Developing software for world's top life sciences firms - SciLeads' James Campbell

  • As a teenager in Belfast 20 years ago, James Campbell taught himself to code for fun.

    Now he’s CTO of fast-growing global tech firm SciLeads, whose marketing intelligence software is used by eight of the top 10 global companies in the life science instrumentation field.

    SciLeads is an innovative lead generation and market intelligence platform that helps scientific companies identity, engage and close their ideal buyers.

    We hear about his journey and how he’s shaped the culture of the company, SciLeads’ success as it marks five years in business, and a number of new opportunities available for developers who love what they do and want to be part of a fun and supportive team.

    How did you get into coding?

    For me it was about curiosity and finding a technical solution to any real life problems I had.  I was always tinkering with things. I'd tinker with a football game to give my favourite players a higher rating. I first tried to code when we wanted to make a league for the simulation game MechWarrior 3. It didn't go very well, but all those failed attempts built a foundation for later on.

    I did a Life Sciences degree because of curiosity and I've always enjoyed Science. I didn't realise initially that studying my hobby would have been a great idea! That revelation came in my final year when I was looking at my next options and realised I wanted to code for a living. So I did an IT conversion course which was run by the Department for Employment and Learning and that led to a job at Allstate. I’m delighted that I’ve ended up in a place where I can combine both my interests in coding and at the cutting edge of science.

    Was this the first attempt at setting up a business?

    There were other attempts, but I don't know if they count! In secondary school I set up a website off the back of a bet to try and get free tickets for concerts. We negotiated writing reviews of gigs in exchange for tickets - it worked a bit. Among others, I managed to get to see Bob Dylan, and got my mum tickets for Andrea Bocelli. 

    Then there was Dr PC, which was a computer repair service in Belfast. I set this up with Laura Haldane, who is SciLeads’ Sales and Marketing Director when we were both teenagers. We actually had a great business going and I still get contacted by people wanting me to fix their computers, which I don’t do anymore! I preferred the coding side of it, rather than the fixing.

    Tell us about how SciLeads came about and what it does?

    I knew our CEO Daniel McRitchie as he’d worked at Andor with Laura. He identified a gap in the market to design a platform that would revolutionise sales and marketing to scientists and approached Laura (on the sales side) and myself (on the tech side) to help him make it happen.

    In 2016 we launched our lead generation and market intelligence platform that helps scientific instrumentation companies across North America, Europe and Asia identify buyers for their products.

    SciLeads collects valuable data on all the scientific research grants awarded globally, which is used by our clients to identify which researchers may need high-tech scientific equipment, such as microscopes or genetic sequencers, to carry out their work.

    Why do you think the company worked?

    I think we had it right from the start with the team – you need a techy, a sales person and an innovator – each of us are great at our own things and we just got on with it.  We knew there was a market for what we were offering and how valuable it would be to clients and no one else was offering it so the time was right to go for it.

    Five years on from launching, how are things going for SciLeads?

    We have seen almost 100% growth every year but there has been a huge increase in demand for our platform over the last 18 months since conferences were cancelled. It meant that many scientific instrumentation companies had to look at marketing to prospective buyers in new ways.

    While innovation and exceptional data quality were the main drivers of Scileads’ success before Covid, the need for companies to try new digital marketing tools has opened our customer base wider – hence our need to keep recruiting new developers!

    We have also just partnered with SalesForce to launch our app on their app exchange store which is a big milestone for us. That will streamline the service we provide to customers, making our platform even easier for them to use.

    What sort of culture does the company have?

    Even when it was just the three of us, we realised that we all worked very differently, with Daniel being the early bird and Laura and I preferring to work in the evenings, so our ethos is that staff can choose to work the hours that suit them.

    We recognise the 9 to 5 doesn’t work for many people and our culture has always been flexible, valuing work-life balance, and as a result we’ve been able to recruit great people to work with us. We believe people should be given the tools and flexibility to work when and how they want to. And my dogs are delighted to get walked during daylight hours!

    As we’ve always fully embraced remote working we didn’t have to change any of our working practices when Covid hit. It also has enabled us to employ people who live in different time zones or who don’t want to spend three hours of their days commuting to an office.

    We provide a huge allowance for top-notch home office setup, private health insurance and an extra day off on your birthday!

    From a career development perspective, like many developers I didn’t like the idea that the only way you progress is to go into management and stop coding- so we’ve worked hard to make sure people get to do what they love most and still progress.

    How do you stay connected with your colleagues when you work remotely?

    We're all digital natives and it’s our primary means of communication. We have Slack channels where we can have the usual workplace chat, share funny links and have a laugh.  We do a daily stand-up asynchronously via Slack too.  This allows people to get warmed up at their own pace and gives everyone a chance to see what everyone else is working on.  For projects we tend to keep in touch via video calls or again dedicated Slack channels.

    There are other ways we also keep connected. As a company we do speed networking events where you have three minutes to talk about random stuff with people you wouldn't normally work with. This is always interesting. 

    We also stay connected through games.  There are a few of us who play Halo and Overwatch together.  We're keen to grow this group and become champions!

    Why would developers want to come and work with SciLeads?

    The flexible and remote working appeals to most people as well as working in a collaborative, supportive and relaxed culture where we’re connecting companies and researchers to do really important work.

    Although SciLeads is growing fast we want to make sure that we retain that small company feel without lots of layers of management that are inevitable in tech giants. For developers it means less red tape, and being close to the action. We are a data company with a lot of software. If you love data and data science or love to code and want to learn and experiment more in your work, then we have the perfect environment to nurture your passion.

    And what kind of people are you looking for?

    The SciLeads team shares common values and like-minded approaches to work life balance, they encourage and support one another. We want to employ people who support our vision and core values of embracing the journey, winning together, diversity, open and honest communication and having fun. If you are passionate about software development, data wrangling, data science, scientific research and about making a difference, have a look at our open positions here:

    Find out more about the latest tech job opportunities across Northern Ireland on Sync NI's Jobs page here.

    About the author

    Niamh is a Sync NI writer with a previous background of working in FinTech and financial crime. She has a special interest in sports and emerging technologies. To connect with Niamh, feel free to send her an email or connect on Twitter.

    Got a news-related tip you’d like to see covered on Sync NI? Email the editorial team for our consideration.

    Sign up now for a FREE weekly newsletter showcasing the latest news, jobs and events in NI’s tech sector.

Share this story