Colleen Cutcliffe is the co-founder and CEO of Pendulum Therapeutics which develops novel interventions that target the human microbiome to improve the lives of patients suffering from a variety of diseases. The company has raised so far $57 million from top tier investors like Sequoia Capital, Khosla Ventures, and True Ventures.
In this episode you will learn:
- How to avoid the pain of needing to rebrand
- What to watch out for when naming your company
- Where the future of medicine is headed
- Colleen’s number one skill for work-life balance
- Why you need to investigate your investors as much as they do you
For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) that I recently covered. Thiel was the first angel investor in Facebook with a $500K check that turned into more than $1 billion in cash. Moreover, I also provided a commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400 million (see it here).
Remember to unlock for free the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
ACCESS THE PITCH DECK TEMPLATE
About Colleen Cutcliffe:
Colleen Cutcliffe is a Biochemist and Molecular Biologist with 10 years of experience managing and directing fundamental biology research teams in the academic, pharmaceutical and biotech sectors.
Prior to co-founding Whole Biome, Colleen served as the Senior Manager of Biology at Pacific Biosciences where she met and collaborated with her fellow co-founders, John and Jim.
Before her role at Pacific Biosciences, Colleen served as a Scientist in the Parkinson’s Disease discovery group at Elan Pharmaceuticals.
Colleen completed her postdoctoral research under Elizabeth Perlman at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, IL, her Ph.D in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology under Cecile Pickart at Johns Hopkins University and her B.A. in Biochemistry from Wellesley College.
Connect with Colleen Cutcliffey:
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FULL TRANSCRIPTION OF THE INTERVIEW:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. Today we’re going to be learning a lot about science; we’re going to be learning a lot about being a female founder and a female leader that is making incredible things happen in the world. Building and scaling, and you name it. So without further ado, Colleen Cutcliffe, welcome to the show today.
Colleen Cutcliffe: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Alejandro: So born and raised in Atlanta. How was life in Atlanta?
Colleen Cutcliffe: Life in Atlanta is great. I think when you’re a child, you don’t realize what heat and humidity really mean. So I never felt like the weather there, as they call it hot Atlanta, was a problem. My family all still live in Atlanta, and I go there for holidays. I had a wonderful experience growing up there.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. I have good memories from Atlanta, and also not-so-good ones. I worked for a law firm called King & Spalding, who had headquarters there, and they were the lawyers of Coca Cola, and I made the mistake of showing up their first day of work with a Pepsi. So, they told me that was the first and last time. But anyway, Atlanta. Really, really great place, but then you decide to go to Boston. Why?
Colleen Cutcliffe: Well, actually, I decided to go to college.
Alejandro: That’s important, but why not stay there? Why college in Boston. What got you into going there?
Colleen Cutcliffe: As any high-schooler trying to figure out where I wanted to go to college and did college chores in different places. When I did the tour at Wellesley College, it struck me—first of all, it’s a beautiful campus, and I was visiting in the fall. The northeast in the fall is the most beautiful time of year to go. I had never seen anything like it. There’s a lake on the campus, and beautiful trees are changing colors. I think what struck me is that it’s actually quite a small school, and so you can get a lot of personal attention and a lot of guidance. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was in high school. I wasn’t one of those people that knew what field I wanted to go into what I wanted to be. So I felt that was a college where I could have the opportunity to explore lots of different avenues and then also get guidance from professors that I would respect, who would get to know me and help guide me to whatever I would do after I finished college.
Alejandro: Got it. Why biochemistry?
Colleen Cutcliffe: As I said, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I started. Wellesley is a liberal arts college, so most of my classes were liberal arts classes. At the end of your sophomore year, you have to declare a major. I was really struggling with this, what to major in. I enjoyed all of my classes. I remember a very specific phone call that I had with my father, where I said, “Next week, I have to declare a major, and I have no idea what I should major in.” And he said, “Well, what are the classes that you like the most?” I said, “I like all of them. They’re all great.” I was taking history, political science, economics, and a biology class. Then he said, “Well, okay. If you don’t have a particular interest, which class is it easiest for you to get an A in? I said, “Oh, okay. That’s the biology class.” He said, “Well, then you should major in one of those sciences because if you don’t have a particular interest, then do the thing that you’re good at.” That was how I ended up picking biochemistry.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. Why in the world of science, for example, research? Here, you did a Ph.D. Why is it so important? This is something that I see in scientists: Ph.D.s, papers, research studies. What’s about this?
Colleen Cutcliffe: Yeah. Again, even when I graduated from college, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I had told my parents that I think I was going to come live at home when I finished college, which my dad was fine with, but my mom was very disappointed. She reminded me that when I left for college that there was a one-way door, not a revolving one that I could come back into. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had a professor—this is why I went to Wellesley, and it ended up being very game-changing for my life trajectory. I had a professor call me into her office in the fall of my senior year, and she asked me, “What are you going to do when you graduate?” I said, “I don’t know yet.” She said, “Okay. Have you considered going to graduate school?” I said, “I don’t know anything about that.” She gave me a few pamphlets for some different schools to go get a Ph.D. She said, “If you’re enjoying the work that you’re doing”—I had done a senior’s honors project with her, and I was enjoying the lab work, “and you don’t know what you want to do, then why don’t you consider applying to graduate school?” I literally decided to apply to graduate school in the 11th hour. I had to take a standardized test. I had to go ask teachers for recommendation letters, and I applied to a few different schools. That was how I ended up going to get a Ph.D. was really this one professor who suggested it. But once I got into the Ph.D. program, I realized that science was not what I had experienced up until that moment. Before going to my Ph.D. program, science was a lot of textbooks, memorization, learning about how things work, and then regurgitating that back out. Even when you go to a liberal arts college, there’s still a lot of memorization involved. But when I got to graduate school, I started to learn that science is a very, very creative place to be. You’re trying to figure out how does the world work around me, and how can I influence that world in a way that is positive? It was during my Ph.D. program that I came to love science and the ability to change the world and health through science. My mentor there and all of the advisors that I had in my Ph.D. program were important for me to understand how can you use all the knowledge that you’ve acquired to impact health? I cannot imagine any other career that I would be in.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. And, obviously, after your postdoc, which was at Northwestern, you landed in San Francisco. So what got you there?
Colleen Cutcliffe: I knew that I wanted to be in an area that had lots of activity in the scientific arena. There was the option of moving back to the East Coast and the option to try California. Being somebody that grew up in Georgia, California is always this mysterious place where all these magical things happen. So I decided that I should try San Francisco. So, “I’ll take a job there. I’ll live there for a couple of years, and then I’ll move back to Georgia.” My plan was always to move back home afterward. Now, 13 years later, I’m still in the Bay Area, and also cannot imagine living anywhere else because there’s so much incredible innovation that happens out here. It’s really inspirational.
Alejandro: Here in New York, before you went at it as a founder, you had a couple of experiences. Right? So you were with Elan Pharmaceuticals, and then also with Pacific Biosciences. What did you learn from both experiences because you were in both companies in three and four years? What was the experience like in those companies?
Colleen Cutcliffe: I learned a few key things. The first is about management and leadership. Even when I was in my Ph.D. program, I was always tasked with having interns and new students under me. When I did my postdoc, I had two people reporting to me. I think I’ve always enjoyed management and leadership. What I learned in the two companies was how to grow a team under you. At a fundamental level, I realized about myself that I love nurturing people, and I care very deeply about all the people that report to me. Through that caring and helping them grow and be the best that they can be, it’s helped me define how I lead. It’s sort of a servant leadership where it’s about helping the people that are on the team be the best that they can be. That’s, for me, since the beginning and even now, what’s propelled the group and the team and the company to success. So that was a very valuable lesson. There are different management and leadership styles, and I learned mine through those two companies. The second thing I learned was what kind of people I like to work with, and maybe more about the people I don’t like to work with. So I always say that there’s really one type of person that I cannot work with, and I will not work with, and that’s passive/aggressive. It’s very difficult to work with someone who disagrees with you or doesn’t like the idea or the path, but then refuses to say so, but then goes around and does these kinds of things that chip away at the plan or the ability to move forward. I find that personality extremely harmful for a team. I think that’s one of the big other things that I learned through working in companies with a wide variety of people and personalities. Lastly, I think it reinforced all the different ways that you can impact health. I grew up and went through these programs that are very hard for biochemistry and basic science research. When I worked at Pacific Biosciences, it was the merging of software, hardware, and biology that enabled us to build an instrument. I learned that all of these different types of engineering, when merged with science, gives you an opportunity to create the next wave of health products, which will integrate big data with basic science knowledge.
Alejandro: And you were talking about leadership. I keep reading everywhere about leadership, and everyone has a different opinion on what leadership is. How do you define leadership, and what is leadership to you, Colleen?
Colleen Cutcliffe: I think at a very fundamental level, leadership is inspiring people to get behind a vision and march toward that vision together. However, you, as an individual, are able to influence people, or how you interact with people to get them to behave in that way, I think, is the difference among different leaders. To be a good leader, you have to know yourself quite well and know how people respond to you. Then you’ll figure out exactly how do you get people to all align and go towards the same goal?
Alejandro: I love it. After Pacific Biosciences, you started your own business. But I want to understand for Pendulum Therapeutics, your company that you co-founded, what was that process of coming up with the idea. Tell us about how did this idea come to you? How did you bring it to life? What was that process like?
Colleen Cutcliffe: The idea was born out of trying to figure out a failure. So at Pacific Biosciences, we built an instrument that was an incredible feat of science and technology and things that had never been done before across physics, chemistry, biology. We’re very proud of the instrument that we built. Then we put it out there on the market, and nobody wanted to buy it. What happens when you spend all this time building something that doesn’t sell the way that you had hoped is you spend a lot of time going to bars and talking about why nobody wants to buy the thing you made. In these bar discussions, particularly with two people that I had worked with closely at the company, we were trying to understand where is an application for this long [0:13:00] DNA sequencing that would be a game-changer? In those conversations, it became very clear that the microbiome, which was at that point a very academic set of work, there had been no translation into any companies yet. It was very early stage, but it was clear that because the microbiome is such a complex ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, and fungi, that you need to be able to use DNA sequencing tools and technologies to understand what could be a target here. We realized that there was an application space for using our instrument that we built in the microbiome arena. That was the beginning of the idea for starting a company around using DNA sequencing to identify potential microbiome interventions. Then as I was learning more about the microbiome, I realized that there was a link for me personally. So 12 years ago, I had a baby girl, and she was born almost eight weeks prematurely. So my husband and I got to hold her for a few seconds, and then she was taken away from us to the ICN, where she spent the first four weeks of her life hooked up to tubes, monitors, and getting antibiotics, and it was a terrible experience for first-time parents, especially. As I read about the microbiome, I realized that early disruptive start to her life could be an explanation for some of her current health challenges, as well as potentially setting her up for future health issues. It dawned on me that I had an opportunity here to start a company where we could create a product that could actually help my own kid. Knowing that we had a technological advantage, and knowing that I could build something that could help millions, including my own family was the impetus to start the company.
Alejandro: This is actually something that is close to my heart, Colleen. My identical twins were for 180 days in an incubator. So, I know the feeling well. It’s amazing that this is what was one of the drivers. In this case, Colleen, what happened next?
Colleen Cutcliffe: Then there was a lot of fumbling. It’s one thing to stand up and say, “I want to start a company.” It’s entirely another thing to actually be able to do it. I think we completely underestimated all the parts required to start a company. It’s not just about having a great science idea, or even about having a vision for how to create products, but it’s about—well, for us, with the three of us that started the company all are very technical people. It was about learning a whole new vocabulary and a whole new way of thinking and talking to investors. I quit my job at the beginning of summer, and I said, “I’m going to give myself three months to get money from a venture capitalist, and then we’ll start this company.” I told the two co-founders, you guys can—once there’s money in the bank.” Then set up to start to fill the gaps with two key people. One is Dietrich Stephan, who had started multiple companies. The second was Hugh Martin, who was the CEO of Pacific Biosciences. So that’s how we knew him. I wanted these two individuals to help me think about all of those parts needed to start a company beyond just the initial scientific or technological idea. They had both done it multiple times over. One of the first lessons that I learned, though, is that if you’re somebody who has started multiple companies, and you go back to a VC, and you say, “I have an idea for a new company,” the trust that they have in you already because you demonstrated that you can do it is quite high. In other words, you can say, “I have an idea for a new company.” Give a couple of slides, and walk out with people believing you and even an investment. When you’re a first-time founder, there is a lot more that you have to do to demonstrate that your idea is valuable. If you’re somebody who’s never started a company, never demonstrated success in starting a company, never brought an ROI for anybody, your idea is under a lot more scrutiny, and you better be prepared to go through the wringer on that. The hardest part was learning the vocabulary and then understanding what it is that people wanted. To give you a very tangible example, my first slide deck was 25 slides, 24 were about science, and one was, “Then we’ll go to product one day, and we’ll make money off of it.” By the time I got my first venture investment, it was 25 slides, 24 of which were about the business opportunity and the way that we were going to build the company, and one slide was the science, and it had been distilled down to a cartoon. So, learning how to pitch and how to fundraise and what are all the different parts of the business besides the technology was a big part of learning how to get this started.
Alejandro: And here, you’re obviously touching on a very important subject, and I’m sure that a lot of the people that are listening are probably now either in the fundraising process or putting their slides together. In this case, Colleen, what have you learned about storytelling?
Colleen Cutcliffe: There are three things that I think are important that I learned. The first comes back to this question about who are you? Know who you are, and know how people view you. If you are starting a company with two people, and all three of you have Ph.D.s in various hardcore sciences, people are not going to question so much whether you understand science. What they’re going to question is, do you know how to build a company? Do you know how to finance that company? Do you know how to make sure your IP is in place? All of the other parts of business that are important or what they’re going to be questioning. So build your deck in a way that demonstrates to people that you understand all the different parts that are required for the company and know that they’re not going to be asking you to do a scientific deep dive if you’re a scientist. That was the first thing, to build a deck of the things that were actually the uncomfortable parts and the things that people will be wondering about whether we knew what to do. The second part was, for me, elimination of the slide deck in the first presentation. I found that when I use the slide deck to present, people were disengaging from me and looking at the slides, and then reengaging with me and looking away from the slides. It’s almost like having people focusing on two things. There’s me, who’s telling the story, and then there are the slides that are telling the story. And maybe this is just me not being good at knowing how to use slide decks properly, but I found that if I do the first meeting without a slide deck, but it’s just me sitting down with a couple of people and telling the story of the company and telling the story of the opportunity that that could engage people and have them believe that there’s something worth their time here to follow-up on. Then I can come back to a second discussion, or even send out a deck which has the information which I just shared, but I found that I was able to get a lot more second meetings by not having a slide deck in the first meeting. So I’ve actually not used a slide deck in a first meeting for a long time. That’s something that I learned about myself, and my ability to pitch was much better without the deck. Then I think the third thing is, starting with a punchline. As a scientist, oftentimes, you are building a case. So you start with all of the building blocks that ultimately get you to be able to make this proclamation, and therefore, I think that I can do this. Also, as a scientist, you’re constantly talking about why this building block may not be true or why this may not be actually what the observation means. So you spend a lot of time being critical of your own thing. In pitching, you do the reverse. You have to start with the punchline because you have to give people a reason to want to understand, can you actually achieve this goal. But they have to first know that the goal is something worth listening to. As opposed to building all the building blocks, and then ending with the goal, it’s better to start with the goal: the big vision of the company, the big thing that you think that you can do. Then answer people’s questions about how would you do that, and why is that something that you think is feasible?
Alejandro: Got it. Obviously, in this case, you raised quite a bit of money. So how much have you guys raised so far?
Colleen Cutcliffe: We’ve raised about 57 million for the company.
Alejandro: Got it. You have amazing investors. You have Sequoia, Khosla, True Ventures—unbelievable. I want to ask you here, how did you find these investors, and then also, how did you manage to also get in front of them and close?
Colleen Cutcliffe: The first investors that we had were True Ventures. Adam D’Augelli, in particular, realized that there was an opportunity to learn about companies, and for him to get in front of companies and for companies to get in front of him by hanging out at the local incubator. There’s a QB3 Incubator, which had a bunch of startup companies. They’re pretty technical, mostly technical founders and all in the health and science space. Adam would talk to the director frequently and ask about companies that were coming up on his radar, and we’d meet with companies. I remember that the first time that I met with Adam, he had heard about me from this director of this incubator. I had another CEO that I had talked to about the company to try to get advice on building a company, and his name is Mickey Kertesz. He has also started multiple companies, currently the founder and CEO of Karius. Mickey had talked to Adam about me. Then we had also gone through this program, which was a bit of a boot camp called The FAST Program, which is under that California Life Science Institute. In that book camp, there had been an investor named Jenny Rooke. I had asked her, “I’m going to meet with Adam. Could you put in a good word for me?” The first time I met Adam, we sat down together, and he said, “Well, I’ve heard so many great things about you from so many different people that I respect.” And I said, “Well, I know that if I don’t walk out the door today with an investment, that it’s all my fault.” At the end of that first meeting, Adam said, “Okay. Well, thank you for the pitch. I’m not going to give you an investment.” I remember feeling so bad that I had made that joke in the beginning about it’s all me because definitely, it was all me. He didn’t want to make an investment. But he gave me the advice of “You talk a lot about this platform, and I need to know that you can hone in on a particular disease and build a product for that disease. So when you figure that out, come back and pitch to me again.” I took that advice to heart. It’s not just about a discover platform. It’s about what’s the first thing you’re going to actually build. So we went back and talked about that and discussed it. In the meantime, we got our first investment from the Mayo Clinic. Then we discussed what would be the target first opportunity, and we decided to go after type 2 diabetes. When I came back to Adam and gave that pitch, I had listened to the advice that he had given, and he ended up loving that disease to go after and thinking there was an opportunity there. They ended up making that first investment in us. I think that was a big thing, which was to have multiple people that he’d heard good things about us, and then for me to listen to his advice on what he needed to see to make an investment, and then doing it.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. What ended up being the business model? For the people that are listening, wondering how you guys make money, or plan to make money? What would you tell them?
Colleen Cutcliffe: I would say it’s actually always been the same, which is that we have built this discovery platform that allows us to get high-resolution insights into the microbiome. Through those high-resolution insights, which are accomplished in lab, compute, and clinical data. We used that in order to develop interventions. We have been going after type 2 diabetes as the first indication. Actually, I’m very proud to say that we’ve just released the world’s first and only microbiome intervention for type 2 diabetes, which has been clinically shown to lower A1C and [postprandial 0:25:33] glucose response. That’s our first product. Then we have a pipeline of other products that we’re working on using the same platform.
Alejandro: I know that you guys went through what I think is a super-challenging thing to do, which is rebrand it. Tell us about this.
Colleen Cutcliffe: Yes. Well, this was maybe another hard lesson learned. As I said, we were doing this discover platform work and basic science and clinical work, and you have three technical co-founders that started this company. When we got our positive clinical trial results back, we realized, “Okay. This product is ready to be commercialized.” We hired our first chief marketing officer, and week one on the job, she says, “Oh, and by the way. You trademarked the name of the company. Right?” We said, “No. We did not.” The name of the company at the time was Whole Biome, and she got a trademark attorney to come in and review the case. This woman came in with a big stack of papers. Each of those pieces of paper was a company that was going to be a problem for us being able to trademark the name Whole Biome because Whole and Biome are two separate words that are both quite common. Biome was actually not a common word when we started the company, but apparently, now, it is. The more important thing was not only would it be difficult to trademark, but even if we could trademark the name of the company, we couldn’t own the model around it. So somebody else could come out with My Whole Biome, for example. So this was the impetus, and I think the other thing that was clear was that because Biome had become such a typical word in the Microbiome space, we also were no longer differentiated. When we started Whole Biome, nobody even knew what the microbiome was. I was still having to describe it to even investors. But by the time we were ready to commercialize product this year, the microbiome has become more well-known, and biome, in particular, is a word that’s in a lot of company names. So it wasn’t a differentiating word anymore, and the trademarking is sort of the Litmus Test for it not being a unique name. So we underwent a process to come up with a new name that represented the company and what we wanted to build. Pendulum is a name that I love because it brings together the precision of science and the movement of nature. That’s really what we’re trying to do with the company—bring together the microbiome and these natural products with all of this hardcore science and develop new products from it.
Alejandro: Very cool. Today, how big is the business? How many employees do you guys have?
Colleen Cutcliffe: We’re still a startup. We’re small. We’re a bit less than 50 people, but definitely, the company has gone through a transition this year, in particular, because we now have a marketing commercialization team, which is a different type of person than we’ve ever had in the company before. So, it’s been a transition year that’s been really wonderful because it’s not enough to make a product. That product has to be brought to life, and we’re learning so much about how to do that.
Alejandro: What has been the biggest lesson so far?
Colleen Cutcliffe: Besides trade marketing the name of the company.
Alejandro: Yeah, bringing the product to life.
Colleen Cutcliffe: I would say it’s trying to understand—again, it becomes a vocabulary lesson. So what is the vocabulary that you use as a scientist and as clinicians is not the vocabulary that resonates, necessarily with the person that you’re trying to sell your product to. And understanding consumer language and what consumers respond to and what they are interested in is the most important part in being able to engage people with your product. What I’ve been learning is, what are the different vocabulary words, and how do you understand and survey people to get the right language around describing your product? We can even, probably at some point, go back to the first iteration of our website, which is very much—you could only understand it if you were a scientist or even care about it if you were a scientist, to now, which is a site even my parents can go on look at and understand. I think that’s been the big learning in the transition is, taking the core of all this science and medicine and translating it in a way that is digestible, and understandable, and something that people want to care about, and want to listen to, and learn more about.
Alejandro: This reminds me of one of the comments that you’ve mentioned a couple of times is that the founding team was quite technical. So how do you guys work through the transitioning into becoming a little bit more business savvy individuals?
Colleen Cutcliffe: I think there are three steps. The first step is acknowledging you have a problem. Know that you have a gap in knowledge, and believe that you have that gap. There are many people who are scientific in background, but they also believe that they know all this other stuff. I think the first thing is to know that you don’t know things. So, identifying the gap. The second step is being able to identify people who can fill that gap. This becomes hard when it’s something that you don’t know. It’s hard to identify an expert in something when you don’t know anything about that field. Like, if I said to a regular person, go find the world’s best physicist, how does one do that if you’re not a physicist? I think that’s been a challenge is figuring out what are the proxies for identifying great people to fill those gaps. So, acknowledge that you have a problem, find the people to fill the gaps. Then the third step is, empower those people and let them run the show. I think that can be a challenge, too, of letting go and letting somebody else take over, something that’s very important for the company’s success, and truly trusting that they can do it. That third step is where we are now.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. When it comes to health, we’ve been in a culture or mindset or whatever we want to call it, but really where health was all about fixing rather than preventing. How do you think things are shifting a bit here?
Colleen Cutcliffe: I think things are shifting a bit for—of course, more towards preventative medicine. I think the reason for that shift is actually because there’s a shift in the concept of health ownership. We used to live in a world in which our doctor owns our health. Our grandparents would go to the doctor. The doctor would tell them what’s wrong with them, prescribe medicine, and take care of them, and they totally trust that doctor. I think what we’ve observed is that that is not the case anymore. People are starting to take health ownership into their own hands. Because so much information is available to people, this is sort of the first time in history where a patient goes into a doctor’s office and says, “These are the tests that I want run, and I want you to tell me about these interventions.” I think because people are taking health ownership into their own hands, that has naturally led people to say, “I actually don’t want to be sick. I don’t want to have to look up interventions for disease, so how do I prevent this on my own. That movement of owning your own health, realizing that you don’t want to be sick, “How do I keep myself healthy?” has also fueled the movement toward things like organic, natural, a little bit of this anti-drug movement. All of these things are falling in line with people caring about and embracing their own health.
Alejandro: Let’s say, for example, Colleen, if you were to go to sleep tonight, and you were to wake up, let’s say in five to seven years, and you wake up in a world where the vision of Pendulum is fully realized, what does that world look like?
Colleen Cutcliffe: Five years from now, I just want to know what I have to do tomorrow. I think our vision is creating these natural products that are comprised of these bacterial strains and prebiotics, and figuring out what can be put together to build efficacious products is the dream. That vision will be realized if we wake up five years from now, and there are a family of products that target a variety of different disease and health conditions that people are loving and actively taking in order to either fight a disease or to prevent disease onset, and that we’ve discovered the way to create efficacious products that consumers love and want to have in their lives. If we can build a family of those that people are taking and using in their everyday lives, then I feel we’ve been able to change health. That, for me, is success.
Alejandro: Obviously, success, as well, is being able to balance your duties as the founder, as the CEO, with also your duties of spending time with your children. You were mentioning that you are a mom, as well. Especially for the parents that are listening, or some of the female founders that are thinking about starting their family and maybe they are questioning how that future’s going to be or how to find the balance, what kind of words would you share with them? Is it possible to have it all?
Colleen Cutcliffe: First of all, fundamentally, I think that it’s important to put as much requirement for childcare on the father as the mother. I think that men should take the same amount of time off for paternity leave as women take off for maternity leave, and I think that men should be held to the same standards as women in running the house. In fact, a father and a mother or two parents are co-founders in their family, and so should take on that equal weight. I hope this message isn’t just for women, but also for anybody who has children. The most important thing I think is to live life in a way in which you have no regrets. The way in which you do that is a series of decisions that you make every day in which you are allocating your time and your energy in order to ensure that later one, you don’t regret not having allocated time and energy to things that are important to you. It starts, again, with you. You need to know what’s important to you, what is your personal mission, what are the things that you value, and then that’s your moral compass for how you spend every minute of every day. You should know that every decision that you make about how to spend that time if you’re not going to go back to that compass and saying, “This is what’s important to me,” then you will end up in a place where you will regret it. I think taking the time to figure out what matters to you and then spending your time in that way is important. I think a big part of that is that no, you cannot have it all. You have to know what you’re willing to give and what you’re not willing to give on. So the time that I spend with my children is time that I’m not spending at work. I could be doing more at work, for sure, but I choose to let those things go because I think that my time is better spent allocating toward my family. Likewise, there are times that I could be spending with my kids and my family that I’m spending at work because I think that there are things that I’m letting go of. I could definitely be a better mother, and a better wife, a better daughter, but I let go of certain things because it’s also very important to me to build a company that is changing health. You have to decide what you really care about, what you will regret if you don’t do, and then what you’re willing to let go of. Then you cannot have it all, but you can have what you decide that you want to have.
Alejandro: By the way, I fully agree and subscribe to your comment. I think that the work at the house needs to be equal. For example, yesterday, without going too far, I slept on the floor because one of my twins was sick, and I told my wife, “You go and sleep. I’m taking care of this one.” So I think that partnership, that’s what it looks like. So I agree with that. What I wanted to ask you here is, being a founder, being a CEO, there’s a lot of stress, there’s a lot of pressure, especially when you’re leading a venture-backed company. Here, we’re talking about balance; we’re talking about family. How are you able to be with your family and perhaps disconnect, maybe if you had a tough day at work?
Colleen Cutcliffe: There’s actually quite a skill in being able to compartmentalize or to be able to block out certain thoughts and worries and concerns. Different people have different ways to do this. I don’t want to brag, but I’ve always been very good at meditation. When I was younger, I was like, “This is a totally useless skill to have.” But I actually think that it’s a very useful skill because what meditation teaches you how to do is how to block out noise and to really get quiet. That’s actually the skill that’s important for being able to walk through the front door and drop everything that you were just thinking about or worrying about or talking about and to decrease that noise in order to amplify the new setting that you’re in. Then, likewise, to be able to walk through the company’s front doors and to drop and let go of whatever other things that you’re worried about. So I think the ability to have a simple mind and not multitask and worry about lots of things simultaneously has been helpful for me to be able to focus in what I’m doing at the moment. Then, have the full energy on whatever I’m doing in that moment.
Alejandro: Really, really interesting. There are a lot of people talking about meditation, but being able to block the noise and whatever you had going on that day, your advice is amazing, Colleen. So one of the questions that I typically ask the guests that come on the show is, knowing what you know now—it’s been quite a ride with Pendulum. You’ve been at it for about five years with the business, hypergrowth, incredible investors as well, incredible initiatives, the ups and downs. So if you had the opportunity to go back in time and have a conversation with that younger Colleen that was about or thinking about starting a business, what would be that piece of business advice that you would give to yourself before launching the business and why?
Colleen Cutcliffe: I’m not sure I would allow my current self to go back and talk to that Colleen. It might start a conflict. It’s like after you have children, it’s best in some ways to not know what you’re about to get yourself into.
Alejandro: I hear you.
Colleen Cutcliffe: I would say one of the important things for any founder to realize is that at the heart of it, you have to finance the company in order for you to be able to get to the next step. People get very focused on how do I finance this company. How do I get money in the door? I would say that this is a very hard thing to do, but a very important thing to do, which is to not take money from just anybody. It is so important to have the right partners, not only in the company but at the board level and at your investor level. That means taking the time and actually being selective about who you work with. Again, this comes down to what are you trying to build, what are the kind of people that you want to work with, what are the kind of people that you don’t want to work with, and staying true to that. Because, I do hear lots of stories about founders who, yes, they get the money, but ultimately, it’s a miserable relationship that they have because they gave a lot in the beginning and the type of people that they chose to work with that were not their kind of people. That can lead you to make decisions that you wouldn’t otherwise make, that can lead you to not be as excited or thrilled about your company and the trajectory it’s on. So if you really want to build a company that you’re excited to work at day after day, it boils down to the people that you’re working with day after day. One of the things that I love about every investor that we have is that they are likeminded on the kind of company we want to build, and they’re likeminded on how we want to do that and what we value. That has been huge. It’s easy to all be aligned when things are going well, but when things are rough, people want to know why you’re behaving in certain ways. Knowing that you have people that are similar to you in what they believe at the core that helps you get through those times. It’s so important to not just take money from anybody but to be selective in that process.
Alejandro: Absolutely. I always tell founders that they should do just as much as due diligence on investors as they’re performing on them. I couldn’t agree more, Colleen. For the folks that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi?
Colleen Cutcliffe: They can go to our website, which is www. pendulum.co (not com). If they go to pendulum.com, they’re going to meet up with a European rock band. We have all the usual ways to contact us and check out what we’re doing. I hope that everybody does that, and hopefully, we can build products that help everybody improve their health.
Alejandro: Amazing. Colleen, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Colleen Cutcliffe: Thank you.
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