Dr. Charles Sidman started off getting his Masters and PhD in Immunology and Harvard, and dove into research and professorship. It was thinking about the applications and possibilities of his research that brought him to the world of business and investments. “There’s a part of grant writing where you have to mention significant – why your project matters in the world… that’s what got involve with consulting activities, application and commercialization.” This yearning to step outside the lab has resulted in hundreds of speeches, presentations and consulting jobs with companies and organizations around the world, eventually landing Charles in position as a Managing Partner of ECS Capital Partners, LLC.
The benefit of having a research background goes beyond having a specific academic area of expertise in medicine. For Charles, his background implies a level of thinking and type of thinking that he believes is useful in thinking through any deal, medical or otherwise. “I have the ability to talk with a technical person about what the data actually is… to what the interpretation is… to what the implications or applications of the data might be. Those are really different phases of a discussion… but sometimes a non-technical person takes all of those as gospel, and can’t break them down or discuss alternatives.”
So, what’s an entrepreneur to do when he’s in a room full of people with different backgrounds, expertise, and methods of reasoning?
Does he tailor his presentation to the audience? If so… how? And how much?
I asked Charles if he recommends that startups begin with something custom and tailored. “They should know about [the skills and expertise of the group], take advantage of it… but it shouldn’t be the primary, driving factor. So, if someone’e speaking to me and they don’t know I’m an academic might mean that it might come across as talking down to me, while if they knew my background we might have a richer conversation because of it.”
He mentions that if an founder know that there’s a specific likeness between their project and the interests and expertise of a particular investor, then that can make the conversation quicker and deeper at the same time. Similarly, “entrepreneurs shouldn’t be looking merely for financial resources, but human resources… they want to be part of a team. Someone who knows the technology and or industry may easily may be more valuable than the dollars.” In other words, “smart money” is what an entrepreneur will often be after, and a little bit of background on who’s in the room will allow the “smartest” conversations to kick off quickly.
Charles doesn’t see the “meat and potatoes” of a pitch necessarily changing (the value proposition, the current numbers, validating the business model, etc…), but he does believe that some customization may be warranted to tweak a pitch – with the majority of the “customizing” happening with specific people of like minds and backgrounds in the room post-pitch, casually.
So does it make sense to know who you’ll be in front of? Certainly, says Charles, but once there’s a certain level of interest and rapport, the process isn’t streamlined, “it’s more like dating.” That’s where lots of networking comes in, and networking at the places where you’ll have the highest likelihood to meet the expertise you’re looking for (to start off with), to form the relationships you’ll ultimately need (in the long term). Realistically, it’s a lot of networking, but being anchored in what you know you want and need first helps that process along.