To all our Quartzy users, supporters, and the research community,
An important change is coming to Quartzy: We are going to start charging businesses (biotech pharmaceutical companies, and similar for-profit customers) for our software. We’ll continue to support our non-profit (Academic and Government) labs for free.
This is an important shift, but it has become clear that to keep growing Quartzy as the innovative software that we and our business users want it to be, we’ll need to support its development in a whole new way. This post outlines the details, but the short version can be stated in two bullet points:
- Business customers want Quartzy to add more new features, faster ― and we want that, too
- Charging these users for Quartzy is the best way to make that happen
Read on for details of why we’re doing this, how it may affect you, and what comes next.
What's driving this change?
Jayant and I met at Columbia University after I had received my MD/PhD in immunology and while he was a postdoc in neuroscience. We both knew that some creative chaos was essential to research, but we bonded over the “bad” logistical chaos with which our labs struggled and we set out to create a new way to calm the chaos.
The idea was simple: We’d develop software that would make it easy for research organizations to manage their lab supply workflows from requisitioning to delivery to inventory management. We’d support our business by selling the supplies our users tracked through the software. This way, researchers would get the software for free, which, as former researchers ourselves, made us feel good.
And it worked…kind of. For the first three years we poured our own money into the company, made zero revenue and just focused on creating lab supply workflow software that people would actually use. During these years the software itself was in a constant state of innovation. We’d talk to users, discover what would make their experience better, and build it. If you were with us then, you’ll remember those fruitful talks as well as we do.
By 2014, we felt the software was in a good enough place to begin the next phase and we started selling supplies on Quartzy as a distributor.
The demand was immediate, and the learning curve incredibly steep. We discovered we needed to make investments in our data backend, our relationships with suppliers, the purchasing functionality, our logistics, our customer service team, and even our finance department. By the start of this year 2020, the distribution business had grown dramatically. We had a fulfillment center on each coast with the ability to ship to 85% of our customers within 3 days, and top-rated customer support.
But this growth came at an unexpected cost: our capacity to innovate on the core software that’s the foundation of the whole Quartzy experience. We now have thousands of feature requests from users, many of which can add tremendous benefit. But we haven’t been able to build them because the distribution business requires continuous attention from all of our teams.
At the end of 2019 we reviewed our software development roadmap. We saw that all of it was focused on the distribution business, with few resources left to spend on improving Quartzy software. It was clear that the distribution business could not fund development of the Quartzy platform.
We spent months thinking through different options, talking to customers, modeling scenarios, and discussing it all with our team. What we discovered is that while we thought we were providing a single integrated value to our customers, we were in fact providing two distinct values:
- Increased research productivity via a lab management platform
- A great shopping experience as a national distributor
That’s when the lightbulb went on: To keep improving the Quartzy platform, we’d have to charge for it.
WTH? You promised it would stay free?!
It’s true. In the past we’ve said we’d always be free, and for many of you this announcement may breach your trust. If I were in your shoes I might feel the same way. Please know that we’ve had many sleepless nights wrestling with this decision. The hard truth, though, is that this is the clear way forward. To improve the platform, to improve the user experience, we have to charge for the value it is providing.
What does the future look like?
Here’s the exciting part! With your support, this transition will unlock incredible improvements to our software, which will help your team reach its goals faster. Here are some of the specific areas we’re committed to enhancing:
Many of the feature requests in our backlog are related to adding flexibility to our core platform offerings to accommodate request or inventory workflows for different organizations. Things like customizable approval paths, additional inventory locations, and even adjustable notifications. With this transition, we can bring those features to life!
While Quartzy is important for keeping your request → inventory → request workflow cycle as seamless as possible, that workflow interacts with many others, including accounting, electronic lab notebooks, robotic automation stations, and even journal articles. Going forward, we’ll devote resources to making it as easy as possible to get information into and out of Quartzy, so you no longer need to copy and paste!
Physical ↔ Digital Transition Points
Understanding that you need something is a physical experience: You notice something is running low, or you read a new protocol and want to try it. Receiving material for your experiment and putting it where it belongs is also a physical experience. Quartzy exists between these experiences, and some of the greatest pain our customers experience is at the transition points from the physical to the digital world. We’ll invest in tools such as a native mobile app to make these transition points as frictionless as possible.
Part of what makes Quartzy valuable is that it gives lab administrators an opportunity to ask questions about the spending patterns in their labs. Currently, you can only download your history and conduct that analysis yourself manually. With this transition we’ll give lab administrators more advanced analytical tools, so you can ask and answer questions quickly from within the platform itself.
Summing it all up
Research is unique because it actually requires a bit of chaos for progress to ensue. You try twelve antibodies to find the one that fits your application, or six alterations to your media to grow a specific cell line. When dozens of researchers are all tweaking experiments or trying out new protocols at the same time while sharing supplies, keeping the lab’s supplies organized is a real challenge.
We’ve spent a decade building Quartzy to make that process easier. Now we ask that you take a moment to consider the value Quartzy has added to your research organization - and the added value that new features will bring to your lab. We’d love for you to continue this journey with us.
Thanks for your partnership, your ideas, and your ongoing support. And as always, happy experimenting!