“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Nobody expected Covid-19 to strike, but it did. We are fortunate to be in a sector that can help with responding to the pandemic, but the overall disruption to society and the economy has done things like remove our co-founder for a month to reconfigure his hospital for Covid-19 response. Don’t be surprised by the unexpected; you should expect it.
As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing Eliott Jones.
Eliott Jones is the CEO and co-founder of Biospectal, where he is responsible for leading the company’s overall strategy, product vision, go-to-market planning and execution. A digital product innovation and medtech startup veteran, Eliott has worked in executive roles building digital innovation and driving strategy, digital product design and development for major brands, including Yahoo, Landor Associates/Young & Rubicam, Intuit, Logitech and Rambus. He holds a degree in Visual and Environmental Studies, Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It has been an adventure! While I can’t say I’m a digital native, my professional career began with the emergence of desktop digital media. It has continued with my current work on Biospectal and mission to revolutionize biosensing through the use of connected devices. From the early days of my Bauhaus-based, multi-disciplinary education at Harvard in design, I have always embraced the idea of enhancing human experience empathetically using interactive technologies. I’m a firm believer in the liberal arts mentality and have always been excited about cross-pollinating ideas and applications. I have continuously pursued and participated in digital product solutions across diverse areas of domain expertise — it’s part of my DNA. I first saw a beta version of the Mozilla browser in my early days back in Boston. I immediately felt the potential of the new “World Wide Web” and ended up moving quickly from Boston to Silicon Valley. After landing in the San Francisco Bay Area, I pursued a path of experience in delivering web, then mobile, then multi-device interface product design and strategy — from consulting to early and late stage startups and then on to large companies like Yahoo and Intuit.
Each role allowed me to gain more experience with delivering disruptive digital products and experiences. I also grew my management and strategic skills. Along the way I began to do more and more work in the emerging area of mobile health and digital health, even though I don’t have a medical education.
The opportunity to leverage the consumer experience gained from my time in Silicon Valley in developing applications in the medical domain is what led to the founding of Biospectal.
Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the most interesting and formative experiences was actually with my first job. I graduated from Harvard with a liberal arts degree. It quickly became clear that I had no idea of how to relate my education to the “real world.” I needed to do some exploring to understand how to apply what I had learned.
Randomly, I noticed a posting on a German department bulletin board for an internship at a publishing company in Hanover, Germany. I had always wanted to live abroad and had studied foreign languages as a passion. When I arrived, I discovered my job was pretty much to do nothing all day in blue coveralls at the receiving dock. I was happy to have found a way to live abroad, but after three weeks I was bored to death. Since I wasn’t very busy, I decided to ask the HR department if I could try working somewhere else in the company that involved computers and maybe even design. The next week I was taken in by the advertising department, who had received their first Mac publishing system. They asked if I wanted to take over the job of setting everything up. My initial three-month visa turned into a year and a half of work in a digital design position — a position that kicked off my career path and had a direct connection to what I’m doing today with Biospectal.
The experience I gained in Germany led to work in Boston that in turn led to Silicon Valley — eventually coming full circle at Biospectal combining Europe with Silicon Valley. My first job in Germany also brought me the strongest lifelong friendships — my German boss, two godchildren, a best man and my current co-founder. I could never have predicted then that I would be where I am now — and it started with taking a chance and following a passion that may have seemed disconnected from my career, but turned out to be fundamental to everything that followed.
Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?
Building on the experience above, I have lived by a few principles. The first is what I call “the law of proximity.” It’s not necessarily uncommon to have a career path that’s led to unexpected places. You’ll never be able to seize an opportunity, however, if you’re not near it — even if the path is unorthodox. I believe you don’t need to know exactly how you’ll reach your goals, but the first step is to get in proximity where you can access opportunities when they emerge. Many times I’ve heard people say they’re daunted by making a transformation or reaching a goal. I tell them to take it in steps and not go for it all at once. Just getting near it is the first step.
The second is that life is short and work is part of that short life, so you had better suck the marrow out of each day and work toward something you’ll be proud of when you’re eighty. And above all, nobody should be allowed to steal that time away from you — be at peace with how you spend yours, even if it means resting once in a while, on your own terms. On the other hand, because life is short you had better not take it too seriously. These ideas may seem contradictory, but they are really two sides of the same coin.
The third is that you should seek to put yourself into situations that take you out of your comfort zone. The only times I have truly grown were when I stepped into something I really thought I might not be skilled enough or knowledgeable enough to handle. Sometimes this seems a little masochistic, but despite the stress, it’s so rewarding and empowering to come out the other side, even if it means you failed in your pursuit. So what? Remember, it’s your time and your life — it’s nobody else’s, so go for it!
Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?
In 2017, a lifelong friend from Switzerland and professor at the University of Lausanne Hospital told me about the research he’d been doing in non-invasive optical biosensing in his operating room. He believed the special devices they’d been using there could likely be replaced by putting the software algorithms they’d developed into an everyday smartphone and leveraging the camera as the optical sensor to measure blood pressure.
It was immediately obvious to me that by piggybacking on smartphones that are already distributed around the world and by utilizing the optical lens of the smartphone and software to enable easy, instantaneous access to blood pressure measurement and monitoring, that we could make a tremendous impact in combating the global hypertension epidemic. Smartphones are a ubiquitous, connected device people worldwide carry with them. Delivering an easy way to accurately measure and monitor blood pressure via connected software in a mobile app makes it accessible and easy to measure, analyze and connect data to a patient’s clinical regimen.
That’s when we decided to found Biospectal — to democratize medical-grade blood pressure monitoring and management globally. Our goal is to improve longevity and life quality in the US and Europe as well as places like Tanzania, Indonesia, Bangladesh, South Africa — everywhere. It’s immensely gratifying to apply our decades of collective experience in technology and medicine to such a meaningful pursuit.
How do you think this will change the world?
Hypertension afflicts 1.3 billion people worldwide. It’s called the “silent killer” because there are no symptoms. It’s the largest chronic condition globally, with a severe negative impact on longevity and quality of life. Having an easy, accessible way for people to measure and monitor their blood pressure can help save lives. One of the biggest challenges with managing blood pressure, however, is measuring and monitoring it with the proper frequency and the proper clinical follow up. At the same time, billions of people globally are far more likely to own a smartphone than any other consumer device. The most ubiquitous consumer device in the world — a smartphone — is for all intents and purposes, an underutilized mini supercomputer.
At Biospectal, we’ve taken the computer capability of smartphones and their sophisticated optical capabilities, and transformed them into a smart, connected, medical-grade diagnostic sensing and remote patient monitoring solution. By doing this purely through a software download within the minute it takes to install an app, a person or patient can measure, analyze and share their data with their doctor simply by placing their finger on their phone’s camera for twenty seconds.
The instant global reach of Biospectal — and for all levels of resources — is what fascinates and inspires us. We’re already walking the talk by working with organizations like the WHO and Global Grand Challenges to do independent validation and test implementations. We’ve also recently announced the public beta launch of the Biospectal OptiBP app for Android. We’ll announce our public beta launch for iOS later this year. You can view a short video of how Biospectal OptiBP works here.
The current acute situation with Covid-19 has also accelerated the need for remote patient monitoring — transforming it from an enhancement to the clinical regimen to an essential, necessary function to monitor patients outside of the clinical setting. The need for, and benefits of remote monitoring have become better understood and crystal clear during the past year — and is one of the things we believe will be a positive outcome from the tragic pandemic.
A general area of focus for medtech and mobile health involves data privacy and security. It goes without saying that one of the things Biospectal places a huge premium on is that we treat data with integrity.
Data standards, sovereignty and security aren’t topics that apply uniquely to Biospectal, but they are topics on which we’re laser focused. Our global partnerships plan is to always be part of, and contribute to the forefront of standards. As we’ve seen throughout history, ultimately every technology has a positive and negative potential. We believe we will be able to contribute a wealth of benefits to hypertension management, while also respecting all levels of data management — with improvements in the form of better clinical insights via remote monitoring, improved medication adherence, behavioral and dietary insights, improved medication safety and efficacy, and a host of other positive impacts.
Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?
The tipping point for me was more like a ‘tipping crash.” It was immediately clear when I learned about the research, technology and scalability offered by leveraging smartphones as medical sensors purely via a software application, without the need for any additional bulky hardware.
What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?
We need trust, which comes in two forms. Like any disruptive technology, changing a system can present challenges, but we believe that consumers and patients are the nearest, most powerful driver of scale of adoption. We need to make them aware of the benefits of a much more convenient and effective way to measure and monitor their blood pressure.
We present the novel capability of medical-grade sensing in a consumer device. The consumer and medical professional worlds are colliding and both must be integrated into the adoption process. We have laid the groundwork from the start with rigorous, extensive clinical testing, independent third-party clinical validation and peer-based review of our research — all of which combine to build a robust product offering, generate trust and enable adoption via traditional healthcare delivery channels.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Get some sleep! Be ready for the time and effort it takes to manage all aspects of building a startup from the ground up. When you think you’re ready for the energy it takes, double it.
- It’s natural that not everybody “gets it.” The best solutions in the world have hit walls not because they truly will make the world a better place, but for other reasons that have nothing to do with that. For example, a well-known hospital we talked with had just finished a painful, over budget, overdue, sophisticated patient record system that nobody was really happy with but nobody wanted to change or “disturb.” People who had tried to integrate with them cautioned us to put our time elsewhere as they weren’t interested in anything “new” no matter how great it might be.
- “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Nobody expected Covid-19 to strike, but it did. We are fortunate to be in a sector that can help with responding to the pandemic, but the overall disruption to society and the economy has done things like remove our co-founder for a month to reconfigure his hospital for Covid-19 response. Don’t be surprised by the unexpected; you should expect it.
- Investment is a process not a destination. We have been fortunate in our financial support, while we also observe that investors have many reasons why they want to invest or not — and those don’t necessarily have anything to do with our company. We knew this in principle going in, but it’s been interesting to see it play out. We have tremendous support from investors who believe in our mission. Beyond the necessary financials, it’s most important for everybody to be aligned and inspired by the mission. Apple and Tesla have been highly criticized by skeptics along their paths, and they only survived ultimately through the belief in their vision by investors and customers.
- Appreciate the power of advisors. Friends come from unexpected places. We have had amazing partners and supporters who’ve emerged throughout our journey. Even today, our advisors are instrumental in their mentorship and hands-on support in all aspects of contributing to the success of Biospectal.
Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?
- You, too, are a genius. Why should someone else and not you change the world? My observation is that most people are afraid of realizing who they really are and standing up for their gifts. I find it a shame that fear too often gets in the way of contributing to the world through one’s gifts.
- Everybody takes out the trash. We all need to be flexible and adaptable to make a company succeed — and this means whatever it takes, even taking out the trash.
- Trust that there is always a solution. Believing in being able to find a solution and having the confidence to push on with that faith makes the undoable possible. Rather than the glass half full principle, I believe the greatest achievers are those optimists who see a glass 10% full and believe that they can make that 10% possible.
- Treat people with respect. This seems trite, but just do it. All of us start and end the same. We all have gifts to offer and can all learn from each other. Be open to being the student of whomever you employ or meet. Some of the most impressive and brilliant people I’ve known never went to university.
Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
It’s a rare opportunity to be able to use one’s skills to work on an endeavor that offers a highly attractive business opportunity that scales efficiently in a emerging sector, but also has the potential to make a lasting impact on improving lives around the world. In Biospectal, we have that rare chance and are on our way to making it happen with world leaders, research, technology, global health and business partners.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
Eliott Jones’s Big Idea That Might Change The World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.