Dr. Elizabeth O'Day
Calling All Rockstars
Olaris is growing, with open positions in science, business development and more. If you are talented, have a desire to make a real impact in medicine, and pass the NAR rule, I want to meet you. What started as a 1-woman band is quickly* (8-years in the making) growing to be the leading metabolomics precision medicine company. With a clinical-stage product, myOLARIS™-KTdx, a strong internal portfolio, and a pipeline of biopharma partners, this rocket ship is set for liftoff.
Growth is exciting. However, growth without intention and attention to the process can be a company-killer; two-thirds of the fastest growing startups fail. Post-mortem analysis reveals varied causes of death, but a common feature is losing sight of core values. Scaling culture is mission-critical. As Olaris navigates our own growth, I believe this is an opportunity to double down on our culture, drive further differentiation in the market, forge deeper bonds across the team, position us for even more success, and in turn create a feed-forward loop constantly reinforcing culture and raising the bar for impact.
But culture isn’t something you can just set—it’s created by collective action. At Olaris, our culture is a living embodiment of our core values. When we first started (and during my first blog entry) we defined our core values as: 1) Accountable to science, 2) Always strive for better and 3) Revolutionary impact. These have been beacons guiding us through the years and help set a truly extraordinary culture.
Being a science-first company, and with a scientist CEO, means that science is our main shareholder. Every product we develop, every partnership we engage in, every study we do, is rigorously analyzed to have the utmost confidence in the results. Every week we have an all-hands-on-deck science meeting, wherein our very multidisciplinary team comes together to actively share and solve problems. This is where the magic happens: white boarding, analyzing spectra in real time, asking “What if?” and “How?,” and collectively pushing the limit of what was previously thought possible. For example, metabolomics is often considered “high-touch,” complex and multi-step. Not anymore - Olaris is heading towards “no-touch metabolomics,” wherein we can collect, process, and analyze data in near full automation. Harvard Professor and National Academy Member Dr. Gerhard Wagner, who was my former PhD advisor and now Olaris SAB member, saw this in action and responded, “Impressive,” which is extremely high praise from the first person to completely assign resonances of a protein.
There is a delicate balance of confidence and humility that we walk at Olaris. Everyone here is talented, but part of our ethos is that there’s always room for improvement. We schedule reviews frequently and ask both the employee and the supervisor to fill out the same form to be shared in real time. Both parties list where an individual excels, where they need to improve, and they generate ideas for how their supervisor can help them grow. Akin to the advice in Kim Scott’s “Radical Candor” and Ray Dialo’s “Principles,” we provide a very thorough and thoughtful critique. This process of both self-reflection and feedback creates more active participation and clarity for career development. The 2002 Gallup Report on the State of Global Workplace found that 67% of people are dissatisfied with their job in the US. Research on employee engagement found that dissatisfaction is less to do with salary but more about failure to provide autonomy, mastery and purpose. Purposeful and meaningful work is all we do at Olaris. Especially now, for both new and current team members, we are looking for masters of their craft. During our early days, individuals needed to be more like utility infielders, but now rather than going broad, I am asking the team to go deep—take this time to become the expert in what you do and own it! In Scaling Up, Verne Harnish puts it plainly: great leaders should aim to be the “dumbest person in the room,” and that’s my goal. It is also a personal driver to see team members grow internally but to also be recognized in their field- center-stage spotlight is calling!
Olaris aims to make revolutionary impact. This is a multi-layered goal. I believe that our myOLARIS products will better diagnose disease, better select therapy, and better monitor drug efficacy. That’s our BHAG. We are also working to have bold impact on a more local level. The company recently set up headquarters in Framingham, MA, where we ask folks to be in office 3 days a week. This face time is critical and beneficial for the psyche, pace, and collaborative nature of our work. However, WFH and flexible schedules also have benefits. The leadership team models being both in the office and not being in the office. Also, when in office, we make it worthwhile, ensuring others are in at the same time for collaboration, but also add more—we will be hosting everything from seminars with Nobel laurates to ice cream socials, creating a epicenter of great science, passion, and fun. In “It Starts With Why,” Sinek examines why some people and organizations - despite crazy odds - are more successful than others (Wright Brothers vs the rest of the world to fly the first plane), and it boils down to passion. During everyone’s first week at Olaris, we have a “Why I’m Here” conversation, wherein I describe why I started Olaris - my older brother had cancer when we were kids (he survived and thrived). I made a deal that if Rob survived, I would dedicate my life to improving medicine, and I plan to uphold my end of the bargain. I then ask everyone to document their why (it’s part of our Handbook), because while bumps inevitably happen, we can use our inspiration to stay true to both our personal and company mission.
In the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer report, people in the US ranked their employer as the most trusted person in their lives compared to the government, the media, and NGOs. That’s an honor and a responsibility – personally, I want to deliver. Olaris’ tech has the potential to change how diseases are diagnosed and treated, and as a company we stand to provide both professional and personally. To the current team (Alessia, Chandra, Chen, Jifang, Jurre, Keri, Laura, Leo, Monty, Russ, and Shawn), I hope you are extremely proud of what you have built. People are what make companies successful; together we have built a foundation of greatness and goodness that is a launchpad for our growth. Lift off!