Close-Up with Dr. Paul Kudlow and TrendMD
By Danielle S. Cha
Photograph courtesy of Matthew W
Interviewee: Dr. Paul A. Kudlow, M.D.
Dr. Paul Kudlow brings his fresh perspective, indefatigable energy, and love for the medical sciences to his most recent business venture—TrendMD. Paul is currently on a leave of absence from medical residency to lead the executive management and strategic vision of TrendMD Inc.—a peer-reviewed content discovery platform. He is an active clinical researcher, with publications in high-impact journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Paul is passionate about medicine, informatics, and technologies designed to improve the dissemination of knowledge and the delivery of patient care.
Why did you choose to pursue an MSc and how does this contribute to your business endeavour?
I love the scientific method; however, with over 5 000 new publications added across 33 000 journals daily, it has become impossible for readers (e.g., scientists, physicians, and students) to discover relevant peer-reviewed content. Similarly, for researchers, it has become equally difficult to get their content discovered and cited. TrendMD is all about taking the by-products of the scientific method (i.e., publications) and intelligently distributing them around the Internet for people with relevant interests to consume. Broadly, I’ve hypothesized that the Internet is the best medium to distribute science. I chose to complete my masters while putting this hypothesis to the test.
How did you develop, build, and cultivate TrendMD?
The story of TrendMD initially started in November 2012. As a physician-scientist, I was frustrated by the traditional ways of promoting research (i.e., conferences), and was eagerly looking for new ways to both disseminate and discover other interesting research. Similarly, Dr. Gunther Eysenbach, a leading open-access publisher, was looking for solutions to help keep his readers reading his journals, as well as grow his revenue base. Upon hearing about Gunther’s interests, I reached out to him and we did a little brainstorming; however, during the brainstorming sessions, despite having numerous ideas, none seemed to satisfy both of their needs simultaneously.
Initially, I wanted to create an intelligent platform where researchers could consume and discover interesting and personalized peer-reviewed content. Creating a platform, however, would not solve Gunther’s problem as a scholarly publisher. In fact, it would make it worse. If TrendMD succeeded in creating a platform, why would anyone need to visit Gunther’s journals? Aside from the lack of fresh ideas, neither Gunther nor I had any ability to code and actually produce a product—so for the first few months, the initial team could not do much.
A breakthrough came in March 2013, when Paul and Gunther joined forces with a talented engineering team who brought needed skill and a fresh perspective to the team. Putting our heads together, we created the equivalent of Outbrain.com for peer-reviewed content. By May 2014, our first prototype was launched on the Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR). And now as of August 2014, the TrendMD widget is live on over 100 journals across six top publishers, including BMJ Group, JMIR Publications Inc., Landes Bioscience (Taylor & Francis), and others.
What steps did you take to become the Co-Founder of a start-up company?
In a nutshell, I started TrendMD to solve my own problem. Solving a problem, however, was not the end, but rather the beginning of a very long journey that is nowhere near completion. I think the first step I took was recognition of the fact that I knew nothing about business (i.e., identifying the “knowns” and “unknowns”—where the known variables are those that determine the success or failure of your start-up). The second step, which continues to this day, was to identify the “unknown, unknowns” (i.e., unknown variables out there that determine the success or failure or your start-up).
Common throughout my experiences so far has been the importance of constant learning. This is learning from people, books, blogs, forums, videos, etc.—any medium. On my nightstand, there are typically four or five non-fiction books; I will typically alternate between books every night until I finish them. I also read content from entrepreneurs—online from blogs and forums. Recently, I have been using a new website called Blinkist, which allows me to quickly consume non-fiction content. Meeting other entrepreneurs in person has also been critical to me and to being able to navigate the rough and unknown waters of start-up.
How would you describe your experiences as the Co-Founder of a start-up company?
At times, I feel like I’m in a dark basement, following a tiny light in the corner; more specifically, I’m constantly surrounded by obstacles that seem to appear only after I’ve tripped over them and I always have to hope I don’t fall too hard or far where I can’t get back up. Despite the challenges, I have loved and continue to love every minute of creating, and bringing a useful product to market.
What is the most rewarding part of your experience thus far as an IMS student and as an entrepreneur?
The most rewarding part for me has been seeing top scholarly publishers use the TrendMD widget on their sites, and seeing how their readers use TrendMD to discover new and interesting content. To date, greater than one in twenty readers use TrendMD to find a new piece of content (i.e., 1/20 or more than 5% of people who see the widget, click on one of our recommended links).
In a nutshell, building something that people actually find useful has been the most rewarding part to date.
What has been the most difficult part of balancing your dynamic interests?
I think the most difficult aspect has been in understanding how and where to “steer the ship,” because I can focus on many different things (e.g., fundraising, publishers, pharmaceuticals, hiring, etc.), but I’m not sure which area will yield the best results and keep things moving forward. On a personal level, it is always difficult to cram everything you want into one day (e.g., socializing and sleeping).
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue a similar career path?
You have to love challenge! So long as you’re open-minded, love to learn, and passionate about your ideas, start-up may be for you.
How does TrendMD work and what exactly does it do for those involved in research? Is there a way IMS students can capitalize on the opportunities that TrendMD provides?
TrendMD is a peer-reviewed content discovery platform that aims to amplify research. You can think of us as a Google AdSense for scholarly publishers and a Google AdWords for peer-reviewed content producers (i.e., researchers, industry, funders, publishers, etc.). However, instead of distributing banner ads, we algorithmically distribute sponsored and non-sponsored links to peer-reviewed content across publishers, journals, websites, platforms, apps, blogs, etc.
TrendMD has created a free content recommendation widget that can be placed by publishers next to online articles. The widget generates article recommendations based on content similarity, click behaviour, and social media buzz to increase engagement and generate additional revenue for websites through “sponsored” peer-reviewed content. Online readers use the widget to identify other relevant content from the same journal or publisher, or sponsored content from other publishers.
Content producers can use TrendMD to promote their papers and drive traffic to their best peer-reviewed content. Buyers select a budget, and pay only for the traffic they receive. While paying to publish in Open Access journals was a first step towards researchers and funders enhancing the visibility of their work, TrendMD is a novel technology that addresses an unmet need of researchers and funders to actively promote and showcase their best work across publishers and journals.
With regards to how IMS students can benefit, TrendMD can be used to get your published research in front of a larger, more engaged audience across top publishers, journals, and websites. Links to your work will be seen next to other relevant articles across our growing network. You can think of us as putting your paper on a “digital conference circuit.
You can submit your published work on TrendMD.com. Simply input the promo code “IMS student” and we will get your paper in front of thousands of readers. You will get up to 100 additional article views.
How will TrendMD change the way researchers interact with publishing companies, each other, and the general public? What are you hoping the impact will be?
Great science has traditionally been locked up, behind pay-walls, and away from the public. While Open Access was a first step for the scientific community in enhancing visibility of their work, I envision TrendMD as the next step in evolution, where we now take that content and intelligently distribute it across any website with a scholarly audience. Ultimately, we believe scholarly content should be open and easily accessible to anyone who may benefit from discovering it.
Researchers publish because we want to have impact and get our ideas out there. But how can we effectively generate impact when there are approximately 5 000 articles published per day spread out across 33 000 journals. One can rely on “top” journals for curation, but I think the current peer-review system is flawed and/or not equipped for the information age. Moreover, from a pragmatic perspective, how can science effectively move forward if researchers don’t have a clear ambient awareness of research that has already been completed? Attention of other research is certainly not sufficient, but I believe necessary for good (and more importantly, non-wasteful) future research.