Back in 2014 when PLab was first funded, one of the first hires wasn’t an employee, but a contractor….HappiLabs. Bootstrapping their way into existence, HappiLabs provides a service called the Virtual Lab Manager, specializing in purchasing lab supplies and equipment. HappiLabs has provided clear savings to PLab both in terms of time and money.

Here I’ll focus on 2015 spending to show how a HappiLabs Virtual Lab Manager brings value to any lab in the world, especially a biotech startup. Before we dig into the financial savings, I want to highlight the full purchasing process and the time associated. It’s not as simple as “I need something. Order it. It arrives in 3 days.” There’s a lot more behind the scenes work that goes into ordering, which academics take for granted with help from their departmental or university purchasing systems. The entire purchasing cycle takes place in seven steps over the course of a few days to weeks.

Remember, in the world of startup biotech, you’re on your own.

Hire a virtual lab manager

  1. Identifying supplies to buy involves Google and phone calls to tech support/sales reps when buying something new. Sometimes PLab does this themselves, sometimes they send the research to our Virtual Lab Manager. This saves 15-60 minutes per request for PLab scientists.
  2. Finding the best pricing is what HappiLabs specializes in. PLab doesn’t bother with this and trusts HappiLabs will find a supplier with the lowest cost. If PLab had to do this themselves, they’d be on the phone even longer trying to get quotes from suppliers. In addition to the cost savings (discussed below), HappiLabs has relationships with suppliers so communication is quicker and they can leverage their purchasing power.
  3. Placing orders is not always as easy as logging in, click…click….click…done. Sometimes it’s a 5-15 minute phone call as you check stock, double check pricing, and provide your credit card info. The simplest order will still take at least 5 minutes online. Go ahead, time yourself. PLab scientists don’t have to waste time doing this.
  4. Receiving an order confirmation should not be taken for granted. Just because you called in an order or placed it online, DO NOT assume the order is being processed. Most scientific suppliers are not as awesome as Amazon, and mistakes happen. Make sure you get a confirmation # otherwise you’ll be waiting and waiting and waiting for an order that was never processed. HappiLabs always gets a confirmation #, and once (only once!) in 1.5 years did Sangeetha get mad at HappiTom for making this mistake. 🙂
  5. Tracking shipping estimates is more important than you know, especially with the big suppliers. DO NOT trust their online estimates. Always call, and even so, believe no one until you have a Fedex or UPS tracking #. HappiLabs keeps PLab running efficiently by staying on top of ETAs so experiments can be planned accordingly. There are no surprise backorders with a Virtual Lab Manager. HappiLabs spends about 5 minutes per order assuring this.
  6. Making sure the shipment gets to the right person is one of the most amusing moments of the purchasing cycle. HappiLabs has their secret as to how this happens and packages are rarely lost at [email protected], where there are 26 other companies receiving packages.
  7. Finally, filing the invoice for accounting takes about 8-12 minutes per order. HappiLabs keeps accounting in order for easy filing during tax season. Tracking down an invoice isn’t always easy. Some suppliers automatically email you, but many don’t, and then there’s the occasional mischarge that only gets caught if someone is monitoring invoices. The most common mistake occurs when applying a promo code when ordering but it doesn’t get invoiced with the discount.

PLab has set a rough variable-costs monthly budget of $10,000. 2015-to-date, PLab has spent $90,350.65 on lab supplies from 59 different suppliers. The List Price for these items is $111,107.04, resulting in a 19% savings. List Price is the price shown on a website. HappiLabs’ #1 Shopping Rule is: Never pay list price without asking for a discount or finding an available promo code.

Calculating savings is not always easy though. In the long run, a Virtual Lab Manager move faster and makes fewer mistakes. A lot of the savings and time is unquantified, but think about it….a scientist or an expert sitting at a computer with a load of resources and tools behind them — who do you think will do the job better?

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