When you are fresh out of school, you often lack the rich professional network that comes from years of working with people and building relationships in a corporate environment.
The solution for an uncertain student is usually credentials: get that PhD and you can secure a comfortable spot in a lab somewhere, with better starting pay than a medical resident (not that that says much).
I chose instead to dive right into founding a business. Or rather, it chose me. I could not afford to not pursue this venture – it would kill me in 10 years, knowing that I never even took the shot.
Starting a business right out of grad school comes with disadvantages (weak network and trial-by-fire hiring) but also some advantages:
While I have yet to prove myself to the professional world, I have nothing to lose.
Moreover, a background in science cultures a interdisciplinary mindset, strong problem-solving skills, methodical troubleshooting habits, comfort with uncertainty, and bulldog-like tenacity – all key traits for founders. The ability to set your jaw, and continue forward…
I always thought the concept of a ‘spirit animal’ was some new age nonsense, but lately it has started making a lot more sense.
My partner Janna calls me a rhino. When I need something done, and come up against roadblocks, I lower my head and charge.
I’ve been doing this long before I ever started my business. It’s who I am.
Allow me to illustrate:
As soon as I discovered its existence, it became my goal to attend Singularity University (SU).
Instead of going to med school, I accepted my lab’s offer to continue my research and get paid to complete my Master’s. This meant I had the opportunity to apply for a scholarship to SU, as a graduate student. Like most of my interests, the goal of attending SU quickly became an obsession.
While attending the University of Georgia, I won a full scholarship to SU.
At SU, I led a team working on in vitro meat, while simultaneously getting half of our class’s smokers to quit. I decided med school was off the table; I belonged in Si valley.
I put in vitro meat on hold. Legal cannabis would happen faster – it was the more pressing opportunity. There were bigger, more attainable gains to be had, sooner.
I will return to tissue engineering, and I will be able to accomplish more with fewer resources in 10 years.
On a bartender’s wages, while paying student loans, my partner and I moved from rural Georgia to the third highest rent in the nation (Oakland).
Some hustle lands us our dream loft: rent controlled, exposed brick, high ceilings, and full of artists and entrepreneurs.
With no formal engineering background and no capital, I create hardware and software prototypes and engage with academic researchers at the University of California San Francisco.
I pitch thousands of people from stage and pop my fundraising cherry, raising more than $100k.
After some networking hustle, my partner lands her dream job with Lagunitas brewery.
Pre-launch, Gram brings in more than $50k in revenue. Our hand-assembled, low-volume hardware prototypes have 90% margins.
Gram technology is used in 3 formal clinical trials with 10 more scheduled for 2018.
My partner is recognized at a company wide meeting: she is the #1 performing sales rep in the entire company.
I’m tempted to write about what’s in store for this year, and next, but that’s for a future conversation.
I hope this brief history illustrates a trend – one that remains largely unseen, if we have not yet personally connected.