Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Allergic To Selling

"I'm telling you, it's good publicity," I was arguing. In my excitement I almost knocked over the plant.
"I suspected that you would say that," was the reply. "As long as they spell your name right, it's good PR."
"You said it, not me."
I went back to my desk and turned the lights off. The glow of the screen beckoned. Headphones on head, white noise on, I soon became lost in the task.
And then, a note.
"Are you going to make it to the meeting? I'll be here till 1:00." 
Late again, but it was a good walk. I should leave my office more; I work in an interesting place, full of labs where you can walk in and see the work of science in progress. Animated conversation, amazing exhibits, portraits of Nobel Prize winners line the walls.
Antti Korhonen, the entrepreneur in residence at NIST, waved me in. He looked like you would imagine a CEO looks. Impatient, intelligent, eager to get things done. There was nothing on the desk save for a couple of pieces of paper. I could imagine paying $250 an hour for a consult.
"What can I do for you?"
Many questions later, this computer scientist turned CEO turned adviser to scientists and prospective entrepreneurs left me with these key takeaways:
1) Professional credibility requires publication, but to make commercial impact, you have to sell. No matter how smart or decorated you are, the customer won't find you.
2) Focus on the motive of helping people. Scientists are motivated by the prospect of making the world a better place. That's a stepping stone in the right direction. To have an impact, you have to get out there and discover how your work can make a difference in the world.
3) Take a guess at your value proposition. Commercialization starts with a value proposition, but most scientists don't think that way. It feels overwhelming. So start small. Hypothesize, refine, and iterate till you hit the mark. 
4) Forge relationships first and foremost. Business is a human endeavor. Think of it as meeting people and expanding your mutual base of knowledge. 
5) You don't have to give up your secrets to have a conversation. The main idea is to get out there and make a connection. Keep confidential things confidential, but more knowledge ultimately benefits everyone. We live in a sharing economy.
Copyright 2014 by Dannielle Blumenthal, Ph.D. All opinions my own. "Snooty Cat" photo via Stuart Pearce / Flickr. Visit my author page on Amazon.

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