“Don’t be afraid to be the first”, With Douglas Brown and Fran Heller

Don’t be afraid to be the first — Just because something hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get out there and give it a chance to work. Being the first takes vision, courage, and persistence but developing something new is also very rewarding. As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders […]

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Don’t be afraid to be the first — Just because something hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get out there and give it a chance to work. Being the first takes vision, courage, and persistence but developing something new is also very rewarding.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Fran Heller, CEO and sole founder of Good2Go, a secure access company providing keyless, touchless, access through the use of real-time digital credentials and virtual queueing.

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?

Prior to Good2Go, I spent the better part of 25 years as a business executive and lawyer in biotech and pharma. Most recently as Senior Vice President of Business Development at Bristol-Myers Squibb and a Trustee of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, I supported scientific teams discovering and developing complex new treatment. I’m a member of the California State Bar, am licensed by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and have a B.S. in biology from Tulane University, an M.A. in biology from American University and J.D. from Golden Gate University School of Law.

One day while training with a running group, one of our team needed a restroom. We all were locals, but surprisingly, none knew of one. It seemed absurd that we live in a high tech, developed society, yet we had failed to solve the most basic human need. I became intrigued and after researching and investigating the technology and potential business models, I founded Good2Go and launched the 1st company offering a digital solution; keyless, touchless and virtual queueing for restrooms.

While our technology and intellectual property are applicable to a wide range of use-cases for commercial buildings, transportation, and event venues — our first launched product solves a challenge we’ve all faced as a consumer, especially in urban environments — the ability to find and access modern restroom, one that you’d actually like to use.

I’m also an angel investor, adviser to various startups, and have been on several boards including private, public and non-profits.

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

As a part of our business, we offer contactless, mobile restrooms that can be deployed to locations with heavy foot traffic but limited resources. One year, we were asked to deploy our mobile restroom at San Francisco’s Winter Walk in Union Square. We were told that the Mayor would be stopping by on Christmas Eve to check out our company and technology. Obviously, we were excited about the opportunity and wanted to showcase our technology to our city’s new mayor. Unfortunately, a torrential downpour occurred flooding the streets and all of the holiday exhibits including Good2Go. We scrambled to mop up and ready ourselves only to learn from the Mayor’s assistant that unfortunately she had to cancel and would be unable to see Good2Go’s technology as planned. As a startup and as a CEO — you have to take every opportunity you can get. Sure, they don’t always pan out — but if you don’t try, there is no chance for success.

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?

Having a sense of humor is an essential life skill, no matter what you are undertaking. When you are launching a tech startup, get that sense of humor ready and if your technology can be applied to an environment like a restroom, you have to be really ready. It turns out that (nearly) everyone feels compelled to talk to you like you are their urologist/GI specialist, so tact, compassion, and a sense of humor is a must.

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?

It’s a pretty well-known fact that roughly 90% of startups fail. So, if you are determined to launch a start-up, be sure to do whatever you can to learn from others’ mistakes and anticipate as best as possible where the toughest obstacles will arise. If you are doing something no one has done before (a 1st mover) know that your risk of failure just went up. It can be exciting to be a 1st mover, but there are countless articles entitled, “Being the First to Market May Harm Your Business”, “Turn back now”, “Don’t do it” and other similarly daunting messages. For Good2Go, we were launching a technology and a business that had never been done before and building a new market requires courage, persistence and non-stop determination. In our case, we are solving a problem that’s long overdue. But how to build and launch the technology and the business is a very, very hard task. Right now, consumer demand for contactless access, especially for restrooms is at an all-time high so we are urging businesses and governmental agencies to accelerate the supply and increase access. It’s a daunting task to launch a ‘never been done before’ technology and business. You have to find your own way to stay motivated and enthusiastic along the way. For me, I am motivated by the basic need to solve this everyday (often overlooked) access 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?

I have been very fortunate to have a network of friends and colleagues who have been supportive and helpful from the start. From the early days of “is this a good idea?” into the funding gauntlet and periodically along the way as various challenges arose.

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

I’ve had the pleasure of twice attending Richard Branson’s Leadership retreats where he shares the philosophy behind his book, “Screw Business As Usual: Turning Capitalism into a Force for Good” and it inspired me to create a company to not only launch a high-tech, Internet of Things startup, but to also address an everyday basic human need. By doing this, we could create a powerful force for good. At Good2Go, we’ve launched our business in partnership with a non-profit who provides mobile hygiene (shower) services to those experiencing homelessness. We not only share a portion of our revenue, but our location partners like Whole Foods Market and Peet’s Coffee also donate their revenue share. Our team volunteers at Mobile Hygiene deployments and we donate our mobile restroom as well.

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?

​Good2Go provides keyless, touchless and virtual queueing solutions for restrooms, office lobbies, elevators and other everyday resources. Good2Go leverages IoT technology to make everyday experiences simpler, more convenient, and more hygienic. Especially to address critical needs post-COVID, contactless systems are a must to support our recovery by helping businesses, staff and customers feel more confident returning to public environments. Our 1st use case provides more modern access to restrooms. Through an intuitive mobile app and proprietary software, users are able to locate the nearest Good2Go restroom. Users join a virtual queue and receive a digital key to unlock and automatically open the door. Along with providing customers with ‘self-serve’ contactless access to a restroom, retailers benefit from valuable data on cleanliness, conditions, and occupancy to improve operational efficiency. Retailers reported reduced restroom misuse, streamlined operations through automated restroom access and virtual queue management.

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

Almost everyone has experienced the uncertainty and very poor quality of finding and accessing a restroom when away from home. Modernizing and improving access to remove the uncertainty and offer quality conditions is something that everyone agrees is long overdue. In this way, Good2Go definitely stands out from the unpleasant alternatives found in public restrooms, gas stations and the cafe or coffee shop that you hope will let you use the restroom, even without a purchase. Gone are the days of having to touch a physical (and gross) key that is attached to a large hubcap or giant spoon, or needing to stand in a line to wait for restroom access — with Good2Go, your smartphone is the key and even notifies you when it is your turn.

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

Absolutely. The new realities of COVID-19 have triggered a social shift and greater desire for touchless access points when venturing into public spaces and venues. Touchless is now and will evermore be synonymous with hygiene, health and safety. Good2Go’s touchless access technology platform provides peace of mind for users and efficient management for business with limited space. Beyond restroom access control for businesses, our solution and IP apply to other use-cases such as elevator access and (virtual) waiting rooms and is a good fit for many other industries such as transportation, commercial buildings and event venues.

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?

While I’ve certainly seen some improvements over the course of my career, I can’t say that I’m satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech. From the investor community, funding in female founders and senior leaders should occur more often and with higher dollar commitments. This is an incredibly important step to realizing change. As an angel investor and adviser to several startups, I encourage female founders and leaders to join communities, networks and startup accelerators that foster female entrepreneurship. I think that mentorship is incredibly important as well and I’ve been fortunate at Good2Go to have amazing board members that have supported and mentored me as a first-time CEO.

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?

As a founder of a tech-startup, I’ve spent a lot of time fundraising. Of course, this isn’t extraordinary in and of itself; however, I’ve found that the expectations of a female founder and CEO aren’t always the same as what is expected from a male founder and CEO. In fact, I’ve had several male advisors recognize and point out the inconsistencies of what is expected from me versus male founders they know. Addressing this goes back to my previous point, VC’s and other types of investors need to invest more and take bigger risks on female founders and female-led startups.

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”?

Continually listen to your customers and the market and make the needed adjustments. Get back to the basics and focus on customer sentiment and market demands. These basic factors can change rapidly and if you lose touch with those, your business can easily stall, or you might miss out on opportunities. For Good2Go, customer sentiment practically changed overnight due to COVID-19 and as a result, we’ve adjusted our messaging and the priority of product features on our roadmap to better align with customer needs.

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

Give your sales team clear objectives and the tools they need to succeed. At Good2Go, we are building a new market, so customer success stories and the supporting data metrics are critical to our sales enablement. In addition, we’ve found that the ability to be creative in deal terms has been important for us — so having a process in place around acceptable deal parameters and/or approval processes has been helpful.

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?

At the moment, we use a combination of networking and “cold calls” to reach potential customers. Early on, we secured large/global brands such as Chevron, Whole Foods Market and Peet’s Coffee. The case studies and analytics from these locations are great resources and references that can be used to attract new business.

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

When it comes to the customer experience for access control systems, there are a few design strategies important to us at Good2Go.

Convenience. Good2Go’s solution is a new way of finding and accessing a restroom. Our solution needs to be more convenient than the typical alternative which often includes making a purchase, having to wait in line, and often needing a physical key or punch code to obtain access. Today, we offer geolocation services, in-app digital access, and virtual queuing to create a highly convenient customer experience. We also have plans to add a ‘non-app’ digital experience through a web-based interface.

Intuitive. Because our solution is new, combining keyless, contactless, automatic doors and handsfree fixtures, Good2Go’s solution has to be intuitive and easy to use. Our customer experience replaces the dreaded ‘high-touch’ keys, door handles and fixtures so access has to be seamless and easy to learn.

Real-time Customer Feedback. One of Good2Go’s technology platform advantages is the real-time feedback on space conditions, occupancy, and servicing/supply needs. This is a design strategy and critical to our user experience.

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?

We built a fairly sophisticated user analytics platform that allows us to understand customer engagement, usage, and retention (amongst other metrics). For example, in a recent pilot with on-demand drivers, we were able to track these metrics daily and use various marketing tactics such as text messaging, email automation and in-app notifications to increase usage and reduce churn over the course of the trial period.

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. Build something that you are passionate about — While I didn’t plan to start a company, when I observed the universal problem of finding and accessing restrooms safely, and hygienically and saw how ‘broken’ it was for all ages, genders, locals, tourists and especially for people experiencing homelessness, I became passionate about approaching the solution in a way that no one had done before, with technology.

2. Resiliency is essential — Even with a great business idea (and we are often told that Good2Go is a great idea) you may still get rejected. Each VC has its own funding thesis and even within a firm you can get diverse opinions. It’s part of the process and for sure can get you down. Feedback is essential, even if/when it comes with a rejection. Having the right mindset is a MUST so listen closely, debrief with your team after each pitch. Improve wherever and whenever you can and keep at it. Many, many successful companies received lots of declines in their early startup days. Have faith, believe in your idea and your team to bring it to the next step.

3. Business models for good — Founding and running a startup is a huge life commitment. You will eat, drink and sleep it for much longer than you expect to. By following the philosophy that business can be a Force for Good has inspired me to keep going — even when it feels just ‘too hard.’

4. Don’t be afraid to be the first — Just because something hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get out there and give it a chance to work. Being the first takes vision, courage, and persistence but developing something new is also very rewarding.

5. Me, myself and I — Being the sole founder has a lot of advantages: flexibility, agility and streamlined decision making to name a few. While it might seem like corporate-utopia, and a way to get started quickly and efficiently, being a sole founder is also very difficult, lonely and exhausting. It’s hard to know if the outcome would have been any different, but having the option to have had additional support, diversity of skillset/opinions, and collaboration that can come from additional founders is worth exploring for sure.

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. 🙂

I would love to inspire a movement around diversity and inclusion when it comes to access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene. My vision, my intention and my expectation is that smart city platforms built to collect data and provide insights to improve mobility, increase safety, and drive economic growth ALSO include basic human needs like access to everyday resources like restrooms and showers. I am a strong believer that understanding others, their needs and challenges is essential to designing products that customers love, building a successful company, and shaping a better future. And, understanding others starts by valuing the differences in those around us. No organization is too big or too small to embrace diversity and inclusion.

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 🙂

I would love to have lunch with Richard Branson. I’ve met him a couple times before at his Leadership retreat and I’d love to update him on how his influence impacted my business in such a positive way.

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

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