Adaptive Biotechnologies‘ CEO and co-founder Chad Robins can attribute some of his company’s notable success — see its $300 million IPO in June and the $400 million previously raised — to the crack mediator whose services he calls on from time to time.
Her name? Karen Robins, better known to Chad as “mom.”
Robins started Seattle-based Adaptive with his brother Harlan in September 2009. The company is developing tools to better diagnose and treat disease through the use of innovative, immune system-based technologies. Chad brought business expertise to the partnership while Harlan had the science chops, working for 13 years as the head of the Computational Biology Program at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. (Harlan held dual positions at Adaptive and the Fred Hutch until leaving the latter around the time that Adaptive filed for its IPO).
While the brothers welcomed the chance to work together, creating a healthy, effective business partnership with one of your closest kin takes strategizing. Robins has some tips.
“Understand where you complement each other’s skillsets, be patient and hopefully have an ace-in-the-hole mediator that can help with dispute resolution when things get challenging,” he said. In the case of he and Harlan, “our mom provides that.”
It seems to be working well. In addition to the successful IPO — the company’s stock opened at $20 a share and is now trading at around $40 — Adaptive has recently forged key corporate partnerships.
Adaptive teamed up with Microsoft to create an AI engine capable of detecting several diseases from a blood sample. And it has a $300 million collaborative licensing agreement with Genentech to develop personalized cancer therapies. The deal includes additional royalties and bonuses for reaching certain milestones.
Adaptive launched a few years after Elizabeth Holmes started her diagnostic biotech company, Theranos. But while ultra-secretive Theranos early on began hyping its capabilities, Adaptive followed a different path, producing research articles published in peer-reviewed science journals and forming collaborations with reputable partners. In 2015, Theranos imploded and Holmes stands legally accused of “massive fraud.”
With Adaptive’s public record of achievement, said Robins, “we’re the anti-Theranos.”
Robins said he’s working to create a positive corporate culture and helps provide resources and opportunities to support professional growth and career development for Adaptive’s employees. For his part, the CEO still has skills he’s trying to improve.
“I want to become a better listener. If you listen well, you can really understand context and understand what your counterpart is really getting to. And you can understand the customer and what their true needs are,” he said. “Listening is a skill set that needs to be developed and worked on and I’m working on that.”
Adaptive recently signed a 100,000 square-foot lease for a new headquarters, tripling its current footprint in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.
We caught up with Robins for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Robins will be one of the featured speakers at the 2019 GeekWire Summit, kicking off the Regence Health Tech Track. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Current location: I travel quite a bit to our offices in south San Francisco and New York, as well as participate in speaking engagements for the biotech and tech industries. I also like to spend time in the field with our clonoSEQ key account managers, trying to better understand our customers and how we can help them with the challenges they face in their practices day-to-day. clonoSEQ is our first diagnostic test to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the assessment and monitoring for multiple myeloma and B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia from bone marrow samples.
When I’m in Seattle, I spend most of my time at Adaptive’s headquarters in South Lake Union — Seattle’s biotech hotspot. We’ve recently broken ground on a new headquarters two blocks away from our current location. This new HQ will help us accommodate our rapidly growing team and expand our state-of-the-art laboratory facilities.
Computer types: MacBook Pro
Mobile devices: iPhone XS Max
Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: CNN, NFL Sunday Ticket, Kindle, Uber, Waze
Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? In my office, I have a desk for when I need to get stuff done. I also have a lounge area that’s more relaxed where I can meet with my team, investors, partners and others from outside of Adaptive. I like to feel at home in my office. There are a lot of personal mementos and items from my professional history, including family photos, framed articles, awards and event photos.
When we designed the workspace at Adaptive, we created a workspace that is a combination of quiet space where employees can get stuff done and open space for forced collaboration. There are common areas for white-boarding, large and small conference rooms, lounge areas and a game room. All of these spaces are conducive to thought provoking discussions.
Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Our core values really sum up how I approach everyday work. At Adaptive we encourage people to innovate fearlessly — take risks, don’t be afraid to fail. We work together as a company, and with our customers, because together we can achieve more. We make it happen. It’s important to be accountable for your work and to make things happen. It’s also important to have fun. And for work and life, I keep a detailed schedule that includes dedicated time with my wife and children.
Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? There a few channels that we’re using to tell different stories and reach different audiences for the business. LinkedIn helps with recruiting new talent and sharing news about the company. Twitter is another important channel for sharing news with a range of audiences including the medical community and investors. More recently, we’ve been adding to our collection of YouTube videos. Through the use of animation and interviews with Adaptive employees interviews we’re able to make our complex science and technology more accessible for consumers, new talent, even Wall Street.
In general, I’ve stayed away from personal Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? Zero. I stay on top of my inbox 24/7. I respond immediately, or I delegate to the right person.
Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? I average 25-to-30 meetings per week.
How do you run meetings? I lead meetings with an objective. What do we need to accomplish? I listen to the discussion, encourage open debate and ensure everyone has a voice at the table. That’s important. I’m also thinking about the action item coming out of the meeting.
Everyday work uniform? I like cool sneakers. I have a lot of sneakers. In the office, it’s cords, a button-down shirt, a sweater and sneakers. If I’m giving a talk, I’ll wear a suit with an open collar button-down shirt.
How do you make time for family? When you’re the CEO, every aspect of your life becomes a schedule, and we build family time, trips and the kids activities into my schedule. It’s important that I make time for my family, and I’m very grateful to my wife Kristi who has been my partner for 20 years. She helps keep me on track and keeps me honest. If my work life balance is off, she makes sure that I put it back in alignment.
Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Hiking, working out and skiing are all big stress relievers for me. I have a cabin where I go to unplug. That is my happy place. I can go there and have my family all to myself.
What are you listening to? “How I Built This” podcast on NPR and The Grateful Dead Channel on XM Radio
Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? CNN, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Timmerman Report, FierceBiotech, GeekWire and Seattle Times
Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “The Moment of Lift” by Melinda Gates and “Get Out of My Life, but First Can You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?” by Anthony E. Wolf
Night owl or early riser? I am an early riser. I get about 4-to-5 hours of sleep per night.
Where do you get your best ideas? I get my best ideas when I’m hiking or exercising.
Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? Arthur Levinson, former CEO of Genentech