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RefME Case Study

RefMe Technologies

“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery

At university, RefME co-founder Tom Hatton struggled making effective citations and managing his citation notes with the existing tools available - which were expensive and complicated to use. Need and lack of a solution for that need is as effective as the eureka moment for a budding entrepreneur, and Tom created RefME to ease his pain and to give students all over the world a free, accurate and intuitive tool for automating citations.

1. As a first-time entrepreneur, how did you get organised and manage the project of launching the beta/MVP then the full RefMe product? Hard work and passion and determination or did you use some methodology?

RefME is indeed my first startup and I started it pretty much straight after graduating. It all happened really naturally, I saw a problem that wasn't being solved (making referencing easy) together with a huge opportunity with mobile and data that I felt nobody was tackling. It all flowed from there.

2. Investors care about processes because processes drive scalability. Does the RefMe team use process? Which one?

It’s a mix of letting the creative juices flow, but tying it all together with processes and data. We're very obsessed with analysing the ways that users engage with our product. Every change and increment to any aspect of design, features, marketing or interface gets A/B tested, and we use that knowledge to constantly innovate the product and our communication with users.

3. Your thoughts on traditional project management and how start-ups are delivering product these days.

It is a very agile process, and speed is essential. The tricky bit is to deliver quality along with that speed. That is why I believe that the licensing model that publishers favour is pretty doomed. Tying an institution into an expensive long-term contract to use your tool means that you stop innovating, so we're committed to keeping RefME free as our business in driven by scale, and for scale we must be the best product (amongst other things).

4. Your thoughts on building a world class team @ RefMe to destroy competitors and give the customer the best results and experience possible. What do you see as essential in these early days (talent-wise)?

We've built a fantastic team, and I am constantly amazed by the things we create. I am surrounded by ex-founders and early stage employees of businesses that grew to be global brands such as Apple, Google, Spotify and Zipcar, to name but a few. The challenge for a founder then becomes figuring out how to turn these (as of today) 36 extremely clever and creative individuals into a coherent machine that can fail fast and iterate the product at lightning speed. Building a strong company culture from scratch is no small task, but openness and a collaborative attitude goes a long way, so we look for that in the people we hire, as keeping the communication channels open is essential.

5. Your thoughts on obsessing about great customer experience and the needs of the customer

RefME is a fantastic free product that addresses a very real pain point for pretty much every student on the planet. We've seen users from all over the world signing up, and the feedback has been amazing. You can never let yourself get complacent though, so I'm always thinking about the next thing, remembering to put myself in the users' shoes, and testing everything to exhaustion to see what actually works as opposed to what you think will work.

RefME Mission: RefME is setting out to map and connect citations so that every student can stand on the shoulders of giants. Our goal is to index, validate and connect the world's knowledge by providing hundreds of millions of researchers with a free, intuitive and accurate citation tool. Our strategy relies on innovation and user feedback to build a product that constantly evolves to fit the needs of researchers at every step. RefME is built on the idea that it's more productive for a student to spend their time thinking about how a piece of knowledge informs their work, than needing to know how to format a citation. RefME offers a way to fully automate the citing process accurately.

How to spot a Baby Gorilla
Baby gorillas are projects that are deemed small and straightforward, and it is assumed that enough information is known of what needs to be done (the full requirements and delivery specifications) to get the project delivered, but these details are either not gathered, defined and approved, and (usually) not enough time is given for the delivery. Baby gorillas tend to be media campaign, HTML newsletter, microsite, site/page update-style projects.
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