Cogent Conversations: Episode 13
Episode 13: Oculo
“Health care technologies are amazing. We’re on the cusp of AI, precision medicine, genetics, targeted therapies yet at the same time communication is so antiquated. We want to create connectedness that breaks down data silos so that patients get the right care, no matter where they are, no matter from whom they’re receiving that care. Plus the system as a whole gets the data to learn to become more efficient and high quality. Our aim is for Oculo to be the glue for all of that”
– Kate Taylor, Oculo
The stories that inspired the creation of many of the businesses that we work with are pretty amazing, and we think the stories of Oculo and its founder and CEO, Dr Kate Taylor, are right up there with the best of them.
Kate trained as a surgeon but discovered she had an allergy to surgical gloves. Kate went to McKinsey and then joined the WEF, where she founded the Global Heath Initiative. She eventually found herself having a conversation with a Professor of Ophthalmology, wondering how their profession could do such a good job at using technology for diagnoses and management, but still rely upon letters and faxes for correspondence.
Today Oculo is a Melbourne-based startup that is having a positive impact on improving patient outcomes, both locally and internationally.
We love the energy that Kate brings to her organisation and the vision she has for creating positive change.
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Meet the host: Adam Murray
Adam has led digital business, consulted to start-ups and corporates, run co-working spaces, and created his own podcast. Currently, he’s a Product Manager at Cogent, helping organisations verify their venture ideas and enable them to evolve their culture (but just quietly, the thing he loves most is coaching his son’s team of aspiring under-10 footballers).
Full Episode Transcript
Adam Murray: This is the Cogent Conversations podcast made by the people at Cogent. Cogent conversations is about understanding all the things that go into making a digital business thrive. Helping create these types of organisations is what we love doing best. We also want you to have the opportunity to take the learnings from the best of what Melbourne has to offer so you can apply them to your own business. To learn more about Cogent, check us out at cogent.co
Kate Taylor: I had a two-year-old and one-year-old, and so I didn’t need a baby company as well, but actually it’s a great time. And being a CEO, being a new mother, you’re so creative all the time. You’re drawing, you’re imagining, you’re explaining, you’re talking and you’re used to temper tantrums. And so it was perfect.
Adam Murray: Hello, it’s Adam Murray here, and welcome to this episode of Cogent Conversations. This season of the podcast is all about impact, about the positive change that digital businesses can make to the world around us. There’s something that we can all get behind that idea of improving the world. And uncovering the opportunities for doing this can be harder than we might expect, and the paths to them more divergent than is typically expected.
Adam Murray: With the organisation we are talking with this week, the founder’s journey included training to be a surgeon, discovering an allergy that prevented them from continuing in that career and eventually having a roaming conversation with the professor, querying why the industry does such a great job at using technology for diagnosis and management, but still relied upon letters and faxes for correspondence. The organisation we are speaking with is Oculo, and we chatted with the person who has had this fascinating journey, Oculo CEO and founder, Kate Taylor. Kate, it’s great to be sitting here with you on a Friday afternoon.
Kate Taylor: Adam, it’s always nice to see you.
Adam Murray: You’ve just done some Christmas shopping, I see?
Kate Taylor: It’s been a busy time. It is hard work being a working mother, let alone a CEO and founder, so any moments you can grab along the way for multitasking, you do.
Adam Murray: Wow. That gives us a lot to talk about already, I think. Talk about how you manage all that. You say you’re a founder, you’re a CEO, you’re a mother. How’s that going?
Kate Taylor: I’m tired. No, it’s the best thing ever. Where to start? Having kids is the best thing in my life. Nothing is ever perfect. The best I can do is try and optimise. People talk about having work life balance; I think it’s crap. I think you’re always somewhat out of balance, but the goal is to do it strategically. And so I focus where things need, and I have a pretty firm and fast rule that I don’t talk to anyone between half past five and half past eight at night. But as Oculo, our company, is kind of going global, that means the trade-off is I’ve got phone calls from 7:30 or eight o’clock in the morning and then I start my UK phone calls at 8:30 at night.
Kate Taylor: And so I have a lot of help from my friends. I have a massively wonderful husband and I have a great team. And so we’re all pulling together to try and make it possible. And I’ve really nice kids who are pretty understanding for a nearly six year old and just seven year old. And I guess the bottom line is I love what I do. And so it doesn’t matter how tired you are, you just do things that are worthwhile.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Do you have routines or rituals that help you manage all of that as well?
Kate Taylor: I try and ride my bike to work a couple of times a week, then that’s my me time. I think strict routines around the kids just help everybody know what’s happening. And so even in terms of just scheduling flights, because we’ve started to work in the US, so I try and always take the same flight so that as I leave everyone’s sitting down to dinner and they know exactly where the routine goes. So, sort of dumb stuff like that. And then in the office, I think probably less routine based because things change week on week, but looking to improve that probably is a goal for 2020.
Adam Murray: Yeah. So you’ve got a little bit of an unusual journey to being founder and CEO, I imagine. I’d be really interested; can you share that story with us?
Kate Taylor: Yeah. Well, I started life training to be an ophthalmologist, an eye doctor. That was a fairly unoriginal choice because both of my parents are doctors and my father is an ophthalmologist and his forebears were ophthalmologists. My siblings are much more creative; they did different things, but I didn’t. And so, I was trying to be an eye doctor and then I had a bit of a problem, which is I became allergic to latex, to surgical gloves, which was sort of fundamentally incompatible with a surgical career. And we got to the point where the anaesthetists were like, “We’re kind of sick of resuscitating you, lady.” And so, I took that as career guidance from God and thought, “Well, I’d better find something else to do.” And I really didn’t know what else to do. And somebody said to me, “Well, you should apply to McKinsey because they’ll take anyone.” And so, I did apply to McKinsey, the management consultancy, and they gave me a job, which was very, very, very appreciated.
Kate Taylor: And they taught me all sorts of really useful things that doctors don’t know, like how to balance a chequebook and how to write a business plan and so on and so forth. And looking at the world through a business system – what are the drivers of how things work – was great. And I had already done a master’s in public health, so I had that systems passion, but it was a totally different take on it. But I was missing help. And so I then went and worked at the world economic forum where I founded the global health initiative, which was sort of looking at what should the business response be to AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. And so that was really bringing together these very diverse coalitions for a public health goal, but with a business mindset.
Kate Taylor: And I did that in a couple of other places, most recently at GlaxoSmithKline biologicals, which is the vaccine division of Glaxo. And that was based in Brussels. But when I came back to Australia, I was doing some consulting. I was sitting on some boards, I was doing stuff and I had a cup of tea with the professor of ophthalmology, whose name is Jonathan Crowston. And Jonathan said to me, “Look, you know, it’s so dumb. We have all this beautiful digital technology for diagnosis and management in medicine and particularly in ophthalmology, but we correspond by letter and by fax. Surely we could do something that’s better than a letter.” And so, we sort of started talking about this and started playing with the idea and it turned into Oculo.
Kate Taylor: And it was not exactly what I had planned in any way. I had a two-year-old and a one-year-old, and so I didn’t need a baby company as well. But actually it’s a great time. And being a CEO, you’re so creative and being a new mother, you’re so creative all the time. You’re drawing, you’re imagining, you’re explaining, you’re talking and you’re used to temper tantrums. And so it was perfect, so that was sort of how Oculo came together. It’s been a heck of a journey because I’ve never been a CEO, I’ve never had a technology exposure, I’ve never run a technology company. I had to be taught about Agile and that’s just been part of the journey, too.
Adam Murray: Yeah. From your background of training as a surgeon then McKinsey, what are some of the things that have translated really well?
Kate Taylor: First and foremost, the sense of service. In Cogent and in technology you talk about being customer centric. And for Oculo, as a health technology company, it’s about being patient centric and this absolute commitment to patient safety, privacy, which links to data security and all of those disciplines as a guiding principle. So we would never compromise anything around the patient. And so that sense of service is really … compassionate about that service has continued. And similarly, from public health, that sense of how do you make a difference to a health system and the challenges for health systems, are so much, are at scale around affordability and sustainability and quality. And so that absolutely infuses what we do with Oculo. But then the McKinsey obviously is all of both the structuring and the thinking of how do you tackle a problem, how do you divide things into three buckets and then take them apart as well as obviously the numeracy, that’s cross cutting across those disciplines.
Kate Taylor: And I think the confidence to be able to engage on finance. And then from the work I was doing with the world economic forum on governance, I sat on a number of global health boards and so the disciplines around governance, which are easy to get tangled in, potentially, are also really good.
Adam Murray: Yeah, and so you mentioned then some of the things that you had to learn along the way, like Agile and that kind of stuff, that has been the big surprise about the journey of like, “Oh yeah, I better pick that up.”
Kate Taylor: Well, I think along the way I’ve learned a fair bit about architecture, but nothing about coding. And it’s always enough to be dangerous. And so, really understanding, knowing what you don’t know and particularly when it’s technical, having to trust and absolutely trust the people around you because you know enough to ask sensible questions but you can’t go and double check. And I think that that’s been one of the learnings and sometimes it doesn’t work out, but just really learning how to get your eye in, on what are those questions, where are the places to push back. That’s been a really important thing.
Kate Taylor: I think the other thing that’s continuing is all of that product discipline about ‘test before you build’ and learning more and more about that product discipline. We’ve just had a new head of product join us, someone well known to Cogent and I’m super excited because as much as you can read about it, I’m actually looking forward to following a master and I think I’ll learn a lot more there too as well.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Can we mention his name?
Kate Taylor: Yes, the gorgeous Stewart Boon. Yeah, and equally my CTO, Warren Oliver, who had also worked with Cogent, and you know, and I just drink up what I learned from him. I mean he’s a prince amongst men, but he’s also so technically wonderful, but he’s commercially and product minded. So, he’s such a well-rounded CTO, and so he’s such a trusted ally. And so that really makes my life so much better.
Adam Murray: Yeah, I can imagine. Let’s talk a little bit then about how you went about building the team of Oculo as well. You’ve talked about a couple of people, senior people that have come on board. Where did it go from you and that idea to then starting to get people around you?
Kate Taylor: It’s actually … it’s a funny story. So, I didn’t even know what to ask, that’s how much of a novice I was. I can see why people only invest in founders on their third startup. So, I sort of took the approach, “Well, let’s think sensibly about what are the criteria we think we want.” And so, I sort of drew up a spreadsheet, and I talked to two places. I talked to DS and I talked to Cogent. And I’d been introduced to someone who’d come out of a whole bunch of startups and worked with Medibank, and run an internal incubator and innovator. And so he was starting to work with me. And so we interviewed along the way. And the funniest thing was, Warren was pitching from Cogent. And for one reason or another, we actually didn’t go with Warren, but we came back to him.
Kate Taylor: And so the first thing was just learning how to learn what you didn’t know, and finding people and trying to learn from each of them and build that team. And so there was a lot of that. We worked with DS, James Wolstenholme had written the first line of code, basically, came and worked with us initially and then the team evolves, our maturity grows, our complexity grows. And I think people are right for different stages of the company. And so, there’s been change along the way, and everyone’s contributed along the way. But there are just times and chapters, I think. And some of the things is just recognising that being okay with that. And certainly, I remember one of our last shareholder updates, the question I got asked was, “What if you learn more? What would you do differently over the last 12 months?”
Kate Taylor: And my answer was something that I’ve heard many, many, many business people say which is, “If someone’s not working out, do both of you a favour and have that conversation. And do it sooner rather than later even though they’re scary conversations to have.” I think that that’s something that I’ve learned there, too.
Adam Murray: Yeah. An old manager of mine used to say, if there’s a problem, not so much with people, but in general, he was talking about, it’s like having a small discomfort in a ski boot right at the start of the day. Like it …
Kate Taylor: It’s going to be bad by the end of the day.
Adam Murray: Yeah. That’s right.
Kate Taylor: … absolutely.
Adam Murray: Got to have that conversation earlier rather than later. So, you had that conversation with the professor at that time. And did you immediately start testing the idea to kind of see if it had legs or where did it go?
Kate Taylor: Well, so having worked as the world economic forum and sort of in international diplomacy for 10 years, the first thing I did was form a cross-industry working group. So, we got Specsavers and OPSM, and VIP Optical to sit around the same table and kind of do design with us. And so …
Adam Murray: Amazing.
Kate Taylor: Yeah, it was amazing. And so, everyone could see that it had a benefit for the industry as a whole, for the quality and standing of optometry, as well as for the impact on clinical care. And so, they did; they came together and they were our sort of alpha and beta testers. And so we were working to do that. Similarly, we had all of the ophthalmologists at the Eye and Ear Hospital – the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. So, we worked with a bunch of … willing. And so that’s how we’ve started it. When we went live, we made a first mistake. Well, probably not the first, but a first big mistake, which was we had a pool of optometrists and we were nervous about showing the platform to the ophthalmologists because we thought, “Oh, they’ll want it perfect before they give it a go.”
Kate Taylor: And so, we restricted it down to just a handful of ophthalmologists, initially. The sort of most requested ophthalmologists. And that was a mistake, because it limited the optometrists’ ability to use the platform because when they wanted to send it, they wanted to send it to whoever the right person was. And so, we had to figure that out. And I think we would’ve got a more rapid validation, more wider test cases if we’d just gone, you know, “Shit.” And just had a go and let anyone they wanted to invite and just see who wanted to get on. But anyway, we didn’t, we learned, we kept going.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Some of those connections that you had there seem to be very important, like you’ve got domain expertise in this area and that seems to be a pretty common factor I think, among a lot of founders. How much value do you put on that?
Kate Taylor: I think it’s really valuable. It’s certainly valuable having conversations … Well, firstly, it’s valuable in the design, because you’re not sort of, I don’t know, three kids in a garage inventing a technology. You’re actually solving a problem with technology and so you’re coming from within. And so I think that does help a lot. But I think it’s also about passion, right? And so, there are a whole bunch of things that I wouldn’t be passionate, and be putting in all of my discretionary effort, doing what it takes, because it’s not what I think about in the shower, you know. And so, I think that alignment of your own personal passion and your business, again, you’re going to work so hard so you better believe in it and it better be fun. It won’t always be fun, but in general it should be fun.
Kate Taylor: And I think that’s also really then important, because you need to inspire people to join your team and join your effort and you need to inspire investors to invest in that idea. You need to inspire users to trust you enough to give it a go. And so I think that alignment is critical, but there are certainly … I’ve also been so impressed by serial entrepreneurs who seem to be able to just love the building of a business and the pursuit of the building, and they seem to just be able to do anything as well. I’m really impressed by those people.
Adam Murray: Yeah. I’m also curious about … there’s been a bit of talk around Melbourne at the moment around a seed funding and startups and getting that initial funding and how difficult it seems to be at the moment. And Oculo started, I guess a few years ago now, when it might’ve been a little bit easier, but when did you go for seed funding and how did you actually go about doing that?
Kate Taylor: Well, I guess I was kind of fortunate because I had the Centre for Eye Research Australia, so Jonathan Crowston’s medical research institute, and they wanted to pursue this because they had a vision of commercialising more of their IP and whereas medical devices or new technologies, not IT, can take a long time in medicine to commercialise. This seemed like something that they could get behind and potentially would get moving a bit faster. So they were willing to be part of it. And then I had worked with a self-made man who made his money out of trucking. His name’s Peter Garmin, and he had an ear problem that got picked at the Eye and Ear and that was life-saving. And so he was sensitised to the importance of vision and hearing and the senses. And from work we had before, he said, “If you’ve got something, bring it to me and we’ll have a look.”
Kate Taylor: And so through that relationship, that’s how we started. So, we had an angel that came along the ride with us. And then again, other additional angels from people I’ve worked with. And so that sense of backing the founder and the idea that I think was important, and I’m very grateful to them. So we planned on being able to tap into state government funding. And as we did so, the governments changed and everything got put on hold. And so all of the applications that were there were then … And so actually the funding environment has been very difficult and you have to make choices. You can spend ages and ages and ages sort of researching it and trying to figure out, in the hope you’re going to get it, or are you going to decide to get on with it?
Kate Taylor: So, I think it is hard. I do think that sort of family offices and those, if you can get into them, they’re becoming much more sophisticated and appreciative. And I was at a dinner the other day and the head of private wealth for JBWeir was talking. And he was talking about how bond yields are going to be nothing for years to come and the stock market’s going to be pretty flat and stuff. So he was actually saying how he counsels so many of these family offices to look at high growth opportunities like startups and scale ups because he sees that as one pocket of the economy that’s going to grow. So it’s definitely complicated. There is no doubt that fundraising is an art. I think there’s a real benefit in doing multiple rounds, because every time you get progressively harder questions and you need to be progressively more skilled to be able to prepare and respond and great ideas can just not find the right people, so that’s also real.
Adam Murray: Yeah. What percentage of your time do you think you’d spend on fundraising and those kinds of activities as opposed to maybe some other things?
Kate Taylor: Well, I think … someone said to me, until you’re massively profitable, your number one customer is always your investor. And so, I guess they’re never out of your mind, but building a great product that users love and that pulls you to some board, that’s its own proof. So I see those as being consilient.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about that actually. So, you talked about just these questions, curiosity is going off about, “Hmm, things are still done by fax, like what’s going on there? Maybe we can do something about that.” In a very similar kind of experience, I suppose for somebody that we’ve worked with and interviewed on this podcast in the first season, EstimateOne, I don’t know if you’ve come across EstimateOne, but in the construction industry there was a similar kind of problem in that builders would be faxing drawings and specifications to subbies for them to do a quote for a tender. And there was this whole kind of whole paper thing and the two guys, Andrew Ritchie and Mike.
Adam Murray: His name has just slipped my mind, sorry Mike. They thought, “We can do something about this.” And then that was kind of like a trigger, we can improve this digitally. So I’m interested in, was that the main trigger? But also, what was that holding the industry back from?
Kate Taylor: Sure. So, ophthalmology is … this is a very bad joke, is very visual as a specialty. And what I mean by that is not that it’s about vision, but that actually photographs and scans are really important to tracking disease. Jonathan Crowston laughs and says, “Well, sometimes I actually recognise people better from the retina at back of their eyes than from their faces.” And so the way he described it, he’s a super specialist glaucoma. He only wants to see those patients where his super specialisation can help. And where other people need help, he wants them to stay out there. So he wanted to be able to look at the images and decide, firstly, how urgent is this patient? So to triage.
Kate Taylor: Does he need to disrupt everything so that he can get them in tomorrow or can he see them in three months? And then the question, does he even need to see them at all or is this better treated by someone else? And so, having an image from today, ideally an image from five or 10 years ago as you can see, two points to understand the trend, is massively powerful. And if you think about medicine, that’s true for lots of things, right? If you’ve got a spot on your hand, you really want to know is it a freckle or is it a melanoma? And that changes how quickly you need to be seen by the doctor. And so, this ability to transfer images is not possible with the fax.
Kate Taylor: And so that’s the big difference, and it aggregates up in a massive way for the health system. Firstly, just patient worry time and how long does it take to get seen? How long does it take to get feedback? That’s linked to a kind of worry for optometrists and referrers, because the literature from Australia but around the world is that 40% of patients who get referred don’t get to the next step. And so that’s bad for the patient if they’re not getting the care they need. It’s bad for the referring optometrist because the liability stays with the optometrist. And it’s bad for the ophthalmologist because that’s 40% leakage of your revenue stream, right? So that’s a problem.
Kate Taylor: It then aggregates up so that it’s bad at the health system level, because if you’re referring into a public hospital, the outpatients are all overcrowded. The waiting lists are really, really long. And if you can’t get rid of the patients who shouldn’t be there, and again the estimates are anywhere from 25 to 60% of patients shouldn’t be there, and they’re just clogging up the system. And if you don’t have a way of being able to discharge patients safely while still having the clinical safeguards around them, then you can’t let them go, so they keep clogging up the system.
Kate Taylor: And then that means it costs the tax payer money. It means a whole lot of other things don’t get done. So it’s really bad. The flip side of that is if you’ve got the streamlined system where you’ve got clear oversight of the patient journey, there are alerts, there are ways of communicating back and forth and feedback loops and sort of safety net, you also get the data from the activity and you can look at that and aggregate it. And that’s where Specsavers has been amazing because they’ve taken that data and used it to benchmark their optometrists and to give them feedback on how they’re performing. And are you over referring and do you need some training about that, because you’re anxious? And so, you’re more likely to be sending people on because you’re not prepared to make the call? Are you under referring? And is that because you’re actually extremely competent, you’re managing the patient or is it because you’re missing stuff?
Kate Taylor: And so, the ability to use that data to look at the practice, to a practitioner level at the practice level, and then also to be able to have conversations with Medicare or with the private health insurers about this is how we’re contributing to the eye health of Australia. And this is why it makes sense that optometry is publicly funded, because here’s the health economics argument. That’s the flip side of not just having not bad, stupid grayscale faxes, or beautiful photos and digital technology, but actually being better and really good.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Are you starting to see those impacts now? Are they kind of visionary impacts or are you starting to see them manifest?
Kate Taylor: No, it’s beautiful. So, Specsavers have been having these dialogues with their optometrists now for a few years. They’ve just this week released their second State of the Nation’s Eye Health Report, which actually talks about all of the impact of the data and the impact of their clinical care. And Oculo is mentioned throughout the report, which is really great. It doesn’t necessarily make friends with everybody in optometry, but it is wonderful to see that very clear impact of having not just a better way of working but a whole new way of thinking.
Adam Murray: Yeah. This is a little bit of a low-level question, but can you just talk us through the actual product, end to end? So, paint a picture in people’s mind about what is happening here.
Kate Taylor: Sure. Oculo is a cloud based platform. It’s designed to be both secure and accessible. Optometrists in many ways are kind of like GPs, if people think about them or family doctors. They’re doing the primary eyecare or primary health care. Most of the people they see are fine, they might just need glasses, but sometimes if you’ve got a problem or they’re not sure you might have a problem, then you need to refer the patient on to a specialist. And in this case for eye care it’s an ophthalmologist. Ideally you also keep the patient’s GP in the loop, so that everybody knows what’s going on. So basically, you start with making a referral in Oculo; you can attach all of the images you want, there are standardised forms and prompts so that you give the right information. When we did our early user research, you could see anything from a letter, there was two inches high of medical history about everything like my appendicitis or the penicillin I took and whatever, to literally a note that said, “Please see Mrs. Jones about her eyes,” right?
Kate Taylor: And neither of those are particularly helpful. So again, the quality standardisation, you send it, you select your provider of choice, you copy in the GP or anyone else – the paediatrician or diabetes doctor, whoever it is. And you press send. On the other side, they get an alert. It says, “Please log into Oculo, you’ve got mail.” And they come into the platform, all the patient data stays secure in the patient’s platform with audit logs and all of that medico-legal sort of protection. And then you can look at the referral, triage it. You can ask if you want more information, you can book the patient in for a time and you start building this shared library of images and the shared correspondence back and forth. So we integrate into a number of medical records. There is a huge diversity of medical records, systems and software that people use. So we sit on top of them as well.
Kate Taylor: And it’s that sort of agnostic, vendor neutral approach that makes it flexible. And essentially you then close the loop, and you start having this collaboration about the patient care so that you can both move the data and not the patients. So, where it’s used for about 90% of the teleophthalmology in the country, but also so that wherever the patient moves is that continuity of the record, and that just makes for better clinical care. So that’s basically what Oculo the platform does.
Adam Murray: Yeah. So the patient owns their data as well?
Kate Taylor: Absolutely. Both legally and morally and in all sorts of ways. So the patient owns the data. The irony was, that the early business plan, had the plan to make a portal available to the patient. We got a lot of pushbacks from the clinicians who were worried that it exposed them to risk, to legal risk. And so we haven’t done that. People have started asking us about it, and we recently went live in the UK, and it’s lovely because in the UK we are actually sending information to the patient and so it’s lovely to be including the patient in his or her own care as well.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Great. So, that’s a great description of the product. And you talked a bit earlier about what it means to design an excellent product and a beautiful product. Have you had UX design or write built in from the start? I don’t have … Yeah.
Kate Taylor: So, a lot of medical software is just ugly. It’s unreformed 1980s DOS-based just dropdown box sort of …
Adam Murray: Opportunities for people there, I think.
Kate Taylor: There are a few more beautiful cloud-based ones emerging. And we really did work very closely with users. We were looking for something that would be intuitive and thinking like Gmail, looking for the ability for it to be viral. So, looking at LinkedIn for example, and keeping it simple, we spent a lot of time trying to cut stuff out of forms to keep it simple. I think we’ve gotten a lot more focused and professional and disciplined around UX testing before we start building. And we’ve worked with Cogent, with a few people and we’ve got Cath Ross in at the moment, who we just love. And it really does help, it makes such a difference.
Kate Taylor: Because we started with these optometrists, we got a lot of feedback. We have really passionate users and it’s such a blessing. But, man, we got feedback! And so, the backlog would have filled a warehouse, but it was great and people really wanted this to work. They wanted it; their experience was so bad they just wanted to give and give and give so we could keep going. And actually, it was great, because being Agile, we would do stuff and then we push it and then we would call them and say, “We pushed your feature today.” And they loved us. And so that service and our customer facing team is just magnificent and I’ll particularly call out Catherine Smith, because she is just adored the world over. She makes these training videos that are kind of world famous and people just love her because she’s so passionate about the user experience and the product being loved by the user. So, she really is our voice of the customer.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Was there a moment when you sort of just realised you went from that, “I wonder if I’ve got something here?” to, “I think we’ve got something here?”
Kate Taylor: No, I don’t think so. We were just launching in the US, we were just launching in the UK, so I feel like we’re still there. Like we know it’s there, we know the problem’s universal, everyone can articulate the problem. And we’re pretty sure we’ve got the right solution. But in my heart of hearts, do I get up every morning and go, “God, I hope this works.” I really do.
Adam Murray: On that international expansion, you’re Melbourne based and started here in Australia, was there sort of pull from other countries to say, “Come here, we’ve got a problem”? And if so, did you have to sort of say, well, not yet or yeah? What was the rationale about when to expand?
Kate Taylor: Yeah. You would have to be absolutely bloody insane to do the US and the UK simultaneously, right? And from a health point of view, you have to do so much privacy data security. So, in the US you’ve got HIPAA as a patient protection privacy data security sort of standard and the FDA. In the UK you’ve got GDPR, which is European, which God knows we’re having Brexit. And currently British standard as well as CE marking, right? Enormous amount of work. And they are related but not the same in any way, shape or form. So, it costs a fortune in terms of lawyers’ fees and regulatory advice and trademark and IP lawyers and incorporation and intercompany agreements, and oh my God, right?
Kate Taylor: So yeah, you’d have to be nuts. But we were being pulled. And so, we signed … so this is a great problem to have, right? So how could you say no? We had to say no to a lot of other stuff, right? And we had to make choices about a bunch of stuff we wouldn’t do because we needed to do that in order to set the company up for further growth. And so that was really important. But yes, Specsavers, like many of the optometry groups, is a global player, they’re based in the UK. They asked if we would please come and do a pilot with them in the UK. We did a global partnership with the ophthalmic device manufacturer called Topcon, that has a nice image management solution. They’re based in the US, they have great footprint there.
Kate Taylor: It’s a channel that you just couldn’t say no. And so, we’re just doing … But I know a lot of other companies who talk about, well, sure you can look at the US, you can look at the UK, but are you smarter to go to the Middle East or to Southeast Asia or to Indonesia or to some of these other non-OECD, but really big and thriving vibrant markets? And I think that is a really good choice for other companies before you tackle the US. But for us it was just, we were being pulled.
Adam Murray: Yeah. So, when you’ve got a decision like that to make and there’s prioritisation calls that need to happen and you’ve got an organisation that might see things differently or there might be misalignment, how do you go about getting everyone on the same page and taking them on that journey?
Kate Taylor: Well, firstly, just having an environment for a robust discussion and making time for it so that you get everyone … you can argue as much as you want in the room, but once you’re out, you’re all aligned and together and you’ve got each other’s back. So, I think that that’s critical and being able to play devil’s advocate, being able to examine the trade-offs and passionately debate them. I don’t know what to say any more specifically than that, but it’s really important. And it’s really dumb, but we just expanded the board room so that we now have walls and walls and walls of whiteboard and plenty of space so everyone can get in there and just really argue it out. And that space was also really helpful for us to be able to do that. We’ve got a board and having a good board that’s engaged, that has a diversity of opinion and that is prepared to both be supportive and challenging, I think that’s also really important.
Kate Taylor: And being able to be brave, being often brave enough to say no is actually harder than saying yes. And so I think just learning how to do that is a good thing. James Wolstenholme got me a button that we hung next to the wall for a while, but it was the ‘no’ button. And so, you pressed it and go, “No, nope, nope.” I think everyone should get one of those.
Adam Murray: Yeah. I think one of the times it’s toughest to say no, too, is when there’s only one option, or maybe there’s always another option, which is I guess is do nothing but …
Kate Taylor: No, that is an option, right? And if you’re doing that, you’re actually actively doing that. And so, don’t think that you’re just deferring making a choice, because you are making a choice. And so, it’s a really easy trap to fall into. Oh, no, I’m just keeping my options open; actually, that’s crap. You’re not. Yeah, I think it’s really important. If you’re going to do nothing, do it deliberately.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Be intentional about it. So, we’ve talked a little bit about the first few employees that you started to hire and now talking about expanding the board room and having those kinds of robust discussions. As the organisation’s grown, what have you tried to seed into the culture to kind of create the type of organisation that’s going to give you what you need now but also support what you want it to be?
Kate Taylor: I think a passion about patients is really … so patient safety, patient first. Privacy and security by design, that’s always the first thing. The second is this element of human connectedness. And we are a connecting platform, we believe we should be connected internally and so being a caring workplace where people are comfortable to be themselves and look after each other, I think that’s also really important in terms of values. They’re probably the two biggest ones. But we also – and Warren Oliver’s been really important as a champion there – actively talk about culture, and spend time on it and articulate it and when you’re having a retro, come back and revisit how are we doing against it. And if you’re making a choice, make it a values-based choice. I think that you’ve got to live it to make it real as well.
Kate Taylor: And one of the challenges ahead is if we’re looking at scaling, how do we maintain that Oculo culture? And so we now have an American employee, how do we connect him in? How does he feel part of the team as same? I was chatting to the … I just met the former head of people from Aconex, and so she’s sort of strategic culture leadership and people issues, and she was saying how when she came on board, she kind of just loved the work of the Melbourne office manager, because the Melbourne office had a great vibe. It was where they started, and Lee Jasper and Rob Philpot were, “How do we ensure this, we are Aconex culture, applies in a global organisation, including one that had just acquired a German business?”
Kate Taylor: So, Alona actually took the office manager, made her part of her team and flew around the world so that all of the Aconex offices looked and felt the same. And so this is sort of part of the symbolism of those values. I think it’s also really important. And that was just a great illustration that I came across this week.
Adam Murray: Yeah, that’s awesome. That’s a great way to … I haven’t heard of that way of doing it before. I’ve heard of like having artefacts that are common across offices and things like that, but bringing the person, the people are the culture really, aren’t they? Yeah.
Kate Taylor: And Lee Jasper and Rob talked about when they were early days of Aconex, they would particularly start by finding young Australians who just got back from travelling the whole world and sending them out there because they had that Australianness, which is a great asset in a global organisation, frankly. And they were interested in travel so that they were good and curious and engaging and then that was part of them seeding that culture from early, early on.
Adam Murray: Yeah. You’re off to a great start and you started to expand overseas. Where do you see this going? Do you allow yourself to kind of think a bit more broadly and set yourself an even vague quest of where you might end up?
Kate Taylor: Health care is so clever; the technologies are amazing. You think about existing technologies, we’re on the cusp of AI, precision medicine, all these other genetics, targeted therapies. It is at the same time so dumb, the communication is so antiquated. So, being able to create that connectedness to break down data silos so that patients get the right care, no matter where they are, no matter from whom they’re receiving that care, that would be amazing. And that the system as a whole gets the data to learn to become more efficient and high quality, right? That would be great. And so Oculo can be the glue for all of that.
Kate Taylor: And so I think that’s the ambition, right? So to glue those data silos to improve the quality of care, so that’s the impact that we’d like to have. And basically, it’s a problem that we can solve in almost every health system. And so, we’ll just keep going. And eyes are wonderful and they’re analogous for all sorts of other specialties and applications and so, get really good at eyes, help a broad, broad, broad range of people and figure out how to do it for other people, other specialties.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Amazing.
Kate Taylor: So, that should be easy!
Adam Murray: Yeah. I’m interested in you and how you … You talked a little bit about all you’ve got going on, but also as a CEO you’ve got a great board as a support, but are there other ways that you go about connecting with peers and enabling your own growth and support in what you’re doing?
Kate Taylor: So, in the main, actually, I’m really bad at it because I’ve got to get home for kids and cook the dinner. I don’t go to meet ups, I don’t do any of that stuff. And so, it’s lonely, and the bottom line is it’s actually just lonely anyway. I did, however, take a week earlier this year and I was part of the Springboard program. Now Springboard started US and it’s a program supporting female entrepreneurs and CEOs and founders. And I must admit I was probably a bit up myself and I thought, who are these people who want to take me out of my business for a week? They clearly don’t think I’ve got anything to add to my business, because nothing … you know, I won’t be missed. And we went and we took a week and with a number of other tech CEOs, female founders. And it was unbelievably brilliant; they took me apart; they took the business apart. It was an amazing opportunity to step back and reflect. It meant that you worked on Springboard all day and you worked on the company all night.
Kate Taylor: But that was fantastic. And there is this network of predominantly female entrepreneurs and supporters and true believers that is so rich and generous, and just amazing. And so for us it was perfect, because just as we were wanting to go into the US, we had this network of fairy godmothers who had this depth of expertise and understanding and wealth of connections. And so, Springboard has been terrific and I really encourage female founders to look it up, go find out about it and to apply. It’s totally worth its weight in gold. Podcasts, I can do, because I can do podcasts when I’m on the train or whatever. Hence, I really like Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale.
Kate Taylor: And again, just hearing other people who’ve been through it and succeeded and come out the other side, but also just that recognition that there are always these mountains beyond mountains that keep going. And then probably about three Christmases ago, oh, God, it was hard and I was tired, and it was the end of the year, and over the Christmas break I read Ben Horowitz’s, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. And not only is that great because of the content and everything, but the whole book is written, the CEO is ‘she’. And it was really helpful for my imposter syndrome and that was just magic, that Springboard, because as they talked about every CEO, it was a CEO she. And so you felt a little bit less alone and you knew that other people were doing it. So just you can do it, you can do it.
Adam Murray: Yeah. It’s really good to hear actually, because I think that … Thanks for being open about that because I think at times, I imagine – I’m not a CEO myself – there can be a bit of the desire to present in a certain way, and not talk about how isolating it can be at times as well. So …
Kate Taylor: Yeah. You make tough calls, right? And ultimately, the buck stops with you and if the board doesn’t like it, they’ll fire you; that’s really clear. But there’s all this great that happens as well, and I think it’s human to question and to reflect and think how could I do something better. And it’s hard to find peers to ask, and you can’t always ask your team. Sometimes the questions are about the team or about … you know. But asking the team’s a good thing to do, though. They are there to help you, but sometimes you’ve got to just take your own counsel as well and you can’t necessarily go to even your most supportive investors.
Kate Taylor: Or you need to pick your time; you need to frame the question you want to ask first, which means you need to have figured out the question. And that’s a bunch of thinking. I find a lot of 3:00 am thinking, I think as well. But you’re never as alone as you think you are. They are actually all there as soon as you’re ready to ask the question.
Adam Murray: Yeah. My last question to you is about Melbourne, actually. And I’m interested in your perspective, given the engagement that you’ve had with overseas bodies and particularly around … not trying to think about Melbourne as being this special place, but just more about what characterises Melbourne and the ecosystem here and maybe the culture here and the climate and geography and whatever, that enables a good digital business to emerge and to start growing then to thrive. Do you notice anything about Melbourne, is there anything that comes to mind?
Kate Taylor: I mean, I love Melbourne. I’ve lived all around the world, and I love Melbourne. Melbourne is just, Australians are, I think, great team players. I think they are very well educated. I think they’re prepared to say what they think. So, you can get that frank discussion, they’re prepared to take a risk. We’re less good at failing. And so, if you think about some overseas cultures where your startup failed and you’re now, “Okay, what’s your next one?” is the question as opposed to, “Oh, dear.” I think we’re not so good at that, but I think there are lots of characteristics in terms of talent and training and temperament, that make … Australians should be really good at innovation.
Kate Taylor: Melbourne, obviously has wonderful universities. It’s got fabulous coffee – that’s essential for a startup. It’s got lots of supportive things around it and obviously the ecosystem around startups is evolving and we’ve got some amazing people, some giants on whose shoulders to stand. I mean, whether it’s an Aconex or a Culture Amp. All these other companies, like Red Bubble that are fantastic global companies, right? That we should be proud of. And they’ve done a lot, I think, to help shape the environment and so we’re grateful to those trailblazers to be following along. And I think they’ve helped in building the awareness and credibility about Australian startup teams as well. What doesn’t work as well in Victoria, say for example, Queensland or certainly overseas from a net tech point of view, is the consistency of policy, the availability of public support and in some ways the depth of the peer group. And so that’s got more work that can be done for it. But I do think in general, things will be okay.
Adam Murray: Yeah. Thank you so much for taking the time. You’ve got obvious, passionate and amazing energy. And I’ve spent a little bit of time inside Oculo and it’s just a great place to be, so really appreciate you sharing something today.
Kate Taylor: I’ve loved being here. Thank you for having me here.
Adam Murray: You’re welcome. To help us get the word out there about all the great digital businesses in Melbourne, you can help by sharing an episode you love with a friend or by rating and reviewing this podcast through your favourite platform. And finally, if you want to tell us about how your business is thriving or you know of another digital business that is having an amazing positive impact, the best way to do that is through emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m Adam Murray and I look forward to hearing your stories.