Since closing our Series C, BenchSci has been focused on how to thrive while in hypergrowth. Scaling up is exhilarating, exhausting, and anything but easy. That’s why we launched a series of fireside chats with experts who have been through it all before to share their advice, experiences, and even failures with us.
We started with Patrick Pichette, a partner at Inovia Capital, one of our lead investors. With a long career of leading companies like Google, McKinsey, Sprint Canada, and Bell Canada through the challenges of hypergrowth and his position as a chair member for Twitter and Lightspeed, we were thrilled to have Patrick join us. He was candid and shared so much great advice. These are five major takeaways that really spoke to me and resonated with the BenchSci team.
Growth is a lot of fun and a lot of pain, so be prepared
It’s like running a marathon. Even if you train for it, you know you are going to hit a wall at, say, 30km in. You never get used to it. It hurts every time but you get through it. A part of that pain may be having an “oops” moment. That is okay, so long as you are true to your priorities. What those priorities are will change depending on the business, so understand what your company can never compromise on. Then forgive yourself for the other little mistakes along the way. They don’t matter much in the grand scheme of things.
Stay focused with OKRs
When you are growing this fast and you have an ambitious agenda it can be easy to get distracted. You have more resources than before and every day new problems will land on your desk. It will be tempting to chase after “rabbits.” You may even be tempted to settle or compromise on parts of your culture, whether that is in hiring or people management. Don’t. When you are small you can get around a table and talk about your goals, but as you grow that will eventually stop. That’s when it’s time to establish OKRs. When it comes to OKRs, “70% is the bar,” says Patrick. “You want to hit 70% at the end of the year because that means you are pushing yourself.” If you are reaching 100% at the end of the year, you have to wonder if your goals are challenging enough. At BenchSci, we have found OKRs to be incredibly helpful with maintaining transparency and speed.
Recognize different perspectives
Patrick credits the Myers-Briggs test for helping him become a better manager. “When I started out, I was not very good at managing people and it helped me understand that other people have a different mental model. There are many tests like this now, but since understanding different ways of thinking I’ve learned how to really bring people along,” he says. Being a leader who understands how your team members think and have different needs than you is important. By being inclusive, you can enable each team member to bring their unique strengths to work while also balancing out the weaknesses within the team. Whether it is through taking a skills assessment or otherwise, gaining a better understanding of who you are leading and how to lead them will produce better results.
Understand your limits
“I’ve learned to keep 20% energy in my tank. I’ve worked immensely hard. And sometimes, I’ve simply worked too hard. In some cases, I would get very sick from pushing my limits. In hindsight, it wasn’t good for my health, it wasn’t good for my teams, and I wasn’t a good person to be around,” says Patrick. So, always keep 20% in your tank so you can get up each day and be your best. Most importantly, know where the line is for yourself because everybody is different. When you’re crossing that 20% line, then you have to slow down because your team deserves the best of you.
Always be generous
Patrick shared one of the best pieces of advice he ever received: “When you’re not sure, just be generous.” If you’re having serious doubts then don’t commit to another thing, but if you’re not sure, be generous with your time. He gave us this example: “I was asked by Eric Schmidt to join his interviews for the Schmidt Science Fellows. I am a busy guy. I don’t need to do it. But I had 20% in the tank so I said yes. I flew to London, spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday interviewing smart people. Went to bed tired on Sunday, but with a smile on my face because I met some amazing people and I still had 20% in the tank.”
At BenchSci, we’re scaling up fast. Our big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) is to bring novel medicine to patients 50% faster by 2025. To do so, we’ve already doubled in size from 100 to 200 team members in 2021 and plan to continue expanding rapidly to 400 by the end of 2022. It’s daunting, but hearing from leaders like Patrick really helps us to stay on track and true to our culture.