In this blog we explore the Repositive journey. We find out how the Cambridge-based genomics data exchange scaled up from 7 employees to 35 employees. Co-founder Adrian Alexa shares how much funding was required to build the business and the tricks and tips he recommends. Questions posed are as follows:
What does Repositive do and how does it do it?
Repositive’s aim is to help researchers in industry and academia to find the genomics data they need to power their research. Repositive is creating a marketplace for data providers and data researchers to match their needs in a quick and easy way.
Why did you create the company?
Since the rise of the internet, online marketplaces have solved problems of disconnected supply and demand across many industries, for example in the consumer space you will have seen matching type companies like Booking.com, Expedia and Moneysupermarket have arisen to meet the needs of their specific audience.
We started Repositive because we recognised the disconnect between supply (data sources) and demand (researchers needing data) within the field of genomics and we wanted to create a platform solution.
We knew that discovery of the genomics data was difficult and that it was time consuming for researchers and pharma companies to work together effectively when doing research into genetics. We created Repositive to speed up this process, to make data easily accessible and provide opportunities for collaboration and deeper understanding, therefore adding value.
Four years ago in August 2014, we started out by mapping the landscape of genomic data sources for research and we discovered the research communities around medical specialities such as oncology and rare diseases. Originally, we provided lists of useful resources for each area, then for oncology we started taking a closer look at the market for cancer models. We then started to work on how to best list data for cancer models.
We worked very closely with oncology researchers to go deeper into the genomic data to enable them to find what they really needed. The Repositive platform has evolved from there.
How did you get your first customers?
In September 2016 we launched our first discovery platform. We approached AstraZeneca as part of our market research and they pointed us to the importance of accessing data for cancer models to unblock their drug discovery pipeline.
We then developed the platform to support cancer models by engaging with AstraZeneca and other partners in a pilot project and they helped validate the platform on the biotech side. We were delighted that such a big and influential biopharmaceutical company was interested in partnering with us.
I think Repositive is seen as a platform to not only to help answer research questions more quickly, but to improve the research process itself.
What marketing did you do to attract stakeholders and customers along the Repositive journey?
The Repositive journey started by using a company specialising in branding to design our logo and website and we employed a full time marketing executive until 2017.
Our focus at that time was raising awareness of our company so we concentrated on getting press coverage, writing blog articles, social media and securing speaking opportunities for our CEO, Fiona Nielsen.
In 2018 we employed a content marketing professional to continue with the blogging and social media (Twitter and LinkedIn) and she started to arrange bespoke events and stands at trade conferences. Our aim is to bring translational researchers together so that they can connect and share information and of course discover new information by using our platform.
Eventually we would like to see our stakeholders and customers generating their own content to bring even more value to the research community.
Did you use any management/startup theories eg lean start up when starting your entrepreneurial journey?
Yes, we read lots of books and my co-founder Fiona is a real book worm with a thirst for new knowledge. We used the lean startup approach (as mentioned above with AstraZeneca) as well as Blue Ocean Strategy which is a way of looking at competitor intelligence.
We read books on how to hire and fire eg Who by Geoff Smart, who describes how to hire staff. We clued ourselves up about how to build teams, employment law, managing conflict, pitching to investors, marketing and more.
The Repositive journey also involved doing training organised by Cambridge Network. We joined its School for Scaleups in 2016 and found its seven module course very helpful as we were part of a small group of people and could learn from our peers too. I’d like to see more companies joining peer groups such as these.
In terms of day to day operations at Repositive, we used the agile methodology using sprints and stand ups. We continue to learn from how we do things and reiterate to improve, it all takes time but it’s worth it to encourage smarter working.
When did you seek investment and why at that point?
Repositive was structured as a social enterprise and impact venture. The Repositive journey started as being part of Social Incubator East and we are incorporated with the benefit corporation principles of the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.
We did some pitching and in November 2015 we went in front of the Cambridge Angels and Jonathan Milner founder of Abcam, invested in us.
Why did he invest in us? I think it was because he saw the potential of the business, the energy of us as a founding team and we showed that we had 150 stakeholders involved in the business and that we were working with them to validate our proposition.
How much did you raise?
We raised £300,000 in January 2015 which enabled us to start building the platform, then we raised another £500,000 in January 2016 and then in February 2017 £2.5 million.
What were you able to achieve with that first tranche of funds?
With our first tranche of money we were able to start hiring. Our MVP – minimal viable product – or “The duct tape piece of software” as I like to call it – help enable the next funding round.
With the half million pounds we were able to launch the platform and index more than 35 repositories and 1 million data sets.
We then started growing the community and now have over 2000 users using the platform. It’s been important to keep the focus on what we can achieve with the additional funding and reach major milestones.
What would you have changed if you had had your time again?
Although we have given our best throughout the Repositive journey we lacked experience in building a team. In hindsight we would have bought in more senior people earlier instead of recruiting just junior people at the beginning.
If we had had our time again we would have got even closer to the customer earlier to unlock value and focus on that. Also we didn’t have a very strong network, so I think we would have worked on developing that and bringing in the senior people earlier on because experience matters.