Derek Miller, Genius Lab Gear
What was your dream career as a kid?
I always wanted to be an astronaut (just like everyone else?)
Describe the moment you decided to become an entrepreneur.
I always wanted to be an entrepreneur because my father consistently planted the idea in my mind in whatever I was pursuing at the time. In the science fields, this isn't common and not at all easy. I decided to actually do it when I was working a very late night in the lab and saw a little piece of plastic someone had taped to a jar to help organize the utensils in the fume hood. I realized that laboratories are mostly designed to do the technical function, and are rarely designed with the user in mind, which causes constant frustration. I wanted to find these small frustrations and design helpful tools to fix them.
What drives the work that you do?
Our world is facing a lot of problems right now, and we will need every STEM researcher we can get to solve them. But many are dropping out of research due to frustrating experiences and cultural problems. By helping them love their lab, rather than loathe it, I can help them stay in research and make a significant impact on the progress toward these big challenges.
What’s the most exciting thing you’re working on in your business right now?
The biggest frustration most researchers face daily is actually their lab coats. A thoughtfully designed lab coat for scientists (not for doctors) will have the greatest impact on how researchers feel about doing their work in the lab. I started The Lab Coat Project to lead the scientific community in designing their own lab coat. With over 1500 survey responses, we have used data to crowdsource the design. Now, we're about to launch a pre-order to crowdfund the first manufacturing run. Feedback from the prototypes has been fantastic, so I think this lab coat will truly make an impact on the lives of thousands of scientists.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
It means that you finally get to share your most unique combination of skills and expertise with the world. It's almost impossible to create a business from scratch that isn't a fingerprint of your personality and zone of genius. When you're in a specific role for another company, you have guardrails on what you can do and how you can do it.
The mastermind we formed has been the thing I was missing in my life up until now.
What led you to SPI Pro?
I started listening to the SPI podcast around 2018. Pat had a fresh take on life and business that resonated with me after watching too many videos about quick money on dropshipping retail arbitrage. After 4 years of being an entrepreneur and realizing none of my friends wanted to hear about it anymore, I decided that I needed to find more like-minded friends to talk shop. I didn't have much success locally, and around that time Pat started talking about the Pro community on the podcast. He finally got me with the urgency that the community was approaching a membership cap. Works every time!
What’s the most powerful interaction or learning moment you’ve had in the community?
The mastermind we formed has been the thing I was missing in my life up until now. It's a great place to bounce ideas and have people tell me things I don't want to hear. They also help me keep a pulse on trends and new tools that have been extremely helpful.
Pro tends to collect people who are very passionate, driven by vision, and on morally solid ground. It's a group that can help keep me on the right track for growing my business the right way.
What role has SPI Pro had in your business?
You know when you look back 5 or 10 years and realize that you were living in a very small box and everything was fuzzy? And now you feel like you've cut a hole in the wall of that box and stepped out into a clearly lit, much bigger box? I felt that way going from high school to college, college to grad school, grad school to my first job, and now again going from a siloed entrepreneur to being a part of a community of people like me running 1000 different types of businesses. I'm sure I'm still in a box, but this one is pretty big and it might be a while until I have to cut a new hole in the wall to step out.
What do you love most about SPI Pro, and what sets SPI’s communities apart from other entrepreneurial communities?
I was hesitant to join because my business is ecommerce and I assumed most Pros were in online courses or coaching. That turned out to be true. But after a few weeks I realized that my biggest business growth areas weren't in ecommerce-only topics like logistics, inventory, or advertising. I needed to grow in email marketing, creating superfans, storytelling, and content marketing. I might even want to build a community to support my mission. Doing these things well will help my business and brand stick out from all the other ecommerce sellers who are very focused on ROAS and the colors of their website buttons. Pro tends to collect people who are very passionate, driven by vision, and on morally solid ground. It's a group that can help keep me on the right track for growing my business the right way.
What would you say to encourage entrepreneurs who aren’t involved in a community to join one?
It's probably impossible to measure the ROI. And it takes extra time. But the leverage you get for your time spent is bigger than any solo work you can do in the same time, and will make sure your path is toward the strongest version of your business, not just the one that's currently in front of you.
If you had to start a brand-new online business from scratch today, what would it be?
I would start a dedicated community for scientists and make that my full-time focus. The community would be meant to help scientists help eachother with tools, tricks, tips, work life, mental health, and dealing with the research environment.
If you had to start your current business over again from scratch today, what one thing would you do differently?
I would probably take a content-first or creator approach, still with the same mission of finding ways to make research more enjoyable. If my following was large enough, I could then think about adding some physical products. Fulfilling orders from my second bedroom for three years was rough and put a lot of restrictions on my time off.
If you were given $1 million dollars today, no strings attached, what would you do with it?
I would just move faster with my business. I'm often throttled by inventory costs and want to keep my risk low, so I incrementally add inventory and launch new products as the money becomes available. This would give me a green light to take a few bigger swings that would get this business where I want it to be a few years earlier, and it would be helping more scientists sooner.