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投资理财

生物科技公司初期投资实战宝典

Bruce Booth 2013年02月20日

成长为一名优秀的风险投资人往往犹如当徒弟。师傅带进门,修行在个人。入行之后往往要经历长时间的历练,才能积累足够的经验。现在,生命科学投资公司Atlas Venture合伙人现身说法,总结了自己在生物科技领域实施初期投资的一些宝贵经验。

    风险投资经常被称为学徒行当,原因是,经验很重要,而且积累经验需要时间。但成功的企业能把经验带来的智慧转化为自身的记忆,或者融入自己的记忆之中,并在这个过程中总结出哪些东西可行,哪些不可行。2007年,我们曾和我们的生命科学行业投资团队共同编制了一份清单,详细说明了当时我们在生物科技领域的投资所带来的教训。最近我们又回顾了这份清单,也重温我们的思路。

    从2000年起,我们投资了近60家生物科技企业,所以我们可以考虑较多的负面问题,同时把我们观察到的结果一并拿出来和大家分享。

    下文是对这些教训的总结,非常简单扼要。从宏观层面看,许多内容都相当乏味,其中的见解也并不是非常深刻。但通过实际操作,每项投资都从想法变成了行动(不作为则会带来问题)。为免于伤及无辜,我删掉了大多数公司的名称。同时,所有这些要点基本上都来自于实战经验,而不是闭门造车。

    1. 管理、管理、还是管理。 初创型生物科技公司的成功主要依靠管理团队,这不是什么新鲜事。风投的原则就是,在发展初期找到合适的创业者和管理者是关键所在。但对刚刚起步的生物科技公司来说,做到这一点往往并不容易。

    • 处在不同阶段的生物科技公司往往需要不同的管理团队,而且实际上许多处于萌芽状态和起步状态的生物科技企业并不需要首席执行官(CEO)。这些公司受科技左右,需要很棒的首席科学官(CSO)来为它奠定基础,还需要负责业务开发的董事来帮助它建立整体愿景。完成这项工作后,它们才需要找到一名非常出色的首席执行官。在发展初期把一名参与公司设立的CSO任命为CEO会带来不必要的冲突,那就是在招聘未来CEO时需要这位CSO让贤,而这会被看做是降级,会很尴尬,而且是原本可以避免的情况。让负责开发业务的创业者在早期填补CEO的空白也会造成这样的局面。让CEO一职从一开始就处于空缺状态可以避免随后出现的尴尬场面,或者至少能尽量降低尴尬的程度。

    • 管理不善时,董事会往往会开始负责公司的运营。随后就会出现恶性循环:在第一季度董事会议上,管理层认为自己服从于董事会并因此追逐某一个目标;而在第二季度董事会议上,董事会说他们觉得另一个目标更好,而管理层则认为自己所做的符合董事会的要求;到了第三季度董事会议,董事会就会觉得公司缺乏方向并因此感到困惑,接下来就是一片混乱。这绝不是一个良性循环,当然也不会这么简单。好的董事能够指明方向,实施监管并提供建议,而好的管理层则能过滤董事会的反馈,把它转化成为公司战略方向的一部分。这是一个均衡而有张力的有利局面。关键在于,不要让董事会干涉选择哪些项目这样的日常事务。但在这里,一个重要的细微差别是,某一个活跃的董事会或者某一名活跃的牵头投资人在初创型企业的起步阶段扮演代理CEO的角色非常普遍,而且这是个好现象(特别是在考虑到上文所述要点的情况下,那就是科技导向的初创型公司最初并不需要正式的CEO)。

    • 迅速调整管理层几乎总是正确的选择。以往,即使知道管理层运转不良,我们对高管的调整也总是不够迅速。相信直觉很重要,如果你觉得管理层成效不佳,实际情况很可能就是如此。在负责这家公司的投资团队看来,高管的情况可能也是这样。此外,如果在结束一笔新投资时出现了实质性的管理问题,情况就不太可能得到改善。我发现在结束投资前往往值得向现有团队说明对他们的预期和可能采取的行动。感觉并非一帆风顺时就要结束投资,然后立即解雇CEO。

    Venture capital is often called an apprenticeship business because experience matters and takes time to accumulate. But successful firms are able to translate and transfer experiential wisdom through institutional memory, which involves codifying what works and what doesn't. Back in 2007, we did this with our life science team by pulling together a detailed list of "Lessons Learned" from our existing biotech portfolio. We recently went back and revisited that list of reflections.

    Since 2000, we've invested in nearly 60 biotech companies, so we've had a reasonable 'n' to think about and inform our collective observations.

    Below is a very distilled and rather sanitized summary of our "Lessons Learned." At the macro level, many of these are rather prosaic and not very insightful, but practical reality of each deal is where insight becomes actionable (and inaction causes issues). To spare the innocent, I've dropped most of the company names, but all of these points were largely informed by experience in the trenches not abstract thinking.

    1. Management, management, management. It's not news that the success of a biotech startup depends largely on the management team. This is an axiom in venture: getting the right group of early entrepreneurs and executives around the table is critical. But this is often not easy in early stage biotech companies.

    • Different management teams are often required at different stages of a biotech, and the reality is that many seed- and early-stage deals don't need a CEO. They are science-driven companies that need great Chief Scientific Officers to build the fundamentals of the story, and a BD executive to help build the broader vision. It's upon that progress with which a company can recruit a great CEO. Putting a founding CSO in as the CEO early on can create unnecessary conflict: having the conversation about a perceived "demotion" to CSO when hiring the future CEO is uncomfortable and avoidable. Same goes for putting the lead BD entrepreneur in as CEO early on to "fill the role". Keeping the role vacant in the beginning prevents future discomfort, or at least minimizes it.

    • With weak management, boards often begin to run companies. And then it's a vicious cycle: At the 1Q board meeting, the management thinks they are responding to the board so they chase after XYZ; then at the 2Q meeting, the board says they think chasing ABC is a better idea, which the management does thinking it’s being responsive; and then at the 3Q meeting, the board wonders why the company has no direction and chaos ensues. Never a good cycle, but of course it’s not as simple as this. A good board is able to provide direction, governance, and input, and a good management is able to distill that feedback and integrate it into the strategic direction of the company. It's a healthy balance and tension. But keeping the board away from whiplashing the "day to day" program choices of what to "chase" is key. An important nuance is worth mentioning here though: an active board chairman or single lead investor playing the role of an acting CEO is very typical in an early stage startup, and is a good thing (especially given the point above about not having a formal CEO in a science-led startup at the beginning).

    • Making management changes quickly is almost always the right answer. We historically have not moved fast enough to make senior management changes even when we knew it wasn't working. Trusting one's instincts is important: If it feels like it’s not working, it probably isn't. And the team working in the company probably sees the same thing from their view of the executives. Further, if real management questions are present at the closing of a new investment, it's unlikely to improve. I find it's often worth being explicit about this with the existing team before the closing to lay out expectations and possible action plans. Closing the deal and then firing the CEO immediately after doesn't feel like the high road.

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