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About Procrustes

There are partners and partners…

I began my entrepreneurial adventure 8 years ago. I was focused on developing new drugs against pediatric rare diseases. I had two companies, let’s call them A and B, both working on the same field. We were approaching clinical trials and we needed several million dollars for the next step. We did not find any investor or VC fund interested in these diseases (all of them come to you once the drug is well advanced in clinical development). Those days were quite hectic to me and I met a guy, older than me, also from the pharma industry. I will call him Procrustes. He was a typical sales person who had been fired from his previous company. He explained to me how unfair they were with him and how much money he made for his former employers. I did believe him, completely. He is one of those people able to look into your eye and lie about anything so convincingly that you do swallow all he says. Yes, I was a complete idiot, I should have checked his story and background but I have to confess I just believed him. Should I have investigated a bit about him, I would have discovered how he was fired because I stole money from sales, organized a parallel network of pharmacies to which he sold products in a sort of black market approach, etc. His former company reached an agreement with him to kick his ass before any public scandal.

When you are an entrepreneur you tend to think others see your project the same way you see it, with tons of passion and faith in its potential. Don’t make this mistake. This is not true and it is a good thing it isn’t. Procrustes acted as if he had found the holly grail of pharma projects with mine, he jumped on board with no pay but I gave him a % of my B company and lots of freedom to develop a series of subproducts for the skin care industry so we could reinvest 100% of those profits into the pharma activities. THough he had no salary initially, I learnt later that he, again, sold our products to pharmacies the same way he had done in his previous company. With time, like the cuckoo bird, he managed to elbow out a third partner, with lies and smiles. I should have fired Procustes then and send him to hell but I was idiotically focused on the research and I didn’t (BIG mistake).

One day, Procrustes showed up with a lawyer, a friend, all smiles; I will call him Misha. Again, I should have know better but I didn’t. Long story short, with time, smiles and lies, I gave them more and more % of the B company and one day I was out. That simple. When I protested they showed to me all the docs I had signed up and Misha threatened me with long and expensive lawsuits. With no money at all to legally defend myself, no salary (all I had was in both companies) I swallowed my pride, gave away Company B and focused on Company A but all debts was there (none in B), so I ended up losing everything.

Now, I admit I made an enormous mistake, I should not have trusted Procrustes and Misha. I should also have closed my companies much earlier, when the cash flow was very bad and debt too high. I should (too) have paid attention to Procrustes acting as the cuckoo bird. I admit my mistakes, I regret them but admit them and I learnt from them. What really hurt me those days was that Procrustes DID NOT NEED TO LIE TO ME. I had given a big chunk of Company B to him and I would have shared even more. In other words, he lied to me because IT WAS IN HIS NATURE.

Yes, it is the frog and the scorpion fable again… Briefly: a frog and a scorpion are on the same bank of a river, both want to get to the other side crossing the water and the scorpion asks the frog to jump on her back since he cannot swim. The frog hesitates and asks the scorpion if it will behave and not sting her. ‘Of course I won’t hurt you !!’ says the offended scorpion ‘How am I going to hurt you if you are the one carrying me???’ The frog is convinced and carries the scorpion o her back. In the middle of the river, the scorpion stings the frog and the surprised and dying frog asks the scorpion WHY, tho which he answers: ‘I COULDN’T HELP IT, IT IS IN MY NATURE’.

Now, my point is: there are many people like the scorpion, out there, and Procrustes is one of them. I was a stupid frog and I should have known better, yes, but people HAVE THE CAPACITY OF REFLECTION AND THE FREEDOM TO CHOSE. So why did he lie to me? Why? Because that is the way he is and feels and sees the world. He needs to lie so he feels in control and he doesn’t have anybody around…

My problem is not really Procrustes and his mendacity, no… My first mistake is that I did not do my homework and check his past. My second mistake is that I was not on top of his bad actions to kick his skinny ass out of the company before it was too late. But I am still perplexed today about his actions because if he had been an honest person, Company B would be worth much more today and he would have much more money (yes, at the end of the day, everything is about money). So WHY??? Why did the scorpion kill the frog?? It wasn’t in his best interest, so WHY??? Because that is the nature of human beings… It is in human DNA and when an optimistic idiot like me thinks that everybody will want to develop new drugs to cure a few kids suffering from a rare disease, well that idiot is wrong.

So what have I learnt? Control your company, be on top of things, don’t trust any kindness but reward a work well done, fire anybody the minute you stop trusting that person. A company must be kept healthy, runned by a team of people interested in ADDING VALUE to it. You can also be interested in curing diseases and that is wonderful, but without ADDING VALUE TO IT, EVERY DAY, you will kill it.

One last word of advice: be aware of the Procrustes in your life. They are rats and you should treat them like rats: exterminate them the minute you spot them.

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