Founder Diaries: Trevor Martin, Co-Founder & CEO OF Mammoth Biosciences

K50 Ventures
K50 Ventures
Published in
6 min readDec 6, 2022

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On playing the long game, hiring the right people, and writing the code of life

Dr. Trevor Martin is a rare visionary whose ideas have the potential to change life as we know it. As the Co-Founder and CEO of Unicorn Mammoth Biosciences, he’s building the next wave of CRISPR products, which, colloquially speaking, means reading and writing the code of life in order to diagnose and cure genetic and infectious diseases. (And that’s just the tip of the iceberg).

This is, obviously, a huge undertaking, but Martin is well equipped for the task. In the five years since founding Mammoth, he’s grown his team to 150 industry experts, been recognized on the Forbes 30 Under 30 and Fortune 40 Under 40 lists, and kept a laser focus on both research and product. Clearly he’s playing the long game, and he’s got plenty of advice for future founders who hope to do the same.

If you’re going to take anything to heart, let it be Martin’s words on limitations (or lack thereof): “You don’t need to self-limit. Just because you think you maybe can’t do it, doesn’t mean you’re right.”

On that note, let’s jump into our conversation with Mammoth Biosciences founder and K50 community member Trevor Martin.

Mammoth Co-Founder & CEO Trevor Martin

Where in the world are you?

Brisbane, California.

…And what are you working on right now?

We’re working on building the next generation of CRISPR products.

Describe your working style in three words.

Empower; trust; support.

Was there an ‘aha’ moment? In other words, tell us the origin story of Mammoth Biosciences.

My background is in the computational biology side, and toward the end of my PhD, I got interested in synthetic biology. Throughout my career, I’ve always been interested in the intersections of fields — whether that’s biology and math, or biology and engineering — because I think that’s where there can be unique and powerful things happening, which has always been exciting to me. I saw what Jennifer Doudna’s lab was doing, and I was lucky enough to be introduced to the two star graduate students in her lab. The real ‘aha’ moment was that we shared a vision of what the potential of CRISPR could be, beyond what was being done then, and really exploring this whole diversity of CRISPR life — to what has now become the largest and most diverse toolbox of CRISPR systems on earth. We saw how that could enable new fields, like diagnostics, or better versions of existing technologies, like in therapeutics. That was something that people didn’t appreciate at the time.

That leads me to my next question — lots of people reading this won’t be very familiar with CRISPR technology. Can you explain CRISPR in layman’s terms?

The way I think about CRISPR is that it’s a way of programming biology. Essentially CRISPR is a protein. But what’s special about it is that by giving it something called a guide RNA, you can program the protein to bind to a specific DNA or RNA sequence, where DNA or RNA are what we think of as the code of life. By giving it this guide RNA, we can design and manufacture, specifically for a certain sequence that we want it to bind to. For example, for a disease, it could be a certain gene we want to edit, or for a diagnostic, a certain gene we want to detect. When you put this guide RNA in the protein and send it off, it will bind to one location in the DNA or RNA and not to any others. CRISPR comes with these built-in scissors, along with that programming ability. So, what you can do is, say, send it to a gene that’s causing some disease, and you can actually edit that gene, or insert a new sequence. You can think of your genome being a word doc, and CRISPR is your find tool. Once you find any word in the doc, you can do whatever you want — delete it, add another, change the spelling of the word, etcetera. It’s a very powerful concept.

Considering the potential power of this technology, how do you make sure we use it responsibly?

At Mammoth, we’re working on things that are of ultra-high need — whether it’s genetic disease or diagnostics for infectious disease — so there’s a million things that can be done that don’t touch on any ethical issues. I think when it does come to more ethical stuff, my personal opinion is that it should be a larger conversation. Not just one company or one scientist, but between government, patients, healthcare providers and community leaders, because I think these are broader conversations. We need to ask ourselves as a society: once we figure out how to program biology, similar to how we program computers, what do we want to use that for, or not use that for? Scientists can provide the tools, but it’s up to society to really understand and draw the lines around how to use it.

How has your life transformed since founding a company?

What’s exciting about founding a company is that every week is different. You’re exposed to a lot of different things, constantly learning, and get to work with really smart people. And all of that is in service of bringing something into the world that wasn’t possible and didn’t exist before, and that could really change people’s lives for the better.

Most surprising thing about life as a CEO?

There are a lot of people who really want to help. You don’t have to do it alone. There’s a very strong network of people who want to help you succeed. I don’t think everyone appreciates that.

Team-building philosophy?

Hiring people who are the world’s experts, who are smarter than me in whatever area they’re working on, and empowering them to do their best work. That’s the key.

Favorite part about your job?

Definitely the team. Getting to work with people I respect on really tough challenges. We’re going to bring something into the world that has never existed before, and that’s not something I take for granted.

I love the emphasis on bringing something into the world that has never existed before. When you’re dreaming of the future for Mammoth Biosciences, what effect do you hope to have on the lives of everyday people?

What would be amazing is if our CRISPR platform was being used to not only treat, but also cure diseases. So not a one-time treatment, but actually a cure, an incredible concept. On the diagnostics side, it’s a question of how do you give high-quality molecular information anytime and anywhere. Those are the two core areas that we’re working on. Beyond that, it’s about how to leverage programming biology more generally, whether that’s in agriculture or bio-manufacturing or other areas.

Advice to future founders?

You don’t need to self-limit. Don’t let other people close the door for you. A great founder can come from anywhere, so if you’re interested in something and have the ambition for it, go for it. People from many different backgrounds can succeed. Just because you think you can’t do it, doesn’t mean you’re right.

Final thoughts?

We’re trying to build Mammoth in a unique way. Where other companies are often either product only and no research, or research only and a suffering product, we’re really building Mammoth as this place where we’re at the forefront of research and at the forefront of actually bringing the technology to patients. This is a unique and difficult to achieve vision, but that’s how you build a long term company, a $100 billion company, by really embracing being a leader in both of those areas.

Interested in more? Check out our Founder Diaries with K50 portfolio companies MIDI and Worc.

K50 Ventures is a pre-seed venture fund backing founders who are building a better future for the 99%. Across health, finance, and work, we’re committed to improving affordability, opportunity, and access. Have an idea that’s going to change the world? Reach out to us by filling out this form. For more founder-focused content, follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter and subscribe to our newsletter.

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K50 Ventures
K50 Ventures

We are an early stage fund investing in founders driving affordability and access for SMBs and the mass consumer.