For the second installment in our Scale Up series of fireside chats, we heard from Janet Bannister, Managing Partner of Real Ventures. I was particularly excited to talk to Janet as one of BenchSci’s very first investors and early Board Members. Our first investment from Real came through their accelerator FounderFuel and they then co-led our Seed and backed us again during our Series A. Janet is a long-time entrepreneur who has worked with industry leaders like Procter & Gamble, McKinsey & Co., eBay, and Kijiji. I was intrigued by Janet’s insights on how BenchSci can continue to scale successfully. Her belief in our company and thoughtful, practical responses to employee questions were inspiring.
There were many great takeaways but the five that resonated with me the most are:
Hypergrowth will push you to new personal and professional heights
“I see hypergrowth as more challenging than painful,” said Janet. To her, there is nothing that accelerates a person’s professional and personal growth more. “What is required of you is incredible learning and development.” It is a tremendous opportunity to learn skills and insights that you will carry with you throughout your career. In addition, you will gain the satisfaction of knowing you are a part of building something with a massive, long-term, positive impactful. Later in life, you will be able to look back on your contributions in these years as possibly some of the most exciting and significant work you have done. Since each year in a startup can look completely different, it is vital that employees are growing their skills just as quickly as the company is growing its revenue. And this means continual investment in each individual’s development.
Clear communication and organization will keep you on track
As BenchSci is growing rapidly, with a goal of 400 team members by the end of the year, maintaining momentum is critical. “The gum in the wheel tends to come when it is no longer clear who makes the decision on what, who is involved, who is consulted,” Janet said. To avoid this type of confusion, Janet emphasized the need to establish the right organizational framework. “I’m fully confident that BenchSci is going to get there but it’s tricky when you are doubling the size of your team every year and you need to figure out how you are going to keep the essence of your company: the nimbleness, the desire to make a difference, the speed, the learning,” she added. Authentic and transparent conversations are a key part of this. Transparency is part of BenchSci’s values for this exact reason. We also send every new employee a copy of Radical Candor by Kim Scott to give them guidance on what this looks like. Keeping our vibrant culture is just as important to us as building the right product.
The best companies have good people, a strong mission, and high standards
“I look back on the best companies that I have worked with and one thing stands out: it was there that I met some of my best friends. And that is because people within those companies are motivated, driven, and committed to personal growth. In addition, we bonded by overcoming challenges and creating something new,” said Janet. That’s where having a clear mission comes in. Working together to create something is no small feat. These are not transactional relationships. You need to have a common purpose and be ready to work together to make it happen. “In the best companies, we sincerely care about each other and their wellbeing. But that doesn’t mean poor performance is tolerated; it actually means that people have the mindset of ‘I care so much about everyone at this organization, that I’m going to demand a high level of performance from everyone.” Janet says that companies shouldn’t tolerate sub-par performance because it isn’t fair to the team nor to the individual. “If someone is not performing well, even after feedback and coaching, it just means that this is not a great fit for that person. So let’s help that person by enabling them to transition into another environment where they can be more successful.”
Get a coach
“If you wanted to go to the Olympics, would you get a coach? Of course, you do. Well, this is the Olympics of start-up land. Get one,” she shared. Janet is actually part of the reason we brought in our in-house leadership coach, Kari Sulenes, who has weekly office hours. In addition, BenchSci hired a second coach this year to support the growing team. As a CEO, I’ve found that working with a coach is vital to my own mental health as a founder. Janet also recommended building up your peer network and reaching out to people who are just a few years ahead of you in your career path. There is much to learn from one another and nobody has to do it alone.
Enjoy the ride
“If I had to give one piece of advice to my younger self, it would be to appreciate the process more. Enjoy the ride,” said Janet. “Being part of a rapidly scaling company is hard work, but I sincerely hope you will someday look back on your years at BenchSci as some of the best years in your career. I hope that someday, you will say to yourself, ‘Remember when we were only 250 people and we knew just about everyone in the company? Look at all the things we did and look at where we came from!’”
BenchSci is scaling quickly. Our big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) is to bring novel medicine to patients 50% faster by 2025. To do so, we're hiring over 200 new team members by the end of 2022. This kind of change can be difficult to manage, especially while maintaining our culture. That’s why I appreciate hearing from champions like Janet. I’m grateful she made time to share her thoughts and answer questions from the whole team.
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