Creating a Fast-growth Culture With Kevin Lustig at

When you have a fast-growth culture, you have a team that will move with agility and one that embraces change. Culture is often claimed to be important to company stability. It is critical to company growth. Today, I talk with Kevin Lustig, CEO of to discuss the power of a fast-growth culture. Kevin shares details about leadership and team that will help you develop your fast-growth culture.

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Kevin Lustig: The Transcript

Target Audience: Kevin is the Founder, CEO, and President of operates private marketplaces for thirteen large pharmaceutical partners, a private research portal for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and a public marketplace for biotech and academic researchers.


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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Kevin Lustig: 
Outstanding employees give you highly satisfied customers. No one flows into the other part. Clearly for is all about the culture. It is about having outstanding employees and nurturing them both in their personal life and in their professional life. That is our path to success.

Welcome to grow think tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett: [00:37]
Culture is important to your business. Culture is so important that it is really how you guys work together and you actually get things done. It’s how you communicate. It’s how you think. It’s how you collaborate. It’s the courage and confidence you bring to everything that you do.

Gene Hammett: [00:54]
The lack of intention on culture will cost you not just money, but also time and also we do not create the kind of workplace that really are able to get the highest potential out of all your people. Culture really is the backbone of your business. Today’s guest is Kevin Lustig. Kevin is with he’s the co-founder of this, a marketplace for scientist research. We talk about some of the backgrounds of that, but the most important thing is why culture is so important for your business and what you can do to ensure that you have a strong culture in your business. The one thing I love about this interview was we should really be hiring people that are the company first, that viewpoint of the company first means they’re not going to put their own personal needs ahead of the company and ahead of the mission that they’re trying to create.

Gene Hammett: [01:46]
Now talk to Kevin about what that is and how he pulls it out of people through the interview process, but you want someone who has company first and that does sound pretty good if you’re a leader that really believes in having the right people to grow the company.

Gene Hammett: [02:03]
Thanks for tuning in here to grow. Think tank. Really excited about sharing this with you and before you run. I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such an exciting time to share with you that those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast-growth companies. So all you have to do to get that is going to so you can get the 12 principles. And I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align with each individual episodes. When you subscribed to grow think tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet depending on when you’re hearing this. But you can, you can tune in to the date that means the most to you. Now here is Kevin Lustig.

Gene Hammett: [02:49] Hey Kevin, how are you?

Kevin Lustig: [02:51]
I’m doing well, thank you.

Gene Hammett: [02:53]
Well, you are impressed with what you’ve done with and I really impressed with some of the concepts of leadership you’ve had. I’ve already let the audience know a lot about you. So tell us about you and who you serve.

Kevin Lustig: [03:09]
So I am the CEO of a company called, and we are on a mission to transform how medical researchers have done, in many ways where we’re like an for scientists. And essentially we sort of provide the, you know the picks and the shovels, if you will, from modern-day pharmaceutic.

Gene Hammett: [03:31]
Well, you know, that’s a little bit of a mystery cause I know there’s so much money that goes into pharmaceutical research. I’ve never been in that world, so I’m relying on you a little bit here. Why is this marketplace for scientists something that’s really good caught on?

Kevin Lustig: [03:49]
Well, the pharmaceutical industry spends about $150 billion every single year doing medical research. And for the past 50 or 60 years, they did it in a very clear and simple way. They spent all of that money in their own research laboratories. But starting about 10 years ago, that whole process began to change. They began to realize that there were thousands of outside laboratories that could do the work better, faster and cheaper than they could. And so they began to stop doing the work in their own laboratories. They began to lay off tens of thousands of scientists and instead they began to do research in a very new way. They began to design the research experiments still in their own laboratories. But then the actual research, they would outsource, they would reach out to one of the thousands of research companies around the world and they would get those companies to do the research for them. So we’ve gone from a situation where $150 billion of research was being done within the pharmaceutical industry, labs themselves to a situation where about half of that, over $70 billion of that money is now being spent with these outsourced companies. And that’s where a marketplace comes in. We make it very easy for a scientist within a big pharmaceutical company to go out to hundreds of outside research suppliers and help them get their experiments done as quickly as possible.

Gene Hammett: [05:32]
Well, I can see that you’re excited about this. When you thought about this idea, were there other competition or was it just your idea and you were one of the first to the, to the market on this?

Kevin Lustig: [05:44]
There were a few other companies that came before us. But for the most part, we’re one of the first e-commerce marketplaces that the industry has seen. And so it’s been a long while whereas I’m fond of saying, you know, we’re an overnight success, 10 years in the making, uh, it’s been a very difficult 12 years is actually really what it really, truly has been to get to where we are today and, you know, a dominant position as a market leader.

Gene Hammett: [06:14]
Well, you’re not alone because, you know, every leader I’ve ever seen has, there’s so much more to the work that’s made them successful than what people see. I appreciate you saying that today. Kevin. One of the things that we talked about, you know, your concept of growing a company. Is it about 70 employees? Is that about right?

Kevin Lustig: [06:36]
Yes, we’re about 70 today.

Gene Hammett: [06:37]
One of the concepts that you really kind of over-index on is culture, right?

Kevin Lustig: [06:44]

Gene Hammett: [06:45]
Why is a culture so important to companies do you think?

Kevin Lustig: [06:52]
So a great culture is the defining characteristic of a company. And it really allows you, it’s really that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. And a great culture allows a small, talented group to take on incredibly difficult problems and change and really ultimately change the world. So I really believe that culture is at the center of every incredible company. And in our case, you know, we’re a very small company, know for the most of our years we were 10 or 20 people and he, and we would try to change a trillion-dollar industry. You know, it’s kind of like a this, the pharmaceutical industry is an ocean liner and it’s going at a fairly high speed in one direction.

Kevin Lustig: [07:48]
And we were this, this little wheel speed boat that’s sort of zipping around trying to get it to change direction. And we knew that the only way we would ever go into succeeding was to create a tight-knit culture, have a very clearly defined mission and hire fantastic people that can work together in a way that creates the whole being more than the sum of its parts.

Gene Hammett: [08:12]
You know, it would probably help our audience here because everyone has a different definition of even some of the most basic concepts. How do you define culture? Like you would, you know, if you were speaking to a child.

Kevin Lustig: [08:25]
So if I’m speaking to a child, I would say that culture is about how we treat each other, right? It’s about whether we’re going to share our toys with our friends, whether we’re going to work together, whether we’re going to interpret people’s behavior in a very positive way. When we see a friend do something that we think is wrong, we’re going to go to them and we’re going to talk openly about it. We’re going to be transparent. All the critical elements to an outstanding culture, but in its essence, no culture in many ways it’s the code of conduct. It is about how we interact and whether or not, and this is incredibly important, whether or not we end up giving the benefit of the doubt in our interpretations because it’s easy to hear people say something and go interpret it in and score five different ways in a great culture where people are nurturing each other. They may interpret those situations in a very positive way and avoid conflict because of that.

Gene Hammett: [09:37]
I love the definition. I mean, I asked you that to basically challenge it a little bit because it takes a very business aspect of this to our childhood. But I think you knocked it out of the park there, Kevin. When we were talking last week about what we would actually talk about today, you talked about the importance of culture. You started really early and really thinking about the culture within your company. Like how many employees was it when you really started thinking about the culture you want to create?

Kevin Lustig: [10:08]
Well, this is matching the second company I’ve found. And it was during that experience founding the first company that I realized that in a research company, culture is absolutely paramount. And what I mean by that is if you’re building a factory that’s creating a widget and you know how to create that widget culture is probably a little less important. It’s still important. But I’ve been involved in building pharmaceutical companies and building marketplaces and in those situations, we don’t know what we’re building. It’s another analogy is, you know, we’re flying the plane while we’re trying to rebuild it and make it faster and make it be more maneuverable. And, and that is just absolutely incredibly difficult to do. So when you’re in a research environment, when you’re solving problems that no one else has ever solved, culture is just absolutely essential to your success.

Gene Hammett: [11:10]
And I see the analogy there because if you did have a widget so to speak, and you have the processes defined, you just want to create more widgets at a higher quality and a lower cost. There are very incremental improvements to that. But W but for the most of us, and this is the clients I interact with, maybe the people listening in here, we’re doing something with our clients. It’s never been done where it’s evolving and changing so fast. There’s no way it looks like a widget because of that aspect. And that’s where culture and collaboration are so important. When do you say?

Kevin Lustig: [11:41]
I would absolutely completely agree with that. I mean I really found that as a CEO, the most important role that I play in the company is creating an environment and defining a mission around which an incredibly strong culture can be built. You know, Yes, I’m here to help raise money on there, hopefully, to help with projects. But the main role that a great CEO plays is to not just build the culture because as you know, cultures are very fragile, right? You need to continue to tend to that culture. It’s almost like a garden you need to go in every day. And sometimes it’s removing the weeds, sometimes it’s fertilizing. It’s really a very similar, you might need to keep an eye out at all times because even one bad apple can really undermine a great culture.

Gene Hammett: [12:38]
You’ve mentioned mission a few times here, Kevin and I, I want to zero in on it for a second because you know, I’ve seen the importance of having something that other people can attach to. Like when you’re bringing on hiring people like they want the same success that you see as the mission of the company. Did your mission change at all and that first, you know, five years or was it pretty, pretty steady toward what you were trying to create?

Kevin Lustig: [13:05]
Very steady, I mean, on mission is to make it possible to cure all human diseases by 2050.

Gene Hammett: [13:12]

Kevin Lustig: [13:13]
It’s a mission that you can be proud to go and tell your mother about and your parents. And I know it sounds a little, maybe a little bit of delusions of grandeur, but, but the way we think about it more is that that trillion-dollar pharmaceutical industry means a giant rock on top of the hill. And we’re this little teeny little ever, and we’re trying to lever this rock up and if we can just get that lever in and pushing in the right way, we could get that rock rolling downstream to a place where drugs will be 10 fold less expensive to develop. We will have 10 fold more drugs on the market for that $150 billion that we’re spending every year. We’re spending that money, obviously incredibly efficient inefficiently.

Kevin Lustig: [13:59]
And what we’re trying to do is build a marketplace that allows us to spend that money incredibly efficiently and put a lot more drugs on the market for people that need. So from us, the mission from day one was to transform medical research. And I have to be honest, 12 years ago when we told people that they many left and said, good luck with that. You know, that’s something that will not happen in your lifetime. And we’re 12 years in and we’re only 5% of the way, but we’ve clearly made significant progress. It’s clearly doable. And I believe our success is really all about defining that mission in those early days and making sure when people came in they knew that we were doing something incredibly important. It’s why, you know, in a great culture environment you have very little turnover. You know, we’ve lost just a few people, like a handful of people over the past five years. Why? Because they appreciate the transparency. They appreciate the fact that we’re doing something important. And as a culture, we’ve done our best to create that environment in which everyone can thrive, both personally and professionally.

I want to break in right here because what Kevin talked about with mission is so important. I see this all the time. People just aren’t really paying attention to the core mission that the company is creating and they don’t really have that well-defined. So if your mission is not well defined to others, not just yourself, then it’s hard to hire them in to find that alignment of the mission. Nope. If you do have the right mission, it’s the feeling of that inside the organization is really in, you know, intoxicating, if you will, because it’s Kinda like the rowers in a boat all rowing together. They know where they’re going, they know where the finish line is. And your mission may not have a finish line so to speak, but you understand that everyone knows where we’re going together. They had a common direction and they’re willing to put forth the effort to get there. I want to go back to the interview, but I just wanted to Shay say how important mission is to your overall company growth.

Gene Hammett: [16:16]
I would go more into this mission thing cause I know how important it is. A lot of people get caught up on, but you know, we’re here, we’re here to build a business, we’re going to make some money and we’ve got boards to, to satisfy and we’re gonna sell one day. But when you think about mission, it’s much more than that. Like it, it seems like it comes from your soul, Kevin. Like, what do you say to others that say that mission might not be as much important as you think it is?

Kevin Lustig: [16:43]
A well, I would say for me, my whole life has always been defined around a purpose that I have set for myself. And back when I was about 10 years old, I decided I was going to cure cancer, and I was going to be a research scientist and I was going to work in the lab and I have stuck to that mission, if you will, that purpose ever since I was 10 years old. So for me it’s more than just the mission for the company, you know, it really provides a purpose to my life and I hope it provides more of a purpose to the people that are here at the company as well. So it’s more about why are we here as humans and what are we going to do with the short time that we’re here on this earth.

Kevin Lustig: [17:31]
You know, I made a decision long ago that I wasn’t going to waste that time. I was going to try to do something that was of course fulfilling for me, but that also would be something that would leave the world a better place than when I found it. And I think we all need to be doing that in our lives regardless of whether you’re doing medical research or working in a garden or working on a train doesn’t really matter. There’s honor in everything we do and there’s a purpose and that we can all define for ourselves. I’ve just happened to have defined, you know, the very difficult mission of, you know, changing a trillion-dollar industry, you know, for the better. And it’s been.

Gene Hammett: [18:08]
I am total with you. I’m really excited by you to know, what you’re doing here and how you’re doing it. I do want to go a little bit further down this line of creating great culture. So after you have a great mission, what do you think the next step in this journey for a building that just really competitive advantage culture?

Kevin Lustig: [18:29]
So it really is hiring the absolute best people. It’s really because if you have a great culture and you have good people, even if you started out with bad ideas, you can turn those bad ideas into good ideas. You know, if you’re having a great culture, you’re gonna hire bad people. They’re gonna take your good ideas and ruin them and are not going to take your bad ideas and make them into good ideas. So clearly in terms of building a culture, it’s about making sure you bring the right people onto the team and you nurture them in the appropriate way. And it’s really about in many ways about avoiding the wrong people because it turns out that culture is incredibly fragile.

Kevin Lustig: [19:13]
And even one bad egg and a team of 60 or 70 people can ruin it for everyone. It gets back to what we said before about how culture is not something that you establish you and then you walk away. It’s, it’s really something that you need to nurture each and every day.

Gene Hammett: [19:30]
I’m not gonna ask for names here, but if you have you come into that one bad egg that had an impact on culture that you had to make a hard decision on?

Kevin Lustig: [19:39]
Yes, I have, and that’s really the hardest thing in a company like ours because we, we hire very slowly, so we get the best, best people, but we also fire very slowly and the ones, and because we try to fit most, we bring them in, we try to figure out, okay, that maybe they didn’t fit in this role. Let’s get him into this role. They didn’t fit there and we’re getting him into this role. But occasionally it has been true that I have concluded that because someone was more of a bad fit for the culture, that they did need to go. And we made the tough decisions in those very few cases. So we did everything we could to try and get them to spit into a rule before we did that. I’ll try to get them to see the light. And I think in some ways people’s basic personality really plays a role here. In other words, we’ve actually hired some really good people who are very good at their work, but they weren’t a very good cultural fit. And those people are even more challenging because, you know, if they weren’t working out well you can change it. But if they are, if they don’t fit the culture, that’s something almost never go into change because that’s part of what’s in them and you can’t change who people are. So I’ve found those to be the most difficult, people to deal with within our environment. The people that are actually quite good at the work but who aren’t actually a very good fit for the culture but yet who got through the door.

Gene Hammett: [21:07]
Kevin, what have you learned in defining if someone is a fit for the culture in the hiring process?

Kevin Lustig: [21:15]
Well, for me, we hire very slowly. I often don’t start out looking at the resume. I do that eventually, but I try to look and evaluate this person without the resume in hand. Cause I find that can really get you thinking in the wrong direction. I look at how they interact. I make sure I bring them to lunches and dinners and I look at how they interact with the waitstaff. I looked into how they interact with me. I look at how they do throughout a long day. I talk to people that have worked closely with them. I do everything I can to try to figure them out and figure out whether there is a good fit. And, and for me, one of the defining characteristics of people that fit our culture is that they put and I don’t want to bring this too far, but they put the company first. They put the company brand ahead of their personal brand. You know, for example, when they’re making a decision, they’re not thinking what’s what, what’s in it for me? There’s thinking of the company and the mission first and I really do find that to be one of the defining characteristics of the best cultural fits for

Now I wanted to stop here and break this for a second company first, what comes to mind when you think about someone who is the company first? Well for me, they think about not just what they’re trying to get out of it, not just their paycheck, not just their vacation, not just, you know, the moment that they’re in and have this viewpoint of they’re there just to get a paycheck company first. People are really kind of tuned into what are we doing with the mission and the purpose of our company. How do we work together to really put that above everything else, all the political aspects that happen in some companies as they grow and add more people and people worried about, you know, not getting opportunities? That all goes to the side because people that are the company first are willing to really put forth and sacrifice themselves to grow the company. That really does kind of really sparked something inside me. Hopefully, it does. You too. Now back to the interview with Kevin.

Gene Hammett: [23:35]
Well, that’s a really, you know, specific thing that I really appreciate you sharing that with us. How do you actually know if someone’s the company first in the, in the interview?

Kevin Lustig: [23:48]
It is very difficult. You can usually tease it out through a specific line of questioning, trying to get at whether they will like that at past companies and by talking about what’s important to them in life, what’s important to them in the company, what were the things they liked and didn’t like about the cultures in the past companies they’ve been in. So those questions like that can sometimes tease it out. But I’ve gotta be honest. Now that we’re up to 70 people, it is very, very difficult to maintain that level that we would want to attain. In other words, you’re going to make mistakes. You need to recognize that when you’re more than 10 or 15 people, you will make mistakes in the hiring process and you need to deal with those mistakes.

Kevin Lustig: [24:37]
You need to do everything you can to get them to fit. And then if they don’t fit, you need to, you know, help ease them out into a better path for them. It’s something I had a hard time coming to grips with because back when we were 10 or 15 people, we vowed that everyone we would fit everyone into the culture. They would all stay, we would always find a role, you know, it was family. And now as we’re 70, it’s becoming more maybe a little less family and more team. We’re a team and sometimes, you know, you bring the wrong people onto the team and you need to need to deal with that.

Gene Hammett: [25:15]
I want to wrap this up with, I had asked you this and I ask a lot of leaders this one question. You know, as a leader, what’s more important, customers or employees?

Kevin Lustig: [25:26]
I believe very firmly that employees are the most important piece of the equation. Outstanding employees give you a highly satisfied customer. No one flows into the other. But clearly for is all about the culture. It is about having outstanding employees and nurturing them both in their personal life and in their professional life. That is our path to success.

Gene Hammett: [25:56]
Kevin, I really appreciate you being here. I’d love a lot of this interview, but the fact that you look at company first is such a really impressive kind of place and really have a mission that has gone with you since being 10 years old. I can see why you’re as successful as you are. So thanks for being here.

Kevin Lustig: [26:13]
Thank you, Gene. I appreciate it.

Gene Hammett: [26:15]
Wow. What a great, powerful interview. I love so much. Did you notice the passion he has about culture and about the importance of the people inside the organization? Just noticed the passion he has for the mission of the company. Something that he started when he was 10 years old. Your mission is really a common thread amongst everyone coming into it. Do they care enough about what you’re trying to create in the world you’re creating through the business? It’s not just to make money. If you have a common mission, you will really have something special. So that’s my piece today. Hopefully, you’re enjoying these interviews. Hopefully, you’re getting as much out of listening to these interviews is I get out of doing that. So as always, lead with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


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