Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

After ~20 years in research, I made the leap into a commercial role. For the past nine years I have functioned on the dark side – selling equipment to scientists who are pure of heart. As a postdoc I did most of the ordering for years. Tips, tubes, plastics, media, microfuges, all the consumables and minor equipment. I know how disruptive it can be to have generalists and account managers walking in and out of the lab trying to sell you stuff.

Now, I am often the person walking through the door and the most common interaction I have had with customers is:

Me (walking into lab): Hey, how you doing, I’m Rob from GE. 

Customer: GET OUT SATAN! GET THEE OUT!!!!

Alright, that might be a slight exaggeration, but scientists are wary of salespeople and jealous of their time. What they do not realize is that they might be losing out on advice that could improve their chances at funding.

Wait, did I just say that? Some salesperson is going to improve your chance at publication and funding? Yes.

Through my time in science I did reproductive biology, cell biology, neuroscience and developmental biology. I have used (to some degree) human tissue, mouse, chicken, zebrafish, sharks, rays, and urchins. My techniques were pretty broad from IEF to Sanger sequencing, from oocyte isolation to cutting brain slices. I won’t be walking in and telling anybody how to do any of this work. The closest I come is to enjoy watching and chatting about it on Twitter. But, I have been doing microscopy for 25 years and in that area I can offer some advice.

I might never walk into a cytoskeleton lab and tell them how to perform their TIRF or a neuro lab and tell them how to image living, moving mice. There are a lot of world experts who don’t need to hear from me when it comes to techniques. On the other hand, I have trained hundreds of people and I have done trouble-shooting on an equal number of systems. More importantly, I have seen the mistakes your labbies are making that might be costing you time, money, and results.

As a salesperson I walk into a lot of imaging facilities or labs. I have walked into high-end cores and seen incredibly poor standards. I have seen people imaging samples for HHMI investigators with oil on dry objectives because if it works for one objective it must be good for all of them. One of my favorites was a user doing “DIC” on a scope without DIC. Labs who explain their lasers are out only when they look through the eye pieces and not when they actually scan their samples. There are a number of labs I know who have published questionable data based on manipulating images and not knowing what they are doing. It is a good idea for researchers to guard their valuable time, but wasting it using bad techniques is worse. Every time someone in your lab makes a mistake on a piece of equipment it costs you money and time, which you can never recover and which your competitors might not be wasting.

In every one of the cases above, the faculty probably paid a lot of money to someone for their microscope system. Why not create a relationship with those microscope companies and ask them for help so these basic mistakes don’t happen? Most of my colleagues come from the same background as I do, PhDs who have run labs, cores, or published good papers before deciding they wanted something different. Use us, that is what we are here for. Ask us:

  •  Do you have a training manual we can use for our own training?
  • Do you provide a special training for the person in our lab/core that will be training others?
  • Can we get an initial training and then follow-up at 30/60/90 days as new questions arise?
  • Would you be willing to provide a formal/informal user group meeting every year so everyone can get up to date on new software or hardware changes?
  • Can I have your cell phone number, the apps support number, and the local service tech number?

I don’t know about you, but I feel like anyone who buys a piece of equipment should have as good a relationship with that company as they do with their local barista or cashier at their regular grocery store. Yes, we can provide insight into doing TIRF and multi-photon, but we can also help your lab run more smoothly and efficiently. Try us.

First off, I don’t think I have blogged two days in a row since those halcyon days of political blogging in the late ’00s. Maybe this will start a new habit for me, maybe not. Yesterday, I wrote about the satisfaction that one gets from making eyes pop with a new and better way of doing something. There is no better feeling when you are working on the commercial side of science. I thought it would only be fair to treat the other part of this emotional roller coaster and one that is much harder to deal with – making your customer’s eyes burn with anger. Here are three examples that are somewhat specific to equipment sales, a brief description of mistakes made, how I handled them at the time, and lessons learned.

  1. We don’t do that anymore.” Early in my sales career I found that our organization promised a manual tweak to an instrument for our customer. Once the system was delivered and installed and it was time for the tweak, those of us in the field were informed by the office that we didn’t provide that service anymore because of the implications of new FDA regulations. There was anger and righteous indignation. We did as much of the work ourselves that was allowed and then found a third party vendor that would finish the tweak. Lesson Learned – try to ask for clarification internally about any process or promises with which you are not familiar and that are not written out clearly in the quote. If you are a customer know that anything quoted is under contract, but anything promised is possible or probable, but not certain. Priorities change. Economics change.
  2. What do you mean it won’t scan that fast?” I walked into this situation where a previous sale had been completed without a demonstration – not my sale. It was insinuated that the system would scan a sample at a certain frame rate. The system arrived and it would not do that frame rate under normal conditions. Eyes burned with hatred, venom was throw, spittle was spittled. At me, because I was the guy who showed up. After walking through what they were looking for, I showed them a super-secret hidden feature that could be activated in the .ini file that would allow for faster scanning at a lower resolution. They were only looking for intensity data and not images so this fit their needs. Hugs were exchanged, backs were slapped. Lesson Learned – try to know your product inside and out and if you don’t, then have some good people on speed dial. If you are a customer, see the result you want or talk to someone who is doing the same type of work.
  3. He doesn’t work here anymore.” The downside of having a great support person is that they don’t always stay with the same company. People want to recruit them away. In one case, we made a sale that was at least partially based on an awesome application specialist, who then left the company before the system was installed. It happens, but it is never a fun conversation. There isn’t much you can do except to put the customer in contact with whoever will be filling in the gap while a new person is hired. Lesson Learned – the goal for company and customer should be a clear path to independence with some occasional technical help around complicated experiments or analysis. Don’t ignore the technical expertise of the company that is selling you the equipment, but don’t rely on it long-term either.

Going through this list reminds me of an article at HBR about character traits shared by top salespeople. One key trait was conscientiousness. Make sure expectations are clear on both sides. Don’t risk confusion after the sale because you don’t want to rock the boat during the sale. Rock the boat, make sure everything is in the open.

Making Eyes Pop

There is nothing better, when you are in a commercial role, than teaching someone a new way to do things and watching their eyes pop. Recently, I had the pleasure of watching a senior faculty member experience some eye-popping results, but how it came about was different than what you might expect.

I have waited awhile and won't mention names, but this lab was doing what I would call "grad student grinding" experiments. Here is the protocol we have used for 20 years, it involves a lot of manual microscopy and even more manual analysis. Each experiment, from the time you put it on the microscope, will take you at least a full day to do correctly. We ran a Proof-of-Principle experiment on a high content system and gave them results to analyze in a few minutes. We then showed them how to automate the analysis and get those results in a few minutes as well. Here is where things were unexpected.

During our initial visits we discussed this with the graduate student doing the work and they had no interest whatsoever. Later, we ran into the faculty member behind these studies and mentioned what we were demonstrating, without realizing the above-mentioned graduate student was from that lab. The faculty member was very excited and from there the demo proceeded. So, contrary to the jokes many of us post on Twitter, in this case it was the senior faculty that saw the advantage to changing methods and the grad student who was stuck in "this is how we have always done it" mode.

Are you questioning "this is how we have always done it" in your organization?

 

The volume of the gas is considered equal to the volume of the container…Gas particles are far apart and will fill a container of any size and shape.

So, gas will expand or be compressed to fill its container. I find the time involved in raising kids to be the same way. It doesn’t matter if you have 1 or 4, they will fill your time. All of it. 

Likewise, for me the amount of parental freaking out I do it inversely proportional to the amount of freaking out already happening. More freaking out by someone else, I’m good. Kids acting crazy and there is no one else around? Prepare for me to fill that container. 

I was reminded of this during our second trip to the beach this morning. Kid4 was being whiny and not having fun. But, I found myself feeling pretty zen. Then, I realized there was a grandparent behind me that had been flipping out at her grandkids over small things. They seemed to be well behaved to me, so I guess subconsciously I felt the freak out container was full so my potential freak out level was zero. 

You know that line from the Hulk? Maybe the key to less freaking out for me isn’t to try and be zen, but to try and empathize with everyone in the situation. Feel their stress, internalize their stress, be less stressed myself. 

Peterson Beach

When you can’t go to the beach, do your best to bring it to you. 

Mushroom Coffee

About to have my first @foursigmatic mushroom coffee with cordyceps and chaga. Will post any positive or negative effects in comments. 

I am quickly becoming a shroom convert, the legal kind! My next task will be to make my own mushroom logs.

My laptop has been down and gone for about a week and a half. I have been working using my iPhone and iPad. But, there are just some things that I can’t accomplish using those devices. It’s been kind of nice! Here are a few positive side effects of not having a laptop. 1. Figured out some new apps on the iPad. It’s hard to do to finger typing for in-depth work on the iPad. I’ve been using some notes apps and writing apps that are very useful. Now I need a good organization App. 

 2. Visual planning. I got a big drawing pad and a bunch of colored sharpies and wrote out or drew my strategic plan for the year. I even uploaded this plan to our company website as a picture. No text.

 3. I picked up the phone! So easy in this day and age to just keep bouncing emails back-and-forth between people. But, that is less easy when you have to to finger type everything on the iPad. So, I have been picking up the phone and calling people to resolve issues or set up long-term plans. Definitely a change I will be keeping.
I will be getting my laptop back today. I am hoping to be more productive, and yet not forget the lessons of the great laptop drought of 2017.

Mushroom coffee

Okay, am I a total marketing pawn? Sure. But, I am thinking of trying out the mushroom coffee from @foursigmatic . I like the idea of decreasing the caffeine content and the acidity. 
On a related note, my dentist just told me my Seltzer is eating away my enamel. Anyone have a pH meter I can use to look at the acidity of my water?

I am using Siri to write this as I walk around the casino. Forgive any Errors. I don’t have enough time to proofread.Bit of a weird situation, since my first night in Vegas is for a business meeting. Flew out. Had a big company dinner until about nine. And basically went back to my room and went to bed. Woke up at 4 AM did some work and head to the gym. My take on the casino, is that there isn’t enough gambling. I realize that probably sounds weird.  casino is basically restaurants and shops. There’s actually very little gambling going on. I guess my time and casinos was back in the late 80s and early 90s when It was about to gambling.