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Tobias Reichmuth on Company Building at EARD2021

This talk hits a number of important and counterintuitive points.

Tobias Reichmuth EARD2021Tobias Reichmuth EARD2021
 

At Ending Age-Related Diseases 2021, Tobias Reichmuth of Maximon taught aspiring enterpreneurs ten critical rules for developing their own longevity companies.

Script

What I have to talk about today is maybe a bit different from many other speeches. I really want to shed some light on what we at Maximon believe is very important when you build a company, especially a longevity company. I plan to have a quick introduction to what Maximon is doing so that you can put it into context when I later talk about the, in my eyes, 10 golden, fast-track rules when you build a company.

As you see here, and as you heard already, I’m an entrepreneur from my heart. I love building companies and also, what I think I’m good at, I like to look into innovation. In 2009, we started building a company in the field of renewable energy fighting climate change.

In 2016, we started to look into blockchain. That’s a company, Crypto Finance Group, which was able to exit to Deutsche Borse or the German stock market. Also Singularity Group, which is a fund focused on exponential technology leaders.

This is dear to me, looking at what is happening in technology, what is innovative, and how can you build businesses out of that? In 2016, I have heard for the first time about longevity. I bet many of you are much deeper, much longer into that topic and industry.

Nevertheless, I got fascinated and decided that for the next 10 years, at least, I want to focus on longevity and to build companies there. That’s what we do at Maximon. We are a longevity company builder, meaning we start up companies from scratch. We are not a venture capitalist, but we really help building companies together with enterpreneurs.

What is longevity for us? There is many definitions out there, we focus on healthspan. For us, it’s not right now about eternal life, this might be nice, but at the end of the day, right now, I believe for us, it’s important that people can live healthy and happy until they die, or as I have heard recently, die as young as late as possible.

What is a company builder? We see it as a platform which allows enterpreneurs to focus on what they really do, we keep the back free for them, they can focus on the product, they can reduce their time to market. They don’t have to take care of fundraising and so on. That’s a very important aspect. We will see what it is in detail.

What we do is we bring the team together. It’s a bit like when you form a music group, a band or something like that, you need to bring the right people together, we help them structure the firm, tax efficient in Switzerland, of course. We provide capital, normally between 5 and 10 million per company. Significant amounts, and they should last for, let’s say, until a Series A financing round, where we would invite in other investors.

This Series A should be a double-digit financing round at least. We plan to be very actively engaged in building this company together with the team for about two, three years, maybe four years before we really invite all those other investors in the company.

We also create the ecosystem. For us, it’s important that the companies we are building work closely together. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of spillover effects when you talk about the longevity science but also when you talk about what business you can do.

We have a focus in longevity, of course. Within that focus, there are two areas of interest, and one is promoting longevity and the extension of health and lifespan. That was, for example, our first company, AVEA.

AVEA is a supplement company, where we produce longevity supplements; however, with a strictly science- and evidence-based focus. We work closely together with ETH, that’s the Swiss technical university here in Zurich.

On the other side, we look at products which are needed once we have a healthier, much more agile senior society. I think we are already moving there. When you look, you have people who are 80, they don’t want to be pensioners, they don’t want to go on cruise ships. They are active, and they can contribute, and this will increase.

We must look at what can we provide as services and products for this much more active aging society. The examples for that could be co-living for healthy and active seniors who not necessarily want to live in their house or in the countryside once the children are out. It could be fashion labels for beautiful 75-year-old ladies. Influence is together with that. In China, it’s thought of as massively successful in that.

We really look at it for the whole spectrum. We invite scientists and enterpreneurs who have great ideas to come to us, join us; we will help them to substantiate their business idea, to validate it, to see what is possible. If it’s possible, we are very happy to contribute and help in building it.

Now, how do we do that? You have always 100% when you start up a company, and I have started up companies. When I started my first company, I spent pretty much 50% of my time for the first three years running around getting money, fundraising. You need to pay your salaries. With this, you basically do not focus on what you should do; you don’t focus on your product, but you focus on raising money. Now, this burden is taken away, because Maximon, as I said before, is financing these startup companies up to Series A.

We also help with structuring the company and everything, ideation and so on. For this, we get 25% sweat equity. We will not get any transfer payments, we don’t have any money flow from the startup to Maximon, it’s only when Maximon vests and gets 25% in sweat equity.

We have a fund, that’s the Longevity Co-investment Fund. Longevity Co-investment Fund has 60 millions invested in those startups, as I said. On average, above 5 million to bring the company to Series A. Of course, the team gets 50%.

Now, the founder team here has one big advantage, they are much faster with the product in the market, because they fully focus on their product. Secondly, they will not be diluted up to a Series A. We believe that this idea, this structure, is creating a good win-win.

When you look around, normally, when you start up your company over several financing rounds, you’re down to at least 50% when you get a big Series A financing and you lost a lot of time in fundraising. Us at Maximon being enterpreneurs, we probably also are able to help you when it comes to what needs to be done first when building a company, focus on the crucial things.

Portfolio, I mentioned AVEA, the supplement company. The second one is Biolytica. Biolytica is a concierge service, we could say. It’s a personalized longevity plan where we take people at the hand for quite some money, I must say.

It’s directed at affluent clients first with the idea to generate data. Even affluent people have DNA and blood groups and so on. Based on that, we, basically for a whole year, take them at the hand and see what works for them. With this, we generate data, and eventually we will be able to offer tailor-made longevity plans for just everybody and not a lot of money but a little money because then we are in the mass market, basically. So, that’s Biolytica.

We are currently evaluating various business ideas and plan to bring three to five startups every year out. We are heavily looking for team members, for entrepreneurs. This is an invitation; if you have a great idea, also, if you’re saying hey, I’m an entrepreneur, I would really like to join a longevity company, feel free to join us. We will be very happy hearing from you.

There you see the team. Marc, those of you who have been in the show just before heard him. We have Jorg, we have Caroline, we have Ashish, and myself, we are the partners here. Four of us have built various companies. Ashish is a bioscientist in the field of aging and molecular medicine.

Then we have, as you can see in the middle, quite a seasoned advisory board. Why is that? We really believe that we need to understand the science here. Of course, on the right side, more and more founders and team members. By the end of this year, we are heavily recruiting right now, we hope that we have another 10 faces on that slide, so the company is growing fast.

By the way, we are based in Zurich, Switzerland. Since we have all learned during the last one and a half years of pandemic, you can work from everywhere, we build also virtual teams. You basically can work from anywhere; we expect everybody to check in at least one week with the team, no matter where it is. At the end of the day, we want to get the best people, no matter where they are.

Maybe the even more interesting part of what I regard as the 10 most important golden rules, when it comes to being on a fast track for success as an entrepreneur. What you see here is the corporate treadmill, you might all have heard of and many people want to escape from, and then go and build a startup.

Well, trust me, building a startup is not a walk in the park, it’s also tough. I must say, for me, it’s much more fun, because you learn a lot. You are faster paced, and you can focus on what you believe is really important. I think it’s a lot of fun building a startup, but still, it’s a lot of work. Until you’re successful, it will take some years.

What do I believe is most important? It’s not the business idea. It’s not even about the product, the most important thing is a team. You need to have the right team, and that’s why we take so much care about recruiting the right team members for every company we build here.

What is the right team? It’s not necessarily your best friends. It’s not necessarily people you studied at university with; you want to have different qualities and competencies in one team.

That’s why it makes a lot of sense to bring people from different areas of science and business together, and it’s also super important to test whether those people can work together. When we recruit people in a new team, we always also go out for lunches, we have dinners, we drink a bottle of wine, we want to find out who those people are and see whether they can work together. So far, I must say this has worked very well.

This is interesting, a lot of people contact us and say, Hey, I would like to tell you about my business idea, but you need to sign an NDA. If you’re an investor, you just don’t sign an NDA, not early on. Because as an investor, you cannot do that; you have so many business ideas on your table, if you would sign an NDA with each of them, it would basically make it impossible to look at various business plans or invest in various companies.

What I have learned being an entrepreneur myself is, it’s super good to talk with just everybody about your idea. You will get a lot of support, you get sometimes also critical feedback, constructive feedback, you will find partners, investors, advisors, and so on. You can be sure that nobody really will steal your business idea.

Meaning, you do not just distribute the data you have but the business idea as such, you don’t find anybody else who have the same competency as you, you don’t have the people with time, they don’t have the money and so on.

Very unlikely that somebody would steal; much more likely that you get a lot of support. That’s why we believe it’s very important to talk about what you do. Even if it’s early on, maybe your idea changes three or four times, absolutely normal. I really believe it’s not about being selfish, it’s about communicating what plan to do.

Now, the other thing, time to market. I have only one slide here, because it’s really important. I think especially when we talk here, of bioscience and longevity, science and so on. You have to be fast; the moonshots are very difficult for an entrepreneur; maybe there, if you follow the big thing which is research driven, or you may be better off for a while staying at university.

I believe that once you found a company, you should be able to have a certain estimation how long it takes to have a product in the market. If it’s 10 years, we will need a lot of capital, it’d be difficult. If you can shorten that within a certain time, doing research at university and only then branching out and doing a spin off, it saves a lot of time.

In that context, as well, and this applies not only for science startups, but for any kind of startup, it really doesn’t matter what the name of your company is. It also doesn’t matter what your logo is, it doesn’t matter what the color is, and also not the style of your fonts or so on. Apple computers, that’s a fruit, Nike is a goddess, it doesn’t really matter.

Don’t lose time here. Don’t work on branding. Go fast with the business idea, time to market, bring your product as fast as you can to the market, that’s absolutely key.

The other thing, and not everybody is agreeing with me. I know of startups, which for business plan after business plan, they receive coachings, especially in Switzerland, you have plenty of coaches available for just any entrepreneur. Again, you should not build a company to win business plan contests, you should build a company to bring a product to market as fast as possible.

Here, I think, if you have a good business plan, if you have a good team together, you don’t need the 50,000, or maybe even more, Swiss francs or US dollars you can win in a business plan contest, you will find investors, and those investors can bring you further, they bring more money, and you will be much faster.

Here, I will be skeptical. It’s not bad to join a business plan contest. It’s not bad to win one, but don’t do five of them. That’s not what you’re here for.

Now, that’s a difficult one as well, of course, when you build a company, it might be a bit lonely, it would be nice to do together with a friend to spend the long evenings in the office if you have one.

In my eyes, you don’t need a co-founder; actually, a co-founder costs you more money than anything else in your life. Well, maybe, marriage can be similar if it’s split. At one time, I think there is a lot of, how shall I say, similarities here.

When you build a company, and you do this together with a partner, you’re in for a long time here. If you build a company on your own, and you have three, four months advantage, you have the legal structure in place, you have an office address, maybe you have a company name, and maybe you have a first investor already, and then you get a co-founder in. You don’t give the co-founder 50% anymore, then we talk about 10% or something like that.

I really believe if you have a good idea, start now, and then get co-founders. It’s good to have co-founders, no doubt, but the 50/50 co-foundership might be a difficult one. Maybe it’s great. Maybe you’re the top scientist and your friend is a top business guy, and you together will drive it. That might be a wonderful team, but very often, it’s not, and if you don’t have this fantastic co-founder yet, don’t wait for him. That’s, for me, a super important role here.

No dead equity, what is dead equity? Dead equity is money which is only money and doesn’t give you any further advice, or network, or anything like that. Of course, you’re super happy and proud. If you get the first money, the first capital together for your company, you see that your family, your friends trust you, and so on, but they might not help you further on.

If you have the chance in getting some smart money, as we call it, in your company, that’s really helpful later on. You should have somebody who understands your industry.

Also, I have seen this myself, it might be very difficult if you have investors from early on, and they don’t understand your industry. Suddenly, your company is successful enough that they really take an interest, and they want to help steer it, that is a disaster.

You want to have people who understand it, who can open doors and so on. If you don’t have them early on, it might be wise to work with grants and loans, which you can repay later, of course.

Rule number six: hire slow, fire fast. Very difficult. You bring normal people and you believe, sometimes even it might be friends or you might get attached to them. If you have a gut feeling that it doesn’t work, then it doesn’t work, and then it means fire fast. It’s really about following an instinct here.

Of course, it’s difficult. Of course, some people earn the second chance. I talk here about the gut feeling, and if your gut feeling is that it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Then you do not only yourself and the company a favor, but also that person, because that person, eventually anyway would have to leave your company.

It’s much better if you have a clear table and this person can find a new job where he or she is doing great and excelling for the company, especially if you’re a startup, it’s always very difficult to have people too long on the company.

One other point here is, it’s normally the worst performer which defines the performance of a team. You want to have top performers only; average is not good enough when you build a start up and that’s why hire slow, be very careful who you take in, do a lot of tests, case studies, maybe also just a first month of just seeing whether you can work together before you do a real contract here, and if you don’t, fire people fast.

Raise more money than you need. Well, why is this? In a way, it’s not good, because the more money you raise, the more shares you give away, the less shares you have, the higher dilution. However, in my experience, normally, whatever business plan you read, you write, it will take double as long and will cost double as much. Of course, that’s a rule of thumb, so it might be much better in your case.

Again, if you work together with Maximon, then you don’t have the problem because there is enough money for your startup. If you go on your own, normally, you should raise a bit more than what you think you need. Because you don’t want to run around every four or five months getting a new round together, as I said at the beginning, that is taking away the attention from additional work on the product and to market and so on. I would really look for a little bit more if that’s possible.

All in all, if you talk to investors, and you tell them that they do a startup and that they should invest in, but then you tell me that you work for UPS, or whatever, McKinsey or any other company, Pfizer, whatever it is. You have some security, well, that’s not what the investor wants, the investor wants you to be in with skin in the game, because then you get the money.

I also believe, you want to see whether your startup works, or it doesn’t; if it fails, it fails, then you do something else. You’re smart, you will find a new job, or you build a new company, but at least then it’s fast. If you go on half the speed, so to say, it just takes longer to find out whether it works and it’s much more difficult to motivate people working with you, to get investors on board, and so on. As soon as you decide to build a company, go all in.

There’s advice, which sometimes is typical to give, but modesty is not necessarily what we need when you’re a startup entrepreneur. You have to tell people that it’s great what you’re doing, and that you solve a big problem, and that you’re very confident that it is working, and that you make great steps, and so on. People don’t want to hear about the difficulties you have, and you will have a lot of difficulties, whatever company you build, it doesn’t work like you expected it to that it will work.

You have to improvise a lot, and you have to motivate people with you, your team, you have to motivate the investors, and so on. You have to produce a steady stream of good news. You have heard this, fake it till you make it? Don’t fake it. That is not something you should do; stay with the facts, but be positive, be optimistic about them.

If you don’t have great research results as you expected, then you say, now at least we know what we cannot do, we have excluded one option and that allows us to focus more on another one. Be optimistic to the outside. Then, once you’re successful, it’s, of course, very beautiful, to be more modest.

Now to the last rule, number 10. Credibility, you’re a startup, people might not yet know you. Maybe they also don’t know yourself, even though you’re a genius, whatever, you need to get some credibility. Normally, credibility is not established by the product, or, at least, it will take very, very long until this happens.

What is the best way of doing here? Get yourself an advisory board, or a board of directors, or whatever that is, get people associated to your company who already have a name. Now, the nice thing is, many, many people who have passed their 50s, who have had certain success in their field, are actually very interested to help.

They want to have an involvement, they want to have a purpose, and maybe they can throw in their network, not amy money here. I think namedropping here helps, not only with the photo on the website, you want people to really help you. It definitely helps establishing credibility and makes it much, much easier to be fast with your product in the market.

That’s not a rule, but maybe it’s an important point. I think if money is the only motivation, it’s very difficult to build a company enterpreneurs do not necessarily get rich fast. If you’re successful, this might happen. More likely, it doesn’t. Try at Goldman Sachs if you want to get a lot of money, in my eyes, being rich not necessarily means having a lot of money, but it means being able to do what you like to do. That’s definitely something you can do as an entrepreneur.

Finally, don’t wait. Your opportunity costs go up like crazy. I do not understand why you need five years’ corporate career. If you want to build a company, build a company. You learn much more when you build the company than when you work anywhere else.

Then, you have a beautiful lifestyle. You have leased a nice car, you have a great apartment, you can get a holiday house, whatever. You send your kids to private school, it makes it just much, much more difficult to be an entrepreneur again, because normally as an entrepreneur, you have no real salary, and that’s definitely not very high. Start up as early as possible. the learning curve is so steep, even if your first startup fails, even if the second one fails, you have learned much, much more than anywhere else, and then your third one will be a success.

With this, I’m basically at the end here. Enterpreneurship is not a fast way to a win, it’s a lot of fails, it’s a lot, you just need to get up more times than you fall down here. I believe it’s great fun.

I believe that longevity offers a tremendous opportunity here, so many options to build companies. We need to do it. Because I think we have here not only a good opportunity to build companies and make money, but we have a certain duty toward society here to help people getting old healthy, be happy, and not suffer. I think this is a great connection of doing well by doing good here. That’s why I’m very happy to work in this field.

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