Start-ups

This 40-year-old CEO wants to de-glorify start-ups: 'I don't know if I wish entrepreneurship on anyone, it's my worst enemy'

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Ben Lamm, founder and CEO of Colossal Biosciences
Credit: John Davidson Photography

Tech executive Ben Lamm knows something about launching a start-up or two. Six of them, actually.

Over the past two decades, Lamm, 40, has built and sold a slew of start-ups, including AI-product builder Hypergiant, e-learning software company Simply Interactive, digital gaming company Team Chaos and Conversable, an AI-driven conversational intelligence company.

Last year, Lamm announced the launch of his sixth company, Colossal Biosciences — a biotech company hoping to resurrect the woolly mammoth using gene-editing techniques. The company raised $60 million in a Series A funding announced earlier this month, with Lamm at the helm as CEO.

Essentially, building start-ups has been Lamm's full-time job for years now. And recently, he says, he's seen his occupation become overly glorified in popular media, with Silicon Valley success stories barely ever acknowledging the darker sides of building a business from nothing.

That's why he's out to dispel that glorification. "I don't know if I wish entrepreneurship on anyone, it's like my worst enemy," Lamm tells CNBC Make It. "I don't know if it's a compliment, necessarily, calling someone an entrepreneur."

Typically, Lamm says, building a start-up means sacrificing large amounts of time with your family, traveling "200-plus days a year," barely sleeping and constantly stressing over boardroom fights and shareholder disputes. Launching a business means struggling through breakdowns, crying spells and pure exhaustion, he says.

"I probably cry more than the average person. I'm a highly emotional person," Lamm says.

Lamm says it takes the "right mix of dysfunctional traits" for a person to succeed as an entrepreneur. Primarily, he notes, your conviction and passion for your business idea have to outweigh all those uphill challenges. You also need to be fine hearing the word "no" a lot — from investors, business partners and even family or friends.

"I get told 'no' all the time," Lamm says. "You just have to be able to continue to push forward."

If your passion truly does outweigh the challenges of creating something new, Lamm has a few tips for you.

Over time, he says, he's learned to build a routine that includes necessary work breaks, because he finds it otherwise hard to switch off from work mode. Since Covid hit, he's limited his work travel schedule to "absolute necessities" and forced himself to take occasional personal vacations instead.

While on vacation, Lamm limits himself to two hours per morning spent looking at emails and Slack messages. The rest of the day, he says, he completely disconnects.

He also gave up alcohol and caffeine, for the "most part," to aid his sleep and productivity. In fact, Lamm says, seven hours of sleep per night is now a non-negotiable part of his schedule — an abrupt about-face from his younger days, when he often sacrificed sleep in favor of work.

"I've learned that my body specifically needs that, or I'm not functioning at the peak that I need to make the decisions that fall on my plate every day," Lamm says.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Lamm is 40 years old, as of publication.

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