Biggest learns over the last 12 months: Interview with CEO at Granata Bio

 Interview by Lauren Harris, Director of X4 Life Sciences.

“If I knew then what I know now, I probably never would have done it.” Evan Sussman, CEO of Granata Bio, on his inspiring career journey and leadership learns over the last 12 months, as well as the challenges competing for top talent and start-up culture.

Granata Bio are a US based innovative biopharma company focused on women’s health and fertility.

What’s been your biggest learning curve as a leader over the last 12 months.

Our ability to adapt as humans is just wild. It’s really incredible and I think if you look back at where we were over a year ago, we were blissfully ignorant of what was going to come for us.

My first learning is that we are able to adapt and move forward as humans quite impressively. We figured out how to adjust to not seeing our customers on a face-to-face level and had to quickly overcome this obstacle.

Ensuring that our employees were satisfied, happy, productive, and fully supported to be flexible and creative with their schedules was so important. I think we were forced to, in a really good way, see our employees in their full human form, not just their work form.

We have a really passionate team, so the real challenge was making them feel okay about dialing it back and stepping away from work.

If you could go back 12 months, is there anything significant you would have done differently, knowing what you know now?

We’ve always been essentially a virtual company and have a bit of a nexus here in the northeast of the US. I think I would have thought more critically about what that meant for people working from home and the impact on them pre pandemic. The lack of person-to-person community can suit some people and be a real challenge for others.

I would have put more thought into how we are supporting our employees so they feel a sense of community and can still take advantage of their flexibility, whereas before the pandemic I focused more on the technological challenges and things like time zones.

How do you keep engagement levels high between employees remotely?

I’m somebody who really thrives off ad hoc organic interactions with coworkers. We try and do this in the way we schedule in our meetings. We don’t schedule a 55-minute block for a 60-minute meeting, but instead schedule a 30-minute block for that meeting to allow for that expansion, engagement and interaction of conversation that can often be really fruitful.

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to competing for top talent in the biopharma space?

It’s a challenge, especially locally here in Massachusetts. The market for talented people is really strong. We’re a fertility company and the first thing we do is tell the story of our mission and vision, which is finding growth solutions for people looking to grow their family.

In Massachusetts you see a lot of serial job hoppers where they are doing these two-year hops to other companies. I think you lose some of the passion and identity of working somewhere if you don’t grow with the business and get promoted. The equity you build up within the walls or virtual walls of a company is really hard to replicate as you hop from place to place as you almost start over again.

Because we’re small, we offer tremendous growth opportunities for people. If we believe in you and feel like we can grow and develop you, we can be highly flexible with your career growth.

We’re a competitive place to be and often in a very competitive job market, the big companies aren’t hiring for projection, they’re hiring for the job you did before or the job that’s one level above it.

Granata Bio have the luxury of being able to project people into roles, have them start somewhere familiar and then go somewhere completely unfamiliar. Our goal is always to bring somebody in not just to do a very specific job that they’ve done before, but to do multiple jobs and have them bring that diversity of experience into the team.

We try and build our teams to have people manage verticals that they’ve never managed before and have adjacent support systems they can take advantage of. This creates a freshness of perspective.

Do you have any advice for people moving from bigger companies into a smaller start-up environment?  

It’s really about the persons ideology or the preparedness and passion for joining that start-up environment. You have to be ready to start with a blank sheet of paper and fill it all out yourself as you don’t have the infrastructure of a big company.

What’s the most important risk you’ve taken in your career?

Starting Granata Bio in 2018 with my co-founders. We saw an opportunity with Granata Bio due to there being no new fertility drugs developed and approved since 2007 in the US. Our knowledge of the marketplace and our relationships with the customer base was a really great platform and foundation to start a company on.

If I knew then what I know now, I probably never would have done it. There were so many gaps in our team and our knowledge, but that ignorance was totally blissful, and we forced through those early mistakes and pain points to get to where we are now.

There will be gaps, but they can be overcome through hard work and with the help of a community of people if you’re willing to ask questions, be humble and not think you know it all.

If you build the right team you can get through it, and if those people are all on board and willing to dive in, you can absolutely get through it.

What have you found to be the most common motivator for people changing jobs within the industry?

I think it’s that they have hit a ceiling at their current role and feel they outstrip their current title and pay scale, or they want to do more but are limited by the talent around them in the company.

To retain talent, especially in a COVID-19 scenario, it’s important we have enough check-ins to make sure that people are happy and satisfied. We’re in a period of rapid growth so opportunities are abundant, however the fear is that you think people are happy and they’re not.

It’s about making sure that you check in as often as you can to ensure people are happy in their current role, or whether they want a different role and knowing this in advance to you can move people before they get frustrated.

The risk with start-ups is overburdening people and burnout. There’s always work we’re leaving at our computers at the end of the day and that can be challenging for highly driven, highly passionate and motivated people. So just communicating that that’s okay and we can cut out for the day and go to your families, or just go for a run, is an okay thing to do as well.

A top concern of mine is ensuring that everybody’s happy and growing, and that what we’re doing is sustainable because we do ask so much of our people, whether it’s an implied ask or because we have a lot of self-motivated people who ask a lot of themselves.

Team members are three dimensional humans, and I don’t think that’s ever been clearer than right now.

What developments within your field are you most excited about?

What Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer have done is nothing short of a miracle, and I hope it casts a new light on biopharma. For a while, it was easy to cast a negative light on our industry and in particular around the cost of drugs in the US.

There’s really an opportunity for the industry to act in a way that benefits everybody. It continues to evolve almost on a daily basis, where new diagnostics, new tools, new methodologies, and new drugs offer opportunities for improvement in outcomes in the patient experience.

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