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Robert Fenton of Qualio: “Be so good that they can’t ignore you”

Qualio is a mission-driven company with the goal of enabling teams building life-saving products to get to market quickly and scale successfully. To achieve this, we’re building the first cloud quality solution that works to enable all life sciences companies to become quality-driven. The status quo is focused on supporting internal teams with points solutions […]

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Qualio is a mission-driven company with the goal of enabling teams building life-saving products to get to market quickly and scale successfully. To achieve this, we’re building the first cloud quality solution that works to enable all life sciences companies to become quality-driven.

The status quo is focused on supporting internal teams with points solutions to help them solve specific problems in a disjointed way. We’re proving that it’s possible to make an enormous impact through enabling the entire ecosystem to work better together and use quality as a distinct competitive advantage in a world where speed is becoming increasingly important.


As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Fenton.

Robert Fenton is the founder and chief executive officer of Qualio. Prior to founding Qualio in 2012, Robert studied pharmacy for 5 years at University College Cork, practiced as a community pharmacist, and spent time in quality and R&D roles at global pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and Leo Pharma. Robert made the move to San Francisco in 2016 after bootstrapping the company in his home country of Ireland, where the beginnings of the office-agnostic talent philosophy of Qualio took root.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Growing up in a small town in Ireland, I was fascinated by science and technology and read everything I could on the topics. This led to me representing Ireland internationally in chemistry prior to going to University to study Pharmacy. While studying Pharmacy, and shortly after, I was fortunate enough to spend some time working in some of the world’s most successful pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Leo Pharma. These roles exposed me to the importance of quality in life sciences and the huge challenges companies faced when trying to deliver on their core promise of providing safe, effective medicines that work consistently.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Qualio is a mission-driven company with the goal of enabling teams to build life-saving products to get to market quickly and scale successfully. To achieve this, we’re building the first cloud quality solution that works to enable all life sciences companies to become quality-driven.

The status quo is focused on supporting internal teams with points solutions to help them solve specific problems in a disjointed way. We’re proving that it’s possible to make an enormous impact through enabling the entire ecosystem to work better together and use quality as a distinct competitive advantage in a world where speed is becoming increasingly important.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of people support me through the journey. I started with two loving, caring parents who supported me from an early age and gave me opportunities to grow and challenge myself. And it’s continued from when I started Qualio and moved to the SF Bay Area from Ireland.

In particular, I remember when we were still really early and Brandon (previously an advisor, now our VP Sales) encouraged us to keep focused on executing when early growth was challenging and we didn’t have a lot of resources to get Qualio in front of a lot of customers as a bootstrapped business.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption can be a powerful force and can be both positive and negative. Positive disruption occurs when we can remove waste or inefficiencies from existing systems. Or else find new ways to add value that weren’t there or weren’t possible previously. Or create entirely new systems where people can derive great benefits. There are many examples of these types of positive disruptions through history, particularly within our transport and communications infrastructure over the past 100 years.

Most systems, even those that have “stood the test” of time have opportunities to be improved and potentially disruptive. The problem of “negative description” occurs when change is being made for change’s sake, without deep thought around the end outcome or when one party changes how a system works to benefit themselves over all others.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Be so good that they can’t ignore you — Early in our journey, when we didn’t have much traction, it was difficult to get people to believe in the potential that we saw in our business. When talking about this with an advisor, they shared this simple advice, which I believe is incredibly important for any first-time founder that needs to prove themselves and the potential for their business.

Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?

When we started, we wanted to validate our core hypothesis around being able to acquire customers effectively via the web so we started with some simple paid advertising to prove this and our initial value prop. As we built confidence around product/market fit, we then started to invest in longer term programs around educating the market, which we see as a core responsibility and opportunity to introduce more people to Qualio.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

You’ll need to wait and see! We’ve just closed our Series A and are working towards expanding our team and investing in our product.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

There have been several. Some of the most impactful when getting started were The Startup by Eric Ries and Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank. As we started to grow, learning how to build a growth machine from talks by people like Mark Roberge and Brian Balfour, both formerly from Hubspot, and books like Scaling Up by Verne Hamish, and Radical Candor by Kim Scott were hugely influential.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Steve Jobs said, “Life can be so much broader, once you discover one simple fact, and that is that everything around you that you call ‘life’ was made up by people who were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”

How can our readers follow you online?

I don’t keep an active public social medial profile, so the best place to follow me is on our blog https://www.qualio.com/blog

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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