a16z and my own journey

a16z is a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm. I listened to their recent podcast episode where they talked with Jeff Lawson, CEO and author of Ask Your Developer. Generally I am very interested in the topic of software development as a creative exercise, this is probably why I chose that particular episode of the podcast to listen to. But what I found of particular interest came in the final 30 seconds of the interview.

Jeff has a view of his own trajectory as a CEO, from that of a Technical-CEO, through Product, and then to Go-to-market. The a16z interviewer pointed out that they have an entire series on the concept of how technical people develop as CEOs and they see them moving through the following sequence:

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Mind-map customer needs

I have 20 years of professional experience. It took me longer than I would like to admit to learn how much we all lie to ourselves. I am a smart person. I am particularly good at constructing convincing narratives which keep me happy and oblivious to reality. It was only when I was working with incredibly smart people, during my PhD, that I was finally forced to write my ideas down. And then I didn’t need the other people to point out the flaws in my thinking; they were there in black-and-white, clear for me to see.

From this experience, I now encourage teams which I work with to make knowledge explicit. This is even more important the more intelligent the team are. The following is an example of how I did this with a team for their Customer Needs mapping, but the same advice applies equally to the Business Model and the Go-to-market Strategy.

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Differentiation

The following is a version of something which I wrote for a team I was mentoring recently. They were in a market-place with 2-3 main competitors, and each of the competitors was best-in-class at one specific thing and considerably worse on the other factors. When the team, which I was mentoring, compared their planned product against this market-place they basically rated themselves as second-best in every factor. So only the respective market leader in that factor was better than them on that factor. They thought this seemed pretty good – with a little bit of compromise, the clients could order just one product, theirs. I was not so convinced…

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Influences: Seth Godin

I have this influences series which I began a few years ago. I began it because I think it is very important to both understand and respect the influences which brought you to where you are in life. It’s been a while since I contributed to the series, but today I’d like to continue with Seth Godin.

Seth, as he is known, is a rather latter stage influence in my life. He’s been well-known in internet circles for over 20 years. Maybe I heard of his name earlier, maybe I didn’t. I certainly didn’t have an accurate view of what it is he does and why he is so famous. Today I want to highlight my favourite learnings from Seth Godin.

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True North

A good entrepreneur has a canny intuition for their True North. I’ve heard this from many good investors.

Personally I’ve always believed it. One of the bases through which I judge my professional contacts is on their decision making ability. Some people seem to always make good choices. Others, faced only with good outcomes, somehow still manage to find a more painful outcome.

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Mental Health Check

I guess that I am not the only one who has found the grind of a second pandemic lockdown a drain also on mental health and productivity.

The first lockdown was almost fun. For the first time in years I was able to sit at home, work on what I wanted to work on, and go jogging regularly in clean air. There was even the bonus of a new wave of healthcare related information across every media outlet – a field with which I have been passionately involved for 20 years now.

This time is a bit different. First of all it is Winter, so jogging in the park is not so easy. It’s snowing and -10 celsius (-20 fahrenheit) today. Air pollution has not dropped this time, I guess it’s a combination of lignite burning and car emissions. And work is much more stressful this time around. That last point is what I want to write about today.

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2020 coming to an end

The past two end-of-years I have wanted to write a bilan de l’année. Both years were incredibly exciting and I had a lot to look back on. In both cases I wrote the notes for myself but never published them on the site. I guess that, while it is both useful and healthy to keep a monitor of how things have gone, I am not so keen on going public on these topics.

2020 has been a particularly unusual year. I am not excited about what I did this year. But I have to admit that this year, despite the obvious difficulties, brought a welcome return to modes of work which agree with me and, frankly, a blistering level of productivity.

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Preprint Announcement – Guide to Regulating Medical AI

One year ago, I left the start-up where I had been working on an AI-driven companion to accompany patients through their cancer treatments.

When I left, I was deeply frustrated with the start-up environment surrounding AI in Healthcare. I was still convinced that AI could help in this space, but all I was seeing was teams going down what I considered to be the wrong paths.

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New article: My experience of the BIA Pulse accelerator

I wrote recently about my experiences of the Pulse leadership and entrepreneurship training program for the blog of the UK BioIndustry Association (BIA). The Pulse course is organised jointly by the BIA and the Francis Crick Institute. I joined the three-day course, in its first year of operation, in 2018.

I felt that I benefited enormously from the course. I had left my postdoc position 3 months previously and I was researching ideas for setting-up a company. I subsequently took my learnings from Pulse and elsewhere, and established my first company Simmunology. So when I was contacted earlier this year I was particularly keen to write something and say thanks.

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