. So we've talked a little bit James about these first sort of baby steps, but let's talk a little bit too about how consuming this can be. I mean, maybe we need to sort of shed some insight into what your life could actually look like when you sort of embark on this journey. James, do you wanna talk about that a little bit?
James: Yeah. Well, it can be different for everybody, right? Because people approach things differently. People have different things they put into the balance of their lives. Typically, what I've seen is the people that go after the big opportunities that are global in scale and are aggressive about becoming market leaders or the market. They tend to put everything into this and it's really a huge sacrifice around the other parts of your life, right? You know, whether it's your physical health, your eating habits, your sleeping habits, your relationships, both, you know, your intimate relationships, your families, your friendships, all of those things can be really damaged by pursuing these types of things. So taking some time to make sure you've got your house in order is important. Making sure that you understand what keeps you healthy, what keeps you engaged?
Cuz it's a long haul. This is not a sprint. It's not a hundred meter dash. We're not done in 10 days. We're done in 10 years. Right? So when you think about it in those terms, it's like you gotta have a strong foundation personally, to be able to guide yourself through all of the ups and downs that are coming all of the uncertainty, the massive amount of rejection that you get both from investors and customers and the general market, how people wanna see you fail sometimes, all of those things happen and you have to be ready for that stuff. So it's to me, it's just you know, it's realizing that that's the case, make sure you have a good support system and make sure you're good with yourself when you're getting into these types of things, because and then surround yourself with great people that get it, you know, people that have been there and done it before.
And you can call them or go out for coffee or lunch or whatever, and sit down and cry on their shoulder for lack of a better thing that it's just, you know, sometimes we need that. Sometimes we need the support of others. So I think that's a, you know, it's a challenging thing. Entrepreneurialism has been so romanticized in the movies and the books and, you know, the culture of capitalism, it is romantic. It's amazing. Like it changes the world. We do amazing things. We work with amazing people, we accomplish the impossible, but at the same time, there's a personal toll that comes with that. So you just have to be ready for it and do what you should be doing for yourself to be successful over the long term, as a human being.
Leah: Thanks for that, James, Andrew, you've talked about this before with me, certainly when I say, you know, these entrepreneurs, this seems like such a crazy thing to do and you're like, yeah, it kind of is, but there are a few things that, you know, you really should do to make sure that you stay well. Can you talk a little bit about that too, Andrew?
Andrew: Yeah. I think I really like the way that James Des described that specifically around like making sure that you know, how to keep yourself healthy, both mentally, physically. And this is a learned experience. When I went through my first few ventures you know, I was very, I was so into it that it was really hard to pull myself out and look around and say, you know, like, am I moving the direction that I, I thought I was? And you're just so it's so all encompassing. But going to my next venture I was much more self-aware of, of when I needed to take care of myself and when I'm at my best. And when I was at my best was not, when I was working you know 12, 16-hour days, six days a week, it was when I had time to pull myself out of it. Sleep enough, certainly eat well and take care of my body and exercise. And then I wake up every day and I'm ready to go and excited about the challenges ahead.
Leah: How does it look in the life science space, Katie? Is it a different experience because these people are more used to this mindset, as you were saying, sort of this test and move forward slowly and methodically?
Katie: Yeah. To some degree they are a little bit more used to it, but I think it's a learning curve that every, you know, everyone in the health and life sciences sector experiences, I certainly know a lot of people going through graduate school or PhDs that, you know, come across this dilemma of it's really that the paradigm between like work smarter, not harder, there's only so much you can work. Right. And it's becomes down to prior, like prioritizing what needs to be done. Now what's gonna have the biggest value versus what could be done down the road. Things like as well, you know, have to take breaks. You know, the work is always gonna be there in the morning. You need to just take that time to switch off because likely you'll get through it and you'll do better work when you are well rested.
Right? So listening to your body and listening to yourself and surrounding yourself with good people like James said, and Andrew as well, not just kind of other founders as well, but even within your own support network, your family and your friends, you know, being vulnerable and having those conversations with them. And it is a scary thing, right? These entrepreneurs and founders, the ideas that they have, they're babies. Right. And it's terrifying to put that out there in the world. And there's a lot of vulnerability that comes with that. So just making sure that you take care of yourself as well as you're building these companies.
Leah: Wonderful. I think it's time to sort of give these founders a little bit of encouragement as they sort of put their baby out there into the world. James, what would you sort of say to these founders that are just taking those first steps?
James: You know, I think that be prepared for rejection. I think that's, that's the thing, you know, we, we come up with disruptive ideas, because other people aren't thinking in those ways, right. And when we bring those ideas into the public realm, it's an affront to the way that things are done today, especially for people that actually work in those areas. So what I often see is this high, high level of rejection of ideas at the very early stages by experts, experts in the field, right? Domain experts that have done it the same way for a long period of time, or haven't changed their perspective. It's not always the case. Sometimes we get people that are like, oh my God, why didn't we think about that before? This is gonna be amazing. But most times when you have disruptive ideas, it's a very negative response by the market.
And it's not just domain experts. It sometimes investors or other business, people that are looking at what you're doing and saying, no, that just doesn't, that's stupid. Doesn't make sense. I mean, we got that all the time at wave at the early stages, especially with our business model and, um, it's that fortitude and belief in yourself while at the same time listening and trying to understand why are they saying those things? What is it about the market that's giving them that negative connotation, because there's probably some kernels of truth in there that, that do have some relevancy to your idea, but it's important to still sit in that confidence of yourself and your idea that it is something different that it's gonna take time to be accepted. That most people aren't gonna see that future because they just don't think that way.
And that's okay. That's why disruption happens from a very, very small pocket of the population of the world. Disrupts a lot of the way that we do things. It's just cuz most people don't think that way and that's fine. But when we're sitting there pushing into the market and we're trying to be aggressive about building something different, challenging the status quo, making the world a better place by changing the way things are done you're gonna find resistance. You're gonna find resistance at all levels. And that resiliency to that negativity that's constantly pushed at you is a really important step that you have to have. Again, it goes back to that delusional mindset again, right where you're like, despite all evidence coming towards me, despite all these smart people saying, it's not the right thing to do. You still move forward. But you do so with caution, right?
You do. So with listening ears, you make sure that you're taking in that information and applying the pieces that apply to your idea and the risks that they're talking about to your idea, and that makes your idea stronger. Right. And you know, there is the odd time that those people are right? So you should listening, right? So it's important to have that resiliency and have those conversations and be ready for it. Like it's a negative journey until you start hitting success. Everybody hates you. You're like this crazy person. And then all of a sudden you're successful. Then everybody loves you. Then you run into trouble. Then everybody wants to see you fail because you're so successful before. And you're you get past that and then you become massively successful and everybody's like, wow, that was just a smooth journey all the way up to the right and look at this, you know, it's just a crazy rollercoaster ride. And you just have to be ready from the beginning if that kind of negativity that comes with.
Leah: Fair enough. Fair enough. Andrew, do you have a quick piece of advice for those just taking those first baby steps?
Andrew: Yeah, I think this is similar to James. Like just don't take it so personally, right? Like this journey's gonna be full of rejection. And I think I see a lot of people get really hung up and say, well, how can people not see the world the way that I see it? And this is why ideas aren't worth anything. Except what they're worth from an execution perspective. Right? So you have this vision in your head of what this could be and that's great, but that is not shared or it's not obvious for other people to see it that way. So on one hand, you're trying to convince people that, that it should be thought about this way. On the other hand, you're going in with listening ears to understand, well, how, how can we make that be or what way I have to think about in terms of getting an idea into a product and then the product into the market.
So I think you know, from my perspective, going through the first time, it definitely feels heavy and, and like you're just up against a wall all day, every day, you find a little bit of success and I really always encourage entrepreneurs to celebrate even the smallest wins along the way to pull yourself out and say, you know, that was, um, we got rejected four times from all of these, let's say investors or customers are saying that this doesn't make any sense. But then we had this one group that was, you know, more progressive in the way they think about their own business. And they said that, you know, they see something here and they wanna help us and tell us more about how it could fit in with their business. Celebrate those things.
Don't get too high on the successes that you're having along the way, but don't get too low either. find a balance in between and don't take yourself so seriously while you're going through that. I think it's you know, part of embracing the journey and you're solving problems all day, every day in this job. So you have to go in knowing that that's part of it, but at the same time there's a way to enjoy that process. If you can kind of just don't take it personally and pursue through and persevere when you're, you know, when you have a couple days of just, you know, negative feedback coming back or things that aren't aligning with the way that you once thought. I think there's an aspect of that, of just enjoying the ride while you're doing it.
Leah: I like that. Andrew just enjoy the ride a little bit. Yeah. Celebrate those small wins. That's terrific. Katie, is it similar in these life science spaces? I would imagine you've got scientists that are working and researching in the lab, but then making that leap to being an entrepreneur can be quite a giant leap.
Leah: Any bits of encouragement?
Katie: Yeah, for sure. A hundred percent as well. You know, scientists I say from anyone are, are pretty used to failure. They're always striving for that 1% success and when you get it, it feels so good. So, they know that cycle of failure and working for the chance of success. But yeah, I agree with what James and Andrew said, you know, it's, it's really about remembering what that those good times feel like along the journey. And then I think, you know, you always want to be confident in what your idea is, but not close yourself off to feedback and adapting, you know, what you start with your idea and what you think the product's gonna look like in the end are often very, very different things along the journey. So it often changes along the way and being open to that, you know, even in the life sciences where it might seem like the path is super linear, you'd be surprised how much change can happen and just opening yourself to that.
And I would say a big piece of advice as well is if you've spent your full career within the academic kind of bubble and working and being really successful in there, and you have this good idea, it's always good to chat to people on the other end, right? Who've spent their life in commercializing business and getting their perspective and, and just seeing, you know, what you might think seems like a million miles away. There's actually a ton of overlap. There's a ton of similarities and, and you'll surprise yourself, but being open and engaging other people in different areas. You know, as we say at Thin Air, it takes a group of unlike minds.
Leah: It sure does. Katie, thank you for this. And thank you really to all of you. I think we've gotten some wonderful little tidbits here for our founders, bits of advice, bits of encouragement, cuz as we say often, it's really hard, but it's really worth doing so thank you so much. All of you for this, this was great.