Since opening its doors in 2008, ResearchGate has aimed to be the Facebook for scientists — a website for medical researchers to connect and share their findings. But following Facebook’s disastrous initial public offering last year, ResearchGate is spending 2013 trying to differentiate itself from the social-networking giant.
With a user base of 2.3 million scientists worldwide, ResearchGate has spent the past four years developing the site, spreading the word and getting members engaged. Now the company is focused on making money. Unlike Facebook, which generates the bulk of its revenue from display ads that run alongside profiles, ResearchGate is selling space to recruiters, conference promoters and marketers in the lucrative world of science and medicine.
For co-founder Ijad Madisch, that means hiring a sales staff for the first time. Madisch has an M.D. and Ph.D. and worked as a doctor before starting ResearchGate. Most of the 100 employees at ResearchGate’s headquarters in Berlin are programmers, scientists or both.
“I’m a medical doctor, so I have to learn everything from scratch,” said Madisch, 32, in an interview this week in San Francisco.
He’s not certain how many he will hire, but said he needs a head of sales and will employ people in Berlin and Silicon Valley. For help in finding the right U.S. talent, he’s leaning on Benchmark Capital’s Matt Cohler, who invested in the company and was previously an early employee at LinkedIn and then Facebook. He can also get help from venture investors Accel Partners and Founders Fund, which both have partners who made early bets on Facebook.
ResearchGate’s membership has quadrupled in the past year, with scientists from the U.S., India, Germany, the U.K. and Brazil signing on. They use the site to collaborate on projects, follow others with similar interests, find relevant publications and ask questions to a community of experts.
Increasingly, ResearchGate is becoming a place where scientists publish research directly, without going through the time-consuming and painstaking process of getting space in peer-reviewed journals, Madisch said.
With such an expanding audience of scientists, ResearchGate has grown into a natural place for universities, agencies and companies to search for specialized talent. The site has 16,000 job posts, which are free for employers. Starting now, it’s charging $100 to $300 a month for companies that want premium placement for their listings.
Madisch said that in the next few months, the company will introduce a service that lets conference marketers pay to promote events and another for companies that want to advertise products, devices, books and services to scientists.
Perhaps the biggest contrast to Facebook is the size of ResearchGate’s potential audience. While Facebook’s user base has ballooned past the 1 billion mark, Madisch estimates that there are just 7 million scientists in the world. So ResearchGate needs multiple revenue streams, because every user has to be that much more valuable.