#FoundersFriday with Jonathan Gross from Labguru
In our #FoundersFriday series we interview the founders of different scholarly communication businesses, asking them to share their advice for others and their perspective on the industry as a whole.
What made you decide to leave academia and launch your own business idea?
I really valued the freedom that academic research provided. I enjoyed the life at the lab, working with great people and running experiments, but I felt that I didn’t have the patience required to become a really good scientist, I was too impatient to see the results of my research. I came from a computer science background, where you write the code and you can see where the issues are. I loved the technical challenged in my work and overcoming research obstacles but I was always drawn back to coding. At the time a startup company called 37signals open-sourced a new web framework called Ruby on Rails and launched Basecamp. I started playing with Ruby on Rails in my free time (while waiting for my plants to grow) and I thought of ways I could utilize it to help research labs.
If you could go back in time and give your pre-startup self one piece of advice, what would it be and why?
I started my company pretty much at the same time as starting a family. Succeeding in doing both is a real challenge. If I went back in time I would talk with other entrepreneurs to understand the effort it takes to launch a startup, so that my wife and I could better understand the road we are choosing. Eventually it all worked out for us but it was rough at times. Running a software startup is a demanding task, there is always stuff to do, and even more as you grow. You’ll need to have really good communication with your spouse to make it work. You’ll need to be self-aware and learn how to operate with less sleep! And you’ll need to know when to stop – go to bed and get back to a problem with a fresh mind. Self-control is key to the success of your business.
Suppose I have an idea for a tool, or a solution for a problem, within the research landscape and I want to develop my idea into a business. What would your advice to me be?
Go for it! You have the best intuition and until you start you can’t really know if it is a great idea and if it will catch on. Ideas are easy, success requires dedication, hard work and luck. Know that you can control only two of these parameters. Your passion is the key factor for success. Talk with as many founders you can. Learn from their mistakes, understand what they learned from it. Use available tools to control and prioritize your work – develop a framework that can evolve over time, your business needs to learn how to shift priorities as it grows.
“I believe to be able to conduct reproducible research labs need to set guidelines on how research is conducted and documented. If you can’t read your team member’s handwriting, in his physical lab notebook, then don’t expect to have reproducible results!”
As the founder of a business, what are you most proud of?
I’m proud of many things. First would be my team, as on your own you can only take an idea so far. If you have a team behind you, that’s a great testament to your idea – that people are willing to invest their time into it. I’m proud of our users who bought into our vision of leaving the physical lab notebook behind. They are helping to shape how we do science, how we communicate results and failures within a lab.
In the scholarly communications and research tools space, it’s often said that people have the same conversations again and again, e.g. we need to improve reproducibility etc. Can you think of a particular issue that, in your view, people aren’t talking about enough?
The debate over reproducibility is an important one to have, but we try to look at it at the lab level – not at the publication level. I believe to be able to conduct reproducible research labs need to set guidelines on how research is conducted and documented. If you can’t read your team member’s handwriting, in his physical lab notebook, then don’t expect to have reproducible results! This discussion needs to start at an an earlier stage than publication, the problem isn’t just about the publication of un-reproducible results, it’s about lab procedures.
What does the future have in store for Labguru?
Labguru is evolving as our market evolves. There is still a lot I’d like to achieve with our offering to the market. We now focus much more attention on our experiment page, making it easier to do pretty much everything from one page, from typing in and planning an experiment to reviewing an experiment. The platform should make it easy to see the details of an antibody without navigating away. It should make it easier for PIs and project leads to communicate with the researchers on the bench. We work hard to remove data barriers, allowing faster data entry and linking the metadata with the physical samples. We have a great user base that provides us with key insights, so I’m pretty confident that going forward our roadmap is the right one.