It’s no secret that we believe that user-generated content is changing the world by empowering consumers, brands… and now scientists? We were excited to meet Alex Hodgson, Managing Director and founder of 1DegreeBio. Alex’s site is the first of its kind, and it is one of the more interesting applications of ratings and reviews that we’ve seen to date. In the following interview, she tells us more about this unique online resource for the scientific community.
What is 1DegreeBio’s core mission and value proposition?
Biomedical researchers are the men and women who are responsible for finding answers to the most pressing questions in human health and disease. They are the forgotten few each time you reach for an Aspirin, take insulin for diabetes, or beat a cancer diagnosis, but their brains and excellence save lives every day. The path to discovery is a long and arduous road and is saturated with millions of products that are used in research protocols. 1DegreeBio is the first independent platform that puts all of these life science products and information under one roof and empowers researchers to rate and review the quality of these products. Our service allows scientists to quickly locate and evaluate products by tapping into the community’s experiences and identifying the best products to get on with their discoveries.
Where did the idea for this community come from?
Scientists rely on products ranging from lab equipment to consumable reagents, but are often overwhelmed when it comes to choosing tools and products. With rampant quality issues and a notable lack of even basic product/application information, the community is left guessing which products will yield the best results. Having worked in a laboratory which faced these difficulties daily, I knew firsthand of the implications with regard to this growing problem. For certain basic products, like research antibodies, over 50% of the products available lack basic information or are of insufficient quality which leads to over 1 Billion dollars in wasted spending each year. To put that into perspective, imagine you are a chef and that every time you need milk, you have to buy three different brands and hope that at least one carton isn’t spoiled. Now imagine each of those cartons cost ~$300 and you have to mix each with $1000 worth of other ingredients before you can begin to tell. Sound crazy? Well, unfortunately for the research community, this is a reality that they face every day.
Finding the right products has been more about following breadcrumbs, whispers, and smoke signals, than having the tools needed to make data-driven, educated decisions. I couldn’t get past the fact that we have thousands of online tools and apps on our smart-phones that tell us which hotels to avoid, which restaurant to go to, and which gadget we should buy next, yet we didn’t have a single tool that allowed the same to be done with the products essential to life-saving research. So we decided to build one.
How did you overcome their objections to do this in the first place? They tend to be a skeptical bunch.
Even eighteen months in, it’s still a work in progress. To begin with, we did our homework. We spent almost a year just taking feedback from both researchers and companies on the situation, then began creating potential solutions. My apartment was transformed in the early days to a giant Post-It note lair as we looked at elements of existing online tools, then, our own ideas, and added the feedback obtained from both stakeholders. We knew that the only way this was going to work was to make sure it was an exact fit to the culture itself and it really became a living experiment. We would come up with a hypothesis of elements that would work, put it together, and gave it to different groups to scrutinize. Some parts worked, others didn’t, so we would re-evaluate as to how to make improvements. The next iteration was brought to another group, and so on, until we got it right. At the end of the day, the whole team believes in what we are building and why we have to build it. The objections along the way have made us think more, work harder, and dream bigger.
What are some of the ways you incentivize participation for researchers?
We are in a market where commercial companies offer up to $50 per review. We can’t, and we don’t want to try to compete there, because that dangling carrot isn’t bringing them the desired reviews anyway. We knew that we needed to encourage participation, especially at the start, so we did what we have done all along; we asked the community what they wanted. What we heard was that it was important to them for the site to remain independent and that their efforts were always accessible to the community – so we are in the process of instituting Creative Commons licensing for all researcher-contributed content. When it came to methods to drive users to keep submitting reviews, the answers varied so our incentive programs take that into account. Users have the choice to convert the points they receive from each review into over 20 types of gift cards, cash equivalent donations to a highlighted charity, or a host of science-y swag.
Social media is just beginning to grow amongst life science researchers in the professional setting, so while we are very active on those channels, we also spend a great deal of time getting out to labs and talking to people face to face. We use our blog, forum, reviews, BioMessenger, and comments to create an interactive platform where experience flows around the world as freely as it does from one bench to the next. It’s not about rapid-firing 140 character ads, but rather building relationships within our circles.
How can life sciences brands get value from working with 1DegreeBio, and in what ways can they participate?
Getting your brand in front of a researcher is no easy task. Up until now, researchers relied on Google as their first step when looking for a product. That’s great for the handful of companies with huge product catalogues and high SEO budgets. Unfortunately, if you are one of the thousands of smaller manufacturers, distributors, or custom research organizations that are scattered in Google results pages 2 through 348, few researchers know you exist. Our platform allows companies to compete on a level playing field based on product quality, not size of marketing budgets or number of products. If Joe researcher is looking for XYZ antibody, all they care about is that the product will do what it is supposed to do. Quality comes first, brand comes second. Our platform is a forum for companies to reconcile those two elements while simultaneously closing the gap between themselves and researchers.
We offer all companies free basic listings. Companies can choose to upgrade their basic listings by selecting any of our marketing services ranging from premium listings with expanded product profiles and direct links to specific products on their website, to detailed analytics enabling access to dynamic market intelligence. Our BioMessenger, an internal messaging portal, not only enables researchers to connect with each other, but also offers companies the ability to address any product questions directly with the consumer. Our ratings widget offers companies the opportunity to embed their products’ reviews and ratings from our website, directly into their own.
Finally, we also encourage companies to be active within our blog and forums to share their experience with the community. The whole us-versus-them polarization between researchers and companies isn’t helping anyone. We are all parts of the same ecosystem. As researchers, we rely on the tools provided by companies, while companies rely on feedback and our determination for discovery to develop new tools.
What types of research and reporting are you conducting?
We are currently quite obsessed with understanding what researchers around the world are looking for, how are they going about their search, and more importantly what they aren’t finding. It seems basic, but in our market, companies including pharma and biotech, look to conferences, publications, and annual market research reports as ways to identify the next Big Thing. With thousands of scientists starting their research at 1DegreeBio, we can see instant trends, rather than having to wait months or even years through existing channels. This helps align the efforts of both the lab bench and manufacturers, to ensure researchers are not held back from exploring areas due to lacking research tools.