For the Product Crunch: Venture Edition, we changed our format and had an interview-style talk instead of a full-on presentation. We opened the evening with an insightful chat with Stephanie Kaiser from Heartbeat Labs.
Stephanie has a long history of building products from scratch and nurturing teams and corporate cultures. She has worked in Europe and Asia and founded two of her own companies. She was VP of Product at Clue before starting Heartbeat Labs, a platform that builds, invests in, and partners with companies in the health-care industry.
Monica: Tell us a bit about who you are and what Heartbeat Labs is.
Stephanie: Well, this event is called Product Crunch and I’m definitely a product person at heart. I started out as a product manager at Jamba! (Jamster). You’ll know it if you remember ringtones like crazy frog. I really liked working there because I learned so much on the job. Later on, I built a learning platform for children at Nickelodeon: think Spongebob and counting for 8-year-olds. I then moved on to help building a games company here in Berlin (for 6 years). In that time we grew from 3 people to 300 — I always say this because it was such a steep learning curve. We made many mistakes and we learnt just as much during that time. After that, I thought, “Ok entertainment is great, but health is even better,” and moved into the healthcare business. I was at Clue for some time — maybe some of you track their cycles — and then started Heartbeat Labs.
Heartbeat Labs is a platform. We call it a platform instead of a company because we do three pillars: we invest in digital health companies, we build them on our own, and we’re open for partnerships with established players and insurers. Also, we are investors and supporters of heal capital, an € 80 Mio fund backed by the German private health insurers that provides capital and market access for technology-enabled healthcare startups.
Monica: Wow, that’s a massive range of experiences and time working in the field. I originally wrote the first question as “what are the three things that make a venture successful”, but changed it last minute to “what are three things you’ve learnt on a personal level.” It turns out you have almost the same answer for both questions:
Stephanie: Yes, it is the same. I obviously learnt a lot more than just 3 things, but these are the three things that came to my mind first.
Number one is focus. Or as Dieter Rams likes to put it: Less, but better. He would say this a lot to his design teams. I tend to do too many things and sometimes not do them quite right — and that rings true for my companies, for my professional life and it is also true for my private life.
Second, I want to hang out with people I like. That’s also true for both my professional and private life. We spend so much time at work, we better enjoy the people who are around us.
Last but not least: Change. Well, I called it “change” but I prefer to call it “I am probably wrong and I better check back.” That again is both true personally and professionally. We’re all product people here, so you know what user-centric is and you have all probably had bad ideas just like me. It is totally fine to have bad ideas, you just need to check back, iterate and improve. Whether you’re building software products or designing your whole life, it’s always good to take a step back and check if what you are focusing on is actually what you want to do. Leave your ego outside the room and be honest with yourself.
Monica: One of the things you forgot on your long list of everything you do is that you advise the German government in their digital council. What does that actually mean?
Stephanie: We’re a group of nine people who work with and advise the Chancellor and the ministers. We’re a very diverse group — some scientists, people from the US and the UK, for some reason many Austrians. Anyway, we were basically thrown together and then we decided on five topics to focus on. See again: focus. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have known where to start.
We work in a hands-on manner and avoid writing papers that nobody reads. For example, we do workshops with state secretaries on new ways of working, failure culture, mindset change — you can imagine that is quite interesting. Two worlds meeting each other. But I admire the open-mindedness that they meet us with.
The five topics we focus on are: entrepreneurship and mindset, I focus on this topic with Ijad Madisch from ResearchGate, Data, Learning, Future of Work and Digital State and E-Government.
We look at some of their concrete digital projects, how they run them and try to help where we can. We really want to do stuff!
Monica: What challenges do designers and the greater product design community need to prepare for?
Stephanie: Be prepared to be hired by them! Seriously. They are currently doing all the work with agencies and they need to build up the competency in-house. We can see this kind of model e.g. in Singapore and the UK where they have built a government-owned company specifically to work with the administration to build solutions. It was run just like a startup: they started as 3 people and have scaled to 300.
Monica: This makes me think of innovation hubs within large corporations. Will that information & knowledge go back into the government or will it just get stuck in that little bubble?
Yes, that is the second goal of this company! — To bring this whole mindset into the government.
In addition, the digital council is only nine people and there’s only so much nine people can change. We’re trying to build a community and coalition of people that want to be a part of this change and there are plenty of them!
It’s important to add that there is so much intrinsic motivation and energy — really be prepared to be hired by them.
Monica: A specific law I wanted to talk to you about is the “Digitale Versorgung” law — Doctors can prescribe digital products and your health insurance with pay for it. Is that right?
Stephanie: Yes, it is actually already in place and has 3 revolutionary aspects. Our minister of health did 20 laws in 20 months. He’s definitely an execution machine.
Not only can a doctor prescribe digital solutions but as a company that builds digital solutions you now only have to go to one place to get into all the health insurance reimbursement schemes at the same time!
That is a revolution! We used to have to work up the hierarchy of every single health insurance company to find someone who can make a decision about reimbursement schemes. As a startup that is just not viable in terms of time and money.
Secondly, health insurances are now allowed to invest in building digital solutions. Up to 2 % of all of their savings. That’s a lot of money. Startups used to say there isn’t enough money around because they don’t have the typical “hockey stick” curve and a clear VC case. Now there will be more money flowing into the system.
The third thing is that telemedicine can now be advertised. All products that facilitate the first contact between doctor and patient through a digital measure are now allowed to be talked about and marketed.
Monica: In your LinkedIn bio you say “Stephanie loves successful products.” What is a successful product for you and what are your current favourites in Berlin?
Stephanie: My straightforward answer is a product that has many users and solves an actual problem. Usually, if a product does solve a real problem, it should have no problem finding many users.
So I narrowed down my choices to digital (products), made in Berlin and not one of the big players like Zalando:
- Ada for healthcare. Looking forward to seeing what happens here.
- Contentful, a headless CMS platform
- … and our next company!
What will that be? What do you think is the next big thing for Heartbeat Labs?
We’re currently looking in a lot of vastly different directions. Of which one is Sleep. I have the Oura ring, a small child and one more on the way, so sleep is a topic I am very interested in since it impacts our health in a very profound way. Be it sleep or other topics in the future, I very much look forward to it.
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