Banner Image: Four Thank You Notes on the Occasion of Ironwood′s 20th Anniversary

Four Thank You Notes on the Occasion of Ironwood′s 20th Anniversary

Lessons in Entrepreneurship

Brian Cali, Ironwood Co-founder; SVP, R&D Strategy and External Innovation

This past summer, my wife and I marked 25 years of marriage. We used that occasion as a convenient excuse to gather our dearest friends and family around us- for a party, of course, who doesn't love a party?!-but most importantly, to express the tremendous gratitude we feel for the love and support they have given us over the years. One of the ways we did this was to write personal notes to each attendee that spoke to some of our most treasured experiences with each of them and what their presence in our lives has meant to us. We gave these thank you notes out just before the dinner and dancing.

The most unexpected part of taking that time for reflection was how deeply evocative I found the writing of those 90+ notes. In the flurry of life, I find it easy to forget to pause. This milestone provided my wife and me a nice little "speed bump"-the chance to slow down and think deeply about the relationships we have cultivated over the years, how much others have given to us, challenged us, and supported us.

In 2018, another milestone has arrived. This month marks 20 years since my co-founders and I started the company that would become the Ironwood of today. Another convenient excuse to pause and reflect - and to express gratitude to some of the many people who have made getting to this milestone year possible.

Would that I could write individual notes! But in that spirit, as we end our second decade and look to the future, I offer some incomplete, imperfect, yet most sincere expressions of gratitude:

To the 1,270* current and former employees who have been part of this journey: When you joined the team, we hoped and expected that you would bring your insights, experience and energy to our mission, and make us better. You more than made good on that hope. You, our collective team over the years, quite literally transformed us from a small discovery shop to a fully integrated biotech company, with products across the globe.

My greatest joy at Ironwood day in and day out is to be able to work with such fantastic and committed collaborators. Thank you for giving it your all to help us be the best company we can be.

To the millions of patients who have taken our approved products or have participated or are participating in clinical trials of our investigational medicines: You are the reason we do what we do at Ironwood every day. We remain vigilant in staying focused on striving to ensure that the products, ideas, and actions we are contemplating are clearly aimed at benefiting the patients we wish to serve.

From the moment we had data showing that our first investigational medicine had the potential to bring symptom relief to patients, this work became my vocation. Thank you for helping me realize what a privilege and responsibility it is to devote whatever talents I have to help bring the innovations that science has to offer to enable better, healthier lives.

To my many mentors, past and current, who deliver much needed perspective at just the right times: You have been selfless with your time and insights. Thank you for investing in me.

You've also inspired me to "mentor" others, and it is a role from which I take great satisfaction. Mentor is in quotes, for as often as not, I am the one learning and shifting my thinking in those interactions. So, thank you also to my many "mentees", who have been unsuspecting mentors over the years.

To the people who felt the need to state categorically what "couldn't be done": Perhaps unwittingly, you stirred determination to make things work and prove you wrong. There aren't many instances of this, for much of what may initially sound like nay-saying is in fact important criticism and challenge, but a couple stick with me.

There were those who told us that trying to develop an orally administered, room temperature stable peptide was a fool's errand. Our first product - an orally administered, room temperature stable peptide - was approved in 2012 and became the branded market leader in its category. And we have heard since (paraphrased slightly), that "Developing a drug is like catching lightning in a bottle. If you are lucky enough to do it once, stop while you're ahead." It's true that most start-ups never make and commercialize a drug. Fewer still develop a culture of ongoing innovation. But I'm very confident the Ironwood team is up for the challenge, and we're innovating like crazy just now. Thanks for egging us on.

I've also heard repeatedly over the years that being an entrepreneur means that family and friends take a back seat, and that while co-founders may be effective business partners, they cannot be your friends.

I thought about that last one as I looked over the group of family and friends (including co-founders) gathered together on that summer evening. How great it was to pause, and feel gratitude for all those wonderful people. And it was exciting to think about what is yet to come. Today, as I reflect on Ironwood-where we have been, who we have journeyed with, and where we are going- I feel exactly the same way.

* Yes, that number is accurate. My co-founder, Todd Milne, keeps very precise records!

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