Medolo start-up history

Denis JeanteurStart-up plan

Oportunity

Our first idea was to extract the scientific part out of patents, republish it formatted like a scientific journal, and distribute it to scientists. But we realized that on a small scale this would never be profitable. That is why I wrote a first business plan for an independent company that would do this on a large scale, but I didn’t find the right economic equation. Finally, in September 2014 we abandoned the idea..


Lesson learned

Size is important for economies of scale; It is difficult and risky to hire scientists full-time for such a repetitive task; Only computer automation can speed up services; Upfront cash needs should be reduced; Distribution costs should be reduced.

STM market

Concerning the distribution, the challenge was to enter the market. But my fixed costs and my start-up costs were too high – scientists have to work and produce data before we actually send the first issue. Break-even was too far away. As a consequence, my goal was to reduce production costs, distribution costs and payroll to a minimum.


Optimisation

Optimisation is always difficult concerning services, because the team is the main asset. The gains can come only from productivity and distribution. Process rationalisation is a solution for gaining productivity and another way is process automation. Moreover, to reduce distribution costs the most common solution is online paperless publication. Sadly this is not sufficient to solve the problem because the biggest cost is by far the analysts. You have to train them, verify their work. Finally the work is terribly boring and yet require real expertise. Hiring would be a major problem. STM market is a big and structured market that is profitable for the strongest but it is extremely difficult to find a place.

Dreaming

Dreaming is a powerful tool for strategic analysis because it allows you to move the walls, to change the rules and to picture the results under different angles.
I have dreamt about a world where all costs would be zero. Then I would like recruit for nothing a lot of scientists and computer scientists. But in this wonderland people are free (open) to choose their work. In fact this would be a pure competition. The concept of ‘employee’ would not exist and replaced by collaborators or free contributors. As a consequence, I would certainly make my best efforts to charm them by a value proposition beyond their dream: a non monetary retribution.


Management

In fact my management style would change because we have no grip on people and we want them to take possession of Medolo. Management would then be indirect: Empowerment Management.
The failure of my previous business models are not the only constitutive forces. Many other forces pushed me in the same direction and shaped the project. Let’s review some of them.

New economy

Economy is like the dual aspects of light: you can consider the rules of the brick and mortar economy, but you can also use the rules of new economy. They are two approaches but in the end it comes to the same thing.
In the new economy you have to think big from inception. Good is dematerialised so the costs of distribution can be negligible. You can even have the job done by your clients, if you enable them. But competition is very strong and search for the monopolistic position even stronger but never definitive. Entry barrier is not technology. The real barrier is marketing and communication. Moreover, there is a clear advantage for the first entrant if he managed to seize the market in all its dimensions.
This inspired me to find ways to enable my ‘customers’ and make them free contributors. Wikipedia is doing something like this. I learned from this example what it is to serve a community.
I knew also that I need to be fast, very fast. No success on internet was ever obtained slowly. Slowly you consume twice as much fuel and in the end you miss the market.


Commons

Thinking about some of the success like Linux, Apache, Mozilla and Wikipedia I rediscovered the value of commons and I read a few books on this subject (see bibliography online). Actually, this fits our subject very well because modern science is built on sharing and working together for the commons. I listed other non-monetary assets: trust, reputation, network, idea, etc. These will be my bricks.


SEMANTICS

Web 3.0 refers to the semantic web. In the beginning, HTML was mark-up language that described the meaning of different parts. Every browser (Mosaic, Lynx, Netscape) interpreted the code differently. Instead of deepening the semantic description, the HTML evolved into a layout descriptive language. As a result, pages are difficult to analyse by computers.
This is very true with scientific data. Without context they are just words or numbers. Humans are excellent at adding context to what they read, but computers at best guess the context.
I stopped thinking about publishing extracts at all. This was a trap. We can do much better, we can contextualise data. This is a very strategic move. Data is less tangible than a journal but so much valuable because open-data can be used in different ways. Operationally this is smart because the contextualisation requires a well-defined process and this is exactly what we need. It will be faster and easy to monitor. This is the occasion to take a position on scientific open data. We will let others profit from the data produced.
At this stage, I understood that producing for the commons with unpaid scientists requires the business to be a non-profit and, you will see after, an extremely transparent organisation.

Hybrid structure

Economy is like the dual aspects of light: you can consider the rules of the brick and mortar economy, but you can also use the rules of new economy. They are two approaches but in the end it comes to the same thing.
In the new economy you have to think big from inception. Good is dematerialised so the costs of distribution can be negligible. You can even have the job done by your clients, if you enable them. But competition is very strong and search for the monopolistic position even stronger but never definitive. Entry barrier is not technology. The real barrier is marketing and communication. Moreover, there is a clear advantage for the first entrant if he managed to seize the market in all its dimensions.
This inspired me to find ways to enable my ‘customers’ and make them free contributors. Wikipedia is doing something like this. I learned from this example what it is to serve a community.
I knew also that I need to be fast, very fast. No success on internet was ever obtained slowly. Slowly you consume twice as much fuel and in the end you miss the market.


Stakholders

The first concern is the community and the Medolo Institute will manage this. There are others stakeholders like employees, investors, public organisations, etc. For ethical reasons we do not want to treat all of them in the same ground as users or volunteer contributors. The MC structure is able to cope with the necessity to balance contradictory interests of the different stakeholders. Employees, funding partners and the users have balanced power on the basis of one person, one vote. I’m concerned about the team members, I want good salaries for them equivalent to the market and offer them excellent work-conditions and bonuses based on success.


Management

The very last point. I’m more a manager that a scientist. I love managing start-ups. During the maturation of Medolo at some stage I realised the size of what I was undertaking. All the rules that we have to follow, the leverage given by the community. I revised my socio-dynamic manual, my literature on knowledge management and I read a few other books and publications. I did 360° benchmark.

Medolo

The very last point. I’m more a manager that a scientist. I love managing start-ups. During the maturation of Medolo at some stage I realised the size of what I was undertaking. All the rules that we have to follow, the leverage given by the community. I revised my socio-dynamic manual, my literature on knowledge management and I read a few other books and publications. I did 360° benchmark.