Sunday, September 18, 2011


I went to an Infinity going-away lunch last week. We head off to some favorite local restaurant and order a modest (but delicious) meal on the company dime. The departee makes an impromptu speech, there are goodbyes and handshakes and usually a number of pleas to stay, both fictitious and heartfelt. Those staying wonder what could lure someone away from the very safe and green pastures of the company. I've been to many such lunches with Millennium and Infinity; with Codon the lunches tended to be group affairs as people were laid off in batches.

The key difference, as hinted by the title, is that this lunch was for me. I haven't been to such an individual affair in which I was the individual in a long time. When Codon tanked, we had a big group lunch to commiserate en masse, and similarly when Millennium decided Computational Biology was an unneeded luxury we went as a band of equally unemployed persons.

A lot of people have asked in the last couple of weeks why I am leaving, and it isn't easy to explain. First, Infinity is truly a wonderful company: exciting pipeline, great staff and a very unusual corporate culture. Two and a third years is much shorter than I like to stay in one place. Second, I'm going off to help start a company from the ether, and it is necessarily in a bit of stealth mode. So while I can describe the excitement of being at a company with a handful of employees and no labs yet (versus Codon which had 50+ when I started and both Infinity and Millennium were well established and in triple digits when I joined), I can't describe the science in much detail beyond "early stage drug discovery".

Which underscores a bit of the sticky wicket I'm now in: a noisy blogger in a company that is trying to be quiet. It is actually all cleared: I'll still write here about many of the same subjects, but with only oblique reference to my new employer. There will probably be some ideas I steer clear of because they are too close to the company's work. Conversely, there will be things that previously I restricted my insights to Infinity but I'll now scribble in this space. The main danger to this space is really more one of energy and time; one reason I grabbed at this opportunity is a feeling that not too many more such opportunities may come my way or that I won't quite feel like throwing myself into one. So in a sense, this is my version of a mid-life crisis, minus the sports car or ugly legal battles.

A reluctant lunch with an old friend who was helping plan the venture yielded a polite refusal. But, then he lured me to have breakfast with another founder, and then somehow the lightning hit. Still, I needed to meet one more founder and that couldn't be arranged for several weeks, during which time I debated whether to stay or go. But that third meeting went well, and more importantly I found myself constant thinking about the new quest. So I largely committed in my brain, but a few vacations and other delays occurred before I could reasonably give notice, which gave more time to reverse course. Somehow, I didn't.

So tomorrow and for a few weeks I'll be commuting to a very un-biotech neighborhood, Boston's Back Bay. Indeed, to Newbury Street, home of many tony shops and galleries -- and also the VC's offices. After a bit, we'll have our first lab space, which will be much less posh -- I'd be disappointed if it wasn't as Low Rent as I envision any startup will have.

So, a change of scene and a change of mindset. A chance to build from the start and a chance to put into practice some of the ideas tossed out into this space -- and to toss some different ideas into this space now that they aren't relevant to my daily work. I'll be certainly posting my general explorations of various informatics topics.

Well, time to take a final stroll with Miss Amanda and get some sleep. Tomorrow, there is a company to build!


rdf said...

Sounds like the right move, all in all and remember you can ALSO get a sports car!

bb said...

Exciting, Keith!