Entrepreneurial Institute

Lessons Learned: Frank Rimalovski Shares Secrets to Venture Success

Matthew Murphy is a PhD candidate in the Stem Cell Biology program at the NYU Langone Medical Center. His research focuses on understanding how beta-catenin, a key protein commonly hyperactivated in colorectal cancer, regulates growth and survival of cancer cells. He is interested in the intersection of science and business, taking problem solving skills and medical expertise from academia and applying them to industry. As a leader of the NYU Biotech Association, Matthew helps the students and postdocs of the NYU community learn about and prepare for career opportunities outside of academia.

Frank Rimalovski, the Executive Director of the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, made the trip to NYU Langone Medical Center for the BioVenture Speaker Series to talk to a group of eager graduate students and postdocs about the foundations of a successful venture.

In his time at the Medical Center, Frank shared his “Venture Secrets,” describing the characteristics of a successful startup, and some of the common pitfalls that entrepreneurs face on their journey.

He started off by focusing on some of the common misconceptions associated with building a startup. For example, it was previously believed that a startup should be run like a scaled-down version of a larger company. More recently, entrepreneurs and VCs have realized that startups need to follow their own model that reflects the unique sets of challenges they face.

At their core, startups are a temporary organization, with the goal of finding a repeatable and scalable business model. So, what are some of the important factors that startups need consider in this search?

One often-overlooked key to the early stages of developing a business is the customer. While the product you’re selling is important, you’re not going to make any money if there aren’t enough customers. This is why having a deep understanding of the customer base is paramount.

In many ways, customer development mirrors the scientific method. Make a hypothesis about the customer and their problem. Test the hypothesis. If necessary, modify the hypothesis (known as a “pivot”) and re-test. And always remember that the customer isn’t looking for a product, they’re looking for a solution to a problem.

Frank also warned the audience about the complexities of the customer base. In some cases, the end user and the buyer may be two different people. This is particularly important in the health care industry, where you also need to be aware of influencers, recommenders, decision makers, and saboteurs.

Who is the saboteur? Often, the saboteur is an individual who might have something to lose if your product makes it to their workplace. This could be a technician who might be at risk of getting replaced by a new piece of equipment, or a doctor making money off of a surgery that might become less common if a new medication or non-surgical procedure is introduced.

Over the course of his talk, Frank emphasized the fact that “planning comes before the plan.” You need to understand the problem before you can test the solution, and customer identification and development is the key.

Putting in the extra effort to understand the customer’s problems and the ecosystem they work in can go a long way in maximizing your efficiency down the line.

“As a startup, time and money are your two most valuable resources,” Frank said. “You can’t afford to waste either of them.”

The NYU BioVenture Speaker Series provides a foundation in business knowledge for venture creation. The series is co-sponsored by the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute and the NYU Biotech Association.

Slides from Frank’s talk can be found here.