Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's in a business plan?

When I started asking around for advice about working for a start-up, everyone said "Look at the Business Plan." That's nice seeming advice, but considering my first experience with one is the one I am making a career choice on, I'm not sure if that actually puts me in a good position to judge.  Seriously, what is normally in one of these?

A business plan (esp for a company looking for investors, or anticipating growth), should include everything from the mission statement to the revenue streams and expected profitability timeline, and provide an indication that each of the major issues for the business have been considered and addressed.  There should be some indication that both the Market (who will buy what you have to sell?) and Finances (can you make it for less than you'll sell it? How much outlay is required to make it?) have been considered. For example, it might include the expected clients, or investors, predicted areas of growth or challenges.  In a science field (I'm clearly thinking about biofuels, but this holds true for biotech as well), these is probably some oblique reference to the whiz-bang science that is going to move the company forward.  If it doesn't sound believable, you should be able to get references about it.

The part that is a little confusing is that a business plan is normally written for investors, either the bank that will make a loan or venture capitalists.  As a result, everything is couched in the language of "Potential Success and Profits!" It's hard to look past the "uniquely qualified team," and their "cutting edge approach," despite their "deep understanding of market realities" to see if there is a good idea down there. And working for a start up might not be like a normal job, where you know if you show up and do your thing, you'll have some stability.  It's riskier, and as someone who doesn't like job hunting much, I want to be sure the job I take is one I'll still have in a few months.

I'm not really sure how one balances all that, frankly.

The one other think I have to add was this funny acronym, EBITDA- earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization which is a nice way of making earnings look as GIANT as possible, even  though that isn't a perfect reflection of the final take home.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Equity and other Business Jargon

I am currently pursuing a short term contract with a start-up. I will share with you the magic phrase that opened up this opportunity, and then try to explain why this is a double edged sword.  "I would consider working for equity."  My Dad told me to try this, so I blurted it out when asked about compensation, even though I don't really fully understand what it means.  Well, now it looks like I'll have the opportunity to learn.

The phone interview was really winding down in a "don't call us, we'll call you" kind of way, but I mentioned I'd like to tour this facility, and I'll be in the area for a while.  For some reason, this got the CEO interested again, but when I uttered those magic words, he said "You are getting gold stars for that answer."  Why?  As a start-up, I know that he has limited funds.  He is seeking investors, but it isn't clear that the money has arrived yet.  Working for equity is a delayed (and risky) promise of money.  That is, this privately help company will someday have a public offering of these shares (go public), and if the market has confidence in the business, the shares will increase in value.  Hooray!  However, if the company never gets enough investors to develop enough to go public, the shares don't really have value. Or the markets deems this a terrible business, the shares may loose value.  Many companies will offer partial equity to employees ("employee-owned"), as a way of helping them being equally invested in the success of the company.

This contract I am trying to get is a "high-risk" contract; it's 100% equity.  I'm hoping that a short term contract with a start-up will give me some business cred and help me get my foot in the door somewhere. It's giving me the opportunity to learn some of this business jargon I've never considered before.  I signed a non-disclosure agreement.  I am trying to figure out the difference between Founder's Shares and regular Shares.  I am trying to imagine how many shares there might be in one company, and what it means to spin-off the investment arm of the company.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

In which I acknowledge my two-body problem

Some big changes are happening here.  Not because I've finally cracked the job hunt, but my husband did. Yes, it should come as no surprise that I am married to someone who also has great career prospects.  It was going to be very hard for me to find a job that would tempt him away from his professional life (NIH payscale? ha!), and it turned out this is a good time for him to seek a promotion. This is great news for us personally, but changes a lot of things for my job hunt.

We are moving across the country to the Seattle area.  I'm glad to be closer to my family, but months of job hunting have confirmed that Seattle doesn't have the strongest biotech market in the country.  However, being able to focus on a single place may help me to be more creative in my job hunt.  My problem lately has been trying to convince employers that not only do I have the skills they want, but I am such a phenomenal candidate, they should put up with me having to relocate.  I felt limited to apply only to positions that narrowly fit within my experience and education.  (And only those in an area it seemed likely there could be a second career.)  With luck, I can be a convincing candidate for a wider variety of jobs since that major barrier, geography, has been reduced.

Now I am trying to figure out how to focus my job hunt in one geographical location.  Now it should be easier to actually do face to face networking.  I'm looking forward to meeting the Washington Biotech Business Association, catching up with my alumni group and meeting old friends, both from college and high school, who resettled to that area. I can't say I know lots of people in the biotech industry there, but I am hoping to make the case that my education proves I can learn quickly, work on dynamic teams and deliver ambitious goals, be that in drug discovery or biofuel or science education or any other industry that is willing to consider me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

For fun- search terms that fail

My job search has been a derailed a little lately (more on that later), so rather than highlight the super productive things I've been doing, let me just tell you about the search terms I always think will land me my dream job.

I'm a virologist, so I always search for the variations of that term, virology works, virus doesn't.  It suggests computer science jobs.  And antiviral is pretty much a nonstarter, I have no interest in working for McAffee or Norton or any of those software companies.

I've also spent a lot of time looking for drugs (antiviral drugs).  Drug discovery and drug development work, but just "drugs" suggests a lot of jobs in the non-profit sector.  In drug counseling mostly.

And then sometimes I get frustrated wading through tech positions, and I'll just search for phd- don't do that.  There are scads of chem or computer science jobs that require a PhD and makes buckets of money.

I promise more on search terms that are working for me soon.  Much busy-ness here, I have 5 more papers to edit and am taking another "networking field trip," this time to WA.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Science Bloggers for Students

Although I am never sure who reads this blog, I'd like you all to know about a really exciting challenge I am participating in on the other blog I write for, Steel City Science. We are in a challenge with other science bloggers to raise funds for Donor's Choose, an organization that helps teachers get funds for projects in their classrooms.  If you are interested in supporting the needs of Pittsburgh's teachers, or really any science teachers anywhere, please follow this link and make a donation of any size to support the next generation of scientists.  We've got until Oct 22 to show the ChemBloggers that Pittsburgh is a city with a big heart.  Thanks for your generosity!