In this episode, I am talking to Fouzan Alam – a product manager in a life sciences startup about things that are straight out of science fiction. Even though he’s working on things from the future, the problems he is tackling are from the present.
Transcript (courtesy of Otter.AI)
Please note that the transcription below was generated automatically and may contain misspellings and errors. If you want to help with cleaning the transcript – please get in touch!
Vlad G 0:07
This is real world product management.
Hello, everybody, this is lat. And this is another episode of the real world product management. I have Fouzan on the line. Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit more who you are and what you do. And what is your connection with product management.
Hi there, Vlad. Thank you. First of all for having me on, I guess a little bit about me. I got into product management entirely by accident stumbling into the role at a startup where I started like advocating for the user in like extremely early design phase. And I’ve had to learn on the go and sort of teach myself so I probably have a different perspective than most PMS. I guess a little bit about me. I studied engineering in undergrad And then having a research background in like sensor design, and lithography, but then I went to medical school and got interested in biotech startups. And that’s kind of where I found myself. And where this story begins.
Vlad G 1:15
you saying you got there by entirely by accident and by advocating for a customer? Was there no one else to speak on their behalf? Was there like no one else to say, Hey, this is what customers wanted? What was what was the process really?
Well, so we started out in a lab where we were just researching a new type of brain imaging modality. And when we understood that this might be something that would be useful to clinicians, I looked around and everyone else on the staff was an academic, and I was someone who is training to be a clinician and had been working with clinicians, physicians, I guess you could say for quite Some time and I realized that if I didn’t say anything now I would end up with a lot of the same frustrations I had with devices that I’ve had to use at the bedside with patients and that sort of thing. So it was almost a forced thing. I didn’t really want to do this and found myself there. Okay,
Vlad G 2:20
okay that I mean that’s interesting. I spent some time in life sciences let’s let’s put a broader perspective on that. Especially if I’m working for companies in in healthcare. I don’t remember them being specifically against the kind of the users against the A we know better but it’s interesting perspective. How I mean the way the way you presented cinches perspective how no one really cared. Especially given that there is a frustration.
Yeah, and I think you did pick up on the on the frustration there for me. What really happened i think is In the last, I would say, five to 10 years, the way that tools for physicians have been made seem to throw out any empathy for the user. And I find that a very annoying and really grating thing, because, you know, you see, like, I think the best thing I can point to is electronic medical records. We’ve seen those sort of come into the market over the last decade, and they still seem to have almost hostile user interfaces, and I’ve never met a doctor that liked using them.
Vlad G 3:37
I like I like that. That comparison. As a matter of fact, I owe some of my previous jobs. I was actually working on EMR systems. And I agree with you. Yes, I agree with you by the hostile user interface. But I think again, since I was I was both the developer and I’m coming From a social development background, since I was a developer, I was a manager of development resources. And I was a product manager on EMRs, or something wider. But so consider the EMR. There’s a lot of emphasis on making sure that the right data is coming through and making sure that the data is actually is coming through and making sure that the data makes sense. So by the by the, by the time that you make sure all that happened, you almost have no time, no resources to worry about the user interface. And I remember the pushback that I got when I was working on the you can call it a clinical viewer, right, the the viewer of the clinical shirt. And I remember when I introduced the idea of why don’t we have mobile interface, I mean, look at our doctors, not everybody wants to carry around six pound laptop, maybe they want to carry around tablets easier. And people look to me like, put tablets. What do you mean? doctors don’t want to carry around a laptop? What What are you talking about? Why are you Why are you on? Why are you talking like that? Yeah, I can relate to that pain. That’s what I’m saying.
Yeah, no, I I can already say Vlad, I think you and I are going to be friends because I think you you recognized and understood well before many of the others at your company did. And I really appreciate that. Even if it didn’t make it all the way to the production, I guess.
Vlad G 5:34
I don’t know I I have this weird thing about staying in the same place for too long. So I moved out, I moved on to another actually moved on to a completely different machine. But let’s let’s talk more about you. So you’re in the product management role. What is it that you do?
So most of what I do now is advisory. So I’ve actually I’ve stayed at the company in an advisory role. But I now manage other product managers there and manage some of the other teams still. But I do that remotely. So that’s kind of an interesting thing. And I’ve moved on to do some product consulting and other places and tried to kind of branch off from there. And I don’t think I’ll be returning to practicing medicine anytime soon.
Vlad G 6:21
That’s interesting. Again, from from my experience working, you know, my last role at a healthcare. We had a lot of what was the word? I can’t remember. I can’t remember the term that we’ve used. But we had a lot of MDS and our ns. I’m sorry, for those who are not familiar with American nomenclature. It’s doctors and nurses. Yeah. And we had a lot of people with degrees and sometimes advanced degrees in the roles of business analysts in the roles of business owners or product owners or kind of sort of product managers, even though it was not, it wasn’t a call the product manager was something else. But we had a lot of people in the it with with the medical degrees. And now that you’ve saying, you kind of picking up the same path, I wonder why what’s what’s so hard about being a product manager, or person with medical degrees that you guys want to save lives and stuff?
I think we do. But I think that a lot of us go into medicine expecting to be able to make a larger impact, maybe on a greater scale than is possible in actual clinical practice, and that sounds weird for me to say, but the truth is that you can only work on a few patients at a time. And I think that if you go into the biotech side, or at least what attracted me to that side is that your solutions can scale and so if you if you create a life saving or life changing product or help guide the development of something like that. It can often impact more people positively than you could with your own hands in medicine. And, like, for me, that’s something that I’m really attracted to. I want to maximize my positive impact on society, more so than just practice a field that I really care about.
Vlad G 8:24
Wow, that’s that. Thank you. That’s, that’s really interesting perspective. It’s kind of like part of my story when I was talking about usually on the interviews or whenever there’s a question about my career. And I tell the story that I worked for healthcare and I worked on this product that was displaying clinical data for clinicians, especially around the ER when you need to make fast decisions. And you need to make sure that you have all the information about the patient, make sure they do not prescribe something that’s going to kill them. I said, but there’s really, you know, we the only the only thing that we were worried about, it was patients lives so no pressure on developing the right things the right features in our product. And I usually I use it in the more like cell fire any sense that guess that happened. But I mean, the way you put it in perspective, it’s now it sounds like I’m bragging, so I should probably
no, no, I don’t think it’s necessarily bragging. And and I think that what you did there was really interesting and important. And I, I can agree after using EMR systems that they do display very relevant data. So
if you had a hand in that, I have to say thank you.
Vlad G 9:37
I wish but maybe, I don’t know. Potentially, maybe. Alright, let’s, let’s move on. onto your what products have you worked on? Or are you working on? What is it that that you do currently?
So currently, I do product consulting with local small businesses. This is sort of a I started on the side when I was transitioning to an advisory role. And essentially, I work with local businesses because I think that they don’t have the advantages of talking to product people. And I’m a relatively new and relatively young Product Manager. So I think that if there are any of you out out there listening that want to jumpstart your career, this is a really good way to do it is approach local small businesses, try to improve, streamline or adapt their products better to the correct type of consumer. And also tried to solve things like user retention and user turnover and some other things. And I think that it’s a really interesting arena to work in, because those people don’t usually have the same types of resources. But you can set it up in a way that incentivizes both of you to work well together and to sort of come up with solutions. And if you do it well, you’ll see quite a bit of growth, because that’s the other nice positive of small businesses is that there’s usually a lot of room to grow.
Vlad G 11:10
Okay, now I just have to ask as a person who both worked with small businesses and owned small businesses before, what kind of products specifically you guys are working on.
So we do some food stuff, which is actually really, really interesting. We do some local services, so a lot of printing and a lot of like graphic design related service type stuff, where it’s like, there’s opportunities for business to business growth, as well as business to consumer growth. And then there’s also like, I’ve worked with local business to business businesses and try to help them optimize their own products. Part of which is like I was lucky enough to have some mix. Trying to pitch ideas to other businesses. And so sometimes it’s Oh, let’s go in and I’ll optimize this business and try to get it purchased by someone else or or those types of things. And so, yeah, it’s a very, very different world, but I really enjoy what I do. And it’s fun doing it part time.
Vlad G 12:20
Okay. Interesting. You talked to you said that
you had a hand in biotech and startups, is that another part of your daily routine? Or is that something completely different? That’s the so that’s part of the advisory role that I have right now. And then I consult for a couple of other biotech companies. And that’s a totally different area of like what I like to do. And so, I guess I could say if you want to some of my career, it’s that I don’t like traditional nine to five and I found it much more interesting to consult for a bunch of different people all at once. And in different arenas. Oh, wow.
Vlad G 13:03
Okay. I mean, I’ve done that before. But lately I like do, I still like going into 15 different directions at the same time. But I also like deep diving into thanks and right, I found it hard to consult four or five different five different products, for example, that are each in a different in different arena or different vertical. So kudos to you. That’s, that’s really interesting.
It’s still waiting, I guess you could say and definitely, yes, just you know, it’s a different kind of thing. And if I would, like, I understand what you mean by a need to deep dive, and if I would say there’s one area where I like to deep dive, it’s the biotech side, so.
Vlad G 13:52
Okay, so do you want do you want to talk more about the biotech products that you worked on?
Yeah, so I’ve done that. A lot of stuff on brain imaging, which is really, really interesting. There’s some weird considerations you run into there. I’ve worked on some surgical devices, which are really, really fascinating. I was briefly product owner at a company that did resorbable polymers for surgical like replacement of bone. So they could like let’s say that you had like a multiple fracture somewhere. You could go in and excise the bone that was destroyed. 3d print a polymer that you could actually built into the bone exactly where it was, and the bone would grow back. Replacing the polymer and your body would actually recycle that polymer over time. Completely by a safe resorbable fascinating material. And another one that I helped shape was a nerve regrowing material. And that company is still relatively young. So I can’t speak too much about that. But I can say that there are now some pretty interesting products they have that allow you to essentially stitch two nerves together that have been severed. And the scaffolding and matrix that have been put into place like allow you to then regrow the nerve in a span of a couple of months with 90 plus percent recovery rates, which is significantly better than we’ve had before.
Vlad G 15:31
Okay, before before I say what I think about this, what was the success rate before
without any type of scaffolding, it’s less than 10%.
Vlad G 15:44
So you went from less than 10% to over 90%.
Yeah, that was okay. It was I mean, we should
Vlad G 15:53
just be clear to me, this sounds like you just recited a couple of episodes of altered carbon
Unknown Speaker 16:00
Vlad G 16:02
to me this sounds like a complete the sounds from science fiction just told me that Oh, you know what, you know, time travel is possible.
I mean, I’ve heard, I’ve heard of things. I’ve heard of things when you can fix the bone by using some kind of an item put in there but the whole process overgrown the bowl regrown, the bone itself is pretty fantastic. And now you’re saying this, you know, more wounds can sit like for growing bone is really interesting because they will grow on their own, and they will stitch back together. But when you have shattered bone, like the, the interface between different pieces is very disruptive and can be hard to get it to grow correctly. And so by removing those fragments, you actually help the healing process and then the implant that goes in. Like cells will follow signaling molecules and so if you have the right signaling model kills in the implant. And they’re arranged correctly, which is possible to do if you’re 3d printing. And you know, with each piece you work with the physicians to design the implant. Wow. And then it’s, you know, shipped to them. So it’s very, you know, JT manufacturing, I guess you could say. And, you know, it goes into the patient, and it’s really satisfying to know that a you’ve worked on something that’s going into someone, and it’s actually directly going to help them.
Vlad G 17:31
Wow, as a person with a couple of broken bones. I can appreciate that. Probably more than some other people but yeah, I definitely. I definitely can appreciate that. I wish I wish this was available when I was a kid and I had those bones broken. Right. So So and I’m going to use the your, your outline that that you presented so we can get to it. topics that are that are are interested to both of us. I did you did you do this all by yourself? Or did you have some kind of a team helping you.
So the this sort of stuff was done with a relatively small team, limited resources, so a couple of academic labs, and a team of about 30 people. And it was really, really fun because the teams were very small. And so there was a lot more that each person had to understand and cover and think about, and it made my job a little bit easier because there were smaller groups of people to influence in the right ways to help them you know, find the right answers to some of the problems we’re facing.
Unknown Speaker 18:49
Vlad G 18:50
So, what was that about the limited resources? How do you guys deal with that? It’s always a fun question. Because everybody you It deals with limited resources of their own very certain, I’m sorry, in their own very specific way. So I wonder, I wonder what you guys that.
So with, like when we were building this team, you know when we understood, okay, we have this brain imaging modality. And we have two options we can like we can patent it right now, and the university will help pay for the patent and we could probably find a buyer and then it would sit on the shelf somewhere until someone decided to do something with it. Or we could build a product out of it and, you know, form a company around it, incorporate in everything and get everyone together and try and create something that someone would be willing to fund. After thinking about, like the possible impacts of this tech, we decided that it would be better to build a product because I think that there was like we saw direct clinical relevance. We saw You know, potential for positive impact. And we saw that the lead time was going to be long. And there’s a very high likelihood that someone who buys up the patents would just sit on them, because it’s very, very expensive to get something through the FDA. And it’s also like a 10 year process. And so you’re thinking about all of that. And sitting around with the team, we just said, Okay, we’re going to push for a company. And then we said, okay, well, we want to start something, but we have very limited resources. We have a couple of research grants, and some personal money from some people involved in this and that’s it. Okay. And so,
Vlad G 20:43
that is that is very similar to other startups, at least. Again, I’m not a startup person I somehow happened to avoid practically. For the whole of my career, I’ve avoided working for startups if the one that I did work for was a spinoff from a pharmaceutical company, I can’t even call that a, you know, fully legit startup. But it’s really interesting how I mean, I am familiar with startups in or around the key products or services. I’m completely unfamiliar with the startups around biotech because to me the, the sound expensive and seemed like you’re, you’re confirming that suspicion.
Yeah, so like the the process of a 510 K is like multiple millions of dollars. And there’s like so much paperwork, and it’s quite, you know, it’s just very, very, very involved. And there’s a lot of clinical research that has to go into it before you can really say okay, yes, we are truly ready to do this thing. And before the FDA will say, okay, yes, you are allowed to sell this. So, the first challenge is, well, if you if you don’t have a product you can actually sell then you don’t have any sort of revenue or cash flow? And as a product manager that makes your life very difficult.
Unknown Speaker 22:07
Oh, yeah. Okay.
Vlad G 22:09
And it sounds like, again, I don’t know how this works in biotech, but I rarely see anybody with a few million dollars laying around the house just like yeah, sure, take that, you know, scissors for something good by yourself something funny.
But we did have a couple of advantages. We had a couple of physicians interested in the technology. So we had been doing some experiments in the lab. And because some of our friends who are neurologists, we’d be like, hey, come over here, like check this out. And so we had some people who were like, Okay, this is pretty neat. And it turns out that physicians have a decent amount of recurring revenue. And if you get enough of them together, it like, helps along the process of addressing Like resources. The other thing we had was, we had academics and academia is full of very interesting people who are really, really good at going extremely deep into a topic and exploring it to its fullest and then learning to optimize little pieces of it. If you combine these things together, you sort of start to see the, I guess, a cloudy picture of what you might consider, you know, the beginnings of a team. And then it just comes down to like, defining your actual needs versus the resources you have at your disposal. And for us, like what really started to kind of come together out of this was a discussion we had about product need versus company need.
Vlad G 23:46
From my perspective, the way the story goes, you form the company around yourself to build a specific product or a specific set of products. So how do you see that those needs being different?
So I was actually not the original founder of the company. So there was my research supervisor was the person that I’d been working on this project under, was one of the original founders. And he was the one that sort of started to push us all in the direction of, okay, we need a company and I was very much in agreement with him. Well, a lot of other people disagreed. And between us, we started like thinking about, you know, where we need to go with this. And it became very clear that the company itself would need a different set of departments and operational branches, I guess you could say in the org chart. Then what we were going to build first because what we needed really was a team to get our product to a point where we could get the funding to build the other team.
Vlad G 24:54
It can you can you unpack that a little like what teams or what sequence of building teams did you have in mind because that sounds sounds rings true. So let me let me clarify that it rings true. It sounds like waste all the startups work, right? So you have one guy who does marketing calls, calls potential investors and sets up an appointment with I don’t know, with with investors and sets up an appointment for CEO at the same time he goes and buys coffee. So what is what are the what are the and then you know, when you once you expand, you hire a separate person to bring in coffee and only put this guy in the marketing or only put this guy on sales calls depending on his performance. So it’s normal. But I’m still curious. Because biotech is just the different from, I don’t know, people building a startup around an app or a software.
Yeah, so it differs from apps and software. Because when you’re building a biotech product that’s supposed to perform a function and get past like, say, clinical trials. The goal really is early on is you want good data quality, you want to be able to prove that it’s safe and efficacious. And, you know, it has the effect you want, or it does what you say it Does, does it consistently and actually gives clinicians actionable data. And researchers already inherently understand, like academics, I mean, you know, inherently understand good research data and good data collection. And so that side of it was almost entirely filled by academics. But the thing is, if you’re going to start something with limited resources, and you plan to build a company, you need to be very careful to make sure that you’re also meeting the needs of the VCs that will eventually invest in you. And that’s very tricky, because When VCs just see a science experiment that needs to be pushed through the FDA, they get reluctant. And it’s and so having this product vision early on, was extremely important in saying, okay, like, we need to make sure that we meet both sides of this. And this is what I mean by product need versus company need to product need is what we need to do to get through the FDA to have an actual product to sell. Company need is what do we need to do to satisfy the VCs so that we can actually form the company to take the rest of those steps forward? Because after that, it becomes a resource and data collection game. That’s why I switched to an advisory role later on in the process, right. So so for example, I guess, like let’s maybe dig into some specifics, because I think you’ve been talking about this in a very like top level.
Vlad G 27:58
Yes, I was going to ask
Yeah. So like, okay, from a company standpoint, like you probably want, you know, a design department, an engineering department, a software team, a hardware team, human interfaces team, a sort of medical director, and a couple of the other pieces around that, right, you need a business department and a few other things. But that’s none of our like, most of that is not extremely relevant to the product needs of getting it through regulatory. So what we tried to focus on was okay, we’re going to build a product vision. So we need hardware, software, design, and human interfaces. But we don’t need the business arm. We don’t need marketing, and we don’t need sort of the other side of things until we’re at a point where Ready to pitch. And then we can sort of build those out. At the same time, we sat down and looked around and said, Okay, we’re all people here who are relatively capable of learning and doing things, and delegating things and deciding the right balance of which to do in what departments is how we kept resources. Very, very, I would say, like very focused on just the product need, and tried to minimize the resources spent on company need, until we were ready to pitch. So until we had a working prototype, we weren’t going to do a lot of the other stuff.
Vlad G 29:41
And I think that what you’re looking for is lean, lean startup, right, you’re early, you’re focused on your goal. And you keep pushing for it with whatever all the resources basically focusing on getting that one goal and once you reach to the walls, you start approaching it that’s when you started looking at other things. So that makes perfect To me,
yeah. And the other thing we realized is there’s so much that you could teach yourselves and do. And then like, for certain types of manpower, bringing on a software team was easier done if you tapped academia, where you had people who specialized in the particular kind of software we needed. You know, who wrote papers on brain imaging software and, like worked with that and would love an opportunity to work on that as a project and be brought on board as partners later in the process. And then also, other researchers and other labs that were interested in sort of joining this project and working together. And so I think I would say like, if you’re building a team, like my best advice is actually tap academia for product teams specifically. Because they tend to have this understanding of research and data gathering. They tend to come into it with very few assumptions.
They know their academics. And so
they’re less willing to sort of just jump on preconceived notions and move forward. And they’re more willing to ask questions and explore and sometimes ask the right questions. And they’re also more receptive to a product manager responding with, I’m not sure but we can figure this out with the right type of testing or studying or data gathering. Because they, they inherently understand the importance of that.
Vlad G 31:35
The last part one to make one make me want me to go into biotech even more, especially when people are accepting of they will figure it out later responses. That’s not what I’ve seen. So from the from the end, let me let me ask you a couple of questions here because these situations situation that you’re describing is somewhat different, although Don’t get me wrong. There’s a, there’s a lot of enthusiasm. There’s a lot of ways you can build a team around an idea and even sometimes make them work for peanuts or for little incentive, just because the topic is interesting. And frankly, some of our guys in the company I work for right now, some of our guys do that as, as a part of their, in this paradigm, they, they experiment, they build things, that they later become a really cool, interesting offerings. I’m trying not to call them products because they’re not necessarily products but they’re pieces of functionality or software. That is that then company uses or sometimes not, but it’s fun to have them. Sometimes it sits on the shelf for five years. But what is the incentive for those people to join you? I mean, you don’t have any cash flow. You don’t have even a You don’t even have a Initial financing from VCs you were building towards that. So what is their incentive? Is that? How do you how do you how do you make them work for you? That’s I guess that’s my question. So
that’s a really good question because we actually really struggled with that problem first. And then we realized two things. And one was, academics love papers, and publications. And they have, they already have an incentive to publish. And if you give them a slice of something to work on that you can then allow them to publish at a future date. Some of them will absolutely be okay with that. And the other part of that is, academics do like to be able to patent technologies and to build new things or like work at the very edge of their field. And if you incentivize them with certain contracts, As well as some pay, and say, Okay, so we’re going to build this thing. And if it turns out to be novel enough, and we can get it patented, or when this company is up and running, and we have some funding, we will turn around and buy those patents from you and the university you work under. And that’s a really good incentive for them, because it puts them in the good graces of the university they’re working with, as well as gives them a sort of another type of publication. Academics don’t mind at all writing, or like creating new tech and patenting it and selling it to companies because that also gives them future revenue. And so if they believed in our vision, and they were interested in the kinds of things we were doing, and thought they could do something novel in that, and we showed them some of our demos, we brought them into the lab and sort of explained what we were working on. And they saw it and believed in it. We extended them that offer. And so it was a I know we don’t have Lunch right now. And we were very upfront with that, because it’s, it’s not good. If you try to trick people in those situations, it’s much better to be very upfront of that, and then offer them a but in the future, if we do, and if you believe in this, and you think this will actually be a significant, you know, a significant change to the way that neurology is practiced, or the way that we do brain medicine, then maybe this is worth working on. And maybe it’s just that you can give us some of your spare time. But we will promise to return the favor in the future and come back with money and patents and things that we can allow you to publish.
Vlad G 35:43
So they’re okay with nonzero probability that it would not it’s not it’s not gonna work out, right. I mean, they still get something out of it, like their research papers and potentially the paper patents that they that they
get. Exactly. And the way that was structured is If the company doesn’t work out, too, then those papers are allowed to be released or published, you know, basically saying, yes, the company didn’t work out financially or whatever else. But you now own this piece of IP, and maybe some of the research that went into that. And maybe someone else will be interested in the future. But you still have a tangible publication out of it, that’s good for you. And if the company does work out, then we turn around and we have those released as white papers or, in the case of patents, we purchase the patents from you. And that can be potentially very lucrative. So
Vlad G 36:37
it was the win win scenario,
whether our startup did well or not. And I think that’s the only way to do it.
Vlad G 36:45
Interesting, that still leaves out the question of, so you brought them in, and I understand that not now. Thank you for explaining it because it’s somewhat different in my world, but I understand the incentive for them to come over Use the incentive then what is the incentive for them to stay?
Unknown Speaker 37:05
the thing we’re working on and I guess
so, are you sort of familiar with like the MRI or
you know, those types of brain imaging. So
Vlad G 37:20
as much as anybody who was in that def def machine, not death,
but the very loud that makes uncomfortable noises.
Vlad G 37:31
I actually managed to fall asleep once so, ya
know, it’s a, it can be kind of soothing because you have like nothing to do and your brain just kind of gets bored after a while and just shuts off.
Vlad G 37:42
So there’s a type of MRI imaging called functional MRI. And what it does is it looks at the sugar uptake in your brain over a certain time slice, right? And it’s about it Generally an average of 10 to 20 minutes. But essentially, the image you get at the end like that the deliverable that the machine prints out for you, I guess you could say, is a picture of your brain with varying degrees of bright lights over the regions that we’re most engaged during the last 20 minutes. So that’s an existing technology, it’s available for, you know, at most major hospitals. And it can be used in different kinds of studies, right? So it’s like which parts of the brain were active based on their sugar uptake.
And you know, which parts lead up Most Great.
The problem is the time slice is really large. And so for finer tuned brain stuff that’s not really workable. The technology that we were working on, allows you to get that time down to milliseconds. And so what you could do is You could do any sort of study and watch the brain light up almost immediately. And not only that, but instead of presenting you with the physical image, we were presenting you with a network map of the brain. And so our imaging modality wasn’t visual, or spatial, but it was information. So which areas the brain laid up? Where is the data going? What are the nodes? And you know, what’s the crosstalk like, and where does all the information go? And that has is just amazing. potential in so many different areas. For one, we could measure and quantify consciousness, which is just a crazy idea if you think about it, and
Vlad G 39:50
I read a lot of science fiction, so that’s not that’s not that crazy, but please, this does sound like science fiction. So please continue. I love this episode of So if I show
oh my gosh, so
so so when you bring someone in and show them this and say, do you want to work on this thing that has the potential to maybe like have a major impact in the way we treat brain injuries and comas and locked in syndrome and all these other terrible brain diseases were like we just were conditioned, I guess you could say, where we don’t really know what’s going on. And we have very limited tools and figuring it out. Right? It’s like to do want to build the next best hammer for figuring out how brains are working and what’s going on there. Most people are pretty interested in giving it a shot because they immediately saw the potential. I mean, there’s, you know, many clinical scenarios and other scenarios based around this and many research opportunities if you start using the tech and that’s the other side of the incentive coin. So how we made them stay was
you can run studies with prototypes and
Early versions of this tech and released them once the tech is in the market.
Unknown Speaker 41:05
Okay. Wow. I mean, yeah.
And the other side of that is, of course, it gave us a user base, right? Where you could actually like test things and and so there’s there’s two sides of that right, a give and take a positive mutual benefit for everybody involved.
Unknown Speaker 41:24
Vlad G 41:27
That is that as I said, this does sound like science fiction. So I’m having a hard time, disconnecting from the notion that I just watched another episode of I mentioned altered carbon is part of this problem with 10th dimension. I don’t know, Stargate
defects because 10 years out at least.
Vlad G 41:51
Okay, so let’s get back to to where we’re started. And the question here is then so what would make a product in the product management sense of the word. What would make a product? In this case? Would that be software that maps out the brain brain activity or or software that builds up? specific? I don’t know, assistance for brain surgeon or and forgive me if I’m using the rewards?
That’s okay. Um, that’s a really good question. And the way we sort of thought of it is we want to build a tool. And that tool should be the product and it should be this sort of all in one package, right. So you want the software that actually does all the analysis with the the hardware that includes like the computer hardware that does all the number crunching as well as the actual hardware that you know that the brain scanner itself is and then the design and packaging and everything and we wanted just one deliverable because sort of a tool that any scientist or To search for pickup and again, like a good example of this would be something like an MRI machine. There are different models, of course, but the general like idea of an MRI machine is you put someone in the tube and you can look at their brain, right? And different people have found different ways to use that in various fields, right? You have researchers that use it. For psychiatry research for psychology research, you have neurosurgeons who will take MRIs before and after a surgery, and so on and so forth. And so our idea was build the tool building very, very good tool, and sort of give that to various fields that would take advantage of it.
Vlad G 43:46
I’m sorry, maybe that’s a that’s a fly job, but I just have to ask it the way you imagined packaging your product for general use, do you would you include a brain to practice on or is that The class. So
I would want to make it so that the, the thing was safe enough that anyone could put on the device and use their own brain. Like it’s I guess you could say like, brains are included. They’re yours.
Vlad G 44:23
Stick your own brain and see how that works. I mean, yeah, by my work.
I mean, it’s only like a really weird electrical device like, what’s the worst that could happen? Right?
Vlad G 44:33
You short circuit your brain and you know, I don’t know which one of the superheroes got that. I don’t remember all of them. I only remember a few. You get flash or I don’t know. I mean, no one else
knows that. It’s a it’s such an interesting like, you know, like the the idea was that when we started out and we saw what we had, we said, okay, we need to turn this into something and it should be something usable for a wide variety of people. And so we started sort of narrowing down like, okay, what’s our actual product vision here, right? So we want something that was wearable, in pretty much any orientation. Because you know, sometimes patients are laying down sometimes they’re sitting up and sitting on the table. And sometimes you’re just, you know, in the living room with your friends and decide that zapping your brain might be something fun to try. And so something portable, something very, very simple to use. Very quickly, we learned that, you know, from the physicians we talked to, as we tried putting various sketches of the device in front of them, we realized that the less complicated it looked the like happier they were with it. And so really like being being careful to be empathetic towards the primary user, which is a physician or a researcher. Okay, well, what do we do to lower your cognitive load so that when you’re using this device, you can be thinking about other things and still get consistent results that are, you know, trustworthy and usable. And that was a really important requirement. The third requirement was that it had to be portable and self contained. Now part of the simplicity thing is you don’t want a cart with a bunch of stuff on it, that you have to wheel around from room to room, because that’s just more difficult to use. Inherently portable, and smaller is better because you can use it in more environments. And so those are kind of the the big requirements for a product. So
Vlad G 46:41
Wow, I mean, it does sound like product requirements. It absolutely does to me like if you design an iPhone has to be portable, you know, should not bend when you sit on it. Right? And if you know what I mean, and yes, it’s very product of it. Again, I apologize, but I just have to ask given this portable given that I brought up altered carbon a couple of times already. So how far are we from? carrying a device that records your brain and then can play back? Or at least give me an idea? What the hell was I thinking five minutes ago?
Very far away just because of the last part that you said. So the, what was I thinking five minutes ago is incredibly difficult like that the signal complexity of like, what comes out of your brain is just insane on a level that is hard to get into without like really spitting off another podcast because it’s a it’s a PhD level topic, actually, well beyond that. And I’m not even qualified to kind of go there and really tease all that out because it’s just so far beyond like, what I could possibly even begin to talk about.
Vlad G 47:54
Okay, no, I’m not pretending I’m smart enough I know is as a consumer of that technology. You know, I put my keys somewhere and I can find them. I’m really curious, since within get our flying cars but by, you know, your thousand, the least the least our scientists can do is like Tell me where the keys are because right, you know play back my last five minutes of thought,
excellent poster just the least i scientists could do is tell me where my keys are. That’s a really funny one I like that
Vlad G 48:24
by all means I can help you with product packaging. I have plenty of crazy ideas. Okay, so we’ve touched upon and thank you This is amazing. This is completely different from what I’m doing or what I’m even even what I’m involved in. My specialty is more b2b b2b b2c software, right? So I get to see a lot of enterprise things but I don’t get to see things or that are connected to academia and things are connected to the research. So my interest Standing is, as you work on the value prop of this product, I can see it even, you know, with my limited scope of knowledge what what are the challenges? And I would imagine, again, as I said, this is very different world that you are in, compared to what I deal with. What are the regular challenges like what is your day day to day life look like? And and building this amazing product?
So quite, I guess, let’s see. So from a design perspective, one of the main challenges was how do we make this comfortable for the user and the person who’s wearing it because that’s actually not the user. And so when you have a product that interacts with two different people directly in such a such a way that like, when we set out to actually design it, we had to really think about Okay, like the person wearing this, like, how will they feel will it look friendly to them. And I’ll get back to why we did that. I think later Later in the outline, you’ll see like exactly why that mattered very early on, because it sounds like almost, you know, at the end of product development consideration, but and so in the design phase, it was like, Okay, this is relatively heavy electronics on there’s some, you know, computer hardware in there, you’ve got to cool that down. The fan shouldn’t be louder, scary, because being in a hospital is frustrating and can be scary for the patient. And so it’s like, will a child be able to comfortably wear this and then it’s like, Okay, well, we need to distribute weight to the shoulders in the back because you don’t want to put all that weight on someone’s head because after about 10 pounds, like your neck gets very tired.
And you have to wear this thing for about 10 minutes for the scan.
And so there was that part of it. On the other side, it was the physician side. It’s like okay, what are the printouts look like? Like, what are the You know, what are the considerations there? Like? How do you lower cognitive load, we settled on a put on patient, press one button, wait for scan to complete, because there was like the simplest possible, you know, design that we could come up with that was like, still had some relatively usable things. Pressing the button again, would immediately cancel the scan, if there was ever a problem, like physicians should be able to know that, you know, there’s an easy way to cancel it, whatever. And so, that was like a really important part of it. From the actual technology and r&d stuff, it becomes crazy because on one hand, like we’re combining multiple existing brain imaging modalities and doing a lot of like the special stuff in software. And so you need a ton of computing resources, which is difficult and tricky when you’re doing something local and portable and self contained. And then you also need some really good software and the actual electronics and the hardware needs its own set of controllers and other things. And because you’re delivering, you know, magnetic fields in like very close to the MRI level of magnetic fields, there’s a lot of safety considerations. And so, over there, the challenges became, you know, how do we make this really, really, really safe? And how do we make sure that it’s absolutely not going to injure someone? And then on the materials perspective, we actually had two alloys, some relatively unusual materials to handle the thermal considerations of like, essentially, like, okay, maybe this doesn’t make sense. So, let me step back and redo this. So. Okay, from the material side, we had to think about You’re running a really, really powerful electric current through a metal coil. And that coil is going to heat up. And if you’re running relatively powerful currents at the level of an MRI machine, then you either need to cool it with liquid helium, which is very cold and very not portable. Or you need to find a way to cool it down or find new material that can handle that kind of heat. And then it’s also in very close proximity to the user. So you need to make sure that that’s not going to hurt them.
And so that whole problem was
Vlad G 53:36
Miss makes makes it very challenging, I guess.
Yeah. And we, our goal was to get this ready to pitch in about nine months, so not a lot of time. Okay.
Vlad G 53:52
Wow. I mean, this sounds like sounds like ball. If that Rocket Science then pretty close to anything our mere mortals can relate. I mean this in a very friendly respectful way, you guys, you guys seem to work more literally work magic. real work here, we’re the device that’s gonna read your brain and that’s right at the same time. So here’s
some here’s some like really practical advice for working magic, right?
When you’re working on really, really crazy stuff
there’s there’s a saying that my supervisor hadn’t it’s always that there’s always someone crazier than you are. And he’s been right multiple times because it’s like we we would present him with a with the requirements like okay, we were like I would be talking to them say okay, our team needs to do this or find this. And almost always after he looked at me and said that and told me to go do so. really deep digging, it turned out that someone somewhere had a similar need. And that you could almost always find the material. So we are actually able to find the material and adapt it within about two weeks.
And and it turned out that
when people were building real guns, they realize that you have really powerful magnets and that you can pulse really, really high current through them. And fire projectiles at you know, multiple times the speed of sound. But those metal coils would melt if they were made of ordinary alloys. And so we looked at some of the work that other people had done related to that, and sort of came up with our own alloying requirements and found someone who would quickly fabricate something relatively close to what we needed. And then ran some tests on it and it turned out that if you post it at a certain like at a low enough frequency, you Wouldn’t overheat the coil, see wouldn’t damage anything. And this is sort of, I guess a really good lesson in take an approach that is really practical and not an approach. That is exactly what you envision. So MRI machines are constantly running current through massive magnets and this like need huge amounts of cooling. It’s like, does your product really need that? Or can you do the same thing with pulsed magnetic fields? And how short Can you make the pulses without degrading your data? Right? So it’s like, what are the trade offs there? And so running small studies around that, and understanding Oh, like we can have relatively short pulses, and our data quality doesn’t really degrade very much. And we suddenly can just throw out the entire liquid helium cooling loop that would basically invalidate our product idea. Okay.
Vlad G 56:58
I can’t really On their experimentation level, but this is really amazing. This is really an amazing story. Thank you
for sharing. No, this is, you know, it’s my pleasure. It’s really fun to kind of talk about some of this stuff, because the conditions are just insane. And it’s really fun to like, see how like the teams came up with various ways to sort of work around that. The other thing is that when you’re solving a problem, too, I mean, okay, you’ve done you’ve done some project management as well. Right? So if you think about, like, a lot of the project management stuff is built around
sort of these choke points, or like, you know,
I guess efficiency limitations in like, how you waterfall a project or something like that. Right?
Unknown Speaker 57:49
Yeah. So one of the things we found is that it’s almost always better to build those around major problems you’re trying to solve And then the most efficient use of resources is to have each team solve that problem in their realm independently, as if they’re the only team working on it. And then you aggregate those results, and you often get a result, that’s an order of magnitude better at solving that problem. So rather than like minimizing the problem by 20, or 30%, the problem disappears overnight. And so when we started looking at thermal considerations, and, you know, pulsing electronic currents through through all the circuitry, we looked at the software team and said, you know, can you design a regime? That, or can you code a regime where it’s like, there’s an algorithm that looks at how heated our circuits are, and decides like, how to pulse things. And we looked at the electrical engineering team and said, Hey, which was like, you know, then each of these teams is like two or three people. So it’s like, hey, like, can you to come up with that? An idea for keeping these components cool in a way that doesn’t stress the circuits, but also still, like doesn’t degrade any of the data quality. And then we looked at the design team and said, okay, like you’re doing the physical design for this packaging of this device, can you build it in such a way that we have more airflow through the body where all the components are held, and so on and so forth. And by not having each team solve the problems created by another team, or like, like you never want software to be solving a hardware problem. You want software to be solving a problem, and you want hardware to be solving a problem and you want each of them doing it in a way that does it best. When you combine all those solutions, you get something that runs relatively cool. Cool enough that like despite house having a coil that we were running like three Tesla magnetic fields, through With like three Tesla’s on par with MRI scanner, it’s like if you even took anything metal in the same room as an MRI scanner, it would just suck it right in. Which is insane if you think about like the strength of the magnetic fields, but despite us running similar magnetic fields through that coil, the way we did it, you could touch the coil right afterwards with your bare hands, and it wouldn’t burn out. And so it’s like, if you want to eliminate a problem, let each team solve it in their domain.
Vlad G 1:00:36
Okay, makes sense. I mean, this is more simply the autonomy that we kind of all advocate in the product management mindset. I’m happy to see that it still works even if you’re not doing just about the social products but as a if you’re still if you’re talking about software and hardware together, and this is specifically hardware alone is still works and still delivers amazing Results.
Yeah. And so I would say it, we would credit that for probably most of our cost savings, because you can quickly see how like certain problems spiral out of control if you had everyone trying to solve it in an inefficient way, because of just like all the efficiencies stack up to solve the problem, all the inefficiencies would stack up, to drive up cost and like consume resources and take a lot more time. And so I think that it’s a really, really good approach. And it’s, it’s funny to have read that in a book, tried it and had it work is a very humbling moment for me because I, I, you know, at this point, I was like, trying to figure out how to lead this team that I’d thrown together. And, you know, unrealistic timeline, it’s like part of the the funny part is, when you don’t know that that’s an unrealistic timeline. And you think that that’s reasonable. It kind of changes your approach. Right? You go into it with the assumption that it can be done. And I think that my ignorance helped me more than like, If I’d known what I was being asked to do, I think that I would have collapsed in despair.
Vlad G 1:02:14
As a matter of fact, it’s a it’s a known fact that it’s that’s the way it works. I remember when I was a kid, I, as I said, I love science fiction. And since we are talking about science fiction, I think it’s wrong. To bring this up, there was a story I can’t remember because I read it in the legislative forum. There was a story about a couple of scientists and a military general inventing or or discovering somehow anti gravity, but having a hard time convincing anybody that it isn’t like the gravity, the it is actually real. Everybody thinks it’s a joke. Nobody takes them seriously. So what they did was They came up with a very specific toy where you put a toy on the on the string on you pull a string and it’s kind of like a Lucas magic, you know, this helicopter was flying and you whenever somebody wants to buy a toy, you show them the trick you show them that you’re actually presenting this with a black thread against the black background. So nobody can actually see that this is as you say, they think it’s, you know, magic you you wave your hands and the helicopter flies. But the real trick behind the trick was that the thickness of the thread was specifically calibrated so that if you don’t turn on that anti gravity device, the thread would break it would it would tear apart and the air. The helicopter would not fly. And they sold. I think his story goes that they sold about 20 or 30 prototypes and the specifically targeted people with scientific background and people who were curious enough so that when they tried to show this to their kids and they would think I mean come on it’s in line right it’s on his hands on the line so I don’t have to turn on the the the power on the toy to make it fly. It will break and they will start asking questions. Wait a second if that’s the trick, if I had just have to pull on the line on the on the thread and it will fly, why does it break when I don’t turn on the toy, but that’s the break when I do turn on the door and that curiosity moment should kind of sparkle the their discussion or their you know, investigation and so what what is going on with this story, this is not right. And it’s kind of it’s kind of how things work in life. You You get to curious and Get things get things. Yes, complex things get complicated. All right. Yeah. Is there anything else? Is there another episode of this has fiction that we need to talk and I’m, I’m looking at the time and your timeline. So if there’s anything you want to do anything else you want to share, by all means,
I would say, let’s talk a little bit about like the pitching side of it, right? Because we did something really, really unusual in that. We walked into a room of investors that we’d sort of gathered for a little conference. And we’ve done our homework. So we’ve chosen some people that we knew were interested in brain things right. So that historically had either expressed interest in interviews or in some of the companies that they had previously funded and so on and so forth. Right. But what what’s really unusual is that we managed to fund the company fully for next decade on our first try, and that doesn’t happen, like that doesn’t happen. I’ve been told multiple times that that’s a statistical anomaly and liked by other VCs. And by some very, very, very amazingly talented people in the field. They’re just like, how did you do it? And
I want to maybe talk about why and how. Because maybe people will find that valuable. I don’t know. So, I think that one of the biggest things is that it stems from like, my love of Steve Jobs as like a younger kid. I am an apple fan. I’m sorry if anyone isn’t. But like,
Vlad G 1:06:49
that’s okay. I told you. We’ve already agreed to disagree. I’m actually not a biggest fan of Apple I am interested in I have a single Apple device in my house.
I’m surrounded by them right now, actually.
Vlad G 1:07:03
But that’s okay.
You know, that’s the traits part of part of this is disagreeing. Yep, absolutely. And I think one of the things that I found really interesting about the way that Steve Jobs presented products is that he would demo things and try and delight the people in the audience. And this is what I mean. But like when I say give the outline, like, Don’t show and tell, like demo and delight, right. And that’s really the key here is that all the stuff that we did on the early end, the things I was talking about making the design friendly and usable, and sort of compressing what was like a tangle of wires on a workbench and a bunch of circuit boards, into like a relatively compact product and friendly looking design. Now, it was also that we could do live demos with the VCs. And that’s a crazy thing to do. Because Usually you don’t want to do live demos, and you don’t want to do it in a really risky environment, like it’s better to show results, or it’s better to like, talk about a things show some videos, and that’s kind of what they were expecting when we walked into the room.
What they weren’t expecting is us like Skyping in some of our engineers, like in the middle of our product talk, and we had about an hour to pitch to them, and it was myself and the founder. And some of our team is remote. And we like, you know, open these cases and pulled out these helmets and I said, Does anyone want to give it a try? And I got a lot of stares and a lot of people looking around at each other. And so I said, It’s okay, I’ll go first and sat down and you know, my, my colleague, CEO and boss put it on me and we started playing around with that. I was able to show them that it was like really comfortable and that I wasn’t in pain and I could like talk through like to them throughout that, like 10 minute scan. And so I was like presenting slides and everything. And at the end of it, we like, switched over. And our engineers like pulled up the data. And we Skyped him in and we said, Hey, like, this is what my brain looks like, when I’m pitching something. And Do any of you want to find out what your brains look like right now. And we can maybe make some predictions about what you what you were doing. And so we had a couple volunteers. And I’ll never forget, like when I was able to turn to one of them. And I said, from the data, it looks like you meditated this morning. And they just kind of gave me this look like Wait, what? And what they didn’t know is that while we’ve been working with all these researchers in the background with like demo versions of the device, they’d started exploring, like, what does your brain actually look like? When you meditate after a while, and when you like have a lot of coffee or when you’re exhausted and Like what pathways are more and more or less prominent, we’d started, like we started as a team to like, put together that you can actually, like, clean some of this information. And so, the like, we freaked people out because we were able to tell them things about their day or like the state of their brain that they didn’t think we could, we could glean.
Vlad G 1:10:22
So I’m sorry to interrupt. So is that does that if that sounds like you guys have sort of a library of patterns? Yes, we did. You bus you. Okay. All right. So there’s a lot of patterns. Okay. Make sense? I’m sorry. Please go on.
No. And so. And yes, it’s really important to have libraries, because like, when you do research, you want to build like standard sets of data. So we took a bunch of healthy brains and had people like doing these scans. And we were, you know, using that feedback to tweak the product and make it better in some ways. But interestingly, or more interestingly, was like, those standards helped us then pitch because it’s like Here’s a product, here’s its potential, we’re using it, you can actually see the technology at work. But we need money to get it through the FDA process to use it medically, because it has all these other uses and potentials
for good and they understood like they inherently understood, okay, this is a thing that’s valuable, and, you know, has a market and a use case. And it might take a long time to get there, because that process is long and expensive, but that it might be worth taking a chance on because like, VCs are a type of customer and their product is a semi ready idea with a strong likelihood of good ROI. And that’s what they want. They want potential and ROI.
And so that’s how,
yeah, that’s my advice for pitching from someone who has pitched a couple times and has helped fund things. I
Vlad G 1:12:00
totally agree with you. And in my defense, I don’t like Apple products. I do like Apple’s presentations I as a matter of fact, I did a few presentations on. We launched a couple of products in my last company. It’s an enterprise software. So we launched the product that I was managing. Before I started going on assignments. We launched it first time in 2018. And we launched to be 2019. So I was there in three or four conferences. I can remember exactly how many there were doing the presentation, doing live demos, and talking to people about a product about the value proposition. Not investors, but people who actually have the power to either influence or make the decision to buy Of course and I completely agree with them when delight Especially when I just started actively doing it. One thing I’ve immediately learned is don’t don’t talk show a dog show. Don’t Don’t talk and tell, show and tell. And if you can make it look like magic, it’s even better. And this is what you guys did. And I love it. About the way you demo delight. Unfortunately, not every product looks like science fiction. But you can throw in a little magic here and there. Right, right. And that’s, yeah, that’s, that’s that’s the approach I’m trying to take. And this approach, I’m trying to coach and whenever whenever I talk about product management, some of the things you don’t have to talk them talk a lot about your product you have to show, hey, this is this is what this is what the magic happens. This is what it look like. And it’s absolutely it sweeps people off their feet. So that’s that that that is great. I’m glad we’re on the same page there.
Yeah, absolutely. And it’s like, you know, it’s a human thing, like humans like stories and they like surprise, and they like to engage with more than one sense. And that’s really what it comes down to. Right? Like, it’s totally different to like look at a slide and see a video of a thing. And to like, put it on your head, and like have someone tell you something about yourself that you didn’t expect them to know because he just
Vlad G 1:14:27
funny you mentioned that you need this story. So someone asked me this question earlier today. And I want to turn this around and ask you as as a person in the product management role, but your role seem to be completely different, different from I’m sorry, maybe not completely different, but significantly different from product management as we see it on a regular software product. What do you say are the top three qualities of a good product man
That’s an interesting question. So, top three qualities I would say. One is being really, really adaptive and willing to understand that what you’re doing is you’re not standing on a surface but on like shifting and waving sand. And that you need to learn to pivot immediately, when things don’t seem to be going the way they are. Or to understand that sometimes when the sand is shifting, the direction you’re going is the correct one. And despite the forces that might try to sway you, you have to be willing to move forward in the direction that you think is correct. And that there is a real art to balancing those two sides. I would say your second trait should be trusting your teams. A lot of the problems that we were able to solve so quickly and so cheaply is because I trusted The teams that I was working with, where it was like, I know that you’re an engineer, and you do electrical stuff. And if you tell me this is good, and I asked a couple of questions and understand the problem, I should trust you. And we should move forward with that. And that it’s better to do that than to introduce tension. Because if it doesn’t work, or if the person working on that solution thinks it doesn’t work, as long as you leave room for them to turn around and tell you, Hey, I don’t think this is working, we should change things up. If that trust is still there, you will be on board with that as well. Like that they can understand and figure out when things don’t go their way. And I would say number three, you have to really have empathy for everyone around you, whether it’s the teams, you’re leading the teams that you’re working with the VCs you’re pitching to. Now I really, really see empathy. As a professional tool, I think humans are emotional creatures. And we respond to that. emotion. And it’s like one of the things that we did when we were choosing people to pitch to is that we specifically did our research on what they invested in. But also, we tried to watch as much footage of them interacting with other people to try and gauge who they were emotionally, and picked ones that we specifically would really vibe with. And that would vibe with each other. And so when we put everyone in a room together, now we minimize the awkwardness and just really like it, it felt like a bunch of people who were celebrating and enjoying this whole process, and they were all interested in the same things or they at least had some things in common. And that really changes the game. Because what you don’t want is to be there with a board or upset or just annoyed person who’s like, you know, this is like the sixth pitch. And of the day, and this is like the slide set that they’re seeing that they’ve seen five times over. And what they’re seeing is holes in the business plan and holes in like the product or the process or this is exactly what they’ve seen before. And I think that it’s really important to understand the emotional spectrum of every person that you work with. Because it really helps people connect and work with each other and that like whether that’s internally or externally. And so yeah, does that. Well,
Vlad G 1:18:42
thank you. First of all, that’s amazing. That that’s a great pitch for, for empathy. I. This is a new way I think. I’m going to start collecting these and probably publish it as a separate episode, all the qualities that people Think that product manager has to have for so far, we’ve had three or four answers to that. Adaptive or flexible or responsive seemed to be the trend. So that’s kind of on top of everybody’s list. Everything else. Everybody has has their own. Everybody has something else that they feel. Yeah. So we’re almost at a time actually, we’re out of time. But we need to wrap up somehow. And believe me, I don’t want to switch off this. This sci fi show I want more. So hopefully it will have you will have you one more time on this episode on on this podcast. Maybe even with my co host, she’ll, she’ll be able to pull more stuff out of you. So let me let me turn the tables a little bit, as promised, and ask you if you have any questions for me in the hallway I can answer them today without going and so, you know, 20 minutes of of deliberation. I’m sure. I’m
actually curious. So you talked a little bit about the EMR stuff that you worked on. And I want to know, like, when you were in that role, what were some of the like early challenges, especially with, I guess, I would say, like upper management and how you were able to like, handle some of the demands of the business side of things and the insurance side of things because, I mean, I’m sure that when you were pitching EMR software, you’re pitching it to hospitals and insurance companies and sort of all together in that realm.
Vlad G 1:20:46
Let me start from the from the end and work backwards. The times that I was working with EMR software, I was not working on the with the independent team. It’s It was a part of that The initiative within within the company. So it was internal software. It was several different companies. So we didn’t pitch it to anyone. We had internal customers who had a specific need. And we developed software based on the needs that we’ve identified in almost all the cases, except for one, it was refactoring or building the legacy software in one way or another. To two cases, or it was a one time it was the acquisition and we just replaced the existing software that was extremely clunky, extremely horrible, with something that looked and feel that felt better. And in other case, the way way up. This isn’t was made to replace a whole stack of applications with a single system single data store, single analytics suite and That thing that I keep calling clinical viewer as an EMR that allows you to see, it kind of transcended the boundaries that existed before between the inpatient outpatient data, things that are coming in from outside labs and feeds, and kind of presented everything in a single point of view, single point of reference. So, and the reason for that was because there’s too many data sources, it was unrealistic to keep incorporating them. The the health system, the healthcare system that I was working for, they kept acquiring, merging, splitting, re merging with other hospitals, and having customization work done on each of the systems to bring them all together. didn’t make any sense. So the decision was made pretty high up to kind of let’s build this one data store that’s going to feed off of everything that we ever going to have. So now you you’re replacing the problem of customizing everything to work together with an already solved problem, how do we feed the data from the system that we just got into into the existing data store? So it became the problem of data normalization rather than data acquisition.
That’s fascinating. So essentially, you you turn the problem around completely and said, okay, no, no, we will just put the data centrally, and anyone who needs it can access it, and display it in a way that they need to and standardize that sort of process of accessing.
Vlad G 1:23:34
Correct The only correction is it was not it was not me who made that decision. But yes, that was that’s what I don’t want to take credit for, for this genius move. I just want to make sure we’re clear on that. But yeah, that’s that’s what happened and my responsibility was building the actual front end, the customer facing front end for those systems. That’s fascinating.
So when you were working on I guess, the the front end of that or the customer facing side of that. How did you sort of factor in physicians needs and nurses needs? And like some of that other stuff like what? What led to like what did your data acquisition or I guess like customer intelligence looked like, I don’t know if that’s the right term.
Vlad G 1:24:23
That this the right term is just the the time when and and the environment that I was in, was not that data heavy as it was not, you know, 2019 to 2020. When we make data driven decisions and data first and do things later. A lot of this was driven by what we call product management, Gods feeling based on things and this is this is kind of my ideology. When you don’t have the data, you still need some kind of Truth, some kind of a source to base your decisions on, you can’t just come in and say, Okay, we’re doing this because I said, so just you know, I’m the captain of the ship make it so. And the reason I’m saying that is because I’ve seen those issues and decisions made by people who have been in the industry for 2025 years, and 90% of their decisions were wrong. Yeah, and it was a huge waste. So it was still worth with subject matter experts. We still worked with whoever was willing to talk to us. And the the operational framework was, talk to as many people as possible, get those people’s best gut feeling of what is right. And start experimenting, start building things. So you can test drive them as soon as possible. And this was one of those things when we’ve introduced rapid application development for work. So we’re not even quoting things. We’re kind of using a website builder. Think of it this way, like, and we’ve, yeah. And we built a system of one system, another system, another system using that Brad solution, so that we can bounce them off of real users as see what their feedback is. Luckily for us, the feedback was positive, but not always, and in many cases, cubicles neutral. As Then, why are you wasting time when this rain was good? It was good before. But it’s kind of like one of my most favorite things to relate to. Everybody’s talking about data driven decisions, because we can collect a lot of data now, and there’s a way to do that. But with the enterprise software with b2b clients with cases like this, that’s not that bad. data, there’s not that there’s not enough data to make you feel very slow strongly about the decision that you’re making. And that’s where you need to be, I guess be smart about it.
Yeah, no, that’s it’s interesting. You bring that up, because it’s one thing that I’ve sort of seen as I’ve jumped into other pm roles at other companies and just sort of like thought about how to handle some of the problems they’re having is that people seem to have this obsession with data, more than they do with asking the right questions or testing in the right manner. And it comes down to I think, quantity and quality problem, where it’s like, all the data in the world doesn’t help you if it’s the wrong kind of data. And
Vlad G 1:27:39
yes, I agree with that. Thank you.
And I just like, you know, maybe I find that really wasteful that people spend so many resources on acquiring data without even like thinking about the questions and the experimental design. And I would encourage people to like if you’re a PM, and those types of roles like maybe consider pulling in a couple of academics. Maybe they’re interns that work for you for a semester or two. But have them design experiments because they’re in an environment that encourages good experimental design. And if they have a research background, like they’ll have a better idea of like the right questions to ask sometimes.
Vlad G 1:28:24
Interesting, I didn’t think about the academia, because in the world that I live in, we’re probably very disconnected from from the academia, at least the way I remember, though, the way I think about it.
It’s, it’s quite common, right? Like businesses generally disconnected from academia. I mean, they’re seen as polar opposites. But I think that there’s like with any thing that’s very different. There’s usually some overlap and some difference in opinion and experience that can be valuable if applied correctly. Cool.
Vlad G 1:29:00
Thank you that that’s, that is interesting. That’s something for me too. as a as a product manager with a lot of experience in different fields that are not connected to academia it maybe it’s time for me to start rethinking that and start arguing that hey, you know, this is something where we can use people with academia background, maybe there’s, there’s value in that.
So thank you. That’s, that’s useful. Thank you. This has been incredibly fun. I really enjoyed being able to sit here and like talk to you about this and really just kind of get through this blizzard of different topics and touch on a bunch of different things. And I hope we get to do this again.
Vlad G 1:29:41
Oh, yeah, definitely. I definitely hope I’ll I’ll see the sequel to this amazing science fiction show. I am I am very thrilled. I am trying to stay up to date with current trends and discoveries and things that are happening all across different industries, but This is this is way too cool for that. Thank you for being my guest and thank you for being so thorough with your story. I definitely hope we’ll we’ll hear more from you and I think it’s worth bringing you back in a while and see how you guys progressed and maybe there’s some new stories that you can share with us.
Absolutely. Glad it’s been. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
Vlad G 1:30:26
All right. Thank you. It was on. Take care. You’ve been listening to Real World Product Management and I’ll be your host blood Grubman. Until next time!