HappiLabs Coronavirus update — March 26, 2020

Hello HappiLabs community. This is HappiTom, CEO, speaking.

Virtual hug or a fist bump.

I’m trying to be transparent with our employees and customers to maintain confidence that your scientists can continue to lean on the HappiLabs Virtual Lab Managers (VLMs). I also write this to offer guidance and ideas to other operators of small businesses as we evaluate tough decisions and which strategies to execute.

Our overall strategy for adapting to a fast-changing environment: be patient, observe, decide.

Based on this, here is what’s going on at HappiLabs:

Our headquarters is in Illinois (home of the Chicago Cubs and The Field Musueum) with a Shelter-in-place order. According to language in the Order we are an essential business and can work at the office:

    • Section 7 “….biotechnology companies (including operations, research and development, manufacture, and supply chain).”
    • And per Gov. Pritzker’s words: “roles that are essential to the supply chain”

Virtual Lab Managers are critical for lab operations to maintain inventory and supply chain. Some of our labs are processing patient samples. Covid19 or not, we leave no patient behind!

Tough Decision #1: Do we force any employees to work from the office to maintain our pre-pandemic operational efficiency?

No. Virtual lab managers can work anywhere, and we will continue to reduce opportunities for coronavirus transmission. It is currently optional for our employees to go into the office. However, I am recommending that our Team Leaders organize a rotating skeleton crew at our HQ starting next week. We have plenty of office space and will practice social distancing protocol.

Raudel_Sandoval_Happy_Virtual_Lab_ManagerOffices have a better technological setup than our employees have at home, allowing them to focus, work faster, and be more responsive to the needs of scientists. We are using this week as experience to determine how our productivity changes at home and then decide who should spend some time in the office.

To improve our work-from-home capabilities, we are immediately increasing the usage of two off-the-shelf apps to maintain efficient operations:

    • OpenPhone helps maintain each VLMs ability to constantly make phone calls to customer service, sales reps, and tech support while they work from home.
    • Domo is a data analytics platform to monitor productivity of our lab managers and lab busyness. 

Tough decision #2: If we lose income for any reason, do we cut staff?

That is not the plan, but we do want to remain profitable during these tough times. Therefore the strategy to save money, if necessary, is by temporarily reducing hours or salaries from some employees before cutting 1 job. We are changing some employees from salaried to hourly to increase the ability for flexible hours. 

To simplify it: some people might lose money in the short-term (until their government check arrives), but no one is losing a job.

In any case, I do not anticipate we will suffer much. HappiLabs is a strong company with smart scientists managing labs all across America. We have a strong brand and loyal following. We have a decent buffer of cash and a line of credit. And….Until every scientist has access to a Virtual Lab Manager, there will always be demand. If we lose some customers soon, we will gain new ones.

Also, we are sticking to our regular vacation policy and schedules. If an employee had a day off already planned, they can keep it that way, and we will make sure no one’s health benefits get cut.

Tough Decision #3: What do we do about delinquent paying customers?

Myself or our accounting team will be reaching out very soon. To avoid being taken advantage of, we are planning a strategy we’ve never done before.

If a customer is late paying us by more than 45 days, and you are not responding to our emails or phone calls, we will stop working for that lab.

It’s a tough decision because we do not want to leave any scientist hanging, but we need to get paid in a timely fashion for managing your lab. 

Advice to labs who are struggling to fundraise or stay alive…..do your best not to stiff small businesses as you run out of cash. Be transparent (as best you can) and please pay the giant corporations last. Keep fighting, but if doomsday does arrive, I will buy you a beer and give you a shoulder to cry on.

Decision #4: What are we doing to stay busy for our labs?

Cleaning and maintenance. Purchasing has slowed down for many labs (definitely not all), therefore we are busy cleaning your accounting, tracking all open orders, and organizing your chemical safety documents and inventory (SDSs, etc.).

We also created a Coronavirus Task Force to keep a close eye on supplier and shipping updates. If we anticipate a risk to your lab’s supply chain and operations, you will be notified. Four of our Virtual Lab Managers are involved. Read about them here

Stay strong!

HappiTom

Chief technology officer of Chicago business


Message from March 18…..

Short summary of this message: 

HappiLabs will operate at limited capacity for the rest of this week (Thursday and Friday), and then back to full force on Monday. Expect slower responses on Thurs/Fri.

Please cc purchasing@happilabs.org on all communications to your Virtual Lab Manager to ensure faster responsiveness, if you need it. This email will forward to a small group of people who can help you.

The longer message:

As the world changes, I am directing our employees to take a day off Thursday or Friday to spend time with loved ones and let it all sink in. We’re calling it a “Take a breather” Day. The plan is to go easy for the rest of this week, and then be ready, fully charged for next week and beyond.

For labs in the Bay Area, according to the Order given to the Bay Area, biotechnology companies are an “essential business” and can stay open. See section 10B of the Shelter-in-place order. Therefore, HappiLabs will be here to support Silicon Valley scientists in any ways, except for….

….Thursday and Friday, we will have a skeleton crew available at HappiLabs to keep an eye on things and help with urgent situations in your lab. Responses will be slower than normal and we probably will not place many orders.

Please cc purchasing@happilabs.org on all communications to your Virtual Lab Manager to ensure faster responsiveness, if you need it. This email will forward to a small group of people who can help you.

That being said, some of our Virtual Lab Managers want to keep working each day, so some of your labs will continue with 100%, fast support for the rest of this week. Your lab manager will let you know if that’s them.

After this week, even if purchasing slows down, we still plan to be busy cleaning your accounting, following up on all open orders, and organizing your chemical safety documents and inventory (SDSs, etc.).

Aside from that, I’m not going to sit here and tell we’re “operating as normal.” Frankly, I’m annoyed at any company who claims that. I’ll be real with you and tell you we’re not operating like normal, but our managers are meeting daily to evolve our business operations to fit the changing landscape. I expect your experience with HappiLabs to change very little, but our behind the scenes will change as we adjust to work-from-home, extra days off from our team, and social distancing.

We will also be putting our Accounts Receivable department to work. If you owe HappiLabs money, please pay it, especially a few of you who owe from January or February, and especially before paying the behemoth corporations like Fisher, Thermo, VWR and Sigma. We very much appreciate it.

That is all for now. Good luck and may the force (and your immune system) be with you!

Tom Ruginis, CEO and President of HappiLabs, Inc

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