The match that seems to be made in heaven almost didn’t happen at all.
When Jason Wargent, BioLumic chief science officer, met Warren Bebb, BioLumic chief executive officer, he was working at Massey University and had only the germ of a business idea around using ultraviolet light to increase crop production. At the time, Bebb was working in startup/business growth at BCC, an organisation working with Massey on commercialising ideas.
From the time Wargent met Bebb and the rest of the BCC team, it took a year to refine the idea, do the business case, get funding and start the business. Wargent and Bebb investigated potential clients, talked to growers around the world and completed a business plan. Once they figured out there was an opportunity – and a business – they set out to hire a chief executive.
“We put out an ad, interviewed a whole lot of people and decided on one person who we thought could do a good job,” says Bebb. “And he accepted another job”.
“At the time, it felt like the end of the world,” says Wargent. “But in hindsight it was the best thing that could have happened.”
“We were left with ‘what do we do now?’ and Dean [Tilyard, BCC chief executive] suggested I could do it as an acting role for 12 months,” says Bebb. That temporary assignment turned into a permanent one.
Wargent clearly has the scientific expertise but, having never run a company, didn’t have the business and funding acumen that Bebb brought.
“When you’re trying to set up a company, you look for complimentary skills, personalities and experiences,” says Bebb. “I think we tick those boxes quite well. There’s no point in hiring someone who is exactly the same as you. Start-ups are hard businesses that require a range of skills, a range of temperaments and a range of abilities. I think Jason and I are very complimentary in that sense. We share the important things; we’re able to have important conversations at the right level and discuss things about the business and come to decisions from different points of view.”
Business is stressful at the best of times; launching a start-up is always going to be especially so. Occasionally the pair has ‘robust conversations’. They think that’s a good thing. “If you didn’t,” says Wargent, “you’d have to ask yourself ‘are you dealing with anything robustly?’”
“I can count the disagreements we’ve had in 2 ½ years on one hand,” says Bebb. Adding that there aren’t always two people at the helm of a start-up and often it’s the founder flying solo until the work gets too much for one person. He quotes statistics from Silicon Valley: the success rate of companies with dual founders is significantly higher than those with a single founder.
“In order for businesses to be successful, you need many players and you want everyone who is involved to be really committed and motivated to what they are doing,” says Wargent. “That doesn’t mean everybody should be good at the same things; they shouldn’t. You must have good people and you want the wider team to really understand the excitement of what we’re trying to do but also the gritty hard-edged business side and that this is a business. It isn’t a Sunday science project.”