A conversation with:
Ricky Spero

The Science of Success in Medtech

In the rapidly evolving world of healthcare innovation, the clash of technology and entrepreneurship unfurls an exhilarating landscape. Today’s spotlight beams on Ricky Spero, the brains behind Redbud Labs, a leader in the exciting realm of healthcare tech.

Spero, a distinguished physicist and entrepreneur, has spearheaded innovations in biophysics and microfluidics that have revolutionized medical technology. His passion for hardware-software systems and ability to nurture ideas into reality has enhanced the medical tech landscape while fostering an environment of creativity and innovation at Redbud Labs.

Insights on Managing Technical Teams & Fostering Innovation

Today we delve into Ricky's perspective on handling technical teams and fortifying innovation. He sheds light on what it takes to lead a high-tech company in the ever-transforming healthcare technology landscape. The approach to solving technical and organizational problems and the knack to entwine systems engineering concepts with culture and management characterize his leadership style. 

According to Ricky, having clear objectives is paramount in business. A manager's responsibility involves assigning individuals quality roles that fit their personal interests and skills, thereby solving the specific hard problems the organization needs to unravel. "Solving problems—creatively solving problems—that's what innovation entails."

The Role of Creativity in the Innovation Process

Creativity isn't just about coming up with a "cool" idea. It's about starting with an apparent problem and creatively formulating strategies to solve it. The challenge of simplifying and downsizing complex designs in adherence to the company's goals dictates the role of creativity in the innovation process. 

Underlining the importance of a technical-business blend, Ricky mentioned, "It's an interplay between what's possible and the needs of the world. Part of building a successful team is possessing enough diversity in thought and perception to cover this matrix."

On Branding in Healthcare

Continuing our exploration, we steered towards the integral role of branding in healthcare. Redbud Labs, initially known as Riomics, evolved to become a name which reflected the product's simplicity and ease of use—qualities at the core of their brand identity. Ricky advised that sufficient attention should be allocated to controlling the organization's perception for it to be successful.

Storytelling and narratives were also integral to Redbud Lab's brand strategy. Ricky emphasized the need to make customers the hero and to craft well-defined user experiences. Consequently, customers will form associations based on their past and present experiences, thus molding the brand perception.

The Future of Healthcare Tech

As we venture deeper into the 21st century, the prospective advancements in microfluidics and biophysics have the potential to transform healthcare radically. Our conversation ended on an exciting note about the future—the emergence of wholly integrated systems that streamline user's experiences and focus on simplicity. 

In summary, the reshaping of the healthcare industry through technology and entrepreneurship offers an exciting avenue worth exploring. From managing technical teams and fostering innovation to branding and the future of healthcare tech, Ricky Spero's insights provide a thought-provoking peek into this ever-evolving landscape. 

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Jared: Hello, everyone, and welcome to another engaging episode of the med+Design Podcast where we delve into the fascinating world of health care innovation and entrepreneurship. Today, we're honored to have Ricky Spero, a distinguished physicist, entrepreneur, and a leading figure in the realm of medical technology. Ricky, the cofounder and driving force behind Redbud Labs, has pioneered the development of groundbreaking technologies in biophysics and microfluidics. Ricky has been instrumental in simplifying complex sample preparation workflows and making automation accessible to all labs.

With the passion for hardware software systems and a knack for nurturing ideas into reality. Ricky has not only advanced the field of medical technology, but also created a unique Culture of Innovation and Creativity at Redbud Labs. In today's episode, we're excited to explore Ricky's insights on managing technical teams, fostering innovation, the art of branding in health care and a whole bunch more. His perspectives promise to enlighten us on the intricacies of leading a high-tech company in the ever evolving landscape of health care technology. So without further ado, let's dive into this fascinating conversation.

Welcome, Ricky. We're very happy to have you. Pleasure to be here. Yes, indeed. So let's just get started off if you could tell us a little bit about your journey as an innovator and what Redbud Labs is all about and, what you all are working on today and where you hope to take it.

[00:01:13] Ricky: Yeah. So Redbud is a we're a small company in RTP in North Carolina and it's based on a technology we spun out of UNC. So I moved down to North Carolina in two thousand five to do my PhD in physics. And the lab I was in did a bunch of kinda novel instrumentation and, Kinda scientific systems in addition to actual biophysics research. And there was this interesting material that they developed, To study cilia in the lung, those kinda hair like structures that move fluid around in your lung, clear out your lungs, they're used everywhere in biology.

They're the they're very similar to the flagella that propel bacteria and sperm and allow them to swim. So those are their fascinating mechanical structures in biology. And the lab I was in, there was a project. It wasn't mine, but one of the other students was working on this project to develop Artificial cilia. And so it's a material that has the same size and shape, and you can make the material move in interesting ways.

And we ended up commercializing that technology at Redbud. So we after a long and winding road have built a sample prep system. This is for it's a life science tools business. It's a sample prep system, so it gets DNA or RNA out of raw samples. Could be, a swab like you get for a COVID test.

It could be blood, could be urine, any number of other biological samples. And we've got a device that's much smaller, much easier to use than the incumbent platforms out there for doing those same kinds of things. So that's what we do at RedBud. Wonderful.

[00:02:47] Jared: And so talking about fostering, creativity and innovation.

How do you really create an environment that encourages innovation within your team. I know, Trig, we really enjoyed working with you. I wasn't with Trig at that time, but Ty has wonderful things to say about you and your team. And seems like you've already done a very good job of fostering this innovation within your team.

[00:03:06] Ricky: I'm a big believer that a big part of recruiting and retention is that people have to actually like their job.

And, you get that by having people who really enjoy solving the specific hard problem that the organization needs solved. That's what the fit needs to be. And, So innovation itself, it's not a word we use particularly within our own organization, but the way I understand that term, it's basically solving problems. It's creatively solving problems.

And so we you know, you get people that wanna solve a specific kind of hard problem based on their expertise and kinda where they wanna go in their career and what kinds of stuff they find interesting. And then you give them hard problems that are a good match for those interests. And then people start solving problems because that's what they were that's what they wanted to do all along. So I actually we don't again, we don't talk a lot about innovation. That's like the byproduct of recruiting and organizing the group of people in the right way around a well defined problem.

[00:04:12] Jared: Mhmm. And, I had a question also just about, where do you really see the role and maybe Ty jump can jump in on this too. Just, the role of creativity in the innovation process itself. And can you be a great innovator without being creative?

[00:04:26] Ricky: No. I don't think so. It's I think that they're the same thing. There's so creativity there's immaculate creativity.

I'm gonna come up with a new melody for a song. Or I'm gonna draw a picture of something that I just have this vision of. This is what it's gonna look like.

And you get the same thing in business too. There's this product. The way to solve the not even solve the problem. Just wouldn't it be cool if?

That's immaculate creativity where it's just the vision of the thing, and you have to go back and ask yourself, does anyone want that, or is that a good idea, or is it worth my time? Innovation, I think of as the other kind of creativity, which is you start with a problem, and then you're trying to figure out how to solve the problem. And you could solve the problem in stupid and uncreative ways, or you could stall it in creative ways, and the ones that are creative are the ones that typically get labeled as innovative.

And I wanted to drill down on that because you mentioned it's like a well defined problem, and that work that you've done to define the problem seems like that's the biggest area you move the needle because then you're doing, the talent problem fit.

[00:05:32] Ty: They talk about product market fit, but it's almost like the scale of the problem that you're working on and the interesting from a technical standpoint.

But it seems like you're starting with the problem first. Is that kind of how you're approaching that? Or maybe this is a chicken or the egg question too.

[00:05:47] Ricky: It is.

Particularly so we started with a technology. The red button. So we're we are there are and this is very common in life sciences.

It's very common in life science tools. You have a technology spun out of a university, and it was developed in an academic context where fundamentally it was not quite immaculate creativity, probably, but it was probably driven more by science and discovery than it was by a market need. And so there's an interplay between here's what's possible. Here's what I think the technology could do, and then here's what the needs are in the world.

And, typically, individual people are better at drilling down on one then on the other. And so part of putting together a good team is to have enough diversity in that way of looking at the world so that you get both sides of it. There I'm sure there are businesses out there where it kinda doesn't matter what the tools or the technology are, and you can just start with the market problem. This is a good time for me to just put in a dig at the software people and say if you're just writing software, you can just then you just pick a market problem and say we can build whatever we need to build in order to solve the problem. You can't do that in the life sciences typically because you need new technology, and the new technology is hard.

There's real technical risk there, and there's stuff that the technology will be good at and stuff that it won't work for. There's no particular insight in saying you really wanna understand the market problem you're solving. But I think in terms of building teams and motivating teams it's not always the market problem that is the problem that motivates people. Sometimes the problem that motivates people is, man, it'd be really cool if I could just make this widget fifty percent of the size. And maybe for whatever reason and it that could be because that's gonna be transformative for the value of the product, But it could also just be, that's really effing hard to do, and the person who's tasked with that happens to be really interested in that technical problem. That's a totally valid reason to be motivated to work on a problem. The key there is that the managers in the organization are ultimately held accountable for whether the right kinds of problems are being put on the right desks. Mhmm.

So making that thing fifty percent smaller is only worth the organization's effort If it does add value to the product or if it does, ultimately deliver some economic value or some return to the company. But the fact that it lands on someone's desk and that they're really interested in it and they enjoy the job, that's about the manager finding a fit bet between the company's problem and the person's individual interest.

[00:08:15] Ty: Ricky, you're incredibly talented.

You have a extensive education background. You have your PhD in physics. You've got a lot of technical chops, and yet that theory you just described about setting people up with interesting problems and being you yourself, being able to remove yourself from oh, hey. There's this really cool technical problem that I could work on Mhmm.

Versus setting somebody else up with it and giving away the really fun technical problem to solve. That's a level of maturity that I think is unique for somebody that has had the level of, education you've had. Where did that come from?

[00:08:50] Ricky: Ever since we started, Red Bud.

I've always been interested in the in different ways. Of course, when you start, it's two people. There's not a lot of this kind of work to do. But once you cross even just a dozen people there's all these interesting problems about, recruiting and retention and how you have confidence that there's gonna be high quality work going on in your organization when you're not in the room for that work to happen. And I think the reason it lodged itself in my brain as a thing I enjoy thinking about is I've always liked systems.

I've always liked systems engineering. And culture and management of an organization is you can map that pretty well onto systems engineering. It's just that the system that you're designing or developing is the organization. Mhmm. And, of course, It's not technical components that behave the same way every time.

It's people who have, their own lives and priorities. But those are just affordances and constraints in terms of what you can build in the organization, what the organization is gonna be good at. I don't know. That's been an interesting problem for me. So that's one of the things that keeps me engaged.

[00:09:54] Jared: And I guess while we're on the topic, if you could just delving more into your particular leadership style when it comes into managing technical teams. And was this something that developed over time? Sometimes when people think of people that manage technical teams, they think of Elon, and they think of SpaceX, and he rules it with an iron fist. And people aren't even allowed to go get coffee at certain times and stuff like that. I can imagine your leadership style might be a little bit different.

[00:10:16] Ricky: when we formed Red Bud. I was not in the CEO seat, and so I stepped into this seat after a few years. And, actually, this was one of the first things I worried about. I'd read the Steve Jobs biography and a couple others. And, like you say, there's definitely first of all, there's a cult of personality in startups with it in general, I think is problematic.

And I think there's also a lot of assumptions about how you have to behave when you're in a leadership role. But I was really confused by this question. Like, how do you motivate people? I got in the advice really early on that the CEO's job is to set the vision, assemble the team, and motivate the team. And I understood the first two, but the third one was very confusing to me.

And the answer that I landed on after kinda casting around and trying to get different points of view on it was it's really about having clear goals. If the organization has clear goals, if it's as part of setting the vision, if you can say this is where the organization needs to go, and then you can break apart those goals and say, and in order to get there, here are all the kind of subsidiary goals that we need to hit. And then you can match those goals at whatever level of granularity you need to get to the individuals on the team and the individuals on the team like the hard part of achieving that goal, then people are motivated. Then you can just walk away, and people will all stand back to back and go charging down whatever lane they have to in order to make progress. The way we try to run the company at Redbud is to be very clear about goals, we go through a pretty heavy turn on a quarterly basis to try to filter up through the organization.

How did we do on goals? What should the goals be next year? What are you guys worried about? All of you on the team, what are you worried about us not accomplishing the next quarter?

How do we prioritize that? And then also from the top down, kinda working from the company's long term goals and saying, how do we back that down to what we should be doing right now? And finding the mixture of, from the bottom up, what does everyone feel like their hair's on fire and we have to do versus the stuff that if we're gonna get somewhere that we care about, we also have to do. And there's always a balance and attention between those things. And my experience has been if you manage those goals and recruit the team to be motivated by those goals so that you know they'll be motivated by those goals. That's the job.

[00:12:28] Jared: And so seems like your philosophy for, bringing in talent is essentially you've set these goals in place, and you've set the direction. And then now you're gonna match, the people that you bring upon the team based on this direction. And it feels still like hiring is not really a straightforward process. I feel like even, Google, Meta, like, all these mega companies, they still get it wrong. And have you found a way to, bring, this sort of team together that works really well, in alignment, I hate to say synergistically, but, they work just, very well together, and you don't have as many, despondents. I think that's almost impossible to say.

[00:13:03] Ricky: You'd have to ask them if they I hope not.

No. I Look the answer is no. I don't think that there's a magic formula. I don't think there's an algorithm for hiring well.

I do think that, that some of the basic advice, and some of this comes from Google HR. I know they've done a ton of research on this, and they say you ask everybody the same question. So you have a script that you move people through. You don't go based on gut. You don't go based on instinct. You try to have measurable criteria. You don't do these stupid challenge questions where you're just trying to make your own self feel smart. The fundamentals like, there's plenty of content out there, and we try to follow those rules.

What I say to my team is that when we're interviewing, I think it's important to have that structure, and it's also important to use that structure as the jumping off point for all the follow-up questions. So you can ask the question. You're going down through your formal questionnaire in the interview, but you get to a question, and there's some real truth that you're trying to get at underneath that question. That question is there for a reason, and so you use it to start a conversation where you're trying to get to a more fundamental answer. And the fundamental answer has to do with the things that you're ultimately going to evaluate candidates on.

We could spend a lot of time on this, but broadly speaking, we break the things that we evaluate on into technical fit and cultural fit. So very quickly, cultural fit is how well do you work with other people, and technical fit is how well will you do at this job yourself as an individual. And technical fit has inside of a domain expertise, which is all the book learning. It's all the stuff you prove in your resume. It's pretty much, it should be pretty obvious whether someone is a good domain expert in the thing that pretty easy to evaluate. There's commitment to craft, which is a little trickier to evaluate, but it's do people really enjoy turning the crank for whatever job you're gonna hire them for? And then there's ambition is the other part of technical fit. Do they want to go where this role is going to get them? Or can this role get them where they want to go?

Or are they how aligned are those? There are two vectors. And the question is, how what's the magnitude of the company's growth vector and the employees' growth desire, that's the magnitude piece, but there's also the direction piece. If they're misaligned, it doesn't matter what the magnitudes are.

People won't be happy. And then cultural fit is about values, and we've got four. I know some people have a long list. The key thing about values, people come up with crazy values like shareholder return. I don't understand how that's a value.

To me, a value it is a valid basis. It is a characteristic of the employee It is a valid basis for evaluation for hiring, firing, and evaluation. So it's a quality of the employee. So integrity is a value.

It's something that we value in individuals. We will make a hiring, firing, performance Decision based on that property of the employee. And you pick them such that if the people in the organization all share the same values, they will work together better.

[00:15:53] Jared: And, talking about values, you're also getting into a little bit of the brand side of things as well, which is also what we wanna talk to you a little bit about. What were the key elements that, you focused on in developing the Redbud Labs brand and what makes a great brand in your eyes just in general?

[00:16:07] Ricky: You guys have thought about this a lot more than I have. And Ty, I learned a lot of what I know about brands from you. So my understanding of branding is pretty rudimentary, I think. But my understanding of it is the way I've always heard it explained that makes sense to me is it is the associations someone has with a thing. And at Redbud, it's changed as the company's focus has changed or as our product offering has changed.

The evergreen ones for us simplicity has always been a big part of the story of the product value. And so we want people to associate simplicity, ease of use. Those are pretty timeless. You always want a product to be simple or easy to use in at least in the context of whatever customer segment you're in, even for a highly technical product.

And there are some other details around that we've thought about, things that we want people to associate with Redbud over the years.

[00:16:58] Jared: And, what would that be? I know also that Redbud Labs wasn't always Redbud Labs. You had a different name before, and you switched it up at some point. And so what's the decision behind that of Yeah.

Yeah. We need to kinda move in a different direction there.

[00:17:10] Ricky: Yeah. So like I said, we started as we were spinning out of technology. And I think at the beginning, we assumed that we were gonna be licensing that technology that really the company would be visible.

The name of the company was a cool name. It was Riomics which is for anyone that Is interested in, what's the word, etymology? Rio is Rio as in flow, r h e o, And omics as in multi parameter studying or studies. So it was a great descriptive name of what our technology does. It induces flow.

It creates microfluidic mixing. We have an agitation technology essentially at the microscale. So it's a great description of what the technology does. And for a licensing play, that name makes a lot of sense. You wanna go to a conference and, have someone remember the name of your company.

It doesn't work quite as well. And again, it comes back to what are the associations that you want people to have. And when we when it became clear that we were gonna there was gonna be some shoe leather in this business that we're gonna be going out and, showing up at conferences and hand out brochures and stuff that we wanted something that was easier to remember and that was that was more memorable as a it's more of a evocative name. Redbud is a tree.

And so it's a little bit more of a blank canvas that we can paint on our product offering and kind of the value that we wanna deliver.

[00:18:26] Jared: Yeah. And I guess also, like, how much does, storytelling and narrative go into your brand strategy. This is something that actually on our one of our recent episodes with the Health Wildcatters CEO doctor Hubert Zajicek, they go really into being able to essentially pitch your company very interestingly, very quickly because people, they're not gonna listen to you for very long. If you're gonna talk about your company, you have a few seconds. And if didn't catch their interest, you're they're out, especially in this day and age. And so does storytelling come into the Redbud Labs side of things as well, or is that something that you're still developing?

[00:18:59] Ricky: You know, it's a great question so I'm not a particularly good storyteller.

And I'm not sure storytelling has been a big part of what we've done it's you know, storytelling is super important certainly with anyone that you interact with over time. So the common trope in startups is that your relationship with investors has to have a very clear story, and that word gets used explicitly in a relationship between an investor and a company. And so it's like, what dots on the line? What kind of plot beats am I putting in front of investors?

I met them this first time at, coffee, and then what happened over a sequence of five years when they were deciding whether they were gonna engage in any serious way, and the story that they build up over time is really important. Tangentially, that's brand. It's the brand between the company and the investor. But in terms of core communication activity, it's not something that we talk a lot about, at Redbud, but we have talked about it. One of the most interesting ones, is we've talked about podcasting, actually.

And the best way you know, the way that's interesting in a business like ours is you take your customers and you make them the hero. So you find the key opinion leaders, the KOLs in your space that you're selling into, and you create stories about them. And, in detail, sure, one of the reasons that they're able to, go slay the dragon is that we sold them the sword, but the story is really about them and about their journey.

And so it that may make sense. We've muttered about whether that's a direction we should go.

[00:20:23] Ty: I have to challenge that because, Ricky, the stories you give us in terms of a creative brief are hands down some of the best we've seen as an industrial design shop. In terms of, and they think I've got the stage sitting behind me here, which the creative brief you gave us for that is it needs to feel like it's an animal leaping off the lab, and you look at it, and you're not quite sure why, but it makes you happy.

Creative prompts as a story of the product, you're so good at creating those or like the packaging brief was like picking up a puppy out of a box at Christmas. That story was fun to be able to try to tell through the packaging project. And each one of our engagements, the story of the product Comes through so clearly with the vision you try to set for it that we just have so much fun trying to fill in the gaps and tell the completeness of that story.

[00:21:13] Ricky: So I don't know. You're you're brilliant at it, I would say.

No. That's very kind. The I'll, No. I'll allow that. That is but I don't think that is storytelling exactly, but I understand where you're coming at from.

I do think user experience has again, I don't normally think about it in terms of a story, but, of course, you're right. That's exactly what it is. The user's experience, the user's journey through a product from the first time they hear about you at a conference to when they're the they've bought the product, and it's broken, and they're trying to get it serviced. Like, all of that is a story, and we're responsible for their experience from end to end, and we can decide where we wanna invest our time and our energy to, as a small company with limited resources, are we gonna focus on the discovery part of that story, when they first hear about us, are we gonna focus on the service part of that story when they're pissed off at us? Are we gonna focus on something else in the middle?

[00:22:06] Ricky: The unboxing is always a good part of that story to focus on yeah. No. That's fair. I'll take it.

[00:22:11] Jared: Another piece that I wanna talk about as well, which Ty's brought up before is the unbranded brand in health care.

How do you perceive this trend in health care of, companies not really actively branding themselves? And do you think it's because they're focusing most of their budget on product, or

is it and, obviously,

branding and marketing budget, Kinda gets off to the side and oh, no. Now we oh, maybe we do have to get a brand together. Let's whip something up, and all of a sudden, it's, not cohesive. And maybe they're just like, okay.

We'll just stay on branded after all that.

[00:22:39] Ricky: Yeah. I so I'm sure you guys see it in your client base. It's not something that I have a ton of direct access to in terms of what other companies do. I will say for us, we don't talk a lot about our brand internally.

That's not a conversation we frequently have. But, again, I'm a simpleton. Branding to me is just it is the mechanism that you use. Branding like the gerund, like the thing you do in an organization it's the mechanism that you use, to control perception of the organization. And people will have a perception of your organization.

The only alternative is that they don't know who you are, which is obviously a problem. As soon as people know who you are, they have a perception. And, presumably, we have an opinion about what that perception should be or what we want it to be. And so the question is simply, what do we want it to be, and what are the right investments for us to make in order to get as close to the outcome we want as possible? And so that might be putting a, signature block with a logo underneath our emails.

We don't do that, but you could do that. That could be one of the things that we pay attention to. It could be spending a lot of time on your website. It could be like picking the colors on the housing for our instrument. It could be the unboxing experience of the instrument.

It could be all of our marketing or conference materials. And depending on what our organizations' goals are in any given quarter or year. That's how we make the decision is what is the thing we need to control right now in order to be successful. Again, we don't talk about it as branding, we don't have I'm not an expert in branding. I don't typically think about it in those terms.

And, really, none of the other folks inside of the building are experts in branding. If we really have a question about Branding, we go ask you, Ty. But, yeah, we think about it in terms of what investment should we be making to control perception so that we will be successful based on our organization's goals? I'll just add to that.

And you talked about the blank canvas that Redbud gave you in terms of a name as a species of tree. And so you think about your brand identity as a blank folder. And so the brand equity you build up is a series of promises made and promises kept. Yeah. And that's exactly what you're doing with we're choosing where to focus, what promises to make that you can conceivably deliver that adds value for your customer base, the sword they can go slay the dragon with, what painkillers to help with, big pains that they have, what aspirations you're trying to make come true for them, and then all that consistency of that helps to then keep a clear memory of promises made, promises kept so that you go beyond just a single product, go into a series of products.

[00:25:27] Ty: And so that's where the company brand and product brand need to be two separate things to allow for that continuity of promises made and promises kept and that trust you build up over time.

[00:25:36] Ricky: So yeah. Absolutely. I like that a lot. I think that phrasing about promises made and kept also makes it clear that if you invest in branding in a place that is not relevant to your organization's goals, what you are doing is making a promise that you will not ultimately keep right.

Because it's not what you wanna go do. And you can imagine coming up with a look and feel for your products that if it's not core to what you need to accomplish, the look and feel is isn't certain way. It's gonna change because your organization will have other goals. And at some point, someone's gonna say we gotta, meet our goal this quarter. Take that panel off of the box.

And now you've destroyed all the work that you've gone and done and you end up breaking the promise. So no. I like that a lot. And the key is to make sure you know what the organization's goals are because those should be durable. The operational reality of this is the direction we have to go. That can't be changing all the time. And that needs to link up with those investments you're making in terms of people's understanding of who you are.

[00:26:37] Ty: I just have inextricably linked strategy and brand and your kinda overall outward facing have to be tightly linked together so that there is

[00:26:44] Ricky: Yep.

[00:26:45] Ty: Like that.

[00:26:46] Jared: So we've got promises made, promises kept, but who are these promises to? It's the customer at the end of the day. And, talking about, customer experience, how do you gather and incorporate customer feedback into your product development itself, and How much weight really does customer feedback carry when developing, a product? And how much weight really does customer feedback carry when developing a product?

And also, then from there, are there instances where customer feedback becomes secondary because you have a manufacturing capability or a technology limitation or there's probably a whole bunch of different factors that come into just the cut what you do with your customer feedback that you receive?

[00:27:27] Ricky: Yeah. So how do we gather customer feedback? So we you we ask a lot of questions. You have to have specific users in mind.

So you the first thing is you have to get in the room with them. And depending on the product and the market, sometimes that can be tricky. The best advice I ever got on this is do not ask about the future. Ask about the past and the present.

And I go back to that advice a lot. If you ask someone what they're doing now, if you ask them what they've tried in the past, and then you ask, you know what did you like about that? What did you not like about that? What was hard about that thing you were doing or that you are doing now? People should have clear answers, and they should be correct.

You can trust that they are correct because that's what they know. If you ask them about the future, all kinds of weird stuff can happen. Sometimes, they maybe they're telling you what they think you wanna hear because people do that. Sometimes people just think that they know the right answer, and they wanna tell you because they've been thinking about it, and they have their own ideas about what should happen in the future.

But you always get weird answers if you ask people about the future. My view is it's our responsibility to ask enough questions about people's present and past that we understand them well enough that we can combine that with all the other stuff we know and that we can do to come up with a great answer about what their future should look like. And there's this weird space that you have to accept between the time that you say, okay. I understand your deal. What you're doing now and what you tried before and all the reasons that was hard, now I'm gonna go off in a darkroom and do something crazy. And then I'm gonna come back and say, here's what we did. And you have first of all, you have to be prepared that someone might say, that doesn't make any sense at all to me. There is a gap in there, and you don't necessarily get feedback during that time.

But at some point, you have to come back and say, how about this? The whole lean startup idea of design, build, test with your customers. I think people can get confused by thinking that all of it has to happen in the customer's view, and I don't think that's true. The design step is its own step, and it happens in a different room. What the lean part is you wanna make that cycle as fast as possible.

So you don't wanna go off in a dark room for three years and never talk to anybody again and then come up back and say, here's my masterpiece. Because if you built the wrong thing, you're screwed. So you wanna make the cycles fast, but we're responsible for envisioning the future and building whatever the thing is that's missing. And then we need to be open to the possibility that we built the wrong thing or that we're not there yet.

[00:30:10] Ty: Ricky, have you also read The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick?

[00:30:13] Ricky: No. I feel like you could have written several chapters in his book by what you described. But

[00:30:19] Ty: the premise of the book is that and to Randy's question in the comments about How do you steer a customer conversation? I think that book, The Mom Test, is a great kinda handbook for that. What you just described of if you and the reason why it's the mom test is if you go to your mother and say, Mom, I'm developing a cooking app for you. What do you think about it?

She will lie to you. Because she doesn't wanna hurt your feelings, and just like it's also future focused. And so you're more kind, like, all kinds of weird stuff happened. He says customers will flat out lie to you if you're asking them to project the future.

Rather, you're asking them to tell about past behaviors and how they've spent money to solve this problem in the past. You have a pretty good idea of what their level of willingness to adopt your solution. Anyway, that's a great book for that kind of discussion. It's a fast read too.

[00:31:07] Ricky: Yeah. And the I wanna I'm trying to think I'm pretty sure that phrase, ask about the past and the present, not the future. Forget his name. So maybe we can look it up and put it in the notes. But the videos, these are from years ago. The s eries of videos was I think it was called customer dev labs.

It was like how to do customer discovery. And so we I'll find them, and we can get it in the show notes. But I wanna give him credit because that line is not mine. Okay.

[00:31:31] Jared: And, also, just staying on the customer experience side of things, wanting to delve into balancing technical expertise, but with also user friendliness.

And this is interesting. Like, how do you really ensure, your products are user friendly while maintaining technical sophistication? What challenges do you face in making complex technology accessible to nonexperts. And also just, why is it often the case that the simple designs are often the best ones that people connect with? I think that's a really fascinating trend that we've seen.

And, also, Ty, if you have any answers for those later too.

[00:32:03] Ricky: Yeah. So let me start with the first one, which is just making user friendly technical products. And so this is a big issue for our product. Because we're in a highly technical field, highly technical users and people wanna understand what the product is doing but people are also still human beings and fundamentally don't wanna be bothered.

The way I think we if I think back through our process in getting our product design, I think the key was in always keeping user requirements separate from Implementation. The customer is always right about their requirements. And you should always be skeptical of the customer's suggested implementation To meet their requirements. And so if you ask someone a question, like, Why was that hard?

Or what else have you tried? Or what kind of stuff do you guys talk about wanting to see to solve this problem? And they give you some answer. You can ignore the part where they say this is how I would implement it. You can't ignore but you just kinda wanna file it away in a drawer.

And the question is, what is their actual problem? What is their actual requirement or their need? And then in the design conversation, you crack open the door and say, what are all the ways I can solve this problem? So I'll give you one concrete example. In our product, sample prep.

So you put a certain amount of juice in. It could be like, say, a nasal swab. You wash that swab off in a buffer.

So you take that buffer. You combine it with another buffer, and you put it on our microfluidic cartridge. People depending on what they're trying to do, might want to put in different amounts of that starting sample. Because the more sample you put in, the more DNA or RNA you can get out.

So it depends on the application. And if you ask people, how much do you wanna put in? They'll say I wanna put in a hundred microliters, but sometimes it would be nice if I could put in two hundred. It'd be really nice to have the menu to make that selection. In a separate conversation, you can say to people, how much time do you been poking around on the menus of your current instruments before you start the run.

And they'll tell you, oh, it's five minutes. I gotta poke around, set the volume for this thing, and I gotta, pick the kit for that thing. And so those user requirements actually conflict with one another. You have people doing all this stupid work on the one hand, but then they also want the knob. So the way we solve that is we said, look.

We're not gonna put the knob on the instrument. You're gonna make that decision when you buy the cartridge. So we might sell you exactly the same piece of plastic, but the QR code on the piece of plastic is gonna be different, and it's gonna tell the instrument this one takes a hundred microliters, and this one takes two hundred microliters. And then you have to sit there and say, is that a problem for my customer? Now I've changed the place where they make the decision about what volume they're going to run.

And it could be that they buy a whole bunch of hundred microliter cartridges, and they say, oh, yeah. I wanted to do two hundred this week, then they gotta go buy new ones. Is that a problem? And you can balance that user risk or that experience risk against the experience risk of having to spend the time setting the dial. And we decided we're gonna force them to make that decision when they buy the cartridge.

And I will tell you that's been a great outcome. Everyone we talked to said, oh, it'd be nice if I could change the volume. And when it actually comes time to run the cartridge. When we go out and do a demo, the experience people have is they take the cartridge, they put it in the instrument. The instrument says, cartridge inserted.

This is the extraction you're about to run and there's one button on the instrument. There's a screen, but it's not even a touch screen. There's one button, and it's go. And so they look at it. There's only one thing you can do.

So they push the button and the instrument starts, and they look at it and they say, Is that it? And that's great. That is what we're going for. And you can only get there If you are willing to ignore their request for the feature and instead focus on the requirement.

That reminds me. I was actually just rewatching Steve Jobs' launch speech about the iPhone. And so he goes through and hey, guys. We're launching a new phone, a Internet communicator device. And whatever else the whole thing was, touchscreen display. And he then it merges into one product.

[00:36:18] Ty: That's, on the icon level. And then he goes, okay. Now we're gonna show it to you, and it's this like, Microsoft, too many features wheeled, went everywhere, and they just went crazy with it. And it brought the house down because everybody knows that brand is for simplicity.

And so then show the actual iPhone experience and if everybody oohs in ahs, and it's, one of the most successful product launches ever. And that comes down to that editorial judgment and saying no to customers Yeah. Where it's appropriate so that you're serving the best interest of the customer so they have a delightful experience, which that curation,

I think, is the real design, isn't it?

[00:36:57] Ricky: I agree with you. I think.

And you know it's a real decision, an editorial decision Mhmm. When there's a cost. So what I think people it's now easy to forget about the iPhone as an example is the cost was that there was no physical keyboard. Every review I remember reading of that product when it came out. I suspect every review that got written from the first batch of reviews that came out.

Everyone said it doesn't have physical keyboard, and that makes it worse than the Blackberry for email. Wow. But there was a cost to that decision. Every reviewer mentioned it, and yet.

It was so obvious that cost was worth it in order to get the rest of the experience. And it's also obvious in that same product launch, my favorite moment is the one where he shows the phones, the existing smartphones with the tops cut off. He's what's the problem? The problem is really the bottom half of all of these products.

Are these physical keyboards? Because you have all these physical buttons that you can't go ship a new button if you think of a new interesting feature. You can't ship that later. The only way you can do that is if it's in software. And so it was clear that was the trade off.

They actively said, we're gonna bear this cost in order to have this functionality. And I think if you feel that pain in the Design conversation, you're on to the right kind of decision. Doesn't tell you what the right decision is but it means that it's It is a an important decision, and you don't want to try to keep one foot in each canoe. You have to pick. Mhmm.

[00:38:37] Jared: And so I know we're, ten minutes left ish, and we I want definitely still wanted to talk to you about, hiring and, design team management hiring for, essentially how you know, hiring Trig, when you did. And, what did you look for and, a design firm when hiring for specialized projects, so like you have done in the past. And, how'd you assess a firm's potential for novel innovation and adaptability. And then also to you, what's your approach to integrating contractors into your existing team culture during the project because I feel like there can be also culture clash with there.

And do you keep a line of distance between the contractor firms to avoid that? And then also maybe just getting into also how did Trig and Redbud Labs even work together in the past? I'm sure we've alluded to it, and people are probably a little bit curious about how that has gone?

[00:39:23] Ty: Wasn't it like sitting down at a coffee shop and sharing some sketches?

[00:39:26] Ricky: Yeah. I will say the way, So the way that you sold me, Ty, the first time we sat down together is we had an idea for, crazy thing that we might go build. And we were sitting at a coffee shop, and I was describing the thing that we might build. And as we were sitting there talking, you pulled out a piece of paper and started drawing the thing that I was imagining. And, the answer, I think, Jared, to your question is We don't really have a different process for selecting contractors than we do for hiring employees. I think the same questions about domain expertise and commitment to craft and ambition are relevant for the contractor as an organization.

You can roll them up as an employee and say what I'm hiring is a thing that has this domain expertise, has this level of commitment to a certain kind of craft, and wants to accomplish as an organization, an independent thing wants to accomplish a certain set of things. It has its own ambition. And you can ask the same cultural questions too. And I think, in the same way that it would be a little bit insane to hire an employee and have them have multiple managers and have them have multiple people, who set their compensation and all these other things. You need to have one point of contact.

So in our organization, any contractor, there's one point of contact on our side. We expect one point of contact on the other side, sometimes you can split those into, technical and business so we pretty much map it onto the employ the manager and employee relationship and manage it that way. But, I think the one that I always zero in on, and this is as true with employees as it is with contractors, is commitment to craft. And so the other Trig story, this is the moment in time, Ty, where you taught me a whole graduate course In industrial design in two sentences.

The so we got to this really we were doing all these wireframe sketches for that stage behind you. And there you go. Yep. And the so we had I forget. There were probably forty of different pencil sketches.

And the great thing about pencil sketches is you guys would bang them out really fast. And so we got a whole bunch of different concepts, and the bad thing about that is then you have to choose. It's do I take the head of this thing and glue it onto that thing and you start talking? You start trying to argue your way into different roots aesthetically. What's the correct aesthetic decision?

What do I like? What do I not like? What is someone else gonna or not like? And we were going around this tree over and over again. And at a break in the conversation, Ty, the question you asked is, what are the business's goals?

What is consistent with who you wanna be and what you're trying to do? What is the thing your business needs? And we flipped through the deck again, and it was like, that one does the job. This thing accomplishes what the business needs. If I think about what needs to happen when this product is gonna get in someone's hands, that's gonna do what we need it to do.

I don't even remember exactly why in, thinking back to that project, but I remember that was the reaction. And It made the decision almost instantaneous. It was obvious when you framed the question that way. And so that really is in my mind about commitment to craft. It's not about what people necessarily know or learn from a book or, you know, how much time they spend thinking about it. It's how much do people want to actually be in the room banging their head against the problem. And if you find people to work with who are excited about your hardest problem then things tend to go pretty well. That's awesome. I have no memory of that moment, but that sounds pretty good.

That's just because that's just like a Tuesday for you. That's just what you do, Ty.

[00:42:59] Ty: I'm glad that was helpful. I remember going through and having that a lot of those discussions, it was a fun exploration to get to something that we're proud of, and we're also really proud of the collaboration. It's always a lot of fun.

And, working on interesting, fun, hard problems together is, what makes a great working relationship.

[00:43:15] Ricky: So Yeah. And life is too long and too short Yes. To work on boring problems or to work with people that are no fun to work with.

[00:43:25] Jared: Yeah.

And, similar that's a Tuesday for a tie. That's a Friday afternoon before he's gonna go work with his kids. It's all those creative genius moments. It's crazy to see how it happens with him. And I know, we're getting real close to the end, and I think this last question, I wish we had more time for it.

But, just looking into the future, what do you really envision as the most groundbreaking and exciting development in biophysics in microfluidics that could revolutionize health care. All kinds of weird things happen when you ask about the future too. I know. Here we go.

Now we unlock the can of worms.

[00:43:54] Ricky: This is when you get all the motivated answers. Most interesting things are going to be the product we're about to ship. No.

The, So the answer I wanna give is a pretty deep cut on microfluidics, but I'll spare everyone the technical diversion. I will say, it has been in the tools business, in life science tools business. It's pretty interesting to see how much pressure there is on integrated systems, turnkey systems. I assume that this is a bit of a pendulum in an industry where the technology is still very much in flux. There are new technologies, new methods, new fundamental questions in biology, in life sciences, in therapeutics diagnostics that are not answered.

And so there's still a lot of new stuff coming down the pipe. When new stuff comes out, people just use the tools in whatever shape they're in because there's too much of an opportunity to sit around and wait. So you look at some of the really noisy stuff out there the mRNA vaccines and CRISPR as an editing technology and some of the new sequencing platforms. People are going to climb over all of the difficulty in using the product in order to get the thing that's new and that's appropriate. But there are also segments within life sciences and within tools that have matured.

And I think, after COVID, PCR is a big one. Even sequencing is now moving into a place where people really want sequencing is something that you now just buy. People understand. This is what I can get out of it. Unless you're doing something really specialized, you can kinda just go out and buy.

You can do it you can get it as a service. You can buy the tools and do it yourself. Creating a more turnkey workflow is really important. Of course, it's a question about future, and so I gave you a motivated answer because that's something that we see ourselves as very involved in is taking pipetting steps out, taking the thinking out of the assay, and just giving people the tool to push a button and get the answer out. So we're a part of that analytic chain.

We think there's really exciting stuff throughout the analytic chain to tighten that up, smooth it up, make it easier, make it more reliable, reduce the amount of training you need, reduce the amount of support and maintenance and all that. I think in this is a period of time where I think there's a lot of that change going on, and products that make it super easy, I think you're gonna have a pretty good decade, which is forward to that.

[00:46:03] Ty: Yeah. Which is analogous to, say, the computer industry early on, you just It was just about processor speed and big ugly gray boxes. And then, Apple came along and said we're gonna do things differently.

[00:46:14] Ricky: And I think you got a similar position at least as you're approaching the market. Yeah. I think that's right. And, I think in, again, in the computer industry, That pendulum swings back and forth too. People are willing to stomach a lot of inconvenience in using LLMs right now, because it's new, and it's gonna do some pretty interesting stuff.

And it'll take a decade before that settles out and, the open source tools are perfectly reliable, and all the cloud services are perfectly reliable. And then people are gonna say, okay. How do I make it Really easy and integrated in different ways.

[00:46:47] Jared: And just I guess before we go, how does somebody engage with you or Redbud Labs if they wanna start a working engagement together.

[00:46:54] Ricky: Yeah. I'm pretty accessible. LinkedIn is a pretty easy place to find me.

I'm not super responsive there, but I am there if you need to get a hold of me, and I do eventually see the stuff that comes through. But, Yeah. You can reach out to Redbud through our website. We've got plenty of access there, and we're pretty responsive. . Wonderful.

[00:47:12] Jared: Thank you for your time, Ricky. Thank you for everything that you're doing. Really excited to see where Redbud goes in the next ten years.

Yeah. I can't wait for it. So yeah. Thanks. And also have a great holiday season.

[00:47:20] Ricky: Yeah. Likewise. Thanks for having me.

This was fun. No. Thanks so much.