Ekaterina Damer, CEO of Prolific Academic

Ekaterina (Katia) is the CEO and co-founder of Prolific, a crowdsourcing platform for paid participant recruitment, currently part of the OUI Startup Incubator.  She is currently studying a PhD in Experimental Social Psychology at the University of Sheffield.

Q: What is your background?  Why are you doing this?
A: I’m a psychological scientist by training, and currently a PhD student in Experimental Social Psychology. About a year ago I was looking to recruit participants for my research, but there was no affordable/efficient platform that I could use for participant recruitment. In response to that we’ve founded Prolific. Our vision is to revolutionise the way crowdsourcing is done by being one of the most international, transparent, and ethical crowdsourcing platforms.

Q: What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
A: To me, entrepreneurs are self-starters who are not bound by the status quo. Entrepreneurship means that you can recognize and seize opportunities.

Q: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
A:  I’m currently a part-time entrepreneur but flirting with the idea to pursue my CEO position full-time. My decision to enter the world of start-ups is grounded in the realisation that a) there was no solution to a problem I was facing and b) there’s so much untapped potential in the crowdsourcing space, which we would like to leverage.

Q: So what would you say are the top skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
A: Open-mindedness, social/emotional intelligence, pragmatism.

Q: What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
A: Having the freedom to develop a vision and build a company that transcends current norms. I love the autonomy and the fact that we can set our own benchmarks (be they value- or data-driven) rather than “dance to somebody else’s tune”.

Q: What individual, company or organization inspires you most?
A: Hm, difficult one. Not entirely sure… Daniel Kahneman is one individual that inspires me. Not only because he is a deep thinker and rigorous, data-driven scientist, but also because of his humility.

Q: If you could have 5 minutes with the above indiv/company/org, what would you want to ask or discuss?
A: I’d ask him what motivated him to uncover some of the fundamental biases of the human mind.

Q: What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
A: Our most satisfying moment in business happened recently: when we suddenly started to grow fast thanks to social media. More than 1000 new participants had signed up to our participant pool overnight. This made us realise that expensive advertising campaigns may not be necessary for a startup to start growing.

Q: What would you say have been some of your mistakes as an entrepreneur?
A:  One mistake has been to agree to customer requests that stretch our start-up’s capacity. Sometimes, you simply have to honestly ask yourself: Can you fulfill what your customer is asking for? If not, then be open about this and don’t get dragged into something that takes disproportionate amounts of work but adds little value. Another mistake has been to overestimate the importance of networking events. Each minute invested into networking is a minute you could spend developing your product. :-)

Q: What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire?  Bad?
A: The link to the University of Oxford is fantastic, allowing startups to engage in valuable dialogue with bright students and renowned experts. Being part of the Isis Software Incubator has been exceptionally useful for our startup because it connected us to potential investors as well as trusted law and accounting firms. The high living costs in Oxfordshire are somewhat of a drawback, but worth the investment.

Q: If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for information or resources in Oxfordshire, where would you send them?
A:  Oxford University Innovation, Oxford Launchpad, Oxford Entrepreneurs.

Q: Any last words of advice?
A: Try to avoid being a perfectionist, 80% is enough most of the time. Be as data-driven as you can be (à la The Lean Startup) and don’t hesitate to ask for advice!