There is a rapid speed of change. Customers expect value to continue weekly or almost daily. You must have an organization that is capable of working and innovating very quickly.
As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Derek Luke, CEO of Muse®. Derek Luke brings more than two decades of experience in executive leadership at multinational corporations, including Blackberry and Seagate, to his role at Muse®. Drawing from his years of experience in the highly competitive technology industry, Derek has helped strengthen Muse® ‘s execution across design, development, sales and marketing to position the company for aggressive growth and success. Prior to joining Muse®, Derek served as EVP and COO for Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), a $1.5B non-for-profit Canadian Government Fund with a portfolio of 245+ clean tech companies. At Blackberry, Derek served as senior vice president of Manufacturing Excellence, Supply Chain Quality and Global Repair Services. Today, Derek is passionate about equal opportunity and equal pay in the STEM landscape — something he has worked hard to integrate into the company’s corporate culture. He is a true believer in creating a workplace that breeds innovation, creativity and collaboration. He brings his knowledge of connecting design, development, manufacturing, supply chain, government relations, sales and marketing to the Interaxon team.
Thank you so much for joining us! 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?
My background comes from working for high-velocity, large tech companies like Motorola, Blackberry and Seagate. I was surrounded by some of the best corporate executives at the time, but I realized that there had to be a better way to do things. I wanted to take the knowledge I had gained and adapt it to help innovate small companies and start-ups.
By their very nature, large corporations are slow at innovating and decision making. One thing I learned very quickly was that innovation is done in small companies by surrounding yourself with small, knowledgeable teams. Things just operate much differently at a more condensed company.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The original idea of Muse was not mine, however, the thought of transitioning to a SaaS model came to me as a solution for driving revenue. We had Muse, this amazing brain-sensing headband for meditation, but we knew there was a way to develop new experiences for our users. We acquired the Meditation Studio app last year, and realized a way to provide more value through SaaS would be through integrating these original guided meditations into the Muse platform. We rolled this out, and then this summer we released post-session feedback within the guided meditations though Muse’s sensors. The guided feedback is a way of offering Muse users another way to craft their meditation practice.
One of our core missions is to consistently provide value to our community and continue to innovate. The “aha moment” came when I realized that switching to a SaaS model really forces you to do just that. I understood that when you pivot to SaaS, the biggest driver is retention. In order for that to happen, you have to constantly deliver value every single day.
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?
I am an immigrant. I was leaving a large multinational company in Britain to come work in Canada for a small startup. The day I got off the plane, I was told that my immigration papers were not in order. So, my first experience working in Canada was nearly getting banned from the country for ten years. After speaking with the custom officials, they realized how important it was for me to come here and worked with me on the spot to help. They let me into the country, but I was not able to work for the first three weeks.
Even though the Canadian startup I was working for at the time messed my immigration papers, they showed such passion and energy in solving that problem when I arrived. The thought of going back home initially crossed my mind until I saw their dedication to finding a solution. It really gave me a grounding on how small startup culture attacks problems. They take risks and hit them hard with a lot of energy, head-on.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Resilience is the number one attribute any small startup leader can have. Large corporations value a different set of skills, such as project management and conflict management skills. They have teams of people to specifically deal with certain problems. It actually builds resilience to be small and have to figure out problems ourselves. Empathy, resilience, compassion and listening within our culture are the kind of skills I now attribute Muse’s success to. Things are not always easy, and it’s been a major part of our learning process. For me, it’s not about telling people what to do, it’s about figuring out how you can help other people to be successful.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We place huge value on things like transparency and a lack of hierarchy, and put emphasis on respecting people’s skills rather than their position. We have a weekly meditation in the office, and meetings are run without formal agendas. We self-select what we feel is relevant to the conversation and it works extremely well. Everyone here is capable of running their lives, families, hobbies and other complex things outside of the office. We truly feel that everyone is equal because we all can learn things from each other.
One of the biggest things I have learned in my career is not to be afraid to deal with mavericks within the organization. If you honestly believe that the way to move forward is through collaboration and teamwork, you have to realize that self-promoters will bring down a team. As a CEO, it can’t be about you. It has to be about everyone.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Don’t be overly defined by your position. You are more than a CEO — you can be a father, a friend, a mother, a caregiver. There are many other things in life that define you other than your job title.
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?
As a young manager, I used to go on runs with the CFO of a company. I used to think of myself as sophisticated in stock investments, and I would always pick his brain on which stocks I should invest in. I remember asking him what I should invest in, and he stopped the run. He looked at me and said, “Derek, I want you to invest in memories.” That was so impactful, and I didn’t understand the full benefit of that until I went through some life experiences. It helped me to live in the moment and experience things with people you care about.
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?
Muse just recently crossed a milestone of 100 million minutes meditation with our product. Hundreds of thousands of people have bought Muse. Since we started the SaaS side of our business in April, users have doubled every month since launch. Muse is not meant to replace thousands of years of contemplative teachings. It does however provide a “brain gym membership“ with the tools, motivation, community, teachers and result tracking that many have found helpful on their journey to establish a meditation practice.
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?
Rather than the term monetization, we like to think of it as bringing value to our users. If you are thinking about it from simply a money standpoint, you are going about it wrong. You have to think about what value you can bring them today and beyond. Early on we decided that we would not monetize our data, because we feel that would be a breach of trust. We won’t bring anything to market that isn’t solving a problem for our community. We have principles around these values and won’t monetize anything that doesn’t fit within them.
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.
- Understand that SaaS is different fundamentally from product sales.
- You are no longer selling to a customer, you are building a community.
- Make sure you bring the skills to meet the first two objectives. For example, brand marketing is very different from retention marketing.
- There is a rapid speed of change. Customers expect value to continue weekly or almost daily. You must have an organization that is capable of working and innovating very quickly.
- Build the right culture. Employees need to be able to make decisions themselves with a high degree of transparency and collaboration. This is the only way you can move this fast.
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’d like to eliminate the need to talk about equality because it will just be ingrained in society. Our company is 53% female, which is quite unheard of for a true STEM tech organization. I’d love for other companies to adopt a similar value set. There are many movements being started that I think are trying to tackle these big issues. I think my job is not to start another one, but to contribute to and follow the leadership that’s already been shown.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can follow Muse at @choosemuse on Twitter and Instagram.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!