The Brains Behind BRIGHT: An Interview With Roger Langsdon of Planet Innovation
At ANDHealth, we are especially proud of our long-standing relationship with Planet Innovation and its award-winning BRIGHT program, which we have now brought to nearly 60 Australian digital health companies. But where did BRIGHT begin? We caught up with Roger Langsdon, Planet Innovation’s marketing director and the brains behind BRIGHT, to get some insights.
How did you come up with the idea for BRIGHT?
I had been working in the start-up space for about 10 years, and was aware of just how risky and challenging it is to found a start-up. I was always looking for the ingredients to reduce that risk and provide a greater chance of success.
In 2015 I went to NSW to give a presentation, and was asked whether I could also run a workshop on those ingredients. So I had to quickly try to crystallize the processes that we use, which turned into some underlying principles: be bold and confident in challenging assumptions, be able to exploit ambiguity and use that as an opportunity, build powerful teams even when you’re small.
Then came a process around solving problems. Every start-up faces different types of challenges. But if you have a methodology around how to generically solve problems, then you have a very powerful roadmap to work your way through each week, each month, each year.
BRIGHT is designed to ensure companies focus on their customer’s needs and develop deep market insight that then directs the technical solution. This process helps you avoid developing a solution that people aren’t prepared to pay for. Just because you have a product, doesn’t mean you have a business. BRIGHT helps you de-risk your business.
What was your background?
I started off in engineering. And while I enjoyed that, I wasn’t totally great at it. So I went back to school and did a business degree and then a Masters in marketing, and started to get more and more exposure to early-stage technology-based companies, which gave me a chance to apply my technical background as well as my marketing and business experience.
Then I began to learn about some of the different methodologies that leading companies like IDEO, or the Stanford d.school in California were using – design thinking around being very user-centered and problem focused. Several of us at Planet Innovation got together and put those ingredients together to come up with a targeted and focused application of design thinking for the start-up space.
Within a few weeks of the NSW presentation, we created a day-long training workshop and started training all of our staff. Over the next few years we trained over 200 Planet Innovation staff on the BRIGHT program. The founders of Planet Innovation were very good at thinking both commercially and technically – it’s in their DNA. But as you grow a company and as you scale a company, you need people that have different levels of experience and skills. We wanted to make sure that everybody had those generic skill sets of being able to solve problems and think commercially about technical challenges. We wanted to ensure that as we scaled the company, and grew from 20 to 50 to now 300, that everybody had the BRIGHT program as part of their DNA.
How did you introduce BRIGHT to digital health?
In one of the first conversations our CEO, Sam Lanyon, had with [ANDHealth CEO] Bronwyn Le Grice, he talked about the BRIGHT program. She immediately saw how it could be applied to digital health – her whole mandate is to be able to support and help the growth of digital health companies. So we worked together to tailor the program to include information specific to digital health.
A core component of BRIGHT that is very consistent is around issues common to start-ups in all sectors: the principles of managing assumptions and ambiguity, building the right team and developing the right culture. Then we surround those principles with different speakers and new topics that are either emerging or are relevant depending on the audience. We often ask the audience: what are the challenges you’re facing? What is it that you need help with?
One of the things that has always struck me is that different people take different things away from BRIGHT. Some people are very early in their journey and trying to avoid making early mistakes. Another team might be small and working out how to set a balance that compensates for their lack of depth and breadth in their team. Others might be a fair way down the track, and looking for insights into what their next stage should be – whether they’re chasing a regulatory strategy, or trying to work out what they should be doing with their IP.
We make sure that the BRIGHT program quickly helps them understand where they’re at and how to address the next challenge. The biggest danger is that people continue to focus on the things that they know and like. But they need to be able to get out of their own particular mindset and bias and be able to think “irrespective of what I like doing, what does the business need? And how do I make those steps?”
What are your thoughts on the Australian digital health sector?
I think it’s pretty exciting. There are massive opportunities – it’s amazing how many companies are out there and continuing to be discovered. I think there are generic lessons for all of them that are consistent – because it’s digital health, it’s very market focused. We’re constantly encouraging people wherever they can to allow themselves to pivot a little around what the technology is and what it isn’t, and focus on what their purpose is and what the problem is that they’re solving. Because that will probably end up in a very different place to where they started.
Being in a digital health start-up allows you to change and partner to diversify your business models, your new streams, your value propositions. If you’ve never done it before, it can be quite scary and quite daunting. But there’s a lot of support out there – through ANDHealth, for example, getting access to really expert experienced help is easier now than it has ever been before.