How Remix Built A Science-Driven And Transparent Culture

Posted August 30th, 2022 by Peter Smith, in Corporate Culture, From The Trenches

By Peter Smith, co-founder and CEO, Remix Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC

One of the joys of starting a company is the ability to pro-actively define the early corporate culture and encourage its evolution over time. When I think about what culture means and how to define it, it’s quickly apparent that what I think doesn’t matter.  What does matter is everyone in the company embracing the same set of guiding principles and playing a role in evolving the culture over time. Since Remix was founded, I’ve had the pleasure of watching as Remix’s culture develops, while maintaining our foundational commitment to openness and scientific rigor.

I was fortunate to partner with Kevin Bitterman and Alex Harding in building Remix, and I leveraged their insights into company formation extensively. I was even more fortunate that the seed investment from Atlas Venture allowed me to recruit a group of founding scientists that I knew well and trusted. This initial group of five scientists had worked closely together before, in some cases at more than one company, so we already knew our strengths, weaknesses (sorry, areas for development 😊) and ways of working. But more importantly, our past shared experiences allowed us to quickly define what kind of company we wanted to build, how we wanted to operate and what we wanted to avoid.

The early equation was simple: Good People + Great Science = New Medicines. I knew the founding group were good people; I knew we could do great science, and so it felt like the perfect start on our path to making new medicines. We talked about our desire for a culture that was driven by strong science and scientific decision making, complete democratization and transparency in data sharing, and an ability to openly challenge at any level and stay inquisitive about all aspects of our work. Importantly, no drama, no empire building, no hiding opinions and the classic “no arseholes” rule. Since we knew each other well, we very quickly defined a scientific workplan and were off to the races.

With the plan in place, it would have been natural for us to focus solely on scientific execution, put the blinders on and forget about our desire to build the culture we wanted. In many ways, the COVID pandemic has been a major factor in preventing that from happening; it made us try extra hard to stay connected and put extra effort in when onboarding new team members. I used the words “Let’s overcommunicate” approximately every 15 minutes. We were already using Slack and realized communication tools like this would be key in maintaining our connectedness and transparency. We missed stopping by each others’ desks to look at data and talk science, missed the important chance conversations that lead to new insights and ideas. Still, we found that Slack allowed us to remain in sync about our rapidly progressing platform.

While overcoming the communication challenges imposed by COVID, we also had to cope with changes that face all startups as they grow. As we hired new team members, we noticed a trend of waiting until the “next meeting” to share data and started to wonder if we were losing the speed or intensity of discussion. To counter this, our head of bioinformatics Mike Seiler started “Data Friday” – sharing your latest data at the end of the week on slack – it could be anything – unpolished data, raw data, an interesting observation, negative data for trouble shooting, anything could be shared. It kept up the excitement of scientific discovery and discourse and really did help connect. Data Friday lives on at Remix, but now with more people in the company we also have Data Monday, Data Tuesday, etc. This real-time flow of new data and ideas helps keep up our momentum for scientific discovery and creativity. Importantly, it ensures that the entire company gets to see and discuss hot-off-the-press data.

At every town hall I talk about four cornerstones of Remix values and behaviors: Innovation, collaboration, scientific and personal integrity. These all sound obvious and generic but it’s the subtext that matters and I go into detail about what they mean. I’ve heard grumbles about this repeatedly: “we’ve all heard this before!”. But it’s key that the message is continually reinforced to show how important it is to maintain a science-driven culture.

Even more important as we grow is making sure the culture continues to evolve and does not stay static, and so we emphasize “Culture Add NOT Culture Fit” in our hiring process. All companies grow and change over time – much better to openly acknowledge this and encourage the team to embrace continued cultural change and for them to be part of that change and drive the evolution of our culture. For example, we talk about patients with the diseases we are aiming to impact, but it can be hard to remember the patients that are waiting for our work during the day-to-day grind. One of our new employees, Charles Kung, who has been at Agios for many years told Alex about the patient wall at Agios and how it inspired the company. We loved that idea and decided to add our own electronic version, a big screen TV with photos of family and friends of Remix employees at our entrance that reminds us each day we are showing up to work to help patients. It has become an important part of our culture for new employees to add photos; we get to know them better and remember we are all touched by disease in some way and our work has REAL meaning.

I constantly worry it will be easy for us to get lazy in maintaining and evolving our science-driven culture; the hard work emphasizing the importance of it needs to come from all corners of the company, not just the leadership team. We also recognize that Remix isn’t perfect and there are areas we need to improve.  We continuously want to hear about what’s working well and what could get better; it’s key that we show action after hearing the feedback and I think we have a good track record of making changes based on input from our broader team.

This can feel like hard work, but if we make it part of our day-to-day thinking it becomes easier to stay on top of it and I’m convinced that, so long as our equation remains as simple as Good People + Great Science = New Medicines, this fantastic and growing team will stay on the path of making a difference to the lives of patients that need new medicines.


With thanks to Alex Harding, Fred Vaillancourt, Anant Agrawal, Dom Reynolds, Mike Seiler and Molly von der Heydt for reading and input; and Jesper Maag, Maria Alexis for data analysis.

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