SYNBEE interviewed Ari Massoudi, a great example of self-employment in the synthetic biology entrepreneurial ecosystem:
- Please present yourself, what is your background?
I’m Ari Massoudi, I followed a complete journey in biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Nice ending with a PhD (2007) in stem cells and gene & cell-therapy. After a short postdoc, I moved outside the Academic world to become business consultant. Since 2009, I have helped innovative startups on questions related to strategy, marketing and branding.
- Why/how did you decide to become self-employed/freelancer?
Why? At the end of my PhD, I understood that being a research scientist behind a lab bench was not for me. How? Just after the defence of my PhD, I have had the opportunity to work for an engineering consulting on a strategic mission. The mission was to answer the question: “Can an engineering consulting private company work for French Universities (that are big organizations under the French public administrative law) and take charge of the mission of a TTO – Technology Transfer Office”. During several months, I interviewed hundreds of top university executives (Chairman/President, VP of innovation, VP of research, VP of enterprise relations… ). The conclusion of my mission ended in a clear Go/No result for the consulting company. This initial mission was deterministic in my motivation to definitively abandon my Academic career. Then, from 2009 – 2012, I started to work as freelance consultant, mainly on grant-writing missions for innovative startups. Then, from 2012- 2020, I worked for a health tech startup studio/investment entity based in London. My missions were deal-sourcing, contributing to the due diligence (science, tech, market opportunity) and also supporting the marketing and business development our startups.
- Can you, please, describe the administrative process (registration as an entrepreneur? Any steps from the tax compliance point of view)?
From 2009 – 2012, I was based in France and worked under the model of “Portage Salarial” (Umbrella company). The umbrella company offers to freelances to hire them without salary. The freelances can prospect and close clients but it’s the umbrella company that bills the clients and cashes in the money. Then the Portage Company gives the money to freelance by subtracting the Non-wage labour costs and other taxes. The model allows the freelance to have the employee-like protections (public healthcare social security, unemployment insurance and retirement). The umbrella company also offers many administrative services such as accountancy and administrative paperwork. Then, from 2012- 2020, I worked for a startup studio/investment entity based in London. I was not an employee, I worked as consultant but exclusively for the studio. In fact, at the exception of the personal assistant to the CEO, we were all exclusive consultants. All the administrative process was taken in charge by the studio.
- How long does it take you to manage your business today?
Full time. Being independent freelancer means doing your own marketing & sales (awareness of you as a brand, acquisition of new clients and sustain relationship with clients), and being careful about the administrative duty (hopefully, good accounts and lawyers do the job).
- Are you full-time self-employed, or do you have a regular job and, in addition, do some freelancing?
- What from your perspective are the advantages of being self-employed/freelancer?
Agility to adapt to the market needs. Obligation to learn new and diverse knowledge, techniques and methods to be competitive.
- What are the drawbacks?
Freelance loneliness. Flitting from project to project. Roller coaster revenue model
- Any tips on how to better organize yourself when starting?
Join a tribe of freelance consultants. Learn to invest (when revenues are high, you need to invest wisely).
- If you were to restart it from scratch, what would you do differently?
I would not have worked in France, I should have directly prospected clients in the Anglosphere world or other business-friendly countries such as Belgium, Switzerland, Netherlands, Denmark,…
- Do you have any other comments/ an anecdote you’d like to share to illustrate your experience?
It’s 14 years now I work with STEM startups, and I identified what is the second most important element for the success of deep tech and high tech startups to reach the stars. It’s the branding (both corporate/product branding & the personal branding of the CEO). VHS killed Betamax, thanks to branding. Intel became the World leader in computer chips, thanks to branding. Elon Musk is the God of Tech, thanks to branding. I couldn’t have this sight view if I worked as employee during these past 14 years. Since the Covid crisis, I pivoted my consulting activity exclusively on the branding.