The internet has revolutionised the way in which academic books and papers circulate and are published, as it is in so many other areas of life information.Large academic publishers have been struggling with how to handle this revolution and, in particular, with the thorny issue of copyright and ownership and free access. As with other online publishing the question is ? what should you charge for and what, if anything, should you give away free? One SME that is at the forefront of this brave new world of academic publishing and innovation is Mendeley. Launched in 2008 by three academics from Bauhaus-University in Weimar, Germany, it helps researchers to organise their papers, annotate them and collaborate with others. Today around 4m scientists use the online service. The company?s three founders had little experience as entrepreneurs but believe that this was actually a blessing as they weren?t fully aware of the challenges that they would face. Paul F?ckler, Victor Henning and Jan Reichelt set up the company in London because their first investors were based in the city and the tech industry was bigger in the UK capital than it was in Berlin. They also wanted to be immersed in the English-speaking environment, as well as at the heart of the academic world, which is largely influenced by academics and institutions from the US and the UK. ?Startups in the UK have from the outset a more global approach, which startups in Germany are catching on to,? said Victor Henning. ?I would also say that startups in the UK have traditionally covered a vast area of different industries, whilst start-ups in Germany have been more focused on ecommerce and marketplaces. “Maybe startups in the UK can think bigger and be more bold, because the ecosystem, mentality and investor support are more supportive of this approach, however, the two ecosystems are increasingly converging and the gap has been narrowing in the past three years.? During the first few months of the company?s development, money came from the savings of the founders. They then approached high-profile business angels as well as venture capitalists including Stefan Gl?nzer, former executive chairman of Last.fm and Taavet Hinrikus, former director of strategy at Skype. Another big break came about because Paul F?ckler had been working on web projects for travel broadcaster and former Python Michael Palin. Palin allowed the small Mendeley team to set up shop in his production office in Covent Garden where they started development and marketing. ?Initially, we exclusively did grassroots marketing,? said Henning. ?We wrote to scientifically-minded bloggers and journalists as well as blogging academics, told them about our idea, and asked for their feedback. ?We also developed a ?Mendeley Advisor? strategy, where we built a core community of 2,500 Mendeley advocates who represent Mendeley around the world at their institutions, and they in turn get early insights into product development plus a direct connection to our team for their feedback and ideas.? For many SME founders, the opportunity to be bought out by a large company is the ultimate goal and for Mendeley this came about when the international publisher Elsevier made a bid. ?Mendeley has always been a very open organisation, we’ve always been very transparent,? said Henning. ?Of course that allows for great opportunities to talk with users, customers, as well as partners, because you provide a basis for useful discussions. Interestingly, the strategies of Elsevier and Mendeley about building a global research collaboration platform had been aligned the most. ?Elsevier suggested that to achieve such an ambitious target it might make sense to have the two companies fully integrated and be completely committed. I could see that from a conceptual point of view this could make sense, also because the assets and market positions of the two companies were very complementary.?
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