|Credit: Alameda Labs|
Hi Chemjobber readers! Several months ago I quit my bench chemistry position without a new role lined up (a bit of free career advice: probably don’t do this) and decided I wanted apply my chemistry skills outside of the lab. So, in January, I started a small business designing and manufacturing custom, stainless steel-based Schlenk lines as Alameda Labs. I haven’t quite replaced my income from working full time, but I’ve done managed to sell a couple of lines. Total revenue: a not shabby $20k.
I’ve learned a lot in the short time I’ve been doing this and CJ has graciously given me the space to talk about my experience and give advice to people interested in going down a similar route.
Being unemployed sucks. I quit a bachelor’s level research position at a material science startup and instead of looking for a similar position, I decided to start interviewing for data science roles based on the software and math skills I’d developed at work. After a couple of months of interviews but no offers, I started to worry that I had made a horrible mistake by quitting and trying to change industries.
Apart from anxiety, being unemployed also gives you a lot of downtime. After doing my daily due diligence on the job search, I still had 4 - 6 hours of free time. I obviously had the time to try new things, so on New Years I pulled the trigger on an idea I’d been noodling on for a couple of months.
At the material science startup, I’d partnered with a chemical engineer colleague to develop a couple of stainless Schlenk lines to develop some pilot scale process chemistries. I realized that the stainless concept could be valuable to others when we noticed one of the staff research scientists had shifted all of his synthesis over to the stainless lines from a traditional glass line. The chemistry our scientist was doing required an hour-long dissociation/distillation step and he realized that on the stainless line he was able to cut that step down to minutes because of the more reliable and stronger vacuum it could achieve.
I made a single page website describing what I intended to sell and started emailing people that I knew. Two weeks later, no nobody’s greater surprise than mine, I got a call from a postdoc at a R1 University who wanted to a quote for a line.
All in all, I think the skills that make me good at entrepreneurship are the same things that made me successful at chemistry. Chiefly, I like to try new things and I’m resourceful. Starting out, I didn’t know how to make landing pages or set up Adwords campaigns, nor create Purchase Orders or engineering drawings. But between asking people in my network for help (to whom I am indebted and incredibly grateful for) and Google, I’ve managed to make it work. I’ve also found that if you can manage the highs and lows of doing research, you’ll find sales is really similar (I celebrated my first sale with an f-bomb and a couple of Tiger Woods fist pumps).
Thanks again to CJ for allowing me the space to write about my project. If you have any questions about what I’m doing or want feedback on any ideas of yours, feel free to email me directly at luke at alamedalabs.net. I’ll also try to show up in the comments.Thanks to Luke for his great story! Readers, any questions?