“Don’t expect perfection on your first release.” with Mitch Russo & Sarah Bolt

Don’t expect perfection on your first release. The list of everything you want will undoubtedly be long, the key thing is to understand what your core functions are, get this right and go live. You can add new features over time. This will enable you to go live sooner than if you wait for the perfect […]

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Don’t expect perfection on your first release. The list of everything you want will undoubtedly be long, the key thing is to understand what your core functions are, get this right and go live. You can add new features over time. This will enable you to go live sooner than if you wait for the perfect app, you can also get feedback from customers to help mould future updates. You have to view it as an iterative process.

As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Bolt. Sarah has a genuine passion for healthcare and has used her zest for tech to identify a niche in the healthcare market. Turning 40 was a momentous moment for Sarah as she realised that, for many women, turning 40 serves as a wake up call for their mortality and health. It was at this point that she founded Forth. Forth is an innovative healthcare optimisation service and app that seeks to alleviate pressure on the NHS by urging users to take responsibility for their own health and reach their personal best. Users are sent an at-home blood test which they send off for analysis at Forth’s accredited labs. From there they can download the app and/or view their results on an intuitive dashboard which converts data into engaging graphics. Forth can provide analysis for over 50 key biomarkers the results from which are tracked over time so users can see when significant changes occur. Forth are industry leaders with the best technology platform in their sector.

Thank you so much for joining us, Sarah! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Thanks for having me! So I’ve spent most of my life working in Marketing. I initially did a degree in communication studies at Coventry Uni before moving to London where I did a brief stint as a Music promoter — cool right! After that I started working on global brands such as Virgin and Jack Daniels, finally ending up at Dyson. Skip forward — I turned 40 and was working as a NPD Manager at Dyson. It was at this point that I realised how irrelevant what I was working on really was and decided I needed to switch up my career and work in an area with more social impact. With the support of my partner, I quit my job with the intention of doing a Masters in either Social Policy or Behaviour — weighing up whether to go down a politics or healthcare path. By the title of this article, it’s no surprise that I settled on Healthcare. I then worked in the Healthcare sector for 7 years before I took a leap of faith and founded Forth!

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

There were a number but all around the same time. In 2013 I started doing a number of research projects for early stage digital healthcare companies. At the same time FitBit launched its first product in the UK. I’ve always been a tech lover and I rushed to buy one, admiring how it had taken the concept of a pedometer but reinvented it into a product for the 21st century digital consumer. I loved how it engaged the consumer in data through simple engaging graphics however the information they gave was only part of the story and I felt there was a need for people to gain deeper, more meaningful information about their health which wasn’t readily accessible to them. That would be the ‘aha moment’, I realised that we could bring a digital approach to traditional blood biometrics, and thus Forth was born.

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?

Every entrepreneur has been faced with hard times, and I’m no exception. Although I’m regularly faced with challenges, a really tough moment was when I was first launching Forth and had to get investors to believe that there was a demand for the product, and that it would eventually become huge. There weren’t companies like Forth around at the time, so many investors just didn’t believe that a market for our service existed. I think my passion and my tenacity definitely helped me get through the difficult times. I also tend to break down challenges into bite size portions and solve one at a time rather than all of them at once which can often be overwhelming.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Today things are great. Forth is continuing to grow, with October being our best month to date, we’ve also just won an award for Innovation of the Year. There’s no secret to resilience, you have to stay positive and keep pushing forward. There will always be things that go wrong or challenges to overcome, but I now try to treat them as learning experiences rather than failures. I guess most importantly I have more self-belief and have shaken off any ‘imposter’ feeling which I may have had in the early days (well most of the time).

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

Gosh, this is a hard one. Sometimes it is hard to remember what we did three months ago, such is the fast and often chaotic world of a start-up. And also because we work in healthcare we are super careful to get things right. Well maybe a lesson learnt was not to take my laptop on family holidays. The first time my water bottle came undone in my bag and saturated my laptop, meaning it then spent the next 5 days drying out in the Italian sun. The second time (having now transported my laptop safely to our holiday destination), my son was standing over my work bag with a fizzy drink in his hand and spilt the entire glass over my laptop. It didn’t turn on for about 3 days! Looking back I can see the funny side but at the time I was beside myself. Lesson learnt — there are times when you really do need to leave your business at home and give some focused time to your family.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

I’m proud to say that Forth has an industry reputation of being the company that does it right. With myself and my co-founder, Chris Baines, both coming from a healthcare background, it’s a priority for us as a company to think and plan carefully about what we’re doing and how to develop the functionality of our platform, whilst considering the sensitivity of healthcare and the possible concern we could cause people if we get it wrong. For that reason, everything we do has to be grounded in scientific evidence and we make sure we work with a strong team of medical and scientific experts.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’d say try to find something that detaches your mind from your company. It’s hard to not become obsessed with your business so find an activity that forces you to do so. I enjoy running and I find that is a form of release but I have trouble turning off my brain so runs can turn into a bit of a brainstorming session. So for me, I’ve found that nothing detaches my mind better than plugging into an audio book. I’ve just finished listening to Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Testament’.

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?

Although corny, it’s 100% true, I honestly couldn’t have founded Forth without my partner, Charlie He’s supported me every step of the way, even at the start by encouraging me to give up working at Dyson and do a Masters degree. My siblings have also been incredibly supportive and put up the initial investment money which helped us get our first investment raise through crowdfunding off the ground.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Our results dashboard has processed over 100,000k customer datasets. Our strategy has always been to have the best results dashboard in market. In practical terms this means that we’ve taken the following key steps:

1. Strong visualisation — It uses impactful visuals to communicate scientific information in a manner which is both engaging and easy-to-understand.

2. Mobile first approach — As the majority of our uses access their data via mobile, our designers have to design mobile first. Not always popular as designers like to work on big canvases at the outset then adapt them down.

3. Learn & adapt — we’ve totally redesigned our platform since we first launched. It’s so important to put yourself in the shoes of the consumer, and gather feedback from them to improve your offer. Technology and consumer trends don’t stand still, so it’s important we keep our technology fresh and add new functionality. I can’t imagine we’ll reach the finish line as we’re constantly coming up with ways new ideas.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

At Forth we offer multiple models including both subscription and one-off payments. As this is a new growing segment there is still a lot of work to do to convince people to invest in their health. Our one-off payment route is a great way to attract customers who may be wary of the commitment of subscription. However, once people gain the data on their dashboard, they see the value and tend to stay committed, which means we have a lot of repeat business without the need to handcuff our customers to a subscription model. Additionally we offer customers the option to create bespoke testing profiles that they can build on, as we find once users have purchased the initial test, additional ‘top up’ purchases are highly profitable.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. If you’re not a techy make sure your co-founder is

I had a clear vision as a consumer of the service I wanted to build but lacked the technical skills to bring it to life. Our technology platform is key to our offer so bringing on board a technical person whom I knew shared my passion for healthcare and had the technical expertise which would be such a core part of the business was essential.

2. Don’t expect perfection on your first release

The list of everything you want will undoubtedly be long, the key thing is to understand what your core functions are, get this right and go live. You can add new features over time. This will enable you to go live sooner than if you wait for the perfect app, you can also get feedback from customers to help mould future updates. You have to view it as an iterative process.

3. It will take longer than you think and hope

With all the greatest of intentions and planning, there will be bumps in the road that will delay your app going live. Be prepared for this. Every phase whether it’s planning, designing or testing are important and should not be rushed. When you go live for the first time, if it’s full of bugs you’ll just end up frustrating and possibly losing your customers. We tend to schedule each work phase into sprints and the tech team plan in great detail what will be included in each sprint.

4. Just because your app exists doesn’t mean it will be seen and downloaded

Do not forget to allow time and budget for marketing. There are so many apps now available you need to stand out and be seen. Even if you have the best app in the world, unless you have marketing in place driving traffic to your app, no-one will see it as it will just drown in the sea of other applications.

5. Understand your audience

Being clear on who your audience is important as it affects everything from the UX, design and tone of voice to the implementation of your functions. For example, an audience more experienced using apps will be familiar with swiping left and right to access additional features, a less familiar audience may require more obvious buttons. Things like this needs to be understood at the UX stage otherwise you will end up making on-the-fly changes during development which will add more time (& money) but also slowly move away the original plans and design potentially causing the user experience to suffer despite you trying to make it better.

E.g. We know the majority of our audience is aged 30 & 45 who have a high usage of health tracking apps. As long as we keep within standard gestures and structure (e.g. burger menu at the top left) our users are much more likely to know how to interact with our app from the start.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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 campaign for compulsory food technology lessons in schools for all kids up until the age of 16. Diabetes 2 is the biggest growing health epidemic facing the modern world. Gaining knowledge of food and cooking is so crucial to our future health, it should have the same importance as Maths or English. We need to encourage the next generation not to grab for sugar laden snacks or the ready-made processed option at mealtimes.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

We’re on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook! Search @forthwithlife on everything.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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