Too Subtle Product Differences

Mimicry is pretty common in nature. As in nature, so with lab supplies.

An ever-evolving ocean of distinct products exists. No one scientist needs all products available in their career, of course. However, even when focused on basic items, confusion can occur due to what is essentially mimicry, AKA “branding”.

For example:


That “plus” makes all the difference for whether tissue will stay on the slide’s surface or if it’s just a slide where tissue won’t adhere.

It’s easy to see a lab stocking both kinds of slide for various purposes.

This issue could easily come up when ordering too. “Get me more Superfrost” slides…and the “Plus” gets left off.


A lab manager could store each slide in separate places, or mark the Superfrost Plus slides to be distinct when they are delivered.

Manufacturers could help by making packaging distinct (in this case, they don’t).

Fisher and other suppliers can do better.

In the mean time, lab managers and scientists will have to be hyper-vigilant in making sure they order and use the right product for their work, especially when near-mimics exist.

Photo credit: Heliconius butterfly mimicry. Wikimedia commons, CC 2.5, from Meyer A, PLoS Biology, Vol. 4/10/2006, e341 doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040341.

What’s in the Box?

Quantities matter in science. Ordering the requisite items for present experimental needs is efficient, avoids clutter, and reduces waste.

The language of quantities when ordering lab supplies, however, is often ambiguous:

“Order a tube of Taq.”

“Get three boxes of serological pipettes.”

Some suppliers are easy with quantities designated by unique catalog numbers (Thank you NEB and Biolegend).

Some make it harder.

Each, Pack, and Case

Each, pack, and case can all be considered a box of an item and sometimes one catalog number corresponds to all three tiers (e.g. some listings at VWR).

boxes-1170966_1920 Pixabay CC0
What and how much in each box?  Photo credit: Pixabay, CC0

Packs and cases can also contain single items. Requesting a case of media supplied one bottle per case will result in receiving one bottle. Unless the request was stated in number of bottles, less media than requested will arrive.

The good news there: ordering more is easier than having too much and trying to return some.

Item quantities are variable and every supplier is slightly different.

Check the Amount

Virtual Lab Managers meticulously checks quantity when ordering.

Asking the requestors to clarify is a best practice:

“This media is sold 1 bottle/case. Do you need more than one bottle?”

“A case contains 3,000 syringes. Do you need that many?”

Ordering the right quantity is good science.


3 Reasons A HappiLabs Virtual Lab Manager is quicker than the average Lab Manager

It is our intention to put a lot more importance on a very undervalued position.

The lab manager.

It shouldn’t be a position mixing operations with too much science. A lab manager needs to focus on operations, and if they are doing experiments too, your lab is going to be less efficient than the ones using a Virtual Lab Manager to support the people focused on science.

A good lab manager should be extremely proficient with a computer and apps. They will be receiving many emails, toggling through supplier websites, and communicating with everyone in the lab.

There are many reasons why a HappiLabs VLM is more efficient, but here are 3 reasons that have to do with technology:

Keyboard training



We put our Virtual Lab Managers through training to become masters of a keyboard.

We estimate this saves a VLM at least 15 minute per day, simply by using  (Command + Tab) or (Command + ~), etc. We can scroll through windows, tabs, and programs at lightning speed.

Copy, paste, scroll to the top, scroll to the bottom, undo, redo, and on and on. We aim to compete with a software developer’s mastery of a keyboard.

Remembering passwords

Logging in and out of supplier websites has never been easier, or more secure with password saving apps. Passwords don’t need to be retrieved from Excel or physical paper every time we order through Quartzy, Sigma, NEB, etc. They are automatically known. This saves 10-25 minutes per day for a busy lab.


Using multiple monitors

Every VLM has at least two monitors. One for monitoring communication (email, gchat, Slack, etc.), and the other is for other activity (googling, shopping online, analyzing quotes, etc.). By keeping a constant eye on communication, a VLM will respond quicker to all your scientists’ needs.

And a small shoutout to Moom. When analyzing multiple windows of data or comparing several quotes, resizing windows so you can see them all on one page is fast…HappiLabs fast.



The Scientist Purchasing Cycle – Time Lost from Science

In your lab, who is responsible for negotiating prices, placing orders, following up on them, and tracking receipts for proper accounting?

If you answer “the scientists”, your lab is in a lot of trouble. For people who are not trained to manage money, negotiate, and understand accounting…does this make sense? No. And your lab is losing time (and boatloads of money) over it.

Welcome to the future! Where the purchasing role of the lab, and most lab manager duties, are available for outsourcing, allowing scientists to spend more time on science–what they are trained to do.

happy scientist at happilabs virtual lab manager purchasing


The Value of a Virtual Lab Manager


This post will show how a HappiLabs Virtual Lab Manager brings value to any lab in the world, especially a biotech startup. We perform all sorts of tasks to help scientists, but we specialize in purchasing lab supplies and equipment. HappiLabs provides clear savings to labs both in terms of time and money.

We evaluate time savings just as much, if not more, than financial savings. At regular lab meetings, our team of Virtual Lab Managers dissects the purchasing process in an effort to constantly improve and keep our labs running as efficiently as possible.

To supplement our studious efforts, we utilize cutting edge hardware and software.

If your company needs help creating a purchasing department, we can help. Let’s discuss the full purchasing cycle and the time associated.

It’s not as simple as “I need something. Order it. It arrives in 2 days.” There’s a lot more behind the scenes work that goes into ordering, which academics take for granted with help from their department or university purchasing systems. The entire purchasing cycle takes place in seven steps over the course of a few days to weeks.

Purchasing Flow Chart

Remember, in the world of startup biotech, you’re on your own.

1) Identifying supplies to buy

This involves Google, incoherent supplier websites, and phone calls to tech support and sales reps when buying something new. Sometimes our customers do this themselves, sometimes they send the research to their Virtual Lab Manager.

“Hi Raudel, I’m looking for options for DNA extraction kits. Can you find me a couple and their price per extraction?”

This saves 15-60 minutes per request for scientists.

2) Finding fair pricing

Our scientists don’t bother with this and trust HappiLabs will find a supplier with fair pricing. Keep in mind, it’s not always about price. We evaluate the whole value of a product and the supplier selling it (such as customer service, speed of shipping, and communication).

If scientists do this themselves, they’d be on the phone trying to get quotes from suppliers or googling. But their job is science and this is another 30 minutes that can be spent in the lab. That’s why they hire us.

Additionally, HappiLabs has relationships with suppliers so communication is quicker and we can leverage our purchasing power for even more cost savings.

3) Placing orders

This is not always as easy as logging in, click…click….click…done. Sometimes it’s a 5-15 minute phone call as you check stock and availability, double check pricing, and provide your payment info. The simplest order will still take at least 8 minutes online. Go ahead, time yourself. Scientists shouldn’t waste time doing this.

4) Receiving an order confirmation

What? Yeah, the most underrated step. It should not be taken for granted. Just because you called in an order or placed it online, DO NOT assume the order is being processed.

Most scientific suppliers are not as awesome as Amazon, and mistakes happen. Make sure you get a confirmation # otherwise you might be waiting and waiting and waiting for an order that was never processed.

5) Tracking shipping estimates

More important than you know, especially with the big suppliers. DO NOT trust their online estimates. Always call, and even so, believe no one until you have a Fedex or UPS tracking #. HappiLabs keeps scientists on schedule by staying on top of ETAs so experiments can be planned accordingly.

There are no surprise backorders with a Virtual Lab Manager. We spend about 4-8 minutes per order assuring this.

6) Receiving an order

Making sure the shipment gets to the right person is one of the most amusing moments of the purchasing cycle, and often the most difficult. HappiLabs has their secret as to how this happens and packages are rarely lost, especially at incubators like QB3@953, where there are 41 companies receiving packages.

7) Filing the invoice for accounting

It takes about 8-12 minutes per order and crucial for keeping the accountant happy. We work with and intergrate our workflow with many types of accounting softwares or systems.

Tracking down an invoice isn’t always simple. Some suppliers automatically email you, but many don’t, and then there’s the occasional mischarge that only gets caught if someone is monitoring invoices. We always do. There are two unintentional, sneaky ways suppliers make extra money from companies not monitoring invoices:

  • You’ve applied a promo code during the checkout process, but the order doesn’t get invoiced with the discount.
  • You were told “free” shipping, but were charged a “Handling” or “Fuel Surcharge” fee.


In the long run, a Virtual Lab Manager moves faster and makes fewer mistakes than most lab managers, and especially if someone is doing this job who wears five different hats.

Think about it….an expert, with one hat, sitting at a computer with a load of resources and tools behind them — who do you think will do the job better?

Meet our Virtual Lab Managers.

(NOTE: this post was originally published on the Perlstein Lab blog. We’ve made edits to generalize it.)