Today Prolific is turning 5 years old – Happy Birthday to us! 🥳
It's been a remarkable journey so far. 3000+ researchers from science and industry have used Prolific last year, we have 45,000 quarterly active participants, and we've seen 200% year-on-year growth. But we're only getting started.
In this post, I'll tell you a little bit about our journey, give credit where it's due!, and tell you about our exciting plans for the future.
5 years ago
In spring 2014, I was trying to find participants for my PhD research at the University of Sheffield. I looked online, but couldn't find a site that could deliver what I needed: British participants, quick turn-around, low cost, high quality. I told my friend Phelim about it, then a DPhil student at the University of Oxford, and we thought: "Let's start this cool side project – a site that helps me find research participants."
Two months later, Phelim had single-handedly build our MVP (minimum viable product) – the first version of Prolific. While Phelim had solid experience in computational science, he didn't have professional experience building webapps. Back then, he took a free online course on Udacity to learn about web development and just hit the ground running. I still admire his courage to just go ahead with this, as I'm not a technical cofounder and all technical responsibility has rested on his shoulders for many years.
This is what the first version of Prolific looked like in 2014 (🙊🙈):
We called our site Prolific Academic to convey the idea that our site can make Academics more prolific, that is, more productive. We also felt that "Prolific Academic" sounded poetic. 😄 A few years later we decided that it's definitely too long a name, so Prolific now it is.
For the first couple of years of Prolific's existence, we were gradually tipping away, experimenting and building various features based on the feedback of early adopters. At some point, we joined Oxford University's Startup Incubator and received great support from Roy, who was running it at the time, and from fellow startups like cycle.land, Esplorio, and Gorilla. We will also be forever grateful to Ben MC and Barney who worked for the design agency One Ltd. at the time, who helped us freshen up our looks in late 2016 – for free! Our current website reflects their beautiful work. Thank you Roy, Ben & startup friends for helping us get Prolific off the ground!
Our fun & fresh website design created by Barney & Ben in 2016:
But then the demand for our service kept and kept on growing. Two years in, it became clear that it wasn't just me who had a hard time collecting data online. My colleagues, and broader network, had the exact same problem. And we couldn't keep up with customer support anymore. So suddenly, we needed to start hiring! 😯 Neither Phelim nor I had done this before, so it was a steep learning curve.
The first person to join our team in 2016 on a part-time basis to help with participant support was Kendra, a fellow PhD student of mine at the University of Sheffield. Later that year, our first two developers, Stephen and Andrew, joined. Then we found our COO Jim (via Twitter! 😁), and the rest of our wonderful team: Zak (Research Support and Consultancy), Jim (Data Analyst), Craig (Backend Dev), Will (Full-stack Dev), Chris (Data Analyst), Susan (Research Support and Consultancy), Allie (People Operations), and Nick (part-time Financial Director).
We're also delighted to welcome the first member of our advisory board this month, David Rothschild, who is an economist at Microsoft Research in New York City and has a Ph.D. in applied economics from the Wharton School of Business.
Meanwhile, now that Phelim and I have successfully defended our PhDs in 2018, we're finally working on Prolific full-time. A huge thanks goes to our team for being so patient and supportive in the past few years! And shout out to The Wheelhouse in Oxford, where we've had our company base since September 2016.
The next 5 years
Company values and operating principles
What's next? First things first: We've reflected a lot on what kind of company we'd like to be, so we've developed our mission statement.
Prolific empowers great research. 🚀 We enable fast, reliable, and high quality data collection by connecting diverse people around the world. Our mission is to make trustworthy data more accessible in order to help improve human knowledge and decision-making.
Most recently, we've discussed what kinds of values and operating principles we care most about. These are the values that have crystallized as most important for us:
Open: Prolific aims to be as open as possible in the way it works, both externally and internally. This means that we put in place policies and practices that bring information out into the open wherever possible. We also support the principles of Open Science.
Thoughtful: At Prolific we try to be thoughtful about everything we do. This means that we consider the short- and long-term consequences of our actions and decisions, both for users and coworkers, and society more generally. It also means we value and encourage diversity and inclusion.
Trustworthy: Researchers, Participants, and anyone else we interact with should have trust in dealing with us, and in the results produced by our platform. Within our company we strive to be fair in the way we deal with each other and the decisions we make.
Improving human knowledge: At the core of Prolific is the aim to improve human knowledge. Every decision we make ultimately works towards this goal.
We will soon share how our values translate into operating principles that will help guide how we make decisions. If you're interested in questions around How to scale a startup? and How to build great company culture? then I recommend two resources: This interview with Stripe CEO Patrick Collison about organizational structure and hyper-growth, and this interview with Stripe COO Claire Hughes Johnson about operating principles as a mechanism to codify desired behaviors.
The bottom line for us is this: With Prolific we want to build a software platform that helps researchers understand how people feel, think and behave. We want to empower researchers, businesses, and governments to make more evidence-based decisions. What could that platform look like and how are we going to get there?
Our product roadmap
In terms of product development, we're planning to build a range of new research tools. Here are some of our plans for the coming months and years:
- Enable organizational accounts that make it easier for institutions and organizations to use our on-demand platform and for researchers to collaborate on running studies
- Make research more efficient! If you're a participant on Prolific you may have noticed that you sometimes fill our very similar (or the same) questionnaires for different studies. We're planning on helping to reduce research redundancy and waste to avoid the need to collect the same data over and over again!
- Sometimes, you just want to get a question answered fast. Prolific Express will help researchers gather data quickly without the need for an external survey software.
- We're building an API platform, which will allow anyone to tap Prolific's participant pool and build new tools on top of it. We envision our API platform to be the infractructure layer for research with people. We'd like to build a community around the API platform that allows researchers to collaborate and share resources more easily.
- Research on the go: A mobile app for participants, so anyone can easily take part in research from their phones. This will enable researchers to ask questions throughout the day and to 'sample your experience'. 👏
If you have any feedback or thoughts on what other products or features we could build, don't hesitate to let me know via firstname.lastname@example.org! If you have questions about running a specific study and would like help with setting it up, please email our brilliant support team via email@example.com.
Accelerating our growth
We decided that to accelerate our growth and have broader impact on the research world, we'll want to raise money from investors. We now feel that the time has come to scale up our startup. We've concluded that we'd like to grow fast, but at the same time make sure that we maintain a healthy company culture.
Thus, we're looking for the sweet spot in the middle: Fast, but thoughtful growth.
As part of getting ready to fundraise, we've created a demo video, proudly presented to you by team member Allie 👌
We're excited about the next 5 years ahead of us. We're on a mission to revolutionize the way researchers learn about people, so watch this space.
PS: We'll start hiring again very soon for support, dev, and marketing roles, so we're always looking for brilliant people to join our team! Keep an eye on our careers page if you're interested and please send anyone our way who might be a great fit. This is your chance to join a fast-moving startup where you’ll have huge influence over the trajectory of the business & platform.