8. 2017: Year in Review

2017 was a big year for us. New office, new round of funding, new advisor, new product, new partners, and a ton of traveling. We haven’t had much time to write about and share our journey these past few months, so we crammed it all into a cute slideshow you can watch below. We did, however, want to take the time to look back and reflect on the past year – we think it’d be helpful (and fun) to share our biggest surprises and takeaways.

Most Difficult Challenge: Accurately gauging how long something will take and how much it will cost when you’re doing it for the first time. We definitely underestimated this more often than not. For example, it took about double the time and legal fees to raise our seed round. It took four more months than expected to get manufacturing and supply chain set up and quality control checked. As we prototyped our new Highlight® technology for hospitals, we learned more and more information and got an increasing amount of feedback, pushing back the beta-test start date for three months as we scrambled to implement changes in real-time. The common theme throughout all of these challenges is that they all involved third parties who have their own lives and schedules. In the end, we’re glad that these things got done well even if it took longer, and we know how to work with partners more efficiently now. But we also know this will be far from the last time something will take longer than expected.

Most Surprisingly Expensive Thing: It was shocking (at least to us) how much money it costs to construct a laboratory. The furniture, the fume hood, the cost of labor for installation, and particularly the cost to hook up water and electricity…maybe we should’ve been plumbers instead.

Least Surprisingly Expensive Thing: Lawyers. We love our firm, but damn. Maybe we should’ve been lawyers instead.

Worst Assumption We Made (That we also fixed!): After field-testing Highlight® in Liberia and Guinea back in 2015-2016, we wrote up a few reports summarizing the data, but never submitted them to a peer-reviewed journal. We thought that no one would accept our paper due to conflict of interest. Turns out, industry publishes papers all the time and we should have tried submitting way sooner. Nevertheless, in about a month, we were able to format the paper according to journal guidelines, submit it, and get published in a top infection prevention journal. Especially in the healthcare field, having published data is so important, and we encourage other start-ups to go for it. We’re in the process of submitting another paper now.

Scariest Moment: The day before a hospital demo in another city, we were having a package delivered to us containing prototypes of Highlight®. There was a delivery exception and the package was going to be delivered the next day, a.k.a. the day of the demo. We frantically called FedEx and somehow got the delivery person to get the package to us an hour before we were leaving for the bus station.

Best Use of Our Time: Traveling to Albuquerque for the American Biological Safety Association Annual Conference where we exhibited and gave a scientific presentation on our technology. It’s one of the few conferences in our space where industry can talk up on stage to the entire conference audience. Helped put us on the map and sales have picked up since then. It’s an amazing feeling when all of the attendees genuinely understand the value of your product and can geek out with you.

Worst Use of Our Time: Some of the other (unnamed) conferences we attended. We learned the hard way that just because an event is healthcare-related or that hospitals will be there doesn’t mean the audience will be the right fit. Some of these conferences we decided to go to because we were awarded a free booth or received some special designation, but we know better now and have narrowed down our pool of conferences in 2018 to just a handful that really matter. Better to go to a smaller conference with more decision makers than a large one with fewer – seems like common sense, but it’s tempting to go when you feel like you just won something.

Most Philosophical Realization: Start-up culture can be unnecessarily stressful. As founders, we often feel like there’s something to prove, but that can manifest itself in unproductive habits. In popular culture, we hear about how start-ups are working 20 hour days, sleeping under desks, and eating ramen, or we see in the news that Company X just raised $100m or that Company Y is already profitable after only 6 months. We get caught up in all of these news cycles, comparing ourselves to constant streams of victories, and start to believe that we have to grind ourselves into the ground to be successful too. For part of the summer, we didn’t have as much to do in the lab as a lot of work was being contracted out to third parties. Yet, we would sit in front of our computers for hours, with not much to do, pretending to work, simply because we didn’t want to be the type of start-up that left work early. Our team had never felt more burnt out or uninspired than during that period of time. So we came up with a new company philosophy: to measure work by the output of what we get done rather than the number of hours we put in. If we’re done with everything by 3pm, then so be it. We’ll go home and recharge for those days when we have to take back-to-back red eyes for a meeting or grind for a deadline. And being in the healthcare space and dealing with NGOs and hospitals, we have to remind ourselves that we aren’t like software companies, that we can’t just sit on our laptops for a few hours and debug lines of code, that we handle difficult chemistry and build a physical product and that we do not move as fast as an app, that we have strict regulations to follow, and that people’s lives are on the line and we can’t rush it or make mistakes.

Least Philosophical Realization: Sodexo cafeteria food tastes better than Sysco cafeteria food.

Favorite Memory: During our conference in Albuquerque, we ventured out to Mary and Tito’s for dinner and it was LIFE CHANGING. We learned that sopapillas exist and you have not lived until you’ve eaten one. It’s definitely tiring to explore a new city after a long day at a conference, but we’ve never regretted it.

Cheers to more favorite memories to all of us in 2018!