Michael Simson, a star salesman in the cellular analysis unit at Invitrogen, was moving up in the corporate world. His business group had recently been cobbled together through the acquisition of a number of small antibody manufacturers, and he was now selling multiple product lines and winning sales awards for doing it.
Through multiple conversations with customers and colleagues, Simson had also come to a conclusion. The current antibody distribution model was broken: customers didn’t want to buy large and expensive quantities of antibodies, only to find out they didn’t work. Rather, they were calling for smaller sample sizes. An affordable amount, enabling them to try out a number of different antibodies and find the right one for their research.
Simson took his idea to the CEO: sell antibodies in batches of ten micrograms for $50 per batch. The CEO loved it. The directors loved it. The product managers didn’t love it quite so much.
And unfortunately, as happens so many times in large corporations when it comes to innovative and disruptive ideas, the company decided to pass. Add to this the Invitrogen/Applied Biosystems merger, which took place in 2008, creating the massive combined company Life Technologies, and you have a perfect storm. After the merger Life Tech eliminated their cell analysis unit entirely and disbanded the sales team.
Mike had a choice: stay on and fight his way into a new position at Life Technologies, or take on the challenge of starting a company based on his vision. Mike decided to take the risk, and in the process revolutionize the sales and distribution of antibodies to the life science community.
One World Lab
Michael Simson and Ken Anderson met in 1999. The two grew up together in Newbury Park, California, north of Los Angeles. After high school Mike went on to earn a B.S. in biochemistry at Pepperdine and launched his career in life science. Ken joined a tiny auto parts distributor in sales, and helped grow the business over the next sixteen years, eventually reaching over $10 million in annual revenue.
As Mike thought about how to bring his vision to life, Ken immediately came to mind. With his years of experience in operations and distribution, as well as their long-term friendship and shared trust, Ken would be a great partner in the new business venture. The two joined forces, and One World Lab was incorporated in San Diego in 2010.
Mike began attending conferences and talking to potential customers and antibody manufacturers. He learned that re-sellers dominate the business by licensing, re-labeling and re-selling antibodies to their customers, often times with a very high markup. He came to realize that not only did researchers need a more affordable and practical option for purchasing antibodies, many manufacturers also desired a clear visibility and brand recognition. Why should a re-seller get all the credit and profit when a new antibody was a success?
One World Lab officially launched its online platform in 2012. The company started with three manufacturers and 300 products. They now work with 21 manufacturers and offer over 35,000 products on their website.
Barriers To Entry
Of course there are always obstacles to overcome for any new business with the potential for disruption. Some antibody manufacturers fear that smaller test sizes will cannibalize sales of full-size quantities. And other manufacturers are happy to stay out of the limelight while re-sellers handle the relationship with the end user.
Another challenge is that many researchers don’t realize just how powerful the re-sellers are, and that they’re paying much more than they should for their antibodies. Many times they are even buying the same product from two different re-sellers without realizing it. The lack of transparency in the current business model results in huge inefficiencies for scientists.
Mike believes the manufacturer’s fears are unfounded. By making their products available for side-by-side testing and thereby reducing the researchers’ risks, they will eventually sell more product than ever. And by promoting their own brands, they will take back profits, and credit, currently going to re-sellers.
Crowd-Sourced Review Platform
Mike and Ken came up with a solution to ease these fears. Over the last two years they’ve been compiling a database of customer-generated product reviews. These reviews will provide feedback to the manufacturers and help them to improve their product lines. Customers have the option to make their reviews public, or maintain their privacy depending on the needs of their research.
The reviews will also help researchers to compare notes on the different antibodies they’ve tested. With this information, they will be able to find and test the right products for their needs much faster and more affordably than before.
One World Lab is currently developing the new public-facing review platform, and plans to launch it in the very near future. In the meantime, their business has been growing. Mike says that the majority of their customers come from academia, including some of the most prestigious institutions in the country.
These include UCSD, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, as well as research institutes such as Sanford-Burnham, Scripps and Salk.
And according to Mike, the new efficiencies created by One World Lab’s business model are leading to scientific breakthroughs. For example, one of their customers was able to measure all the modification sites on a protein of interest, and then publish in a top journal. If the researcher had been forced to buy large quantities of antibodies from re-sellers this would never have been possible due to budget limitations.
In other words, the researcher was able to buy test quantities of antibodies at an affordable price, run tests, and then move on to the next, all without breaking the bank.
We wish Mike and Ken all the best. Long live innovation in science, and the business models that make it happen.
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