In this Q&A, hear from Chris Peng, co-founder and CEO of Labfront, an analytics engine that unlocks real-time physiological data for academic and independent researchers. Chris talks about how his own experience as a researcher led to designing software that collects and analyzes biometric data from consumer wearables.
Can you tell us what you’re working on at Labfront?
Chris Peng: With the increasing proliferation of wearable trackers, there are now more ways than ever to collect physiological data from the real world. At Labfront, we want to help researchers unlock and understand the hidden meanings in wearables data, delivering insights that can then be used to find the key to personalized health and medicine.
But to do that, we need better scientific studies and research. Especially the types that take into account the real world people live in every day.
On that note, there is a growing consensus within the scientific and medical community that sterile research environments do not reflect what real people experience as they live their lives. As researchers ourselves, we wondered whether interventions that only work within a lab are feasible solutions.
So we wanted to create a product that would help others collect data in the real world. So we focused on building an analytics engine that works with consumer wearables like Garmin and Polar, turning devices into powerful data capture tools.
In addition to working with consumer wearables, Labfront’s robust platform also handles timestamping, event tracking, questionnaire data, and more. And the combination of input flexibility with our hands-on project management features helps us achieve our goal of becoming the all-in-one data collection and management tool for academic researchers.
How did you come up with the idea? What key insight led you to seize this opportunity?
CP: Before Labfront, there was an internal R&D data collection tool that collected waveform data from a Bluetooth EKG. When our team shared our work at conferences, we constantly got other researchers asking if they could use our tool for their own projects. Then we knew we were onto something.
When we delved deeper into it, we found that not only did many researchers share our needs, but the market itself had nothing to fill this gap. Apart from the clinical trials/pharmaceutical research sector, there has been almost no real innovation or investment in new products for decades. (And as many Fitt Insider readers will likely agree, pharmacological treatments are rarely the ideal solution to many of the problems facing the general public.)
And since these tools are designed for pharmaceutical research, they are often prohibitively expensive for most academics. So our focus at Labfront became accessibility. And we want to support the hundreds of thousands of researchers who are struggling to make the world a better place.
This is also why we started using consumer wearables. They are often more than 10x cheaper than the medical alternatives, while also sharing many of the same sensors. As such, they are wonderful tools for conducting scientific research in a way that is not hampered by insurmountable budget constraints.
How did you turn your idea into a business?
CP: In 2018, we had our first idea that Labfront could be a viable business.
From 2019–2020, we launched the first version and then launched in 2021. Within a few weeks of launching our first product, we had customers from Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. We then used that traction to raise $1 million from investors.
As of 2021, we have gathered clients from over 100 leading US research institutions and universities.
How big can this get? What is the addressable market and how do you approach it?
CP: The market within the research sector is surprisingly large. This is because our software replaces two core cost centers: data collection and data analysis.
For example, data collection usually requires one research assistant for every few hundred research participants. The costs therefore increase with the size of the project. However, Labfront can reduce that cost by making each research assistant up to five times more effective by automating many of their otherwise time-consuming tasks.
Similarly, data analytics often requires hiring data scientists, bioinformatics engineers, etc. But Labfront’s no-code visualizer and analytics engine help reduce those costs. And in practice we have seen researchers save between 20 and 50% of their operational budget.
Who is the core customer? How do you acquire customers? And how are you going to grow the customer base?
CP: Anyone doing human research could probably benefit from using Labfront to help manage their work. Think of it as a CRM for research projects. Not only does it help you collect data in the real world, but it also increases compliance by sending automated reminders to participants.
To reach new customers and researchers, we currently work with non-profit partners such as the American Physiological Society, as well as corporate partners such as Garmin who act as channels for us.
Looking at your roadmap, what are some of the milestones you’re targeting over the next 3-6 months?
CP: Our most recent development was the launch of Labfront 2 — completely rewritten from the ground up to seamlessly integrate many more features.
And to extend the usefulness of Labfront even further, we’re currently working on adding support for a bunch of new wearable devices, including blood pressure monitors, blood glucose meters, EEG, and more. Next year we will also focus on data visualization and analysis.
Finally, we plan to expand our services to the EU by 2023 to extend our reach even further.
Would you like to share anything else with the readers?
CP: Labfront is committed to supporting scientific research, quantified self, and biohacker communities. That is why we regularly offer financial grants and discounts to support students and researchers at the start of their careers.
In addition to that monetary funding, we also hope to educate emerging researchers with Labfront Academy – a completely free online platform where you can watch masterclasses on HRV and other topics taught by our team of experts.
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