HOT SEAT - GREGOR LICHTFUSS:
What are three words to describe yourself?
curious, creative, technology-loving
What was your very first business or creative idea? Did that make any money?
My first serious creative idea was an academic software tool - codenamed Paperfactory X - to help researchers write publications. Despite some (quite serious) work on the business idea & plan I never realized it - for a whole range of reasons.
What was your biggest challenge when you started your first business? For Paperfactory one of the main challenges - and the one that lead me to eventually abandon the idea - was finding a suitable team mate / co-founder. Not only did I need someone with technical skills that I absolutely did not posses, but also for mental health reasons and reciprocal re-motivation at least one team mate would have been essential for a serious attempt of building that tool. Adventures are usually more fun and more likely to succeed if you have a great team.
What was the best advice in life or business you've ever received?
1. no matter what job you do, be at the forefront of new technology. 2. D-N-A: Don’t trust anyone; Never assume anyting; Always check everything
Which three people, famous or not famous, dead or alive, would you most like to invite to a dinner party? Why?
… I usually get invited…
How do you define success?
Achieving a goal.
What makes a founder successful?
Determinatination. Ability to make decisions. Endurance (in general but also to finish tasks). Out of the box thinking, flexibility to adapt, a good sense of humor and a personal retreat, be it a hobby or family.
What do you do in order to keep on learning and developing?
I try to read a lot - also across disciplines; I aim to meet other people, again from a broad spectrum of (mainly technological) disciplines and finally I try to be open to chance
Which resources are you recommending to first time entrepreneurs?
focussed on life science entrepreneurs / drug development based on my experience of reviewing business plans I would like to recommend a set of activities… If you are thinking about how to translate research from an academic lab into a product development project 1. Question yourself about the Why: Why are you researching this topic? Why are you building this device? If the answer is not “to overcome the problem of XYZ” - you do not have a business idea. 2. Read / learn about drug development (or diagnostics development) and the business models in the health industry Read e.g. “The SPARK approach - a practical guide to drug development in academia”. Read about the drug development process in general - Julian Gray’s graybook.net is an excellent resource to start with (although neither free nor really affordable). http://MaRSdd.com - while being focussed on Canada, has a great entrepreneur’s toolkit section, also for health ventures. search for your topic and you will find great advice and less specific to Life Science: http://startupstash.com 3. Meet If you are at an academic institution - after your superior, co—founder and wife - the next person to talk to has to be the technology transfer office (obviously ;)) - for two main reasons: A, they control the IP you will need to base your business on. There is no escape from that office. Make them your allies. B, some are in fact great resources in terms of experience, obtaining money and networks - you will need any help you can get! Identify and talk to other founders and entrepreneurs - they are not always easy to get hold of in Germany, but usually they are very happy to give advice and feedback; identify network (super)nodes and ask for introductions. Meet and talk to your customers and the people who are to benefit from your product (which is not necessarily the same in health). Identify and talk to industry experts - there are ways to get to them, too - often a simple email can already lead to great success. 4. Get onto it Take part in a business plan competition! You will not only get feedback on the idea but it also be under pressure by deadlines, which help tremendously to give you focus on getting on with the development of the business idea - which often, especially if you still have other duties in a lab, don’t get the deserved time they need. Both the Munich Business Plan and the Science4Life Venture cup are great initiatives to get started with, S4L especially has a fantastic guide book on writing a business plan (albeit in German only).
What's the biggest risk you've ever taken?
Taking on a job to manage a project that I knew hardly anything about - except that it was with a group of people I really wanted to work with or an area of work I really wanted to be in. That happened twice.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Be less focussed on a single goal (there is so much out there!), experiment more and spend more time on activities that do not directly contribute to achieving that one goal.
What's something you don't want to regret when you're older?
To have wasted time.
Is there something you know you should stop doing?
Probably, I should stop drinking insane amounts of Coca Cola.
What's your favourite book?
There are possibly three that come to mind immediately: "The Thin Red Line" by James Jones, "Business Adventures" by John Brooks and "What If" by Randall Munroe.
What character traits of other entrepreneurs have impressed you?
Seeing opportunity where others don’t and the courage to leave a comfort zone and to test the hypothesis of the opportunity.
Do you believe successful ventures require something meaningful?
The short answer: yes. I do not think any undertaking will be started and carried through without a clear goal or meaning for the entrepreneur. But what does meaningful mean? If the goal is to make the entrepreneur rich at all cost - that likely is very meaningful to him. I think the key component to (sustainable) success for a business is to deliver value in exchange for money (or something else) and the created value by a product should be the reason (and meaning) for a venture to be in business.
For the ventures I get excited about and the ones I aim to get involved in, such value is nearly always to lessen the pain of a patient or the burden of a disease on society. Those are great goals I can totally identify with. And if they come together with cool technology even better, but I also admire simple solutions to big problems.
What's something that first time founders should avoid at all costs?
To think he knows everything already (and even worse, to act like it). Not to value and appreciate feedback and advice he gets from his network or anyone he has asked for help. There is always a (sometimes serious) commitment of time by the persons that are asked for help and there is nothing more frustrating than to be taken for granted and/or being completely ignored.
Why are you getting involved with Best of X?
I attended last year’s Best of Munich and was impressed by the quality of the event and people who were there. I also try to bring life science out of the silo it is kind of living in at the moment and foster cross-disciplinary exchange. I would also like to see a spill-over of the enthusiasm and fun from the tech scene to the more conservative biotech environment.