To celebrate the launch of our new video, Founder Euan Adie takes a look back over the first few years of Altmetric – from the initial idea to building the team we are today:
What first got you interested in altmetrics?
I used to work in bioinformatics, in a lab at Edinburgh University. I wrote a blog about interesting papers or methods I’d come across, and there was a great set of computational biology blogs by others that I’d read every day.
I found those blogs far more useful than, say, journal club. I always wondered why you couldn’t see links out to blogs from journal articles, or conversely have an index of which papers were being mentioned by who. There’s a lot of good discussion happening around research online and it isn’t usually linked to where it’d be most useful to see it, next to the research in question.
So that was one thing that got me interested in these kinds of ideas. The other was a broader problem about getting credit (and funding) for your work. It’s crazy that we still have to do things like write articles about datasets or software not because people need to read the article but because without it some people will assume it cannot be formally cited, and their uses may not be recognized.
What have been the biggest challenges in the first few years of Altmetric.com?
Just staying afloat! Not in the financial sense, as we were pretty lucky to have paying customers from fairly early on. But there was always a lot to do, and we were a very small team, in some cases with no prior experience in scaling up to meet new challenges.
Getting investment from Digital Science helped with this, as they were able to offer some support beyond just money. In particular Aldo de Pape at Digital Science was really helpful in a hands on kind of way in the early days.
What’s your favourite thing about going to work every day?
Interacting with the team. Which sounds really cheesy, but is true. One advantage of having a start-up is being able to choose who you get to work with.
It makes me very happy to look around and see talented, passionate people doing a much better job than I ever could solving technical problems, leading technology or marketing, in sales and in managing product development.
That and the free snacks box.
What advice would you give to someone else considering starting up their own company?
I’d suggest they do a thought experiment. What would they say to somebody considering a career in scientific research? I reckon the two paths are pretty similar.
It’s a potentially a very satisfying career but it’ll take over your life and while you can contribute something very positive to science it’s unlikely that you’re going to get rich or win a Nobel prize at the end of it.
A lot comes down to what you want to get out of the experience. I like being able to do things as a startup rather than just discuss them with dozens of stakeholders in endless meetings. I like being able to work on the kinds of problems I love without having to answer to others. The downside is that your start-up’s responsibility to its staff and customers falls ultimately on you.
More broadly the advice I’d give is:
- If you do decide to do it, think about a co-founder, you don’t need to go alone
- … then don’t put off jumping in, there is never going to be a ‘good’ time.
- Don’t assume that everybody else in the space knows what they’re doing. It’s possible succeed with hard work and luck, which is not the same thing.
If you could do it all again, would you?
Yes! Though I’d find co-founders. I wish the current team had been there from the start.
Don’t forget to check out Euan’s video interview on the Digital Science blog.