Going to bat for your friends

babe-ruth-seattle-1924It’s January 2013. I’m in San Francisco for the annual JPM Healthcare conference, just before starting a run of meetings over several days. I’m sitting in my hotel room by Fisherman’s Wharf and Hall & Oates are playing on the radio in the background. Against this background, I got thinking about what makes working with entrepreneurial medtechs fun?

There are lots of features to choose from: fascinating technology; building out solutions that could revolutionize patient healthcare; and of course, stories of zealous entrepreneurs overcoming the odds and finding creative ways to make things work.

But at the end of the day, it’s really just like any other business. It’s about people. Working with individuals, within teams and jointly moving towards some common goal. Something that’s a bigger goal than the components that make it up. And a goal that’s bigger than the hurdles you have to overcome to get there.

So, while meeting many fascinating companies, one of the key questions I ask is can I work with the entrepreneur behind the venture? And can he or she work with me. It’s a major part of the due diligence I do on new companies.

While the quality of the technology, clinical data, funding, board, investors, etc are all vitally important – without any one of these your venture is hamstrung – the chemistry between team members is everything. You’re going to go through some testing times together. So you better be able to work together and have fun while doing it.

Years ago, an entrepreneur put it to me another way:

“With a good team and poor technology, the team will figure out a way to make the technology work or find something else which does. With a poor team and great technology, the team will screw it up – every time. Back the team”

Maybe it’s no coincidence that in conventional investor wisdom, backing the team also comes first.

Some of the best projects I’ve worked on, and had the most fun, have been where strong relationships were forged along the way. Quite a few of these have gone on to develop beyond the project or company. Some even into true friendships.

When I suggest going to bat for your friends, I’m not suggesting you literally go into business with your friends. While that can work really well (think Berkshire Hathaway, Innocent Drinks) it can also be a recipe for wrecking your friendship.

No, what I mean is to find people where you can really work together. This doesn’t mean you see things the same way – often a challenging point of view can lead to new discoveries. But it does mean relationships where there’s mutual respect, and you work together to figure things out. You have each other’s backs.

Friendships aren’t the end goal – they’re the delicious serendipity that make the whole thing come together. Karma.

There’s no easy way to figure this out in advance. Sometimes you have to just get on with it, start working together and test the relationships. Maybe initially you rely on a good dose of gut instinct.

But hopefully over time you get better at it. You find people where you all really want to work together. You build, you grow.

Here’s to old friendships, and building new ones. Happy New Year.

This post is by Raman Minhas.

Image: Babe Ruth, Seattle, 1924 (Courtesy: Seattlepi.com)


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