A scientist on an epic quest to collect an unimaginable amount of biological data – through a game console that anyone can buy.
Role: Founder, CEO
What drew you to this particular problem that demonpore is solving?
I was one of those kids deeply, intensely fascinated by science and technology. At 11, all I did was video game coding. In my adolescent years, though, my home environment changed dramatically. It was a time of emotional challenge and instability. I became a rebellious teenager, reading postmodern literature, creating provocative cartoons and essays. It was a spiritual, heartfelt response to the shift in my home life.
I didn’t take the turn back to science until my late 20s – which makes me a real weirdo in the field. I was the old (28 year old) man in all of my college classes. But I made the decision very intentionally; I wanted to return to the quiet, introverted, kid entranced by science that I had been in my early childhood. I’d also realized that I’d rather be a foot soldier in the world of science than a great artist of a generation. I wanted to contribute something substantial that I felt was moving the world forward.
I pursued that science academia path which as much excellence I could muster, had a 4.0 GPA – all that. But I was derailed at the end. I’d met these two really brilliant scientists and startup founders at University of Arizona who were working to pull DNA molecules into air and then sequence them using a single atom attached to them. It was incredibly powerful and advanced research that blew me away – I dropped out of school (with 3 months to go!) to devote my life to their mission.
I don’t look back though. I would’ve otherwise followed the science grad school path and lived a life of research in academia, with its own unique stressors I’m sure I would also complain about.
Instead, I learned how science actually gets out into the world and what a bloody struggle it is to create anything that makes a difference. I got first hand exposure to the brutal truth of how money and science interact in that money is way more powerful than science. Part of everything I’m doing with my life, with demonpore, is to change that.
This also relates to why we love Wefunder. It can be difficult to convey to professional investors the insight and vision we have with the console – which is a problem many biotech startups face. Wefunder is the chance for me to open my heart up to this community and say “Hey, this is who we are, this is what we’re building. Join us if this excites you as much as it excites us.”
How do you feel you've grown personally in building this company?
I’ve become oriented around the value of time. I’ve also gained a ton of persistence.
Being a CEO is such a singular, learning experience and I’ve made every mistake in the book as I’ve fumbled through the learning. And I’ve got scar tissue to prove it!
Is there a specific source of inspiration that keeps you pushing through tougher moments?
I have a dream. This vision has become a part of my identity. I think we’re very protective of what we see as core elements of our identity and this company is no exception.
I have a strong vision of what we can accomplish and I’m on an epic quest. I really do mean that – it’s not just a marketing ploy. I want our customers to feel that same way – that using the console, contributing to the body of scientific knowledge, doing research through a game is something epic, something monumentous. Which isn’t a word, but should be.
What was YC like?
YC is awesome – I would recommend it to any startup founder. Everyone takes different lessons and perspectives from the experience, but you get to know a lot of really cool people and might learn something new about yourself in the process.
I’m not native to the startup world and Y Combinator gave me respect for the game. It was powerful to see that entrepreneurship is incredibly hard – nearly masochistic – for everyone. Even those founders who seem to have it all figured out never, ever do.
It’s like William Goldman said about Hollywood, “Nobody Knows Anything”. https://variety.com/2018/film/opinion/william-goldman-dies-appreciation-1203030781/
The world is a porridge of chaos and struggle and building a company is that times 1000.
It’s also a lot of fun. I think the very idea of startups will someday become a game in a post-scarcity economy. Right now, it’s a really hard game, but it might just become something like a summer vacation habit for millions of people. It will be a better world where startups are just a fun easy summer vacation LARP and if you’re lucky you extend the game for years or decades. But they’re gonna keep being hard for a while still. We’d love to make it as easy as playing molecular games for some future startups, startups that could launch with our network itself as an enabling platform.
What has been your biggest misstep and what did you learn from that moment?
Hiring brilliant, kind, driven people who were wrong for what we were trying to do. I had the vanity to think I’d be such a good leader and manager that I didn’t recognize my error. I have a hard time keeping relationships transactional, and tend to develop a strong sense of family with any team with time. You have to put execution before anything else, though, because the company serves a higher purpose than just for the people putting in the work themselves.
What’s a song or album that’s gotten you through 2020?
This Italian opera piece, Senza Mamma from Renata Scotto.
Favorite emoji or gif?
Obviously, the demon 👹