Big Ideas: “When an older adult dies, it’s like a library burning down; Let’s preserve as many family stories as possible” with Tom Anderson, Neil Poulin, and Ryan Brown of Kinecho

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 Tom Anderson, Neil Poulin, and Ryan Brown, co-founders of Kinecho, a Denver-based startup focused on preserving life stories. Tom received his PhD in Demography from the University of Pennsylvania, where he […]

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 Tom Anderson, Neil Poulin, and Ryan Brown, co-founders of Kinecho, a Denver-based startup focused on preserving life stories. Tom received his PhD in Demography from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was bitten by the startup bug and became fascinated by the field of consumer behavior. Neil studied engineering at the University of Michigan, became a sales engineer, and pivoted to coding after realizing he could build tech solutions to make his life easier. Ryan studied English Literature at San Francisco State University before a long career in coffee, first as an international coffee buyer and then as Blue Bottle Coffee’s first Product Manager.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

We’re inspired by the potential of connecting people and their stories through technology, and believe that older adults in particular are underserved by consumer technology products.

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

We were all working at Craftsy, a former Denver startup, when NBCUniversal acquired the company. It was tremendously interesting to observe scrappy startup paradigms collide with mental models of a multi-billion dollar juggernaut like NBCUniversal. All said, we learned a ton about the coming together of two very different entities, and feel fortunate to have been part of the transition.

Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

The idea is called Kinecho — Kin like family, and echo like voice repeating.

Kinecho is a digital service that connects families through storytelling. Using audio, text, and photos, users can interactively share their stories with family. The result is a beautiful, interactive scrapbook that can be digitally shared with future generations.

How do you think this will change the world?

There is a saying that “When an older adult dies, it’s like a library burning down.” In the past, there were limited ways around this. Today, given the ubiquity of microphones, keyboards, and limitless cloud storage, we feel this is unacceptable. Our mission is to preserve as many personal and familial stories as possible.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

Memories are not perfect; they are selective and subject to error. As a result, family members may have different versions of a single event.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

Before we decided to build Kinecho, we mosied over to speak with Tom’s neighbor, Jan. At 81 years old, Jan is hip and hilarious. Jan became emotional when talking about her parents and lamented that she has little to remember her folks. Later in the day, she called us and said “I’d pay anything to hear my parents tell their stories.”

After engaging hundreds more in surveys and interviews, we realized we had stumbled upon a real need that had not been solved.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

We need help spreading the word that Kinecho exists!

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. If you’d like to partner with organizations, you must make it clear what value you will provide to them. Example: Early on, many partnership conversations would fizzle because I failed to make clear how they would benefit from the relationship. Be upfront and open about how you can help potential partners and they’ll be likely to hitch their waggon to yours.
  2. Don’t build a feature until you’re sure you know what to build based on intense customer engagement. Example: We hypothesize that users will want a set of tools to edit their memories. Before we build it, we will continue engaging our users to understand exactly what they need.
  3. Don’t try to do everything at once. Example: The technology we’ve built can accommodate many use cases. It turns out, Kinecho is fantastic for parents who want to preserve their kids’ voices and document their younger years. Kinecho also works well as an interactive birthday card where friends and family members can recount their favorite stories about a person. It’s important to recognize these use cases but stay laser focused on building your product for one. After all, you can’t be all things to all people.
  4. Even though you feel like you spend all the time in the world with your team, take the time to meet with all of them individually and be clear what the goal is. Starting a business is high pressure, so you want to trust and be trusted.
  5. Get more funding. Even if you’re dealing with a real problem and have a kickass solution and team, you still don’t know how long it’ll take to figure out the precise business model and distribution or user acquisition plan. Give yourself the time to try a hundred different ways.

The future of work is a common theme. What can one do to “future proof” their career?

There is no future where soft skills are irrelevant, whether humans are working or not. Practice leadership, teamwork, communication, problem solving, work ethic, adaptability, and interpersonality.

Based on the future trends in your industry, if you had a million dollars, what would you invest in?

We would invest in services that reduce senior isolation and loneliness. We hope Kinecho will make a dent, but so much more needs to be done. A shocking percentage of older adults lack daily engagement with other human beings, and that has detrimental psychological, emotional, and cognitive consequences.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life? Your career?

We have two.

  1. There’s no way around it — to succeed in business and relationships, you must add value to people’s lives. People must feel that it is worth itto spend money on your product. They must feel it is worth it to spend time with you. Whether you are providing users with a delightful product experience, or making them feel like a million bucks, it’s important to make people feel like they are getting out as much (or more) as they are putting in.
  2. Only work with people you’d spend the rest of your life working with. Hard to do when you join a big team, easy to do when you’re creating the team.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

In Business: Share your ideas — the good and the bad — with your team, with your friends and family, with your competition; great ideas feel more important than your ability to execute, but the opposite is nearly always true, because once you start executing, you realize you need 100 more ideas to finish.

In Life: Exercise regularly; eat food that makes you (not just your tastebuds) feel good; stay modest; and live life with curiosity

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

Social connection is a primal need that we all have, but our digital solutions seem unwell right now. In 10 years, we’ll look back and be amazed by how much opportunity there was in 2019. Nobody would willingly design a party with their mom, their ex-coworker, their high school prom date, and 1,000 other loose connections, but that’s what digital social connection is today.

Kinecho wants to take one piece of that — families connecting over cherished memories and shared experiences — and give it the attention, privacy, and encouragement that it deserves.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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