Startups
Q&As / Science

‘Innovation can’t be outsourced’: Zikria Syed, CEO of NextDocs [Q&A]

With an influx of $5 million in venture funding and a goal to reach 250 employees by 2014, NextDocs is doubling down on its largest enterprise customers.

With an influx of $5 million in venture funding and a goal to reach 250 employees by 2014, NextDocs is doubling down on its largest enterprise customers.

The five-year-old Conshohocken-based company provides technology solutions to life science companies, helping them bring drugs to market “faster, cheaper, safer and with higher quality,” said CEO Zikria Syed.

The one other main part of Syed’s vision for the company? The Philadelphia region. He said he’s committed to supporting the tech scene and fighting brain drain.

But at the moment, he’s selling NextDocs 6, the latest mobile-minded product from his company. It’s meant to support thousands of doctors, nurses, researchers, technicians or other staff in one system to be able to access, update and interact with the data, documents and details involved in the long-winded regulatory process.

If you want your research team up to date on getting federal approval for a new drug, Syed said, you want this software.

Read more highlights from our chat with Syed below.

For more, read our profile on Syed and NextDocs from August 2011 and our May 2012 Q&A with Satwik Seshasai, who just left his CTO role this month.

What do your customers look like?

We have over 100 customers deployed. They include: two of the largest medical device companies, five of the largest pharmaceutical companies and two of the largest clinical research organizations, which run clinical trials.

How did you get your foot in the door with these big companies?

At the end of the day, you have to create innovation and value. So you bring capabilities to them that they don’t have available. We use the Microsoft technology platform because it was significantly more flexible. We delivered solutions that were more flexible. We gave them the freedom to do digital signatures.

We also tackled the paper problem: in the clinical trial process, there is a significant amount of paper that gets shuffled between the big pharma companies and the doctors that are doing the drug tests.

Think about [pharma company and NextDocs customer] Sanofi: they estimated that in one single drug trial, they produced 25,000 different documents. It’s a staggering amount. It take s a long time to shuffle that paper, and if you don’t have the right piece of paper, the approval process comes to a halt.

My history with Microsoft also helped.

Do you think of NextDocs as a startup?

Our customer base doesn’t necessarily want to deal with a company that’s too much of a startup. We obviously want to have the entrepreneurial spirit, but we also want a mature company in terms of capabilities.

You have to reflect what your customers are like. We don’t want to create a shorts and sandals culture because that’s not what our customers look like.

What [our customers] love about us is our entrepreneurial spirit. When they look at us, they’re comparing us to the IBMs of the world, which have the ability but don’t have the agility. That’s our balancing act.

Why Philadelphia? And is it just a place to locate your company, or is it more than that?

I can’t think of a better place to be than where these life sciences companies are headquartered, this Philadelphia/New Jersey corridor.

We have strong roots here. I’ve been in the area for a long time. We see ourselves as a global company because of our customers. We have sales reps in different parts of the world, but we’re very committed to Philadelphia, the region. We think innovation is done by a small group of people — it can’t be outsourced.

I think everybody wins by improving the technology base in the region, so we’re committed to that. We host events, we work with Philly Startup Leaders, we share ideas and best practices.

We have made significant efforts in reaching out to the universities and bringing interns in from Lehigh and Penn. We’ve hired people from Drexel [Editor’s Note: Syed is a Drexel alum himself. He received his Masters of Science from the university.]I feel that the region is not able to retain enough of its talents, so that’s one of our top priorities.

Has location affected efforts to raise funding at all? (NextDocs raised its first round of funding in August 2011 and recently raised $5 million. Previously, it was completely bootstrapped.)

We have raised capital in the past and we will continue to do that. There was a time when people felt that if you wanted to raise capital, you had to be in Silicon Valley, but I think that’s fundamentally changed. We raised money from a company in Boston [OpenView Partners]. I can clearly see the sentiment changing in those companies where VCs are going where the entrepreneurs are.

Talk to us about the decision to relocate to Conshohocken from King of Prussia and not Philadelphia.

It has to do with the demographics of the employees. Our employee base is experienced in those skills and with families already, as opposed to people in their 20s. There’s a more experienced employee base in the suburbs. We thought Conshohocken was a good mix [between suburbs and city]. 

[Additionally,] once you put down your roots, it’s hard to move.

Is it hard to support the tech community when you’re not located within the heart of it?

It would be a lot easier to be in Philly [to help grow the tech community], but Conshhocken is close enough. There’s a number of companies here. We also organized a a hackathon, which shows that tech events don’t need to be based within the city. [Ed. note: NextDocs has also supported PennApps, Penn’s student-run hackathon.]

Companies: NextDocs

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