Barry Bunin – CDD 2 of 2

Chemistry is key–surround yourself with people that you're excited to work with. CDD is the world's first online collaboration software platform for drug discovery.

Matthew:
We know that founders face unique challenges when they decide to start a company. What was the hardest part about starting CDD and how did you overcome this obstacle?
Barry:
So, externally it’s a competitive market space and we had to solve two problems: one, handling the complexity of the scientific data, that involves things like chemical substructure search based on the atoms as you see here, it involves being able to mine data for potency, selectivity, toxicity, so there was one sort of mountain to climb just in terms of sort of handling the complexity of the data that people need for evaluating their data to advance a compound. And then there is this new part where we had to make it safe and secure and comfortable for people to be able to collaborate more. So those two problems were sort of the technical problems.
And then we had the same problems that every business has of out-executing the competition. The analogy I was speaking about on my car ride here, because I was listening to the Muppets movie soundtrack and I thought about the challenge they had of making those Muppets to sing and dance and make a movie and manage the business and marketing. It’s very similar in a company, so we have to manage all the customers and support them; we need to manage the software, we get thousands of requests from hundreds of customers and to prioritize the best thing first, and it involves people who are absolutely great at their job, but different types of specialization to work together.
Matthew:
Since you have been in operation, what have you learned about your business and your users that you didn’t realize before you launched?
Barry:
It’s hard because this is my second company, I’ve written two books in this space, so I didn’t start with no knowledge. But I would say that we’ve embraced the UX methodology for contextual inquiries and so we’ll do more than just sort of casually observing what people do. We’ll actually, like you’re videotaping me, will do interviews of our customers and try and understand, um, what they want to do even better than maybe they do themselves. So there is a whole entire art to this in developing software. Um, there is an art to making the design super simple and intuitive, and so those aspects of software development I think are true for any company doing a software as a service business model, we had to learn that. Um, I think the other thing that has become apparent to me, is um the changing nature of the economics of drug discovery.
So traditionally a big pharma would discover a drug from soup to nuts and from the early discovery all the way to commercialization. So today that’s not true, everyone is under this economic pressure, and so figuring out a way to allow them to specialize and do what they do best and then hand it over, that’s the trend facing our whole industry, not just us, and I think we have a unique solution for that problem.
Matthew:
Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make startup companies look easy. We know it can be very challenging; we want to dispel some myths here, so my question to you Barry is what talents or skills come easily or intuitively for you and what has been difficult and how have you managed that?
Barry:
Yeah, starting a company is really pretty easy you just lift your pinky and it happens, so you know, it’s not that … no seriously, um, there’s a lot of work… you know there are two things that affect how well someone does something, it’s how smart they are and how hard they work. And that’s true for individuals and organizations. The bar is high in a competitive space; you have to do something so much better that rises above the noise. It can’t just be a little bit better because people are too busy to try to learn something new. So I would say, for me, the easy parts for me are getting excited about the science. So in a sense I have this wonderful job, I get to talk to the smartest biologists and other entrepreneurs and academics and see how we can, with technology, help them do their science better, so that part’s really fun. Get to talk to scientists and see what they’re doing that’s cool, and show what we’re doing that’s cool and that part is easy.
The hard part is not just, I’d say you can’t just be brilliant with your idea, you have to be right for what the majority of the market really wants. And that’s incredibly hard and involves our product market and our product manager. It involves support, it involves sales, it involves software development, it involves all these brains working together to really do something magical that can help and do it better than what the competition is doing. Because the competition has bigger companies, they have been working at it longer, they have more resources, so you really do have to be you know special and different and better.
Matthew:
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned since launching CDD?
Barry:
I think… I think it’s more about how to work better as a team and it’s not about what you can do as an individual. So you need to figure out other people are going to be… have complementary skills and if you can have all the brains working together almost as if one brain so the idea of collaborative drug discovery for other groups working together externally I could think of a similar metaphor for us, so internally we use Pivotal Tracker for our developers, we use Salesforce, we use QuickBooks, we use Constant Contact, we use all these collaborative tools, GoToMeeting, so whether we have one of our head of community growth that is working on a farm off the coast of Oregon, Dr. (unintelligible – 00:06:05) and she can do that and be effective. And (unintelligible – 00:06:09) is working in Philadelphia and North Carolina; we’ll outsource things to India or Russia if it makes sense. Most of our core team developing the IP is right here in this office, but having all these brains work and complement each other, that’s been the real learning experience for me.
Matthew:
And what bit of advice do you wish you would have known prior to starting CDD?
Barry:
I think I probably, um, I think the biggest thing is really hiring for character. You need people who are super good at what they do but you also need people that you wake up every morning being excited to work with and you know that they’ll do as good a job or better job than you would do where they have expertise. So building up this sort of really cohesive and, so I think of our team and every person is just super strong and super solid at what they do now. So that’s great because I can have confidence to know that when there is someone who needs to interact with a customer to help them with their data, the person’s going to be super good at doing that, and I can relax and then I can focus on what I need to do and so having a team like that I think is really key because it’s so competitive that if you have one bad apple or one thing that’s not carrying its weight that can really hurt when you’re a small team. So I think just the people and the team chemistry is key, no pun intended.
Matthew:
What mentor has played a significant impact on your professional development?
Barry:
Um, so I can think of three that I’ll mention. So on the scientific side my Ph.D. advisor, (unintelligible – 0:08:03.9) he’s just a great scientist. He wanted to do innovative work that was practical and I had this opportunity being his first graduate student at Berkeley to really learn how to think creatively and very formally about scientific problems and then apply the scientific methodologies to business. So it was a big honor and privilege to work with him. I felt like I was working on the most exciting science projects in the world at that time, so that was an exciting, formative experience.
My last company I raised $10 million without venture capitalists from (unintelligible – 0:08:34.3 ) who invest in Google and (unintelligible -0:08:37.6) as you may know developed the birth control pill, he developed the patch at (unintelligible – 00:08:44) so he was near the end of his career and I had this opportunity to work with him and he was just a great presence in terms of personal integrity and business presence, and just how to think about leadership. So Dr. (unintelligible0:09:00.3) influenced me a lot.
And then from the foundry and your sort of network Steve Blank who wrote this book, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, I got an introduction from an investor of ours, (unintelligible – 00:09:14) who has multiple myeloma and developed the computer chip design. He introduced me to Steve Blank and I got to meet with him which is an honor in and of itself and then order his book from Café Press, so that book and the whole entire startup agile or lean movement, those have been sort of my biggest influences.
Matthew:
Before we close, I would love for you to give our audience your vision for CDD and how you hope it will change the world.
Barry:
Yeah, so my vision is that every scientist in the world can have a more economical tool for advancing their project, their science, and to do it in a way that is very natural for them to collaborate with anyone else who is best in the world because it’s going to be two different insights maybe the best target for the best therapeutic indication on the biology side, and the best molecule for the activity for the safety for the toxicity, etc. And so being able to bring together groups that are the best in the world and create a more economical model for doing the science, if I can do that, both for neglected disease and commercial disease, then you know when I die I’ll be happy.
Matthew:
Excellent. Well, Barry, it’s been a great honor having you as a guest on FounderLY; we’re rooting for your continued success at CDD. For those in our audience who would like to learn more you can visit their website at www.cdd.com. This is Matthew Wise of FounderLY, thanks so much Barry.
Barry:
Thanks, Matt.

 
 

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