Biotechnology / Events / Venture capital

Why starting a business is like the Atari game ‘Pitfall’: CD Diagnostics CEO Richard Birkmeyer

Birkmeyer, who's also a partner at Leading Edge Ventures, spoke at the Jan. 21 Delaware BioBreakfast event.

Richard Birkmeyer sharing CEO tips at the bimonthly BioBreakfast series. (Photo by Melissa DiPento)

Since 2001, hundreds of entrepreneurs, CEOs and leaders in the life sciences industry have come together for the bimonthly Delaware BioBreakfast series. The events feature a guest speaker, and give participants the opportunity to connect and network.
Yesterday, Richard Birkmeyer spoke about how to successfully start a company.
Birkmeyer is the president and CEO of CD Diagnostics — a Clayton-based biomarker manufacturer that specializes in developing diagnostic tests for diseases — and also a general partner at Leading Edge Ventures, a Newark-based venture capital group.
Birkmeyer likened starting a business to a classic Atari video game he was fond of: Pitfall. In Pitfall, a player must maneuver a character through a maze-like jungle in an attempt to uncover 32 treasures in 20 minutes. Here, try it out.
“In the beginning, the hazards were simple,” Birkmeyer explained. “Further along in the game, quicksand appears out of nowhere. So you play it over and over and over again to learn where the hazards are.”
Birkemeyer covered topics ranging from how to select your startup team, to CEO myths, to how to establish your company’s strategic focus, how to listen to the customer, how to finance the company and how to weather the storm.
Here are six takeaways we gleaned from Birkmeyer’s presentation:

  • CEO myths. These phrases, which are common, simply are not true, he said.
    • A scientist will not be successful starting a business.
    • You need an MBA.
    • You have to have done it before.
    • You have to be super smart and know it all.
  • Look for balance when selecting a team.
    • Don’t select your friends or people who are like-minded, he said. “If I had a bunch of Rick Birkmeyers, I would not be successful,” he said.
    • Choose planners to complement the procrastinators; look for individuals who see the big picture and those who are detail oriented.
  • Establishing your strategic focus will go a long way.
    • Think outside the box and be creative.
    • Be able to effectively verbalize your idea to others and define what makes you unique.
  • Evaluate your market failures.
    • Why will the product be used, will people be able to change their habits and will consumers be willing to actually pay more for it?
  • Financing your company is challenging.
    • You will need more money than expected.
    • Keep analyzing your edge, and know when you’ve reached your limit.
  • As CEO, you must weather the storm.
    • People have told Birkmeyer that he’s lucky to be his own boss. He sees it differently. A boss, he said, must answer to the customers, employees, venture funders and the board, each of which are quite important. “When you are the CEO, you’re affecting a tremendous number of other people’s lives,” he said.
Companies: Leading Edge Ventures / CD Diagnostics

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