“Highly complex consumer journeys, lots of entrenched interests, very challenging stakeholder management, and extremely important to your life”. That’s the magic mixture of business interests that Kira Wampler says speaks her love language. Those passions led her to Redesign Health, a company whose mission is to transform healthcare. So far, Redesign Health has incubated, funded and scaled over 50 companies that are taking innovative approaches to cancer care, mental health and more — and they plan to launch 50 more.
Listen to Kira Wampler on Crafted, Artium’s podcast about great products and the people who make them.
Full transcript below — but we recommend you listen for the best experience.
Kira Wampler: I have a real enduring and abiding belief in the power of technology and business model transformation to really fundamentally improve people’s lives.
Dan Blumberg: That’s Kira Wampler. She’s a venture chair and head of startup success at Redesign Health, which was founded in 2018 with a mission to transform healthcare.
Kira Wampler: We have incubated, funded and are on our way to scaling over 50 companies, 5-0.
Dan Blumberg: And Redesign plans to double that to 100 startups. The new businesses take innovative approaches to cancer care, mental health, women’s health, and more. On this episode of Crafted, Kira shares how her experience at Intuit, as the chief marketing officer of Lyft and serving on boards led her to healthcare. She’ll tell us where she sees opportunities and landmines in trying to transform this massive industry. Also, we’ll find out what exactly a venture chair is.
Kira Wampler: We made it up. So that’s the fun part about joining startups early, is you get to make things up.
Dan Blumberg: Welcome to Crafted, a show about great products and the people who make them. I’m your host, Dan Blumberg. I’m a product and engagement leader at RDM, where my colleagues and I help companies build incredible products, recruit high performing teams, and help you achieve the culture of craft you need to build great software long after we’re gone. I’d love to start with some of the early experiences that you have. You’ve been front and center in a lot of very influential startups.
Kira Wampler: Sure. I grew up in product marketing and growth. I’ve been in the valley since the late 90s. I like to say that I’ve either been in, been around, participated in most of the movies since the late 90s, but I’m really very fortunate to have grown up at Intuit. I spent my formative years in my career in marketing and product leadership roles at Intuit on the small business side of the house, and then I became the very first CMO at Lyft in the super, super early days of Lyft. Fewer than 30 cities, fewer than 300 people, fuzzy mustache, fist bump front seat time, and was part of that incredible ride of scaling that company, really refining the brand and making the brand a household name, which was just a tremendous experience. So basically, longtime product marketing and growth leader in the valley. And I have a real enduring and abiding belief in the power of technology and business model transformation to really fundamentally improve people’s lives.
Dan Blumberg: You said you were fortunate to have started at Intuit. I’d love to learn a little bit more about your time there and what you learned and how it’s set you up for success going forward.
Kira Wampler: I absolutely just credit my time there for where I am today, just full stop. And I think one of the real hallmarks of that business is that the heartbeat of Intuit is the customer. We cared deeply about the customer experience. We did extensive follow me homes, which was sort of one of my all-time favorite practices where I was the brand manager for QuickBooks for Accountants. So my follow me home was sitting in accountant offices, watching them for six, eight hours a day, provide services to their clients, work on their clients’ books, use QuickBooks, and it was just a tremendous experience for how do you understand what’s happening really for your customers, and then how can you solve real hard problems well with what you’re delivering for them.
Dan Blumberg: On a follow-me-home exercise, you see things that you would never see if you just surveyed customers or talked to them on the phone or video. For example, Kira says she observed a curious behavior among the accountants she was building products for. They would, and remember this is 20 years ago, take out their handheld calculators, their 10 keys to check QuickBooks’ math.
Kira Wampler: And it was like, wow, that’s amazing. First of all, they’re trusting software but verifying, which is awesome. So we made a pitch to put 10 key into QuickBooks so you could pop it open with a little command and then do your own 10 key. And we got a lot of pushback because of course the engineers are like, “Why would you test the math of software?” And it was like, “Well, but they’re doing it and so let’s acknowledge that we know they’re doing it. And look, they may want to use a 10 key for other reasons, it’s fine.” So we did, we built it in as a little delighter and it was one of the most highly commented on positive things that we put in, and we had built some really big exciting features for that year, and it’s just funny. So that’s a small little example of what you learn in those kinds of follow me homes that create real empathy with your customer. And I credit that DNA at Intuit for really being the reason why that company was able to not only survive, but thrive through tremendous transformation.
Dan Blumberg: You mentioned the fist bumps and the pink mustaches and your CMO days at Lyft. I’m curious what experiments you ran there and how you understood that customer better and positioned that brand, that product.
Kira Wampler: We could probably spend a year having a conversation there. There was so much to learn because if you put yourself in that time, I mean this was 2014, it was still very much the case from a consumer perspective that you did not get in cars with strangers. Today, not only do we not think anything of getting in a car with a stranger, we sleep in a stranger’s house, we borrow a stranger’s car, but we were in very early innings of that back in 2014.
And so a lot of the work that we did was really about encouraging and creating an environment for dignity and respect within the car and that you’re not just behind a glass shoving cash through to someone, but it was really about, “Hey, we are humans sharing this ride together.” And then obviously, we launched Lyft Line, which was about multiple humans sharing a ride together, which is all fundamentally about how do we make something like carpooling actually efficient and lower the number of people driving their own cars on the road and increasing utilization of cars. So a lot of the programs and experimentation really centered around creating and fostering that humanity in the ride.
Dan Blumberg: With software eating the world, Kira thought about what it might eat next, and she formed a thesis around health and wealth.
Kira Wampler: Both of these categories have highly complex consumer journeys and consumer experiences heavily regulated, lots of entrenched interests, very challenging stakeholder management, extremely important to your life. And I like to say that those things are all speaking my love language. I grew up in small business accounting, payroll payments and taxes. So if that’s where you grew up and you loved it, then you’re going to want to be in evermore sort of complex categories and how can you really drive change. The second component was both of those categories are in the relative early innings vis-a-vis business model and technology transformation.
Dan Blumberg: Kira had an aha moment at a visit to her doctor.
Kira Wampler: I, like a good patient, filled out all the forms online the night before and then the next day, the girls at the desk are like, “Oh, here’s all this paperwork, you have to fill it out.” And I was like, “I did it online last night.” And they’re like, “Oh, we don’t have it.” And I realized that they must have been running everything on a batch process, so missed the batch. And I was like, “Ladies,” I’m picking up my phone, I’m like, “I can push a button on my phone pretty much anywhere in the world now and get a car to me. And yet here we are and the forms I filled out online didn’t arrive to you this morning.” And they were kind of like, “Mm-hmm, here’s the paper.” So it’s kind of astonishing how these two categories that are so critical to our lives were relatively behind compared to other categories, which then meant my background was well-suited to supporting companies in those two categories. So that’s kind of where the original thesis started.
Dan Blumberg: Following up on her thesis, Kira joined the boards of wealth management startup, Personal Capital, and oral health company, Candid. That’s when she met the founder of Redesign Health, Brett Shaheen. And soon, she joined him at Redesign full-time.
Kira Wampler: Redesign Health has been around since 2018 and in that period of time, we have incubated, funded and are on our way to scaling over 50 companies, 5-0. So it’s really just an extraordinary experience and just to see the vision come to life over these last few years of what does it mean to innovate at scale, what are the benefits of scale, which we’re certainly seeing today. And I think more importantly, what does it mean when you innovate at scale in healthcare, and what does it look like to have companies in the world that are fundamentally changing people’s lives for the better in really hard areas like chronic diseases, cancer, pain? We have three different companies focused on behavioral health and developmental disabilities. It’s just we have this real opportunity to go after very hard problems and then build on everything we’ve learned from the early companies and everything we’re continuing to learn as we sort of grow and build partnerships and relationships.
Dan Blumberg: Can you describe how the venture creation process works at Redesign? And maybe you can do so in the context of a particular startup.
Kira Wampler: So one of the things that’s quite important to know about Redesign is that we build all of our companies de novo, not new, inside of Redesign Health. So we don’t go look for companies and bring them onto the platform. We also don’t have people come onto the platform and build companies on the platform. And so for our model, we have a team of folks who are all day long kind of hammering on ideas and they’re generating ideas and running diligence on ideas. And those ideas are coming from multiple places. And what that team is doing early is really investigating the opportunity. How big is this? They’re investigating sort of problem space, white space, how can we solve this problem well early?
And then the other big thing they’re doing in the first part of the ideation process is what I like to describe as ensuring there aren’t existential risks. And look, there are plenty of existential risks in healthcare. And so typically what happens when we discover one and usually it’s regulatory, is that it doesn’t mean we kill it. We just sort of like, okay, put it in a backlog and we might revisit that as the regulatory environment changes or as other dynamics change. So typically what happens is then by the time you get to the midpoint of our process, we attach, we assign people like myself, so venture chairs, to the idea, and then the venture chair is now partnering closely with that ideation team to shepherd the idea through the back half of the process.
And at the simplest level in the back half of the process, we’re really digging into operationally, what would it mean to build this company? So what kind of CEO would we hire? What kind of founding team does this need? What will be the degree of difficulty of bringing that together? What does the revenue model look like? I think this is a place where many people who start healthcare businesses in the wild on their own, especially folks who don’t know much about healthcare, don’t fully understand how healthcare is paid for, which is only 4% is paid for by a consumer, 96% is paid for by someone else.
And so these are often very hard businesses to build because the person using the service isn’t always the person paying for it. And so how do those incentives line up and how does that all work? So we’re really working through now what I would describe as the operational risks of the business. And what we’re doing before we agree to green light the business is trying to clear as many of those risks as we can, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that the risk goes away, but that we have a plan for it.
Dan Blumberg: So you serve as a venture chair at Redesign Health, what does that mean?
Kira Wampler: Right, and I appreciate you asking because we made it up. So that’s the fun part about joining startups early, is you get to make things up that you think are the right thing to do and experiment with it. And then it turned out to work. But we had an early perspective back when I first met Brett, and then when I came on full-time in 2020, that these companies would really benefit from hands-on support early from extremely high impact leaders with experience. So venture chairs join the idea at the midpoint of the process. We shepherd the idea through the back half of the ideation process. Should it get green lit, then we become the board members and the business, we hire the CEO and the founding team, and then our job is to support those CEOs to be the best that they can be. And all of our venture chairs are former CEOs or executives who also have extensive board experience. We come from a wide variety of backgrounds, which is very intentional so that we can play off and support each other. There are 12 of us today.
Dan Blumberg: Tell us more about Jasper Cancer Care. You told us that the idea started with a two word idea.
Kira Wampler: Yeah.
Dan Blumberg: What was that and what happened next?
Kira Wampler: So Jasper started with a couple of sentences, then this is in the old days, this is 2020, but a couple of sentences in a spreadsheet.
Dan Blumberg: The before times?
Kira Wampler: In the before times. It said something as follows, which is “Why is it easier to get ready for having a baby or easier to plan a wedding than it is to go through what is a major change in life state when you got a cancer diagnosis?” And the observation there was we’re sort of a wash in digital tools to help you plan for these other life events. And basically for the most part, if you’re a cancer patient, when you hear those words, you know have cancer, one of the things most people do is actually go get a binder. They get a three ring binder, and they’re planning their cancer journey with a three hole punch pieces of paper and a binder, which just seems completely insane given how much digital tools help us manage and navigate and be prepared for our day-to-day.
So in that journey, we had a team, I mean at the time we were very small, so the team was pretty small, doing the ideation and diligence work, what I would describe as typical sort of desk side research, but then really getting deep into consumer insights and user insights and some really deep research with patients, caregivers, supporters, what are the pain points? And the thing we just kept hearing over and over again, especially from patients and caregivers, was this just extremely strong sense of feeling overwhelmed and feeling a lack of being prepared and not knowing what is coming next and what should I do about it. And part of this is a function of what exists in the world.
So what did exist before Jasper, you would go to our friend, Dr. Google, and you would plug in the cancer diagnosis you got and you’d get thousands of links. Then you would hit one of those, there’d be thousands of pages. Then what a lot of folks do is kind of just turn to these pieces of paper they would get from their doctor, which certainly doesn’t help you know, “Hey, what do I do ahead of my first chemo appointment? And by the way, it’s not just like, how do I get prepared clinically, but who’s going to pick up the kids if that’s during my appointment, and how is the dog going to get walked?”
So our other real insight here was that this feeling of being overwhelmed was not just about the clinical diagnosis and the clinical treatment, but was about your whole life. And so we started with something very simple. We started with the digital planner where you enter in a little bit of information about yourself and your diagnosis, and then we auto-generate a planner and a planning tool to help you navigate what’s coming. And then that tool suggests highly vetted content that we developed with our clinical partners so that you’d had the right information at the right time depending on where you were in your journey. And today, close to 18,000 people use Jasper. We have extraordinary partnerships with major organizations like Memorial Sloan Kettering, Cigna, and we have just a tremendous team who are running just a really, really high impact business and partnering really deeply and closely within the healthcare system to make it a better experience all around. And that’s the core, that’s how we think about the companies we build at Redesign.
Dan Blumberg: One of your roles as venture chair when a startup is ready to reach that next level is the CEO is not necessarily someone who is involved in the earliest days. You often go out and find a CEO, bring them on at that scale up phase. What do you look for in that person?
Kira Wampler: Yeah, it’s a good question. So one maybe tweak I would make is we hire the CEOs pretty much right after we green light, which means what exists is the diligence work that we’ve done, the memo, research, maybe we do have some unfair advantages with partners, et cetera, but it is still very much… I like to say it’s not even wet cement that you can figure out where you’re navigating, there’s still ingredients that you’re mixing before you put it in the mixer. So our CEOs are absolutely founders of this business. They’re starting from the very earliest innings with us as well. I think we like to say that they’re starting with kind of a springboard advantage, so they have a springboard to success.
In terms of what we look for, there are three core competencies that we’ve really narrowed down. One is action orientation. So a real bias for action. And that is a no-brainer when you’re starting a company, you have to have a strong bias for action because time is not your friend. It pairs directly with high decision quality because obviously, you hope that your leader is not only moving quickly, but most of the time, the decisions he or she are making are the right ones. Now with the third competency or really kind of the foundation, and I would tell you now looking at across all of our CEOs at Redesign plus all of the CEOs with whom I’ve worked in my career, the real foundational competency for the highest performing CEOs is a growth mindset. And at the core, that’s like how well do I take “Feedback”? And by the way, feedback here is capital F with air quotes. One of the sub bullets of putting customers first and deeply understanding customers is feedback as a gift.
And so feedback isn’t just what your boss tells you. It’s like what is the data telling you? You have to have this sort of curiosity, openness, you’re not defensive. We’re putting this out into the world. What are we learning? How are people using it? I mean, if you go back to the earliest days of Instagram when it used to be called Burbn, what Kevin realized, he’s like, “People aren’t really using most things here, but the one thing people are doing is they’re using this kooky filter thing with pictures and they’re changing their profile picture a lot. Maybe we should turn it into a photo thing.” And so the best CEOs are moving fast, they have a bias for action. They’re generally speaking, making good decisions, and they have this extraordinary foundation from a growth mindset perspective where they’re open, they’re curious, they’re open to the feedback. And why does that matter? Because hey, in the times where you’re moving quickly and you didn’t make the right decision, you want to know as fast as you can that you didn’t make the right decision, and then what are you going to go do about it?
Dan Blumberg: Yeah. I’m curious about Redesign Health itself as you all have scaled so rapidly. You mentioned 50 startups so far and only almost five years now, and I know there are plans to double that. What scaling problems have you had to tackle as you’ve grown and how are you setting yourselves up to double it again?
Kira Wampler: So I think in terms of how we think about scale, one really important thing is kind of coming back to what we learned at Intuit, which is putting that customer first and being really clear that the person we’re serving is the CEO and his/her founding team and why, because helping that CEO be successful enabling their success means that they’re going to have the highest likelihood of transforming healthcare. And simultaneously, we’re very clear that our job is to enable and support CEOs, not to do things for CEOs. We hired these folks because they are extraordinary at what they do, and we’re giving them a springboard. And so what that’s meant, which I think has been really powerful for us, is that we focus all day long on how do we create scalable services and solutions that are enabling and not doing.
And that’s been a big unlock for how we think about how we scale into evermore companies. How are we A, really crisp on who we’re serving, B, focused on our job of enabling them, which then means three, it’s a lot easier to work through what are the scalable solutions systems, tools that we would use to do that. If I start with this concept of growth mindset and feedback, I think one of the real reasons I joined Redesign was I felt like if you were to look at growth mindset in Wikipedia, the first picture you would see would be Brett Shaheen, the CEO. He just has an extraordinary growth mindset.
And I think what that really means for us as we grow and scale is like we’re constantly evaluating what we’re doing, and how do we do what we do better? How do we do it in a more efficient way so we can serve more people? And how do we just get smarter and how does every time we’re learning something, how do we use that intuition and those insights to help us make the next company better, but more importantly, to help everybody who’s also building companies. And I think that it’s a really interesting set of network effects that you start to see, especially now that we have 50 companies and tens and tens of CEOs and then hundreds of founding team members, and it’s been a really cool journey.
Dan Blumberg: Yeah, amazing. Thank you.
Kira Wampler: Thank you. Yeah, this was a lot of fun.
Dan Blumberg: That’s Kira Wampler and this is Crafted from RDM. If you’re building innovative solutions in health, wealth or wherever, let’s talk. At RDM, we build incredible products to recruit high performing teams and help you achieve the culture of craft you need to build great software long after we’re gone. We artisans love partnering with creative people to build their visions of the future. You can learn more about us at thisisrdm.com and start a conversation by emailing hello at thisisrdm.com. If you like today’s episode, please subscribe and spread the word because at Crafted, we’re fun, we’re smart, and we’re Webby honored.
Kira Wampler: Those things are all speaking my love language.