On sales, product roadmaps, and building a more sustainable future with Solugen’s CEO and Founder, Gaurab Chakrabarti
I spoke with Gaurab Chakrabarti, co-founder and CEO of Solugen, a specialty chemicals company that applies industrial biotechnology and green chemistry principles to re-design the production of a variety of end-use and novel chemicals. The company’s first product, Bioperoxide™, was created using patented enzymatic technology to convert plant sugars into hydrogen peroxide and was followed by the manufacturing of a comprehensive line of products such as their flagship ScaleSol™ and BioChelate™ solutions. Solugen raised their Series B in 2019 led by Founders Fund.
Gaurab shared his insights on building complementary teams, creating product roadmaps, effective sales strategy, and moving from the research to startup world.
Do every job in your company before you hire for it. Gaurab had the technical prowess to start Solugen but initially lacked the sales, marketing, and operations experience.
Instead of immediately hiring for these roles, he first read everything he could about sales, spoke with customers, and created and iterated upon effective processes. He made many mistakes in the process but learned from each, and each led to a marked improvement. Through this experience, Gaurab gained more insight on sales, what to look for in an effective sales person, and how to lead a head of sales and their sales team. Gaurab did the same for marketing and operations, working personally in each of these areas before bringing on a team lead for each department. From actually doing each of these roles himself, he was able to find people who could amplify what works and eliminate what did not.
Think deeply about your cost structure. Cost structure, especially for a relatively cost intensive or research driven business, is survival. It is important to be grounded in reality and map out a clear and reasonable path to profitability. Without a thoughtful cost structure, the company would not survive and any intended positive impact would not be realized.
Do not shy away from competitors. In the short term, especially as you are finding your first few investors and customers, healthy competition is really helpful. Your competitors can prove the validity of your market and the promise of your vision. They can also lower the need for investor or customer education, creating less friction in your pitches.
View your vision as a Russian nesting doll. Some of the sagest advice Gaurab received came from a partner at Y Combinator, and it has helped him maintain his focus and construct an effective product roadmap.
At the center of your nesting doll is your DNA: your 50 year vision. Successive layers of the doll convert this 50 year vision to more concrete 10 year, 5 year, annual, and monthly goals and metrics. With your long term vision in mind, reverse engineer each phase from the macro to the micro to be able to achieve your ultimate goals.
With this defined roadmap, you will not be distracted by shiny objects or the fear of missing out because you know that the phases you have planned incorporate everything you hope to achieve, even if it is not always the immediate next step.
Strategies are mutable and will change with evolving market environments. If one of your outside layers cracks — you hit a bump in the road — the inner core, the DNA, will be protected and you will always stay true to it.
Show, not tell. Gaurab recalls one of the most challenging sales presentations he ever delivered, in 2018 to a top 5 chemical company. It was an uphill battle with pushback from both their commercial and technology departments.
Finally, instead of pitching the benefits, Gaurab asked to show them Solugen’s technology and let them judge the results for themselves. Just like that, they went from sales pitch to a neutral exchange of information, and the company saw for themselves the power of Solugen. They came onboard as a customer.
Use your weaknesses to build well rounded partnerships. As a dual MD-PhD, Gaurab founded Solugen with plenty of research experience. What he knew he lacked — industry experience — he spun into a net positive, being upfront about it in every dialogue with potential customers. In these conversations, he pitched the opportunity to work together and combine his deep research expertise with their industry knowledge to maximize their comparative advantages. Together, they are achieving what neither could alone.