DAY IN THE LIFE INTERVIEW: OSCAR FLORES
Today’s Monday motivation comes from Barcelona based startup Made of Genes and this Day In The Life interview with CEO and Co-founder Oscar Flores.
Made of Genes is the first marketplace of applications based on your genome – a new dimension of personalisation.
1. First can you tell us a bit about your job? What does your company do?
I’m co-founder and CEO of Made of Genes. Made of Genes is a personal genome databank that allows any person to sequence their DNA and store it digitally in a safe environment to use their genetic information for different services available in the platform. It’s a kind of “app store” for healthcare, prevention and genomics, but where everything is based on your personal biological traits, from prevention and wellness to precision medicine.
2. What brought you to this area?
I’m a computer engineer by trade and when I finished the degree I did a masters and Ph.D. in Biomedicine in the joint program for computational biology between the Institute or Research in Biomedicine of Barcelona and the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre. During this process, I learnt both the technical and scientific skills involved in the analysis of large biological datasets. Considering that the process of sequencing a whole human genome generates more than 600GB of data per patient, so skills in both disciplines are required to give sense to the millions of letters we have in our DNA. When I finished the Ph.D. I did an MBA in ESADE, where I met my co-founder, Miquel Bru. As part of the MBA, we had to do a business plan that eventually turned from an academic work to a real business. So, we decided to quit our former jobs to found what today is Made of Genes.
3. What time does your day start, and what does your typical work day schedule look like?
I know that this sounds like a cop-out, but there is no a typical day for the CEO of a fast-growing start-up. As the visible head of a team of 14 I’m involved in a lot of different things, from sales to fundraising to hiring or development, and of course PR, events, etc. When I’m not traveling, I usually wake up around 7:00am, arrive to work by 8:30 and then spend my day there till 6pm or so, but work never ends and I usually work a couple of hours more at home replying to e-mails or preparing a presentation. The good thing is that I love what I do and I can manage the free slots of my agenda as I wish, giving me enough time to do some sport or relax.
4. What kind of projects are you currently working on?
The biggest project is turning the company itself into something self-sustainable. There is a business plan that requires funding, supervision, execution timings, resources and talent. And of course, the only way to do that is generating enough revenues. We released our personal genomics service last summer and we presented a platform for corporate and research genomics. Also, there are side projects that have a more focused scope, like the development of a new genetic test for a corporate partner, the design of a business case for an hospital or prepare the brochures for the next conference.
5. What do you consider the greatest achievement in your work to date?
Made of Genes had different recognitions that make me proud, such as being selected to join Wayra (Telefonica’s accelerator) and winning the IBM Startups Connect award to best digital startup in Spain in 2015. I was also awarded with the prestigious recognition MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 Spain and recently we were selected to be part of the second edition of the Dubai Future Accelerators to bring genomics to national scale in the U.A.E. However, I think that the greatest achievement is what made all of these achievements possible: to convince a great team of 14 people, really talented and motivated for their work, to join this project.
6. What is the one app you could not live without?
As long as I have access to an e-mail client I’m happy, so the app I use the most is Gmail. And the built-in Calendar, of course.
7. What’s the best thing about working at your company?
I think that Made of Genes is something unique, at least in Spain, since we combine something very intensive in knowledge and technology as genomics, with the challenge to put that in the hand of the general citizen. Most of the entrepreneurs with scientific background don’t have to worry a lot about the design, branding or communication as part of their success as the science/technology talks for itself and usually their clients are tech-savy. In Made of Genes we want to involve anyone in the science and benefits of genomics and tell them about the potential impact it has for their life. This means that you don’t only need to do great science, but also to educate the costumers in a commercial and sustainable way. This requires a team from different backgrounds and expertise working together in a disruptive challenge. I really like to work in this intersection of disciplines doing something meaningful.
8. Who is your professional role model?
I have a lot of models, for good and for bad, but I don’t have any that I could say “this is the one”. I guess you were expecting some response as “oh, I want to be like Musk, Jobs or Gates” but this is not the case. My parents had a small hotel in my hometown, Calella, and they taught me the value of hard work. My brother and my sister both have high responsibility roles in different companies and I learn from all of them the importance to balance the professional and personal life in a healthy way. My role models are those anonymous people that are happy doing something meaningful, bigger than themselves, but always keeping their feet on the ground.
9. What makes Barcelona a good city for technology and startups?
Barcelona is a great, vibrant city for tech. There are a lot of good universities that provide excellent professionals of all disciplines and, after spending some months of my life in cities as London, Boston or Dubai I really think that the Barcelona has a unique lifestyle that no other city in the world has. With initiatives such as the Mobile World Congress, the Barcelona Tech City and a solid strategy from the government to promote start-ups as a source of jobs and knowledge based economy, Barcelona is in the process of becoming a top-notch start-up hub, at the level of London or Berlin. The only thing we lack are more growth-stage (Series A, B) venture capital funds, but even on that aspect I think that in the upcoming years we will see a change both in the quantity and quality of such entities.
10. Which tech trends are you most excited about?
Of course, the possibilities enabled by a wide implementation of genomics, but I guess you want something different, you don’t? Well, I will tell you that I am NOT excited about things such as Big Data, Blockchain or AI as there is too much hype about them right now and their usefulness is quite limited to specific cases for the moment. What I really think will be a game changer for the whole humankind is the research in new ultra-high-density batteries and efficient energy storage. When that technology is broadly available, solar power or electric cars will become a commodity and this will have a huge impact both in the developed and emerging economies, solving one of the biggest problems we face as a humankind, global warming. Oh, and of course, smartphones will last longer than half a day.
11. What are the top 3 qualities you look for in an employee?
It really depends on the specific role but in general honesty, intrinsic motivation for the job and good teamwork are among the top three. I don’t like “rockstar” attitudes, there are too many already.
12. And finally, what is the one piece of advice you would give to an entrepreneur starting out?
I always tell them the same: “don’t do it, don’t become an entrepreneur, it’s extremely hard and most probably you will fail. It just isn’t worth the effort. Employ your time in something better”. Then, if they don’t listen to my advice, they are ready to become entrepreneurs. In the end, I really think that successful entrepreneurs are those who show an outstanding perseverance and passion for long-term goals despite adversity and criticism, so if my advice scares them, they are not ready yet to start their own business.