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Walking the Entrepreneur’s Path

I started Lifescience Dynamics – a decision-support firm – in my garage in 2004 with just £7500 in the bank. I had no investors and no clients. I was often concerned I wouldn’t make it. Today, I am pleased and proud to say that the company works on a global scale and in 2016 we won a Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the UK for the category of International Trade.

My early career wasn’t focused on pharma. In fact, one of my first jobs was selling the Encyclopedia Britannica door-to-door. Looking back, it is incredible just how frequently I draw on the skills I learned in those early days. Indeed, salesmanship is an invaluable skill for most entrepreneurs; you need to sell your concept, your product, your services and yourself every day. After that, I did some odd jobs during my undergraduate studies in the US, before working as a Marketing Manager for McDonalds and Pepsi. This helped me to develop skills in branding and marketing that were pivotal in the early days of the company. For example, shortly after starting Lifescience Dynamics, I landed a contract with a large pharmaceutical firm – unbeknownst to them I was working alone in my tiny garage office. Marketing can be a powerful tool, helping you to project the right image to prospective clients.

After Pepsi, I spent some time as a general manager for a company in Dubai before moving back to the UK to study for an MBA at Manchester Business School. Despite completing several projects relating to pharmaceuticals and healthcare during the course, I wasn’t actually interested in pharma at that time. I wanted to go into consumer goods, but big pharma companies often visited the campus to recruit and I decided to attend an interview anyway; more for practice than anything else. I must have done or said something right, because Eli Lilly offered me a job, much to my surprise. I had no pharmaceutical background and I hadn’t studied life sciences. In hindsight, it was one of those fortunate, life-changing events that holds a significance you can’t possibly be aware of at the time.

Eli Lilly was a fantastic company to work for. They put me in a development program used to train future country managers. Every six to eight months, I would be in a new role, in a different country. I did stints in market research, competitive intelligence, price reimbursement and brand management. Again, I didn’t appreciate the value of what I was doing until years later. It really helped me to develop a full understanding of the pharma industry from almost every functional area. But I had a young family and the traveling was not ideal, so I started hunting for something new.

I was then introduced the founder of Double Helix, a pharma consulting company, and ended up working with him for six years. After that I was itching to set up my own business.

Know thyself, know thy market

The two Internet-based businesses I started during the late 90s’ unfortunately failed. The first,, aimed to auction off abandoned clinical trials and data concepts that other smaller companies might have been interested in. This meant that expensive research carried out by large pharma companies, who did not see the profit in continuing with the study, could still be utilized. This venture failed due to the vast amount of legal matters involved with data transference, which was not my specialty. I didn’t have a strong legal background it became evident that this was not the best practice for me.

ICare, my second venture, focused on homecare that increased patient engagement, product familiarization and pharmaceutical drug compliance using a digital platform. In short, ICare was a customer service arm of the pharma company, providing their drug users with the aftercare support that they might not necessarily receive from their doctors. This failed due to the lack of financial support. I required at least 2 million to develop the concept fully, and with this being a relatively new idea for its time, it was difficult to launch. Consequently, Atlantis Healthcare have now successfully developed this concept and are the leading providers of aftercare support; proving that the model itself was effective and there was indeed a gap in the market for such a business if you had the finances.

With these ventures behind me I asked myself, “What do I know?” The answer was consulting. During my market research, I found that there were three primary practice areas for consulting: competitive intelligence, market research, and market access, pricing and reimbursement. There weren’t, however, any companies doing all three – what we call “decision support.” I came up with the idea of offering statistical advice across all three practice areas; to explain where the market was yesterday, where it is today, and where it will be tomorrow. Hence, my third venture, Lifescience Dynamics was born.

Finding a gap in the market and developing a solid business plan is one thing, but turning that into a successful business is another entirely. In the pharma sector, it’s common for two to five senior people to set up a fledgling company; often with one or two clients. But when I left Double Helix I had a two-year non-compete clause which tied my hands. I had no clients and with no external financial backing it was a real struggle. I ended up sending emails from my bedroom before investing £800 to convert a quarter of my garage into an office.

There were three primary practice areas for consulting: competitive intelligence and market research, market access, and pricing and reimbursement.

It was a risk, but the pharma industry is a very risky business. Drugs can take a decade to develop and during that time there’s a huge amount of money and time invested; getting things wrong at the outset can have disastrous consequences. Therefore, it’s important to position yourself as the solution to a problem that isn’t being answered by anyone else. Our solution was to use support statistics as a means of working out what kind of drugs to make, what markets to enter, to understand the clinical endpoint, how to neutralize the competition and how to make the drugs affordable and accessible. Thereby, making us an asset to our clients. 

A recipe for success?

I believe there are a several prerequisite personal qualities to be successful as an entrepreneur. The first is a willingness to dream big. From the outset, even when sending emails from my bedroom, I dreamed of being an international company. Today, we work with many of the top 20 pharma companies and have a strong customer base in the US, Europe and Japan. The Queen’s Award for Enterprise was partly in recognition of the fact that we have had consistent and durable growth since 2010 – and doubled in size from 2014 to 2015. We attribute this success to the quality and diversity of our employees and the support of our clients who continually offer repeat business.

Another important personal quality is self-discipline. For the first two years, I didn’t have any employees and it’s easy to put work off when you’re only answerable to yourself, so you must be focused. You must also have a positive attitude. You will feel rejected at times, but you have to be able to learn from set-backs and move on. The ability to creatively solve problems is a must, as is the age-old sales tactic of never taking no for an answer.

Another factor is bringing in the right people – and this has probably been the biggest challenge we’ve faced as a company, particularly when competing on the global stage. Big companies can afford to take on anybody from anywhere. We are looking for the kinds of people who work for big management consulting firms, so there is fierce competition for talent. It was difficult getting people of the right caliber to join a young company that couldn’t offer a set-in-stone future development plan.

Despite that, I made the decision to focus on employing people with pure life science backgrounds and I really think this has helped me grow the business. I think it’s vital in our industry that people have a deep appreciation of the science of diseases at a molecular level. We look for people who have strong life science degrees: Bachelors, Masters and PhDs – and even going back to A-Level (studies done at 16-18 years) they must have studied biology, chemistry and math. Today, 75 percent of our employees have PhDs from top UK universities and almost everyone else is educated to Masters level. Many people told me that I wouldn’t be able to find enough people with such criteria, but I always argued that it’s important to have high standards. In this business, unless your employees have a solid grounding in the life sciences, they’ll struggle to understand the science behind the medicine – and for us that’s vital.

Rafaat’s Predictions for 2017

I believe that “real-world evidence” will play a big part in the years to come. As a company we’re not in that area at the moment, but we can see that adaptive licensing and adaptive reimbursement are going to become increasingly important. Companies will come to value a drug at a certain price, agree to pay that amount now, but in two years’ time if the data says something different there will be a renegotiation depending on the effectiveness of the drug.

The other trend is the blurring of traditional pharma companies as other technology companies try to enter the pharmaceutical sector. Pharma companies then leverage the technology to deliver more effective outcomes and positive experiences for the patient. I think we’ll see huge changes in the industry during the next five years.

The final (and perhaps most important) key to success is fostering the right company culture, which should apply to all businesses. In my mind, people are everything: they are your brand, your assets and your reputation. With this in mind, I set out to build a company that has a heart and soul – a family company with entrepreneurial spirit. So I championed fairness, dignity, and civility. I don’t like to run the company as a pure “corporate,” so there are no stringent sales or profit targets. We also endeavor to hire people who are genuine and down to earth. My overarching aim is to foster innovation, quality and empathy for the client.

Of course, we’ve had to overcome hard challenges to get where we are today. Those who’ve been there know that getting the first client on board is always difficult. A lack of track record and experience is tough to overcome (recent graduates applying for jobs may sympathize here), but that’s where persistence and flawless branding and marketing can pay dividends. Cash-flow is also always a problem in the pharma industry because of the notoriously long payment terms – and it was nearly our undoing in the beginning. During the financial crisis, we almost collapsed (and I was actually refused a bank loan). Our answer to hard times? Work harder! We stabilized our cash-flow and grew the business from there. Today, I’m proud to say that we’re still a completely independent company – we don’t have any investors, I don’t have any partners, and I haven’t borrowed a single penny from the bank. I will always be grateful to those employees and clients who have been willing to walk with me.

Rafaat Rahmani is the founder of Lifescience Dynamics, UK.

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About the Author
Rafaat Rahmani

Rafaat Rahmani is the founder of Lifescience Dynamics, UK.

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