Health Innovators
Health Innovators

Episode 77 · 7 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.

By you're, listening to health, innovators,a podcast and video show about the leaders, influencers and earlyadopters,who are shaping the future of health care on your host Doctor Roxey movie welcome back health innovators. Ontoday's episode, I have someone I'm really excited to speak to Niola Brown.She is the founder of Cocoro. Welcome to the show Nikola. Thank you forhaving me Dr Roxy, I'm so excited for our dialogue. Today, me too, so I always like to start offwith having you tell our audience a little bit about your background andwhat you're doing these days just to kind of give some context for ourconversation today. Absolutely so hi everyone high every health innovator out there,I'm Nikola and my background is pretty very, but on the back end, when youlook at it, you can see that everything has backed up to lead me to where I am,and so I started out as a community researcher, looking at community healthfrom an environmental and encollogy Lens and then landed as a clonition,doing trauma prevention work and like many health innovators, we have had ourown health experiences and journeys, and so myself I became on well and inthat unwell period of time, learnet that the way the system works doesn'treally work for someone that's on well, and so I nursed myself back to health usingeastern, western and nontraditional ways of being, and that's what led meto Cocro and that's what we're building right now is using social connectionand data to support you being well on your terms, that's awesome! So it's really interesting because Ithink a lot of times our careers do take a really like checkered pat path,more so than we realize and then just like you said, you kind of, can lookback and go wow. Everything was really leading up to today. It all kind ofmakes sense, although maybe we didn't know exactly where we were headed atsome point in our career bsolutely. I think like if I were tosay something to my younger self would be hey. Everything is going to matterso enjoy the present moment be right where you are stop trying to know tenyears down the line this present moment is going to matter and be significantright, right, yeah. So true, so true, if only we could go back in time, butyou know, even if we could, our younger...

...self, probably wouldn't listen right.You know you're right, that's like help helt care. When youthink about it. Your doctor tells you, if you do these things, you'll behealthy and you're like yeah, but I'm not because I have these thingsto accomplish. So I'm just going to continue with the level of stress andnot decrease it right right, yes, which kind of leads us to your company righton this show we talk a lot about commercialization and how, to you know,share strategies and kind of war stories and helping you know, as acommunity to kind of move the nead a little bit on that success rate. Sowhen did you start the business? You know you kind of told us a littlebit about why you started it, but what is that journey been like so far? All right, so we took a unique approachto the business. We started in two thousand and eighteen, and we didresearch for about eight months where we were deep, diving, havingconversations and really doing prospect research of yes. This is my experience,but how manyindividuals are seeing this as their health journey experience tovalidate the market and also to identify who our customer was going tobe at that stage of the company fast forward? Two Thousand and nineteen welaunched bisbook package where we brought healthcare to you. We came to your office and we sat in your office as the CEO or theCE sweit leader and we actually watched and saw the patterns of what deters youfrom doing things. That would benefit your health and that those things werewhat would seem small like your water and take the number of interruptionsthat you have when you're trying to do one task. That deters your mind, so welooked at that and with that we then developed our first signatureexperience. But along that way we had pits and falls and like drops one ofthose things we did- and I shared this wit Rocxy- was thatwe thought our customers wanted to be on a platform immediately, becauseplatform is king and the STARTU PIKO system. And that's what we talk aboutbuild your platform. What type of platform are you building and what welearned was that our customers needed to build trust first and wanted asmaller way to engage with us and subsequently that became Sass messagingand we started out doing that with our own mobile phone. So for you,innovators out there saying I can't pay for a text messege service right now.We did it from a phone that we were already paying for and once that listgrew, then we paid for a service once...

...we had pain customers to transition tothat. But the learning curve has been iterating based on the customerinsights, versthing iterating, based on our experiences as the founder and thecourt team, and, as I say, court team, I've been fortunate to have otherpactitioners come alongside me for this lofty vision that we have abouthealthcare being integrated into the flow of your life. So we have broughton board by an outlaw as our CTO who understands healthcare, techinfrastructure in a way to catapalus forward and also understands his ownhealth integration experience to be able to talk about that, and then webrought on board Dr O'grinde and Dr Bran, and both of themspecialized in the mind body, interaction. So a lot of times. Wethink about health care and we're only thinking about the disease or what iscausing US disease, not necessarily like the integration of our organs andhow that supports us and being, and so that is part of our involvement as acompany is that we have really listened to our customers in a way that, from the outside. Looking in you maynot say, success is there today, but what you see is that our customers areour biggest champions and that's how we've grown so far. So I want to dig deeper into the customer discovery conversation. Sowe've talked about customer discovery on other episodes, but one of thethings that I think that you bring that so unique is. Is You know I wasn'tleading you to this part of the conversation. You said this on your own.We started with research, so obviously coming from a background. As aresearcher, you know you're defaulting to what you know, but it's just absolutely brilliant and I just don't see a whole lot ofinnovators start. I mean honestly a lot of the innovators that I talk to. Theystart with a logo. They start with a website like hom glet te come up withthis cool brand name for the company and in or maybe some cool tack. Let mestart with the product and really youre, not starting with the C customer. So let's just talk about that a littlebit more and what that experience was likefor you and then I also think kind of dove tailing into some of those thingslike you just said where you had this assumption, or maybe a set ofassumptions yeah in that real research,...

...debunk that and and what that felt likeinside, Oh yeah, how that- and you know that wrestling that me or may not havebeen- that how happened as you made the business decisions for yourself in thecompany. Now the wrestling happened. Likei will deny the wrestling happened. Okay, so our research process startedthis way. There is research, that's done in academic institutions that isconsidered health, Longitud, Aal Research, that is participatory thatusually has a control, as well as a a control trial component to it, and soour first stab was: let's pull all the different researchstudies that talk about the need for health to be integrated and not besomething that you do when you're on well. So how do we get to the I am well? Howdo I know what I'm doing? What is my recipe so that I can continue beingwell and if, for instance, I've become on well? What do I do? So that was ourfirst step. The second step was, who are the least likely individuals towant to do anything now about their health and test the path of most resistance,the path of most resistant, because if the most resistant person canunderstand our value proposition, we know that there's a there there yep andwe're not doing it off of one most resistant person, we're doing it aftermultiple so yeah, we had a net goal of having a men of thirteen people in thefirst cycle of testing. This, and so we thought about what is thecharacteristic of someone- that's going to be resistant right, it's going to be someone ti they're the leader, so I can't showthat I need this support, because everyone is looking at me to supportthem because leaders eat last and we are taught to be servant leaders. So wegot our person a leader all right. What do we already know? Weknow that entrepreneurs are more prooned to have mental health issuesand physical health issues than any other sector. So too we're going after entrepreneur, and so we had our two and we startedscheduling conversations, and this is cold linkedin reach out gys. This isnot tapping our personal network to...

...people that are going to tell us. Yes,it's amazing because they love and care about us. This is strangerconversations, and so that's how we started thoseconversations and started looking for patterns as a researcher. My role wassensemaking, so making sense of the patterns, so my default is to look forwhat are the patterns here that are unspoken, not the things that we canreadily see. Oh health care is broken. Yes, but how like what part is brokenin that navigation? And so that's where we started with our research and thenwe grew from insights from there. We did a lot of conversations and focusgroups with individuals, as well as a secondary level, understanding what itmeant as a business leader to feel well and Onwell, and the Celian team teamquestion and conversation that it came back to was when I'm well everythingflows and everything is integrated in my life it doesn't feel like AAnotherthing. It just goes and pesnally our system doesn't go rigt so that full of things that are y yeah.So there's a couple of things that you described so there's all these biases, that Italk about confirmation, bias, selection, bias and- and you seem tohave been really intentional- is that, like you said, I'm not just looking forpeople to validate or confirm what I already believe to be true and youweren't even selecting people to participate in this research that we'regoing to maybe skew the data to wherever you wanted it to go, that youwere really seeking out new insights and testing hypotheses, as opposed topreconceive notions that you were just looking for validation for absolutelyand one of the things our cort insight that we took away. Was that the thing that leads people towards where they are andhow they view their health stems from the thing that people and businessowners? Everyone would have heard this when you act a business owner, what'skeeping them up at night, they will say money and we forget the integration of moneyand emotions on our health and well being and how that subsequently affectsour choices with regards to health and how we then show up hm so deep Nicola. No so deep, I like it...

...okay, so I want to keep digging intothis customer discovery. bed O I hear things like well. I don't havetime to do all of that research because there's a window of opportunity- and Igot to have to get to market now, otherwise we're going to lose ouropportunity to make a successful business. What do you say for that? Howmany million people are on the earth? Like that's my response, like there'sso many people on the earth and if you think about anything that exists, thereis not one person monopolizing an industry, and nor would we want that.So the idea that I own I need to hurry up and get. There is crazy to me because, like in the hurry, you arecutting corners and so you're subsequently, not even doing the visionthat you really want to see executed in the world. You're like okay, I'll cutthis vision short and at some point I'll double back. I understand that.There's a window with regards to innovation, and so you patent thingsyou get things copyrighted. You get a great legal team like we have beenfortunate to have at Cocoro, and you find experts in your field that areable to give you the foresight from a futurist land glends of where thingsare heading, because, if you're building something for right now today by the time you build it, it's almostobsolete. 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 youknow, sometimes I think it's ego, that's involved to where you know it'sego or pride. That makes us think that we need to be first to market becausethat's going to be the successful strategy or it's going to make me feelor look really good. If, if nobody else has done this before I'm the first andyou know, that's not always the best strategy either and so maybe beingsecond or third entering the market is not that big of a deal. It mightactually be to your benefit that you actually waited eight months or a yearto conduct this research because now you're entering the market in a muchbetter way than actually you would have, and you just kind of like you said, cutthe corners and just got in there. What's the first email provider was it aol you've got mail, I don't know, but seethat's the thing. No one knows. I can't tell you the answers to that right. I'masking the question, but I don't know the answer to that. Al Like he like,you got mail and I think of is it when Harry met, Sally or one of those HagBrian Movies or something exactly. But...

...that's the thing. That's the groundingthat I will say. Our team via R T are legal team at Goodwin and our courtteam, that's internal between Cocoro and our supporters and initial tunderfrom Ivanzi. What young you telling us is like you, don't have to be firstyeah. I just need to be great at what you're doing yeah that product willspeak for itself. I hope everyone heard that, if not rewind play again for you to rmind, so how many surveysor interviews have you conducted in the last three years since the time youstarted that gives some color and perspective to this conversation, we have done over three hundred surveys.Wow, we have done over two hundred assessments on different emotionalstates. We've Spokento, roughly almost five hundred practitioners around theworld that talk about healt, have done a Webenarabout how we have not been shy about reaching out hey. We saw your talkabout this, want to have a conversation about how you're thinking about thisnow and in the future, so I will say to the listener: That's likeman! That sounds like a lot. It is MMSHE's like Oto work people andwe didn't do it overnight. Yeah right every every step of the process. We arecontinuously researching and iterating. We are not married to one journey path. We are okay with theEBBS and flows. We got this new insight. Like I told you about the platform now,he would jump back because that meant that we weren't going to raise capitalright away, because investors are looking for the tech they're, notlooking for the service per se. They want to Sato type behind the serviceyeah, and so that meant that we needed our service portion to bring an enoughto sustain what we were doing so that we could continue to build a tech atthe pace that works for our customers. So, let's Divein to that a little bit,because I think that is something that would be very valuable to our listenersas well is talking about. You know the conversation that you have withinvestors or advisors, or you know your key team members about you know likerun rate and cash flow in revenue and...

...kind of like okay, you know paid salesmoney coming in versus. You know. We just need to keep interviewing morepeople. We need o have more conversations. An you know, obviously,is your job as the founder is balancing those two things which is probablyscience and art. It's a creative process to figure outhow you're going to bring money in Doyo Ave business yeah. One of the thingsthat I was grateful that I didn't know was part of the startup culture wasthat people built things and didn't have people pay for them right? I didnot come in with that insight and so for everything that we did. We werelike this is the cost or like. Presently we have offeringsthat are teared intentionally towards your socioeconomic status, so it's nota barrier to entry, but it's also learning for us as a company as we'rethinking about our pricing models in our structures, etc. The other thing Iwould say around pricing is that you're going to get it wrong and our keystrategic adviser right now nudged us in the fall and was like heyyour services are kind of cheap. You might want to adjest your pricingand that nudge was hey. When we started, we had no idea what the costing was forwhat we were offering yeah. We took a guestimate at the price. Now we havedata. So why aren't we using that data tomodify our pricing and, as a result, we modified our pricing with that insight,but it takes having your own as the CO, your own personalboard of Advisors, because it doesn't matter if you're, a Sero entrepreneur each time, you're building, there's newknowledge that you won't have and so having experts around you to supportyou and guide. You is critical to this process and I am always seeking outpeople that have a skill set that I don't have, because I am not trying tobe all things to all people, yeah, yeah and and that's ind, that'sso important right. You know the example that you gave on the pricingalso had you been outside of the company looking in, you probably wouldhave looked at it and go wow, theyre pricingis really low, but when you'rein it, it's so hard to see that yeah. So you know sometimes it's a differentof expertise, but sometimes it's just a...

...different level of clarity just outsideversus inside seletely yeah, and sometimes you get socaught up inside of the internal workings of the business that youforget to go back to the thirty thousand FIV yeal Yep Utsee, to see howfar you are on the journey, because it is in fact a journey, myeah Yep! So didyou compensate or what were your considerations aroundcompensation for people customers to participate in yourresearch? You know: Did they did you pay them fortheir time? Because that's the other thing I hear is well, I'm trying tosell Tho sow and so and I'm never going to get them to spend twenty minutestelling me you know helping me build my company and my product for free. Sowhat was that experience like, and and did you compensate or maybe not and wht? What did you learn from that? So we didn't compensate in thetraditional sense of everyone that participates receives a gift Card Yep.What we did do is if we were meeting you for breakfast. We bought youbreakfast. If you were meeting you for lunch, you got lunch. If you did afocus group, there was a full meal provided. No, we made sure that we didthings honestly around meals. That was a conscious decision, becausethat's a meal that you don't have to think about yeah and there's so many things around socialconnection and thinking about what conversations comes up as you areeating, and so that played into our holistic looking at an individual. Sothat's how we navigated that sphere, but I do know I have been fortunate tointerview with other startups that are providing gift cards to differententasies, for the insight that you provide in a thirty minute, sixtyminute conversation- and I think that works too. But what I would say is donot put yourself in debt to pay for the insight that you are getting right,right, yeah, Yeph, absolutely! So what has research and distanceselling been like amidst the C of the pandemic? How is that change things? I would say it hasn't changed US much. We have been a remote first team, so wehave been on zoom before zoom was hot, and so we've gotten that under our belt andwith regards to our customers and...

...having conversations, we still preferdatling your number and having a conversation that has not gone away asmuch as one made, atsume or presume, and we we still do text messages by on a firstinstance of telling us what's going on. We found that the narrative feedback isso critical to our iteration process and our growth process that we binktime in for that each week. So one of the things that I would say is like time for research and development thatis structured and thanked into the flow of our teams. Week Hat's been criticalversus Oh yeah. We haven't researched anythingin a while. We should tungle in and do some research this one us. It's been a part of our being, andso we know we research every week. Everyone has a different time periodthat they're doing it, but you're taking time to intentionally research.Some of that is looking at our customer data for the last week. Others islooking at what ar new insights that we need to know based on what we saw inour customer data, and so that is a core part of how we operate as a teamand our company culture and our research is focused on impacts, because success can look so squickily foreveryone and for us we want to know what is thelongitude an of in fact, of what we're doing today. Yeah and so like I'll,give you an example. One of our business owners just bought their firsthouse, and that is success and you'd be likewhat does buying a house have to do with their health, but they had been stressing about this opportunity for so long thatit started to add to the stress of operating their business mm m yeah andwe know stresses the silent killer right right, Yep, absolutely so, yeah.I definitely think that it's important that you mentioned that that reallyresearch is like a fundamental core value or part of your company cultureand has been from day one. It's not something that you do in a moment oftime. You know oh well, every quarter we go out, it's just who you are andwhat you do, and I love that, and I think that you know is someone on the outside.Looking in. I think that that isn't going to be and continue to be a game changer foryour success in the Pany.

Thank you, and I would say it's alsohow we empower our customers, we're providing them with opportunities tobecome researchers of themselves so that they can better understand theirhealth and while being yeah, and we believe well being done well, is whenyou are able to articulate what you are feeling sensing knowing to someone thatmay be the expert in that area to then come collaboratively to a decision ofwhat is taking place, Yeah Yeah. So you know it's interesting. I think you knowwhen I hear you describe the company and what you have to offer it screenswellness. It screams, employee, wellness programs, right it screams,prvention and- and that is something that you know- We've had some successin health care, but there's always this of Woll who's paying for that and who'sgoing to benefit from that and then there's also. At the same time, it canbe somewhat competitive because theye a whole host of substitute like solutionsout there in the marketplace. So you know help us understand what was someof your considerations as you were looking at your differentiationstrategy entering into that kind of marketplace, so our deffrentiation was not just wellness for wellness. We took adata approach to way to Beangwal, so presently wellness is I go and I do yoga or Imeditate taily. However, what you don't know is: Is that actually what my? WhatI need right now? I don't know that, because I haven'tstopped to assess that. I'm just doing it because that'sthe fad to do, and so what we do is we give individuals permission permissionto try and say that doesn't work for me, but Iwill try another thing yeah, so we are presenting different resources in atailored way that you are able to try it and really assess. Is this whatwellness is going to be for me, or am I doing this just because it's cool andit's okay? 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 overallholistic success? And so that's one of our defrentriators is our researchapproach to deciding what wellness experience you are doing m and yourinput being cor to that driving that direction and us not saying hey roxy,you know you should do this here. Is...

Your Menu? Do these things and only theseTAYS and Sarnara? I hope you do well, that's not how we work. So what we? Howwe work is that we give you a menu and on that menu. You are trying thedifferent things and you are subsequently building your personalrecipe so for or so so it sounds like it isextremely personalized. It starts with data, so I don't know if you're goingto really be able to answer this next question, because I'm because this iskind of more of like some general things, but for all of the innovatorsce sweet executive, busy leaders, you know out there as we wrap up here. Youknow what are a couple of things that you would recommend to help everyoneimprove their well being going forward in this journey. So in the morning when you get upbefore you do your first call grab your device. Do anything like that. Just gooutside your front door and take five breasts, so some Nim full so easy yeah, the Sun may not be up yet, butthe first air in the morning is so good to our lungs and our body. So thatwould be something that I would say, that's easy for a busy person, yeahfive minutes and just go outside and allow that to be, and for those thatare listening and I like well outside, is negative something degrees that isreally cold or outside by the time I get up, it's really hot dressed. Accordingly, it doesn't stop you from doing yourwork. It doesn't stop you from going in your car and going to your office sothink about it as five minutes of doing something. Well for yourself, the otherthing is daily gratitude. Each of us have someone in our life, create abuddy system that you are doing gratitudes with that person, whereyou're sharing what you're grateful for that day and before. Let Me Stop Meubefore you're, like that's going to be hard some days, I'mnot grateful for anything retoil that and say what went welltoday right right, because in spite of all the things that go wrong, we canusually find at least one thing that went well, yeah, yeah and even justhaving that awareness of. Maybe I need to do some thingsdifferently: make some different choices: sorothink other things go well,but yeah very true, and you know the...

...two examples that you provided they arso symbol, Doft, simple, easy: Don't costmoney, don't even really cost a whole lot of time, so easy to do. Yeah. Thank you for that. You'rewelcome, yeah, okay, so Nikola. How can folks get ahold of you if anybody wants to follow up with you just about yourcommercialization journey or about the company and what you have to offer? Ohsure, if you'd like to get in contact with me, my website is suww dot. Joyn,Jo, I n Cocaro Ko Ko rocom. You can also get in contact through the websitethrough our contact us tap and if you get in contact with us and say hey, Iheard you on Dr Roxy will do free assessment for you, where you canunderstand where you are with your emotions and your well being as you areinnovating in healthcare. Excellent. Thank you so much forsharing your wisdom and your time with us today. Thank you so much for havingme. Thank you so much for listening. I knowyou're busy working to bring your life changing innovation to market, and Ivalue your time and attention to get the latest episodes on your mobiledevice automatically subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast AP, likeApple Podcast, spotify and stitcher. Thank you for listening, and Iappreciate everyone who shared the show with friends and colleagues, see you onthe next episode of Health, Innovators.

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