Guest Blog: What is Biotechnology by Robert Klein

DNA Double Helix

Image via Wikipedia

I was recently asked to present at Singularity University at a workshop titled “The Business of Biotech”. This seemed like a great opportunity both to step back a bit and think about biotechnology in a broader sense and to see what the Singularity University is all about (my good friend Ruby has been raving about it since taking the Executive Program).
By way of background, I’ve been in the biotech industry for about twenty years (time flies!) since getting my PhD at MIT studying molecular genetics.
I’ve spent most of my professional career working on genomics with some serious detours into drug development. While I’ve done some of this at large biotechs including Genentech, I prefer the small, intimate, exciting, and life or death environment of a startup. Startups also allow me to wear different hats at different times. Sometimes I’m in charge of science. Sometimes I’m the CEO. All depends on what needs to get done and how the team comes together.
Kristina Hathaway the organizer,  asked me to give a talk titled ‘What is Biotechnology?’  It was actually pretty fun to put together since it is easy to forget that biotech encompasses so much more than just genomics and drug development – my normal myopic view of the field.
One big revelation for me was that the first true ‘killer app’ for biotech was invented 5,000 years ago. Its called beer.
Here are the slides I presented at the session – I hope you enjoy them! Slides: What is biotechnology?
If you have any questions or would like to get in touch you can email me at or follow me on twitter @rdklein

Thinking Globally About The Business of Biotech

A world map showing developed countries, devel...

Image via Wikipedia

What do China, Brazil, India and Africa have in common?  They are all countries where the adoption of Biotechnology has the propensity to  solve many of the challenges that afflict them including disease, poverty, food and fuel.  In fact more than this, China, India and Brazil have already been successful in creating whole industries around Biotechnology and are emerging as leaders in the areas of genomics, vaccine production and agricultural biology.

I have the best job in the world, I spend about 70% of my time traveling around the world talking and learning about genomics different countries.  In addition, I am an alumnus of Singularity University.  This week Kristina Hathaway (@Sytype)  my good friend and veteran in the biotechnology industry,  was hosting a workshop called The Business of Biotech at Singularity University.  She invited me to give a presentation there on “Thinking Globally”.

The goal of my talk was encourage the attendees to think about

  • How can Biotechnology can solve global challenges?
  • What are the challenges and opportunities that exist outside the developed world ?
  • When building a business around Biotech what are the factors to consider for International Markets?
  • How have various countries been successful in building industries around Biotechnology?

Here is a copy of the short slide deck I presented.  The Business of Biotech – Thinking Globally

In the next post – I will share with you a slide deck by Dr Robert Klein who was also presenting at this workshop on The History of Biotechnology.

Biotechnology 101 Slides for Singularity University

Biotechnology 101 for Singularity University

As many of you are aware, I recently gave a talk at the very prestigious Singularity University.  This is a program co-funded by NASA and Google to study how exponential technologies can solve the global challenges that afflict 1 billion people or more.

Check out

Singularity University Banner - Biotecnology a...

Image by david.orban via Flickr


Biotechnology 101 for Singularity University SLIDES

The 2011 Graduate Studies Program or GSP11 as it is known among the Singularitans, is a 12 week program where 80 of the brightest and most accomplished individuals from over 35 countries have assembled at NASA AMES to learn the exponential technologies in the following areas

Technology Tracks AI & Robotics
Networks & Computing Systems
Biotechnology & Bioinformatics
Medicine & Neuroscience
Resource Tracks Futures Studies & Forecasting
Policy, Law & Ethics
Finance & Entrepreneurship
Application Tracks Energy & Ecological Systems
Space & Physical Sciences

I was lucky enough to be invited to give them the basics of Biotechnology and Genomics and for those of you that are interested, my slides are posted above.

Measuring ROI For Social Media Campaigns In The Life Sciences

In my last post, Why Life Sciences Companies Must Embrace Social Media Now One of the comments was about ROI for social media.  I wanted to share with you a few of thoughts on this very important topic.

ROI  for any type of campaign needs to be defined at the beginning during the planning stage.  You should ask yourself  these two questions –

What are my Goals for this campaign?

Traditional Goals Include Awareness, Lead Generation, Branding and Revenue Generation.  While these all remain true for Biotechnology Marketing 2.0 I would also add Customer Engagement as a goal if you are planning a social media campaign.

How will 1 measure the success of this campaign ?

When you have generated XX new leads? XX Hot Leads? XX Qualified Leads? When XX number of 100 people recognize my brand?

Again these all remain true for Biotechnology Marketing 2.0 but the use of social media requires a whole new set of metrics which can be used to measure customer engagement

  • How often was your message or post liked, shared or re-tweeted. Did people comment or share their opinion? This is a very important indicator of the value of the content you produced.
  • Click through rates to a link you shared – how many people viewed it?
  • Follow through on a call to action – how many people downloaded XXX or visited your website for more information? This is often a very good indicator that both your message was strong and your so was your incentive to the customer – you are providing them with something of value to them
  • Engagement with your website or content – how long did they spend on it, did they go to other links from your page and do they return regularly?
  • How many people are subscribing to your updates, i.e.  opting in to hear your messages
  • An interesting one I like, is how you are ‘Listed’ on twitter – this gives a nice indication of how your followers view you. If your goal is to be perceived as the ‘leading supplier of technology for cancer research’ how many times are you listed with names that are associated with your target market – ‘cancer research’?
  • What are people saying about your company/campaign or product? Is the feedback mostly positive? If its negative – its just giving you the golden opportunity to improve – very very valuable feedback.
  • How often are people recommending or endorsing your products or services to their friends and colleagues?  Sometimes they don’t only recommend the product they will go on to sell it for you – listing a whole host of benefits that you yourself may not have even thought of!
  • If you ask a question to your subscribers – how many respond to you? this is often a good indicator of your following actively ‘listening’ to you

As you can see the metrics for measuring success are very different when using social media – but with careful planning and setting the right goals – you can be very successful at engaging your customers

If the holy grail of marketing is getting the right message to the right person at the right time then the holy grail of sales is simple – REVENUE!

I would like to share with you a success story of a company who used social media to experiment with their  marketing reach, motivate their employees and generate revenue simultaneously.  Unfortunately this company needs to remain anonymous for now.

Company R decided to hold a promotion – To reduce the price of one of their products by 50% and only use social media to tell people about it.  In addition  the management set a challenge for the 20 employees of the company.  They were each given their own unique promotion code and asked to propagate it using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn or any other social network. The person whose promotion code was used the most would win a prize.  Typically this product sold approximately 75 units per day.

The promotion ran for 3 days only and once it started, for three days there was a frenzy on Twitter and Facebook.  Each of the employees posted their promo code, asked their friends and networks share it with their friends and networks.  After 3 days the net result of this experiment was the following

  • 20 employees completely engaged in a competition
  • Approximately 26,000 retweets and Shares of the promo codes on twitter and Facebook
  • Approximately 11400 hits to the website with about 65% of them from New IPs
  • 3000 Units of product sold in 3 days
  • 1 winning employee whose promo code was used 478 times
  • Total cost of implementing the campaign $0

I loved this experiment because it is an excellent example of crowd sourcing, employee engagement, customer engagement, creating buzz in the market utilizing new media and revenue generation.

I will let you do the maths to work out the ROI on this one 🙂

Why Life Sciences Companies Must Embrace Social Media Now

The world has changed.  The way we communicate with each other has changed and the tools we communicate with have changed.

This change has happened so quickly, mainly over the last five years.  The speed of the change has meant that many life science companies have been slow to recognize and embrace the new media and are getting left behind.

Social media can no longer be ignored; Facebook has over 500 million users globally and has surpassed Google in the amount of time per day spent on the site.  Twitter has over 200 million users who sent a staggering 25 Billion tweets in the past 12 months.  You tube has over 24 hours of video uploaded per minute and exceeds 2Billion views per day!!  Those are just three examples but there are many many more.

Social media is here to stay and its time we, in the life sciences started doing things differently. A paradigm shift is underway in the way we communicate with our customers.  In today’s age, everyone is a publisher causing an explosion to the amount of content on internet what does this mean for the life sciences industry?

  • Conversations about your company are already happening.  Your customers, your competitors, your investors and your employees past, present and future are already talking about you online, conversations are already happening with or without you. The question is – do you want to be involved and engaged in those conversations? Do you want to be able to listen to your customer’s views and react to them? Do you want to see what other companies and colleagues in the industry are saying? Do you want to see what your investors are betting on you?
  • Current methods of communicating with your customer are expensive and intrusive. Gone are the days where marketing is an intrusive process of interrupting your customers experience with an advertisement in a journal or flooding their inboxes with your email   campaigns.   As a marketer in a leading genomics company I can tell you the holy grail of marketing is getting the right message to the right customer at the right time.   In Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical marketing today, finding and engaging your target customer is costly and inefficient with a relatively low ROI.   How do we do this today?  Many companies in the life sciences still spend the majority of their marketing dollars on print advertising in journals.  The hope is that their target customer will pick up the journal, will actually pay attention to the advert and then what ?– will pick up the phone and call you?  How often does that happen?   How about buying targeted lists? Doing literature searches for names? Keeping an up to date CRM with your current contacts? Email campaigns? Most email blasts are seen as Spam and go to junk or spam folders.  (In Europe you aren’t even legally allowed to send email blasts without your customer having opted in first) Most of your email blasts are never actually seen by your target audience.  Typically you get a 3% click through rate if you are really lucky, have a good call to action, have said something groundbreaking or are offering something of high value to your customer.  You can see where I am going with this; the current methods of engaging and qualifying your customers are inefficient, expensive and highly intrusive to your customer.
  • Biotech Marketing 2.0 Is about having conversations and listening to your customers Now imagine if you could talk to an audience of your target customers who have voluntarily chosen to listen to you.  What if they recommended you to their friends and colleagues and told them to listen to you too to help propagate your message?  What if they answered all the questions you ever asked them and gave you honest feedback on your product or service?  How about if they could tell you in real time what user requirements are most important to them in your future products?  What if they could tell you about novel ways that they are using your product that could open up new markets for you?  What if they published a paper using your technology and had a quick, easy and cheap way to tell the world about how great your technology is?  What if your customers could do the marketing for you – there is no stronger endorsement than a recommendation by a friend or colleague.  What if you could see what is being said, not only about your company but also about all your competitors simultaneously?  What if all of the above could be done using free web based tools?  You may think this is Utopian and too good to be true, but it’s real and it’s here and its social media that makes it possible.

The Good News

  • If your audience is anyone in the scientific field you can guarantee that they are spending at least 50% of their working life in front of a PC.  This means that they are already spending significant time online and are probably engaged in consuming some kind of social media.  (How many people do you know that have never viewed a You Tube video or even don’t have a Facebook account? Case in point!)  This means that they are already using the tools which are available to you.
  • Currently social media tools are FREE – which means in times when budgets are limited and ROI is more critical than ever – changing the way you communicate with your customers may actually save you money.  Of course there will be costs, and resources required but it will be significantly lower than the costly traditional methods and if done correctly the ROI will be much higher.
  • Using Social and electronic media means that you can have a ‘call to action’ which is immediate – ie click on a link, fill in a form, or go to a web page – the time it will take for your customer to react to your message is reduced from days to minutes. It also means that you can monitor their responses in real time
  • If you use Facebook or Twitter – your customers opt to ‘like’ or ‘follow’ you – this means they are a captive audience, ready and willing to participate in the conversation you want to have with them.  For the first time have an open dialogue with your customer without costly focus groups.
  • Social Media gives us the opportunity to really listen to our customers, understand what it important to them and react quickly.  This is particularly important if a customer is unhappy with any aspect of your product or service. The measure of a good company is how and how quickly they react to a customer with an issue.
  • Science is by nature both collaborative and competitive – social media enables scientists to find collaborators interested in the same field as them, hear conversations on their niche expertise and also be on the lookout for competitive intelligence
  • It’s not too late – while social media has become a part of our lives – this method of communication will continue to grow and develop further.  The life sciences industry, conservative in nature has been slow to embrace it – however it’s never too late to start.