Podcast, Part I: Vulnerable Storytelling to Advance Data Science

Show Highlights

You wouldn’t think a data scientist would tout vulnerability and storytelling as requirements for success, but that is exactly what Jacey Heuer has learned across multiple industries and projects that have failed and succeeded. In the first of this three-part series, Heuer shares that “what you think you know today should change tomorrow because you’re always discovering something more.”

Key Takeaways

Success in data science means:

  • Acknowledging that 80% of projects never make it out of production, and not because of a failure of science but a failure in communication and being vulnerable. 
  • Putting yourself out there by connecting with different people. 
  • Acquiring and honing new skills and behaviors that support a deeper understanding of systems thinking and the dynamic variables within those systems.
  • Always iterating and reinventing. The work is never done, and it’s never easy.

Three distinctions for roles and responsibilities:

  • Data Analysts work with stakeholders in-depth to understand the problems, goals, and outcomes needed.
  • Data Scientists focus on prototyping and exploring and twisting and turning data – looking for the algorithm.
  • Machine Learning Engineers productionalize the output.

Read the Transcript

0:00:57.9 Matthew: On this episode of The Long Way Around The Barn, we kick off a three-part series with Jacey Heuer, a data scientist with a passion for learning, a passion for teaching, and an unquenchable passion for helping leaders understand the profound impacts of data-based decisions. I absolutely loved my conversations with Jacey, and was surprised and highly interested when he told me how vulnerability and storytelling were two of the greatest attributes of a useful data scientist. In these podcasts, Jacey shares with us a little about his personal and professional journey as a data scientist.

0:01:37.6 Jacey Heuer: And what I feel today might change tomorrow, and so on. What’s sort of the core component of that is the scientific thought process. I’m not going get too far ahead, but that’s something that connects with me deeply. Part of the reason I’m a data scientist is this: Your vision, what you think you know today should change tomorrow, because you’re always discovering something more. That’s the scientific process.

0:02:00.8 Matthew: His views on the development of data science as a body of knowledge and professional practice, how companies can realize the value of data decisions, and what people need to explore, learn and pursue in order to become a credible data scientist. JC, thank you for taking the time to meet with us, talk with us, teach us and just include us. Tell us a little bit about… We know currently that you’re working in the data space on purpose. You love it, it’s a passion, it’s your journey, it’s your current chapter or multiple chapters, but tell us a little bit about your journey, Where have you been? Where have you come from? How did you end up here? And then tell us about where you are and where you’d like to be heading. Teach us about you.

0:02:50.3 Jacey Heuer: Thanks for having me, Matthew, I appreciate it. And I liked the emphasis on purpose there. So my journey started… I’ll go way back to start with maybe, right? So I started off as an athlete, very focused on athletics. Coming through high school into my undergrad, I was gonna play professional basketball. So I’m a pretty tall guy, relatively athletic, depending who you talk to. And so that was really my initial journey. Various reasons it didn’t pan out. I ended up graduating and getting my undergrad, and finance is kinda where I started. And so there’s a lot of connection into data with finance, accounting, stuff like that. It’s not a stretch by any means, to get to the data side of that discipline. I started off in financial analytics, and then decided to go back and get my MBA. And so I was getting my MBA at Iowa State around the time that data science was really becoming more of a mainstream term. It was noted as being the sexiest job of the decade and all that kinda stuff. Around this time is when it was first getting popular. And so that was kind of my initial motivation, to be like, “Yes, I like finance.” I’m getting this sort of data bug as I step out into the professional world.

0:04:14.1 Jacey Heuer: Going through my MBA course at Iowa State, I was introduced to some text analytics classes and courses, which is really sort of my first real step into what I would call real data science, kinda that movement beyond traditional business intelligence, financial analytics, stuff like that. So, got some exposure there out of that. I started to really focus on “What is this career path that I want, where do I want to go, and how do I do this within this data science space?” So I started networking, as sort of cliche as that can be, just getting my name out there, meeting people, stepping out, being vulnerable, putting myself out there, connecting with different people, and I was able to take a role in data analytics with commercial real estate, which is… There’s some traditional applications of that. There’s also some… From when I was looking for a data science sort of transformative application. That was a new thing in commercial real estate at the time, and it’s still a relatively new thing. That industry is relatively data-tight; data is held close to the chest, it’s not publicly available all the time. And there’s ways to go around that and all that kinda stuff, but that was sort of my first big opportunity and big step into this journey of data science.

0:05:30.6 Jacey Heuer: And so I was able to finish my MBA, start this role with this commercial real estate company, leading their international commercial real estate research publication. So we’re doing analytics on Europe, on Australia, on the US, similar countries around the world, understanding different forecasts around interest rates, around metro markets, all this kinda stuff, drivers of hotness in the commercial real estate industry across these metros and things like that. That was sort of my real first taste of a data science professional setting. I’m really diving into this knee-deep. From there, this was kind of in tune with when more universities were now starting to catch up and launch their graduate programs around data science, so I decided to go back, earn my graduate degree in data science. Out of that, it was just kind of a launch pad to keep moving forward then. And I’ve always had this kind of notion in my mind, as I’ve gone down this journey is, there’s currently this double-edged sword of, how often should you change? Should you take an opportunity? And how long should you stay in that current role before you feel like you’ve learned? And… What’s that balance of, “Am I going too fast? Am I going fast enough?”

0:06:46.7 Jacey Heuer: And to me, I’ve landed on that side of trying to… As mystical as this can sound, listen to the universe; not give too much thought to it and just kinda let it flow. So when an opportunity comes along, it’s an assessment of, “Does this really feel right to me? If it does, let’s take it.” That’s given me the ability to practice and step into data science and work in the data space across a few different industries. So as I’ve gone forward, I’ve worked in… I mentioned commercial real estate, financial services, e-commerce, now manufacturing, the energy industry as well, and been able to experience, really, different company dynamics, different sizes of companies, and how they approach data, data science, data management. What the nuances of changing a culture to be more open, to being data-driven, what does that mean? What are the challenges of that? And that’s really been what’s led me to this state, and I think what’s kinda guiding me forward as well. It’s listening to the universe, listening to the flow, accepting kinda what comes next, and then just kinda moving forward with that. If that makes sense, hopefully, but…

0:07:58.8 Matthew: No, that’s outstanding. One of the things that struck me, and you may already be aware of this pattern, and I’m just catching up to you. In order to be an athlete on purpose, you have to be aware of a universe level or a system level, whole system level, set of variables, and all of these variables in the system are dynamic. Some of them might be static, some of them are variable. And all of these things are learning new skills, honing existing skills, deciding to try and make some things, some behaviors, some quirks, some types of behaviors go away. But your goal was to take all of these system variables, understand these variables in the mix, and move forward in some way, shape, or form. Whether you tacitly recognized it at the time or not, it seems like, as a purposed, goal-oriented athlete, you were already a systems thinker. What’s interesting then is how you translated that systems thinking into another, more… Well, defined for undergraduate school degree, finance, which was also systems thinking, also structure. Did you do that on purpose? Did you discover it along the way? That’s an interesting map from my perspective, right off the bat.

0:09:22.2 Jacey Heuer: I would say that wasn’t on purpose by any means. It was more of a, “This is my personality, this is sort of this… ” Again, I… Not to sound mystical, but it’s sort of that sense of, “This just seems to fit as the next step, and let’s take this, and put myself out there and see what happens.” I think you hit the nail on the head, Matthew, when you talk about that systems thinking from an athlete’s perspective. It’s having that sort of top to bottom, bottom to top, thorough understanding of: How does the team work? How do the pieces come together? What’s that more macro vision, that strategy that we’re going after, and how do we deliver that strategy within these sort of subcomponents? And something I’ve noticed, as I’ve gone further in my career with data science… There’s… And I think this is… It’s common across many disciplines, many practices, there’s sort of the balance of… Those with the ability to really… To be the… To have that real depth of technical skill set, and can knock out, “This is my task, I can do that task,” and those with the ability to really see what’s the relationship with that task into the bigger whole and connect these pieces together. And I’ll say, from a data science perspective, the skill set to really understand, “How does this algorithm, this thing I’m working on, tie in to that business impact, tie in to the bigger whole?” That’s a valuable skill set to have.

0:10:56.3 Jacey Heuer: And I’ll say, for me, having both an MBA, data science master’s degrees, and putting those two together has given that sort of benefit where I can understand how, if I’m building this algorithm, writing this code, what’s the impact to the business? And how do you speak to that impact to build those relationships with those that are ultimately going to adopt this output? That’s the feedback that we want, that we’re seeking, and why a common statistic for data science is that it’s something like 80% of models and algorithms never make it to production. That’s a huge failure rate. And a lot of that is, you’ll do all the legwork, the foundational work, getting it up to that state, and then go to that last mile to get adoption, you don’t get that buy-in from the business; that relationship isn’t there, that trust isn’t there. And that’s something where, on the athlete’s side, as a basketball player, you know if that’s gonna happen, more immediate. You know if I’m taking the shot or I’m passing the ball to this person, they’re either gonna take it and shoot it and score or not. You know that they’re accepting your pass. You know it’s gonna happen. Data science side, it may not be evident or obvious right away. You may go through all this work, three months down the line, just to find out that what you were building doesn’t get adopted, and it falls into this abyss of what could have been data science.

0:12:26.9 Matthew: That map, from your bachelor’s degree in finance to then doing an MBA to get a broader perspective, it almost looks like a funnel, as I’m visualizing some of your journey, where the athlete himself was starting out as a systems thinker, so that’s already a wide funnel, if you will. And then finance was starting to apply structure and discipline, and honing some of that stuff, but just raw talent’s not enough to be a pro ball player. Just raw talent gets you down the road, but it doesn’t help you last. So somewhere along the way, you said, “I must focus, I must have structure, I must have purpose.” Somewhere, you chose that. To your point, listen to what you’re hearing and make decisions contextually, but you became aware of the need for doing something on purpose, and thinking about all of the variables, you moved into the MBA conversation with a data focus. The interesting thing about the MBA, from my perspective, is it’s not designed to give you the answer to all possible questions, but it is designed to make you aware of how very many different bodies of knowledge exist to just even make an operation operational and then healthy and useful.

0:13:44.9 Matthew: So you have this interesting blend between you want to be a competitor, a high-performing competitor, who is disciplined, to someone who’s now focused it to, “I understand math, I understand models, I understand the value proposition of an idea,” to then moving into, “Hey, there’s all of these things it takes to run a business, not just data stuff. But data helps drive, equip, enable, educate people to make decisions, but there’s all these other things as well. They all require data, but they’re all different types of behaviors.” You’ve walked into this data role, being aware of the need for systems thinking, of discipline, knowing that you’re not the only person in the company with a brain doing thinking, but then also realizing that the things that you’re creating need to be relevant to all of the other people in the business, or else it inadvertently supports that 80% of all models never make it to production. 80% of all shots taken never making it into the basket; that would be a fairly brutal statistic as a pro ball player. So in the data industry, that seems like some people are getting a lot of forgiveness, if you don’t mind my… What I’m saying there fairly directly is, 80% as an industry number? That’s pretty tough, dude. What are your thoughts on that?

0:15:09.4 Jacey Heuer: Yes, you hit the nail on the head, Matthew. And I think the mindset with data science, with AI… On one side, there’s a lot of buzzword, a lot of media coverage of it that drives a lot of it, and while the media coverage can be hyperbole sometime, the foundations of it are real. And the reality is that I think a lot of organizations, a lotta industries want to jump to, “Let’s just throw an algorithm at it, let’s just throw machine learning at it, and it’ll work,” without really realizing that the foundations, the data foundations underneath of that, the quality of that data, the governance of that data, the culture around managing that data, that is what drives the success of those 20% of models that get into production. It’s coming from having robust foundations in your data.

0:16:06.9 Jacey Heuer: And that’s probably the biggest distinction there, is that… Any model, any analytics that you’re doing, really, is a small set that, once that data foundation is in place, it’s much easier to iterate, experiment, prove value to your business partners, your stakeholders, and have a shorter putt to get to that adoption, and push through the end zone with that, and that, I think, is what gets lost in that 80% that doesn’t make it to production. As much as part of that’s maybe because of the relationship with the business, well, that relationship struggles because of the complexities that you’re trying to go through on the data side, and any of the confusion around “Why is it taking so long? Why can’t you just push the easy button?”, all that kinda stuff comes with that sort of messiness in the underlying data. Does that makes sense?

0:17:05.5 Matthew: It’s the sausage-making conversation, right? Have you ever been to a product demo? Many people have. Have you ever been to a product demo where all of the technical people said all of the technical things, but the people that were paying for the product development didn’t understand a single word that was spoken, like, “I know you said things. You seemed very excited about them. You seem confident. That makes me confident. I still have no idea what I just bought.” That seems like an easy gap that could exist in the data science world, to the executive leadership world inside a company, for example. For all of the executive leaders out there who are making decisions based on a single pane of glass, or a dashboard, or they’ve got a lovely, lovely, dynamic Excel spreadsheet with wonderful graphics on one of the pages in the workbook. For people that are trying to distill a whole business down to a single pane of glass, they may or may not be interested in the sausage-making. So how have you found, given all of your background and your awareness of these situations, how do you bridge this gap between, “I’ve got this data science stuff,” and “These guys are just looking for pie graphs”? How do you become relevant when they’re only using a single pane of glass?

0:18:26.3 Jacey Heuer: Yes. And that is, in many ways, the core of the challenge, that’s the art. And really, it comes from… It’s the relationship building, it’s the conversations, it’s the honesty around the vulnerability of letting these stakeholders know, “If we want to step forward into becoming truly more data-driven, changing the way we think about our decision making, our leveraging, and turn data as an asset, data as a resource and so on, what does that mean?” The reality of it is, you need to find that balance between that single pane of glass and the guts of making that sausage, and you have to pull back the covers a little bit on that, and the term I use, it’s the art of the possible. The being able to set the stage of, “This is the art of the possible, this is what we can do, if we have the strong foundation underneath of it.” And starting at that, “Here’s the shiny object, and now let’s peel it back and dig further into this and make that journey known, of what’s needed to get to that vision and art of the possible, and now let’s go and resource and attack these sort of sub-components that let us get that far.” And that takes clear communication and vulnerability.

0:19:46.4 Jacey Heuer: Again, I use that term a lot, because there’s no easy button for data science, for AI, for ML. As much as companies and vendors will push, “This is auto-ML, you can point and click,” all that kind of stuff. There’s a lot of work that goes in underneath of that, to make that work and work well for changing a business, changing the way they operate. Again, it’s giving that kind of clear vision of, “What can we bring, from a data science in advance and Linux perspective, to the organization?” and then laying out in honest terms, “These are the steps that we need to take, where the gaps are and how we can start tackling that.” Because it’s that vision that can hook someone and then going on that journey on, “How do you fill in those gaps, to get to that?” that’s the key, and making the partnership known.

0:20:43.7 Matthew: So set expectations, manage expectations, and in all cases, communicate and over-communicate.

0:20:51.1 Jacey Heuer: Correct. Iterate and iterate.

0:20:51.5 Matthew: And iterate.

0:20:56.0 Jacey Heuer: One of the key things I like to do when I enter into an organization, it’s go around and have these data science road shows. So meeting with different groups, different departments, and just educating them upfront, on, “This is the data science thought process, the data science project process. And what does that mean? And how is that different from maybe traditional software development or traditional engineering and things like that?” The data science means experimentation, means iteration, means going down a path, learning something, and then having to go back three steps and do it again. And so, it’s not a linear process all the time, but it’s very circular and it’s very iterative. And even when we get to the end of that path, we produce something. That thing we produced, may need to be re-invented a couple of months later, or you launch an algorithm and a pandemic hits, and what was driving that algorithm no longer has as much meaning because of the new environment. So you have to go and re-build that algorithm again and re-launch it again, because there’s new information being fed into it.

0:22:04.0 Matthew: There’s an interesting parallel inside organizations, which I imagine you’ve already seen and noticed because of your bachelor’s and your master’s. The idea of financial modeling, modeling itself and forecasting, whether it’s a go get a brand new vertical market, whether it’s segment a market, it’s create a new product and create demand for the product. The idea of finance has been around for a long time, and it’s understood by most, it’s discussed in undergrad and grad school, and even if people don’t go to university of any kind, everybody is familiar with, “You need to make more money than you spend, or else you’re upside down, you have a problem, you won’t last long.” But if I want to live for a very long time, I need to forecast. In other words, I need to say, “Based on the things I know today and the things I think I know about tomorrow, what will it take for me to get from where I am to where I need to go?”

0:22:53.0 Matthew: That forecasting idea, that’s an old idea, and it’s in companies already, today. And I’ve seen it done wonderfully and I’ve seen it done horribly, and the difference was communication, where somebody took the time to say, “Look, man, based on these 15 assumptions and these 17 system variables, which I don’t control any of them, and based on the things you think you want to be when you grow up, 19 months from now, here is version A, B and C of my forecast,” and people tend to accept that as, “Okay, given all of the knowns and the unknowns, this makes a lot of sense. You made me feel good. Okay, goodbye.” In the data space, it seems to be similar, but I wonder if that’s just a new enough idea that people don’t understand what they’re buying yet or how to use it yet, and so when you mentioned that, “Let’s just grab some MLs, let’s just grab some AI, let’s just grab that little algorithm and put it into my Excel spreadsheet,” I wonder if people don’t fully understand exactly what it is, what to do with it and how to make best use of it right now.

0:24:02.9 Jacey Heuer: I think you’re correct in every aspect of that. It’s sort of the shining light on a hill, shining object that’s sort of lingering out there, that I want to grab on to, and it sounds great, it sounds cool. And again, and not to discount it, it is ML, AI is real, the expected benefits of it are real, the readiness for some organizations to really adopt it, may not be as real. And I think that’s a key concept to keep in mind. Depending on the organization, there can be a lot of ingrained processes, ingrained mindsets. I’m going to look at the data, to justify or justify a position I already have. The confirmation bias. I already know what I want to find out, I’m gonna go find it in the data.

0:24:53.2 Jacey Heuer: So if I apply a ML model to that and it tells me something different, I’m not gonna trust that, because I have… I know what I already think, and that’s what I want. That’s one of the walls that, as we build data science into an organization, how do we tear that wall down and change that mindset to overcome that confirmation bias, the selection bias that may be present? And it may be built on years of experience, “This has worked for me for 30 years. Why would I change now?” Well, there’s more data becoming available, the industry may be changing, the environment’s changing, we’re in a pandemic, we’re in whatever it is, that’s the promise of data science, is, it’s quicker, more consistent, in many ways, more accurate decision-making that can come out of those models, those efforts.

0:25:48.4 Matthew: It seems like, to me, based on my own journey, based on the increasing numbers or classes of data that we continue to collect, that we didn’t use to collect, when we collect so much more data today than we ever did, and it’s only increasing, that at some point, the idea of a super smart financial controller or CFO being able to take in all of this multi-dimensional data and make sense of it in order to create a credible forecast, it seems like the role of the manual forecast will become less and less and less reliable, as the multiple dimensions of data that we collect continues to increase and not even at the same rates of speed. My guess is, is that we’ll just be in denial about the reliability in our ability to forecast multiple dimensions in Excel, as opposed to recognize that, “Hey, I want to do the same thing, but now with all of this data, maybe I need to go figure out what this ML thing is, or what is this AI thing, or… ” It just seems like the magic of the forecaster needs to change.

0:27:00.8 Jacey Heuer: What I think of, when you mentioned that, Matthew… I don’t know if I’d call it the magic of the forecaster, the mindset needs to change, maybe. It’s the base skill sets that go into this, go into forecasting, go into modeling, it’s the understanding of, “As I obtain more data and try to translate that into an action, translate that into conversation that a leader can take an action on, what are the skill sets I need, to be able to make that translation happen?” Because the data, the ML, the algorithm, as companies become more refined, more robust in their ability to build that foundation of data, that will continue to improve and become, I think, easier to get to, “This is my forecast, and it’s a more robust forecast because I’m taking in so many more variables, many more features into this forecast, and I can account for having an expectation of different anomalies and things like that to occur.” But my role as a forecaster now, has to be, “How do I translate that into meaningful action for the business and tell that story and convince the leaders of that action?”

0:28:17.0 Jacey Heuer: And I think that’s something where, academically… And there’s many boot camps and things out there, that build the technical skill set for data science, but what’s still catching up, is that communication, it’s that relationship building, it’s, “How do I tell the story in a way that’s actionable and that drives trust in my forecast, in what I’m doing?”

0:28:41.9 Matthew: In my mind, at least, it is similar to the technical people who demo a technical, they say technical things during the product demo, but somehow, they’re completely irrelevant to the people that are supposed to be benefiting from that whole journey, ’cause I didn’t say anything that mapped. Let me tell you about your five-year goals say this, your current books say this, your forecast says this, we’ve aggregated this data. After we take that data and look at it multi-dimensionally and we forecast it out differently, you have to take all of this giant universe of stuff and not talk about it and distill it down to something that’s just plain relevant. In other words, what I think I’ve heard you say so far is, you could be the smartest data scientist in the earth, and if you don’t have the ability to communicate, you’re in that 80%.

0:29:36.4 Jacey Heuer: Yes, you hit the nail on the head, Matthew. That’s the key right now, it’s that communication, I think, that drives a lot of that adoption. There’s pockets of, I think, industry spaces where that may not be as necessary. I think of, if a company is founded around data and data is at the core of their organization, I think of a start-up, think of any… Put your tech company in here. Generally speaking, I think they have a stronger data culture, because their product is data. But when you’re talking about many other industries that are out there, manufacturing, energy, in many ways, things like that, where it’s… You’re stepping into a legacy company, a company that may be 100 years old, and it’s going through this transition to become data-driven, that’s where a lot of that challenge, and even more so, the emphasis on that communication becomes pertinent to the success, to changing that 80% failure rate to 50%, to majority of these are getting implemented. That’s where, at least in my experience, having worked in those industries that have some of these legacy old companies, that’s a key to success, is that communication, that relationship building.

0:30:57.8 Matthew: So, that 80%, really, may more accurately reflect just an inability or a lack of success in setting and managing expectations and communicating. It’s not a failure of science, it’s just a failure of us being people. Being a person is hard and communicating is hard, it’s the science where we can find peace.

0:31:21.0 Jacey Heuer: Yes. Right. To put it another way, the art is what’s hard, the science is straightforward. I know the math, I know the linear algebra, all that kind of stuff, and that’s the way it is right now, as far as we know. But it’s the art of, now, translating that into something meaningful. That’s a big component of it.

0:31:47.5 Matthew: So I’m… John, I haven’t done the things that you do, and I’m not even intending to assert that I know all of the things that you do. If I’m able to start in a greenfield project, that I’m able to do all of the things the way I think they should be done and anything that doesn’t happen as it showed, is on me. Often times though, to your point, we end up in legacy situations, where the company is 100 years old, 140 years old, or it’s been under the leadership of a particular C-suite for the last 45 years, whatever, in all of those situations, that does represent, probably, growth, it represents constancy or continuity, it represents a good strong company, all of the things. But it also represents the way things are done, and it might also then, be an additional challenge. So for me, if I need to take all of the data in an enterprise and take that all together and meld it together and do a single pane of glass for a C-suite for them to say, “Aah, I can now make a decision.”

0:32:42.3 Matthew: The journey to get to that lovely single pane of glass, like Star Trek, just walk around, hold it in my hand and I can see the entire stinking ship on that one screen, it’s ridiculous. ‘Cause I can have 105 different repos, data repos out there in various states of hellacious dirty data, to, “Oh my gosh, just flush this stuff,” to, “That is gorgeous. Where did that come from?” to stuff that’s in data prisons, the stuff that’s outside the walls. In the worlds that I’ve walked, to get to that single pane of glass, that journey is not peace, it’s just a lot of stinking work. But what’s it like, for you?

0:33:22.6 Jacey Heuer: I chuckled a little bit at that, because it’s chaos in many ways. That’s the reality of it. Because especially these old mature companies, generally, I don’t want to put a blanket statement out there, but just given what I’ve worked in, and there’s nothing… It’s just the reality of it. It’s the way they’ve gotten here, they’ve been around… The company may have been around for 100 years. They found success somehow, to be here for 100 years. But the result of it can be, from a data perspective, that you have many different systems, applications generating data, data that’s… It’s not built for data science, it’s maybe built for reporting, it’s… Term I give it is, data exhaust. It’s just not really in a usable format, and there’s knowledge gaps. There may not be… The person that built the database may not be with the company anymore, or still using the database, but no one has any real knowledge of what’s in there. There’s data flowing into it, but how do we map it and get it out? Things like that.

0:34:25.0 Jacey Heuer: And the path that has been useful, in trying to work through that, drive a transformation into something more modern, more updated, more usable for data science, it’s finding those champions within the owners of that data. So where that data is owned, going out, and again, it’s back to communication, it’s back to the art, but its finding those champions and not to get too granular on this, but something that’s worked for us is, it’s working to establish a true data council, data stewardship, where you have this representation, where you have, instead of data being this by-product, this… It doesn’t have a forefront, a key role in the business, it now takes a step in the forefront. The ownership is established, and the connection to the goals of the organization are built out. So now I have this council of individuals representing the different parts of the business that are generating the data, and they have a voice in, “How is this being used?” and have transparency and clarity into, “This is how we would like to use it.” Well, the conversation started, “Then, well, this is what we can do. I didn’t know that. That’s interesting.”

0:35:44.8 Jacey Heuer: You start that communication through that council, through that stewardship program, that is the first step to getting to that foundation of a robust data layer. Now you can build that data science on top of… Build that AI and ML on top of… And start that transformation. What can be, I think, challenging in that, depending on the goals of the organization, it’s the time and resources needed to really do that, and that’s a mountain to climb in itself, is, “How do you convince of that story, that this is what we need to get to that next step with data science, AI, ML, all that kind of stuff?” That’s a journey in itself.

0:36:29.7 Matthew: Do you find, in your profession, that you’re asked or expected to, or you find the need to differentiate or define what is data science, what is machine learning, what is artificial… Do you have to differentiate these things, and how would you define that for us today, knowing full well that you may have broader and deeper things to say, than we’re all prepared to receive?

0:36:53.3 JC Heuer: I think of it this way. It’s not uncommon. Anything that’s new, there’s a fair number of examples out there, where three different people, you ask them to define something, they can have three different definitions of it. What does this mean to you? And it’s the same thing with the data science space. The way I break it down is in a couple of ways. On one level, in terms of data science and data analytics, it really falls into three categories. There’s sort of the diagnostic, descriptive sort of category pillar, which is, many companies will have some version of this, where maybe we have a SQL server, we can do some reporting, maybe we visualize it in Power BI or Tableau, we can see what happened. That’s really that sort of descriptive diagnostic.

0:37:43.7 Jacey Heuer: The predictive element, that’s where we’re taking that sort of understanding of the past and now, giving some expectation of what’s to come, we’re guiding your decision on what we think is going to happen. Putting some balance on that, confidence interval, things like that. And then the third element or pillar, is the prescriptive pillar. This is where we’re taking those predictions, now giving that recommendation. What’s the action that we think will happen, because of our understanding of the data of the environment? If we tweak this lever or turn this knob, we can drive some outcome, and that’s our prescriptive recommendations. We’re gonna decrease price 10%, we’re gonna increase quantities sold 30%, elasticity.

0:38:29.3 Jacey Heuer: That’s kind of at a high level, how I start to define that, is those three pillars. And when you step into specific roles, you think data scientist, data analyst, machine learning engineer, data engineer, decision scientist is out there now, there’s all these different roles and variants that are beginning to evolve, in it’s many ways. You think back 20, 30 years ago, with software development and sort of that path of defining more niche roles and areas of that discipline, data science and the data space is going through that. The key difference goes to, I think about defining data analysts, data scientists and machine learning engineer. I think those are three important roles to understand in the space. And data analyst is very much on the side of, “I’m working with the business stakeholders to understand a particular problem in-depth and sort of lay the ground, the landscape of, this is what we have in the data and how maybe we can help answer some of that.” A lot of it’s in that descriptive side of those three pillars I mentioned.

0:39:41.2 Jacey Heuer: Data science, that’s really that algorithm building. It’s the prototyping, it’s the experimentation, it’s going out and we’re taking this chunk of data, adding more data to it, doing clustering on it, doing segmentation, exploring this in any great depth in perspectives and twisting and turning it. And we’re trying to find that algorithm, that mathematical equation, where you can input data and get an output that gives us a prediction or some prescriptive action. That’s data science. And the machine learning engineer, that machine learning engineer, that’s who’s productionalizing that data science output. So now you have data analysts that are defining and understanding. Data science, building of an understanding, that, “Let’s put this into an algorithm.” The machine learning, taking an algorithm and putting it into production. Those are three distinctions that I think, get misunderstood, but are important to understand, from a leadership standpoint, from the design of, “What do I need to do data science?” Those are skill sets that are essential for success with this.

0:40:44.4 Matthew: What’s interesting to me though, is how you’re differentiating the data scientist from the machine learning person or ML ops, and that it sounds like when you were talking about the data scientist, this sounded like a software developer to some extent, to me, or a developer, which is, I’m taking this idea and I’m building it into a real thing. Then there’s these other folks that they take it out and move it into the wild, and that’s an interesting thing to me, because often times in the software development space, the people, there’s the business analyst who may have contributed to the definition of done or the direction, then there’s the folks that are building the thing. But often times those folks that build the thing are the same folks that have to move it out into the ether and then live with it and support it and evolve it. So are you suggesting that is not the same thing in the data space?

0:41:36.1 Jacey Heuer: I think you’re tracking with me, Matthew. I think you got it right. With the data side of it, a lot of it is because of that iteration, and sort of the, I don’t want to say burden, but the role of having to integrate this back into the software development process and manage that integration and maintain model performance. So you think of… I think of… If I’m building an application that… I’m gonna build a web app, for example. In many ways, I can build it, put it out there and it lives. There’s quality testing, things like that, but the application I built, is pretty well-defined, serves its purpose. If I’m building a machine learning algorithm and putting them into production, once that’s put out into production, it’s not the last version of that, that will exist.

0:42:28.3 Jacey Heuer: And so, the infrastructure, to be able to monitor that, maintain that, score that model, understand drift in that model. So what I mean by that is, monitor it for, “This used to be 90% accurate, now it’s 50% accurate. Well, what happened?” So, that’s the importance of this machine learning engineering and ML ops side of this, it’s taking that off the plate of the data scientist who’s focused on, “Let’s prototype this, let’s go and explore this world of data that’s out there and keep iterating on this,” and let the ML ops, ML engineering, tie this into software development, into the applications that exists in the organization, into the rest of the IT space, within the organization. That’s probably the key distinction there, and why it’s slightly different, I think, from the data side than what it might be in the software development side, if that makes sense.

0:43:22.6 Matthew: These things sound actually very amazing, JC. Basically, I’m gonna have to cycle on this a little bit, because at first, I thought you were saying, the data scientist is like a developer, but then that developer typically has to go and live with the things and iterate on those things. Whereas, it seems like you’re suggesting these guys are going to invent, create, evolve, but then someone else was gonna move it into the ether. So that makes it almost sound like one version of the word architect in the software world, which has its own loaded… English is hard. Quality, what does that mean to 10 different people? Cloud, what does that mean to 10 different people? Same thing.

0:44:02.2 Matthew: Here’s what I’d like to do, because our time is coming to a close for today. I don’t think we’re anywhere close to talking about a lot of the even more interesting things. For example, you being a practitioner. How would you advise, coach, encourage, teach or lead other people to introduce data? The whole point of data, data science, data management end of their organization. What are those steps? What does it look like? What is good communication? I’d like to talk to you some more and I’d like to do that in our next session together. So, we’ll save some of it for the next time, but first and foremost, I wanted to thank you for taking this time to teach us.

0:44:41.1 Jacey Heuer: Thank you for having me here today, and we’re just scratching the surface on this, and I’m excited to continue the conversation and go from there.

0:44:54.0 The Long Way Around the Barn is brought to you by Trility Consulting, where Matthew serves as the CEO and President. If you need to find a more simple, reliable path to achieve your desired outcomes, visit

0:45:10.3 Matthew: To my listeners, thank you for staying with us. I hope you’re able to take what you’ve heard today, and apply it in your context, so that you’re able to realize the predictable repeatable outcomes you desire for you, your teams, company, and clients. Thank you.


The Long Way Around the Barn

There is usually more than one way to achieve your goals. Sometimes, the path to the goal is longer than it needs to be because we are all challenged with similar things: We often see what we know or see what we want to see. 

In this podcast, we look for options and recommended courses of action to get you to your desired outcomes now. 


Podcast: A True Process for Leading

Show Highlights

In this episode, I visit with Todd Dunsirn who founded True Process, a medical software engineering company known for building a platform that integrates biomedical devices and captures clinical data. He sold the company to Baxter Healthcare in 2018.

Key Takeaways

  • Having a natural curiosity in other people opens you to new ideas and leads to life-changing opportunities. Those ideas can’t be forced and often arrive while doing something else.
  • Reflecting on your actions (what you say and do) is important as it impacts everyone in the company. 
  • Realizing everyone plays a vital role in a company. Listen to them, be humble, and empower them to do their thing (including making and learning from their mistakes).
  • Reinvesting in the company if possible. If you believe there is something bigger and better on the horizon, this helps ensure you have the resources to make it happen.
  • Understanding the financial state of your business at all times.
  • Building a company takes a toll on you, so take care of your physical and mental health.

Read the Transcript

0:00:58.0 Matthew Edwards: In today’s episode, I visit with Todd Dunsirn, an entrepreneur and founder of True Process, a medical software engineering company focused upon connected biomedical devices. Because of the growth, success, great products, services, and teams at True Process, the company eventually caught the attention of a potential buyer and Baxter Healthcare purchased True Process in 2018.

0:01:24.9 Matthew: So Todd, thank you for being here and taking the time to teach us about you and your journey. Welcome.

0:01:31.0 Todd: It’s great to be here.

0:01:32.9 Matthew: I’m interested, can you tell us a little bit about your journey as an entrepreneur business owner… Like, where have you come from, where are you right now and where do you think you’re heading? And I know some of that may be existential or philosophical but in general, where have you been and teach us.

0:01:51.8 Todd: Yes, so as far as an entrepreneurial setting and background, I grew up in that environment. My grandfather, when he came back from the war, he started his own tag and label business. And my father worked there with his brother. And they sold that, I think, in the ’90s sometime. And then my father and his uncle started another business in the materials converting space and they sold that business in 2001. So I grew up being surrounded by people who were working for themselves and working a lot, and putting in a lot of time. I remember my dad inventing machinery in his garage and just being fascinated by him building this printing press out of plywood and 2 x 4s, and metal rollers, and things like that.

0:02:42.2 Matthew: Wow.

0:02:44.0 Todd: So I was… And just having a mentor like that in your life, I was very fortunate to have that.

0:02:51.6 Matthew: That’s awesome. So were there explosions in your dad’s garage? Was it that kind of lab?

0:02:57.5 Todd: They were not… They weren’t… The only explosions were probably coming from him. [laughter]

0:03:03.7 Matthew Edwards: On to version 300.

0:03:05.5 Todd: Yes, when something didn’t go right. So that’s probably where that came from. So as far as where that brought me… So being like that. I guess I grew up thinking that I have to be an entrepreneur. It was one of those things… And I actually went to school for engineering. And when I think back about it, I really didn’t even give it much thought. I was just like, “Well, I’m gonna go to school for engineering.” ‘Cause my dad was an engineer. My grandfather was an engineer. So it was just one of those things where I just decided that’s what I was gonna do. And then after school, it was always just in my mind that I need to start a business or I need to do something, now. I segued into the IT space because growing up, I was also fortunate enough to have a father who supported my computer addiction, my video game addiction and all those things, and…

0:03:56.2 Matthew: Sure.

0:03:57.2 Todd: Playing with that stuff since the early ’80s up until today. I’m still curious and inquisitive, and always want to be learning the next new thing that’s out there. But as far as watching my dad do these things, going back to that, it also led to my… What I’m currently doing. And that’s working with my hands a lot right now. I recently… Well, in the last couple… The last year and a half, two years, I’ve set up a nice wood shop that I’ve been working on building furniture and kayaks, and… I’m restoring some old columns for my son’s house in Rochester, Minnesota, right now.

0:04:43.5 Matthew: Wow.

0:04:43.6 Todd: And it’s really… It’s just… After 15, 20 years of being in IT and working on things like that it’s… I’m finding it really enjoyable to be working with my hands and creating something that I can hold and see and other people appreciate it in a different way rather than… I mean, software’s great. I love it, but [chuckle]

0:05:03.1 Matthew: Sure.

0:05:03.2 Todd: There’s a different tangible feeling to something when you work on it for six to nine months and have it there.

0:05:11.0 Matthew: Right, agreed. That’s cool. So woodworking is currently where you’re spending your time?

0:05:17.6 Todd: Yes, so woodworking is one of them. I’m doing a lot of work… I spend a lot of time in Northern Wisconsin. So my wife and I bought some property up there that has a lot of forest and timber land, so I do a lot of work on that land. And… Whether, it’s driving a tractor and making trails or clearing trails, going foraging, hunting, gathering and all kinds of things, and just learning about the land too. And just doing some citizen science-type things about what’s on the land, what plants are on the land, what animals are on the land. Just a natural curiosity to just learn more.

0:05:58.7 Matthew: That’s awesome. So tell us then a little bit about… There’s one section of your journey here where you built this company and it took you amazing places. You learned a lot. And it’s led you to this place where… I don’t know if you may consider this a sabbatical, or if you’re in recovery, or you’ve just pivoted to new places in your life but tell us about the journey that led you to today where you’re doing woodworking and being a citizen forester and such.

0:06:38.6 Todd: Yes, so I think it’s that natural curiosity and meeting people, and talking to people, and learning their stories, like we’re doing now. I had several other smaller businesses, where it was essentially me or somebody else, up until about 2004. But prior to that, I had met somebody… My wife and I were out to dinner, and I struck up a conversation with somebody at a sushi restaurant here in Milwaukee, and we became friends. And after about a year and a half, this person called me with an opportunity. And then fast forward to 2004, that opportunity turned into what was the business that I had started, True Process. Having that desire to meet people and learn their stories and be open to new ideas led to something that changed my life incredibly.

0:07:34.9 Todd: Well, when we sold True Process in 2018, I told myself, I wasn’t gonna rush into anything or force a direction. And then when the pandemic hit, it made that urgency even less attractive, ’cause we’re all just kind of upside down and trying to figure things out. And I feel like successful business ideas and products come organically. They come through experiences. They come through meeting people. They come through dreaming. A lot of the ideas and things that I came up with at True Process and the product and just several strategies and things like that, they came to me when I was doing other things. When I was out for a run or walking or talking to somebody else about something.

0:08:24.6 Todd: It was never… It’s just something that’s never forced. So… I’ve… Starting a business to just start a business, to me, doesn’t feel right. There needs to be a spark, a passion that drives you. You wanna focus a lot of your energy into that endeavor and be enjoyable at the same time. So at this point… Believe it or not, I’m currently in the beginning stages of thinking about starting another small software product that’s gonna be very simple and focused on a niche need… At least a need that I have. Sometimes that’s how these things start. In the outdoor recreation space. And I’m kicking it around, I’m mocking it up, and I’m… I’ll put the pieces together and get something out there and see where it goes.

0:09:15.2 Matthew: So it makes sense then that there needs to be a spark, a passion, something that you discover or think of or see, or just something that gives you that motivation to say, “Hey, that may be something. Let me explore that.” And so this time that you’ve been spending since your last company True Process, which you built and eventually grew and mature and sold. And that led you to say, “Hey, that was fun. I’m gonna take a moment.” And then while you’ve been taking this moment, then I imagine if it’s similar to some of the other things you’ve talked about, you must be thinking of all kinds of amazing things, while you’re doing wood-working, or while you’re going to understand the land. You’re taking the time to think or discover, or to be encouraged or motivated…

0:10:09.4 Todd: Yes, it’s kind of… When you mentioned a sabbatical… It’s hard… I went to have an MRI on my shoulder, and the guy asked me what I do. And I didn’t really have a good answer for him, ’cause I don’t have instant feedback like, “Well, I’m a programmer.” Or I’m a this, and I’m a that. After I graduated from college… I got a job right away and started working like a lot of people, and just never took that time off. And I worked a lot. I tried to make things happen in the beginning years. And then when True Process started, it even got crazier and busier, and I ended up traveling a lot. And we had three little kids, we were just starting off. We had just bought an old house… And this was, all these crazy things going on.

0:10:57.4 Todd: And right now, I’m kind of enjoying just that downtime to kind of refresh… ‘Cause I… I feel like this… I’m about to turn 50, and I feel like this is that part. And this is that point in your life where you kinda look at where you are and what you wanna do, where you wanna go. And… Just… I know a lot of people who get to this point, and they’re like, “I just need a change. I just need to… ” ‘Cause it’s almost like a crossroads. It’s like I’m either gonna be doing this for the next 15 years or I’m gonna do something different. And it can be a scary decision. And I guess for me, thankfully, it was…

0:11:33.1 Todd: When we sold the company, that decision was kind of made. So I didn’t… It wasn’t a lot of thinking about it on my end. But right now I’m happy being home. My wife works at a great non-profit. I’m home, I’m more present. Granted, two of my kids are out of the house now, so I still have one… I still have one in high school, which I’m enjoying being around for him.

0:11:54.8 Matthew: That’s cool. So the True Process journey may be similar to other journeys, and so you can take this and dial it in to wherever you think makes the most sense. As a leader, did you find along that journey that… Well, what did you find along that journey in terms of as you were working to build the company, that meant you were working to build the people. What I have found through time is that working to build the people continues to show to me how many things I need to work on me. What types of things have you learned? How did you become a better leader because of your True Process journey?

0:12:33.3 Todd: Yes, a couple of things. So you’re exactly right, the company and True Process, and to say that… I wouldn’t even say I built True Process. I would say we built True Process. The people that were there…

0:12:49.4 Matthew: Sure.

0:12:49.8 Todd: And a lot of them were there for a long time. I think finding good people… Finding the people that you trust and empowering them and letting them do their thing. And my style is never… I’m not a yeller. I’m not a… I don’t get on people. I let people do their things and I let them make mistakes and I hope they learn from them, but I don’t lose my cool when it happens. And so I think that that is the… The biggest thing I learned along the way was to find good people and really, really listen. And not always… Not be the one talking all the time. Listen to what other people are saying.

0:13:35.3 Todd: And trying to be reflective of how your actions and the things you say and the things you do, how that impacts other people. ‘Cause another thing I learned is what you say and what you do, and even your body language when you’re working with people, it means a lot. I was always, I guess, somewhat humble, where I’ve thought, “Yes, I’m the CEO and I own the company and doing this and… ” But I didn’t feel like I was above or better, whatever you wanna say. I felt… And I always made a conscious effort too when I would talk to people. I hated the phrase, “So and so works for me.” Or these people work for me. I was always conscious to say, “I work with… ” Or “I’m on this team with these people.”

0:14:29.0 Matthew: Right on.

0:14:32.0 Todd: Just to make… ‘Cause it’s true. Everybody played a vital role in growing that company. So I guess listening and being humble and letting people do their things were some of the biggest things that I learned towards the end of that journey with True Process.

0:14:54.0 Matthew: It’s a journey. It’s just that simple. It’s a long journey.

0:15:00.6 Todd: Yes, and it’s like anything in life. I like to believe I was a better CEO towards the end of True Process than the beginning. And it’s even… I’ve been married for 25 years. I like to believe that I’m a better husband now than I was at the beginning too, just based on listening and self-recollection and acknowledging my strengths and weaknesses and faults and things like that. And that same thing applies to your professional career.

0:15:35.8 Matthew: Yes, agreed. Upon reflection then, can you think of times or moments or situations as a leader in your past where you think, “Jeez, I should have done that differently.” Or, I wish I had done that better. Or, it was a car accident. I’m sorry, I was driving the car and that just happened. Can you… Do you have some hot spots in your history where you reflect on like, “I’m putting a pin in that one because I can’t do it like that again.”

0:16:05.7 Todd: Yes, I think the biggest thing and it goes back to one of the most critical pieces… Or the most critical components of any business are the people. So I think the thing, if I could go back and when I think about some of the most challenging situations… I can’t think back. Nothing pops into my mind like, “Oh my God, if we would have just configured that differently, it would have all been better.” No, it was all based on, “Wow, if we would have had somebody else… ” Or if we wouldn’t have put with that behavior, we would have gotten further. Things would have been different. Things would have been better. I think just not tolerating certain behaviors and attitudes in certain people.

0:16:52.0 Todd: And towards the end of True Process. I have to say it was great. It was a great team and great people, and it didn’t have a lot of… But through the years, there were these challenges and those were the things that I remember where I’m like, “Wow, why are we putting up with this? This is continuously happening.” Or, “This individual is bringing this attitude or this behavior to the product or the company or the customers.”

0:17:20.9 Todd: I’m all for giving people a chance and helping to learn. But sometimes it’s just not gonna work. And I think sometimes, you know deep down right away it’s not gonna work, but I think we just… We let it go, we let it go, we let it go to a point where we have to do something because it’s not working. When looking back, I think I would do it honestly and fairly and amicably and just… This isn’t the right fit.

0:17:52.2 Matthew: So in those examples or that example you’re suggesting then you think you may have acted more quickly than you actually did at the time?

0:17:58.9 Todd: Yes. And we changed the method in which we hire over the… Over years. And it was a learning experience for us and how to assess getting the right people, getting the right people on the team. And towards the end, I think we had a really good way of doing that. And it’s hard. There was a period when we were growing really fast and it was just, “We just need to get somebody in here.” And that was not the right approach because we ended up getting a lot of people that I don’t think fit the culture or fit the mission or just the chemistry wasn’t right. And towards the end, the chemistry was really good.

0:18:43.0 Matthew: So then also you’re saying, “Hey, you’re feeling the sense of urgency, but still take a breath, take a few steps and make sure you’re making the right decision for the long run, not what looks like the right decision to stop the pain today.”

0:19:00.6 Todd: Yes, and making those… And when you need to make those decisions, the other thing, if I could go back would be to make decisions of change quicker, ’cause anybody that’s run a company, you know that takes a lot of energy out of you when you are dealing with those situations and you have to think about it. You’re generally caring about people, it is a personal thing when you have to talk to somebody about these things, but the longer you let it go, the worse it is for everybody. You’re better off to rip the band-aid off right away and get it over with and move on and focus on what you need to do.

0:19:34.9 Matthew: So then as it relates to some of the things you were doing at True Process, technology-driven, technology-oriented, I presume then, or I read into that, that data played a big role in the value proposition of the product itself. Is that accurate?

0:19:52.9 Todd: That’s exactly spot on. So the company started off, we had a consulting service side of the business where we did a lot of… We provide the strategy and execution for the roll out of these connected medical devices and systems for companies, and probably around halfway through the life of the company, we got the itch to get back into engineering and creating something. And I really believe that having a product was gonna transform the company and then provide a little bit more value to the company and satisfy even that just that engineering creativity need that we had. So the platform that we built was essentially a data collection platform that could aggregate all types of different medical devices data into a single space so that you could run analytics on it, do reporting on it, use it for research. The medical device field, it’s still very chopped up and disparate and there’s… Things just don’t communicate the way you think they do, maybe amongst a certain manufacturer, they do, but if you have five different manufacturers in a critical care setting, aside from maybe a few things, there’s very little feedback and data flying back and forth between these systems.

0:21:27.9 Todd: Some of these patient monitors that hospitals have are incredibly old. You’re generating data from serial ports, which we actually built things to collect from, and you’re basically taking it in like a… It’s like a fire hose, you just capture it all, we throw it in our database. But we also had IP-connected devices that we would connect you to, so we’d have to connect to these things and then aggregate that data.

0:21:55.5 Matthew: So large data stores?

0:21:58.8 Todd: Incredibly large and high frequency, too. This patient monitors were coming in at 500 readings a second, so we’re…

0:22:07.0 Matthew: It’s a high transaction type everything.

0:22:08.2 Todd: Yes, high transaction.

0:22:11.0 Matthew: So with that being medical too, then obviously that’s a highly regulated field in terms of privacy and security and so forth, did you have times when you were understandably and happily proactive about things, and did you find regulations changing out from under you? I mean, what role or what active participation did you guys take in saying, “Hey, data privacy, data security, this is a thing, and we’re going to go crazy making sure that it’s a thing.” What was your posture, your position? How did you manage all that? That’s a lot of data, by the way.

0:22:46.5 Todd: Yes, it’s a lot of data and fortunately for some of these devices there… The one thing you might have is a patient ID that sometimes that’s put into a device and that’s what correlates the patient with the data. We were able to anonymize that and strip that out, and we could line up the data so that they had a non-identifying tie to… If you had four devices, we could tie those together for this patient and it would essentially just be patient one or patient two. It didn’t really matter, so it wasn’t too complicated to do that but as far as the security and regulatory and those things, we did… We had a nice little certified development shop, which we invested a lot of time and money into, the product itself was filed with the FDA as a regulated medical device, and there’s different levels and things with all of that.

0:23:53.3 Todd: There’s certain classifications and we were on one of the lower ones with what we were doing. And a lot of it is how you define what the product is doing too with respect to how it needs to be classified and where that data is being used and what other systems that may be feeding. But it is a barrier entry to, I guess other startups or… ‘Cause we were essentially, I call it a bootstrapped company. We didn’t have any investors or big investors behind us and we built this platform from the ground up, so it’s quite… The time to do it, the time to put into a quality system, the time to put into regulatory filings and having the people that understand that on staff, and then the time to actually file those things and wait, it’s hard to… For a small company like we were to launch a product like that into the healthcare medical marketing.

0:24:55.3 Matthew: Did you find, through your experience, the regulations, the barrier to entry, however we categorize or characterize the idea, did you find that the extra hoops or the extra work you needed to do to conform with or be able to be attested against the regulatory compliance, the expectations, did you find that that added a definable amount of overhead or extra cost or complexity to your general operation, or was it something you just embedded and aid and it was an assumption? How did you manage that?

0:25:30.8 Todd: It was kind of built into the company, we knew what the costs were and we knew what we paid for to do that work. In our planning, you just know that this cost is going to exist and it’s going to be there.

0:25:48.6 Matthew: Yes, that makes sense. So you baked it in?

0:25:50.6 Todd: Yes.

0:25:51.8 Matthew: Part of your DNA?

0:25:54.5 Todd: Yes, and the team did a really good job too. Our quality system was pretty straightforward, pretty agile. We could get things done fast, but within… But also doing it the right way. A lot of our customers that we worked for were in these large Fortune 500 companies, and we were able to operate much quicker than them with regards to those types of things.

0:26:18.9 Matthew: So, I’ll repeat back to you, you correct me if I’ve mis-stated things or misunderstood. It sounds like what you said was the work that you did as a company, True Process, as a team of people, and the product and the output, the deliverable, if you will, boot-strapped. You had a lot of your own professional experiences that gave you the expertise to walk in, but to some extent, given the barrier to entry, the regulatory side of things, the fact that it’s medical devices and to your point, it’s a desperate ecosystem and in an emergency room or in a hospital, in terms of multiple manufacturers, classes of devices, they do or do not have interoperability, they may or may not be sharing same decade technology in some cases, those so many amazing complexities. What advice would you give to yourself, if there was another person out there is thinking, “I can do the next gen. I’m in. I wanna go do this.” How would you have coached you, but what would you say to the next version of you who then wants to walk in and make a difference?

0:27:30.3 Todd: Into going through the same… Going into the same field, same journey, what would I say? It’s a difficult one ’cause I’ve asked myself, “Would I wanna go back into that field?” And right after I was out of it, I was like, “No way, I’m not going… I’m never going back there. It’d be crazy to do that. I wanna do something fun.” That’s where you can crank out software and revisions and not have all that overhead and I guess I wouldn’t do anything differently than what we did. We were very fortunate to build the product by re-investing in the company, so if that’s one bit of advice I’d give to somebody else, I would say that was it. When the company was rolling up until we started the software and it was going well too, but we had some great, very profitable company moving forward, but a lot of the money was put back into the company, and back into developing a quality system and into getting our ISO certification, into developing the product a lot.

0:28:41.8 Todd: All that money was pumped basically back into the business now. I could have taken that out and distributed amongst everybody, but we kept it in the company for a reason and that’s ’cause I think we knew there was something bigger and better on the horizon. So that I think that was a good move and just live within your means and realize that you have a company that’s what’s providing and that’s what’s making things happen, so don’t bleed it dry, keep money in the company.

0:29:18.3 Matthew: Sure, that makes sense. In such a short conversation, I’m of course positive that you’ve glossed over so many amazing growth details that you had along the journey that may make you smile or cry dependent upon how deep you have to go to think through them and… So I know you’ve talked about the high points and some of the interesting things to me are that, it sounds like the most important thing that you did was figure out how to take care of people.

0:29:47.7 Todd: Yes, take care of people. One of the key components was having, and I guess this is along the lines of having good people, but having a good financial understanding of where you’re at in a business, and I was very, very fortunate I got to work with my brother for many years. He was our financial controller and CFO, and really kept the company organized from invoicing and tax standpoint and our interactions with the banks, just all those things, all of our healthcare. Just everything was very well done, and I’ve talked to other people. I’ve seen other people who sometimes in smaller companies, that’s kind of neglected or not paid attention to as well as it should be, but from the beginning, one of the first people that I hired was my brother. And not just ’cause he was my brother, but because I knew. I knew when he came in and helped me get organized when I started it and I saw what he could do, I was like, “I got hire him. I have to have him here,” ’cause number one I hate doing that kind of stuff, and number two, I’m bad at it, so that’s a recipe for disaster.

0:31:08.1 Todd: So being able to understand where you’re at, have somebody watching the numbers and managing the books and doing all that work, allowed me to go out and do things I like to do, facilitate the growth of the company rather than spending 15 hours a week trying to figure out how to do invoices.

0:31:28.3 Matthew: Sure. Well, that’s good. I’m assuming then that you had a great relationship with your brother, and that’s how you guys ended up working together, so that’s pretty cool you did get to work together.

0:31:39.5 Todd: Yes, we did.

0:31:41.9 Matthew: That’s awesome.

0:31:44.1 Todd: Yes, and great relationship, and he’s moved on. He’s moved on to even some great opportunities now, and it was a really nice experience ’cause he was actually my younger brother who I moved… I was the oldest, so there was about eight years separating us, so when I was in those crazy teenage older years, he was a little bit younger and I missed a little bit of his life when I went to college. So to join back up with him and work with him for so many years was really rewarding.

0:32:16.1 Matthew: That’s awesome, that’s awesome. So as an entrepreneur, that is your journey, that is, if it makes sense, that is your craft or one of your crafts, something that you pursue is… It’s not just “I am an entrepreneur, but there’s a series of things that I think about and study and do and explore and test and grow,” and that’s the act of, or the acts of that idea. What types of things do you do that… Do you believe contributes to you becoming more or you becoming a better entrepreneur, a better leader, prepares you for whatever the next chapter is. Where do you spend your time to become more, on what?

0:33:04.8 Todd: Yes, I think the one thing that kinda changed in my journey was just taking care of myself. Early on, I really didn’t. I wasn’t… I mean, I was an active kid and I was active in high school and then college and starting to work, and I didn’t prioritize that as an important part of my life. I remember when I started traveling a lot, that started to take quite a toll on my body, just being on the road five days a week, four days a week, and then five and then three and then four, and flying all over the country for years and years and years just took a toll on me. And I felt like my energy was going down, I felt I just wasn’t mentally acute as I should be, and I just made this decision one day, that I’m gonna change this and take care of myself and basically get in shape. Not physically, but even just mentally, and that was…

0:34:08.2 Todd: And that’s the one thing that has stuck with me even to this day, where it’s one of the things that I make the time for, and even when I don’t wanna do it, I do it, and I force myself to do it, just because I know, I know that’s what’s going to make me happier, give me more energy and keep me engaged. And the second thing I would say is, and this has been really hard during the pandemic, but getting out there and talking to people and meeting them, for instance, having a conversation with you, then the first time we talked was really… Was great, and I really enjoyed it, because I generally have this interest in meeting new people and hearing their stories, and no matter really who they are or what they’re doing, I find people’s individual journeys and stories interesting. And just learning from them and trying to just educate myself on the world around me, and also just to keep myself in check. I feel like that’s a big part of the journey, is to be self-aware of where I came from and the opportunities I had, and how fortunate I was to have the upbringing I did and the people around me, and being thankful of that, and just going through life now, looking for opportunities to pay that back or pay it forward, and if somebody wants to talk… I remember… When you start off in your late 20s and you’re trying to start a business, it’s amazing the amount of doors that just get shut in your face.

0:35:58.7 Matthew: Yes, maybe rightfully so, ’cause you don’t know what you’re doing. [laughter]

0:36:03.2 Todd: But I’m not that kind of person now. I’m busy and I’m in a different phase of my life, but I think it’s important to make time for people and to help people out with advice, and just give them a little bit of your time to make an introduction, whatever it is, just to… ‘Cause I was really fortunate to have that shot and to have that opportunity, and I’m hoping someday that I can continue to do that for other people.

0:36:39.2 Matthew Edwards: Right on, that’s awesome. So you’ve offered up some great lessons that you have found along your journey as an entrepreneur, as a leader in particular, that other people can learn from. Do you have any parting thoughts for us?

0:36:56.1 Todd: I think it’s kind of just pulling everything together and amplifying the… As a business owner, as an entrepreneur, as a CEO, whatever it is, and it doesn’t even apply just to those people, but to stay curious and stay kind, and just understand that everybody’s coming from a different background and people have different experiences in their day-to-day lives, and just try to be understanding and empathetic towards that. I think when you take that approach, it lowers your stress level and it lets you see the world, it lets you see your business, it lets you see the challenges a little bit more clearly, and removes those stressful things that happen every day that probably don’t need to be as stressful as you perceive them to be at that day.

0:37:52.5 Matthew: That’s good, that circles back to keeping yourself in check includes meeting new people, hearing about their stories, and that gives you context for whatever lenses you’re looking through at the time. That’s a good call out. You’ve had a fun journey, and now you’re thinking about something new, now obviously we’re not gonna ask you to share all the details and all that type of thing, but it’ll be exciting to watch and learn what sparks your interest and what’s next for you.

0:38:23.8 Todd: Yes, I actually, I’m on the board of a non-profit recreation ski area up in Northern Wisconsin, Minocqua Winter Park, and I’m on a committee and we’re working on some things and we’re trying to organize some information and data and things that relate to the park. And it’s exciting because there’s very little pressure doing it now as back when I first started. When I first went into business for myself, I’ll never forget, my wife and I were expecting our first child, and we just bought a house. We were living in an apartment in Milwaukee and we bought a house. And I had a job at some electronics company out in the west side of the city, and I came home and I said, “I think I’m gonna… I think I’m gonna quit my job and start a business.” And my wife looked at me and was like, “Yes, we’ll be fine.” Which is… And she’s always been there for me, always been the greatest supporter of any crazy idea that we’ve ever had together or I’ve ever had. So it’s different doing it now where… I’m fortunate to be able to do this and set it up and not have it be the thing we’re relying to buy diapers with, or better, buy food.

0:39:44.3 Matthew: Right, right. Well, that’s outstanding. Todd, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today, to teach us about your journey, to share some of your insights, and some of the learning things that I take away from this is, take care of the people on the team, stay humble, stay self-aware, take care of yourself. Those are some of the highlights for me, is that I know that I can directly apply to my own journey even this afternoon.

0:40:12.2 Todd: This was great, I really enjoyed it.


Podcast: The Makings of a Great Agile Coach

Show Highlights

In this episode, I visit with Damon Poole, who has provided Agile coaching to countless people at some very recognizable companies. He opened up about his journey in Agile, as well as what led up to him publishing, “Professional Coaching for Agilists: Accelerating Agile Adoption,” with Gillian Lee (available at InformIT as well as other places you’d expect).

Key Takeaways

  • Effective coaching helps people move forward when they are stuck. 
  • Teams who are coached do move faster.
  • Great coaches have qualities that make for great humans. No one embodies all of them, but you work on building better relationships on your teams and in your personal life.

If you are interested in applying both agile and coaching principles, consider reading the book. Preview sample content on InformIT.

Read the Transcript

0:00:58.4 Matthew D Edwards: Today, I visit with an old friend, which means to some extent, I’m dating both of us, but hopefully you our listener, will find bits of wisdom in this episode and the journey that led us here. Damon Poole has provided Agile coaching to countless people at some very recognizable companies. EMC, Capital One, Ford and Fidelity. He speaks everywhere, and he’s even virtual, thanks to our new normal, today. He’s also an accredited instructor with the International Coaching Federation, ICF. I invited him to visit with us because he and his collaborator, Gillian Lee, have published a book, “Professional Coaching for Agilists: Accelerating Agile Adoption.”

0:01:43.7 Matthew D Edwards: We are providing links to where you can buy this book at the best price. Damon isn’t expecting to get rich off the book, he’s very excited to get the book into your hands. So he wants to help you save money, get the material, learn the material, learn how to become more. What he and Gillian have done is put out a great book for people who love Agile, want to be better at it, and want to help those around them get better. The focus is professional coaching, and the book even includes coaching exercises. Today, I visit with him about his journey in this space and how he continues to advance himself, the people around him, and professional coaching itself. Welcome Damon. Thank you for being here. Would you tell us a little bit about your journey as a professional, like in particular, a professional who seeks to master his craft.

0:02:33.5 Matthew D Edwards: You and I met a long time ago, and we talked about a lot of different subjects, and we haven’t talked again for quite a while, and so there’s a whole lot of catching up to do. But even back then, you had a lot to teach, because I learned back then from you in terms of configuration and change management conversations. Will you tell us a little bit about where you’ve come from, where you are today, where you’re heading, just in terms of your journey.

0:03:00.1 Damon Poole: Sure. Well, these days, for whatever reason, I like to say I was born a programmer. [chuckle] I guess that’s to distinguish from mostly where I am today. So I didn’t realize it at the time, but I walked into… Actually, a little bit of this story is in… Actually, it’s not in… It’s not in the book. It’s in Bob Martin’s book. But anyway, walked into an appliance store and unbeknownst to me, I was doing pair programming. I’d never programmed before, but that’s actually sort of how I got into it. Some guy was writing a Star Trek program, and as an 11-year-old, I was pestering him, “Well, what’s that? Well what’s that? Well what’s that?” I was super fascinated with computers and I’d never really seen anything like that quite that close. And after about 20 minutes, he asked if maybe I couldn’t do something else, so I was quiet.

0:03:50.3 Damon Poole: And then eventually I said, “Hey, I don’t think that’s right. What is that?” And he goes, “Oh.” And he made a change. And he goes, “Oh, that’s it.” And then he asked me, “How long have you been doing this?” And I said, “I don’t know. When did I walk in?” So that’s… Having an adult have that kind of look on their face… I was like, “Wow, this is pretty cool.” And so I programmed only in small groups for many years after that. Then I discovered this waterfall thing. We started out shipping every couple of days, and at the peak we were shipping every 18 months. And somewhere in there was where I discovered Agile for the first time. And I… At first I thought it was evil. At first I thought that… We were getting requests like, “Couldn’t you process request for history faster?”

0:04:40.9 Damon Poole: Like… Who processes… Who needs… Well, it was continuous integration… Stuff like that. But eventually I saw the light and it was thanks to hobnobbing with folks like yourself and others. So I started to switch from technical person, to more product person, to more Agile person. And so I went full on Agile for quite a while. Then I got kind of tired of people not really getting the point of Agile… I had just banged my head against that… That wall too much. So I definitely learned a lot. And along that journey, I decided it was time to start earning enough to put away for retirement again. Through serendipity, I got into teaching Agile coaching again. That’s been fascinating, I love that. More recently, as the title of the book suggests Professional Coaching For Agilists, I’ve gotten into professional coaching.

0:05:37.3 Matthew D Edwards: Tell us a little bit about where you’re heading… So in your current company, your current role, responsibility, how do you define what it is you’re doing today, and where are you heading with it? Well, even lead… Teaching us what led you to the book.

0:05:53.0 Damon Poole: Well, that would be Bob Martin. [chuckle]

0:05:56.0 Matthew D Edwards: Okay. Alright.

0:05:58.9 Damon Poole: Among other things, but… It’s kind of the interesting part of the story. So he and I kind of loggerheads on Facebook. We’ve known each other for a long time, I guess. He came to do a talk for us in Boston as part of what’s now Agile New England. So he had this new book coming out, Clean Agile, and he asked me to review it. I guess, because he figured if we were at loggerheads and I was telling him what I thought and then I would do the same thing for his book. So I said, “Alright, I’ll review your book.” And there were two things in it that I kind of objected to, which he said… He said there was no need for Agile coaches. “Okay.” And the other one was something about scaling. And I sort of strongly objected to those two things. And so I thought that was that, and then he says, “Hey, you know, you seem to have a pretty strong alternate opinion there, how about if you wrote a bunch for the book?” And I was like, “Oh no, what have I done?” [laughter]

0:06:57.4 Matthew D Edwards: That’s what I get for talking.

0:06:58.7 Damon Poole: Exactly. Oops. [laughter] So I wrote up, I don’t know, 10-ish pages for that. And then after that, I was like, “Hey, you know, this might be the start of something.” And Gillian, my co-author has always been sort of pushing me in that direction. And so she added her shoulder to that, and so then I said, “Well, if you come along with me, then fine.” So that’s how that got going.

0:07:23.1 Matthew D Edwards: So the book came out just recently.

0:07:25.3 Damon Poole: Yeah. It’s actually still in the process of coming out, just a funny side story there. So it’s been out on InformIT for quite a while as an e-book, and then shortly after that on Amazon. The funniest thing was, it looked like it was for sale and I went through the process to see what was going on, ’cause people are always asking me, “Where is it available?” And it gave a strange shipping… Strange shipping option, which I’d never seen before, it was like a… Scheduled delivery or something. And I clicked on the learn more and it said, for bulky items. And I’m like, “Is this a bulky item?” So it took me a couple of days, but finally I noticed in the specs, it said that it was like 8 feet by 6 feet by 3 feet, and it weighed 20 kilograms or something. So clearly somebody miskeyed that and…

0:08:13.7 Matthew D Edwards: Wow.

0:08:14.6 Damon Poole: Yeah, so that was pretty humorous.

0:08:14.6 Matthew D Edwards: So the graphics must be amazing in that version of the book.

0:08:19.5 Damon Poole: Right… [laughter] Very.

0:08:23.3 Matthew D Edwards: Fold out everything. So your difference of opinion or different view on the value of coaching from Bob Martin’s is one of the things that led you to say, “Hey, maybe there’s something here, I should explore this a little bit.” And you had been doing coaching long before you decided, maybe I should write something. Is that accurate?

0:08:46.3 Damon Poole: Well, it depends on what the meaning of coaching is.

0:08:49.8 Matthew D Edwards: Fair enough. Alright.

0:08:51.5 Damon Poole: Yeah, I think I’d use the term coach… There’s the role, Agile coach, and then there’s coaching. Actually, not everybody knows that not everything an Agile coach does is coaching. But it gets confusing as to what it is. And I think the simplest way to define coaching is the thing that… Anything that you do that helps another person move forward that has nothing to do with your own expertise, other than coaching. And usually people are like, “Well, what’s the value in that?” Which is kind of difficult to define, but pretty straightforward to experience.

0:09:31.3 Matthew D Edwards: I wonder if that can be likened to a concept that Gerald Weinberg had in one of his consulting books, where he called it, ‘the Jiggler’. [chuckle] In that illustration, what he talked about was the idea of a running toilet, and how sometimes the only thing that you really had to do to get that toilet to behave in the correct way was just go jiggle the handle. And then one of his consulting conversations throughout that book, really what he was talking about was sometimes your role in an organization is to just help facilitate a flow or to just unblock something [laughter] previously blocked and it didn’t require amazing knowledge and experience and all kinds of crazy stuff. It was just fresh eyes. You just jiggled the handle a little bit, and then people were able to move forward and evolve and become more than they were prior to that. So I wonder if those are similar.

0:10:34.0 Damon Poole: I don’t know that I wanna sign up for the title of toilet jiggler. [chuckle] But… Gerry Weinberg.

0:10:40.9 Matthew D Edwards: Okay. Fair enough.

0:10:43.2 Matthew D Edwards: Awesome. I’ve dabbled in some of his books. The one that I’ve read through twice and I always recommend is Secrets of Consulting, which is not the best name, ’cause people say, “Well, I’m not a consultant.” But that book is such infotainment. You get knowledge and you laugh all the way through and you’re like…

0:11:00.1 Matthew D Edwards: Yeah.

0:11:00.9 Damon Poole: I think this is just a folk story. Oh, oh, there’s the punch. Oh, that’s good. Really wonderful book.

0:11:07.2 Matthew D Edwards: One of the roles or responsibilities that you’re suggesting, more or less a selfless role inside an environment, I think, is what you were saying. Which is what you’re doing isn’t necessarily serving you, you are being an enabler in that environment, and it may or may not directly benefit you but you’re directly benefiting them or that journey or that path they were walking.

0:11:32.2 Damon Poole: Absolutely. And I think actually, as an Agile coach… And when I use the term Agile coach, I would include Scrum master and RTE and various other things. Anything where you’re helping an organization or a person move forward in Agile and you’re using a coaching mindset. I think we all have an ego to some degree, shape or form, and there’s nothing wrong with that, right? We want to help people. And I think one of the ways that in anything new like Agile, we want to help people… is sharing our expertise. And then people say, “Oh hey, thanks for that expertise. That was really helpful.” And we might pride ourselves on that expertise. But I think the pure coaching side is that it’s not about, did you share expertise or not sort of leaning more towards the, did the person get what they were needing, whether it came from them or you or…

0:12:31.3 Matthew D Edwards: So in your experiences have you found… Or what types of difficulties or challenges have you found when talking with clients or potential clients or even advising someone else on why hire an Agile coach. Have you ever experienced resistance or chafing or difficulty in explaining why hire this person, this…

0:12:57.5 Damon Poole: Never. It’s always super simple. No. [laughter] It’s the biggest lie I’ve told this week. [laughter]

0:13:09.6 Damon Poole: I don’t know that anybody actually ever wakes up in the morning thinking, I need coaching. People might think other people need coaching. But there’s a couple of issues there. Like what is coaching? Coaching as a profession has really only been a more recent thing, like the early to mid-90s and before Agile, like, life coaching, executive coaching, coaching from an International Coach Federation perspective. So that’s an issue. And then it’s kind of a support service. So you’re not actually producing any code generally, unless you’re a technical coach… Technical coaches will do that, but that’s not really their main point. To some degree, it’s kind of like what does a manager really do?

0:13:55.2 Matthew D Edwards: But we have plenty of those. So quantifying the value is… Is kind of… It’s like the chicken and egg. If you don’t understand the value of Agile, then understanding the value of an Agile coach is difficult. And how do you understand the value of Agile, part of it is by getting an Agile coach. So that’s a hard problem. One of the biggest victories at Eliassen, and I’m sure other places, was when we came out with this thing, it’s a mouthful, but the Eliassen Maturity Matrix. And that originated from a couple of dozen coaches at Capital One getting frustrated with the hundreds of teams and spreading the coaching out way too much.

0:14:37.8 Damon Poole: It was too thin. So we were getting paid and that was great, but we felt like we could produce more value. So we developed this way to help the organization teams and individuals understand were they moving forward or not. And it was clear that un-coached teams did not move forward as fast as coached teams. Teams that got a concentration of a coach for an extended period of time, did the best. So that was the best ROI. So that was super helpful, and that’s one of the best ways that I found to sort of quantify that value. Doing it ahead of time, super hard. Once you’re in there, expanding, much easier.

0:15:20.6 Matthew D Edwards: Is one of the things that you wanted to do with your book or that you’ve done with your book is to just help bring clarity to say, “Hey, I can’t solve all of the things in all of the world, but as it relates to this idea I’d like to teach you about this.”

0:15:34.4 Damon Poole: So the book starts out saying… It basically literally says, “Forget about Agile and coaching and everything for a moment, and think of people that when you’re stuck in whatever you’re stuck in, maybe a personal issue, who do you reach out to?” And if you think of a person you reach out to and a person you don’t, and you think of their qualities and different… That are different. Like this one listens. This one is always like, “Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, I’ve been there… I’ve done… Okay, here’s what you need to do.” And then a week later, they’re like, “Hey, did you do it?” And they’re like, “Oh man, leave me alone.” So that first person, those are the qualities we look for in a coach, and sort of, taken to a very high degree of intentional purpose. And it’s kind of a long list. Like, on the don’t side, it’s actually kinda easier to list. Don’t interrupt, criticize, discourage, judge, evaluate… A whole bunch of things. And actually… Oh, oh, and don’t give unsolicited opinions. Actually doing all those in the same person… super hard. [chuckle]

0:16:36.5 Matthew D Edwards: I was just evaluating that in myself, thinking, first I should memorize the whole list, and then second, I’m curious to what extent I do or do not exhibit these characteristics in whole or part or in combination. I think that’ll be interesting. I might not… Well I expect there to come some humility with that realization.

0:17:00.6 Damon Poole: It is. And it’s not like anything against anybody, if you have things on that list, it’s really just things to think about. It’s a journey.

0:17:15.1 Matthew D Edwards: Right now, what I’d immediately mapped to is I asked a good life-long friend of mine a long time ago, what was one of the most important things he learned along his journey of being a parent. And he said the most important thing that he had learned was knowing when to shut up. But the way he communicated it was sometimes you need to actively shut up because they need time to think, they need time to process, they need time to consider options, and they don’t need you talking right now. And as I moved through that from the parent, I realized that that also applied to just about every relationship in my whole life, professional and personal, knowing when to talk, knowing when to shut up. It could, of course be said far more elegantly than shut up. [chuckle] But…

0:18:01.7 Damon Poole: Maybe not as clearly…

0:18:03.1 Matthew D Edwards: He was being… Well, he was being direct with me. I am dense sometimes, and so it was direct advice. But it sounds like maybe similar to what you’re suggesting, which is knowing when and then choose.

0:18:16.6 Damon Poole: Absolutely, there’s a lot of dimensions in what you just said. We could parse that all up and that could be an offering right there. Just what you said. So one dimension there is… Think about… It sounded like that took a while for that to sink in. It took a while for you to practice it, and all the while… kind of like what is even the value of this. That’s absolutely part of coaching. And oh… And you also mentioned the dimension, it sounds like it changed who you were as a person. It affected other interactions. And a lot of coaching actually is, not that you need to, but that you want to change yourself in certain ways. And actually, what you gave, as an example is one of them… To get accredited by the ICF, you can’t fake it. If what you were just saying was difficult, you wouldn’t make it. You have to do a 30-minute recording in which you’re exhibiting that all the way through and that’s hard.

0:19:15.7 Damon Poole: The other aspect of that, which I think is at the root of value of coaching, not necessarily Agile coaching, but professional coaching, is what really is the value to the other person if you’re not saying anything. And the way I would look at it is exactly what you said… The talking through, the thinking through. There’s a certain amount of that, that you can do in your own head with no other human around. But the way we’re built… And I don’t know the brain science on this, but it’s born out and you can use your own experience on this. The way that we’re built as humans, we actually are better able to think things through with another person just sitting there.

0:19:58.7 Damon Poole: I don’t know why, but you think about… There’s things that when you go to articulate them you’re like, “So it’s simple. It’s just… ” And nothing comes out. And you’re like, “Oh, I don’t actually know how to articulate that. Let me think about it.” So there’s just this process that with the person that’s there actually listening to what you’re saying, you can do some things. And then if in their response to you, they skilfully are able to leverage that… And I don’t mean paraphrasing for instance… In coaching paraphrasing, is actually bad. But asking a question that shows that you understood. So let’s say you listen for a bit and then you ask a question and the person just goes like this, “Ahhh… ” And then they’re just silent. So you caused them to think of something they weren’t thinking of before, because you listened to them. So you didn’t add any knowledge, but you helped them move forward, and that actually has value. And you can think of those times… Those conversations you had, you were like, “Oh, that person was really insightful.” But actually the new idea came from you.

0:21:12.0 Matthew D Edwards: Interesting. You know, there’s a sales methodology, if you will, called Challenger Sale. And in that one of the things that they articulate in that whole process is, is in order to make a sale, your responsibility is to help someone see in a way they had not previously seen. And the way I visualized it was, if I were to say something to you, and that made you turn your head to one side and then turn it sideways like, “Oh my gosh. I didn’t even know that was a room in this house. And now I need to just figure this room out. Where does this room come from?” And all of that… You can see that going across their face. But sometimes it sounds similar to what you’re suggesting, which is a role… A role of a coach is to help one… Someone see also. So think and see, but to be this non-intrusive encourager, if you will. That seems like, actually, a very hard role.

0:22:20.4 Damon Poole: Yeah, it’s super hard. And one of the things that makes it hard is… Like I said, nobody wakes up in the morning looking for coaching. Generally… People ask me this in classes all the time. They say, “Okay, okay, but… Do you ever find that people come to you and they’re not looking for coaching, they want your… They want your advice.” Or they want expertise. And I say, “Yeah, absolutely, 100% of the time.” Zero percent, people are looking for coaching. So what I say is, as coaches part of what you’re doing, is coachee education… You wouldn’t tell people that you’re doing… Well, I guess that’s what I’m doing right now. But you don’t generally tell people you are doing coachee education. You can’t go full born to coaching with somebody that doesn’t understand it or want it. So you have to find bridges to that.

0:23:09.7 Damon Poole: And one of them is… One of the simplest is, most people when they’re starting coaching, have to learn that actually, they initiate the transfer of knowledge far sooner than anybody asked for it… So if you just hold back for a while, you’ll be providing coaching value that you didn’t even know that you could do. Because as soon as you see a chance, you’re like, “Okay, here’s some knowledge.” Have you tried this? What about that? Right away. People generally don’t realize that it’s them holding back that is the first thing they can work on.

0:23:46.2 Matthew D Edwards: I’m going to have to sit and think about these things after we’re… When we’re no longer talking… You’re giving me a lot to think about. These are good. So in your journey, you’re currently enjoying and finding the value in helping other people through professional coaching. Is that an accurate statement?

0:24:05.9 Damon Poole: Yes, absolutely.

0:24:07.6 Matthew D Edwards: So do you feel like you’ve found a passion?

0:24:10.1 Damon Poole: Oh my.

0:24:11.5 Matthew D Edwards: You’re passionate about this.

0:24:14.6 Damon Poole: One of the things that I like to ask people when I’m doing Scrum training or Agile training is this idea that people should specialize. I ask people, raise your hand if you want to do what you’re doing right now for the rest of your life? I’ve never ever seen anybody raise their hand. I think, we all… We have certain passions, but I think we can learn new passions… We’re always learning something new. So for me, I would say that, A, this is my current passion, but B, it also was sort of each passion led to the next one. In programming, unless the design is given to you, there’s a certain amount of design… So programming, design, product management, business stuff, Agile, Agile coaching, coaching. So it’s been sort of a progression of passions. So yeah, I’m very passionate about it.

0:25:10.9 Damon Poole: And the interesting thing that you see from pure coaching is you see a much more human side of people. People come to you with, “How do I keep the product owner from double stuffing the sprints?” That’s like, I’m over and over again. How do I get people to show up to stand up some time? How hard is Scrum really? It’s super… It’s stupid, simple. Well, then, why isn’t everybody doing it? Well… ‘Cause there’s all this human stuff in there… That’s the way we’ve always done it. I can’t let go of control. So that’s all coaching stuff that’s very human-oriented. So I often see people… A side of people that you wouldn’t see when you’re just trying to solve two plus two… What is two plus two? Oh, it’s four. Oh, wow. Right… So I really enjoy that. Seeing the human side of people. People sometimes… You know… A tear in their eye. It’s beautiful.

0:26:08.7 Matthew D Edwards: So that makes sense that you’ve been on this journey that has led you to here so far. And where it leads you, next of course, makes it sound like you’re just like every other human, which is this journey composed of moments, and ideally those moments give you choices. And you’ve made some choices and you’ve had some good experiences, and this led you to learning about you, which also then led you to eventually write a book. Taking the time… To your point with the Scrum stuff, the human element is what’s difficult about Scrum. The recipe for Scrum is pretty easy to understand. It’s the human aspect of all of these things that’s hard. For someone who thinks that they want to become a professional coach, what advice would you give them?

0:27:05.6 Damon Poole: I may seem a little self-serving, but prior to… [laughter]

0:27:12.0 Damon Poole: But bear with me here. I’m fully aware of what I’m saying. Prior to our book coming out, I used to recommend… Well, I still recommend. It’s a great book. The Co-active book. Co-active Coaching. Amazing, amazing book. We got a lot of inspiration from that book. One of the things that I like about that book is it’s left to right, soup to nuts, top to bottom description of pretty much everything in professional coaching. Not to the same level of depth you get to in a 60 or 125 hour course. But in six to eight hours of reading, you’ve covered the landscape. And they’re not trying to sell you anything, they’re not pushing you towards training. It’s… They’re not leaving something out. It’s not… Two-thirds is all about how to market yourself or whatever. Our book from… It comes from a different perspective, but is very similar to that.

0:28:06.0 Damon Poole: A soup to nuts, not trying to push anything, and it covers the whole topic in whatever depth you can in six to eight hours. And so we’re not gonna get rich off this book. Books don’t generally make a lot of money unless it’s… It’s not a romance book or something… So I don’t think you can beat the knowledge ratio for the dollar. So that’s a really great place to start. Actually, you could even just read the first chapter and get a sense of like, I wanna keep going or not. So time-wise, it doesn’t have to be a big investment. Short of that the other thing that you can do… I think the sort of next tier would be the ICAgile, ICP-ACC… Full disclosure, I teach that. That’s just 21 hours. And then there’s a lot of instructors that teach that. And then the next sort of final step would be ICF, which… That’s 60, 125 or 200 hours of training. Your choice, depending on what level you wanna go for.

0:29:10.1 Matthew D Edwards: But if there’s someone in an organization who says, I wish that we could just have a professional coach for a while to just help us figure out how to become more. Do you have any advice for them on how they would position that in their organization?

0:29:29.0 Damon Poole: You can only help people see so much value. So wherever they are… This is very partial. I don’t know how to advise other people on this. Just my personal approach is, I literally ask people, what do you see is the opportunities and what do you see is the problems? That’s all I ask when I start. And the stuff that spills out from that is awesome… Then you just kind of feed it back to people. So here’s what I’ve heard. These things… You know, that’s not really something that I can help with. These things, I can, if that’s what you’re interested in. And then there’s either a match there and they go for it, or they don’t.

0:30:08.4 Matthew D Edwards: Well, we value people. People are some of the most interesting, amazing things that I get to do in this life and in my job, just people. And they can be horribly energizing or draining, or encouraging, or discouraging… It could all happen in 60 seconds. And then there’s still a whole day left to live. So people, I think are way more interesting. And so the idea of how to add value to other people on the journeys that they’re on, it seems to me that professional coaching and the work that you’re doing and the book that you’ve written can enable more people to figure out how to actually add value. The lowest common denominator is always people. And Damon, it sounds like your intent and your motivation for this book is to enable people. And the journey that you’re on is, how do I become more so that I can enable someone else to become more.

0:31:16.8 Damon Poole: Yeah. And we’ve really poured our heart out into the book… We didn’t hold back. There’s… If you like powerful questions, there’s over 100 in there. We… At one point we realized there was something missing and we couldn’t figure out what it was. We like doing games and activities. So we made a… Every chapter has activities that you can do either one-on-one or… One is, a powerful question of the day… To practice working towards powerful questions. You get one in mind and you try to just shoehorn it in wherever you can that it makes sense. And so all kinds of activities. There’s a reference in the back that summarizes all of the different coaching techniques, and you can read the first three chapters and then go to any chapter you want after that.

0:32:07.1 Damon Poole: So we try to make it as full of information and as easy to use as an ongoing reference, and to explain it as best we can. Because a lot of people, I think are expecting an Agile coaching book, and it’s really not an Agile coaching book. It is a book about coaching for any Agilist. Anybody that’s got that Agile torch just for whatever reason decided that they want to be the crazy person saying, “Agile is great.” And I think a lot of people in the organization wish, could we just do our work for a while… Why do we have to focus on this Agile thing? So anybody that’s looking to bring coaching forward, to add coaching as a skill.

0:32:54.7 Matthew D Edwards: Damon, thank you. It’s been a privilege to have you on our podcast today. Thank you for taking the time to teach us about you and your journey and your book. Thank you.

0:33:04.8 Damon Poole: My pleasure. Thank you for having me. It’s really been an honor on my side and you’ve given me a lot to think about. Every question, has the possibility of bringing forth insight. And I feel like you’ve done a lot of that for me. I’ve said some things, I didn’t say before that I’m going… “Ooh, I gotta remember that.” So thank you for the opportunity and don’t be a stranger.

0:33:31.5 The Long Way Around the Barn is brought to you by Trility Consulting, where Matthew serves as the CEO and president. If you need to find a more simple, reliable path to achieve your desired outcomes, visit

0:33:47.0 Matthew D Edwards: To my listeners, thank you for staying with us. I hope you were able to take what you heard today and apply it in your context so that you’re able to realize the predictable repeatable outcomes you desire for you, your teams, company, and clients. Thank you.


Podcast: Future Proof End-to-End Encryption and Data Security

Show Highlights

In this episode, I talk with Paul Clayson of Agile PQ, who as a young farmboy couldn’t wait to leave the Idaho cattle ranch to find easier work. Now, after 20 years in the startup world, he’s very fondly missing those days. Early in his career, he learned you only get one shot, so you better develop a winning strategy and stick to it. This knowledge came from serving as Chief of Staff for two congressmen and working for two Presidents in Washington, D.C.

The shot he’s taking now is with AgilePQ. His startup has the solution for today’s computing power and tomorrow’s quantum one with lightweight end-to-end encryption. The majority of industries – from energy, transportation, manufacturing, and the ones building consumer devices – must leverage the power of connected things and that means protecting their number one asset – data. 

We were also lucky enough to hear his most valuable lesson from his father, who served as a medic on Omaha Beach on D-Day.

Key Takeaways

  • There is an even greater explosion in IoT devices to come in the next five years.
  • Everyone is in a race to get to market first in an industry that is not well regulated.
  • Current encryption methods will be powerless when quantum computing is fully adopted.
  • AgilePQ’s solution provides the only security and encryption that fits on all IoT devices, no matter how small.

Read the Transcript

00:57 Matthew: In this episode of Long Way Around the Barn, I visit with a gentleman… He was a young boy on a cattle ranch in Idaho, could not wait to leave the ranch so that he could find easier work somewhere else. Now, after 20 years in multiple industries, including the startup world, he finally misses those days of simplicity and peace back on the ranch. Paul Clayson has done a lot. Early in his career, he learned sometimes you only get one shot or one opportunity to go after what’s important to you. So you need to develop a winning strategy, on purpose, and stick to it. This knowledge came from his days of serving as Chief of Staff for multiple congressmen and two American Presidents in Washington D.C.

01:42 Matthew: The purposeful shot he’s taking now is with AgilePQ. Many consumers may not be considering all the ways their IoT device ecosystems can be and are being exploited in their homes, offices, factories and cities. Paul’s company has developed and implemented a new method of end-to-end security for these device ecosystems. It is designed to exist in a world of quantum computers. If your business and industry needs to leverage or is currently leveraging IoT technology, this may be a podcast for you to hear regarding IoT security in a post-quantum computing world.

02:19 Matthew: And we learned another interesting fact about Paul while we were talking. Not only has Paul taken his civic responsibility very seriously in this country, but so too have many who came before him in his family. We were lucky enough to hear his most valuable lesson, one he learned from his father, who served as a medic on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Let me introduce you to Paul Clayson. Well, Paul, good afternoon. Thank you for taking the time to join us today on Long Way Around the Barn, and thank you for taking the time to teach us and just be with us. We appreciate your time.

02:56 Paul Clayson: It’s our pleasure to be with you. Thanks for the invitation.

03:00 Matthew: So tell us a little bit about your journey as a leader. Tell us about where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’d like to be going, or where you intend to be going right now.

03:07 Paul Clayson: Well, listen, the name of your podcast, Long Way Around the Barn is actually where my journey started. I’m an old farm boy, cattle rancher from Idaho, and I grew up doing that. And when I was out doing stuff on the farm, I could not wait to get off that farm where you had to birth calves in the middle of the night, you had to feed cows twice a day, and milk cows. You had to turn the crops, all of that. And I couldn’t wait to get out of there, so I wouldn’t have to work so hard.

03:40 Paul Clayson: Then I started doing technology start-ups, and I would like to now return to the farm so I don’t have to work so hard. That’s kind of the journey that we all go on in these start-ups. And I’ve been doing this for over 20 years on technology startups, with extremely early stage companies that are emerging technologies and emerging markets with emerging products. And that’s a challenge, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun. And we’re doing that again now with our current security company.

04:15 Paul Clayson: In my past, I haven’t always been in technology. I worked in politics for a while. I think for all of your listeners, my credibility just went out the window. But I worked in politics. I was Chief of Staff to two Congressmen, worked for two presidents in the past, ran some campaigns. And really, that’s where I cut my teeth on strategy, how do you develop a strategy. Because in politics, Matthew, you’ve got one shot. On one day, you’re either in or out of business. Well, I guess that’s disputed this year.

04:51 Paul Clayson: But usually on one day, you’re either in or out of business on that day. You can’t go back and throw more money at it. You can’t change your message, you can’t develop a new classic marketing campaign, you can’t go back and sell more. You’re out of business or you’re in business on that one day. And it forced me, early on in my career, to figure out how to develop a strategy that wins, and stick to that strategy, and then make adjustments and pivots as were necessary all the way along, to make sure that you get to that winning combination. So that’s kind of where my early experience was rooted.

05:30 Matthew: That’s good. So first and foremost, thank you for your service. We all have a civic responsibility to be part of, and contribute to, and help grow this country. And thank you for the work that you’ve done to help build that and grow that along the way as well. But thank you for not only seeing a need, but choosing to become part of the solution that enabled directions, and choices, and people, and so forth.

06:00 Paul Clayson: It was a lot of fun during those times in those years. I don’t know if my wife liked it. She just doesn’t always like the clashes and the conflict that comes in politics. And that’s part of why I chose not to go on and make that a life’s pursuit. But it was a lot of fun for me, and to be at the seat of decision-making for a while was pretty incredible. I look now, I go back to congressional offices, and I see the staff whose in their mid to late 20s.

06:39 Paul Clayson: And I look at those congressional offices, and I think they’re passing bills, they’re writing bills, they’re doing things that are changing the world. And what are we thinking putting our lives in their hands? And then I think, “Well, wait a minute. You were that age. You were in your early 20s, and it was really cool to you back then, and it was okay then. Why is it not okay now?” And you know what? It is. It is young people with tremendous innovation and incredible intelligence. It’s wonderful to see those kinds of people involved in our process.

07:16 Matthew: That’s cool. So it sounds like multiple parts of your career, a lot of your career has focused on fostering innovation, fostering thoughts, harnessing energy, choosing where you want to go, and getting there. And that includes the start-up work you’ve done, the work that you’ve done in the politics, doing civic response, taking your responsibility to the countries pretty seriously. And the things you’re doing now with your current company, so teach us a little bit about your current company. Who are you guys, what are you doing, what problem you’re trying to solve, where you’re heading, just teach us.

07:48 Paul Clayson: Sure, absolutely. I think being involved in technology started with me early. I don’t think it would ever be on any trivia question. But when I went back to Washington as a Chief of Staff to a congressman, we ended up being the first congressional office in history to outfit our entire congressional office with, at the time, Apple Macintosh computers, and then link those back into a network system for Congress. And that really started it, and I’d loved the technology ever since. Now, what we have is the computers. And the computing age has dramatically changed, dramatically since those early days, and it changes dramatically every year.

08:33 Paul Clayson: So what we now have is computing formats and platforms that are no longer on a large scale. They’re on a very microscopic scale. We’re taking things, different kinds of things, and connecting them to the Internet. And we call those Internet of Things or IoT devices. These are devices with extremely small processing capability and very limited functionality. So think like a nest thermostat where it’s a very small, what’s called a Class 0 device, with a very small processor, not much memory. And it performs a function where you can set your temperature in your house through the use of your smartphone, and sending a message back to that device through a server somewhere.

09:29 Paul Clayson: Well, those devices are now prolific everywhere we look. There’s over 20 billion of them, and projections are that there will be 35 billion of them by the end of 2021, and 75 billion by the end of 2025. It’s an explosion of these tiny devices. Those devices right now have not had security. Well over 98% of all those devices going into practice today and being used today do not have security on them.

10:05 Paul Clayson: So we went out as a company and said, “This is a massive hole. We have to create security that’ll operate on those small devices. And it must be secured. It can not only last today, but it’s gotta last a long time into the future ’cause these devices are gonna be around for decades. So it must survive in a quantum computing world as well, when it’s projected that quantum computers will break the encryption and the security systems that are on our smartphones and our laptops. So that’s what we did. We created a product, we went to market with it. And we can secure the small list of IoT devices and can even secure them in a post-quantum world, and we have now taken that to market.

10:48 Matthew: Alright. So the problem statement that you guys are working to address is securing our internet, Internet of Things, or connected things ecosystems, and recognizing then where you see this heading is an explosion of more and more devices and more and more roles across more industries and implementation types. And the common thread across all of them is everyone wants to get to market. But perhaps security is being kicked down the road, or security across these different classes of devices is inconsistent or non-existent, and for sure is not a regulated behavior. So it’s an entire class of attack vectors all by itself. So the approach your company is taking is security first.

11:38 Paul Clayson: That’s very, very well said. And we have to do that because the pandemic itself has created greater explosion of and dependence on these kinds of devices, not only because people are working from home, that’s a small part of it actually, but also because companies have now tried to look out at the market and say, “In the absence of people, how do we monitor processes, and devices, and things, and environments, and so forth?” So they started using devices more prolifically. And that has created a massive number of attack vectors out there. And when they have no security on them or very inadequate security, it opens up a world to bad actors for misuse of these devices. And we’re telling the world, “We do have solutions. There are solutions, but you’ve got to begin with it at the front end of your planning for IoT communication systems and deployment.”

12:44 Matthew: Okay, that makes sense. And you mentioned post-quantum as well. So where you anticipate the market heading is not only the need for security, but to address security in a quantum computing world. And so you’re thinking farther out into the future, than perhaps just get product to market, or just secure that thing, localize your thinking, as computing power changes, so too will the security design and architectures need to change. So you guys are already there.

13:18 Matthew: What are the things that you can teach us about some of the innovations that you believe differentiates you guys in the marketplace? It sounds like this post-quantum idea is one of those differentiators, if not the differentiator.

13:33 Paul Clayson: It is one of those differentiators. So maybe I’ll back into that, with the understanding that on your smartphone and mine, we have various security methods, layers of security that include an authentication and authorization layer. When computers are talking to each other, it includes encryption layers and encrypt data that is going back and forth. It includes all kinds of layers. That’s the best security method, by the way, is to have multiple layers. However, to encrypt a single message on your smartphone requires 3 megabytes and several rounds of encryption to just encrypt the small list of messages. That 3 megabytes of footprint on an operating code will not work on a nest thermostat or will not work on a small IoT device.

14:27 Paul Clayson: The real innovation that we did was we looked at that and said, “We have to change the way we encrypt those kinds of messages.” So rather than taking 3 megabytes or 3000 kilobytes, our system takes 2 kilobytes to execute those algorithms and one round of encryption instead of 14. That allows us to save massive amounts of battery power, another real innovation on our side, since these small IoT devices will be using batteries at a clip of about 90% of them will be battery powered.

15:04 Paul Clayson: It also allows us to speed up the encryption, because we’re not running a large amount of code and multiple rounds of encryption, so we can speed it up. And we cut so much of that operating code out from 3000 kilobytes down to 2 kilobytes. We were able to then increase the size of the keys. So every time an encrypted message is sent to you, it has to have a key at the front end and a key at the back end. And those keys are what allow us to obfuscate the data and then be encrypted on the back end. Well, because we cut so much out of the operating code, we were able to use a key size that instead of the standard on your phone, which is a 32 byte key, we used 288 bytes for a single key.

15:56 Paul Clayson: And what that allows us to do is have this much larger key space. So we not only figured out a way in our innovation to make the code smaller, we figured out a way to make it vastly more secure than what’s on your current smartphone. And that kind of key space will survive in a post-quantum world. So we’re able to accomplish both tasks and allow the smallest of devices to survive even in a post-quantum world. Those are some of the real innovations that our brilliant engineers came up with.

16:32 Matthew: So Paul, those things are all very interesting. And it sounds like you have a lot of work to do, a lot of great future in front of you on the work that you’re doing. Are there any particular markets, or industries, or market segments that you think, “Gosh, these guys are using a lot of IoT devices nowadays, and it looks like their risk is exponentially getting greater and greater. I’d really like to go talk to them” or “I’d like to know what their security strategy is,” or “There’s someone we’d like to work with.” Do you have areas that are more interesting to you than others right now, or is it everyone?

17:08 Paul Clayson: So it’s pretty astounding that even our own federal government have gone to market with IoT devices that are not secured. So just this week, in fact, or maybe it’s Friday of last week, the United States Congress, the Senate and the House passed a piece of legislation that mandated that all IoT devices, especially in the US military, must have a minimum layer of security on them if they’re going to do business with you as federal government. They did that because departments of federal government were going to market on initiatives with data that was, in some cases, even top secret that was being collected, but not having adequate security. So it forced the issue, that now has to take place.

17:57 Paul Clayson: We see that in multiple industries. So the energy industry, they’re using IoT devices on oil and gas refinery, so just an example. What if a bad actor could go out, take over an IoT device, send a false reading to the server saying, “The temperature on this furnace is exactly right.” But while they’re sending that message, they’re raising the temperature, and they can cause an explosion. Those are fickle resources, and the energy industry has those.

18:29 Paul Clayson: Transportation is another one. There are transportation systems for railroads and airlines and so forth that are using IoT devices that do not have adequate security. That’s a must. Consumers, you and I go out to buy a device and we make an immediate assumption that if we’re buying that device, it must be secured, and that isn’t happening in a lot of cases. So consumers, we’re starting to see consumer protection legislation come forward in states, GDPR has it already in Europe, US Congress is looking at consumer protection, state of California already passed one that says a minimum layer of security must be on these devices. So those are all markets, and there’s many, many more that have critical need and that we target, but it’s going to take some time to drive those initiatives to market and assure that 100% of these devices are secured right out of the chutes.

19:36 Matthew: Sure, that makes sense. And it does make sense that folks may presume or assume that if it’s available on the open market, and I can go to the store and buy it, it must therefore meet some minimal standard, or surely it couldn’t be in this box on the shelf for me to buy. But then we have the other interesting challenge for startups, and you know this by living this life, a startup only gets a short life, and this is to your point earlier at the front of this conversation, where your strategy is either correct or it’s not correct, and sometimes you only get one shot. Some startups are very focused, very heavily influenced perhaps by private equity funding, venture capital funding, or they only have five bucks left in the bank, and they believe they only get one bat. So getting something to the market so that they can gain traction often takes precedence over getting something to the market that’s also secured. So I think that there’s a lot of value to what you’re saying, and plenty of data to substantiate what you’re saying.

20:46 Paul Clayson: In fact, there was a recent study done by a group out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, that measures corporate risk, and they did a study and they showed that less than 25% of companies who are deploying IoT devices know where those IoT devices are on their network system, or even how many they have. So you very articulately stated the problem, and that is is that sometimes we go to market faster than we can secure, that is absolutely evidenced in the data.

21:21 Matthew: You know there are interesting forks in this conversation as well all over the place that I’m curious about your perspective on as it relates to the entire point of a connected device is to enable some sort of functionality or access that we didn’t have prior to the connection of the device. So the way that works then is after I plug it in, I now have access to more information that I had before the device. And when we take the numbers that you’ve just mentioned, the growth up through the next number of years to 2025, if we assume all of those devices are turned on, they’re collecting data, they’re sending data, all of that data is being stored somewhere. We have all kinds of amazing new and crazy problems to solve as well, which is this giant volume of data that’s going over the wire, that wasn’t previously going over the wire, and now it’s being aggregated, and it wasn’t previously being aggregated. So it’s not only just securing the IoT devices themselves, but the wires between the originating and terminating point, and then the data aggregation layers.

22:34 Matthew: So when you guys are focusing on IoT security, how far into the larger system conversation do you desire to go or do you plan to go is the line that you’re drawing, is we’re talking about your device itself, or does the device ecosystem include the originating and terminating points and the data and the data aggregation? What’s your purview? What’s your desire? How do you guys plan to be involved?

23:01 Paul Clayson: Well, by virtue of the fact that data is streaming from endpoint to server and back, we are right in the middle of that, we have to touch that. But it’s a very interesting dichotomy in the world today that companies consider data to be their gold standard now. They wanna protect their data, protect their IP, protect the collection of that data at all cost, yet they don’t take adequate measures to secure that data where it’s collected at the endpoint. It’s such an interesting thing. And I can tell you right now that we do know that nation states around the world are hacking into and collecting data that are in databases, corporate government, civic, any place they can get it, they’re downloading that data and storing it, even though it may be encrypted and can’t be broken now, because they know that quantum computers will come along, break the encryption, and then they have access to all of that data when that happens.

24:08 Paul Clayson: So data collection and utilization becomes a critical, critical topic going forward now. In our case, almost 100% of our customers don’t want us to touch their data. They don’t want us to see it, they don’t want us to collect it, they don’t want us to have access to it in any way. So we developed systems whereby key servers and the execution of an encryption system on an endpoint device can all be handled at the company itself. They can handle that. We deliberately developed it that way so the data wasn’t passing through our servers or any process, any IT system connected to us. Now, there are a few companies that say, “I don’t care, it can pass through your system, I just wanna sign it up as a SaaS model, runs through your servers and you can do all the key exchange there.” We can do that, but it’s not our preference. We want people just to secure their own data at their sites. So we advise a lot, a portion of our revenue model allows us to do consulting for companies on these IoT security systems and help them set up a system, and then utilize our technology going forward. So we’re right in the middle of that. We have to… We can’t avoid it, nor do we want to. We wanna be able to be a resource to our customers for this.

25:42 Matthew: That makes a lot of sense. And so, as well as possible, when it comes to data collection and utilization, I think what I hear you saying is you don’t actually want to collect data, you don’t want to utilize the data, you would like the client to take on the responsibility of the traffic and the round-housing and storage collection, all of the things. You can, if necessary, but that is not your desire. Your desire is you enable this framework so that the client can live a better life because of your involvement than prior to, but you don’t wanna get in their stuff, is what I think I heard you say. “Please take responsibility for your own stuff, we don’t wanna see all your stuff.”

26:25 Paul Clayson: That’s precisely, right. Plus they should be because their data is their gold standard regardless of who they are, and it’s worth a lot of money moving forward, and they need to protect it.

26:35 Matthew: So of data, there’s an interesting balance in the privacy and security conversation, which is knowing all of the things you need to know and none of the things you shouldn’t know, and finding that balance is really hard and variable with the more parties involved, the more complicated it becomes, it’s easy math. But when you’re talking about privacy and security, are you finding… Is your experience that… Are clients coming to you and saying, “Hey, not only do I wanna leverage your stuff, I want to know for sure that you don’t know anything about us. I wanna know about your privacy compliance.” Are they asking these questions, or are you finding that you need to educate them about, “Here are the privacy things you should think about, here are the compliance things you should think about”? Do you end up being the teacher a lot of these times, or do people show up and say, “I understand all this, just give me the stuff”?

27:32 Paul Clayson: Yeah, it’s both. There is a teaching element to this though, because we are operating at the smallest of IoT device level that we don’t know anybody else in the world can operate at that level with a full encryption product that’s also post-quantum. So we do have to teach a lot, we do have to help people understand what we’re doing, how that integrates into what they’re doing, and in some cases, we’ve helped people actually do the technical integration so that they’re confident that it’s done right. Because the knowledge workers, the expertise that’s out there to do it directly for them, for them to hire, has not been there, it’s an emerging industry. There haven’t been those knowledge workers on the IoT side who know how to do that. So that inhibits our growth a bit because it creates manual element to getting things done. But the longer we go along, the more people start to understand, and each deployment that we have helps us to understand better how to provide documentation and information to allow people to do it themselves more quickly.

28:41 Matthew: So Paul, an interesting question to me then is, and maybe to the people that are listening as well, as so many people work to understand the words “digital transformation” and “cloud adoption” and “cloud strategy”, all of these words, all of these words are difficult to use, what do they mean, and everybody believes something differently. The reality is, many companies either own all their own stuff, or they’re moving all of their stuff out into a cloud, whether it’s a private solution or a public solution, there’s a lot of cloud work going on, and historically, a lot of like the consumer-based IoT stuff, everything just magically happens. You just plug it in, things connect, it works, I’m super happy at my home. They don’t know if they’re in a public cloud or private cloud, and do they even need to care, that’s up to them in their context.

29:33 Matthew: When you’re working with clients, do you encourage clients to head one direction over another, or is it something that’s not as relevant to you? Is it context-driven? Like “With client 12 in industry 13, we highly recommend we work entirely in a private cloud, we’d like to do some on-prem stuff, but that’s what we recommend here versus over here with this client, it doesn’t really matter, a public cloud would actually be your lowest cost of acquisition, quickest time to market, and we can help you get the job done.” How do you interact in those different business models and do you guys have a preference or recommendation heading forward on those?

30:15 Paul Clayson: So there are some inherent advantages to using a public cloud because they become so big and they do so much of it that they also can develop and use best practices in the industry quicker than private clouds often can on their own. We don’t take the position as a company, whether we recommend one or the other. In some cases, there’s reasons why people don’t want this in a public cloud, they want their data completely owned by and controlled by them without any outside intervention. But without a doubt, the majority of our customers use public cloud, and they use that because they, again, are assuming that a public cloud operator is going to have the best security practices possible that are out there, and we have interfaced with all of the major public cloud players, and so they can accept encoded, encrypted messages from us, decrypt them on the backend, we can do that all seamlessly with public cloud. We can also deal with private cloud.

31:24 Paul Clayson: I think it’s just individual perspective and individual need, but the public clouds do a nice job with having tremendous security around a particular customer’s data. They know how to do that, they use best practices, they have very large security staff already. Sometimes it could take a private cloud, somebody developing their own internal system, a lot of years to figure out the difficulties that public clouds have already figured out.

32:04 Matthew: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Okay. There are different organizations using various levels of security and current public cloud solutions, so I get what you’re saying. Even the government is using public cloud solutions or instances, their own nuanced versions of it, but I get it. So you’re saying context-driven, but still customer choice. So you meet the customer where the customer is.

32:27 Paul Clayson: Yeah, I do wish, which we haven’t been able to get to yet as a new company, I do wish that every public cloud operator or every public cloud company out there would tell all of their people, “If you’re gonna be sending data to us from an endpoint, we can’t guarantee that it’s secured unless you’re operating with a full security system on that device, starting at the very endpoint.” If they do that, our market would explode. So far they haven’t been willing to go there, although they’re getting there, they’re starting to see the tremendous number of access points and the tremendous problems that it occurs, so hopefully we’ll get there.

33:09 Matthew: Yes, that makes sense. Maybe some policy legislation conversations continue to motivate things in that direction as well.

33:18 Paul Clayson: Yes, that’d be great.

33:18 Matthew: Alright, so teach us about this then as it relates to your journey as a leader and as a teammate, and then all the different chapters of growth and opportunity that you’ve had through your life. Are there things that you regularly do in your life or in your career that have helped you master your craft of being a leader, of being an innovator? Are there some things that have been greater influences in your journey than other things? What do you do on a regular basis that contributes to your journey?

33:50 Paul Clayson: Well, there’s two parts of answers to that question; one is organizationally, structurally, and the other is personally. So let me start with the personal. A long time ago, I learned and honed a process that I try to undertake, and not always successful, but I try to remember it. I call it the lair principle, L-A-I-R. Wild animals develop a system around them and create a lair where they live that includes their family members or people around them, it includes processes that they develop to go out and be successful at hunting and surviving. Well, to me, that lair principle is critical. It’s an acronym for listen, ask, investigate, which means reading or watching whatever it might be, and then repeat what you’ve just learned, teach other people, repeat, whether that be to write or review or record, but in some way capture and repeat what you’ve just learned. That principle of L-A-I-R creates a lair, if you will, of competitive advantage around you because you’re undertaking the right principles, you’re always looking for best practices.

35:11 Paul Clayson: We should never worry if it was invented here. “Not invented here” syndromes kill companies. So that listening, asking, investigating and retaining has been a core personal principle that I try to utilize in communications and in development. Outside of that, organizationally, there are multiple things that I’ve learned over time and that I try to adhere to in startups. There are three critical principles; making sure that you’ve got the vision, you understand the vision, and you keep the vision in front of everyone in the organization to a transparency that everybody knows everything in a startup, because you have to, you have to know if you’ve got plenty of money, or using your earlier comment, you’ve only got five bucks in the bank. You have to be able to be very transparent. And it’s not always pleasant, but it is always essential.

36:16 Paul Clayson: So you share with people, and oftentimes, the best ideas in a startup come from somebody who’s not even in the department, considering the critical function that they see, they think, and they hear, and they respond, and we listen, and we ask questions around it, and then we hopefully will investigate that to make sure it’s the right thing, and then we utilize it, we repeat it back. And then the final thing organizationally, just at a high level, is to continually check ourselves to determine if we are avoiding things… Doing things that don’t matter, there just is no value in doing well, those things which we shouldn’t be doing at all. Just zero value. We can become very good at it and it doesn’t benefit us. So we constantly have to be asking ourselves, “Is this gonna benefit us going forward or are we just getting motion but no progress because it has no value to us?”

37:19 Paul Clayson: Those are three really critical things in startup organizations that I’ve learned have a major, major impact, and then overarching all of it is just the simple statement to always do the right thing. Always do the right thing in our organizations. Don’t be ever, ever tempted to not do the right thing, ’cause that only leads to all kinds of strife and disruption.

37:48 Matthew: That was a great payload of things to teach us. So lair, learn, ask, investigate, and repeat. Did I get that right?

37:58 Paul Clayson: Yes.

38:00 Matthew: And then vision, and transparency, and do the right thing.

38:03 Paul Clayson: And avoid things that don’t matter.

38:06 Matthew: And avoid things that don’t matter.

38:08 Paul Clayson: Yeah.

38:09 Matthew: Those are hard to figure out sometimes.

38:11 Paul Clayson: They are very hard. [chuckle]

38:13 Matthew: Well, is there anything… When we talk about the journey, the long way around the barn, the whole point of that analogy is that sometimes we take a longer meandering way to get from A to B than we actually needed to. And as it relates to solving problems, sometimes the journey is actually an important piece of the education, and as it relates to life, good grief, we all have amazing journeys and all kinds of crazy directions and ups and downs and that type of thing. But is there anything that you think that I should have asked you that you’re surprised I didn’t, or is there anything that you think, “You know what, as we leave, these are my parting thoughts, these are the last things I’d like to share with you before I take off”?

39:00 Paul Clayson: Maybe only one, and that is, is there something you learned through failure that really, really set a course for you? And Yes, there was something that I learned through failure early on, and it probably was more rooted in being too full of myself to step back and to help recognize that it doesn’t matter if I already had a thought or an idea, if it can be expressed from within the organization, it’s better that it comes from there. And we all stand on the shoulders of giants who went before us, and we have to recognize that and go for it. I keep on my credenza here, a wonderful memorabilia.

40:00 Paul Clayson: Your listeners can’t see it, but this is a medical kit that my father carried on to Omaha Beach on D-Day during World War II, and he was a medic, and he would crawl out on the beach and pull people behind some sort of embankment or shelter, administer aid to them, or as one of his shipmates told me, at times he would hold their hand and comfort them till they died. I think about sometimes that kind of sacrifice that we all have in our lives, and life is not really about me, it’s about the journey that I learned from other people, from you, from the people in our company, and the values that they bring and what I can learn from them. And that’s probably something I learned by being too vocal and less accepting of other people’s ideas in the beginning, and hopefully we’ve rectified that over the years.

41:00 Matthew: That’s a powerful story. Wow. Thank you for sharing that. So as we close then today, one of the things that I have most enjoyed about the story is your journey, figuring out how to add value as a leader. Now, you didn’t use those words, but basically what I’ve heard you talk about is figuring out what matters, figuring out how to include and lead and guide, and then making sure that you’re actually part of the solution as opposed to being part of the problem, which includes, I believe, not your words again, know when to talk, know when to be quiet, know when to lead, know when to get out of the way.

41:46 Paul Clayson: Very well said. You summarized that very, very well. Your listeners could have benefited by having you say that and they wouldn’t have to listen to me, Matthew.

41:57 Matthew: Well Paul, thank you very much, this has been an outstanding time to learn from you. I hope you have a great day.

42:02 Paul Clayson: We will do, and thank you for the opportunity to be with you.


Podcast: Success in Tech Entrepreneurship is One Tap Away

Show Highlights

Jesse O'Neill-Oine

Jesse O’Neill-Oine is a multi-time tech entrepreneur and one of the original co-founders of SmartThings, a company purchased and now run by Samsung. In this episode, he discusses what he’s learned about himself on his journey in solving problems through technology and his most recent endeavor, One Tap Away – a next-generation platform aimed at bringing “contactless” access to amenities at multifamily properties.

Key Takeaways

  • While O’Neill-Oine and his partners have always had overlapping and complementary skills, what matters most is working with great people – from his first business, Refactr, to SmartThings and now One Tap Away.
  • Lean on other solutions when possible: In the build vs. buy debate, the answer is most often buy. A sweet spot is always a “glue company” where you are integrating existing things and pulling them together into a seamless package.
  • When it comes to information security, treat your users as first-class citizens and choose good partners who have a security-first mentality, saving yourself from having to go back and solve security issues later.
  • Not being afraid to ask questions is what helped O’Neill-Oine be a better technologist and solution provider, and while he has always loved technology, his focus has always been solving problems for people.
  • There’s no shortcut for becoming more and mastering your craft. 

Read the Transcript

00:58 Matthew D Edwards: My guest today is Jesse O’Neill-Oine. Jesse is one of the original founders of SmartThings, a company later purchased and now run by Samsung, and is now co-founder of a new company named One Tap Away, a next generation platform aimed at changing the operations, products and services offered in multifamily properties. You should check them out, So Jesse, welcome.

01:26 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: Thank you.

01:26 Matthew D Edwards: So tell us a little bit about you, your journey and technology, connected things, starting and running companies. You’ve done a lot, you have a lot to talk to us about, so your journey in tech.

01:41 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: I was actually going to go way back, because usually at various companies that I’ve started, I begin my journey at college, which was actually Aerospace Engineering, interestingly enough, so I’m a rocket scientist, but I don’t use that skill much. I actually was in college in the late ’90s, and the internet was the big hot-ness, and so while I was in this degree program, I fell in love with computers and programming and figuring out how to get these things online. I don’t even want to tell you how much I spent on my first PC or the loan that I took out to do it, but that’s really where I start, I was as an engineer with an engineering mindset, but got really into computers and tech and really wanted to pursue that, and anyone who’s been around long enough knows that the late ’90s was a great time to do that, you could be an English major and program Perl, which is the language I did start with. I got a job while I was still in college, actually at a company called Imaginet, did various web programming, HTML, early CSS, Perl programming, etc.

02:51 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: And I just dove in and I was pretty much self-taught. I took a couple of classes, one with C and the other was Scheme, I got to be honest, those have not done much for me in my career. [chuckle] So I didn’t have that traditional training, but dove into the web hardcore and really through this job at Imaginet, honed my programming chops, learned more languages and even there at that company was sort of the reason I go that far back was my buds then, or a lot of my buds now, and that was the first group of people that I talked seriously about like, “We should start a company.” Scott Vlaminck and Ben Edwards in particular, who then… Quite a few years later, in 2006, that’s when we started our first company, it was called Refactr, and it was a consulting company focused on startups. Our mantra was “Three developers in three months and we’ll build your MVP.” So that was the first company that I had started and we didn’t know what we were doing, we knew a lot of technology and how to program, we hadn’t worked with clients much, so we just sort of winged it and learned it as we went through those Refactr days and it went well.

04:10 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: We made a lot of great relationships in the community, we put a big focus on the local community and the user groups, and we even started… One of the guys, Ben Edwards, started mini bar here in Minnesota, which continues to this day to be one of the largest bar camp-style conferences. We put a lot of focus on that, and that’s actually what eventually netted out to us doing the bigger startup that anyone who Googles me will see is SmartThings. Somewhere around 2010 or so, at one of these conferences, we met Alex Hawkinson, who ended up being one of the co-founders of SmartThings with us. In that case, it was interesting, we started with him as a client for a company that he was working with and worked as a consulting company with him for several years doing this client work, during that time frame, we all became great pals, we respected each other, we realized probably more important than anything that our skills overlapped in a really good way, we had some really good tech people, some great design people, some great business people.

05:20 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: In 2012, we started SmartThings, there were seven of us that were co-founders, but again, overlapping skill sets, it worked out well. One of my pieces of advice that I give to people starting companies is don’t have seven co-founders, even though for us, it was fine. That brought us up to SmartThings, and I did that for several years, lots we can talk about connected things and the journey there, and then eventually I got the itch to get back into small, and that’s what has driven me towards starting a company yet again in One Tap Away, where we’re now focused on building a platform for multifamily amenities.

06:00 Matthew D Edwards: Right on. Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about next and was teach us about One Tap Away, what problem are you actually seeking to solve, or maybe it’s multiple problems, because you’ve already done multiple startups… You probably have a pretty good idea of what recipes make sense? When do they make sense? When do you put something in the trash? When do you kick it down in the road later? So right now, on One Tap Away, given your past success, your past relationships and all of the things you’ve learned, what is it you guys are focusing on? Where are you heading? What’s your target market? And what’s the value prob but overall, it’d be interesting to hear, not only this is what we’re going after, but these are some of the things that we’ve already tested and put in the trash.

06:46 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: I think on the tested and put in the trash thing, it’s like… I don’t know that there’s any perfect formula. For me, a lot of what guides us is we’ve worked with a pretty familiar group of guys, the co-founders of One Tap Away are also all SmartThings folks, and so a lot of it has been the shared context and experiences together that has helped us to then, as a team, try to go through. We knew we wanted to start a company together before we knew what the company would be. We thought about machine learning and everything going on there, and how hot that is. As you and I have talked about Matthew, we also looked at the aging population and how to potentially use technology, especially connected devices technology to help them stay happy and healthy in their homes for longer. Ultimately, they’ll wear One Tap Away as today, and we can talk more about the journey that got us there. Today, what we do is we’re an amenity platform for multifamily buildings. What that sort of means is that we’re finding… Especially outside of the real top-level Class A buildings is that not a lot of tech has been brought to bear, and there’s a lot of problems that exist today. Access control continues to be a challenge, some places have cards, some places don’t have anything.

08:08 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: What does that mean for getting your DoorDash guy into the building to give you food? There’s lots of un-answered questions still around access control, and so we’ve got some unique things we’ve done there to try to make it really easy for residents of these buildings to get access, but also in our mind, a lot of it is also about getting other people access when appropriate at times, it could be a delivery, it could be packages, etcetera. We do access control, and we couple that with the Smart locker system. We use the Smart locker system primarily to deal with the package problem, especially during COVID, everyone’s ordering packages. If you go into these buildings, some of the packages are out front, sometimes the delivery folks did get inside and they’re piled inside, it’s sort of a Wild West. In some buildings, they have a closet, everything gets thrown in there. But then we’ve looked at it and looked at other companies like, Luxer One, who provide these sort of smart package lockers and tried to take that idea, drive the cost down, make it really easy to get it into buildings. Right now, those locker systems are this huge upfront cost if you want them, we’re trying to drive the cost of those down and then provide this multi-use smart locker system.

09:27 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: Initially, like I’ve talked about, we use it for packages and trying to deal with that, that’s great because it sort of cleans up the place, it means that there’s more security for people’s new iPhone or whatever. But it also is a great lever for us as a company, because we’re not holding these packages hostages, but we’ve taken the package and put it in a locker, so we have a really great path to getting people to sign up and engage with our services. That’s one of the things we really looked at hard when starting the company regardless of what it was going be is, what makes us must-have, so we have that really good lever and channel to talk to the user. Of course, in all of this, we give people who don’t have smartphones and don’t want to engage with it a path to get their package, but it gives us a really good way to get people into our app, get people onto our platform, and then we can expose them to other amenities that we can provide. Again, it could be the keyless access control, with COVID there’s a lot around amenity reopening. A lot of places have gyms, they don’t have any policy for how they’re going to re-open the gym safely.

10:30 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: We can control access and so therefore we can help them come in and decide, “Okay, how many people do you want in there at a time? Is it one at a time? Is it multiple?” And then we can work with them to control that sort of stuff. And then from there, we see this world of amenities being much larger than this, and I can talk about a million different examples. We’ve done experiments with food delivery and group food ordering that could bring some interesting economies of scale to that as well as a centralization of the delivery again. We’ve done wash, dry, fold and dry cleaning tests with our lockers. Another amenity that could be really interesting for folks is the ability to just… When they’re down, they’re picking up their package, drop off the dirty laundry, and then later that night, pick it up clean… that sort of stuff. I’ll pause there, I’ve gone all over the place, but that gives you a sense of what we’re looking at.

11:25 Matthew D Edwards: Yeah, that’s a good call out. So some of the things you explored right off the bat… a big key in this conversation is, you have a group of folks that you’ve had a journey with and that you just plain trust. And an interesting thing that you said at the front of that conversation, that moment was, “There were a group of us, we knew we wanted to work together, then we needed to figure out what we wanted to work on.” That’s actually fabulous and amazing. So that suggests that you’re putting your relationships first, that is pretty cool.

11:58 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: My whole career… When I talked about being at Imaginet and that first group of guys, Ben, Scott and me, we knew we wanted to start something, but didn’t really know what we wanted to start either. For me… Scott actually has a great way of saying it, and I’ll blow his quote, but it’s, “I want to work with cool technology, I want to work on a problem that matters,” that has various degrees, it can be helping clean up packages. Said another way, “It doesn’t have to be world-changing for me, but it matters a lot that I’m making a difference for end users or the people who use my product,” and then number one for me is who I’m working with. We all go to jobs every day and every job, no matter how well run of a company it is, there are hard days, good days. So for me, it matters a whole lot who I’m going through that with, more so than the pure technology or even necessarily what the end product is, even though I still want it to be a cool fun technology where I’m learning and I want it to be a product I can get behind and see how it’s going to help users.

13:04 Matthew D Edwards: Right on. That makes a lot of sense. And then you said as you guys were figuring it out, there were things that you explored like machine learning or senior communities or otherwise, and said, “Hey, that makes sense, just not for us or not right now.” Did you go through a process of elimination. You ended up on… Did you call it multifamily units? Multiple dwelling units? How did you characterize it?

13:26 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: Yes, we were looking at… Now, COVID has thrown a loop, we started this company and then COVID came along, so it’ll be interesting. But we were looking at a number of different facets, technology adoption, it’s happening even in folks who are getting a little older… My mom is 70 and uses her smartphone and does all kinds of stuff. So technology adoption is really ramping up. We had this background in connected devices, so we knew with an adoption on the consumer side, we knew we could really do some powerful stuff, we were looking at that. We are also looking at, people are moving to cities, it’s a broad macro trend, this is where COVID… Who we’ll see if there’s truth to people fleeing New York City or not. I tend to still think there’s a pretty big trend towards people moving together and closer, and so there’s more and more multifamily buildings out there, and in those buildings, they have problems like this as well as opportunities, like there’s a ton of people in this one multifamily building, could we do something cool like Taco Tuesday that brings people together and we bring some interesting group dynamics to it and some interesting scale to thing.

14:36 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: So it was sort of some of those macro trends that we started looking at that then drove us into this area of looking at these multifamily properties, what we could do with IoT there, connected devices in general, as well as opening up this world of amenities available to these buildings, and part of how we’re able to help drive the cost down as we also look at revenue sharing opportunities with the building. So it’s not just for them a pure cost outlay, we can talk to them about profit sharing and revenue sharing for some of these amenities that stack on top of whatever, our basic packages, so we try to go in and form a little bit more of a partnership there with the building.

15:22 Matthew D Edwards: Right on. And now you are more or less heat mapping the types of people, the types of behaviors and activities inside these multifamily units, and then you’re also looking at industry competitive stuff saying, “Hey, what exists? How is it done? How can we do it better, different or otherwise?” and you’re not just looking at technology, that’s actually fun part of this conversation, at least from my perspective, is you are an engineer by training and you are a technologist by career, if you will, but yet you’re spending time thinking about people and needs, and then the economics of not only the people, but the multiple dwelling unit owners, if you will, the family unit owners, and you’re coming up with strategic ways to reduce that cost of acquisition and you haven’t said it, but I suspect you’re also working on ways to make it almost a hands-off cost of ownership conversation across time, just get it there and it works. What types of challenges have you already run into that you had to solve or you’re anticipating like, “We have a backlog, there’s 10 things we know that are going to suck wind and we’re going to have to solve all of them, and this is where we’re at.” What do you see in front of you?

16:43 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: Not technology things, mostly. A lot of where we’re at, it’s about… We’ve been actually taking largely bottoms-up approach in how we approach sales, and we’ve gotten fabulous feedback, but it’s a real challenge to go to the property manager, they have one set of problems that they care about, and they care about their residents quite a bit, and retention and that sort of stuff, but if we start at the bottom with them, we need to tell them how everything we’re doing solves their problem, but also pitch them the story for the people that own the building, we’re finding more and more that we might need a bit of a top-down approach where we can get to the property manager and explain to them some of the good financial side of this and get them interested from that regard, then get introduced and we know from other feedback we’ve already received that the property managers are going to love us because we’ve solved some real problems for them.

17:35 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: But we’re spending a lot of time just thinking about how to change that relationship and that almost go-to market strategy, if you will, because we need to convince the people that are going to sign the deal that it’s worthwhile to them and that there’s benefits to them, and it’s not just about solving a messy hallway or something like that. The property manager might care a ton, and it might really sell them or they might really be interested in one facet of what we do, but we need to be able to get that whole story across. So what’s in front of us right now is looking at that and figuring out different avenues, and we’ve got several. We’re talking to sort of big property manager networks that we have some contacts to, we’re also going through some alternate channels, like we happen to have some interesting relationships with a large laundry company, and they provide laundry machines and lots and lots of these multifamily buildings, and so we’ve been working with them on, can we work with them in sort of a partnership form around maybe a wash, dry, fold service that lets us get into the building through that channel, working with this other company, but then we can bring in the other beneficial amenities, the smart lockers for the packages into these buildings.

18:54 Matthew D Edwards: It sounds like even though you’re characterizing it as bottoms-up, and in my original receipt of that was you were talking about the tech first and then working up into the people arguments.

19:04 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: It’s not what I was talking about. To be clear, we did do that in parallel. This isn’t always the way you want to go, but we built a lot of software without clients, we built a lot of stuff based on what we thought was going to make sense, we were doing that sort of engineering bottoms-up stuff in parallel from my perspective, at a slightly higher level in the company, a sort of bottoms-up approach in terms of how we get into buildings. We’ve got some great technology that really resonates, but it doesn’t mean anything if we can’t get into hundreds and thousands of buildings. And so that’s where I spend a lot of time focusing on where I was when I brought it up, thinking of the bottoms-up approach is more about how we get into these buildings and get our software and our product in front of users. Again, at the same time, we were building a lot of technology in IP as well, to be able to go in and pitch this and show the problems that we could solve, so we were doing a ton at the same time.

20:00 Matthew D Edwards: Oh, sure. Right, yeah. You can’t just show up with a presentation deck.

20:03 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: I mean, you can and a lot of people argue that that’s how you should do it because you don’t know that you’ve got product market fit. So there’s a lot of people on the internet that’ll write reams of text about how you shouldn’t write a line of code. Different people have different opinions. We were where we were, we had a bunch of engineers and we knew how to build software and we started building cool software, and there’s stuff we’ve thrown away that didn’t go anywhere, and then a lot that exists today in terms of property management system integration so that we have a way to get all the users out of a building. We’ve got a lot of software written around controlling lockers and access control. In all cases, we try to lend… One of my mantras or beliefs for a long time has been to lean on other solutions where possible, and by that I mean AWS, using a cloud provider, we try to use what they can provide to a huge degree, we don’t usually have a build versus buy debate because it’s all always buy if you can.

21:07 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: We like to try to avoid some of the undifferentiated heavy lifting and build our business intelligence and use things like AWS cloud providers or other SaaS solutions. For example, our access control all goes through right now, today, another company that does this as their primary gig and we integrate with them. Very similar in a lot of ways to the way we approached smart things as we saw, there’s a lot of pieces of technology out there that on their own are cool, but not super useful. And if you can be a bit of a glue company and bring a lot of these pieces together into a more seamless package and experience, then that’s sort of a sweet spot. And so this company, it’s somewhat of a glue company, is how I sort of say it where in a lot of cases, we’re taking things that exist out there and we’re pulling them together into a beautiful and unique and seamless package, more so than developing all of this on our own, because we’d need to have a massive team. We’re 12 people with five of them being engineers so we have to stand on the shoulders of giants anytime we can.

22:19 Matthew D Edwards: Right on, that’s cool. So part of the premise of what you bring to the table then, for all practical purposes, is a contactless solution, I mean.

22:30 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: Yes. We want it to be a contactless as possible, yes.

22:33 Matthew D Edwards: Right. Especially now, it seems to be a popular time to talk about that. But when you’re talking about mobile phone utilization, you’re maybe talking about scheduling, you haven’t said these things, I’m asserting, I’m hypothesizing, but there’s a dependency on the end-user device. But it’s not the only path, you said there can be a non-technology path as well. I believe you said to interact, but as it relates to the contactless solution approach, what types of interesting security or privacy things have you had to solve or do you anticipate having to solve? And are they different from things you have to do in past lives as well?

23:11 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: In a lot of ways, it’s the same as any other project. And I do think that that is true. A lot of security and privacy, you have to take it as a first-class citizen from the start. You’ve got to design with security and privacy controls in mind. In a lot of cases, we lean again on these providers as well. So when you talk about basic cloud infrastructure security, a lot of that is by making smart choices in who we use for that sort of stuff. And even when it comes down to some of the contactless stuff, and again, a lot of times what we’re trying to do, and at least now as a startup, and this could always change, we could decide that this is our sweet sauce and we need to develop this IP, but we’re using another company who spent years and has gotten millions and millions of dollars of funding to solve some access control problems. So we’re able to interact with them in a secure way, they’re able to design their software with security and privacy in mind, and when you bring those all together and look at all the edges and the interaction points, you can make a secured, safe system that honors privacy controls, ,where we haven’t personally had to sit down and spend every last second of our time figuring out how to secure every last hook of it, as long as we can choose good partners. Right?

24:35 Matthew D Edwards: Right, that makes sense. Some states have individual privacy laws that are different from other privacy laws, and some industries have standards that you have to follow that are different than other standards. So everybody has a flavor, and it’s a different context and purpose, and so you have a really interesting problem to solve which is navigate the line, know when, know what, know how. And so my favorite part of what you’ve said so far is, you have to treat security as a first class citizen from day one. That is outstanding advice. It has to be done on purpose, it’s not an accident, it’s not later, it’s like, “Ah, we can get this done Saturday,” it’s doing on purpose, first.

25:26 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: Yes, and I’m not going to sit here and act like I do everything perfect. I don’t really even believe in perfect, but I think by having those sorts of attitudes, it helps get you a long ways right out of the gate that you’re not having to come back later and solve some of these problems because you thought about it at design time. And I lean a lot on that. I’m sure, because we’re only in a couple geographies, we haven’t had to learn everything that we need to yet, I’m sure there’s many intricacies, as you say, that we’re going to have to learn as we continue to grow and scale but by starting with it as a high level idea in mind, then I think you can go a long ways.

26:07 Matthew D Edwards: Policy, legislation, law, all of these things change, they don’t change at the speed of technology, thankfully, or none of us would keep up. But one of the things you mentioned earlier was that you don’t claim perfection, which is cool, and you don’t even believe in the idea of perfect, that’s cool. When I reflect on my own career, there are many chapters, many seasons of attitudes that I’ve gone through, whereby I believed that I was amazingly intelligent and skilled, and I had answers to all questions that had not yet been thought of to all the way to now, when I talk to people, I’m like, “Don’t give me permissions I don’t need. If you have to give me permissions take ’em away yesterday. I only need to know what I need to know in order to get the job done.” Whereas in the beginning, my first question would have been, “I need root. I need access to all things because I can do all things.” That journey, I believe, a lot of people go through those journeys and some people make them through variable velocities.

27:08 Matthew D Edwards: Some of the things that you’ve said, for example, not believing in perfection, knowing that you don’t have the whole data set yet, and then you need to keep going and knowing that by principal, security should be a first class citizen. However, the actual implementation of that idea is, gosh, you got to figure it out while you’re on the journey too. It’s not just a snap of the fingers Lego-fit. So mastering your craft, whatever you define your craft to be, I imagine it’s become multi-pronged through the years and heat-mapped in different directions, but you had to learn to be a useful technologist, you had to learn to be a useful solution provider, you had to learn to become a useful entrepreneur, and every one of those are their own journey. It sounds like you’ve done multiple of them at the same time. You’ve probably had varying velocities of learning and getting schooled. Do you have some highlights from your career where you’re like, “Hey, man, when I was 23, I thought this, and when I was 27, I thought this, and now I think this.”

28:13 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: What you described sounds very familiar, I do remember much younger days when I thought I knew everything. Now I feel like I kind of know nothing. I feel like as I’ve aged and done so much, I just see the world more nuanced and I always assume there’s some other better expert out there, and I want to be cautious not to overstep or say anything with too much certainty, because there’s nuance in everything. So I don’t have a lot of individual “A-ha” moments, I think it has been a journey. I think from very early on for me, part of what helped me be a better technologist and solution provider and just more all around, is that I’ve never really been afraid to ask questions, and I didn’t really stick to my lane, and I don’t ever do that in a confrontational way. I’m a pretty pragmatic guy, but I’ve never been afraid to ask like, “Well, how does this make sense business-wise?” Or like, “What are the real financial drivers? Or, what are our users actually really want regardless of what we want?” So I think all throughout my career, that attitude and that willingness to ask the question, but in a non-controversial and confrontational way, has helped me a ton. To just listen, and if I have a question, I usually am willing to just vocalize the question, and that’s helped me a ton because I’ve learned so much. But by asking those questions, I’ve also, I think, shown myself to be someone who thinks about it…

29:41 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: Even though I was really obsessed with technology when I was younger, even then, I was thinking a little bit more about like, “What does success mean?” I guess. Do you know what I mean? It’s not just this technology, we’re not building technology for technology’s sake, we’re building it to address some problem or make some money or whatever our goals might be, and so I think I’ve always had a pretty strong openness to asking those questions and digging in, and I think that’s helped me a lot. On sort of a personal level, if you want to frame it as an “A-ha” moment, I think it’s mostly… I don’t know when this happened exactly, but somewhere along the line, I accepted that I am more skilled in a more of a managerial and director-type role, and that I’m pretty good at bringing people together and listening to people explain something and then be able to explain it with slightly different language so that this other guy or a gal in the room can understand it. And so sort of an “A-ha” to me was the point when I finally realized, “I’m not a programmer. I’m something else, whatever you want to call it, but I’m working at a slightly different level, sometimes it’s scrum master, sometimes it’s CTO.”

30:55 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: But the way I can be more of a multiplier isn’t by being a 10X coder, it’s by helping solve business problems, making sure that our technology solutions then match and line up to those business problems, and there wasn’t a breakdown in communications where we build a solution to the wrong thing. So that for me, that was a big more of an “A-ha”. There wasn’t a specific time, but it was just coming around to this understanding that that’s probably more my sweet spot is helping people and listening and directing rather than being the builder, which is what all I wanted to do when I was younger, I wanted to be a rock star coder, and I was obsessed with it and all that. Organizationally, I would say that “A-ha” moments, again, not so much an “A-ha” moment but I’ve just, you’ve sort of brought it up, I’ve always really believed in mutual respect, transparency, collaboration, and so I think that those basics can really make a team successful. People are shocked sometimes when I interview that I don’t ask a lot of technology questions, I really don’t. Scott is the same way, I reference him over and over again, because we’ve known each other since college, so it was Scott Vlaminck, and Ben Edwards was the other one that were my best friends to this day and instrumental in starting that very first company.

32:19 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: I always tell people, I’m not… I kind of came… It’s not quite fair, but I’m not a natural entrepreneur, I’m not a huge risk-taker. If it weren’t for Scott and Ben, I wouldn’t have probably been on the same path that I have been on, because while I had the desire to be involved in the room where it happens, if we want to drop a Hamilton reference, I wanted to be a decision maker, but I wasn’t naturally drawn to entrepreneurship. But Scott and Ben were more and so the three of us, we went and formed Refactr. But we’ve, throughout our careers, worked together and had people be shocked at how we interview, but we’re looking at personality, we’re looking at, Are you a lifelong learner? Are you interested in things? Are you curious in things? Our basic thesis has been a lot of time as well, regardless of what you learned in college, we got to teach you the job once you get here, because every company does it a little different and there’s so much internal tribal knowledge, etc., that we look for the people who have the right personality characteristics, much more than amazing coding abilities or engineering abilities. So that’s led us to looking for people who show lots of mutual respect, curiosity, transparency, things like that.

33:37 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: I think people get hung up on individual skills when really it’s team dynamics that tend to make or break projects or companies even. It’s always a people problem, it’s never a technology problem, you can do anything with technology, it’s just turtles all the way down. You can build almost anything, but it’s always the people side of it, it’s like, “Are the requirements I’m hearing you say really what you mean? And when I then implement that in software or hardware or what have you, is it really solving the problem you thought you wanted to solve? Is the problem you thought you wanted to solve really the problem that your company has?” It’s all of those softer things that tend to make or break things in my experience, and it’s rarely like a big tech fail. When it’s big tech fails, a lot of times, it’s people that are obsessed with the tech and they want to build and own every last drop of it, and they think it’s all about the tech, not about solving whatever problem you’re ultimately trying to solve.

34:37 Matthew D Edwards: You know, the name of the podcast is, Long Way Around The Barn, and our initial premise was actually exploring different ways to solve problems and how sometimes getting to a solution for the problem may take unnecessarily long or be unnecessarily complicated, or it just took longer than it needed to, and so sometimes we’re looking for a shorter path, less complicated. But a lot of the things that you just said, I think, is worth calling out that there is no shortcut to the journey, there is no shortcut to becoming a master of your craft, there is no shortcut into becoming more. It’s just a path you have to walk, ditches you have to be in, speed bumps you have to trip over. The long way around the barn to becoming a master of your craft, there is no shorter way. It is the long way.

35:29 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: Right. The only thing I would add is that you’ve got an integral component of that is the feedback loop, it’s something that comes out of Agile. But I think it applies to so much more. You’re right, I don’t think there are a lot of shortcuts, you have to take the journey, but all along that journey, you’ve got to be getting that feedback loop that’s helping you redirect a little bit, helping you expand your horizons a little bit, what have you. I’m not maybe putting that very eloquently, but I think it’s a key component.

35:58 Matthew D Edwards: No, it’s good. The feedback loop, that’s super critical. So as we part then, you have talked about just so many things in such a very short period of time, but the most important thing that I want to call out is that you guys are in a new chapter of your journey together, and that’s One Tap Away. And that’s what you’re building and testing and evolving and is generally available now in moderated exposure. That sounds like an awesome chapter. Is there anything that you would want to add or that I didn’t ask or you want to amplify about your journey individually or as a team or as companies? The parting thought for us? Right off the bat, I already like the feedback loops.

36:38 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: I’m sure there’s much more that if you keep prodding me I could say, but I think we’ve hit on a lot of it. As you can see, I value the people and the relationships a lot, and I think that’s what generally leads to success. For me in some cases, that has been selecting who I work with, and that’s been this chain of startups. And it’s also even once you’re in a company, it’s the relationships with the vendors that you have, and there’s always partners involved, and so it falls into all of that. So I’m certainly happy with where I am in my journey and I’m excited where One Tap Away is. I would love for people to check it out, but unless you own a multifamily property, it’s probably not going to be something you’re going to necessarily go grab yourself, but maybe you can ask if you live for someone to check us out. And yeah, we just continue the journey and have as much fun as we can while we’re doing it.

37:38 Matthew D Edwards: Dude, this has been a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to teach us today, this has been outstanding.

37:43 Jesse O’Neill-Oine: Thank you, appreciate it.


Enabling Better Outcomes with Secured Technology & Best Practices

Health Care Series

Part VI: Providing the Right Care at the Right Time with In Motion Care

In the sixth episode of this series, Andrew Guillemette and Mark Heston of In Motion Care join Matthew D. Edwards to discuss how their startup is tackling the surmounting challenges of 34 million additional baby boomers retiring in 2025 by streamlining the burden of data collection and securely sharing that information with caregivers, care facilities and the families. 

Podcast Summary + Full Transcript

Part V: The Pursuit of Humane Technology in Health Care

Matthew D Edwards and Brent Willett, President of the Iowa Health Care Association, discuss opportunities for humane technology to improve care and increase interaction with caregivers and family for patients in long-term care.

Podcast Summary + Full Transcript

Part IV: Enabling Home Care Services with Technology

Matthew D Edwards and Mark Goetz, President of The HomeCare Advocacy Network, discuss how technology plays a role in empowering seniors to age in their homes.

Podcast Summary + Full Transcript

Part III: The Future of Technology in Home Care Services

Matthew D Edwards and Jeff Huber, CEO of Home Instead Senior Care, discuss how the traditional business model must adapt and evolve in the face of three megatrends.

Podcast Summary + Full Transcript

Part II: Putting Together Information Security and Privacy Plans That Matter

Nathan Gibson, Chief Security Architect and Director of Enterprise Security Architecture at Allstate, and Rebecca Herold, CEO of The Privacy Professor and Privacy Security Brainiacs, join Matthew D Edwards to discuss how to create effective plans that truly secure data and protect privacy – and your reputation.

Podcast Summary + Full Transcript

Part I: IoT Devices, Data, and Exploitation

Xavier D. Johnson, Founder of Enterprise Offensive Security, and Nicholas Starke, Ethical Hacker & Threat Researcher, join us to addresses critical factors when purchasing monitoring devices, securely storing, moving, and using the collected data that is exponentially accumulating, and how to mitigate the exploitation of these systems.

Podcast Summary + Transcript


Part VI: Providing the Right Care at the Right Time with In Motion Care

Enabling Better Health Care & Senior Care Outcomes with Technology

This series focuses on how the health care and senior care industries are enabling more autonomous living opportunities for all ages while improving and expanding care in face of the exponential growth of the senior population. These industries face labor shortages and a strain on existing systems that must evolve and scale while meeting information security and privacy requirements.

Show Highlights

In the sixth episode of this series, Andrew Guillemette and Mark Heston of In Motion Care join Matthew D. Edwards to discuss how their startup is tackling the surmounting challenges of 34 million additional baby boomers retiring in 2025 by leveraging technology and data to improve resident care and increase staff efficiency, accountability, and engagement in senior living communities.

Key Takeaways

  • Caregivers and senior living communities face several existing challenges that will be insurmountable when even more seniors need care: Access to information, cognitive fatigue, effective and efficient delivery of care, staff stretched too thin, etc.
  • In Motion Care has developed technology that provides real-time location of staff and equipment and collects data on when care is delivered that results in real-time availability of information and data – making the role of caregiver easier.
  • The startup is seeing great results with its early adopter community as it addresses new regulations, policies, protocols, and benchmarking due to COVID-19.
  • By leveraging IoT and geofencing technology, In Motion Care collects data that allows for better decision-making by those running the senior living community and more caregiving time for those working directly with the seniors.

About Our Guests

Andrew Guillemette is a Founder of In Motion Care and serves as technical lead. His strong technology background and entrepreneurial spirit have allowed him to successfully develop innovative solutions for multiple start-up tech companies. Over the past five years, he has consulted with tech start-ups in the unmanned aerial systems, agriculture, construction, and senior living industries. 

Mark Heston is a Founder of In Motion Care and brings 16+ years of leadership experience in the senior living industry to the organization.  His experience also includes founding and building a successful management consulting firm. Mark has a passion for serving seniors and is committed to leading IMC in developing solutions to improve resident care and increase efficiencies for senior care providers.

Read the Transcript

0:00:57 Matthew: Welcome to another episode of The Long Way Around the Barn. My guests today are Mark Heston and Andrew Guillemette of In Motion Care. Mark and Andrew are founders of a company seeking to positively change not only qualitative care behaviors in the senior care industry, but quantitative as well by changing the way technology enables healthcare providers. By using connected things networks, geofencing and predictive analytics, their solution is designed to make technology an unobtrusive, nearly invisible component in a healthcare worker’s daily life. Imagine a world where systems and activities are self-documenting, teaching and guiding, instead of finishing an eight-hour shift in 10 hours and spending another two to three hours documenting activities and areas. These guys can see that future and they’re testing a solution which may change how work is done. Mark, Andrew, good morning. Thank you for being with us.

0:01:53 Andrew: Good morning, Matthew.

0:01:55 Mark: Good morning, thank you.

0:01:56 Matthew: So tell us a little bit about your company, In Motion Care. Tell us a little bit about your company’s vision, tell us about your mission, tell us about the product that you’re building, tell us about who you are, what is your company and where are you heading?

0:02:08 Andrew: Yeah, thanks Matthew. So In Motion Care is focused on providing a tool for senior living right now for direct care staff to really be able to provide efficient care and proactive care, bring accountability, and really try to focus on trying to make sure that we have staff to take care of our seniors as we’re moving forward.

0:02:43 Matthew: Alright. So Mark, what’s your perspective on this? How do you also communicate the business or describe it?

0:02:51 Mark: Our real vision is that we want to improve resident care and operate in efficiency in the senior care industry. So our focus is senior care, that’s where a lot of the experience of our founders have come from. We all have a passion for serving seniors, we know that it’s not only something that we have a passion for, but… There’s gonna be a growing number of seniors that need cared for, and we need to be not only better at how we do that, but also there’s gonna be a great need to be able to attract and retain staff to do so. And we’re trying to… We’re working on a solution, or solutions, that will help on both sides of that equation.

0:03:41 Matthew: So it sounds like the common theme, based on the things you said, includes staffing, quality of care, just making sure that we have the right people there to provide the right care at the right time. So it’s context-driven, that makes a lot of sense. What does that look like for your company? Tell us a little bit about the products that you’re working on right now.

0:04:01 Mark: We’re using technology that has been developed that will provide real-time tracking of staff and equipment that’ll allow us to be able to collect data, information on when care was provided, and be able to confirm that it was provided, but also be able to provide access to individuals of improved data. They’ll be able to know where their co-workers are, so if they need help, they’ll be able to locate them quickly. And one of the real key features is leaders in nursing, skilled nursing facilities, so DONs (directors of nursing), charge nurses, people who are in leadership positions, currently spend a lot of time, what I call chasing, they’re trying to chase down staff members, they’re trying to get information. A family member calls and says, “Hey, I need some information about the care that was provided to my loved one, my mom, my dad,” whoever happens to be in the senior care community, and they end up spending a lot of time chasing that stuff down. They also end up looking for information on staff that… Are they up-to-date on their training?

0:05:19 Mark: And so what we’re trying to do is provide a solution that makes their lives easier too, so they have access to, and real-time availability to information and data, so they don’t have to do so much chasing and looking for information. What that’s going to allow them to do is obviously, they’re going to be able to focus on things that improve resident care and also improve staff engagement, preparedness, all those things. It’s a time-saver, and it’s efficiency, but it’s also being able to track care and know that care was provided in an accurate and timely manner.

0:06:03 Matthew: A lot of the stuff you’re doing, is you’re building a system or you’re working on a product that enables staff to understand what staffing is needed, where staffing are… Where the staff are in relation to maybe the premises or the daily operation, who’s working on what? And so it sounds like almost a human logistics-type conversation of, “There’s 20 of us here for this shift, where are we? What are we all doing, and with whom are we doing those things?” Am I getting the right idea?

0:06:42 Mark: Absolutely. Those are clearly many of the benefits. One of the other things that gets lost sometimes is the whole concept of cognitive fatigue with caregivers, especially in the time of COVID. It was happening before, too. But you have caregivers who are assigned to and working in a senior care environment, and they just have a lot of responsibilities and tasks. And right now, there’s no real, good way to help them keep track of that and to know what all they should have done really without their charge nurses or DONs, I hate to use the word hounding, but trying to remind them that, “Hey, did you do this? Did you do that?”

0:07:34 Mark: A good example is there’s something called two-hour rounding that occurs in senior care communities, which basically, every resident should be checked on every two hours. What our solution will do is track that and let’s say we’re coming up on an hour and 45 minutes or close to two hours, and a caregiver is in a situation where they’re dealing with something, but all of a sudden, they’ll get an alert that will say, “Hey, you haven’t checked on Mrs. Smith in an hour and 45 minutes, you need to do that right now. Because, and again, cognitive fatigue is a big issue in senior care. They’re just overwhelmed with all these tasks they have to do, there’s really no way to help them keep track of those and to remind them of certain things they need.

0:08:21 Matthew: It almost sounds like you’re creating a system that might include the idea of gentle nudges or just helping people pay attention to, “Hey, this is the backlog or the expectation of things that need to happen today, this is with whom these things need to happen,” … It’s almost a daily reminder or a task reminder. I don’t want to create words for you, but it enables someone to do well during the day, even though they might be getting tired, and they might overlook something, or they might… It’s almost like a partner through the course of the day, “Let’s get through this together.”

0:09:07 Andrew: Matthew, that’s exactly where we’re headed. We have these awesome super heroes called CNAs, and they’ve been on the front lines, especially through COVID, and for them to show up every day to work and take care of residents is huge. But what a lot of people don’t realize is with COVID, comes new regulations, new policy, new dress code, all these new things that happen. It all piles up onto these people who… They’re people, at the end of the day, they’re not machines, especially loved ones. There’s a lot of pressure for these direct care staff givers to make sure our loved ones, our seniors are taken care of. So as you look at what’s in their toolbox today, it’s very hard because their toolbox is pretty scarce. It’s missing that 7/16 socket, there’s pieces just aren’t there, but the job keeps getting bigger, the roles and expectations.

0:10:28 Andrew: And so we see that, especially in the cognitive fatigue portion, you just keep adding on tasks, “Remember to do this, you have to do that.” How are we setting them up for success? And that’s where In Motion Care looks to come into play, is we want to call it the pit of success, we want to even… We want to make sure that after COVID happens, that we can ensure that there’s the people out there who care about providing care, come into the industry and apply for those jobs. And so without providing them any resources, there’s a huge gap and it’s gonna get worse with the baby boomer generation and things moving forward. So our major focus, is if we can provide information based on their location. That’s one of the big features of our product, is leveraging users’ mobile devices and providing them content where they don’t always have to remember, they don’t have to walk halfway down the hall to look at the tablet, memorize where Karen’s supposed to go, walk 10 doors down and then make sure that they provide that right care. We’re not setting them up for success, so that’s where Mark and I had a passion and created IMC.

0:11:53 Mark: Matthew, there’s another thing that’s a key component because… I like the way you phrase it, it’s a partner for caregivers, and that’s a great part. The other piece, is there’s a lot of very good providers and companies in senior living that have expressly said that they want to be data-driven. And right now, that data either doesn’t exist or it’s incredibly difficult to get. So one of the functions that was created is to provide data. And we’ll use it… We talk about it in a micro and macro framework, but micro is specifically we have data on the care that was provided and when it was provided to Mrs. Smith in room 131. Okay, we know… We’ll have that information at their fingertips.

0:12:51 Mark: But then also just macro information, such as how much time on average does it take to complete a task? How much time on average does it take for caregiver time to spend with each resident in an eight-hour shift or a 24-hour period? Those are data pieces that will help providers make better staffing decisions, help them to staff more efficiently, but also as they look at concentrations of time and how they can prepare their staff better to meet those needs. So there’s both the partner people, which is really important, but also we’re looking at this as, “How do we provide data and information to providers that allow them to make better decisions in how they run their communities, but also how they care for residents?”

0:13:44 Matthew: So it sounds like… You and Andrew both have brought up two things, and I want to make sure I don’t lose them. But Mark, one of the things that I think I’m hearing you say is, data, of course, is very important. Data enables us to learn, to see, to discover patterns, to discover opportunities, for tuning change or otherwise. And I think what I hear you saying is that the system that you guys are working on actually collects data in such a way as to say, “Hey, across this amount of time, across this amount of healthcare workers, on average, this particular service or behavior or activity takes about this long.” And as a result, it sounds like you guys are saying you can take that data and just say, “Here’s an averaged norm, and then these other ideas might be outliers,” and that would give you an opportunity to consider additional training, tuning or tweaking, which is, “Hey, this normally takes seven to 12 minutes to get done for people, on average, it looks like it’s been taking you 20. Teach me, what’s going on. How can we improve? What do we need to change? Is my data wrong,” for example. So you’re using the collection of the data to teach, tune and change.

0:15:14 Mark: Yeah, absolutely. That’s what we see as one very important use of the data, there are others. For example, you use… Well, I’ll just provide another example. Let’s say that the average to do a task is seven to 12 minutes, and we find that Andrew takes 12 minutes to do it and Mark only takes four minutes to do it. “Well, wait a second, Mark. Are you really doing everything you should be doing in that task? So let’s talk, let’s… ” So there’s a piece, not only if you’re, “Hey, we need to improve,” but also to verify that you’re doing things the right way and the way they should be, and you’re not cutting corners. And again, this isn’t… The whole idea is not to… It’s not a gotcha, it is how do we improve efficiency and effectiveness? And if I know, “Wait a second. Okay, I’ve been doing it in half the time because I either forgot how I was supposed to do it or I wasn’t properly trained to begin with,” or whatever, all of a sudden now, the nursing leadership, the supervisor are able to step in. Now, that’s going to improve care. But quite honestly, as a caregiver, I’m gonna be able to feel better because I know now I’ve been properly trained and I know how I should be doing it.

0:16:36 Mark: So there’s this piece that… And it’s a holistic view of, “How do we… ” And if we’re improving care, which again, in the senior care environment… Improving care is a goal of every community, they want the best care possible. So if you can improve that, then you’ll just… You’ll have more satisfied residents, you’ll have staff who are more engaged because they have better tools. One of the things that I talk about all the time, is Argentum did a study in 2017 that said that the senior care industry needed to attract 1.2 million new employees in the next 10 years. That didn’t even take into account any that were leaving, that’s just new employees on top of staff that already existed.

0:17:32 Mark: Well, there’s a dearth of technology in senior care. And my concern is… One of my concerns is if we’re not providing technology and solutions that our younger workforce is expecting, how are we gonna attract those people to senior care? One good example… And again, you can cut me off if I… I get a little bit long-winded and passionate about this. But in many senior care communities right now, when staff change shifts, new staff are handed the care plans on paper of all the residents. That’s oftentimes a 20- or 30-page document. What we’re trying to say is, “Gee, that would be nice to get that in their hands electronically because that’s what the newer workforce is going to expect.”

0:18:29 Matthew: So quality of care, that includes initial training, ongoing training, ongoing improvement, and that’s in the best interest of the quality of the healthcare worker, or provider, or teammate, as well as the person that’s being cared for, loved, engaged, and so forth. So that makes a lot of sense. So let me go back to something Andrew mentioned earlier, which was talking about… It sounded like… And I want you to amplify this a little bit. It sounded like you were saying that we wanted to be efficient when we have the system, which is partnering with the healthcare worker, and we want to understand where are our teammates? What are they working on? What should they be working on? Then of course, adding what Mark said, how is it going in context of what’s the normal average?

0:19:19 Matthew: It sounded like, Andrew, you might be intimating making context-driven partnership recommendations. In other words, the software you’re discussing is saying, “Hey, where is this team member in relation to the building and in relation to the people that need to be cared for? And let’s make recommendations based on where they are, instead of them being put into the situation of popcorning around the building,” and then that probably contributes to the fatigue you were mentioning earlier, Mark. But Andrew, is that what you were saying, which is context-driven recommendations?

0:19:57 Andrew: I’ll expand a little bit on that. So it’s more about geolocation. So what we’re able to do with our solution… It’s a hardware and software solution. And basically, what we’re able to do is geofence key areas within the care community. So for example, all the rooms are broken down into their own locations, then the room can be broken down into a living area, an entry area, a bathroom area. And so what we’re able to do, is based upon location, our goal is to provide information. We want to nudge, we want to provide the proverb of information at your fingertips. At this point, there’s no need to memorize anything. If we know where you are, we can provide you with the context that you need.

0:20:56 Andrew: So basically if you’re a CNA, you walk into a room and you haven’t been there that day, we’re able to say, “Hey, take a look at the care plan for this room.” So automatically, we know that they haven’t been there yet, we can provide them and say, “Hey, look over this, check the box,” and they understand what I’m looking at and the care I’m supposed to provide. And then we know that either [A] they’ve read it and we can hold them accountable for the care, but [B] the biggest thing is they don’t have to pull out that piece of paper, the 20-page packet of care information, figure out what she has, he or she has to do for Mrs. Smith. It’s right there. So nudging, real-time notifications; that’s where we want to go, we want to make it easier for them to have access to the information they need.

0:21:56 Matthew: I like the things that I’m hearing, this sounds like a nice, intelligent approach to how to provide quality care. Now, this is all about quality of care, but it’s also about taking care of the health workers, the health team members at the same time. So you guys have talked about data collection and aggregation, you’ve talked about geofencing, geolocation, you’ve talked about cognitive fatigue, if you will. Basically, you’re talking about a holistic approach which could change an entire shift for an entire team of people, and then all of the shifts thereafter, which is instead of receiving a clipboard with 30 pages on it, and then having to figure it out, and then popcorning around the building, then also wondering, “Hey, where the heck are all my teammates right now,” you’re changing this. It sounds like you’re changing the role of data and software to be something that enables a healthcare worker to go love and engage and care for people, instead of making the healthcare worker collect the data, manage the data, carry it around with them, try and figure it out in real-time and then go do the work. It sounds like you’re… This is a paradigm shift.

0:23:05 Mark: Wow, we should hire you as our marketing person, Matthew. We talk a lot about taking and trying to take a very, what is currently a very reactive environment, and providing tools that allow to be more proactive. It’s providing tools, information, data that enables caregivers to care for residents better, more effectively, more efficiently. And then the results… If I’m an operator, “Yes, resident care is important, but what’s that mean to me?” Well, if you provide better resident care, your scoring is better, your results are better. That leads to better operating efficiency, better profits, all those things. If you’re staffing more efficiently and effectively, there’s a downstream result that is not just, “Oh, this is a really nice thing to do.” “This is a really good business decision because we’re providing better care, our workers are more engaged, our staff has better tools, so they don’t leave and our retention is better.” Those things just multiply on themselves till you talk about what your outcomes are, which our outcomes are improved resident care and should be also, increased operating efficiency, which then leads to better financial results.

0:24:49 Matthew: Alright, I’m loving the story that I’m hearing right now; quality of service, which includes taking care of the healthcare worker as well as the person that’s supposed to be loved to start with. So let me change channels a little bit here, change direction a little bit and just ask you… Andrew, let’s start with you, how did you get here? Tell us a little bit about your journey that led you to care about this, that led you to say, “Hey, not only do I care about this, but I want to start a company and I want to build a product that enables a change.” And how did you get here?

0:25:24 Andrew: How much time do we have? Well, just to first start, did I ever think I was gonna start a company or end up in Iowa? I’m from Maine originally, so going from trees and seafood to wide open cornfields has been… It’s definitely different, let’s put it that way. But coming here… I grew up in a very good, supportive household. I learned that family was important, and my grandparents both had some health issues. One, my grandfather, he lost one leg, then another, and then his life to diabetes, and my grandmother, who is the real inspiration behind that, behind why I’ve come into senior living, she had a struggle that after watching her go through what happened with my grandfather, it just bugged me of, “Why we’re sending our loved ones to care communities, to places, and why do they still get sick?”

0:26:49 Andrew: And so as a kid, watching that, I was wondering, it was like I’d visit… I’d carol… I was in the Boy Scouts, I’d carol at the nursing homes, I was there, owned a flooring… My family owns a flooring store back in Maine, and I have installed flooring in 15, 20 different nursing homes, and so I know the environment. But it wasn’t really until my grandmother, Claire, who went into the care community for some rehab, during her time there, she had a incident with diarrhea that went unnoticed by medical personnel, and my mother was there trying to say, “Hey, look, there’s a problem,” and it ended up getting flushed before anyone saw it, and because no one saw it, they couldn’t treat it. So shortly after, she ended up in the ER with severe dehydration, ’cause that’s what happens when you have diarrhea and you don’t get fluids. And from there, that was the turning point, that was the downfall of her health. She was a two-time cancer survivor and she was just such a strong lady, and to see that something so simple gets missed, it really affected me.

0:28:03 Andrew: So as an engineer, and I guess, from day one, I’ve always been an entrepreneur… I’ve always wanted to solve problems, problem-solver, and basically become an entrepreneur, I knew there was a problem. And so that’s when I reached out and met the rest of the IMC team and Mark and said, “Is there problems here to solve?” And we found one. And so we have a… Came up with a solution so that this doesn’t happen to other grandparents out there. I’m not the only case.

0:28:40 Matthew: Right, that’s a tough story. I’m sorry to hear that. Thanks for sharing that. So a motivator… Not the only motivator for you, but a motivator is, “Hey, I want to make sure that we know the things we need to know, when we need to know it, so we can do what we have to do.” And that sounds consistent with the product you just said you were building through the rest of this podcast so far, so thank you for sharing that. Mark, how did you get here? Why are you doing this? Why are you involved?

0:29:12 Mark: Well, my story is a little bit different. I was an executive at a senior living company for almost 15 years and have been involved within the senior care industry for close to 20 now. So when I left that company, I started my own consulting firm, focusing on management, human resources, consulting. And throughout my experience with the senior living company, I heard from many care providers in our skilled nursing facilities about the issues that they faced. And the issues were just a lot about not knowing, we don’t know, and we just don’t know and we don’t have information, and we… And this was something that was consistent over the 14 years, couple that with the fact that the senior living and senior care industry has traditionally not been on the forefront or very advanced from a technology standpoint. So those were two things that I knew very much as I was a part of this. Also, being a part of that really drove a passion for serving seniors. And so I’m very committed to the industry.

0:30:28 Mark: Fast forward, I’m doing my consulting work. I have a client that is a senior care community and I’m doing work with them, and a couple of the people there start talking about the problems they’re having and, “Oh, we’ve met this engineer who’s really bright and has some great ideas about how we potentially could solve these from a technology standpoint.” I asked the question after they’ve told me about… “Wow, this is really… I think this is great. I think it has the opportunity to significantly change the industry in how care is provided and how workers are cared for and equipped to do their job.” So I asked the question, “What can I do or how could I be involved?” And that led to a few conversations, and the next thing you know, I’ve joined the team. So it’s been… Again, I go back to, I think, the one thing that’s consistent across all the groups on our team, is we have a passion for serving seniors and doing that well, we also all recognize the staff need to be equipped better to do that.

0:31:47 Matthew: So you mentioned that historically in the senior living community, it may not necessarily have been on the forefront of technology adoption, technology utilization. Where do you guys see the senior living industry going in the future in terms of digital transformation? It’s products like the one you’re building or that you’ve built that compose a digital transformation or a paradigm shift for an entire industry. Where do you believe this is going? Where is the industry heading from your perspective in terms of technology?

0:32:21 Mark: I’ll start and then Andrew can add. I’ll just… Based on my experiences, Matthew, I know that it’s an industry that is wanting, is ripe for digital transformation. There are what I’ll call early-adopters, innovators who are out there looking for solutions that can help them provide care and do the work that they do better, more effectively, more efficiently. So I believe the industry is ripe. I know that the discussions are ongoing, I know that the associations are supporting this and putting resources into, “How do you develop this?” So I believe the industry is ripe for digital transformation, part of that is just the right solutions coming along that will help them do their work better.

0:33:21 Andrew: Yeah, and I would add on to that, Mark, we’ve seen some changes, and the biggest thing has been, you see mobile computing devices. So we’ve seen taking the one computer, mount it to the wall in the center of the hallway, which had the mouse and the keyboard, to more of touchscreen kiosks. And really, the most innovation you’ve really seen lately is bringing iPad minis and being able to, for the care communities that can try to afford it, allow the staff member to chart on-the-go. That was a giant leap. Not to downplay it, but the senior living industry has been very behind for probably several decades, where our pilot community, a five-star… One of a dozen of a five-star care communities here in Iowa, it still uses some paper. And you gotta get… Think about that, paper to notify and update care.

0:34:37 Andrew: So Matthew, here is a question, I’ll lay out a scenario: Mrs. Smith, in the morning, alright, she goes and visits therapy and they say, “Hey, you no longer can walk with a gait belt and a walker. Your gait’s a little off, we want to put you in a wheelchair.” Okay, so therapy writes that in the changes. And so how does the CNA on the other side of the building, who has a 20-page paper packet, how does that get updated? What happens is you get this telephone tag of care plan updates and information changes, and I don’t know how well you were at telephone tag, I tried really hard, I was a try-hard kid playing that game, but we all know in reality, if you play it… If it’s played in the right way, it turns into something totally different. And it’s not… Not to joke about it, but care might not get updated. So just being able to get some of the most important up-to-date information into this digital age would be huge.

0:35:52 Matthew: That makes a lot of sense. That’s a good call-out.

0:35:56 Mark: How the cognitive fatigue piece can add to that, is let’s say I come out of that meeting and I’m the charge nurse and it’s my responsibility to tell the CNAs who are working off this change in the care plan, and I walk out of the meeting and somebody grabs me and says, “Oh, Mr. Heston, we’ve got the situation. Let’s go deal with it,” and boom, you go deal with it ’cause that’s what you do as a caregiver. And then all of a sudden, it slips your mind that you were supposed to tell the CNAs about this change in the care plan for Mrs. Smith, and that’s how it often works. It’s not… These things aren’t updated until the end of a shift because those things happen. Well, it would be a lot better if it can just happen in real time and through technology. So that’s just one example, there’s hundreds of others.

0:36:46 Matthew: No, it’s a good call-out. And I’ll abstract out just for a moment, so that nobody in the senior care industry feels like we’re poking on them in particular. My whole career has been in technology and it’s just a fact, the more steps that are involved in getting from A to B, the higher probability of not getting there, or not getting there correctly, or not getting there completely, or some combination therein. Also… So that includes hand-offs, steps, the number of people, all of those things. The longer the distance between A and B, the higher the probability of not making it or not making it well. The other interesting thing that we all know from technology’s standpoint is manual anything for any extended period of time, decreases the probability of predictable, repeatable results every time. And if there are manual steps that are done on a regular basis, we have great people with great minds, great education, great experience, and people still make mistakes, and that’s just a fact. It doesn’t mean people are horrible, people are failing, people should be fired or anything like that. People make mistakes, fact.

0:37:58 Matthew: So if I have manual steps, there may be error. If I have many steps, there may be error. Now, include manual steps, manual everything, and multiple people, and I just have higher probability of combinatorial failure. It’s not a fault of any particular languishing person on the tree, but rather, “Hey, life is hard. And trying to remember 12 steps, and 13 patients, and 30 pages, and a whole shift, and a whole bunch of crazy stuff that you didn’t plan on, life can whoop on you, and it can all happen in one shift.”

0:38:36 Andrew: Well, even more than that ’cause all it takes… Some of the tasks are… At the base of it, there are fundamental tasks, repetitive tasks that need to be done every day, but if there’s a fall or if there’s a new admission or any change, the complex… Yeah, it just goes up. There’s no more habits, there’s no more routines. And then if they get behind, how do you catch up? And so… And that’s a lot of where we’re at, is it goes back to being reactive, something happens, we have to react, and there’s not always a lot of time, information or leadership of how can we micromanage the whole situation.

0:39:23 Matthew: Right on. So love it, so love the things that you guys are talking about so far.

0:39:29 Mark: I’m so glad you brought that up because Andrew referred to caregivers as superheroes early. They really… The dedication and the work and how hard they work is unbelievable in senior care, but yet you make a good point, more and more is asked of them, and more and more of it’s manual… And they’re human beings. And part of this is at some point in time, that just doesn’t work anymore, so how do we find ways to make it easier for them and not harder?

0:40:07 Andrew: Really, why does the qualification have to be memorization to provide care and enjoy providing care and taking care of others? We should make it easier to get these other individuals and have people want to join the industry. You’re in the profession because there’s passion and there’s a reason why you want to take care of someone else and… Go ahead.

0:40:33 Matthew: Well, I was just gonna say, this system that you guys have built, enables the paradigm shift, so we already talked about that, and it enables it by including the idea of, you mentioned mobile phones, you mentioned geofencing, geolocation, you mentioned context-driven reminders or partnership for the healthcare worker, so, “Hey, you’re in this part of the building, you’re by this particular resident or elder that’s in our care, they need these things,” so context-driven. And then from the team leader standpoint, where are the people, what are we all working on? And then real-time data collection and real-time data nudging, and that all but eliminates the end-of-shift paperwork. Hell, that so many people in the healthcare industry are plagued by. So you went in planning for an eight-hour shift, you ended up spending 10 hours there and you still have two hours of paperwork after that, and then you need to be back tomorrow. That’s fatiguing for anybody in any line of work, end of conversation.

0:41:37 Matthew: Now, this data-driven approach that you guys have taken also, though, brings up some interesting privacy, confidentiality, security aspects that senior living, senior care, HIPAA. Okay, fine. Healthcare information, no contest, no surprise. What will be interesting to watch in the senior living industry though is this explosion of data that’s going to happen by creating geofencing, geolocation, by collecting data in each unit, and then in different places inside the units. Now, we have an explosion of data collection that’s far greater than just the number of staff times the number of hours and shifts and clipboards and ink pens. Now, it’s many sensors and many locations collecting very much data all of the time about all of the things.

0:42:27 Matthew: Since the senior living industry has not historically been an industry that was an aggressive, bleeding-edge technology adoption leader, but they’re moving into it and they need to get there, and they will get there, what kinds of interesting data, privacy, confidentiality problems or challenges have you had to solve or do you guys see that need to be solved? It’s not completely on you as a software solution provider to an organization, they have a responsibility to run their business, their enterprise, their framework. But what kinds of things do you guys see, have you had to solve in terms of privacy, confidentiality, security or what are the risks that you see? Teach us a little bit about that.

0:43:12 Mark: I’ll start, and I’m not the tech… Andrew’s much more of a techy guy than I am, but I’ll just provide a couple of perspectives. I see the whole security, privacy piece as a… It’s a nonstarter, you just have to have that going forward. I know… And if people in senior care and senior living don’t think that they ever… Believe they’re immune or whatever, I happen to know a company that I work with that was attacked with ransomware last fall. No protected health information was involved, but they ended up getting locked down from an email file system perspective. And between them and their insurance company, they had to spend a lot of money to get that back. And so I think, to me, it’s a… When you bring that up, that’s just a… It has to be there going forward because there are so many potential ways in which things can go wrong in that area. To me, it’s… You have to start there with everything you build because it can’t be an afterthought.

0:44:31 Matthew: That makes sense, that makes sense. You’re right, it cannot be an afterthought, it needs to be by design. Andrew, what are your thoughts, good sir?

0:44:41 Andrew: You’re right, there’s a ton of data and there are an infinite amount of combinations that you can try to analyze it. Just to give you an example, so one of our badges gets five data points, is five XY coordinates a second. So you have a community of 100, or 200, or when you do a whole care community or complex, a couple hundred tags, five samples a second, gonna do that for a year, a couple of years, that’s a lot of data.

0:45:23 Matthew: It’s a lot of data. It’s a lot of data volume, data to store, to collect, but it’s a lot of transmission volume as well, so…

0:45:33 Andrew: Oh, huge, huge transmission volume. And so we do… We take care of some of that by trying to process it on a local computer first. So we try to analyze and do some edge computing locally where if we need a real-time notification of something that’s happening within the care community, like the two-hour rounding report, some of that we can handle locally. But once you start sending data to the cloud, you start opening up yourself for some penetration points, you have some areas where people can try to throw out a net and try to catch some of your data. So from a startup perspective, we’re taking data, the design of our backend, how we’re going manage the data, who’s storing it, how is it being handled on the cloud, how are we integrating with other companies, the HR platforms. We need to think from the beginning, as we’re developing and building our platform to make it scalable, that’s something that we’re taking into consideration early because it’s trust for us. As we go to a care community and as we build out the system and we show what value we can offer, this industry is gonna rely on trust, trust and transparency.

0:47:09 Matthew: There’s an interesting twist to this as well, when companies like yours are building technology and you know you need to do security and privacy, and confidentiality, all the things, and we assume HIPAA and all of that. There’s an interesting over layer which is happening now as well, which is, for example, when one of your clients ends up being a multi-state organization, and each of those states have their own privacy laws on top of HIPAA, it starts adding this amazing, amazing complexity, and all you can do is smile and say, “Yes, sir/Yes, ma’am, let’s go get the work done.” But if you have one client and they’re in multiple states, and they have a privacy law per state, there’s a little bit of extra work to do.

0:47:55 Mark: And thank goodness, that’s why there’s people in companies like yours, Matthew, that can provide organizations like ours support for that. Because you’re right. You have to be concerned with HIPAA or you have to be concerned with this reg. There’s a multitude of layers, and really, I think it’s inherent upon finding the right partners who understand that and get that and can help you build the technology that’s compliant in all those areas.

0:48:26 Matthew: So teach us, where are you in your product life cycle right now? Are you already doing beta or are you already in market? Where are you in relation to where you want to be? People who are listening to this who are in leadership roles at organizations at this point, are thinking, “I don’t know what to do with this stuff,” or, “Hey, I need to talk to these guys because I’m interested in learning.” So where are you?

0:48:47 Andrew: Or they could still be confused about what we do, you never know.

0:48:51 Matthew: Well, it happens all the time.

0:48:54 Mark: So I’ll take this and Andrew, feel free to jump in. We are, right now, in that pilot stage where we’re testing the expandability to cover… We’ve done the proof of concept, it works. We’re doing a pilot, we are adding an additional pilot site in early 2021. And then right now, we’re looking for other early-adopters to help us ’cause there’s things that we’re trying to develop on scalability and all of that. So we are just starting the process of exploring other opportunities to expand that with the idea that we have… And we’re gonna take a phased approach on features rolling out, but that we have a fully functioning… All or most features rolled out by the end of 2021. Early 2021, we’re gonna have a commercially available product that has some of the functionality, but not all the functionality, if that helps and makes sense. Andrew, add anything you’d like to that.

0:49:58 Andrew: Yeah, well, from… To use the startup speak, we’re developing our MVP, the Minimal Viable Product, what can we deliver to care communities today that can make a difference. So as a startup, we don’t do this for free. We have to… You’ve seen Shark Tank and the whole old nine yards. So we have to raise a little bit of money, we have to build the team and build the product and make sure we’re not having feature creep, or… Mark, I really think we could benefit from a pinball machine, “Can I get it?” No. So where we’re at today, is we’re really focusing on the first phase, which is the data. So as Mark said, we’ve done something that it seems pretty trivial, but a lot of people… There’s a name for it called customer discovery. And more or less, it’s an interview, kinda how you’re interviewing us, we go out and we try to talk to a dozen or two dozen, so care communities, and to figure out, “Are you guys jiving with us for the problem? Does this make sense?”

0:51:13 Andrew: And so after doing those interviews and saying, “Okay, what value can we give them early,” we figured out we can do it with data, so we know that these care communities don’t have data. And so what we’re doing right now as our initial phase, is we’re helping with potential complaint reports, we’re helping with an early concept of contact tracing. So we’re doing some… A little bit of the framework and R&D right now of our product. But as Mark said, in 2021, we look to hopefully hand off something… A feature set that has the automated two-hour rounding reports, some activity reports that management can pull and trying to make some real decisions. And one of the big things is we’re trying to look to also see how we can improve staffing methods by looking at resource allocation. So we’re very excited to try to get that to push, but as with startups, we have to raise some of the capital and we have to move forward. So it’s a very exciting process trying to say, “Wow, this innovation, this concept, how fast can we build it? It’s so great,” but then on the other side is, “We need to focus to make sure that we don’t lose the quality of our product and we don’t lose focus of our mission.”

0:52:41 Matthew: That’s good. So you’re actually working with one or more client partners right now, it sounds like, exploring, discussing, testing, validating. And this is a classic problem for all companies, which is: You only have 10 bucks in your pocket, you have 50 people, you told them all you’d buy coffee, how are you gonna spend that 10 bucks? And so the reality, is day one, that MVP, the Minimum Viable Product, doesn’t mean it’s a non-revenue generating, non-useful piece of rubbish that’s gonna be thrown away. It actually means, “I have $10 and I’m going to be ridiculously shrewd about how I spend that $10, then that means if there’s 100 things I need to build, I want to build them. But today, we’re going live with the 20 most important features, and that’s how we’re going to go hot on the first day.” And it sounds like you guys are at client sites actually gathering or validating and testing hard data, it’s real life stuff. So you’re not just making the stuff up in the vacuum and saying, “Pretty sure I’m smart, pretty sure I got a good idea.” This is, “We’re gonna work, just trust me. You have data.”

0:53:53 Andrew: We have data during COVID, it’s battle-tested. I’ll tell you what, as a startup going through this time, not being able to get inside the care community, not being able to check and update our equipment and having to work with their staff on the inside has been awesome. We’re so lucky to have such a great early-adopter. They’re bored and everything, they want to see the industry change, they want to improve metrics and resident care and satisfaction. So it’s been great for us to work with that, and it’s good for them to see, “How can this help another care community like us? What is the basic… What is the Toyota version that’ll get me from point A to point B that can make an impact now?” And it’s… If it’s putting a… Taking a piece of plywood and throwing four caster wheels on it, so I can roll down the hill faster, then that’s… It’s beneficial.

0:55:00 Andrew: And so we have to start early, and so we’re gonna work with great early-adopters that say… Who can help guide us and help provide value to make sure we’re answering the question, solving the problem. It’s not fictitious for us, we need to focus and work with them. ‘Cause I’m an engineer, I have tons of ideas, but when I go and talk to an executive director, or an administrator, or a director of nursing, and we start talking about their problems, resource allocation, do they even know how much money is being spent on this or that? It starts to become a reality. And so it’s going to be a slow driving this to market, but that’s why I say it’s trust and transparency. Being able to provide and show that value, people will follow.

0:55:52 Matthew: No, that’s a good call-out. That’s really good. And so there’s an interesting conundrum many companies struggle with, which is, “Hey, we bought this software or system, it doesn’t really meet all of my needs, I’m happy a lot of the time, I’m unhappy a whole bunch of the time,” and they complain about it as if, “Hey, this was kind of a good purchase, but not so much.” Alternatively, you guys are offering a paradigm which many startups like to offer too, which is, “Hey, we will partner with you. Give us real data, we will give you real solutions, and together we’ll build something that actually solves your problems,” but that takes time also. So you’re giving people alternative. Instead of just buying some commercial off-the-shelf thing and then having to live with it, you’re saying, “Hey, come let us live with you. We’ll collect the data, we’ll do the work, we’ll define the system and build the system in a way that works for you.” That’s a really good alternative, that’s a good call-out. Well done.

0:56:49 Mark: One of the real advantages we have, is our founding team has over 75 years collective experience in senior living. We weren’t a technology company going out looking for a problem, we knew there were problems and we’re trying to use technology to solve those and identify and help them solve those problems. It’s not, “We’re a solution looking for a problem.” We know what the problems are, and we’re trying to develop solutions that will help them, and it’s going to evolve. And one thing I just, I want to tell you before we wrap up, Matthew, is what’s going to help with the digital transformation, people like you who are understanding no technology in the industry and are driving the conversation, and I know you have a passion for seniors and how we can improve senior care. But that’s really important, is driving the conversation. So more people are thinking about this and considering how we can do it because it has to be done, but part of it is, is just finding the right solutions and having that discussion and driving it, so that really smart people like you who know technology can say, “Hey, this is part of the solve.”

0:58:09 Matthew: Okay, alright. Andrew, also?

0:58:11 Andrew: I want to re-touch upon that. People… You hit it right on the head. People sit in their jobs and they’re just saying, “I wish we could do more,” or, “This is stupid, inefficient. How can we make this better?” And we know things are going to get worse. Today we have 34 million baby boomers retired by 2025, that’s gonna almost double to 65 million. So this increase on the demand for the healthcare industry is… It’s coming. And again, going back to the digital age, “How we’re gonna digitalize this, how do we see information,” it’s transforming, but we… And I think that’s why we’re going to be, not to toot our own horn, pretty successful is, “Hey, I’d like a straw. I got this cup, I wish there was a better way where someone made a straw.” Well, you said, “Hey, Andrew, you want to make a straw,” and I create you one that’s straight, nice, it’s a beautiful-looking straw, and you said, “Well, I wanted it to bend.” For us, that’s where our founding team, almost 80 years of experience in senior living, we have such a great breadth of knowledge, and passion that we’re going to be resilient and we’re going to keep working at it.

1:00:01 Matthew: Right on. That’s cool. Thank you very much, guys. So before we take off, is there anything else that you wish I had asked, or you wanted to bring up, or you’d like to touch on again, just some parting thoughts for us before we close this down?

1:00:17 Mark: I’ll just say, again, thank you for the opportunity. We’re very excited, and thank you for driving the conversation, giving us the opportunity. And we’re really excited about where we’re headed and really making a positive impact in an industry that we’ve been involved in a long time, so thank you.

1:00:35 Matthew: Andrew?

1:00:38 Andrew: Well, I want you to know we’re not leaving here without keeping data security in mind, and thank you for the opportunity. We’re very excited, these are very hard times. There’s a lot of stories, there’s a lot of bad press, but we’re trying to change that. So it’s one step at a time, one day at a time. We just can’t lose focus, so thank you very much.

1:01:16 Matthew: I loved hearing your stories about how you got here, I love hearing about the product that you have built and continue to evolve and build, I love the fact that you’re looking to change the paradigm. You’re not looking to take what exists and tweak it, you’re looking to completely turn it upside-down, so that we could look at things in a different way to enable healthcare providers to actually use all of their time and energy to love and care for people, instead of love and care for their keyboard, their shift, their clipboard, their data collection, their hand-offs. These people are going to school so that they can love people, not computers and not clipboards, and you guys are seeking to change that whole thing. I think that that is outstanding. I look forward to keeping in touch again. Thank you very much, both of you, and I hope you both have a great day.


Part V: The Pursuit of Humane Technology in Health Care

Enabling Better Health Care & Senior Care Outcomes with Technology

This series focuses on how the health care and senior care industries are enabling more autonomous living opportunities for all ages while improving and expanding care in face of the exponential growth of the senior population. These industries face labor shortages and a strain on existing systems that must evolve and scale while meeting information security and privacy requirements.

Show Highlights

In the fifth episode of this series, Matthew D Edwards and Brent Willett, President of the Iowa Health Care Association, discuss opportunities for humane technology to improve care and increase interaction with caregivers and family for patients in long-term care.

Key Takeaways

  • How patient vitals collected in electronic charts can be mined for predictive diagnostic care and planning, and how COVID-19 has created urgency for this technology to improve care and the spread of infectious diseases.
  • How wearables can protect patients from a security standpoint but also improve their quality of life and care by providing real-time insights on their vitals.
  • Monitoring devices that educate, remind, and confirm health care programs can be a game-changer for long-term care patients to remain in their homes.
  • Identify activities, such as sorting medication, to enable caregivers and nurses more 1:1 time with patients.
  • Providing more dignity in the dying process by using technology to connect them to loved ones and reconnect them to their past.
  • How the roles of chief information security officers and privacy officers are evolving in order for the organizations to remain compliant as new technology is adopted.

About Our Guest

Brent Willett is President & CEO of the Iowa Health Care Association (IHCA). IHCA’s more than 1,000 member organization spans the continuum of long term services and supports health care in Iowa. In his role, Willett is responsible to the IHCA Board of Directors for overseeing the strategic vision for IHCA and the Iowa Health Political Action Committee.

IHCA and its affiliates and divisions, the Iowa Center for Assisted Living, Iowa Center for Home Care, Iowa Center for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care, Extended Care Services of Iowa, and the Iowa Health Care Foundation, serve the long-term services and supports the profession as a nonprofit trade association.

Read the Transcript

00:05 Matthew D Edwards: Welcome to the long way around the barn, where we discuss many of today’s technology adoption and transformation challenges and explore varied ways to get to your desired outcomes. There’s usually more than one way to achieve your goals, sometimes the path is simple, sometimes the path is long, expensive, complicated and or painful. In this podcast, we explore options and recommended courses of action to get you to where you’re going now.

00:36 Announcer: The long way around the barn is brought to you by Trility consulting for those wanting to defend or extend their market share, Trility simplifies, automates and secures your world, your way, learn how you can experience reliable delivery results at

00:58 Matthew D Edwards: This episode continues a series focused on how technology can improve the lives of our aging population and those in our population who require long-term care, in particular, we focus on the use of monitoring and remote monitoring technology solutions using the Internet of Things or connected things technologies, while also ensuring purposeful, comprehensive privacy and information security practices along the way. Brent, welcome to the show. Thank you for being with us today. So Brent, you are the President and CEO of the Iowa Healthcare Association, and we’re here to learn from you. That’s the summary. So thank you for being with us today. What we’d like you to do is start off by teaching us about your organization, your product services, where you’ve been, where you’re heading, teach us, and I know there’s a whole lot to that, but you probably have a practiced… A message that you could pass along just to teach us about your house and your vision, your future, please and thank you, sir.

02:01 Brent Willett: Matthew, thank you for the opportunity to come on and talk with you. I’m privileged to help lead an organization called the Iowa Healthcare Association, and what we are is an association of healthcare providers that work in the long-term care healthcare space, that means we’re providers of skilled nursing care, assisted living care, home care, so folks receiving healthcare in their home, as well as a number of other constituency groups which participate in that sector, we tend to call it post-acute care, so really anything that happens after the hospital, the hospital and the docs take care of you when you are acutely ill and need immediate service we’re there to support your typically longer journey, hopefully back to health, but also in situations that lead to compassionate end-of-life care, and so our association is fairly broad in that sense, we’re the only association in the country that represents what we call the full continuum of care.

03:13 Brent Willett: Meaning starting in the home, receiving medical care in your home from dedicated nurses and physicians through a potential next step being in assisted living environment where you may need some assistance with activities of daily living, maybe some assistance with your medication, maybe some assistance with shopping, maybe some assistance with getting around and socializing with others, and then into skilled nursing care, which is a more medically intensive model where folks need medical care on a regularly routine basis. And so we operate in all 99 counties here in Iowa and about 254 cities and towns, and we are a state affiliate of the American HealthCare Association, which is a national group, which does a lot of what I just described.

04:05 Matthew D Edwards: You, having been involved in all of these different areas of the healthcare industry, all of these different facets and segments, you’re probably aware of all different types of operational challenges that people have, a lot of forward-thinking companies are trying to create new technology solutions to be used in senior care, long-term living solutions organizations, so remote monitoring, geo-fencing, predictive analytics, wearables, medication management, so forth, you’ve probably heard all of these things and are probably doing… Many of them are heading there in some way, shape or form, are there types of technologies or innovations that are actually exciting to you today, where you’re like, Hey, that is something we wanna go explore, that’s something we need to be doing yesterday… Teach us about that.

04:56 Brent Willett: Yeah, no question, Matthew. Probably 10, 15 years ago when we were talking about innovation, technology innovations for long-term care, we were talking about how do we install ramps on to people’s homes so they can get in and out of those homes if they’re in a rehabilitation situation and maybe on crutches or a wheelchair. Things are obviously quite a bit different, a lot more exciting now in terms of using technology to enable a better experience for folks that are going through some of the most difficult times in their life. They need long-term care. A couple of things, areas that I know my members and as a result, we are very interested in and we think holds a lot of promise, and I think we’re gonna hear a lot more about in the coming years.

05:36 Brent Willett: One of those is very top of mind, I think for everyone right now with respect to what’s going on with the COVID-19 situation, what we sort of call diagnostic analytics is something that clearly has a huge future here, and what I’m talking about when I say diagnostic analytics, I’m talking about moving from a model, even in some of the most sophisticated healthcare environments that we know today, which is collecting what we call vitals or medical information about a patient, we’re recording that now probably in electronic chart at least, but in a lot of cases, we’re not mining that data to understand particularly well, what might be happening in the future with that patient, or more importantly, what might be happening from an infectious disease standpoint for that community or for that facility itself, and so obviously the COVID-19 situation has brought that home in terms of how can we anticipate, how can we get ahead and identify markers. Which are leading us to an expectation that we are facing an enhanced risk of the spread, for example, of a disease.

06:45 Brent Willett: And so there’s a ton of work being done on that right now. Epic Systems is a company that’s doing a lot of that work nationally and internationally, but a lot of players in there, and really we’ve taken the first step, meaning that we moved everything into electronic health records by now, but now it’s how do we actually leverage that data to tell us what’s going on in a way that human beings just can’t do from a processing standpoint. So I think that’s really exciting. Another one I’ll mention, and then kick this back to you, wearables is kind of a niche term, and I’m the furthest thing from a technology person. Forgive my layman’s terms, but in a long-term care situation, particularly for someone who lives in a nursing home facility, in many cases, 30, 40, 50% of the folks who live in a nursing home have some level of cognitive decline, whether that is a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, disease, another dementia diagnosis. And unfortunately, for a lot of reasons, we don’t have time to talk about today, folks today are being diagnosed in developing symptoms of cognitive decline much earlier in life, meaning that we have folks that are entering nursing facilities a lot earlier in their 40s, in their 50s, which really breaks your heart.

07:58 Brent Willett: But they’re gonna be living there for a long time, and one of the primary things that happens with someone with cognitive decline, is they begin to wander, they don’t know exactly where they are all the time, and so if we can enable, for example, them with a wearable… So that not only do we know where they are in a facility, but in a worst case situation, if they were to get to a point where they’re outside the facility without supervision, or if they were on a visit with another supervisor or a family member who doesn’t do a great job of keeping track of them, we can not only track them down, obviously, that’s really, really important, but we can understand what’s going on with their vitals at that moment, and we think that that’s exciting not only just protect them from a security standpoint, but to improve their quality of life, because it probably means that they can have more visits, they can probably spend more time with loved ones outside the facility, as long as we can have a good handle in real time on what their medical vital signs are doing.

08:54 Matthew D Edwards: So the wearables, that has a lot of possibilities for you, do you see that that could also apply for in-home care solution or are you thinking on-prem stuff primarily? What’s your thought on that?

09:07 Brent Willett: Absolutely. In an in-home situation, I’d expand that even from a wearables standpoint for in-home because… where I think maybe perhaps where you’re going from an in-home standpoint is, can we make sure that these folks are equipped with something that’s not invasive, but something can give us a really good handle on what their medical condition is in a dashboard situation. I’d also say one of the primary obstacles to being able to stay at home, which is where we want everybody to be as long as you can receive care at home… That’s where we want you to be. That’s where you wanna be. That’s where I wanna be, that’s where I want my family to be. If they need that kind of care, one of the primary obstacles is medication taking, so folks that have complex medical conditions typically have fairly complex medication regimens, and they can be very confusing, and they can vary in application the way to take these medications, those kinds of things now, if we can develop a program which not only educates that individual on how to take their medication, when to take it, but monitors that they’re doing it correctly, is a game changer for folks to be able to stay at home.

10:11 Brent Willett: And I just caught my eye, I have no idea if this has actual applicability, but I saw the announcement maybe last week, maybe a couple of weeks ago, Amazon has its in-home echo product that looks like at certain times and actually exit the stand that it sits and fly over to an area of the home and record something, that’s the kind of thing that I can see being used in combination with a number of other things to actually physically record to ensure that person has taken that medication at the right time and enable… Less visits from a nurse or a doctor, enable them stay at home.

10:47 Matthew D Edwards: Those are examples of how you could possibly influence the lives of our aging population, or those people who are post-acute care, they require some attention and need… How do you think technology or how do you anticipate or what are you excited about as it relates to how technology could actually change the lives of healthcare workers, the people who are providing the services, loving these people, where they are enabling them to get their jobs done well, what are your thoughts on that?

11:16 Brent Willett: Absolutely, I think we all look to technology in terms of how can technology serve us, serve humanity, serve the folks that we’re caring for in a way so that we can maximize our time. And we want caretakers that work in long-term care and healthcare in general to maximize their time by taking care of people, and so if we can ask technology and develop technology to take care of a number of the tasks that are non-care-centered, that means more time for direct care for those residents, for example, things like sorting medication, that’s a very, very time-intensive, and right now, from a regulatory standpoint, really, really requires human beings to be involved in, I could see that going away with the right kind of technology and making sure those nurses that are spending time actually helping that individual take that medication or care for them at the bedside, and those kinds of things, and the other thing from a caregiver’s, and that’s what… By the way, that’s what caregivers wanna do, that’s why they’re in the space, these folks are not in long-term care for the money or the hours they’re in it, ’cause they’re a very, very special type of person who is a caregiver in their heart, and that’s what they wanna be doing.

12:33 Brent Willett: And again, when we… It’s very difficult to put anything through a prism that doesn’t involve the current state of the world right now, we need to do, we need to develop technology to protect our healthcare workers in a better way. We’ve had 57 individuals who work in long-term care in Iowa die of COVID-19 since February. That’s certainly 57 too many. And those are folks that were doing their job, they were exposed to the virus and ultimately succumb to it. Many, many more have developed symptoms. How can we look to technology, again, going back to predictive diagnostics and some of those other things to keep healthcare workers safer, not only so that they can be on the job because we have a serious healthcare worker shortage, but their job can be more fulfilling, more dignified and doing more of what they were there to do in the first place.

13:21 Matthew D Edwards: That’s outstanding. And when you talked about the analytics predictive conversation, is that something that your organization is explicitly pursuing and doing and implementing, is that something that… Do you anticipate all of the different facets of the world that you’re living in the organization that you’re leading, would be leveraging as predictive analytics, the dependency of courses, EMR, as you mentioned, but then the dependency after that is ongoing data collection as well, that’s some place you wanna be, it sounds like.

13:53 Brent Willett: We are pursuing it absolutely where we wanna be, and we’re working with a number of partners to figure out how this looks in terms of a product category for our members to take advantage of one of the challenges and opportunities simultaneously with this kind of thing is what pipe does all this data come from? Iowa is a state that about 90% of nursing homes use one particular product for their Electronic Health Records, it’s a company called PointClickCare, great company. And so we’re interested in products obviously that can interface with that particular system, so in some ways, little associations like us, we’re somewhat dependent on these folks figuring out how the handshake works, but we’re working to prepare the ground for our members for the eventuality of this kind of thing rolling out, I’d say in the next six to 12 months. And I really think it’s gonna be a game changer, and it’s a perfect role for an association because our members are fighting a fire right now, they don’t have time to think about the future, and we’re working to do that for them.

15:07 Matthew D Edwards: So one of the things you mentioned earlier too was the number of healthcare workers that have passed away since earlier this year, due to the pandemic experience that we’ve been going through all of us, so a more difficult conversation maybe contextual to that is Dying with Dignity and my original thought on that conversation was, as a customer, client patient, does someone that your organizations are taking care of, and it hadn’t occurred to me to also discuss the healthcare worker themselves. Do you see… How do you see technology helping enable… That’s a tough conversation, but how do you see technology enabling people to die with dignity better tomorrow than we’re able to enable today.

15:52 Brent Willett: How do we help people pass through the other side in the most dignified way? And I think that if we suggested that technology has no role in that, that we don’t have our eyes open… One of the things that our hospice caretakers, our hospice nurses tell, and by the way, you wanna meet the most incredible people in the world, talk to a hospice caretaker. These people are incredible. One of the things that they tell us routinely is that folks that are… What they would say, actively dying, so folks that are dying is a process, it’s a biological process, for some people it happens more quickly than others, but it’s a process… One of the things that people that are actively dying tend to do is if they’re able to, they have the physical strength to do, they will hang on until they get what our hospice care takers would say, until they get permission or until they get the okay from the loved ones that they care about the most, to pass on and to, and no one knows exactly how this works cognitively, but to make the decision to let go, and that’s very, very difficult in an interconnected world where family members and loved ones more and more live farther away, are less able to be present physically, and so I’m not talking about a Zoom meeting to family members, but I think there’s some amazing things that could be done to…

17:20 Brent Willett: I mentioned 50% of the folks that are dying probably have some level of cognitive decline and they have memory issues, how can we… How can we help them reconnect with their past as they’re moving through the dying process, how can we create an experience for them that’s human and real, but also enabled by technology to leverage those tools to remind them of their past, I don’t know exactly how that looks… But I think that certainly… We never wanna get away from a day where an individual is surrounded by loved ones as they’re dying, but unfortunately that doesn’t happen for everyone. For lots of reason. And so how can we probably address the folks who are having the most lonely dying experience, a little bit less lonely. I think that’s a good place to start.

18:11 Matthew D Edwards: So I suppose it may make more sense for me to say that technology is not a solution, and that you’re looking for to replace a human connection, the human care, the humanity part of this, but rather the technology that you’re interested in enables the humanity… It enables us to be more human with each other, enables us to focus on more of the contact, more of the experience, more of the journey, so not a replacement of people in order to provide care and not an automation of things in the care, but rather to enable more opportunities for humanity, which probably then leads to more dignity on the journey.

18:54 Brent Willett: That’s right. I think the tech now… I mean, this is somewhat existential topic, but I think technology is with us and designed to serve us if we do this correctly, and we should ask and design technology to do the things that have the lowest level of human utility for us. Delegate those tasks to technology solutions so that we can spend more time being humans with each other, and I think that a long-term care, healthcare situation is a perfect example of the kind of benefit that technology can produce because it would allow people, caregivers to be closer to the folks that they’re giving care and less of those… As you said, less of those, more automated task.

19:46 Matthew D Edwards: It’s an interesting conversation to have, and we don’t need to get lost on the existential part of what I agree with you. It’s easy to create technology and it’s easy to tell or communicate, “Hey, this technology exists, therefore, it’s useful,” but it’s a really hard conversation that people often… That may be lost in excitement sometimes when people say, “Ah, this is interesting technology, but what’s it good for.” And those are hard conversations. So just because technology exists doesn’t mean it’s useful, and just because someone has created it and tried to sell it to you, doesn’t mean it’s actually going to solve a problem for you. As it relates to your company and the industry itself in context of adoption readiness, the pandemic certainly has changed people’s perspectives on adopting technology solutions, how do we rethink companies, how do we rethink operations? Do you think that long-care industry… How does the long-care, I guess how does the industry itself even find out about new technology opportunities that, are you guys constantly forced to invent, are you so busy that you don’t often get to see some of the newest ideas and figure out how they might be applicable? How does it actually work for you on a regular basis? How do you even find out that something’s out there that might be useful?

21:06 Brent Willett: I’ll be honest with you, long-term care for many years has been, I think, at the back of the bus when it comes to technology adoption. I think there’s a lot of reasons for that, one of the reasons in a state like Iowa, where we have about 300 nursing homes that are independently owned and managed, which means that it’s a single facility in a very rural area in most cases, it was built by a collection of community members who had the wherewithal to build a nursing home. And they don’t have a lot of connective tissue to the greater sort of healthcare system, with the exception of the association. So we do see the association as a linchpin and as sort of a mesh to pass these opportunities through, and so we have invested in the last few years at our association in solutions to bring and do a better job of really vetting vendor and technology opportunities that are presented to members and be the vetting mechanism and then pass that on based on our findings.

22:09 Brent Willett: That has taken a pronounced new role for us in the last six, seven months because of the shortage, for example, of personal protective equipment, which you wouldn’t particularly consider to be technologically advanced, but when you have hundreds of thousands of new vendors coming online claiming to have a line on this critical equipment, we’ve seen a role for the association to vet that out and make sure who’s who and who is relevant. I would say that with increased… Look, there are certainly downsides to increased consolidation in any sector, one of the benefits as more of the long-term care facilities become connected in families of companies is that, there’s a little bit more weight, there’s a little bit more technology-focus at a corporate level that’s being pushed down to those local facilities, but it’s still really hard in a state like Iowa with a lot of small places that are… If they’re not relying on the association, they’re just reading about it on the internet.

23:13 Matthew D Edwards: So to some extent, that puts you in the position, you and your organization’s position where somebody has to be looking for and paying attention to on purpose, you may even have someone who… And that could be you on your sleepless nights maybe, or there may be other people in your organization, they have to think about how to invent or innovate on purpose on a regular basis, is that… That’s pretty much what you’re saying, I think is, this has to be done on purpose, it can’t be accidental.

23:42 Brent Willett: Absolutely. It’s a healthcare setting because it’s long-term post-acute care, it means everybody typically has a fairly complex medical condition, and so everything has to be done, as you say on purpose, and it can’t be particularly experimental because, not only because we don’t want to experiment with folks’ medical conditions, we haven’t talked a lot about this, it’s a fairly dry topic, but the regulatory environment around healthcare has the potential to be a net positive for technology integration in the long-term care, but it also has the potential to be a huge barrier, and so navigating those waters is another challenge.

24:28 Matthew D Edwards: So, historically, and for good reason, to your point, the long-term care industry has been pretty conservative on adopting new technologies, new ideas, not because they’re opposed to new ideas, but rather, hey, first and foremost, we’re talking about people’s lives, and second then, that probably suggests that your adoption curve is long on purpose, am I characterizing that correctly?

24:57 Brent Willett: Yes, I think you hit it spot on.

25:00 Matthew D Edwards: But you do have to go find out new ideas on purpose, you do have to innovate, invent or otherwise explore and test on purpose, but it’s in a moderated pace because people are first and technology is supposed to enable. That makes sense to me. So, different question for you is, in organizations since the technology is changing, the need is changing, the desire to enable and equip healthcare staff continues to evolve, the needs of people you’ve mentioned even with different forms of dementia has changed, the profile’s changed, everything is changing all of the time in these organizations, that suggests then that your risk exposure risk profile is changing in terms of what data you collect, how much of the data you collect, how is it being handled, how is it being shared? And one of the things you mentioned earlier too, was that, for example, in the system PointClickCare, one of the things that is a positive is if you’re able to take additions or modifications to your operating environment and it integrates with PointClickCare.

26:07 Matthew D Edwards: So your profile, your operational profile is continuing to change as we would all hope it would be, and it would be evolving as we would all hope it would be. Are you finding that organizations need to hire things like Chief Information Security Officers, Privacy Officers, have they already existed, or do you see this changing now where there’s a more data privacy confidentiality focus in the org and somebody’s hired for it?

26:32 Brent Willett: Yeah, I think that for a long time, organizations have had privacy security folks, and those are typically folks that are in compliance work because the dictates of HIPAA, so the Health Privacy Act that we’re all under, highly complex and really drive most decisions as it relates to technology integration and privacy protections. So folks have been in that space for a long time. I think that some of the larger companies that are perhaps a little bit more forward-facing, you are starting to see Chief Information Officers, you’re seeing Chief Security Officers who are in that C-suite level participating at the same level as an operations financial type of person, but it’s been slow. I think that’s still a lot of smaller business, smaller companies are trying to do this with the existing staff that they have. I think that we probably run the risk, not only of an increasingly complex regulatory environment that’s hard to comply with, unless you’re really pay attention to things, but also missing out on some opportunities.

27:46 Matthew D Edwards: Yeah, agree, the profile changes a little bit, and to be a regulatory compliance-focused individual is of course required and spectacular, so where is my organization in relation to where it should be according to this standard, this expectation, when you start adding more and more of the technology in there that forces the compliance person to first acknowledge, but then second to either become savvy and what’s actually going on in the technology side, indoor, you may have to consider when you need to hire an additional or different technology experienced person. ‘Cause it does change a little bit. There is a technical regulatory compliance conversation as well as a general operational, and I’m curious if you’ve been seeing that or how you anticipate that happening in the future, the two seem to be the same, but they’re actually not… What are your thoughts on that?

28:44 Brent Willett: I totally agree they’re not the same at all. They’re equally important, but compliance is about complying with the now and complying with what exists, and it’s purely a risk management endeavor. When we’re looking for folks to enhance the technological profile of a facility or of a company, we’re naturally asking them to reach forward and they have to collaborate with those folks in compliance and regulatory, but we always… Even around here, we’ve got great compliance people at our association, we’ve got attorneys, lawyers are gonna lawyer, regulators are gonna regulate, and innovators are gonna innovate. This is not the same thing.

29:27 Matthew D Edwards: There’s a lot, you have a lot of fun things to work on and evolve and improve and enable and equip and a lot of organizations, you’ve mentioned a couple of times, a small organization like yours, but you led this conversation by talking about the breadth of the responsibility, which pretty much spans the entire State of Iowa at multiple levels of healthcare as well, so I’m sure that there’s an amazing reason why you say a small organization that could just be humility, but it doesn’t sound small to me, it sounds pretty darn important and it sounds huge. So I’m curious, how could technology companies approach you or come alongside you to add value, in other words, if somebody shows up and says, Hey, I have this idea, what do you view as a good interaction, what do you view as a poor interaction, and they just shouldn’t show up?

30:24 Brent Willett: A poor interaction is, Here’s a product I developed. Would you like to sell it to your members? The sector is far too… It’s very cliche, but no provider is the same, has the same needs, so that’s a poor interaction, we’re probably not gonna be very… We’re not gonna do a lot of work together. A good interaction is, we’re aware of this opportunity or this challenge in the sector, and again, I’ll go back to predictive diagnostic analytics, we’re aware of this opportunity, tell us what your members are telling you and let us work on something and bring it back to you, not because we’re some kind of king maker we’re the farthest from it, our members are voluntary, they can be members of ours, they can listen to us if they want. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. But from a technology standpoint, and I think Matthew you… And I appreciate your approach to this, or your philosophy on this, is that just because something exists doesn’t mean it’s good, and we’ve made that mistake here at the association just to operationally here, and we’ve invested in technology that was a waste of time and money. And so it’s very difficult to find the interface between technology and healthcare right now.

31:39 Brent Willett: That’s absolutely changing. I spent this, I took a few minutes this morning, I voted for the top 100 most influential people in healthcare by a publication called Modern Healthcare, which is like an industry publication. You know, some of the people that are on that list. Jeff Bezos, the head of healthcare at Google, Warren Buffett… Names you wouldn’t typically run into in a list like that, and so it was telling to me when I saw those… So it’s changing, but finding somebody who’s willing to say, Look, I know technology, but I don’t know healthcare, or I know healthcare, but I don’t know technology. Those are the people that I think can actually get work done if you’re pretty dyed in the wool. It’s probably not gonna work.

32:22 Matthew D Edwards: Are there any things that I haven’t asked you that you think is important to talk about or you wanna augment or revisit anything and particularly that we’ve talked about so far.

32:32 Brent Willett: I guess the only thing I would add because it surprises so many people when you don’t think about long-term care until you need it… Right, I get that. Why would you… Everybody’s busy, everybody’s got lives, when you need it is when you need it, or when a family member needs it, and the thing that we run into a lot with families is how shocked they are at how complex the environment is, how dynamic long-term care can be have the number of choices like building a house, or it ends up being 100,000 more choices than you thought from door knobs to floor tiles. And so doing what you can to begin as soon as you sort of have the feeling, if you have parents that are just starting to get older, I have parents that are starting to get older, start thinking about the kinds of decisions you’re gonna need to make as a family and getting yourself ready because it’s a very, very complex… We can innovate ourselves into oblivion, but it’s still gonna be a very complex and very difficult decision matrix for families, and so beginning to educate yourself about the sector is something I would advise, certainly not everybody in the world to do, because I’m realistic and everybody has lives to live but if you have a reason to, it’s gonna be more complicated, more challenging and more expensive than you expected, and there’s a lot of resources out there to educate yourself. I just encourage people to do that.

34:00 Matthew D Edwards: If people wanted to learn more about you, your organization and the services that you provide, where would they go.

34:06 Brent Willett: They can just go to We’re an open book over there, everything about us, and a lot more for members as well, but that’s a great way to start

34:18 Matthew D Edwards: Brent, thank you for your time. This has been an outstanding teaching conversation, I very much appreciate it.

34:24 Brent Willett: Had a blast, Matthew, thanks for having me on.


Part IV: Enabling Home Care Services with Technology

Enabling Better Health Care & Senior Care Outcomes with Technology

This series focuses on how the health care and senior care industries are enabling more autonomous living opportunities for all ages while improving and expanding care in face of the exponential growth of the senior population. These industries face labor shortages and a strain on existing systems that must evolve and scale while meeting information security and privacy requirements.

Show Highlights

In the fourth episode of this series, Matthew D Edwards and Mark Goetz, President of The HomeCare Advocacy Network, discuss how technology plays a role in empowering seniors to age in their homes.

Key Takeaways

  • For successful outcomes overall, companies must include training and education for everyone involved – from the caregivers and families to the seniors themselves.
  • The next big disruption or evolution is to establish more interconnections and connections to the actual care through a “virtual private network” for the family – from fall risk technology to a comprehensive communication suite.
  • In recent years, home care technology has developed due to a competitive marketplace, and COVID-19 has sped up new purchasing by senior living providers missing communication links.
  • Collecting data enables more opportunity and also increases responsibility, accountability, and liability 100 percent, so companies must have more in-depth organizational plans for data management and data privacy when adopting technology.
  • Address the diminishing returns on the data collected and ensure only necessary data is collected and stored to serve the clients and improve decision-making.
  • Letting the client and caregiver connection drive your mission forward when it comes to technology and how it can improve that connection.

About Our Guest

Mark Goetz, President of The HomeCare Advocacy Network, a premier provider of home care related benefits and services, ensures the organization delivers what people need to live their best life and enables local franchise owners to leverage the HCAN brand.

Read the Transcript

00:00 Matthew D. Edwards: Welcome to another episode of The Long Way Around The Barn. My guest today is Mark Goetz, the president of Home Care Advocacy Network, whose mission is to enhance the lives of aging adults and their families. This episode, continues my conversation on how technology can improve the lives of our aging population through the use of remote monitoring solutions using Internet of Things or connected things technologies, while also ensuring purposeful comprehensive privacy and information security practices along the way. Mark, good afternoon.

00:34 Mark Goetz: Hey good afternoon Matthew.

00:39 Matthew D. Edwards: Mark, the name of your organization is HomeCare Advocacy Network, and people can obviously go learn more about your org by visiting your website, What do you offer folks today? Where do you wanna go? What do you wanna be. Teach us.

01:03 Mark Goetz: Alright, well, thanks Matthew, it’s an honor to be here today. The HomeCare Advocacy Network was created… We really started the creation of it in 2018 with a vision of becoming the world’s leading source of home care connections for seniors and their families. The way we see the home care world today is that generally speaking, you have 45- to 64-year-olds who are trying to set up services for mom, and that’s usually when the care processes start, our company gets involved in helping them find ways that they can age in place. We decided on a decidedly franchising route for our business model, so we do sell territories to do business as the Home Care Advocacy network. We sell those to individuals and entrepreneurs who generally speaking, are mission-oriented people, they wanna own their own business and they wanna do good in the process.

02:05 Mark Goetz: The other side of our business, which is very closely related to the entrepreneur side, is the white label franchise model, and so through my experience with other large franchised organizations that do in-home care, and as well as working with senior living, we realized that senior living needed an option to be able to provide consistent, successful and competitive in-home services, to be able to expand their marketplace. The place for senior living in the in-home services world is, I would say a fractured one, at best about 46% of the revenue coming into home care companies today comes from the senior living referral that is most of the time made because there is a vacuum where the senior living company just doesn’t provide or maybe doesn’t quite know how to provide successful competitive in-home services in a local market. So we provide both options, you can own your own business doing business as Home Care Advocacy Network, or a senior living provider can own their own in-home services business under their own name, supported by the Home Care Advocacy Network.

03:20 Matthew D. Edwards: Nice. That’s a nice approach. That’s interesting. Ultimately, your goal is to enable age in place or people to stay home basically for as long as possible. Overall, that’s what you’re trying to enable is people to stay home and maintain their integrity, their autonomy, their independence as long as possible. That’s really interesting.

03:46 Mark Goetz: The way we see it, in the past, the continuous care retirement community was defined as Independent Living, then when you lose your ADLs as a senior, you move to assisted living, and then finally you move to skilled and then hospice, so that’s pretty much been the standard continuum. We believe there’s a step missing, and that’s the in-home services to independent or that gray area between in-home services and independent living. We have over 93% of consumers right now who want to, if they could, age in place in their homes. So we believe there’s a big opportunity to empower senior living to capture more of this market and have a much better, more succinct client nurturing program for themselves in the process.

04:41 Matthew D. Edwards: Okay, interesting. That’s all good stuff. So given where you’d like to head, what you’re doing, taking in other considerations such as needing to have staff, medical care staff, experienced people to do these types of things, complicating it with pandemic-type considerations whereby human touch and contact is challenged or complicated. I’m curious then, how do you see the use of technology changing the way you provide home care services or how workers do their jobs in the future, or have you already started making changes. Teach us about that a little bit.

05:27 Mark Goetz: Sure, so between eight and 10 years ago, there were a number of disruptions in the home care market, many home care companies up to that point had created their own proprietary scheduling software, and there were a number of people from Silicon Valley that saw that as an opportunity where you had companies that had their own home-grown services, technology services, and they created some of the world’s finest software to manage in-home services, but it required a different level of connectivity with caregivers for the first time in the marketplace. So this technology really caught on, and I would say today to do in-home services well, it really takes a digitally connected caregiver with a client that’s attached to a care plan.

06:28 Mark Goetz: And in the marketplace over the last seven, eight years, that technology has really caught on. Very few providers today are old school, just running their business on a spreadsheet and having caregivers call in and not having it all connected into one tight little box. So technology has really been probably one of the biggest change agents, and the ability to get that technology for a relatively low price has been one of the biggest innovations in the home care world. How we see that in the future, as we see the next evolution, is for families to be more interconnected and connected to the actual care.

07:16 Mark Goetz: So you’ve seen other disruptors now or disruptive companies come into the marketplace that have taken the standard Home Care software and they’ve said, “Hey, there’s something missing in this”, “Hey, we’re missing falls technology”, “We’re missing a greater family virtual private network in the technology.” And so I think you’re gonna see some of the larger scheduling, all-in-one billing companies look to probably either purchase or create their own virtual private network family-connected technology, so families can stay more in touch with what’s happening with their loved ones care.

08:04 Matthew D. Edwards: So does that then suggest the virtual private network, which I get is basically for those that are unfamiliar, it’s a dedicated private secured tunnel from one point to another, as opposed to just data traveling across the Internet wild and open for anybody to look at. So virtual private network. But Mark, in that illustration that you’re talking about, are you talking about just providing communication links between family members, or are you also talking about sharing health status or living status through other types of monitoring and measurement solutions as well?

08:42 Mark Goetz: It’s a little of both. So I think when we look at it through the home care lens, we see some people that really need a fall risk technology, and there’s some really good services out there and good companies out there, but that particular technology may not be all inclusive of a full communication suite, and I think there have been some really strong players enter the market. In that, a particular service company that comes to mind is LifeLoop. What’s interesting is it isn’t necessarily directly connected to the home care technology that we see.

09:23 Mark Goetz: So home care has created its own all-in-one service, most, all of these companies that serve the home care market. So what is happening within the homecare space right now is that it’s oftentimes missing out on that complete picture. The complete holistic picture, but it’s still far better than much of the technology, I would say that a senior living community actually runs on. So, outside of a senior living community technology system, home care technology has developed, I would say, quite a bit faster over the last seven, eight years, because they’ve been pushed by a more competitive marketplace.

10:08 Matthew D. Edwards: So you’re thinking that based on what you’re communicating, technology has helped facilitate a change in the industry, and that’s a positive thing. And so some of the things that you’re observing or talking about things like communication pipes, the virtual private networks, how existing software providers might augment their existing solutions to include some of these ideas. You’ve mentioned fall detection. I’m wondering, as you see technology evolve, do you see a difference or is it the same, a difference between new technologies enabling a change in the way home care providers provide their care, and does that look different than the technologies that are changing the quality of life, quality of home care experience for our elders? Is it one and the same or do you see two different things going on at the same time?

11:07 Mark Goetz: You know what? We’re seeing it go on, like multiple things happen at the same time. And the reason being certain companies, so for instance, we’ve seen a massive, over the past seven, eight months with COVID, you’ve seen massive new purchasing of technology by senior living providers, many of those senior living providers were missing that communication link. So before, maybe COVID, it was a really good idea, it was maybe on their overall tech road map to get in, COVID helped speed that up and it helped speed up that integration and even the adaptation to it.

11:49 Mark Goetz: What has happened though, is that home care still in large part exists outside of senior living, and so home care technology was already pretty much there, but new providers without a home care perspective have crept into the senior living marketplace, so now we do see two siloed very good products, generally speaking, at play, whether or not a client has… They could be at a senior living provider, and this is kind of a misnomer, you think well when we move mom into a community, then we can be done with having her own caregiver from an agency. Oftentimes, when mom has a caregiver before she moves into a community or senior living provider, she will generally speaking keep that caregiver when she moves.

12:44 Matthew D. Edwards: Okay.

12:46 Mark Goetz: So now the community’s trying to solve for its own communication challenges, but the client exists between the family and the home care service provider. So, we have created two different communication channels when that situation exists.

13:04 Matthew D. Edwards: So as an industry, as an industry overall and/or specific to home care, would you consider the industry that you’re in, the segment that you’re in are companies like yours generally ultra conservative in adopting new technology. Are there some companies that are ultra aggressive, like bleeding edge, like somebody had an idea and they’ve already tried to implement it? And as an industry, do you find that technology exists and then there’s variable speeds of adoption? Is there a general profile, how would you even profile your perspective on things. What makes sense, what’s safe?

13:47 Mark Goetz: Very good question. So we see there’s generally speaking, two different mindsets. So our industry in general, in home services, primarily, we monetize ourselves by being really good at recruiting caregivers and applying their availability against need, against the hours that a client or a client’s family wants. And so I would say there are certain companies in our space where they see technology as a threat to that business model, and so there is, I would say, on one side of the camp, it’s highly cautionary, many of the leaders in our industry. And there’s another side that really understands the future is technology plus caregiving, so we believe that it’s not just caregiving that’s going to solve the problems that face us with aging, but it’s caregiving plus technology, and I would say that’s where our company is standing pretty firm on, we realize that there are many quality players in this market. So right now I would say there’s a lot of right answers, and I think that is one of the things that’s happening in the marketplace when there is a lot of right answers, it can lead to inertia.

15:23 Mark Goetz: So you kind of wade through it with leaders to say, is this a fear that you have generally of technology, or could it be that you’re being bombarded with so many good options, you don’t know what the… You don’t wanna take the wrong step because there’s a lot of really good options there. I would say where we’re at, what we wanna do is find a real quality technology provider that could deliver on our service model, and then we’re on the lookout for quality providers that can help augment that and create another dimension of our business that helps the caregiving services just be that much more effective for families.

16:05 Matthew D. Edwards: That’s fair. So that segues then to another question I have based on what we’ve been discussing, which is, you know in many industries through the years, we would see chief information officers, chief technology officers, and then CIOs, EOs, FOs and so on. But over the last number of years, in many industries, we’ve seen them start to bring on chief information security officers or chief privacy officers, are you seeing the same types of things or perspectives or movement in this industry, or what is the general outlook on that idea?

16:46 Mark Goetz: Yeah, absolutely. I think if you’re naive to it, you find out relatively quickly and you usually learn the hard way, if you err on the side that a Chief Information Security Officer isn’t as much of a need, because the systems are just so well-developed, I think you can’t underestimate your organization’s need for that type of leadership, and I think we’re playing a catch-up game to the HR… On the HR side, to actually be able to find those qualified individuals who can help data architect your system, so not just through…

17:31 Mark Goetz: And not just from HIPAA violations or some of the things that we have going on in the States, it’s nefarious individuals who are out for information and sometimes just looking to take down a company because it’s part of what they do, it’s creating chaos, which creates more business opportunities for the nefarious individuals they work for, so I don’t think you can underestimate the need for Chief Information Security Officers, chief information officers that have those folks very tightly tied to the very… The highest echelons of any organization.

18:09 Matthew D. Edwards: That makes sense. So when I talk about readiness to adopt new methods of monitoring and data collection, like you’ve mentioned fall detection a couple of times, there are companies out there that actually have some really cool and innovative next gen ideas, and they have the working hardware to show it but one device in a room, it collects data about you and your movements all day, every day, all of the time in order to establish and understand patterns. Then after it understands patterns, it’s able to start doing predictive analytics to say, “Hey, this seems to be an out of ordinary walking behavior as compared to other data we have, this has the probability or at least possibility of leading to a fall.” Having that type of technology potentially is magnificent and wonderful and amazing in understanding behavior and habit and results and state and all of the things, however, it’s also lots and lots and lots of data that we would now be collecting 7 by 24, so not just when a healthcare worker comes in to collect it, but all of the time.

19:19 Matthew D. Edwards: And we already do that with today’s medical devices, but now it becomes multi-dimensional, if you will. Do you think that… Is that… Are you seeing the adoption of these types of ideas, and tell me too, if you think I’m talking crazy, but like the idea of geo-fencing to understand where people are in relation to where they shouldn’t be, or understanding when healthcare workers did arrive or when they left, or those types of things. Do you think the organizations are entertaining these things, actively reviewing, adopting, have already implemented, and I’m behind the curve here?

20:00 Mark Goetz: So it’s a great question, and it’s a fantastic discussion, so I’d say the first thing, that was probably the biggest innovation when it came to homecare was the adoption of geo-fencing, to whether or not a caregiver was actually at the client’s home or not. Prior to geo-fencing technologies or telephony, that could be tied to even a phone number, so caregivers at a client’s home, they call a number, they check in, but then also on the back end, you can geo-fence where that phone is, so you can ensure that the caregiver is actually at the client’s home, so I think that’s step one, and that is highly active within the home care world. And I think other technologies like Kronos and whatnot is widely used within senior living. The challenge with Kronos is that it doesn’t attach to multiple payers, it’s built for a single payer system, but they have also advanced their technology, so at least they’re on mobile and they have geofencing ability. So I think, on the HR side, absolutely at work, and getting better day by day.

21:15 Mark Goetz: On the client side, I think the challenge is, in what I’ve seen in the industry over the last 10 years as these technologies have developed, is I’ve seen attorneys mesh with executives inside of organizations to say, if we get a certain amount of data, who is going to respond to it, and how are we gonna respond? And in what period of time? And setting the criteria to responding to data anomalies and an algorithm, that’s the real challenge, I think. And some of these technologies have done a really nice job of kind of self-regulating that and becoming a system to itself, but I still think organizations wrestle with their overall liability when it comes to taking in too much data. So if I don’t get the data, then then they’re less liable for their organization to say, “Well, you have the data, you had the alert and you didn’t respond,” and so the back side of that is that most of these organizations haven’t done a great job of separating sales from operations, and that’s a challenge because you generally speaking, are driven by whether you say you’re in a 513c3 and you’re completely a mission-oriented, you’re still driven by a board who wants results.

22:44 Mark Goetz: And so you still have operational leaders who are maybe running skinny on staff, and you have people and then one day you have somebody call out and you have to reapportion staff to fix an emergency, and then all of a sudden they can’t sit in front of the monitoring technology and respond to an alert. It comes down to prioritization in organizations and risk management, and some are more ready for that than others, but I think COVID has shown that organizations have to prioritize this, they need to prioritize this, and they can solve some of that peace of mind that’s inside of a decision maker’s head, in terms of the quality of care that their loved one’s being provided.

23:32 Matthew D. Edwards: That’s fair. You’re right, you haven’t set all these things, and we’ll add a couple of things to what you’ve mentioned, but I think that… You’re right, I agree with you in that a lot of the technology adoption considerations, really, it comes down to who’s going to be responsible for deciding what you’re going to do, what problem are you solving, what are the solutions that are available to help you solve the problem? And then if you’re going to implement it, how do you operationalize that? And more and more, a lot of the new Internet of Things, connected things technologies, remote monitoring, geo-fencing, fall detection, all of these types of things are designed to be collecting data all of the time, which requires its own on-purpose plan.

24:18 Matthew D. Edwards: How much data are you getting, where are you putting it, how do you secure it? Who gets to use it? All of those things, those are organizational problems to solve. But you have additional challenges, which is how many people do I need on my team to do this stuff, like if I’m primarily a healthcare provider, my job is to love people with the mission for independence, autonomy, dignity, and in the medical care space, that may not mean then that I’m also technology savvy, which means I have to bring on more technical staff, I have to have a more in-depth organizational plan for data management, data privacy. This looks like adopting the technology could be a double-edged sword, which is enabling more opportunity, but also increasing responsibility, accountability and liability.

25:14 Mark Goetz: Yeah, 100%. And I think just from a basic leadership encouragement for organizations, what I would say is an area to focus on would be to help your employees overcome the, “I’m just a” kind of syndrome. Well, I’m just a nurse, I’m just an LPN or I’m just a director. Oftentimes, when people say that it’s a cry for help, that you’re asking them to get into something that they don’t fully understand, and so helping them along saying, “We’re gonna walk through this with you, we’re gonna learn this together,” and then relying on your partners who are providing the technology for service is critical, and I think…

25:56 Mark Goetz: I don’t know of anybody in the space of technology or the provision of technology services that is succeeding and thriving without having an extremely strong support team. People they can questions, people that offer 24/7 support and with a smile. The industry is really getting better at this, but employees still need a lot of encouragement because it still is relatively new, and you are looking for oftentimes that person who’s wanting to step forward and raise their hand and say, “I’ll take that on.”

26:31 Matthew D. Edwards: So Mark, that brings me to a different question, given that you mentioned earlier that this is a franchised-based model, which understandably, everybody understands that in order to have a business, anybody can start a business, but in order to keep a business, you have to take into consideration a lot of things, which is, if we want to continue to exist, I have to continue to make money. And the amount of money I make has to be greater than the money I’m spending, so profitability, everybody gets that.

27:00 Matthew D. Edwards: But there are additional things as well, especially in a franchise model, which is how much responsibility, accountability, autonomy is provided to the franchises. In other words, do they get to make all of their own decisions on tools and privacy and security, or is there some level of things that’s passed down from the enterprise that says, “Hey, this is yours, but you have to follow these 10 privacy and confidentiality expectations, or we have a problem.” How do you balance that? Or how do you see that happening?

27:39 Mark Goetz: Sure, so I can speak from my own experience, and then a few places that I’ve worked before, so we created our model at HomeCare Advocacy Network based on a lot of what we saw was missing between the two worlds, both the home care world, and the senior living world, so the start start with a couple of broad statements. In general home care is fairly poor at document management, so we saw this as a real challenge when I was working with franchise owners and in the past with other organizations. One of the worst things that can happen to a franchise owner was when you let him know that the standards team was coming out, even though the standards team was well-meaning, they were coming out to check on their records, to look into things, and there was always a mad scramble to make sure we had documents all in line because they wanted to do well for the franchisor, they wanna present well.

28:37 Mark Goetz: And they wanted to have the best processes. So we created a system that’s required, we didn’t create it, we purchased it, and so we require an HR management system that we provide at an extremely low cost, it’s called Ease, and that’s a required system. The other required system in our ecosystem is ClearCare Online, and this is just me speaking to the systems that we’re utilizing. What we liked about that is that when it came to decision-making, we were able to see from headquarters perspective what our franchisees were billing, and then we knew that the system we chose at every opportunity for our franchisees to abide by the local laws that governed their individual business. So I think that’s some of the challenge that’s in our marketplace is where you have a system like ClearCare Online that’s clearly built for home care with the proper rules and settings in place. And home care is a decidedly territorial, unique business, so the laws in Philadelphia can be extremely different than the laws governing that business in California.

29:58 Mark Goetz: So you have to have a system that is able to operate within the territories that you as a franchisor want and need to operate. And so we had to pick systems that, one, could help get our franchisees in elite class of document management, and we believe that the system we chose with Ease. And two, ClearCare Online was the largest provider of in home services technology and billing, payroll, caregiver and care plan support in the industry. So we have those two as requirements within our ecosystem.

30:34 Mark Goetz: And I think where we go with franchisees, if there’s something outside of those two systems that a franchisee seizes an opportunity to augment their system or add their own technology or add a new provider into the way they’re approaching the marketplace, we like to have, first of all, conversations and relationships with our franchisees to understand if that’s something that is going to detract from the mission or it’s something that’s going to augment the mission, and so we like to start there and if it’s something that we’re missing, we’re open to it, we’re open to hearing or seeing their perspective on things, but we definitely wanted to control the two core systems that our franchisees operated under.

31:27 Matthew D. Edwards: Okay, that makes sense. So I imagine that as that… Basically, what you just said was, you do have a baseline, a baseline expectation, but the franchise may have additional different or augmented ideas, if you will, that… And you’re willing to hear those and evolve with those. Technology changes all of the time anyway, and so the thing that made sense now may not continue to make sense six or 18 months from now anyway, so it’s good that you’re constantly evaluating and listening.

32:00 Mark Goetz: I’ll tell you just a quick story. About five years ago, I was working for an organization and we surveyed… We had 180 caregivers locally, and we surveyed 100 of them, and we asked them what their number one technology challenge was that they encountered in their work day with clients. And you would think it would be something like something kind of grandiose, but in large part, what our caregivers came back and said that it was the remote control. [chuckle]

32:33 Mark Goetz: Before we get too far down the road and get two grandiose in talking through technology and making sure where end users are really at. So it’s five years down the road, and our caregivers still may be struggling with, how do I change the channel after one caregiver leaves? What’s that button? What’s that input button again, and how do I navigate just the basic daily activities of technology? And so it’s important to keep good relationships with both families and caregivers, just to make sure they’re getting everything they need right now, before we start adding and layering further things that could complicate their jobs or their daily lives.

33:16 Matthew D. Edwards: And that is a really good call out. I did not think of that, Mark. That’s just generally operating the household in which they’re supposed to be helping, there are fundamental things that… Now, that’s a good call out. So like a long time ago, people used to complain about programing the VCR. Now people are saying, “Hey, there’s 75 different types of remotes, and I can’t even turn on the TV.” That’s a good call.

33:43 Mark Goetz: If you could program a VCR back in the day, if you could get it figured out, you were a genius and you were probably calling your neighbor who was good at it to come over and program yours, and so… You’re absolutely right. So the basics of daily caregiving are challenged with some basic technologies. So it is as well just from an Aging in Place perspective, if you’re a senior in the home. So smart technologies, I think will, of course, continue to be an important factor in aging in place services.

34:16 Matthew D. Edwards: It’s a good call though. We’ve done some work in past lives with care centers, customer care centers across the US and internationally, and one of the problems that they ended up having to solve was, we can have all of the software and we can have all of the technology solutions and the ability to receive the calls and help the client, but all knowledge is not common, and so there would have to be intranet sites or frequently asked questions sites where anybody who’s on the phone could go look up anything, not just what was being sold, but all the unexpected crazy things as well.

34:53 Matthew D. Edwards: That’s a really good amplification there. So when you’re working with different technology organizations, you’re looking at software, you’re looking at hardware, you’re looking at communications solutions, your organization’s focus is loving people, and that may mean that not all of the people in your house are actually technology savvy or even desire it and that’s understandable. So when you do have a technology company, when you’re looking for technologies, what are you looking for in the companies? What would be an ideal scenario? Forget, you find a device, you find this device, the device looks amazing, but you meet the people in the company and you actually don’t wanna work with them at all.

35:35 Matthew D. Edwards: So a device or some solution that they sell is one thing, but what types of things in a technology company would you actually find valuable and what influences you to make a decision?

35:48 Mark Goetz: What we look for are tech companies that understand how a franchise owner would position their particular technology if they’re asking us to include it in our service model. Oftentimes, they just want corporate to buy it. Well, in a franchise world where there’s a gross margin that you’re managing with each service hour, every incremental step up in cost, either raises the cost of care, or if you get technology to get cheaper over time, you can drive it down. So we look for technology companies that are empathetic and that understand and that are really trying to understand the business model, that these are primarily it’s 98 to 99% of our clients are private paid clients, and everybody’s trying to figure out how to deliver more and better care for less.

36:47 Mark Goetz: So if they come at us with, “Hey, let’s go ahead and we would like to sell this to you for $30,000 a year,” and they really haven’t put much thought into it on a per franchise basis, that they almost kind of self-select out of the process for us to consider their technology. Or if they approach you to say, “Well, Mark, maybe your franchisees could add an extra $10 per day to their care,” like they clearly don’t understand that generally speaking, it’s not billed on a per-day basis, clients get 20 to 27 hours a week, so there’s a lot of self-selecting out when we’re looking at what companies have really tried to understand the model and which ones haven’t.

37:34 Mark Goetz: Now, there’s certain technologies where we’re working on the other side, really trying to figure out also how could we get this technology to make sense for our business model? Our question is now, how does that change the pricing scenario with a local family until either that technology is paid for in a similar way to remote patient monitoring has kicked in for certain technologies, but that’s based on Medicare and it isn’t based on generally a private pay model.

38:08 Mark Goetz: So that’s kind of the first thing we look at. The second thing that we’re really looking at is, is it applicable, is it something that we’re seeing consumer demand for, or is it just a really great idea that might be either… Might be too soon to the marketplace? And there are a number of those companies that have just arrived maybe a little too soon for consumers or for home care businesses, or even senior living providers or whatnot, and so there’s just a balance there, and we try to balance our consciousness with optimism at all times.

38:48 Matthew D. Edwards: So technology providers that approach you from your perspective, and we tend to agree as well, on our side is really what you’re asserting is, if you don’t understand my business model, it’s gonna be pretty hard for you to actually say words that resonate with me, because I understand my business model, I need you to also. So that was first and foremost, what I took was, you need to understand how I operate as opposed to just trying to sell me a new widget.

39:24 Matthew D. Edwards: Then the next thing that I heard you say as well, if I could restate and tell me if I get it right. For all practical purposes, it’s important for you guys to know what problem you want to solve, or else you just have to look at this as, “Hey, is this really cool or is it actually going to change how we do business?” But you can’t answer that question unless you already know what problem you wanna solve, and that’s one of the things that we see a lot. Which is, it’s interesting to look at new things, but if you don’t know what problem you wanna solve, or if you don’t know what it’s good for, then you’re just spending money.

40:14 Mark Goetz: That’s right. Yeah. And we have some very important colleagues that we work with. We also have created a 501c3 professional caregiver support fund. And someone who we’ve worked with quite a bit here in the state of Nebraska, Dr. Joy Doll, she works for the Nebraska Health Information Initiative, the health care collaborative here, and she’s written white papers for us. She has a great TED Talk out there, but she challenges me often to think differently about the changing world we live in. And one of the things I’ve really learned from her is there’s a point where you’re collecting too much data as well in your… There is diminishing returns on the data that you’re bringing in.

41:03 Mark Goetz: Do you need to bring in all the data that is available to you for decision-making? And so I’ve had her join me on some calls with tech providers, and those are some of the questions that she comes back with, whether or not they’re really a savvy person who understands a healthcare space, or if they’re more purely on the tech side, they’re a newbie to the market, and they have a really cool idea, but they haven’t figured out where those boundaries are. And to real practitioners within the healthcare space, as you get further outside of home care into healthcare, they’re looking for some of those boundaries. They’re not looking for every single piece of data necessarily, because they know there’s a challenge to then managing that data.

41:48 Mark Goetz: The fact that you have that data now becomes something that your organization may have to manage and act on. So I try to arm myself with people like her in my life that can sharpen me in areas and keep me on my toes when I’m… As I’m thinking about technology as well.

42:06 Matthew D. Edwards: That makes a lot of sense and you’re right, if you don’t know what you wanna do with the data, then it’s just noise. And if you’re collecting it, now you have to store it and pay for the storage and pay for the management, even though you still have no idea what you’re gonna do with it. So it just goes back to know what you wanna solve, and then go looking. Do you believe the home care industry right now, do you see any risks in the future? In other words, do you see cause for concern or risks or things that really make you uncomfortable in the future as it relates to melding new technologies with home care teams and our elders? Do you see things that make you say, “That could be cool, but I’m gonna wait a little bit and see how this pans out”?

42:56 Mark Goetz: Yeah, absolutely. So I think as we’re looking down the road, the natural biggest risk is actually what our business model is. So if you ask people, generally speaking, in the home care world, what they need as a franchise owner or somebody who operates a homecare business, they would say, “Well, I need more caregivers. I just need more.” They’re always talking about needing more caregivers, and so I do think the biggest risk, I would say in our industry is overall, as it comes to technology, making sure that caregiver workforce is educated, is in touch, is able to adapt to new technologies so our industry doesn’t get out paced.

43:48 Mark Goetz: So what you have happening right now is you have oftentimes home care agencies where demand is high, just running forward trying to meet demand without being able to step back or not taking the time to step back and actually work on their business. And that would be coaching, developing, training caregivers on the importance of technology, bringing them in, focusing on training with their caregivers so that they can have the opportunity to adapt to new technologies and feel taken care of. So that’s one of the larger risks, I would say, that’s out there in the industry.

44:26 Mark Goetz: I would say there’s generally speaking, more opportunities than there are risks, because when you’re selling a service where 93% of the people that you are working with, they don’t want to move somewhere and you’re offering them the opportunity to age in place. It’s something they want just whether or not your service and their needs match up somewhere in the middle. So generally speaking, a more optimistic and less risk-heavy in this, but managing, not just getting caregivers, but then managing them, training them, staying connected with them as it goes with the technology, is gonna be key for the future of home care.

45:13 Matthew D. Edwards: That’s a really good call out, that’s pretty insightful. It would be a normal thing for a technology company to arrive at some type of software or hardware or combination service, product and service and try and sell that thing and to add it to the existing operation, to be used to take care of our elders, that would be a focus of a sale many times. But to your point, I think, is value is defined by not only providing seven-star service on a five-star scale to your customers, your clients, our elders, it could be my mom, but it’s also making sure that the franchise owners, the home care providers, the healthcare services folks aren’t left behind along the way, or the business itself could just implode.

46:04 Matthew D. Edwards: Which is, you’re doing spectacular, amazing, cool things for the people at home, but the healthcare providers are having to bear the weight of being left behind and becoming less and less relevant or aware of how to do a good job, so it’s gotta be holistic. This comes back to your business plan. Know my business plan… You didn’t say this, but more or less, know my business plan or stop talking. Similarly, if you’re gonna bring me a solution, make it a holistic solution, take care of my customers, take care of my staff. It’s the same conversation, not two different conversations.

46:45 Mark Goetz: Yeah. And I would also say, that to add to that, it’s not just home care companies and senior living providers, but it’s… When I worked for an organization based out of Maryland, I worked a lot, pretty heavily with the Department of Aging in the State of Maryland, who was looking for a strong technology platform that could help keep their seniors in their homes, interconnected with high-touch, high-value services, from a command center. Because they knew that a lot of times people’s general reaction is when something goes wrong to call the doctor or call 911, so you see emergency room visits, you see readmissions go up when people aren’t connected socially. So I think maybe not one of the risks but a competitor almost in our business is going to be other people like state governments and what not actually pursuing innovation harder than our own industry is, as well. So there’s maybe a little bit of caution there because everyone is trying to figure out how to keep a senior population that’s aging fast, better connected, feeling better about their decision-making when it comes to healthcare, and even state-level organizations like the Department of Aging for Maryland is…

48:12 Mark Goetz: They’re trying to find opportunities. They actually came up with a grant program, we worked within called Community For Life. And it was that they were challenging local organizations to try to figure out how to… And giving them a territory, it was very similar to franchising. Giving them a territory and a grant in helping them figure out and paying for them to figure out how to keep seniors better connected in the community, and they wanted to see the best creativity rise to the top.

48:40 Mark Goetz: Well, that in part really inspired the HomeCare Advocacy Network because I was a part of the development of that, of many of those discussions in the state of Maryland at the time as they were launching that program. And so what we saw broadly in the marketplace was you had this private market that’s growing, but then also you have the public sector that’s trying to figure out very similar issues, and they may be lacking awareness about home care and how flexible and creative we’ve already been and how flexible and creative in some of the vast technology enhancements we’ve already made. And so I think at some point in the future, we have to meld those worlds, but I like to stay on our toes, ’cause everybody’s going after very similar solutions.

49:36 Matthew D. Edwards: Any parting thoughts for us as it relates to today’s internet of things, connected things, technologies or risks and liabilities or data, or senior leadership, anything else you’d like to teach us or share with us?

49:52 Mark Goetz: I think there’s one thing, and I learned this a long time ago, that home care and caring for a senior is as simple as a caregiver and a client. So never underestimating the power first and foremost of human contact, human touch and the value of having another human say, “You’re important, I value you. I’m taking the time out of my day to let you know that I value you, and I’m here with you.” You can’t understate the value that that brings to the human condition. So I’d say, first and foremost, I would encourage leaders to just… If you’re gonna boil down, what you can do is figuring out how to make that caregiver, client, caregiver, receiver of services connection happen, and let that passion drive your mission forward when it comes to technology. How to augment, make that connection even better between a caregiver and a client and a family member, that’s what life is all about, is helping make the experience here on earth just a little bit more hopeful, a little bit more empathetic, and we’re all happier at the end of the day when that happens. So that’s my closing words.

51:12 Matthew D. Edwards: That’s outstanding. Mark, thank you for taking the time to get together with us today to teach us and give us insight into what you see and experience, and we look forward to learning from you and watching your company’s growth and evolution into the future. Thank you very much.

51:30 Mark Goetz: Mr. Edwards, thank you.

51:35 Speaker 3: The Long Way Around The Barn is brought to you by Trility Consulting where Matthew serves as the CEO and president. If you need to find a more simple, reliable path to achieve your desired outcomes visit

51:51 Matthew D. Edwards: To my listeners, thank you for staying with us. I hope you were able to take what you heard today and apply it in your context, so that you’re able to realize the predictable repeatable outcomes you desire for you, your teams, company and clients. Thank you.