Behind the specs

Shaun Holt
Chief Operating Officer

Shaun joined Atonarp in May 2021. He reports to Prakash Murthy and is based in the Fremont, California office.

Please tell us a bit about your background.

I have more than 20 years of experience in operations, commercial, and finance leadership roles across a broad range of industries, including software and Life Sciences. I began my career at a web development software company, Macromedia, which was acquired by Adobe, followed by software security company, Websense, which was acquired by a private equity firm. In 2007, I transitioned into the Life Sciences sector, joining Illumina, the global leader in DNA sequencing technology. I served in a series of strategic finance leadership roles over 7years. My most recent gig was with a start-up, Berkeley Lights, as their first CFO. We were in a rapid growth phase and we completed a $178.2 million IPO in 2020.

What is your role and focus at Atonarp?

I joined the Atonarp team to help transition the Company from a R&D company to a commercial operation. This is very similar to my prior experience at Berkeley Lights. We are focused on finding large markets within which we can differentiate ourselves and create value for customers by leveraging our innovative molecular profiling technologies developed over the last several years. We’re also working to build out a world-class leadership team and establish the systems, infrastructure, and processes that will help us scale the company.

My main focus areas are 1) creating operational excellence with best-in-class processes, 2) developing a culture of high-performance, collaborative teams, and 3) maximizing growth from our go-to-market strategies. At the end of the day, the people and the leadership team make or break companies. If the technology is there, it’s all about execution. Execution is about getting the right people onboard in the right roles and working cross-functionally to deliver results.

 

What is the Company’s focus in the short-term?

Our focus in the short-term is to execute and deliver on our commitments to investors and to each other. There are three essential value drivers for our business:

·      Demonstrate robust revenue growth

·      Deliver product development milestones on time

·      Demonstrate progress on partnerships

Our Annual Operating Plan for FY2022 and corporate, department and individual objectives all focus on these value drivers. Revenue growth goals focus on commercial execution, primarily around selling ASTON Impact and ASTON Plasma into semiconductor FABs and getting the systems integrated into OEM solutions. Product development milestones are dominated by the ATON platform, including developing robust analyzers and delivering a feasibility data package for the menu of panels on the IVD roadmap. Finally, our business development metrics focus on partnerships related to industrial and diagnostics applications of our platforms. Achievements in these areas position us to raise additional capital toward the end of this fiscal year, which funds scale-up and our ability to fulfill our mission of unlocking molecular insights to accelerate human progress.  

 

What advice you would give to start-up leaders?

I would say this: don’t forget to pull up and keep sight of the big picture. It’s very easy in a start-up to get mired in the weeds and try to do too many things. The primary challenge that I have seen, by the very nature of being a venture capital backed early-stage company, is that you’re typically losing money. In one sense, in early-stage companies, your core metric is a very simple dichotomy: is the value you are creating outpacing your cash burn? Obviously, getting that right enables you to raise more capital in order to get products to market and eventually become profitable.

Secondly, I would say to focus closely on your operations to realize your commercialization potential. Prioritize hiring very strong, experienced operational leaders, because value creation is a challenging feat that, again, can easily pull you into the weeds. You need to develop differentiated products, within a significant market, ensure customer requirements are met, and dial this in as quickly as possible.

All of this requires standing up rigorous product development and portfolio management processes so you can maintain visibility into timelines, resources, commercialization dependencies, make tradeoffs where needed, and all the many other related factors that will impact your value creation vs. capital spend trajectory.

The companies that get this balance right can build great products much more quickly, and of course, that very often translates to great success for all stakeholders.

 

Which professional achievements are you most proud of to date?

For me, it often comes back to playing a critical part in exciting growth phases at companies. I joined Illumina before they became a DNA sequencing powerhouse and I had the privilege of helping the company bring that technology to market, along with driving commercial and finance scale-up initiatives, ultimately seeing growth from $5-10 billion market cap to over $60 billion. An exciting part of my role there was helping to spin out technologies and capabilities the team had developed into vertical markets, including Grail Bio.

Of course, helping to lead Berkeley Lights through its IPO was another highlight. I joined when we had only 40 or 50 employees and no finance team within the company.

Another thing I pride myself on is being largely self-taught from real-world experience. From very early on, I was taught the value of hard work by my parents, who largely carried ‘blue collar’ jobs to support our family. I put myself through college working full time during nights and weekends. I have a BS in Business Administration and Finance from a California State University. That is the total of my formal education. So, I really had to push myself and work incredibly hard to earn my way up from a junior-level cost accountant role out of college to now serving in a COO role, Advisor to Celesta Capital and active participant on Boards. I truly believe that boots-on-the-ground experience is immensely valuable, and I’ve had the good fortune to be exposed to various operational functions, diverse industries, and very innovative technologies from early-stage privates to multi-billion-dollar public companies.

I have been fortunate to benefit from the wisdom and advice from many, many incredible leaders and mentors I’ve had along the way who have positively influenced my professional and personal development.

 

What do you do for fun?

·      I love to golf and go to concerts.

·      I support Bay Area professional sports teams and go to 49ers, Giants and Warriors games as often as possible. I’m also a big UFC fan and host watch parties at my house for the big events.

·      I have two girls, 5 and 8 years old. We play basketball and soccer together. My wife and I go to their soccer, volleyball and basketball games. And, we do frequent trips to Napa, California for some quality family time.

·      My other favorite places for quick visits are Las Vegas and San Diego, my old stomping grounds.