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First-time entrepreneur Ethan Perlstein has a unique strategy to get ahead: Telling the truth.
"To beat me, any potential rivals would have to out-transparency me," said Perlstein, in an interview with CNBC. "And that's anathema to the status quo."
Perlstein's approach with his start-up, Perlara, which is working with families to find cures for rare diseases, is radically different from how most start-ups operate.
Investors and boards typically pressure start-ups to stay quiet. A lot of entrepreneurs also believe that secrecy will help them quietly sneak up on incumbents. Plus, it can be a bit embarrassing to talk about non-existent revenues in the early days of a company. It's a lot easier to win investors by selling a big vision.
Perlstein wants to start a movement to do just the opposite: Share numbers, share data, share everything. That includes saying what he thinks, even if that means pissing a few people off. (Perlstein almost certainly raised a few eyebrows when he referred to tech investors as little more than "biocurious," while insisting that the best way they could help him is to cut the platitudes and cut him a check).
To test out Perlstein's commitment to openness, CNBC shared a handful of questions that would get a polite but firm "no comment" from most founders. He shared his responses via email:
Perlara has raised just shy of $10 million in venture capital since its 2014 inception. It is a graduate of one of Silicon Valley's most competitive accelerator programs, Y Combinator.
It might seem a little nuts for an early-stage start-up to share these metrics publicly. But Perlstein has his reasons:
While his approach might seem admirable, not everyone agrees that it's the right thing to do.
"Things could change for a start-up from month-to-month," said Steve Kraus, a health and technology investor with Bessemer Venture Partners. One big customer win or loss could change things, and make last week's numbers irrelevant. So it might be advisable to never share them in the first place.
Kraus is also skeptical that it will give Perlara a competitive edge.
"And as for getting an edge for transparency, I'm not so sure about that," he added. In pharma, said Kraus, sharing data might open up a company to more competition from incumbents, who could then deliver a better, faster product.
Others believe there's a middle ground between Perlara's total transparency and the prevailing culture of secrecy. Evidation Health's Christine Lemke, who is also an angel investor, said her start-up makes it a policy to share as much as they can with potential recruits. Evidation works with other health start-ups to help them generate evidence to back-up their claims.
But getting approval to share revenues publicly would be another story.
And she wonders whether companies would regret taking that approach if their company goes through a bad patch.
"I bet that transparency goes away if your revenue takes a nosedive," she said.