Here’s a spoken word version of the keynote I gave at Biofabricate 2017.
To learn more about why you need a bio strategy, click here.
Here’s a spoken word version of the keynote I gave at Biofabricate 2017.
To learn more about why you need a bio strategy, click here.
Pedro Paramo is the book I’ve most given away. It’s a thin, easy to read, very influential novel. It will haunt you.
The second book I’ve most given away is Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk.
Through a series of alternating interviews, PKM traces the history of punk. From New York to Detroit to New York and London.
Picture New York City in the mid-1970s. Gritty. Dirty. DangerousThe City was on the verge of bankruptcy.
In contrast, rock ‘n’ roll in the mid-1970s is bloated and growing fatter.
On the East Side of Manhattan (on 47th Street to be exact), Andy Warhol’s factory births The Velvet Underground.
The Velvets play a stripped down version of rock ‘n’ roll mixed with avant garde sounds. They sing about mature subject matter: bondage, transvestites, and scoring drugs.
They go on to inspire many bands.
Halfway across the country, Detroit births the MC5 and The Stooges.
The MC5 are known for their aggressive, provocative, loud performances, which contrast hippie, flower-power bands.
The Stooges‘ Iggy Pop’s over-the-top performances earn him the moniker, “Godfather of Punk.”
The stage for punk is set long before it arrives at CBGBs, a club on the Bowery. 
New York births The New York Dolls, Blondie, the Dead Boys, the Patti Smith Group, the Ramones, and Talking Heads.
PKM’s cast of characters is extensive AND exhausting: Warhol, David Bowie, David Byrne, Debbie Harry, Malcolm McClaren, Iggy Pop, Dee Dee and Joey Ramone, Lou Reed, and Patti Smith, plus actors (Jim Belushi!), authors, artists, band members and poets.
All of them speaking in their own voices.
Explaining how bands were formed, who always had drugs, who knew how to play music, who didn’t.
To me, the book is an important lesson in making a scene.
By that I don’t mean “create a public display or disturbance” or “complain noisily and display bad behavior” (though punks did both).
I mean surround yourself with people who inspire you, help each other, do great work, perform together, and rinse and repeat.
Some of the people in PKM had talent. Others didn’t. Some used a lot of drugs. There were fights and stolen loves.
You might not want to be friends with several. Many of their stories are tragic. People died.
Yet, they came together to create something awesome.
By the dawn of the seventies, the philosophy was that you couldn’t do anything without a lot of money. So my philosophy was back to, “Fuck you, we don’t care if we can’t play and don’t have very good instruments. We’re still doing it because we think you’re a bunch of cunts.” – Malcolm McClaren
You can read this book straight through and enjoy the hell out of it.
You could also read it as a science fiction novel and enjoy it in a different way.
In my humble opinion, PKM is the book you read BEFORE Jessica’s Livingston’s Founders at Work: Stories of Startups Early Days, though the subject matter and format are different.
Livingston’s book (which I still come across on startup founders’ desks) is about changing business; McNeil and McCain’s book is about changing culture.
Updated 4/7/2108 to include footnotes.
 New York City today is nothing compared to what it was in the mid-1970s. Even in the late-1980s, when I first visited, New York still had an edge. Today, New York City is a sanatized shopping mall.
 I was lucky enough to see a few bands at CBGBs: Sonic Youth, The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black, Sham 69 (where EVERYONE knew EVERY song and sang aloud), Atari Teenage Riot, Bikini Kill, Batmobile, and a show that featured a who’s who of the California bands I’d seen live in L.A.: Circle Jerks, D.I., and 45 Grave. Today, CBGBs site houses a John Varvatos shoe store. R.I.P.
 The Blondie image is one of my favorites and it’s from band member Chris Stein who you can follow on Instagram.
 The Los Angeles (or West Coast) version of this book is Marc Spitz’ We’ve Got the Neutron Bomb. Sadly, it doesn’t come close to being as exciting or exhaustive or definitive as PKM.
When I speak with non-technical, non-biotech audiences, I’m always looking for a place where we can start the conversation. These days, it’s with brewing.
Most people, remember, know little-to-nothing about the way biology is impacting their lives.
Most people, I believe, want to know.
So these days, I start the conversation with beer and wine.
Both involve taking ingredients that have little value on their own. But add biology, shake or stir, wait a while, and you end up with beer or bourbon or mezcal or wine.
Plus, every culture has a tradition of fermentation so most people can relate.
Last week, Bloomberg ran a story titled, In the Future, There Will Be a Distillery on Every Corner.
The article points out that breweries and distilleries were among the manufacturing industries creating the most jobs.
In fact, they were the number 2 manufacturing industries with the most job growth. (Plastic products (!) were number one – let’s do something about that.)
Over the past decade, the brewing, distilling and wine-making industries have seen an explosion of new entrants.
Consumers looking for unique products and professionals looking for fulfilling jobs are driving growth.
The article makes another important point: craftsmanship is making a comeback in the US.
I see this as a biotechnology story, a distributed biological manufacturing story, and an important story about creating jobs.
If I can get someone to understand the brewing story, I can start talking about breweries as bio-reactors, factories where we use biology to create even more valuable products.
I talk about Ginkgo Bioworks building the micro-organisms that will enable the transition from brewing to bioprocessing.
As my final example, I like to tell the story of Stanford professor Christine Smolke and her team. They genetically engineered yeast to produce opioids.
In doing so, they have the potential to improve access to painkillers in places where they are unavailable.
How do you explain biotechnology?
“You’re into Devo?” he asked. “Aren’t you?”
His tone mocking.
As if there was something wrong with it.
Because for him, Yeah. Devo was too mainstream. Fake alternative. He was above that, and what he thought they stood for.
“Of course I am,” I answered, thinking, Whatanasshole. “How could you not be?”
Because at the time there was no voice for the weird.
Used to be you were walking down the street, looked too weird, too punk, someone’d stick their head out of their car window and yell, “DEVO!”
It was the catch-all for anyone, anything so weird it still didn’t have a definition.
But Devo has been having a great time since the late-1970s. Laughing all the way to the bank probably because they’re still touring and their influence is widespread. It’s more than likely you heard something today that was touched by Devo and their commercial music spin-off Mutato Muzika.
So, How did Devo influence you?
This week I’ve been thinking a lot about this MIT Technology Review article on writing the yeast genome. The article profiles NYU’s Jef Boeke, one of the founders and leaders of Genome Project write (GP-write). Writing a genome, which is still expensive, will drive advances across many fields (I’ve written about this project in the past and predicted – incorrectly – that the scientists would be finished by the end of last year.)
Healthcare is broken. It’s expensive, eats up a significant part of our gross domestic product, and entering the healthcare system is no fun. Just think about the forms you have to fill out every time you visit a new doctor. The news that Apple is creating medical clinics for its employees (and to test new products) is very very interesting. If you believe that Apple was instrumental in designing technology that is easier to use (and I do), then for sure they will create a healthcare experience that many of us will crave.
 Colored scanning electron micrograph of lab-grown baker’s yeast.
Organism or microbe design is an emerging industry.
It’s analogous to the semi-conductor industry. Companies design and manufacture the semi-conductors found in computers, phones, cars, and televisions.
Today, end-users rarely make semi-conductors themselves. They hire the expertise and apply what is manufactured to create a product.
Organism design companies are reprograming yeast and bacteria to produce useful molecules. Those molecules are used in consumer goods, foods, medicines and industrial products.
Perhaps the best known organism company is Boston’s Ginkgo Bioworks. Sarah Zhang profiled the company this week in an article I enjoyed in The Atlantic. (We featured co-founder Jason Kelly and creative director Christina Agapakis in What’s Your Bio Strategy?)
Minecraft Chemistry. A couple of week’s ago, Microsoft added a Chemistry Set to its popular game. Since there are about 55 million people worldwide playing (and some 122 million games sold) that’s a lot of potential exposure to chemistry and crafting. What does the synthetic biology expansion kit look like?
TL;DR I grew my LinkedIn network to 22K contacts. You *might* grow yours to advance your career.
“You want to have as large a LinkedIn network as possible,” he said.
At the time, I didn’t understand.
What was this investor was telling me?
I’d been on the professional social network for a few years. I’d cultivated a decent group of contacts.
“A large network,” he explained, “makes it easier to get introduced to people who can make a difference for your business. Or career.”
I could agree with his logic. It made sense at the time.
“How do you do that?” I asked.
“Work on it every day.”
I asked a few more questions and learned he had grown his network to just over 3,000 contacts.
“A large network will give you greater access.”
My competitive fire was sparked.
I was determined to grow a larger network.
I became a LinkedIn Open Networker (a L.I.O.N.) and spent one year sending out invitations and helping others grow their own networks.
It took about 15 minutes a day.
By the end of the first year, my network had grown to 7,500.
By the end of the second year, it was more than 10,000.
At the beginning, I wasn’t selective at all about inviting people in my network.
I started with the people known to have the largest networks, moved my way through the LIONs in my industry, and accepted everyone who asked to join my network.
Today, my network is nearly 22,000.
Do You Need A Large Network?
Before I give you a few tips to grow your network, let me ask Do you really need that big of a network?
[To be continued]
Netflix just started airing Altered Carbon. It’s a rad take Richard K. Morgan’s 2002 cyberpunk novel. One of my favorite genres, cyberpunk typically explores how the street repurposes tech, life in cyberspace and off-planet.
Last fall, I reread William Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy – Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. (Neuromancer, BTW, is credited with “launching” the cyberpunk genre, though purists will cite British New Wave authors and Philip K. Dick as originators.)
I was searching for biotech references. And man, did I find them, from the neurotoxin sacs that are surgically implanted in Neuromancer main character Case’s body, to a Mitsubishi-Genentech merger (that never happened), and hackers trying to bring back by-then extinct horses.
In many ways, Gibson already riding the biotech wave years before synthetic biology was re-defined. Gibson includes less biotech in later novels but he is always readable. His writing enjoyable and thought-provoking and he remains one of my favorite authors, plus his Twitter stream is a blast to follow.
I’m a story nerd.
I enjoy re-reading books, re-watching movies. I like figuring out how the authors or film makers put the story together. What hints did they place at the beginning of the story, and resolve at the end?
I’ve read plenty of books on writing screenplays, plotting, and character development.
, which is Shawn Coyne’s master work on story analysis.
Pedro Paramo is the one book I’ve given away the most.
Mexican Juan Rulfo’s thin, 1955 novel launched magical realism. It’s a story about a son looking for his father, and a father longing for his son. The book drips death on every single page.
The novel is a fragmented, post-modern masterpiece that is highly relevant today.
Paramo influenced Nobel-prize winner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude. It’s said Marquez had memorized long passages of the book. I can’t recommend it enough.
“We can build any product. The question is: Will anyone buy it?”
She is developing a new chip set. It’s revolutionary in its design and potential applications.
When I ask about customers, she answers, “We’re building a platform, like the app store.”
When I ask about validated customers, she answers, “It will be a hundred times cheaper. Than the competition. They’ll all buy it. Wouldn’t you?”
When I asks about product-market fit, she asks, “What is that?”
It means, I explain, you have a product that people want to buy.
She repeat her statement about cheaper cost assuring – not just driving – sales.
To me, that’s the end of the conversation.
I can’t help people who haven’t spoken to their potential customers.
Or, those that think they don’t have to.
I can’t draft messages in a void.
I can. Sure.
But there’s no guarantee they’ll work and I won’t take the risk.
If we agree with Reis (and I do), we’re lucky we can build almost any product today. We also have more knowledge about building businesses.
What we don’t have is insights into customers.
Will they buy our product?
The Lean Startup methodology forces you to get in front of your customers.
It helps ensure that you’re developing something the market wants. Before you create it.
Wouldn’t you rather know that up front?