11 Questions to Ask Before Starting a CRO

A companion article to 5 Reasons Why People Start a CRO in this article Jeffrey Kiplinger, President and Founder of Averica, talks about important questions to ask yourself if you are planning to start a CRO. Dr. Kiplinger has 25 years of experience in pharmaceutical and related industries, working extensively in the discovery and optimization of small molecule human and veterinary therapeutics.  

There are questions you want to ask yourself as you go through this process of planning to start a CRO, and you want to ask them over and over again because your answers are going to constantly change.

Video from North Shore Technology Council (NSTC) First Friday seminar on Aug 1, 2014

  1. Have you tested your ideas? 

That means your business plan looks great. Have you gone out and taken it to people who know more than you do and asked “Am I barking up the wrong tree here?”

  1. Do you know your competitors really, really well, and how they price? 

Otherwise, you can’t know whether your value proposition is priced properly. You can’t know that your pricing strategy is going to fly with the customer.

  1. Can you negotiate deals? 

They have to be win-win deals, otherwise you don’t negotiate successfully.

  1. How is your network? 

It better be pretty deep. Many scientists I’ve talked to in pharma haven’t spent a lot of time with network building outside of their narrow scientific field. You need to know people outside of your field and outside your industry.

  1. Does asking stupid questions bother you?

It better not. I had to get over that a little bit myself in the early days and I found that I really liked it. I liked asking something that I thought was dumb, and then telling them that I thought I was being stupid, and then letting them tell me what they know. It was actually a lot of fun. I learned a lot that way.

  1. Does it bother you when other people ask you stupid questions, in particular, customers? 

That one is tougher to get over some times.

  1. Do you hate being wrong?

I know people like this. They get into arguments and defend their position around the smallest thing. You can’t be this way when you’re testing the ideas of your business plan.

  1. Do you like the job of CEO?

Do you actually know what that job involves? It doesn’t involve doing the science that you think you are getting into this to do.

  1. Do you know accounting?

I didn’t have an accounting class in college. If you don’t know accounting then start reading books because this is incredibly important.

  1. Are you prepared to take no salary and have no insurance?

Almost everyone I know who has started a CRO or other biopharma business has gone through a period where they have had no salary. One of the best ways you can do this, and I hate to make it sound like it’s this dependency kind of thing, is to have a spouse that has a really great job with really great insurance. It is like this almost all the time. People who take this risk almost always have some personal backup.

  1. How do you deal with not working?

That happens a lot. Particularly in the startup phase because there will be times when you have to wait two weeks before the next thing happens, and you’re sitting there looking at your computer screen all day long.
I do think being in the contract research field is a tremendous amount of fun and it represents some of the most fun that those of us in the pharmaceutical R&D can have these days, particularly with the structure inside big pharma being kind of tough on a lot of people. So I don’t want to discourage anyone from going into contract research because I think it is a place where you can be appreciated and take advantage of your skills, but I would say it’s not conditional luxury so much as if it’s something you’re going to go into, then go into it with your eyes open.