Linet is a true “American Dream” kind of business story in Czech Republic. You would have a hard time finding a more successful company founded in CZ right after the Velvet revolution, built from scratch from humble beginnings (in the cow-house btw.), created by a visionary founder and his team/-s to a super successful global company, in top 3 companies in almost every category of their industry worldwide and still in private hands and managed from Czechia.
And in case you’ve never heard of them, Linet makes the best beds and furniture for hospitals and nursing homes. They produce over 130 thousand beds a year, doubling its revenues every 5 years. So a very successful company indeed.
But competing for a podium is hard – the other top players are trying to beat you with their investments and innovation and smaller players are trying to copy your innovations and squeeze down the costs. And in the meantime, the market is shifting towards digital and smart solutions.
And this is exactly what brought us together back in 2018. Linet has been internally developing a SW to work with data from the sensors in their beds since 2010. The idea was to help prevent falls in hospitals (which is undeniably a big problem) and decrease the workload of nurses. Maybe they were too early, maybe the expectations were not right or maybe they became victims of their own success in the core business and resources were drawn elsewhere. Whatever was the reason, it has never become a full fledged product.
Our first task was to “finish” (redesign, re-develop and launch) this product in 6 months. Long story short, after a huge effort of a 30+ member joint team from both companies and 12 sprints, we’ve launched SafetyMonitor as a Medical Device Class 1 in the EU in mid 2019. Everyone was ecstatic that we made it. But all the thrill was very soon replaced by disappointment from a very poor interest of customers about the product. And I got once again reminded that skipping the Discovery process and Design Thinking principles is truly not a good idea in any industry in any condition of the product, market or the client. Not even in the situation when competition already has it. Of course we didn’t ignore user feedback completely. But one or two focus groups can’t simply replace spending hundreds of hours speaking with customers, observing their behavior in their environment and overall getting the empathy and understanding of the market. Because as it turned out once more, people say different things that they actually do.
So this was a difficult time for the whole team and big thanks goes especially to Tomáš Kolář (CEO of Linet) and Gunter Roper (Head of Product and Marketing and our main sponsor at that time), that did not “break a stick over us”, kept the team going and helped us reshape the strategy, change focus purely to the US market and agreed on launching a proper Discovery project in the US.
After 3 months of interviews, observations, analogy explorations and market and competition research in the US, we’ve finally understood in between the lines what is going on and what we need to focus on. All these new digital gizmos and gadgets bring enormous cognitive load and amount of work for already overloaded caregivers. They have new stuff coming their way every week – new procedure, new system, new device. Plus they need to take care of people, anything can happen in any minute, lives are at stake. So nurses are not “resistive” or “conservative” as device manufacturers sometimes tend to say. Quite the contrary – they are trying to make things work and use everything at their disposal to improve efficiency and patient outcomes. But they are pragmatic as every other person – ask yourself – how often do you change your email client or other business programs/tools you use every day? And how often do you experiment with adding new things to your business routines? In the words of one of Chief nursing officers we spoke with “We need stuff that actually helps us, not your bells and whistles.” So reactions like “Please don’t give me yet another system” were pretty common during testing of our prototypes and designs during the following Rapid prototyping session.
After this experience, we understood that the last thing anybody wants is another one purpose beeping/alarming system. We have to automate everything, require no interaction from the medical staff if possible and yet bring value. And that’s how SafetyPort was born. We took SafetyMonitor technology, stripped it down of the bells and whistles and in 2 months launched it as a medical device data system (non medical device) in the US. The purpose of SafetyPort was to automatically send data from beds to 3rd party systems already present in the hospital and leverage them in the workflows the hospitals already have.
It took us exactly two months to redesign the product, cut it down and turn it into a non-medical device called SafetyPort. This helped us launch the product quickly in the US. And then we spent the entire first year of covid-19 in online meetings with a great team led by Mike Kaminski and Andrew Aitken. We were trying to convince the sales teams that it will work this time and together we were learning how to sell SafetyPort to customers. We were basically just selling for a year and we did well. We exceeded the business goals by more than two times and we were confident that the product was a good fit for the market.
At the end of the year, Albert Richards joined the US team, without whom we certainly wouldn’t have survived what followed. The excitement of business success in 2020 was replaced by the reality of delivering software to hospitals around the world in 2021, where we fatally lacked prior experience and resources. It ate us up to the point that there was almost no time for sales support and the business results went down rapidly.
What we got reminded again very strongly again was that we should have resisted the pressure for sales and volumes and rather focus on finishing the product and processes around with one or two customers (even if it takes a very long time). At the same time, if the new product or service (software product in this case) is too “exotic” for the company (our client), it is necessary to involve the top management more in the process so that its members have ideally the same level of understanding of the market. Thanks to this, it would have been easier to get more funding for increasing support capacities, even though the numbers were not the best. Only at this stage is it worthwhile to start pushing for growth.
In addition, at that time, an internal SmartCare team was being formed, which began to gradually take over the entire agenda and started to develop SafeSense 3 for the European markets. We tried to help as much as we could, but it was not easy with all the disruption of the supplier chain thanks to Covid etc. Special thanks to Jan Pukrabek, Michael Memelink and Karl Fritscher for the great cooperation during this period. Without their support and trust, we would not have made it to a successful end.
Overall, this has been the most interesting project and the biggest challenge we have ever faced. And by the way, thanks to this collaboration, the idea of expanding Direct People to the USA sparked seriously for the first time. But that’s a story for another time.
Once again thanks to all the Linet people. It was an honor being part of your story. We wish you all the best.