”Why wouldn’t a device replace gym membership?”
We are proud to have had John Sjölander, COO at Burt, as a member of the Health Hack Day jury. Burt is a great example of Swedish tech innovation, offering solutions for large-scale data analysis of online ads. This make it possible to create better advertising: Giving the user a more positive experience, and better return on investment for the companies that advertise. In connection with Health Hack Day, we seized the opportunity to ask John a few questions about his work and his view of the health tech business.
Tell us what you do at Burt!
– I started out as CTO in the founding team, but have since transitioned into becoming the COO. As COO I’m responsible for the internal organization: How we’re structured, who reports to whom, what resources our teams require, what resources are available to them, what processes they should they use, the planning of future staffing, opening external offices, recruiting the very best talent, company partnerships – the list goes on. One way to see it is that I make sure the company is capable of doing what our CEO wants us to do.
The purpose of Health Hack Day is to promote the exciting field of digital tools for health. As a startup veteran, what do you think about the business potential of this area?
– “Startup veteran” – thank you, that is too flattering. I actually think the area of digital tools to help with health issues, especially consumerized products, still hasn’t reached its full potential, and in some cases is even underestimated.
– When it comes to thinking creatively about a market opportunity, I sometimes use an easy exercise: Do I envision that people will use more “stuff” to work out, say, 20 years from now? Do I imagine that that stuff will be common, sophisticated, used by a vast majority, etcetera? In this case I think the answer is easy: Yes. It’s not very hard imagining a Siri-esque personal fitness trainer in your pocket – getting you access to various fitness programs, diets, analyzing your daily behaviour, where you spend your time, what you do, to give you personalized recommendations.
– And that’s only workout, which is only a small part of health. Why wouldn’t the device replace the gym membership? It could easily give you instructions for a full work out.
One of the challenges when it comes to digital tools, mobile apps not least, is to find a sustainable business model – where should the money come from. What is your view on this?
– Wow, broad question to say the least. Yes, you need to make money. No I can’t tell you exactly how. But here are some thoughts:
1) Have an IDEA that you can make money by doing something smart. Preferably a few ideas.
1b) If your idea is to use advertising you’re going to fail. Or at least not be super successful.
2) Test your ideas by bouncing them off people when you’re showing them your app.
3) The value of building a huge user base is likely very small. On a totally other note, I believe strongly that there is a bubble going on right now, but the bubble is about what a “consumer” is actually worth to a company. So instead of thinking “if I get tons of users Facebook will buy me” (which is stupid, they won’t) make sure you actually build revenues in some way. May it be lead generation, sponsorships, a paid app, subscriptions, paying for premium features, selling your data to a third party…
Do you use any digital health tools yourself? Is there any health tool you would like to see on the market that doesn’t exist today?
– I use runkeeper and it has changed my life. I absolutely love it! As a highly competitive geek, it gives me a chance to compete with myself, far beyond what I’ve been able to do before.
– I don’t have a specific idea on what should be built, but a fun thing to do is to think about stuff within a market – in this case health – that people hate. Ok, so people love working out, but most of us think that gym memberships that go on and on, are super expensive and lock me in are aweful. Perhaps there’s a way to solve that? Or, people hate that diets don’t really seem to work. Change that? Or people hate that it’s hard to know if stuff in food is good or unhealthy. Can we solve that? That is sometimes a good way to find a place that needs change.
You started out as a programmer but you also seem to have an interest in organizational processes. What advice would you give startups in the health tech area; how should you build your organization to maximize your chances of succeeding?
– Don’t build your organization. Hire is the last thing you want to do. Money and people will not solve your issues – but teamwork will. So make sure you hire ONLY when you need it, and then work hard as hell on your problem, with a highly passionate team. It’s really that simple, but it’s also really that hard. But at some point, you’re going to have to. I get that. And I really can’t tell anyone how they should build their organization, because that’s like telling someone how they should dress. It has to do with taste, preferences, ability, opportunity and so on.
– But do think hard about how you want to organize yourself. Do you really need a marketer as employee number six? Always think about what you could do if you made a different choice. Question constantly how you work, if you’re at your full potential, if every skill you have or think you need is absolutely necessary, etcetera. And try lot’s of different stuff.
– But all that is far down the road. It’s not until you’re 10-12 people that you can even see the effects of doing organizational changes.
Did they jury make the right decision? You find all the demos here and our price ceremony here.