“Believe in what you’re doing” With Douglas Brown & Jeanette Numbers

Believe in what you’re doing, it will inspire your team to do the sameEnforce diversity in all interactions. At all times, from staff to user research, consider who isn’t in the room. If they’re not in the room, you should be thinking about them, and be aware of your blind spots.Have a plan. Set measurable […]

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Believe in what you’re doing, it will inspire your team to do the same

Enforce diversity in all interactions. At all times, from staff to user research, consider who isn’t in the room. If they’re not in the room, you should be thinking about them, and be aware of your blind spots.

Have a plan. Set measurable goals, and specify requirements and timelines early on. I like to use SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeanette Numbers, co-founder of Loft, a multidisciplinary strategy, design, and technology agency in Providence, Rhode Island. She works with change makers and organizations who are committed to a human-centered approach to define innovative consumer experiences. Jeanette has more than 20 years of design experience, creating numerous award-winning designs and holds multiple patents for product innovations.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always been interested in the intersection between products and human interactions. My first inspiration was automotive design. It is typically all about the sexy shape of the exterior, and that didn’t interest me at all — what did interest me was how people operate and interact with the inside of the car, the design of the interface. That led me to a degree in industrial design. I was one of the only women in my class, but I kind of ignored that — I had expected it to a degree. When I graduated and started working, I was often given feminine oriented projects because of my gender. As I climbed the ladder, the lack of women in leadership roles became more and more evident. I realized that advocating in the women’s health space wasn’t about making the best new diaper or breast pump, it’s about telling stories that wouldn’t otherwise be acknowledged. I wanted to have more agency to work on these problems, so I started my own company with my cofounder, Gregor Mittersinker. I didn’t realize that I would end up as one of just 5 women in this role.

In the tech industry, there is a lack of mentorship. There might be a pool of women designers who are junior, but there aren’t any leaders. It seemed easier to create my own company than battle upstream to a leadership role.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

After 9 years of running a successful design consultancy, we were put in a position by COVID 19 where we had to reevaluate our business. As so many other small businesses were struggling, I realized that tackling this challenge — an unprecedented global pandemic — is exactly what designers are trained to do. So we worked through incredible design challenges to create COVID 19 testing trailers that can provide mobile testing across the state.

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 I worked in the toy industry, we had a play lab where we’d take prototypes down to a bunch of kids to see how they played with them. We were designing a log cabin, and they turned it upside down and put all their animals in it to play Noah’s Ark. That taught me to talk to the user sooner rather than later — you can’t have this altruistic view of how something is going to be used, you have to actually show it to someone.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

During the dot com boom, I moved to San Francisco to be at the leading edge of design. Things were going great, but then the market dropped, my company downsized and I was out of a job. And that’s actually when I started working for myself. I didn’t want to be a victim to uncontrollable circumstances, like someone else’s bottom line. I’ve always been a keep moving person — there’s a problem, let’s solve the problem.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people along the way, from the team at Rhode Island Commerce, to Shephard Fairey at RISD, but really it’s the community that has helped me succeed over the past 9 years. The music community, the artist community — the culture and community of Providence as a whole have made it possible.

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

Give more than you take. Which is just about designing with the whole world in mind. It’s not just solving a problem for one person, it’s about how the solution impacts other communities, cultures, the environment. You have to look at the whole picture. Using the process and the energy to enable solutions.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

At the end of the day, as a design and engineering firm, our job is to help solve companies’ pain points. They bring us their dreams, and we make them into concepts which we take to commercialization. That being said, we’re really focusing on the healthcare space right now. It’s where our passion lies and where we think we can provide the most value by serving the end user in a way that can be independent of a hospital, or a nurse, or a technician. How are we equipping them to be in control of their health? And now, at this point in my career, I’m really focusing on helping female and underrepresented founders have the success they deserve in a space that’s so male dominated.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

What makes us stand out is that we really do focus on the end user — that’s the beginning of our process. We don’t take things at face value. We have a focus group facility in house and have physically built research into our process. We are willing and eager to go beyond the loudest person in the room, and that leads us to important insights to make the products better for all users. There are so many stories like this in my career, but I’ll share one example. Oftentimes I interview men and women together as couples and the male voice is often the loudest voice in the room. As we’re talking, I read the body language of the woman, and once I’m able to talk with her 1:1, she tells me a completely different way she’s using the product which reshapes the design. This can also help it be more successful commercially, because women control 85% of all purchase decisions. As I mentioned, we actually have the space to host user research at Loft, and on top of that, Rhode Island is a good microcosm of the country so we’re able to get a demographically representative sample from folks nearby.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes — we’re currently working on an update to Embr Wave, a product that allows you to feel cooler or warmer just by adjusting the temperature on your wrist. The next version will be smaller and lighter, allowing it to be more comfortable to wear all the time. Embr goes beyond thermal regulation into interventions to help people feel better moment by moment.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I’m not satisfied. Some changes we can see would be to be supported at all levels — you can’t just insert a woman into a company and expect the culture to change. Recently, fueled by frustration over the state of the women’s health industry and the lack of authentic conversation, I started hosting virtual panels with female founders to have open conversations about the challenges women face in the space. The first event blew away our expectations, and we’ve been overwhelmed with requests to turn this into a series. The goal is to have a candid conversation about where we’re headed, the challenges we’ve faced, and how we as female founders can continue to use our voices to ensure that from concept to commercialization, women are at the forefront of this movement. We also need more women in my seat, which is something I’m trying to change through hosting these panels and providing mentorship to other women. By creating a strong community, we can encourage more women to join the field. At all levels, we need to prioritize hiring, and then supporting, a diverse team — getting more women into the meeting rooms.

And don’t even get me started on the word Femtech…

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

A really important point to consider is how we define whether someone is “good at tech.” Traditionally, it’s are you good at math and science — but there are so many other traits that make a good engineer, innovator, or designer. How would you even know you’d be good for this field when the qualifiers are so male-oriented? Feminine qualities such as empathy and respect are super important for developing thoughtful products. We need to recognize and reward these strengths.

What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

Reinvent yourself. Take a leap of faith. Don’t wait for someone to save you. Take control of your situation. No one will hand it to you — you have to make the change yourself.

I really try to stay flexible and open to new ways to approach things, which puts me in a position to respond positively to changes. In business, there’s always uncertainty, so it helps to be able to roll with whatever is thrown your way.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

Don’t approach sales as sales — approach meetings as interactions, and sales will hopefully come out of that. Focus on listening to people, really listening. Then, see if you can solve a problem they are having in the moment. Build the relationship from there. And, by the way, you’re going to encounter a lot of no’s before one yes, so you have to stick with it.

In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Put out the energy you want to get back — we try to be what we want to attract. Work with the right mix of clients; it’s important to have a well rounded client list of people we respect and genuinely want to help means that we’ll be referred to similar people. We’ve also been putting ourselves out there with points of view that we believe in, through marketing and interviews like this one, and that attracts people with similar beliefs.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

We’re in the business of helping our clients give their customers the best possible user experience, and in order to do that I recommend the following.

  1. Make choices: we’re always balancing the tradeoffs between speed, cost, and feasibility
  2. Understand the customer — this is best done through user testing
  3. Provide value — ensure that the product is actually providing value to the user

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

[as a consultancy, this question doesn’t really apply to us — N/A]

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Believe in what you’re doing, it will inspire your team to do the same
  2. Enforce diversity in all interactions. At all times, from staff to user research, consider who isn’t in the room. If they’re not in the room, you should be thinking about them, and be aware of your blind spots.
  3. Be flexible and passionate — sometimes you have to hustle to get the job done. We have a neon “Hustle” sign in our kitchen to inspire us to keep going when it gets tough.
  4. Have a plan. Set measurable goals, and specify requirements and timelines early on. I like to use SMART goals, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
  5. Hire people who believe in your vision as much as you do, from sales to engineering, design and HR. All levels and all roles matter in building a strong team that will be willing to go the distance.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous 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. 🙂

At this point in my career, I really want to focus on impact. If the last months have shown us anything, it’s the importance of representation. I can effect that change by ensuring that the end users we interview are diverse, the people I hire are diverse, and if any of the people reading this column could embrace those same goals, we would be in a much better place.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Michelle Obama, 100%. Her story is incredible — throughout her career, she was always in the spot of having to overcome being a minority and having the odds stacked against herself, and she did it with such positivity and power.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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