Last week I introduced the profile of the Business Builder, and their importance in the development of an early-stage Deep Tech company.
To briefly re-cap, Business Builders are technical individuals, usually with science or engineering degrees, whose careers start within engineering and progress through to leadership roles of engineering / product teams. As their careers mature, they often move into strategic business development and/or strategy roles.
Business Builders are great leaders for early-stage Deep Tech businesses for several reasons:
– They know how to lead engineering teams. Early-stage Deep Tech companies are science / engineering dominant. Experience and affinity for engineering helps to bond leader to team and team to leader.
– They know what ‘great’ products look like. Markets – even Deep Tech driven ones – care about product solution and fit, and less about science and tech. Business Builders understand the product development process, culture and disciplines required to create market-ready solutions.
– They can determine the value of Deep Tech solutions. Great science doesn’t always lead to great technology or a useful product. Being able to discern that which is useful for a market versus that which is not, is part of the Business Builder’s tool-kit.
– They are more relevant commercially during the early-stage. Credibility with technical and commercial teams within industrial partners or potential clients comes from being able to connect technical features with client solutions, and understanding the value associated with each. This is very important when building the first 5 – 10 relationships, all of which will be via strategic business development, and may some blend of joint ventures, collaborations, partnerships and/or licensing.
Early-stage Deep Tech companies have a greater chance of moving from research through to market-focused, product development and commercialisation with the support of Business Builders.
So where can these individuals be found?
In my view, the best Business Builders possess a blend of start-up and corporate experience. Start-up experience is obvious. But corporate experience?
As we discussed in my first post, Deep Tech companies are not like traditional tech companies. The problems being solved are bigger. The solutions being developed are more complex, and carry with them a great deal of technical and engineering risk. The markets being targeted are generally very conservative, often regulated and dominated by large incumbents.
Today, corporates are the main providers of large-scale, technical solutions across the Industrial, Life Science and advanced Computing domains. But as helpful as they are, they can also be hierarchical, bureaucratic, political and often, slow-moving. We definitely don’t want to see these qualities in early-stage Deep Tech companies.
So what capabilities do we want from corporates?
– The ability to deliver market-ready, technically complex solutions on time and within budget. Corporates understand the frameworks and disciplines for delivering on big programmes, including the Quality, Regulatory, Performance, Health, Safety & Environmental aspects. They understand how trust-building between organisations is based on the consistent delivery of milestones, a critical lesson for all Deep Tech companies.
– The ability to scale up production from early-stage technology. Extended time-scales, risk management, integrated supply chains, IP-rich technology stacks – all of these are very familiar to big corporates, as is the culture required to deliver.
– The ability to successfully engage with big market players. Large corporates work on the biggest deals and with the most important companies in the market. The lessons from working on big deals are powerful, as are the relationships developed.
– The ability to develop strategy and execute on it. Corporate environments are great at teaching their executives how to develop strategy, a vital skill for any business, but especially those of a Deep Tech nature.
– Insight around market-leading solutions and standards. Corporates set the standard for leading solutions in the market, the benchmark to which any innovator must first meet, and then exceed, if their quest for disruption.
To my mind, these are the most important experiences to take from corporates.
But let me be clear. By no means should corporate experience dominate a Business Builder’s profile. Entrepreneurial qualities, including the abilities to get things done, hire high-performing teams, fail fast, engage different audiences – these are all vital to the success of any early-stage Deep Tech leader.
For me, the most important qualities are as follows.
– Storytelling: what is the company story? How big of an opportunity can this be? Answers to these questions should come from the assessment of the company’s true capabilities and technology advantage – not make believe. The right story serves as the foundation for a compelling and attractive vision that engages clients, investors and talent.
– Player/Manager Leadership: there is no room for Ivory Tower leadership within early-stage companies. Respect from the team through to new leadership comes from the being on the front-line together. Player/Managers are sleeves rolled-up and hands on.
– Pace: a chair with whom I work advises his CEOs to be patient on results, impatient on progress. This is a great expression, one highly relevant for Deep Tech companies (and probably all companies). This requires a fine balance of marathon pacing, with occasional sprints – not unlike a blend of large corporate and start-up energy.
These additional qualities balance out the corporate profile of Business Builders, making them much more appropriate for early-stage businesses.
So when exactly should Business Builders be recruited? And how do they fit in with existing founders and teams? We’ll cover this off in our next post.
As ever, your views are most welcome, especially impassioned ones!
In the meantime, thanks for reading.