Health Innovators
Health Innovators

Episode 77 · 10 months ago

De-risk your startup: The academic-entrepreneur advantage w/ Nicola Brown


Sometimes, being an entrepreneur can keep you so busy, you wake up one day and wonder just how the heck you got where you are.

But when you build an organization with a culture steeped in customer discovery and research, you start to see the patterns.

Nicola Brown, founder of Kokoro, explains to our viewers how patterns, research, and customer discovery are vital components to her company’s philosophy around healthcare and wellbeing.

Refreshing and candid, Nicola’s animated discussion about the drops and gains she’s experienced over the last three years is sure to resonate with health innovators worldwide.

Whether it’s debunking assumptions, finding the right support system, or just finding five minutes to breathe, we’re sure you’ll find a tip (or two) you can take with you!

Here are the show highlights:

  • Why validating your market will help avoid pitfalls (and drops!) (3:15)
  • Conducting continuous research is key to debunking costly assumptions (7:35)
  • You don’t always have to be first to market - sometimes it’s better to be second (14:44)
  • Why the right support and guidance is critical to your product launch (20:36)
  • Try a different approach to your differentiation strategy (30:18)
  • Why you need to take a 5-minute personal reset, every day (33:27)

Guest Bio

Nicola Brown is the Founder of Kokoro, an integrative health data management company and practice community serving all levels of business leadership.

She leverages her community development career in government, universities, and nonprofits to explore new ways of tackling complex challenges facing marginalized communities around the world.

Nicola has earned a Masters of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Georgia and a BS in Family, Youth & Community Sciences from the University of Florida.

If you’d like to reach out to Nicola, you can reach her through the contact page on her website at or on LinkedIn at Nicola Brown.

If you contact Nicola on her website, mention you heard her on Dr. Roxie’s show and Kokoro will do a free assessment for you.

You're listening to health innovators, apodcast and video show about the leaders, influencers and earlier doctors who are shapingthe future of healthcare. I'm your host, Dr Roxy Movie. Welcome back healthinnovators. On today's episode I have someone I'm really excited to speak to, Nicola Brown. She is the founder of COCO row. Welcome to theshow, Nicola. Thank you for having me, Dr Roxy. I'm soexcited for our dialog today. Me Too. So I always like to start offwith having you tell our audience a little bit about your background and whatyou're doing these days, just to kind of give some context for our conversationtoday. Absolutely. So, hi everyone, hi every health innovator out there.I'm Nicola and my background is pretty very but on the back end,when you look at it, you can see that everything has stacked up tolead me to where I am. And so I started out as a communityresearcher looking at community health from an environmental and Ecology Lens, and then landedas a clinician doing trauma prevention work. And like many health innovators, wehave had our own health experiences and journeys, and so myself, I became onwell and in that unwell period of time learned that the way the systemworks doesn't really work for someone that's on well, and so I nurse myselfback to health using eastern, western and non traditional ways of being, andthat's what led me to Cocoreo and that's what we're building right now, isusing social connection and data to support you being well on your terms. That'sawesome. So it's really interesting because I think a lot of times our careersdo take a really like checkered path, path more so than we realize,and then, just like you said, you kind of can look back andgo wow, everything was really leading up to today. It all kind ofmakes sense, although maybe we didn't know exactly where we were headed at somepoint in our career. Lutely, I think like if I were to saysomething to my younger self, would be hey, everything is going to matter, so enjoy the present moment, be right where you are, stop tryingto know ten years down the line this present moment is going to matter andbe significant. Right, right, yeah, so true, so true. Ifonly we could go back in time.

But you know, even if wecould, our younger self probably wouldn't listen right. You know, you'reright. That's like help health care. When you think about it. Yourdoctor tells you if you do these things you'll be healthy and you're like yeah, but I'm not, because I have these things to accomplish. So I'mjust gonna continue with the level of stress and not decrease it. Right,right, yes, which kind of leads us to your company. Right.On this show we talked a lot about commercialization and how to, you know, share strategies and kind of war stories and helping, you know, asa community, to kind of move the need a little bit on that successrate. So when did you start the business? You know, you kindof told us a little bit about why you started it, but what isthat journey been like so far? All right, so we took a uniqueapproach to the business. We started in two thousand and eighteen and we didresearch for about eight months where we were deep diving, having conversations and reallydoing prospect research of yes, this is my experience, but how many individualsare seeing this as their health journey experience, to validate the market and also toidentify, I who our customer was going to be. At that stageof the company. Fast forward two thousand and nineteen, we launched a facebookpackage where we brought healthcare to you. We came to your office and wesat in your office as the CEO or the C sweet leader, and weactually watched and saw the patterns of what deters you from doing things that wouldbenefit your health, and that those things were what would seem small, likeyour water and take the number of interruptions that you have when you're trying todo one task that deters your mind. So we looked at that and withthat we then developed our first signature experience. But along that way we had pitsand falls and light drops. One of those things we did, andI shared this with Roxy, was that we thought our customers wanted to beon a platform immediately, because platform is king in the startup ecosystem, andthat's what we talked about. Build your platform. What type of platform areyou building? And what we learned was that our customers needed to build trustfirst and wanted a smaller way to engage with us, and subsequently that becameSMS messaging, and we started out doing that with our own mobile phone.So, for you innovators out there saying I can't pay for a text messageservice right now. We did it from a phone that we were already payingfor and once that list grew, then...

...we paid for a service, oncewe had paying customers, to transition to that. But the learning curve hasbeen iterating based on the customer insights, versing, iterating based on our experiencesas the founder and the core team and, as I say, court team.I've been fortunate to have other practitioners come alongside me for this lofty visionthat we have about healthcare being integrated into the flow of your life. Sowe have brought on board Ryan outlaw as our CTEO, who understand healthcare techinfrastructure in a way to catapultas forward and also understands his own health integration experienceto be able to talk about that. And then we brought on board Dra Grin Day and Dr Braun, and both of them specialized in the mindbody interaction. So a lot of times we think about healthcare and we're onlythinking about the disease or what is causing a disase, not necessarily like theintegration of our organs and how that supports us and being and so that ispart of our involvement as a company, is that we have really listened toour customers in a way that, from the outside looking in, you maynot say success is there today, but what you see is that our customersare our biggest champions and that's how we've grown so far. HMMMM. SoI want to dig deeper into the customer discovery conversation. So we've talked aboutcustomer discovery on other episodes, but one of the things that I think thatyou bring that so unique is is, you know, I wasn't leading youto this part of the conversation. You said this on your own. Westarted with research. So obviously, coming from a background as a researcher,you know you're defaulting to what you know, but it's just absolutely brilliant and Ijust don't see a whole lot of innovators start. I mean, honestly, a lot of the innovators that I talked to, they start with alogo, they start with a website, like come, let me come upwith this cool brand name for the company and in or maybe some cool tech. Let me start with the product. And really you're not starting with theI'm customer Um. So let's just talk about that a little bit more andwhat that experience was like for you. And then, I also think kindof dovetailing into some of those things like you just said, where you hadthis assumption, or maybe a set of...

...assumptions. Yeah, in that realresearch debunk that and and what that felt like inside. Oh, yeah,how that? And you know that wrestling that may or may not have beenthat happened as you made the business decisions for yourself in the company. Nowthe wrestling happened, like I won't deny the wrestling happens. Okay, soour research process started this way. There is research that's done in academic institutionsthat is considered health longitudinal research, that is participatory, that usually has acontrol as well as a control trial component to it, and so our firststab was let's pull all the different research studies that talk about the need forhealth to be integrated and not be something that you do when you're on well. So how do we get to the I am well, how do Iknow what I'm doing? What is my recipe so that I can continue beingwell? And if, for instance, I become on well, what doI do? So that was our first step. The second step was,who are the least likely individuals to want to do anything now about their health, and tasted the path of most resistance, the path of most resistant, becauseif the most resistant person can understand our value proposition, we know thatthere's a there, there, Yep. And we're not doing it off ofone most resistant person, we're doing it after multiple. So we had wehad a net goal of having a men of thirteen people in the first cycleof testing this. And so we thought about what is the characteristic of someonethat's going to be resistant? Right, it's going to be someone that they'rethe leader. So I can't show that I need this support because everyone islooking at me to support them, because leaders eat last and we are taughtto be servant leaders. So we got our person a leader. All right, what do we already know? We know that entrepreneurs are more prone tohave mental health issue, both and physical health issues, then any other sector. So too, we're going after entrepreneurs. And so we had our two andwe started scheduling conversations, and this is called linkedin reach outs. Guys, this is not tapping our personal network... people that are going to tellus, yes, it's amazing because they love and care about us. Thisis stranger conversations, and so that's how we started those conversations and started lookingfor patterns. As a researcher, my role was sense making, so makingsense of the patterns. So my default is to look for what are thepatterns here that are unspoken, not the things that we can readily see.Oh, healthcare is broken, yes, but how? Like what part isbroken? And that navigation, and so that's where we started with our researchand then we grew from insights. From there we did a lot of conversationsand focus groups with individuals as well as a secondary level, understanding what itmeant as a business leader to feel well and on well, and the salientteam, team quest in and conversation that it came back to was when I'mwell, everything flows and everything is integrated in my life. It doesn't feellike another thing, it just goes hmm, and presently our system doesn't go RCT. So that full of things that. Yeah, so there's a couple ofthings that you described. So there's all these biases that I talked about, confirmation bias, selection bias and and you seem to have been really intentional. Is that? Like you said, I'm not just looking for people tovalidate or confirm what I already believed to be true, and you weren't evenselecting people to participate in this research, that we're going to maybe sew thedata to wherever you wanted it to go, that you were really seeking out newinsights and testing hypotheses as opposed to preconceived notions, that you were justlooking for validation for absolutely, and one of the things, our core insightthat we took away was that the thing that leads people towards where they areand how they view their health stems from the thing that people and business owners, everyone would have heard this. When you act a business owner what's keepingthem up at night, they will say money, HMM, and we forgetthe integration of money and emotions on our health and wellbeing and how that subsequentlyaffects our choices with regards to health and how we then show up. HMM. So deep, Nikola knows, so deep. I like it. Okay. So I want to keep digging into...

...this customer discovery bit. Come on, I hear things like, well, I don't have time to do allof that research because there's a window of opportunity and I got to have toget to market now, otherwise we're going to lose our opportunity to make asuccessful business. What do you say for that? How many million people areon the earth? Like that's my response, like there's so many people on theearth and if you think about anything that exists, there is not oneperson monopolizing an industry, and nor would we want that. So the ideathat I own, I need to hurry up and get there, is crazyto me because, like, in the hurry, you are cutting corners andso you're subsequently not even doing the vision that you really want to see executedin the world. You're like, Oh, okay, I'll cut this vision shotand at some point I'll double back. I understand that there's a window withregards to innovation, and so you patent things, you get things copyrighted, you get a great legal team like we have been fortunate to have atCoke Roh, and you find experts in your field that are able to giveyou the foresight from a futurist land lends of where things are heading, becauseif you're building something for right now today, by the time you build it it'salmost obsolete. So let's think about if you're being an innovator. Let'sthink about it. Are you thinking ten years or immediate future? Yeah,yeah, and you know, sometimes I think it's ego that's involved to where, you know, it's ego or pride that makes us think that we needto be first to market because that's going to be the successful strategy or it'sgoing to make me feel or look really good if I if nobody else hasdone this before, I'm the first, and you know that's not always thebest strategy either, and so maybe being second or third entering the market isnot that big of a deal. It might actually be to your benefit thatyou actually waited eight months or a year to conduct this research, because nowyou're entering the the market in a much better way than actually you would haveEd. You just kind of, like you said, cut the corners andjust got on there. What's the first email provider? WAS IT AOL?You've got mail? I don't know. Let's see. That's the thing.No one knows. I can't tell you the answers to that. Right,I'm asking the question, but I don't know the answers to that. AllI hear you got mail and I think of is it when Harry met Sallyor one of those Meg Ryan movies or...

...something exactly. But that's the thing, that's the grounding that I will say our team, via our team,are legal team at Goodwin and our core team that's internal between Cocaro and oursupporters and initial funder from memfonti. What ye keep telling us is like,you don't have to be first, when I just need to be great atwhat you're doing. Yeah, because that product will speak for it. SoI hope everyone heard that. If not, rewind play again for you to remindso how many surveys or interviews have you conducted in the last three years, since the time you started? That gives some color and perspective to thisconversation. We have done over three hundred surveys, wow. We have doneover two hundred assessments on different emotional states. We've spoken to roughly almost five hundredpractitioners around the world that talk about health. Have done a Webinar abouthell. We have not been shy about reaching out. Hey, we sawyour talk about this. Want to have a conversation about how you're thinking aboutthis now and in the future. So I will say to the listener that'slike man, that sounds like a lot. It is. HMM. Yeah,she's like, yeah, got to work people, and we didn't doit overnight. Yeah, right, every every step of the process we arecontinuously researching and iterating. We are not married to one journey path. HMM. We are okay with the ebbs and flows of we got this new insight, like I told you about the platform. That was huge jump back because thatmeant that we weren't going to raise capital right away, because investors arelooking for the tech. They're not looking for the service per se. Theywant to see the tech behind the service. Yeah, and so that meant thatwe needed our service portion to bring an enough to sustain what we weredoing so that we could continue to build a tech at the pace that worksfor our customers. So let's dive into that a little bit, because Ithink that is something that would be very valuable to our listeners as well.Is talking about, you know, the conversation that you have with investors oradvisors or you know, you're key team members about you know, like runrate and cash flow and revenue and kind...

...of like okay, you know,paid sales money coming in versus. You know, we just need to keepinterviewing more people. We need have more conversations and and you know, obviously, as your job as the founder, is balancing those two things, whichis probably science and art. It's a creative process to figure out how you'regoing to bring money and damn business. Yeah, one of the things thatI was grateful did. I didn't know was part of the startup culture wasthat people built things and didn't have people pay for them. Right. Idid not come in with that insight, and so for everything that we didwe were like this is the cost, or like, presently we have offeringsthat are tiered intentionally towards your socioeconomic status. MM. So it's not a barrierto entry, but it's also learning for us as a company as we'rethinking about our pricing models and our structures, etc. The other thing I wouldsay around pricing is that you're going to get it wrong, and ourkey strategic advisor right now nudged us in the fall and was like, Hey, your services are kind of cheap. You might want to adjust your pricing, and that nudge was hey, when we started we had no idea whatthe costing was for what we were offering. So we took a guest simit atthe price. Now we have data, so why aren't we using that datato modify our pricing? And as a result, we modified our pricingwith that insight. But it takes having your own as the CEO, yourown personal board of Advisors, because it doesn't matter if you're a Sei entrepreneur. Each time you're building there's new knowledge that you won't have of and sohaving experts around you to support you and guide you is critical to this processand I am always seeking out people that have a skill set that I don'thave, because I am not trying to be all things to all people.HMM, yeah, yeah, and and that's it. That's so important,right. You know, the example that you gave on the pricing. Also, had you been outside of the company looking in, you probably would havelooked at it and go wow, their pricings really low, but when you'rein it it's so hard to see that. Yeah, so you know, sometimesit's a different of expertise, but sometimes it's just a different level ofclarity, just outside versus inside, soliately.

Yeah, and sometimes you get socaught up inside of the internal workings of the business that you forget togo back to the thirtyzero foot I view. Yep, see, to see howfar you are on the journey, because it is in fact a journey. HMM, yeah, Yep. So did you compensate or what were yourconsiderations around compensation for people, customers, to participate in your research? Youknow, did they did you pay them for their time? Because that's theother thing I hear is, well, I I'm trying to sell the Soandsoand I'm never going to get them to spend twenty minutes telling me, youknow, helping me build my company in my product for free. So whatwas that experience like? And and did you compensate or maybe not? Andwhat? What? What did you learn from that? So we didn't compensatein the traditional sense of everyone that participates receives a gift card. Yep.What we did do is, if we were meeting you for breakfast, webought you breakfast. If you were meeting you for lunch, you got lunch. If you did a focus group, there was a full meal provided.So we made sure that we did things honestly around meals. That was aconscious decision, because that's a meal that you don't have to think about.Yeah, and there's so many things around social connection and thinking about what conversationscomes up as you are eating, and so that played into our holistic lookingat an individual. So that's how we navigated that sphere. But I doknow I have been fortunate to interview with other startups that are providing gift cards, two different entities for the insight that you provide in a thirty minute,sixty minute conversation, and I think that works to but what I would sayis do not put yourself in debt to pay for the insight that you aregetting. Right, right, yeah, Yep, absolutely. So what hasresearch and distance selling been like amidst the coat of the pandemic? How isthat change things? I would say it hasn't changed US much. We havebeen a remote first team, so we have been on zoom before zoom washot, and so we've gotten that under our belt. And with regards toour customers and having conversations, we still...

...prefer dialing your number and having aconversation. That has not gone away as much as one made a Zume orpresume, and we we still do text messages by on a first instance oftelling us what's going on. We found that the narrative feedback is so criticalto our iteration process and our growth process that we bank time in for thateach week. So one of the things that I would say is like timefor research and development that is structured and banked into the flow of our team'sweek has been critical. Versus Oh yeah, we haven't researched anything in a while, we should tunnel in and do some research this week because it's beena part of our being. And so we know we research every week.Everyone has a different time period that they're doing it, but you're taking timeto intentionally research. Some of that is looking at our customer data for thelast week. Others is looking at what are new insights that we need toknow based on what we saw in our customer data, and so that isa core part of how we operate as a team and our company culture.And our research is focused on impact, because success can look so squiggly foreveryone and for us we want to know what is the longitudinal impact of whatwe are doing today. Yeah, and so, like, I'll give youan example. One of our business owners just bought their first house, andthat is success and you'd be like, what does buying a house have todo with our health, but they had been stressing about this opportunity for solong that it started to add to the stress of operating their business. MMMMMM, yeah, and we know stresses the silent killer, right, right, Yep, absolutely. So, yeah, I definitely think that it's important thatyou mentioned that. That really research is like a fundamental core value orpart of your company culture and has been from day one. It's not somethingthat you do in a moment of time. You know, oh well, everyquarter we go out. It's just who you are and what you do, and I love that and I think that you know, as someone onthe outside looking in, I think that that is a going to be andcontinue to be a game changer for your success in the company. Thank you. And I would say it's also how...

...we empower our customers. We're providingthem with opportunities to become researchers of themselves so that they can better understand theirhealth and wellbeing. Yeah, and we believe well being done well is whenyou are able to articulate what you are feeling, sensing, knowing to someonethat maybe the expert in that area, to then come collaboratively to a decisionof what is taking place. Yeah, yeah, so, you know,it's interesting. I think you know, when I hear you describe the companyand what you have to offer, it screams wellness, it screams employee wellnessprograms. Right. It screams prevention and that is something that you know,we've had some success in healthcare, but there's always this of well, who'spaying for that and who's going to benefit from that? And then there's alsoat the same time, it can be somewhat competitive because they're a whole hostof substitute like solutions out there in the marketplace. So, you know,help us understand what was some of your considerations as you were looking at yourdifferentiation strategy entering into that kind of market place. So our differentiation was notjust wellness for a wellness M we took a data approach to way to beingout. So presently wellness is I go and I do yoga or I meditate, Dailey. However, what you don't know is, is that actually whatmy what I need right now? I don't know that because I haven't thoughtto assess that. I'm just doing it because that's the fad to do.And so what we do is we give individuals permission and permission to try andsay that doesn't work for me, but I will try another thing. Yeah. So we are presenting different resources in a tailored way that you are ableto try it and really assess. Is this what wellness is going to befor me, or am I doing this just because it's cool? And it'sokay if you want to do it because it's cool, but like understanding yourreasoning behind why you're doing the thing is critical to your overall holistic success.And so that's one of our differentiators, is our research approach to deciding whatwellness experience you are doing, hmm, and your input being core to that, driving that direction and us not saying, Hey, roxy you know you shoulddo this, here is your menu.

Do these things and only these thingsin Saranara. I hope you do well. That's not how we work. So what we how we work is that we give you a menu andon that menu you are trying the different things and you are subsequently building yourpersonal recipe, so for what works for you. So so I it soundslike it is extremely personalized. It starts with data. So I don't knowif you're going to really be able to answer this next question because I'm becausethis is kind of more of like a some general things. But for allof the innovators, see sweet executives, busy leaders, you know, outthere as we wrap up here, you know, what are a couple ofthings that you would recommend to help everyone improve their wellbeing going forward in thisjourney? So in the morning when you get up, before you do yourfirst call, grab your device, do anything like that, just go outsideyour front door and take five breaths. The son May Nine Poles. Soeasy. Yeah, the Sun may not be up yet, but the firstair and the morning is so good to our lungs and our body. Sothat would be something that I would say. That's easy for busy person. Yeah, five minutes and just go outside and allow that to be and forthose that are listening, and I like, well, outside is negative something degreesthat it's really called or outside. By the time I get up it'sreally hot. Dressed accordingly. HMM. It doesn't stop you from doing yourwork, it doesn't stop you from going in your car and go into youroffice. So think about it as five minutes of doing something well for yourself. The other thing is daily gratitude. Each of us have someone in ourlife create a buddy system that you are doing gratitudes with that person where you'resharing what you're grateful for that day. And before let me stop you beforeyou're like that's going to be hard. Some days I'm not grateful for anything, retool that and say what went well today? Right, right, becausein spite of all the things that go wrong, we can usually find atleast one thing that went well. Yeah, yeah, and even just having thatawareness of maybe I need to do some things differently make some different choices. So I think other things go well.

But yeah, very true. Andyou know the two examples that you provided. They or so simple,soft, simple, easy, don't cost money, don't even really cost awhole lot of time. So easy to do. Yeah, thank you forthat. You're welcome. Yeah, okay. So, Nicola, how can folksget a hold of you if anybody wants to follow up with you justabout your commercialization journey or about the company and what you have to offer?Oh sure, if you'd like to get in contact with me, my websiteis www dot join jo I and Coco O Ko Ko rocom. You canalso get in contact through the website through our contact us tab and if youget in contact with us and say hey, I heard you on Dr Roxy willdo a free assessment for you where you can understand where you are withyour emotions and your wellbeing as you are innovating and healthcare excellent. Thank youso much for sharing your wisdom in your time with us today. Thank youso much for having me. Thank you so much for listening. I knowyou're busy working to bring your life changing innovation to market and I value yourtime and attention. To get the latest episodes on your mobile device, automaticallysubscribe to the show on your favorite podcast APP like apple podcast, spotify andstitcher. Thank you for listening and I appreciate everyone who shared the show withfriends and colleagues. See You on the next episode of Health Innovators.

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