I had been a life science reagents and equipment consumer for about 10 years, and have now been on the sales and marketing and technical support side of the same market for another
1112 years. Here are four reasons why I enjoy (dare I say love?) this market segment:
1) The customers. Believe it or not, scientists are wonderful people to work with. Smart, (in almost every case) personable, they have really hard problems to work on and are working for a much greater good, whether solving world hunger or finding a cure to cancer. I can’t think of any business or employment where I can interact with such a great group of people, and I’m not limiting my comment to my co-workers!
2) The barriers to entry. Both the competitive landscape and working for a vendor of life science reagents or equipment: there are high barriers to entry into this particular field. A background in the research field, in particular molecular biology / cell biology / genetics / protein biochemistry / biotechnology / pharma is a requirement for many (assuming the function is on either R&D or a commercial role, rather than something generic such as finance, IT, manufacturing or operations). So new entrants for the competitive landscape will comprise of ‘known quantities’ from the 300-odd vendors of life science reagents and equipment, leaders and managers and others who have been focused on this segment of this industry. Occasionally there will be movement at a higher managerial level across industries (say medical devices, or healthcare, or semiconductors) but it is the exception rather than the rule. Thus in this narrow world, you bump into the same people over and over again; when I track down my old Marketing colleagues from my days at QIAGEN out of the Santa Clarita office (California), so many have gone to other places in the 9 years since I worked there. Sigma-Aldrich; Thermo-Fisher; Illumina; KPL; Agilent Technologies; New England Biolabs; Ingenuity; DNANexus; Applied Biosystems (now Life Technologies); Invitrogen (now Life Technologies); Ion Torrent (now Life Technologies). (Oops, got carried away there.)
3) The pace. Intense competition in whatever product area you face is a daily reality. Long gone are the days of superior technical performance that customers have been ‘locked-in’ for years and years; the pace is intense as a result. If you are looking for routine and established and regular, look into other industries and market segments, frankly like working for a government organization (I am not kidding here, and I do have many friends who do work for organizations like the FDA and CDC), or a franchise business for that matter. (Looking in the back pages of Entrepreneur magazine or Inc. magazine can be an inspiration on those long plane rides, just another tip there for you.) The life science tools space is not for the faint of heart – the pace is fast, the work is demanding, and many times it seems like the ‘churn’ is unending. Yet soldiering on and rolling with all the waves of change, and making adjustments to plans is all part of the fabric of work. True enough for other industries, as I compare notes with friends in healthcare or manufacturing or service industries, but even moreso it seems.
4) The openness of customers to try something new. This is part of #1 and leads to the intensity of #3; researchers want a competitive edge against their own competition, and thus are always on the lookout for doing what they are doing better, faster and cheaper. The vendors will come up with better and faster and cheaper (okay not always cheaper but usually better and faster); and customers (depending on their relationship with their sales representative, the information at-hand, the urgency of the need and perhaps the recommendation of a trusted colleague or peer), will usually give it a try. Thus tiny little companies with the barest of offerings can find a comfortable niche; regardless of the existing catalog of products (my own employer has thousands of products on offer, something north of 50 thousand) there’s room for a small company to offer some new antibody or labeling method or transcriptase enzyme or oligonucleotides synthesized from purified squid (I am not kidding about the squid, if the ‘rumor mill’ is correct…)
So there you have it – some of the dimensions of why I enjoy what I do so much. There are many long days and crazy hours.
(Okay, I’ll indulge in one example. A recent ABRF meeting went over a weekend, and I had responsibility for a pre-conference workshop we sponsored, there were a total of 21 hours of booth duty spread across four days, we had six hours of the Ion Bus tours, we had a vendor workshop with three speakers, and a hour key opinion leader roundtable, all at the happiest place on earth. Being responsible for all of it (called a ‘show champion’) was an adventure, to say the least, and all part of the job.)