Imagine if we heard the results of important climate studies as fast as celebrity pregnancy stories spread throughout our news feeds. Imagine if scientific discoveries multiplied at the rate new mobile applications hit the market. ResearchGate might open the doors to these transformative changes and many more as it looks to accelerate scientific advancement.
ResearchGate is a professional network for scientists, a platform where researchers and scientists from all over the world can share their findings, collaborate, and make a name for themselves. A Facebook for scientists if you will, this four-year old startup disrupts the publication of findings and has the potential to both enhance communication and modernize the experimentation process.
Dr. Ijad Madisch, co-founder and CEO of ResearchGate, studied medicine and computer science in Hannover and at Harvard University. After several years working as a radiology researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, he moved to Berlin to launch his company. The good doctor had this to say about his significant startup (No appointment required):
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website? Why is it better than the competition?
ResearchGate is my brainchild, and as parents do with their kids, I brag. It brings the web back to its roots. When Sir Tim Berners Lee created it, he had researchers in mind. But for over 20 years we’ve been using it now for pretty much everything except science. ResearchGate helps researchers connect, share their findings, and build reputation. This is for the greater good: we’re speeding up scientific discovery to solve problems that concern all of us.
Probably the greatest thing about ResearchGate is how researchers are embracing it, using the platform for their lab work in many different ways. We’ve seen a professor from Spain making a discovery in the field of biofuels together with a student from the Philippines. An Italian researcher used the network to do research on a pathogen with another scientist from Nigeria. Both pairs conducted successful experiments and published their work in peer reviewed journals. ResearchGate is becoming a part of how science works.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
Soeren Hofmayer, my friend and co-founder of ResearchGate, and I were brainstorming ideas when we came up with the name “ResearchGate.” We were looking for something that would reflect our idea of giving researchers easier access to knowledge, a gate to what they’re looking for.
What was your first computer? How old were you when you first got on the world wide web?
My first computer was a 386SX16. I was an early adapter. I got it when I was 15 years old and used it to write emails and to program simple web pages.
What time do you usually start work each day? How many hours a day do you usually work?
ResearchGate is my brainchild. I care for the company, which means that I’m pretty much always on.
When’s the last time you went on vacation and where did you go?
I didn’t go on vacation for about 10 years. This year I went to Fuerteventura for a beach volleyball camp. Lots of fun!
When do your best ideas come to you? In bed in the morning? During dinner?
My best ideas come late at night. Sometimes they even hit me in my dreams.
A lot of people have big ideas. What gave you the confidence to actually go after yours?
My own experience gave me the confidence. When I was working in the lab a few years back, I hit a stumbling block. Neither my colleagues, nor my boss could help me out. I noticed how inefficiently scientists were distributing their findings. That’s when the idea struck me, and that’s when I realized that I was onto a world changer with ResearchGate.
Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through.
This is a question of perspective. Back in the very early days we found solutions to challenges we faced day by day. Retrospectively, I’d say that the biggest struggle was to build a team that believed in the idea of ResearchGate as much as we did and to foster this spirit. I’m curious to hear what my answer to this question will be a few years from now.
How do you handle frustration? What has been your biggest professional frustration?
I’m rarely frustrated, but often impatient when things don’t happen as quickly as I want them to. What really helps me then is working out. I like to play beach volleyball, or I go for a run. Afterwards I feel much better. Exercise helps me to put things back into perspective.
What’s your office environment like? Do you listen to music? Watch movies? Play video games?
We’re very passionate about ResearchGate and often spend long hours at our desks. Especially those who work hard need restful breaks though. That’s why we’ve got a game room with foosball, table tennis, a PlayStation, air hockey and a pool table, along with a room where people can take a nap. This might be standard in the Valley, but it’s still highly unusual for Germany. I believe that it makes people happier to work in an environment they enjoy, where they like to spend their time. Happy and level-headed people are also better at what they do.
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
That’s a tough one. Five years ago I was still standing at the wet bench. Just a few years later my team and I built a professional network that 2.2 million scientists have signed up to. I hope that we’ll keep up the pace, and that we’ll leverage many, many more scientific discoveries. My ultimate goal is to win a Nobel Prize for ResearchGate. That might take a little bit longer though – the committee has to establish a new category first.
How’d you fund this venture? VC? Self-funding? Crowdfunded?
We’ve gone through two funding rounds, most recently closing our Series B in February 2012, which was led by Founders Fund partner Luke Nosek (co-founder of PayPal), with participation from Benchmark Capital, Accel Partners, and business angels Michael Birch (co-founder, Bebo) and David O. Sacks (founder/CEO, Yammer). Our Series A was led by Benchmark Capital, with participation from Simon Levene of Accel Partners and Michael Birch. Our seed investment mainly came from angel investors Joachim Schoss (co-founder Scout24) and Christian Vollmann (co-founder MyVideo, CEO eDarling).
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
At the beginning, I think it’s very important to have a good mentor who knows from experience what should happen at which stage. This will help you to focus on what’s important and not to waste energy on other things.
What other advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get started?
From my own experience, I’d say work with your friends. They’re the ones you can trust; you can rely on them. If that isn’t the case, they’re probably not the best friends after all.
What would you do if you had a year off and $500,000 to spend (on something other than work)?
I’d probably support a life science project, something from my field of interest, virology.
What is your music streaming player of choice, and what are you listening to right now?
At the moment I’m listening to Ludovico Einaudi, modern classical music.
Any specific numbers (funding, revenue, visitors) you might share that highlight your growth?
Since our Series A, we have decided not to disclose our funding numbers. However, in the past few months, we’ve hit some significant milestones, including growing to 80 employees. We’ve been rapidly expanding our user base, which has grown at a rate of 4,000 per day to more than 2.2 million registered users as of November 2012. Further, the engagement of our user base has grown to more than 50%. We also just acquired ScholarZ, a professional science network based in Germany.