Life as a Rebel / Week 4

Interested to see how one of the biggest biotech accelerators worldwide is from the inside? Join me in the four-month adventure that is Rebel Bio, SOSV’s global biotech accelerator. Previous part here.

Originally posted in Emilia Díaz / Life as a Rebel

It’s Monday. Everyone seems quiet. Subdued and sleepy. This is the last week of pre-acceleration and there’s a general tiredness that I wasn’t expecting. The program isn’t easy and of course it becomes consuming, but it’s like there’s an extra weight in our collective eyelids. It is most definitely not a welcomed one. It gets to the point where the first brave soul whose anonymity I will protect takes two ginormous pillows that lay around the co-work, forms a nest in an empty office and takes a nap. What a legend.

To shake the sleepiness off I have a meeting with Caitriona, Rebel’s analyst, and my business plan gets absolutely destroyed. I can summarize her advice as “I don’t see the Plan in your Business Plan” and oh god, she’s right. Tough love is a thing here, and it’s awesome. It was probably the most succinct and direct feedback I’d gotten in the plan these past few years.

Get back to me in a week to check if it actually made a difference. I’m working for the Yes.

Meetings with Bill still carry that little bit of nervousness but at this point it feels like he knows everything about your business and there’s no use of feeling anything other than excitement about picking his brain. It’s a very intense 10 minutes. I guess it contributes to the general tiredness, but comes with exceeding benefits.

On Tuesday, we have a presentation from Enterprise Ireland. The amount of support programs, grants, niche-ecosystems and the like is just this side of overwhelming, and unexpectedly reminds me of how it works back home. Most of the financing instruments are impressively similar to the ones ran by CORFO (The government’s production development corporation) back in Chile. I guess we’re not so different after all, underdogs trying to build themselves through an innovation ecosystem. Maybe it’s time we collaborated more.

Tuesday is also the day where I forget my earphones and almost Die. Remember how I mentioned us Latins don’t work well with silence? Apparently, I am particularly 1) noisy and 2) fond of the noise. We’re talking loud-typing, random-singing loudmouth that yells when she wants to call somebody on the other side of the room to go out for lunch, even though there’s a handy Cohort-wide Whatsapp group precisely for that (which I made myself). This one time I found a Pilates ball and bounced on it for about an hour while working and singing under my breath. It is a wonder I have not been kicked out yet.

Anyway, none of those things are accomplishable without headphones, so I died a little inside all through the day, and ended up getting a second pair of earphones just to make sure this never happens again.

Next day is, to me, the highlight of the week. It’s all about the one thing that I’m scared to death of in my startup life.

Sales.

We’ve been given some great material regarding the misunderstood art of selling. No longer the “Always Be Closing” philosophy, sales now seem to encapsulate everything about communicating an idea to somebody else, including what to do right before, right after, and why you do it on the first place. But there’s one piece of the puzzle in particular where we are taught to put our focus, and it’s harder than selling itself: Listening.

Listening as a practice is something that has been appearing more and more in the last couple of days. From listening to feedback (being coachable) to listening to new information (being teachable) to listening to customers.

In a particularly great Skype call with Ryan Bethencourt (yes, from San Francisco-based Indiebio because yay for intra-SOSV help and mentorship!), I mention my fears regarding selling a product I consider unfinished and his answer, again, goes back to listening. To talking directly to the people you’d like to count as your customers, but not treat them as that. He summarizes it as “ask for money and you get advice. Ask for advice and you get money” and I promptly write 10 emails to people whose advice I need. I hope to prove him right.

Listening in a business-scenario seems to be directed to that sort of scenario, that of the sale itself. So when later that day Bill drops by and gives us his take on listening, it takes a little while to sink in.

I won’t tell you exactly what went on in what he called “listening training”. But there was a take-away I particularly loved.

Everybody wants to be heard. We know this and yet, we are generally terrible listeners. We are thinking about our take on things, or about something else entirely, or waiting for the moment where we can intercede. That isn’t really listening. So the mission Bill gives us seems abysmal.

“Listen with the wonder of a child who’s being told a bedtime story.”

Pitch day comes with a bit of extra dread and extra makeup, since we’re being filmed again. This time, I’m the second to last to present, so I get to properly see everyone. Again I am struck by how much everyone has improved. There’s extra pride when people whom we’ve shared practices with do especially well — with the fun added detail of making hand gestures if I think I can point out when they’re talking too fast or if they should smile a little bit more (my inner pitch coach is having the best time ever. More on that in Weird advice for better pitches). Most of the speeches are now polished, with words carefully chosen to represent our ideas as faithfully and impactfully as possible. There’s a general appreciation for language now which was probably not there before, I believe. It’s amazing to be able to rediscover language as a worldbuilding force, and I believe it’s even more so when the group’s tools of trade have been until now not words but genes and pipettes. But they’re not that different after all.

“You can program computers with code and bacteria with genes.” Bill reminded us that day. “You can also program humans with words.”