Thursday, July 3, 2008

Making the most of my startup

Ahhh, music to my ears: this very moment I am listening to my consultant lab manager have a conversation with a vendor about the upcharge VWR is putting on a big piece of equipment and driving him a hard bargain to get the price to match the lower one Fisher can get us for the exact same item.

And happiness is knowing I don't have to have any of those conversations!

We're trying an experiment: the woman who has been managing my PI's lab for the last couple of years is starting up a business as a "lab setup consultant." This lady knows her stuff, she knows all the vendors, reps, best quality discount supplies, how to combine orders to get freebies, and she is a tiger! She will hardball them and pit them against each other, all in the politest, sweetest conversational tone possible so they never know what hit them until they find themselves agreeing to throw in this or that extra, or take another N% off the already discounted price.

I am paying her far, far less than if I hired someone full time to just use about 1/4 of her time, with the added value of that skill and experience level, to help me make the most of my startup money for setting up my lab. She has already saved me thousands of dollars (even beyond the usual academic or institutional discounts) AND (this is the best part for me) she does everything so I can just focus on hammering out this last two months' worth of experiments to better characterize some of my systems while I still have everything setup in my PI's lab, and I don't have to have uncomfortable conversations or get upsold on the things I need. It's like having a personal shopper--the only decisions I have to make are about the particulars of things I am picky about like pipettor brand and 96-well filter plates (and, as pinus reminded me, big huge specialty items for which only I know what I want). I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!111!!1!1!

Think about it: if I had to do all this myself, I would be spending at least 1-2 months almost full-time sourcing, getting quotes, ordering, setting up all of this stuff. For less than it costs to hire even a part-time technician, I get more value for money and my own efficiency is increased a hundred-fold. By the time I move, most of what we need to start doing work in the lab will be ordered and I will have been able to advance the current state of the technology by two months at high productivity ratio (postdoc time), rather than it taking us about six months in the new lab to get to the same point as we get in gear.

If anybody else starting up a lab wants her contact information, let me know. Hah.

9 comments:

pinus said...

interesting idea...but will this only work when the person who is starting the lab has a similar line of work as you?

I have some pretty fancy equipment, and I am VERY particular it...to the point that I have to run the show with it.

Arlenna said...

Not for the vast bulk of the most annoying things to have to deal with. I also have some fancy equipment, and I handled the sourcing for all of those since I am also very particular about certain things about those pieces. But for all the more generic stuff, this is turning out to be an incredible timesaver for me.

Arlenna said...

Also, she helped me prepare my startup package wishlist to propose to my recruiting department chair, which was invaluable. It made sure I knew the real costs of everything to do with running my lab, not just the big stuff, so I could ask for an ambitious but realistic amount to maximize the efficiency of creating productivity as I begin.

It let me propose line items in my wishlist for all those things that add up that you might not think of, so that the chair was able to check off down the list and see in detail what it would take to run my research program and do his best to get me there.

pinus said...

I can see how it would be helpful.

I am hoping that I have enough lead time to take care of this before I get there...but somebody who has winning interactions with vendors could be so very helpful..is there any sort of regional specialty there...I know my VWR reps are different in current place than in future place..not sure that would matter.

On the topic of preparing a startup budget list: I prepared my list from lists from some other people who had just started labs that did similar work...oddly enough, the recruiting chair didn't even look at it...just offered a number he thought was fair..which turned out to be quite a bit over what I 'needed' according to the list.

Arlenna said...

There are some regional differences in actual sales reps, but they can usually direct you to each other so we've been introduced to the ones relevant to us. It's funny, too, how my current place is Fisher all the way so we buy a lot more VWR since their rep is trying to break into the market here, but my new place is monopolized by VWR so we are getting better deals from Fisher there. lol.

I think all chairs do things differently. Mine likes to be very have everything clear in writing and be transparent about his thinking, so he prefers a spreadsheet that he can use to do what he can for recruits. Normally having them just come up with a random number is not the best for the candidate, but that's awesome that it worked out that way for you!

Becca said...

Cool idea!
Note to self- to the degree I acquire industry contacts and mad bargining skills, mention them to prospective postdoc mentors as an interesting aside.

okham said...

Just make sure nobody taps into your startup funds for installing/replacing the blackboard in your office, fixing the broken door, for your door name plate, running ethernet cables, for chalk or markers, to purchase a new mailbox, for stationery... no, I am not kidding.

Man said...

Nice blog, and great comments from many others doing K99/R00.

I have submitted a new application in June 2009 (A0). I am in the 3rd year of postdoc and starting 4th year in 3 months.

I understand that K99 is a very very competitive award and given that its my first grant ever, many things could work against my favor. I wonder if I should already start looking for a job or something. If someone has gone through similar things, it will be great if they could share their experience and do's and don'ts.

TheManWithAPlan.

ch said...

Nice blog, very helpful. I submitted one this June. Could I submit another supporting letter before review?

Thanks.