Colleen Cutcliffe has proven that when you have a passion for solving a big problem and are willing to let others help, anything is possible.
So far Colleen’s startup has raised nearly $60M from amazing investors like Khosla, Sequoia and True Ventures. They’ve just released the world’s first and only microbiome intervention for type 2 diabetes, which has been clinically proven to lower A1C and post-meal glucose response.
Colleen and I connected for a recent episode of the DealMakers podcast. She shared how she fell into biochemistry, the secrets to fundraising and work-life balance, as well as what she has learned about the art of pitching and how to breakthrough your technical genius and bring a product to life.
Falling In Love With Science
Cutcliffe was born and raised in Atlanta. She took a tour of Wellesley College in Boston, Mass. It was fall. The leaves were changing colors. They had a lake. Being a smaller school it would provide great access to the professors. She knew it was the one.
When it came to choosing her major, and she still wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to do, she chose what she was good at – biochemistry.
In senior year her professor recommended applying to graduate school. She got into the Ph.D. program. Then quickly discovered that science was quite different than her expectations.
It was actually a much more creative field.
You not only figure out how the world works around you, but how you can influence that world in a positive way. Especially when it comes to the intersection of science and health. It was then that Colleen fell in love with science and its possibilities.
Colleen believed in the magic of Silicon Valley and wanted to see it for herself. She is still in the Bay Area, 13 years later.
She had the chance to work with two pharmaceuticals and Pacific biosciences companies.
This taught her a lot about management, leadership styles, and growing a team.
She learned the types of people she enjoyed working with, and not. She found many ways you can impact health. Specifically where software, hardware, tech, science, and big data merge with products.
Colleen began to realize the potential of DNA sequencing and the microbiome. She saw the potential to help her own daughter who had spent the first four weeks of her life hooked up to machines in the intensive care unit.
She launched herself into Whole Biome, which has since become Pendulum Therapeutics.
Cutcliffe says she quit her job at the beginning of summer and vowed to give herself three months to raise venture capital money.
She brought in two co-founders. Two experts who would be critical for thinking about the business side of the business, and not just the tech and science.
Lessons in Pitching & Fundraising
One of the first lessons Colleen learned about fundraising is that if you are a fresh-faced new startup entrepreneur you are going to have a lot of work to do to prove yourself to investors.
On the other hand, if you have someone on your founding team who has been through the full cycle of starting, fundraising and exiting a company before, everything is a lot easier.
When you are an engineer or technical genius there is a lot to learn about connecting with investors and customers. There is a lot of new vocabulary to learn. You find out that your pitch deck is probably structured 90/10 in the wrong way. The bulk of it should be about the business plan and opportunity. With maybe one slide on the deep technical science. Not the other way around.
If you are going to overcome your technical side, which can be a handicap in business, you have to learn the vocabulary that resonates with your customers. That includes investors because you are selling them too.
Colleen says that she evens applies this to her website which is finally in a language that even her parents can go to and understand.
She says the first step is to admit you have a problem. Be willing to accept you may have a knowledge and communication gap.
Unfortunately, too many technical founders think they know it all – tech and business. Maybe there is one in 9 billion. So, it is probably better to err on the side of bringing in experts in fundraising and marketing to run that side of things. You will only gain it.
More importantly, you have to let go and empower them to run the show. If you don’t, you are just wasting your money and time.
This can be very important when creating your pitch deck. You’ve got to show that your team can really run with the ball as a business, and not just get lost in the science.
When it comes to presenting, this founder suggests leading with your punchline. Leave the logic, building blocks and science to after you’ve laid out the big vision and business goals.
For Pendulum, this happened to be tackling type 2 diabetes. They landed the Mayo Clinic as their first investor. Other investors include Sequoia Capital and Khosla Ventures with a total amount raised of $57 million.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Colleen was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
ACCESS THE PITCH DECK TEMPLATE
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- 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