Robert Orr of Life360 Innovations: “Failure and constructive feedback is critical to our long-term success”

Fail: failure and constructive feedback is critical to our long-term success. We have tried to establish a culture of pushing the limits and trying things that have not been tried before. Virtually every aspect of our development is a pioneering exercise, so playing it safe and following rules is not helpful or productive in the […]

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Fail: failure and constructive feedback is critical to our long-term success. We have tried to establish a culture of pushing the limits and trying things that have not been tried before. Virtually every aspect of our development is a pioneering exercise, so playing it safe and following rules is not helpful or productive in the circumstances.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Robert Orr.

Robert Orr is the President, CEO, and co-founder of the award-winning Life360 Innovations. A Chartered Accountant, a Chartered Business Valuator, and a seasoned finance professional & strategist that has worked with some of North America’s largest companies and government entities. Robert co-founded Life360 Innovations in 2010 to make a difference in urinary incontinence with Contino, a first of its kind men’s health product. The Contino urethral insert is a self administered non-surgical licenced medical device that controls bladder leakage in men.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My wife, teenage son and I live in the beautiful city of Vancouver, BC. I am an active member in the community, with both non-profit and for-profit entities. I also mentor a number of early stage technology companies in Canada and the US.

I grew up in Vancouver in a middle class family, the oldest of four children. I was a reasonably accomplished athlete, competing successfully at a high level in baseball, basketball and track and field. Now, my athletic pursuits focus on golf, coaching baseball and refereeing basketball.

I attended the University of Victoria and obtained a BSc in applied mathematics in economics, with a major in accounting. Upon graduating in the early 1990s, I articled to become a Chartered Accountant (CA) and practiced for approximately 20 years with Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCooper. During my tenure in public practice, I obtained professional designations as a CA, Chartered Business Valuator (CBV) and Accredited Senior Appraiser from the American Society of Appraisers (ASA). My practice area for the first half of my professional practice career focused on Canadian tax and the second half on transactions (i.e. valuations, fairness opinions, due diligence and complex analysis). The above allowed me to develop a reasonable level of industry expertise in technology, mining, real estate and infrastructure.

I co-founded Life360 Innovations Inc. (Life360) in 2010, to support Ken Kunz, my friend and a co-founder of Life360. Ken was in his mid-70s and suffered from urinary incontinence (UI), the result of radial prostectomy surgery in 2007 that successfully addressed his prostate cancer but left him incontinent. Ken had developed a personal incontinence device and had been using it for a number of years, with great success. Initially, we focused on the filing and prosecution of the first US patent on the medical device. As the opportunity developed, I became more involved and we decided to put together a detailed program to pursue the opportunity more fully. We began by transforming the original personal prototype into a licensed medical device. Our first key partner was the MAKE group, a healthcare focused prototype program developed by the British Columbia Institute of Technology.

As the demands for my time grew, I decided to focus exclusively on the opportunity. I left my career as an accomplished finance professional and became a full-time entrepreneur.

The key motivation for the career change was to take on the challenge/opportunity of doing something different that could be financially rewarding — and that could have a significant impact on the lives of men like Ken. I expected that bringing a new product to market would be very challenging but I believed that my prior work experience, personal networks and professional discipline would carry me through the challenges. As it turns out, the process has been much more challenging — and rewarding — than originally expected. My central motivation has not changed over the years and I believe that it has carried over to Life360’s executive team, Advisory Board and Board of Directors.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

We are creating a new product category (urethral inserts) to fit into a global and growing multi-billion dollar market that focuses on UI. We have a novel way to deliver the product and manage the condition. The existing products and treatments focus on collecting urine, trying to suppress and manage its odor and disposing of it in a non-eco-friendly way. The materials used in these products are designed and chosen to reduce infection, rashes and irritation when urine rests against the user’s skin. The products do not fully address the patient’s needs and as a result, many patients are unsatisfied with their current choices and suffer from related complications, including anxiety, loss of dignity, loneliness and depression. They also tend to become more sedentary and can lose some or all of their urge reflex to urinate. In extreme cases, patients can develop urinary retention, an even more complicated and distressing medical condition.

By contrast, Contino is a non-surgical, urethral insert device that keeps urine in the body until the user is ready to void it (in a toilet — rather than having it end up in a land fill). The concept of keeping urine in the body, with a removable device that occludes within the urethra, is, in the words of medical professionals advising us, something that would never have been developed by the medical community. Medical professionals tend to think and treat in a different way and generally would not leave the patient in charge of a treatment. It is noteworthy, however, that patients have been self-administering catheters for decades, a much more complex task than that required to use the Contino urethral insert.

UI is a complex and chronic condition and while the mechanical components of the solution are critical, they are not the whole solution. Our integrated solution provides one-on-one advice and ongoing support from experienced continence medical professionals.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we were about two years into the Contino design process, we began testing various medical grade materials and the cavity sizes. At that time, I received a call from our inventor regarding his use of the latest prototype. He was upset and disappointed, having concluded that the device did not work and that we should cut our losses and move on to other things. His plan was to go back to using his personal prototype.

After the initial shock of the call, and after ‘talking the inventor off the cliff”, we went through a detailed troubleshooting exercise to identify the short comings of the latest prototype. Following that, we decided to increase the size of the cavity by 1%, a change that took a few weeks to work through. I am pleased to say that my next conversation with the inventor was much better, with Ken saying that “this is the best designed prototype I have used, and it works great, thank you”.

The moral of that story is to understand, troubleshoot, adjust and try again. Setbacks are to be expected and are important milestones in the development process that should be embraced.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Early on in this journey I sought out and developed an extensive network of professionals and mentors who could help with the expert advice I was going to need along the way. In particular, I established our Medical Advisory Committee and Board of Directors (both listed on our website) that have supported me and Life360 for many years. Every member of these two key groups has had a material influence on me and has very much helped in our achievement of many milestones. When I was the only employee in the early years, I was always fortunate to have at least one board member who had the complementary experience or expertise to help with specific projects. Examples include Dr. Mike Holloway assisting with the medical outreach and oversight of our clinical studies, Dr. Robert Gayton helping develop the good governance and shareholder management policies, Mike Bowie completing detailed work related to our patent claims and business planning and Roger Kuypers establishing a practical approach to our legal work and fund raising.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I think disrupting can be both positive and negative — and that there are significant benefits to systems that have stood the test of time. Accordingly, change should be considered seriously and cautiously. However, when an industry is not meeting the needs of its customers and the shortcomings are effectively being underwritten by others, change is a necessity, full stop.

In our case, the existing solutions for men with UI are not that diverse or effective and in Canada, the impacts of the short comings are underwritten by the Canadian health system — and our landfills.

For context in the US, a Wall Street Journal / Urology Care Foundation article published in November 2019 notes that 1 in 4 men over the age of 40 are affected by some form of urinary incontinence. Further, a Journal of Urology article published in August 2011 noted that the trends in the US showed that the prevalence of UI in men grew from 11.5% of men to 15.1% between 2001 and 2008.

For context in Canada, a Canadian Continence Foundation publication in 2018 estimated that approximately 3.5 million adults in Canada suffer from some form of UI (approximately 1/3 males and 2/3 females), equivalent to approximately 10% of the Canadian population.

For context in the UK, the National Health Service estimates that between 3 and 6 million people in the UK have some degree of urinary incontinence.

Studies indicate that there is a strong association between UI and loneliness, leading to a number of negative medical outcomes. Our health systems are under strain and unnecessary costs should not be passively ignored as ‘part of aging’. In a similar vein, we should not accept that the disposal of untreated sewage (and the non-organic materials used in adult briefs and pads) into landfills is an optimal approach for the environment. To be clear, I am not saying that Contino and our approach are a panacea. However, I am saying that a holistic approach for dealing with UI and other complex medical conditions should lead to better medical (and environmental) outcomes.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Focus: we are developing a new product category and approach — to fit into a multi-billion dollar global market. As this new category is starting with no customers, its development is not an incremental improvement to an existing body of knowledge and products. Contino is something entirely new, a pioneering event in every aspect. The key to our achievements so far has been our relentless focus on the customer’s requirements — and how our product and supporting systems will meet the client’s needs and the needs of our clinical partners. We have created a number of pillars we consider to be necessary for success. Our enterprise resource platform allows us to deliver our products through a unique distribution strategy in Canada and to have the flexibility to establish a modified platform as we expand globally. Some of the other pillars include a comprehensive quality management system, compliant with Canadian, EU and US regulations, a scalable manufacturing process and the protection of our brands and intellectual property.

Fail: failure and constructive feedback is critical to our long-term success. We have tried to establish a culture of pushing the limits and trying things that have not been tried before. Virtually every aspect of our development is a pioneering exercise, so playing it safe and following rules is not helpful or productive in the circumstances.

Improve: we need to build on and learn from our failures. This means embracing the power of change and continual improvement.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We have product designs for the female UI market and hope to move forward with those soon. As well, we are considering the fecal incontinence market, as well as adding medical devices within the urology space to our suite of products (i.e. anti-microbial catheters, pessaries, super pubic catheters).

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore and Zero to One by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters are excellent books that resonated with me and helped prepare me for the challenges and brighten the dark patches along the way.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall” Confucius. As an athlete growing up and as an entrepreneur now, I have learned to overcome setbacks. The key is to get up and try again. If you are lucky enough to learn from past mistakes or learning experiences, you will be better prepared for the next one.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Growing up, being educated and working in Canada has shaped me. Canadians have many strong qualities and the country has many excellent institutions. The country has generated many successful companies and products over the years and that should be recognized and embraced. As well, many of our institutions have stood the test of time and helped sustain the country, particularly in times of crisis. Notwithstanding those successes, Canadians and our institutions tend to play it safe. We need to embrace and encourage change and risk taking by individuals and our institutions. This is particularly so in healthcare, as we are facing serious long-term structural shortfalls and need to look within to solve these important issues.

The theme of playing it safe reminds me of former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop’s quote: “we didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow we lost”. That statement was made at a press conference to announce Microsoft’s acquisition of Nokia. Nokia was the world leader and pioneer in the mobile phone market, but somehow forgot their roots and played it safe — all the way to the point where they needed to be acquired.

Life360 is making a small contribution to this effort and sees increased awareness and motivation to take on the challenges, particularly so in light of the pandemic.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow Robert Orr on Linkedin:

You can follow our flagship product Contino on:

Facebook & Twitter: @mycontino

Youtube: Contino Bladder Leakage Control


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