Ben Glick majored in Neuroscience and Mathematics at Amherst College. His graduate work with Jim Rothman at Stanford University focused on intracellular membrane transport in mammalian cells, and his postdoctoral work with Jeff Schatz at the Biozentrum in Basel, Switzerland focused on protein import and sorting in yeast mitochondria. He is now a Professor at the University of Chicago, where his lab studies the biogenesis and dynamics of membrane compartments using molecular genetics and 4D imaging. A major part of his research program is an ongoing analysis of cisternal maturation in the Golgi apparatus.
In 2004, he co-founded GSL Biotech LLC. Their core product is the molecular biology software called SnapGene. As Chief Scientist of this company, his major role is to serve as lead designer of the software. By building on his own experience as well as feedback from colleagues and customers, he guides the developers to create an intuitive, versatile, and responsive software interface.
As a cell biologist, I became frustrated by inefficiencies in how my group performed DNA cloning. We used those procedures routinely, but mistakes were common and sequence records were poor or nonexistent. Those issues cost time and resources, and could even jeopardize the reliability of experiments. Many other researchers expressed similar frustrations.
I realized that good software could alleviate many of the problems with DNA cloning. Several colleagues joined with me in forming a company to create the software that became known as SnapGene. The goal was to make SnapGene easier to use than paper notebooks so that researchers would switch to electronic methods to plan, visualize, and document their DNA manipulations. Our software design process adheres to the principles of human-computer interaction, which focuses on how to meet users’ needs as effectively and painlessly as possible. We have consistently maintained high standards by imagining how an ideal software interface would look and feel, and then doing everything possible to achieve that vision.
Our business strategy is rather unconventional. We have not sought external investment, and as a result, the founders retain full creative and financial control of the company. Initial development of SnapGene was funded by Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from the NIH. SnapGene 1.0 was released when the SBIR grants ended, and the company became profitable within a few months. Active ongoing development of the software has led to robust growth in market share. We have gradually expanded the development and sales teams in accord with our increasing needs and financial resources.
Two strategic decisions have been key. First, we provide a free version of the software called SnapGene Viewer. As a result, the SnapGene file format has become a standard for sharing annotated sequence data. Second, instead of paying to advertise, we provide an online collection of map/sequence files for commonly used plasmids. This collection brings us customers who discover SnapGene through web searches. The net result is that by investing sustained effort but very little money, we have been able to build a successful software company.