Hello, my name is Dino Santis and I'm the founder of Scible. We are a scientific search engine and community that is dedicated to providing unique and helpful tools for students, academics, and eventually, the world. The vision with Scible is to disrupt education by giving the world free access to scientific knowledge, increase academic funding & keep science thriving.
Our flagship product is our unique, user-centered scientific search platform that helps users find, store, share and cite scientific research, whilst connecting with the very people that wrote the papers.
We successfully launched our beta version of our platform in April 2022 and have proudly partnered with Microsoft for Startups, who sponsor us and provide many tools to help our future growth.
The Scible database has grown considerably and is now one of the largest in the industry, containing over 200 million articles with over 30 million currently indexed as "open access" (available for users to read without requiring a paywall).
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My journey with Scible began with my time at university. Anyone who has been a student before knows the pain associated with trying to find a research article they need to reference, only to be hit in the face with a massive paywall pop-up not letting them access it.
So, naturally, I would do what every other student who has left their essay to the last minute does, I would just read the abstract and cite that. When coupling this with the fact I was manually writing or editing reference lists (I still have nightmares of putting commas and periods in the wrong places), I began wondering whether there was a better way to approach this seemingly ancient industry.
After finishing my Master's degree and diving head first into the unique world of entrepreneurship, I, along with a friend who introduced me to the concept of running a business, built two e-commerce companies. The first failed spectacularly (a story for another time), and the other was successfully sold, the funds of which I was able to use to help build Scible.
Scible is the third company I have built but is the first one that gives me a deep sense of meaning and aggressive passion for what I am building. It is a company I look forward to running for years to come and not one I am simply building to exit. Scible truly is a company that I have built to offer solutions to problems I would use.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
With some experience and background in web design, I had a fairly good idea of what I wanted Scible to look and feel like. From the offset, I knew every science-research-related website was white and filled with text, a real eye-sore. So we decided to build out our platform to be far more visual than anything else in the industry. This instantly separates our new and small company from every other competitor out there.
This focus on aesthetics may not attract as many hardcore researchers or universities (who are often incredibly traditional). However, the plan was to attract students and everyday readers of science research, to begin with, and from there, the slower adopting traditional researchers would adopt our platform. We opted for a bottom-up approach.
However, turning this vision into a working product was much harder than my earlier naive self could’ve predicted. The entire process of developing the platform was a long and often frustrating one, often going over budget, and over schedule.
If you truly believe that this product you are building is the greatest good you as an individual can bring to the world, it’s worth taking some risks, so long as they are very calculated when it comes to debt
From start to finish the project took nearly two years (including a covid hiatus). Not the speedy ‘get-it-to-market-asap’ approach that you always hear about. It thought me a valuable lesson in that, however long you are expecting a project to take, multiply it by three. Once we hit a good stride though, everything began to fall into place. With the help of our web development company, we were able to build a functional beta version of our platform.
What about monetization? I believe in giving as much value to your users and the world as you can. The current solution we are aiming towards (giving open access to science research) intrinsically requires that we offer our main services for free, so that’s what we decided to do.
Will our platform stay like this? Of course not. We are currently building a three-tier freemium model to offer extra features for users who subscribe. But having users come in as quickly as you can, gives you the analytics to understand what works, what doesn’t and even what parts of the platform might offer some hidden value that you can monetize in the future
If you can afford to give some of your services for free to provide your users that little bit of extra value (and it makes sense with your company mission), why wouldn’t you?
Describe the process of launching the business.
The day finally came. After months of setbacks and struggles, we were able to get a working beta launched. Did we have a huge pre-launch campaign? What about trade shows or a huge launch party? Nope. We just got a finished working product that could start onboarding users and brought it to market as soon as we could.
In our case, the first few users were generated through social media. We had been building our social media channels far before the beta was completed. Once launched, we had an audience there already waiting for us to ‘inform’ (not ‘sell’) them that we were proud of the new platform that we had built.
Everyone dreams of having huge launch parties and flashy events for their products, but the truth is that launching a product isn’t even the start of the journey, it’s the prelims to the journey. When you finally do launch (and you should be incredibly proud when you reach this point!), just remember that the journey has only now started. From here it’s the time to double down and put everything you have into what you are building. Get your product out there in as many ways as you can!
What about funding? Funding Scible came from as many sources as I could find. From friends and family to savings and investments, to some riskier options such as business loans. We initially had a budget of $40k for development, then after going over budget on development, we were forced to take on debt financing to finish the rest of the project.
If you truly believe that this product you are building is the greatest good you as an individual can bring to the world, it’s worth taking some risks (so long as they are very calculated when it comes to debt).
Overall, launching Scible has been a very long and often lonely journey, which requires a lot of sacrifices and hard decisions. We had to cut multiple features to get it to market, but the final product is a great foundation for the future of what we are trying to build.
Reply to comments, retweet, like, share…everything you can do to bring more value to your community, and ultimately, to the others in your industry.
I’m sure others have had smoother journeys to launch, but be prepared for a long ride, or else you will quit before you even get to the launch.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Once we launched Scible, within a few days I built Scible News using my experience designing and deploying websites. Scible News works as a ‘symbiotic’ offering that can be used in conjunction with the Scible platform, bringing the latest scientific news to anyone interested in all disciplines.
People find out about the latest scientific news, this piques their interest, then if they want to read the original papers, they can do so directly on the Scible platform.
I usually write and publish around 4-6 news articles a day (averaging around 750 words each). Through automation tools these get promoted across multiple social media channels, building our following. Our Instagram has grown to just under 5k followers relatively quickly.
From our experience, when it comes to social media platforms, finding a way to deliver high-quality content that isn’t simply company updates works incredibly well. Our news site posts have far outperformed our company ones.
Once you have your content for the day finished and scheduled, begin interacting with others. Reply to comments, retweet, like, share…everything you can do to bring more value to your community, and ultimately, to the others in your industry.
We try not to take actions such as commenting and retweeting as a way to take value from them. You just want it to come from a place of helping and giving.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We are incredibly lucky to have partnered with the “Microsoft for Startups” program as our main company costs are the hosting and running of our web app. This sponsorship has given us the leg room we need to be able to focus on growing a community and not have to worry much about operating costs. All of the other costs of the tools we use are easily covered by the starting capital we have.
The next step in the short term for our company is the hiring of employees for some of the day-to-day runnings of the company including the news articles (as you can imagine, 4-6 every day takes up quite some time!) and social media. But the most exciting part for me as a founder is the development of the platform itself.
I am excited that, in the coming months, we will be combining multiple datasets to bring our users a much larger pool of open-to-read articles, as well as develop features aimed at helping students write their essays.
In the medium term, when I believe Scible provides enough value to users in the free version, we will be switching over to a freemium model to further expand growth.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Starting Scible has been a long journey that took far longer than most to turn from idea to product (from initial conception it's been around 5 years!). Along the way, there have been many ups and downs, from the initial rush of coming up with the concept and beginning working on it, to nearly having to stop development mid-way because of it going over budget.
It’s taught me to love the process and take full advantage of any opportunity that presents itself. If you get invited on a podcast, say yes. If you get asked to write a guest post, say yes! Your business is your baby, and you need to give it the absolute best opportunity you can to have it succeed.
I also learned that starting a business is just as much (if not more so) about controlling your mind and not losing sight of the vision you have for your company. The way you get there can change, and features can be dropped, but the vision needs to be like an ever-present shining star that you keep aiming towards.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
There are so many tools I could link here but I will try to only give my favorites.
I would say the most useful tool has to be Zapier. It’s an automation tool that when used correctly, allows you to essentially be a single person doing the work of a whole team. Our entire social media strategy is run smoothly using this. It can take a little while to figure out, but once you get the hang of it you can automate almost anything!
The other tool I would say may sound simple, but it’s YouTube (and its 2x speed functionality - you get used to it!). I have found it to be even better than Google for finding the best information on anything you need. I even learned web design in a short 2-hour video and was able to create websites for clients within a week or so of getting used to the software.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
There are so many books I want to include here for different topics but I will list my overall favorites:
Think and Grow Rich - By Napoleon Hill: ** ** This is my current all-time favorite book. I recommend this for anyone regardless of where they are and what they want to achieve. It can be applied across all areas of life.
The Kybalion - By The Three Initiates: This weird choice for a business book is one of the most profound books on spiritual growth I have ever read. It can be hard running a business and very lonely, but this book almost single-handedly made me learn to love the process and love the fact I am where I am. I hope it helps you on your path too.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice for anyone interested in starting will always be the same…what were you born to do? It may sound cliché but figuring out why you are here is the single most important thing you can do.
It might be starting a business, or it could be raising a family, or even teaching others. Be honest with yourself and don’t judge the answer. We are often pressured unconsciously by what we are told to do/believe but really, you need to trust your inner self.
Something inside you knows what you are meant to do. Stop listening to what you ‘should do’, and just sit by yourself in a dark room, ask yourself, and listen to the first answer that pops up, it’s usually right. It worked for Socrates, it will work for you too.
If you know what you need to do, congratulations you are 70% of the way there, all that’s left is for you to pursue that with everything you’ve got. If you don’t know and are struggling to figure it out, begin trying things that you are drawn to and follow what is interesting to you.
I tried academia, 9-5 jobs, self-employed client work, running e-commerce businesses, and only then did I come into my own starting Scible. But I know deep down everything else I did was a set-up for where I am now.
Discovering and then following your calling makes your life feel meaningful and worth living on a deeper level than most will ever get to experience.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Scible News Website
- Inquiries Email (yes we check it and would love to hear from you!)
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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