Founding Voices: Through Thick and Thin

Originally part of our Founding Voices newsletter series. Read more insights here.

Through Thick and Thin

You’ve worked tirelessly to bring a great product to market. But the unfortunate reality is that excellence doesn’t protect you from circumstance. Eventually, every entrepreneur will encounter macro-level challenges that are far outside their control. In those moments, having a steadfast partner can make all the difference.

 

“Navin really, really, really—I don’t know how to emphasize this enough—cared about our employees. Looking back on 2020, it’s clear he was trying to do what was best for them all along the way.”

GERARD WILLIAMS
Co-founder & Former CEO, Nuvia

Good partners help you overcome obstacles. They offer strategic counsel, leverage their networks for leads, and guide you through difficult decisions. This is because, above all else, they are invested in your vision.

Ask potential partners about their experiences with similar companies and how they’ve navigated difficult times. Try to assess their principles, and their passion for not just the product, but the mission and ideas that undergird it. Answers here will help you understand if a given partnership is a good fit. While this is not a simple process, getting it right nets you a more enduring and resilient foundation upon which to build your company.

“We invest in people first, markets second,” says Navin Chaddha, Managing Director at Mayfield and longtime advisor to the Nuvia team. “Just because market conditions change doesn’t mean a good idea is suddenly bad. It’s a signal that you need to refocus, readjust and find a new opportunity to win.”

Navin Chaddha

NAVIN CHADDHA
Managing Director

Enterprise, Consumer, Semiconductors, Web3

Founding Voices: Know the Story Behind the Product

Originally part of our Founding Voices newsletter series. Read more insights here.

Know the Story Behind the Product

As a founder, you are undoubtedly close to your product. You have intimate knowledge of its benefits and its potential, and you believe it can deliver value, shake up the market and even change the world.

But outside observers will not have your depth and perspective. That’s why you must learn to articulate the value of your product and vision to a wide variety of audiences. For this reason, the best founders are good storytellers as well as strong leaders.

 

“You have to tell people why what you’re working on matters. It’s obvious to you as the founder—that’s easy. It’s about how you articulate that and tell people why it’s important—not just to you, but to the market—and how it’s going to help people.”

MITCHELL HASHIMOTO
Co-founder, HashiCorp

Everyone who touches your product – your team, customers, investors, and partners – will look to you for a vision that inspires them and wins their support. And this narrative can’t be static, rather it must adapt to address the goals, outlooks and concerns of the different groups you address.

“Your message must be accessible and relatable to each audience, whether that’s end users, executive decision makers, or potential investors,” says Navin Chaddha, Managing Director at Mayfield. “This is how you convey why your product is so important and how it will change things. Work on this message. Hone it. Because a clear and compelling product narrative is how you spread your vision of the future.”

Navin Chaddha

NAVIN CHADDHA
Managing Director

Enterprise, Consumer, Semiconductors, Web3

Founding Voices: Empowerment Drives Growth

Originally part of our Founding Voices newsletter series. Read more insights here.

Empowerment Drives Growth

Founders have a tendency to be hands-on, touching every important task, meeting, and decision. The desire is understandable, but it’s important to resist the urge to be so granularly involved. This approach is not only unsustainable in terms of bandwidth, it’s also not good for business.

You’ve worked hard to build a standout team of capable people. So delegate to them. Show your trust and confidence in your team’s abilities by giving them opportunities to grow, learn new things, and take on new responsibilities.

 

“It’s only when there is a lack of growth, then there is stagnation and politics.”

ANOOP GUPTA
Co-founder and CEO, SeekOut

Empowering your team allows you, the founder, to focus on leading well. At the same time, employees can expand their intellectual horizons and advance their careers. The net result of these efforts is a more skilled, motivated, and productive workforce.

Make employee empowerment a core aspect of your organizational culture. Talk with employees about their development and help plan the way forward. Creating an environment of growth, responsibility and learning improves your overall capabilities, and allows your team and the business to perform better.

“Your company’s greatest asset is its people, and people’s needs change” says Rajeev Batra, who helped lead Mayfield’s investment in SeekOut. “If you want to retain top talent, employee growth must be a business priority. You need to give your team space to explore and learn new ideas, skills and responsibilities.”

Navin Chaddha

RAJEEV BATRA
Partner

Enterprise, Consumer

October Human & Planetary Health Newsletter

In this edition:

  • Next-Gen Biomanufacturing Company Prolific Machines Launches with $42M to Build the Assembly Line for Biology
  • Mammoth Co-founder & CEO Trevor Martin & Ursheet Share Company Building Learnings on TechCrunch Live
  • Arvind Shares his POV on Planetary Health Investing & What he Looks for in Companies with Axios and BIOS
  • UBCO Partners with Chemix to Create World’s First Ultra-Safe, High-Energy Cobalt-Free Battery
  • Endpoint Health Launches New Precision Immunology Program, Appoints First Chief Medical Officer
  • Mirvie Expands Leadership Team with Appointment of Alison Cowan, M.D. as Head of Medical Affairs

Next-Gen Biomanufacturing Company Prolific Machines Launches with $42M to Build the Assembly Line for Biology

The manufacturing process for cultured meat has historically been difficult and expensive. We are thrilled to partner with the Prolific Machines team as they pioneer a unique manufacturing approach for cultured meat cells and beyond that will transform industries by creating an assembly line for biology. Arvind shares five insights from investing in Prolific below.

Read more >>

Mammoth Co-founder & CEO Trevor Martin & Ursheet Share Company Building Learnings on TechCrunch Live

Mammoth Biosciences CEO & Co-founder Trevor Martin joined Mayfield’s Ursheet at TechCrunch Live for a candid conversation on Mammoth’s inception to iconic journey.  Watch the recording to learn how to create built to last relationships with co-founders and investors, align around the vision and mission, recruit a world-class team, turn an audacious goal into tangible progress, and more.

Watch here >>

Arvind Shares his POV on Planetary Health Investing & What he Looks for in Companies with Axios and BIOS

Arvind sat down with Megan Hernbroth at Axios to share insights into his investment strategies and the future of climate technology. He was also featured in a Q&A by BIOS where he shared advice for founders preparing to fundraise, what he looks for in founders and inception-stage companies, finding product-market-fit in capex heavy companies, and more.

Read more >>



UBCO Partners with Chemix to Create World’s First Ultra-Safe, High-Energy Cobalt-Free Battery

UBCO, the global leader in electric utility vehicles, has partnered with cutting edge AI-powered battery platform Chemix to commercialize sustainable, ultra-safe, and high-energy cobalt-free (Co-free) Li-ion battery technology. Chemix is using AI to develop battery chemistries similar to how AI has been applied to speed up drug development, and this collaboration will help reduce battery dependence on rare earth minerals.

Read more >>

Endpoint Health Launches New Precision Immunology Program, Appoints First Chief Medical Officer

Endpoint Health has acquired Iconic Therapeutics as part of its newest precision immunology program, which aims to transform immune-mediated inflammatory disease treatment with novel precision medicine strategies. The team also welcomed Ransi Somaratne, M.D. as their first Chief Medical Officer to lead the company’s clinical strategy and drug development programs.

Read more >>

Mirvie Expands Leadership Team with Appointment of Alison Cowan, M.D. as Head of Medical Affairs

Mirvie, a pioneer in predicting unexpected pregnancy complications, has welcomed Alison Cowan as Head of Medical Affairs. Dr. Cowan will guide Mirvie’s continued clinical and commercial development of the proprietary Mirvie RNA platform, which is first to predict preeclampsia and preterm birth months before they happen by revealing the underlying biology of each pregnancy.

Read more >>

Founding Voices: Get Out of Your Own Way

Originally part of our Founding Voices newsletter series. Read more insights here.

Get Out of Your Own Way

As a founder, you’ll face plenty of difficult decisions. Sometimes you’ll make the wrong call and that might mean losing a customer or seeing an investor walk.

Other times, you’ll do everything right, come to the table with a killer pitch, only to be met with apathy. Self doubt can bubble up and imposter syndrome rears its head.

In these moments, it’s essential to remember that adversity is natural and expected. What matters is not that you stumbled, but how you rebound.

 

“You’re talking to people, you’re trying to get them to use your product, you think it’s amazing and everyone is like, I don’t care. You’ve really got to be okay with getting those no’s and just getting the user feedback that you can at the time.”

JOE LAU
Co-founder and CTO, Alchemy

Negative reactions are rarely personal. They come from miscalculations; maybe the product value wasn’t clear enough; maybe you need more research on your target market; maybe you’re just speaking to the wrong audience.

Regardless of the cause, approaching failure with an impersonal, analytical mindset empowers you to ask questions that dissect why something fails. Doing this creates a learning opportunity, and ultimately, your misstep helps you grow.

“Indifference; skepticism; rejection; you’ll encounter all of these at some point in your journey,” says Navin Chaddha, Mayfield Managing Director and early investor in Alchemy. “If you make peace with that, you improve your resilience, and you learn from failure. Then, it’s just a matter of believing in yourself and executing.”

Navin Chaddha

NAVIN CHADDHA
Managing Director

Enterprise, Consumer, Semiconductors, Web3

SyntheX and BMS Partner on Drug Development Deal Worth up to $550M

It has been almost six years since I backed Maria Soloveychik and Charly Chahwan, founders of SyntheX, for an idea to invent a new way to find and make cancer drugs. They were two young, outsider scientists in IndieBio’s third class and were massive underdogs. The idea they proposed – to engineer cells to accelerate and improve drug discovery, could prove incredibly valuable if successful. Today, SyntheX and Bristol Myers-Squibb announced a research collaboration totaling up to $550 million dollars to discover and develop protein degrader based therapeutics. The road traveled has been hard. The road ahead will be at least as hard. Charly and Maria welcome the challenge.

As a board director at SyntheX, I have had a unique view into their journey to this milestone and gained a deeper appreciation of what it takes to make a biotech company work. I first met Charly and Maria when they applied to IndieBio with the idea to make new cancer drugs by using synthetic biology to discover novel ways to disrupt protein-protein interactions in signaling pathways crucial in cancer. Many cancers come from the wrong proteins binding and communicating, creating an out-of-control feedback loop that makes cells divide without stopping. This is a tumor. Break the connection, stop the cancerous tumor (is the idea). SyntheX designed their cell-based platform to simultaneously test billions of short peptides to disrupt a crucial cancer-causing protein-protein interaction in a single petri dish. It’s like finding a perfectly shaped needle in a needlestack.

Using this discovery method, the cells began revealing the secrets of these key proteins. The SyntheX team discovered a new mechanism of cell death caused by the catastrophic release of calcium within the cell by disrupting a crucial DNA repair protein. They advanced their lead compound that caused this and confirmed the effect also happens in mouse models. They further determined that this calcium-based cell death is immunogenic and engages the immune system to recognize the cancer cells as they die. In parallel to this program, the team continued to evolve their discovery technology to be ever more powerful.

Charly and Maria, the outsiders, began to attract attention from insiders. Decorated industry veterans like Dr. Leonard Post, the scientist behind the best in class PARP inhibitor, Talazoparib, (among his many other contributions to cancer drug discovery), joined the advisory board. Investors noticed as well. IndieBio, 8VC, OMX and others joined a $6M seed round. Based on conviction in Charly and Maria, SyntheX became the single largest investment made at IndieBio and SOSV at the time.

While working to expand the internal pipeline with insights into mechanisms that modulate long deemed ‘undruggable’ proteins, Maria and Charly’s creativity led to the development of another platform that addressed a key drug discovery bottleneck for an up and coming modality – Targeted Protein Degraders. By modifying the circuitry of the platform they created ToRNeDO, with the focus of discovering molecules that can bring two different proteins together, aptly called “molecular glues”. In this case, these glues allow for a particular protein (known as an E3 ubiquitin ligase) to tag a second target protein for destruction. By getting rid of a protein that is miscommunicating in a cell and causing disease, you can treat that disease with potentially less toxicity in patients and evade downstream resistance mechanisms. Meanwhile, the internal pipeline that SyntheX is developing has gained interest from insiders at several pharma companies after they shared their results at various conferences. These initial relationships were key in building the scientific credibility of the team in the broader pharma community and accelerated the path to partnership.



Platforms aren’t products, products are products. It is so easy to fall in love with how you do something but the world only cares about what you sell. Therapeutics companies are no exception. They develop and ultimately sell drugs that treat disease. Designing the right business models make and break companies, and platforms can seduce founders into a CRO business model (screening deals with no shared downstream revenues), hoping it serves enough validation to attract other investors. In the new world of higher interest rates there is far less interest in this approach (the exception would be if enough revenues could be generated at a high enough operating margin to finance the clinical development of internal assets). Over 25% of public biotechs (128 companies as of last month) are trading at or below their cash balance, many far below. A common phenotype of these companies is a promising platform and assets that are years away from an IND (Investigative New Drug approval) or going into humans. Wall street doesn’t care anymore – deliver amazing drugs or get crushed. The biotech index XBI, which tracks the stock price of all biotech stocks on Nasdaq, is down over 54% since its high almost 2 years ago.

Yet for all the lost wealth and blood on Wall Street, the investments into oncology are creating real value for patients. Checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies for blood cancers, targeted antibody therapies and newer antibody-drug conjugates are getting approved and into patients in record numbers. 2018 saw the largest drop in cancer deaths in history, and then 2019 beat that record. 1.5% fewer people are dying from cancer every year. This adds up. In 1975 the 5 year survival rate of cancer was 49%. Today it is 69%. This is remarkable progress for such a complex disease. Despite the public market pain, oncology is still a great sector to invest in. Not only are there many huge opportunities for new biotech startups, there is still so much progress to be made before we are able to cure cancer for humanity.

SyntheX has had a long history with BMS. They got to know the BMS (then Celgene) team while at JLabs/MBC biolabs, where after presenting their approach and progress, they were awarded the “Celgene Golden Ticket” for two years in a row. In addition to a free bench space at the incubator, the SyntheX team formed a scientific relationship with key BMS scientists who got to know Charly and Maria. This was critical to build trust between the teams for such a large deal with a relatively small startup. With that trust in place, and SyntheX ready to seek a large partner to move their protein degradation platform further into small molecule development, this partnership was proposed to discover and develop drugs to go into the clinic. These deals take a long time, and it is important to budget runways accordingly. Standing by founders to give them the space and confidence to do what is needed, even in the inevitable times of stress is critical.

I am excited to continue standing by Charly and Maria in their quest to treat cancer. Cancer is personal. For Maria, she watched the devastating impacts of cancer on loved ones growing up and wanted to take action. For Charly, it began as a sixteen year old when he and his family survived the war in Lebanon, yet lost four family members to cancer in the next year. This shocked the young Charly into devoting his life to understand and cure cancer. For me, my mother has been battling cancer for years. Millions of others pray for their loved ones to get better. The road will be hard, but that is why we walk it.

 

References:

Healthcare is saving the world. Software is eating very little of it.

Naver to Acquire Poshmark

10 Questions with Arvind Gupta | BIOS

9 Top Cloud VCs Share The Trends They’re Following and How Founders Can Pitch Them Right Now

Founding Voices: Focus on Product to Rise Above the Field

Originally part of our Founding Voices newsletter series. Read more insights here.

Focus on Product to Rise Above the Field

Success attracts competition, and that’s a good thing. Competitors will push you to relentlessly improve your organization and product. But paying too much attention to what the competition says can turn motivation into distraction, and being distracted is a luxury you cannot afford.

If competitors target you with negativity and pointed marketing, stay the course. Double-down on your product, strive to make it bombproof and let the results speak for themselves.

 

“We just didn’t play the same game everybody else was playing. Everybody turned their guns on us in the first year, and we just kept doing our thing. What happened was they started to make themselves look small. We just tried to ride above it, and it worked.”

PHIL FERNANDEZ
Co-founder and former CEO, Marketo

Taking the high road is difficult. In the modern digital climate of snarky clapbacks and caustic one-liners, it’s tempting to follow competitors down the rabbit hole of combative marketing. This is a zero-sum game.

As a founder, it’s your responsibility to stay grounded and resist the urge to burn precious resources on responding to someone else’s gameplan. Focus on what matters—creating the best product—and let others worry about where you might be headed.

“As a company builder, you can’t allow yourself to slip into a reactionary mindset,” says Mayfield Partner Rajeev Batra. “There will always be others vying for your place. Use that pressure to grow, but don’t let the competition rattle your conviction.”

Rajeev Batra

RAJEEV BATRA
Partner

Enterprise, Consumer