Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Could I See Myself at J.P. Morgan?

There's a question that others pop my way pretty much every year around J.P. Morgan: would I ever attend myself?  I'll confess it never occurred to me before I was asked, but that isn't necessarily a deal breaker.  I foolishly didn't attend AGBT until 2013 when Alexis Borisy (then CEO of Warp Drive) suggested I go -- I think it was mostly because he thought it was a good investment and probably only secondarily to keep me off the ski slopes for a week -- I shattered my knee just after AGBT 2012 ended.  It's an interesting but complex question which I will answer one way here, but freely admit that over coffee I could be nudged one way or the other.

J.P. Morgan is a spectacle.  A horde of scientists and financial types swarm into San Francisco, underlining that great city's highlights and its worst squalor.  Indeed, noted biotech investor Bruce Booth announced after last year (or was it the year before) that he wouldn't go to JPM any more -- not enough signal to noise for him.  Spectacles can be interesting, though I'm not invariably drawn from them.  Finding a quieter spot in Newton to watch the Boston Marathon is my level of spectacle -- particularly to see the first wheelchair division participants zip past.  AGBT has more than a small strain of excess, but is nothing compared to ASCO -- the year I went I realized my house would fit inside the two-story Sanofi booth with room to spare and that was before I saw Imclone's 3D movies dramatizing how Erbitux might work or the full-service smoothie bars.

And J.P. Morgan is just a bit less daunting than Mardi Gras or Carnival in terms of chaotic crowding. Prices of everything go through the roof, and things that might normally be free such as sitting in a hotel lobby suddenly have pricetags. So if I were ever to go, it might require preparation much like how I approached some all-day hikes in Teton, Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks with TNG in 2018 (with a bucket list satisfying visit to Mann Gulch).  Those were all planned with the assumption that absolutely anything of import must be packed in: food, water and essential tools.  I think I can leave the bear spray behind, which is good since I did execute a very unfortunate stomach crunch by a waterfall in Glacier (the most unwanted hissing sound, far worse than any snake) and as a result truly have a visceral understanding of capsaicin. 

But anyways, the logistics are doable.  Between a cousin-by-marriage and various friends I could probably find a place to stay without spending a fortune, commuting in from farther down the Peninsula.

The next question would I go for J.P. Morgan or actually go to J.P. Morgan?  You see a small number of people who head to Marco Island during AGBT and hang out in the lobby; Alexis I know used to do it and I had a great conversation once with Nava Whiteford in the Marriott lobby discussing sequencing tech.  But at J.P. Morgan there may be more people descending on San Francisco for the event than actually attending; I think it's actually an excess of several fold.  Since JPM brings a huge concentration of biotech movers, shakers -- and perhaps most importantly, people able to move and shake money onto biotechs -- it could be a target-rich environment.  But would I succeed in setting up enough interactions to be worth it?  Registering for the conference means bucks -- is it worth it to get the presentations that much sooner or on the odd chance I think of an actually interesting question to ask at Q&A?

Which is another whole issue: attending conferences for me tends to be exhausting.  I'm not very good at pacing myself -- I'm here and must maximize the value of being here (more on that in a moment).  If I'm not running between events, I'm trying to scribble notes or scan the tweets for the same conference I'm at to see what I've missed.  Or I'm writing things up.  Maybe it's good for me that Adobe ruthlessly slaughtered Storify -- I used to spend even more time curating tweets.  This all almost ended in disaster at AGBT in 2018 as I foolishly decided to not book a hotel room the last night, headed out after midnight and finally got a room somebody else had not shown up for in a motel in Kissimmee around 1 -- little realizing how close I was to driving into agricultural heartland of Florida where there are no motels!  Or maybe I would have headed to the Cape -- I really didn't have a plan.

But the time angle brings up another consideration?  Is this how I want to spend my time?  There's the huge opportunity cost of taking a week-ish block of time away from a home and job I love.  If I'm going to fly to San Francisco -- not too unpleasant if I get a window and the weather isn't bad -- do I really want to backpack the streets going from meeting to meeting?  I do like San Francisco -- gotta keep up my run of riding the glorious Cable Cars on every visit and last time I conquered my fear of walking across the Golden Gate Bridge.  Sausalito! Sea lions! Vintage trolleys! The list goes on -- despite it's seedy side it is a favorite city.  But it's also a great jumping off place to other excitement -- I've never driven California 101 nor been to most of the National Parks or Monuments that are several hours away, and I haven't been to Monterey Bay Aquarium in over four decades.  If I wasn't registered and hadn't lined up any exciting meetups, would I literally head for hills?

That temptation might be even more difficult if the rumors of J.P. Morgan moving to Las Vegas were to come true.  Vegas isn't my favorite town -- there's some good shows and some great restaurants, but not much to do the rest of the time.  It is pretty much a town made for a crazy event like JPM -- plenty of hotel rooms, lots of craziness.  Where else would a nerd like me be propositioned? (It's happened twice!).  The fact that biotech investing is a gamble would make it a particularly apropos venue.  But temptation for me would probably be impossible to resist, the temptation to jump off to Death Valley, Great Basin, Zion, Grand Canyon or dozens of other natural sites that are within a day's drive.

Some I am resolutely lukewarm on the idea. But one idea did occur to me that would almost worry me with how much it would be personal catnip.  What if someone had a JPM-style conference but only for private companies in the genomics space?  Now that would be interesting!  These days the venture people and SPAC crowd would all be there, plus a lot of scientists.  The business side is a hobby for me -- I broke out with raucous laughter when I read a recruiter email asking if I would be interested in a CEO position at a reagent firm -- but if you focus enough in one place that could be a lot of fun.  If it already exists, maybe you shouldn't tell me about it in the comments!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The first rule of SPAC club...