Darrin Grove on "Unlocking Potential" IoT Podcast

Truefit CEO Darrin Grove recently spoke with Bram Weinstein on “Unlocking Potential - Destinations @The Forefront of the Internet of Things (IoT),” a podcast for showcasing stories of intrepid innovators taking risks, pivoting, and figuring out how to use technology to make the world a better place.

Darrin was joined in this episode by guests Chris Borneo and Matt DeLorenzo from MSA and Safety.io, CJ Handron, Co-Founder, and CEO of Diamond Kinetics and Kim Blair, Ph.D. Partnering Lead Cooper Perkins.

Check it out here on Apple Podcasts:

Episode 4 Industrial IoT | IoT Product Design | IoT Sports Tech


Bram: Let's continue the conversation with the CEO of Truefit Darrin Grove. Hey, Darrin, how are you?

Darrin: I'm great, Bram. Thanks for having me on this podcast today.

Bram: Nice to have you here. Let's start with just some background on Truefit. Can you tell us about the company at Truefit?

Darrin: We're big believers that great software helps people thrive. And so, we work with people who have an idea to create a new software product - companies of all sizes who are creating a new software product. And we're big believers that experienced, cross-functional teams are the best way to design and build new software products. So, people typically come to us when they have spotted a problem in their field. They typically have deep domain expertise and they know they need software in order to solve that problem. And we work with them through a process that we call Idea Launch that really starts at the very beginning with the product concept, product strategy and works all the way through to a completed successful commercial watch.

Bram: So, you kind of view the company almost like a consistent incubator.

Darrin: We do. We do work with a lot of early-stage concepts. So that's true and appropriate. We also do work with a lot of established companies, global names that you would recognize who are being innovative, who are launching new products. And so, we work with a wide variety of different sized companies, different stage companies across multiple industries.

Bram: Well, let's get specific here for a minute. What are some of your favorite IoT products that you guys have worked on?

Darrin: This is an area that's really interesting to us and something that we've been involved with since the earliest days that we started and have some very deep roots in the wearable fitness space. So I know that you've been talking to other folks in Pittsburgh, but what a lot of people don't know is that before the respect that before there was Apple Watch, the early research was being done here in Pittsburgh by a company called Body Media who really pioneered wearable fitness a couple of decades ago. And one of our principal designers here at Truefit was part of the startup team there. So, we have very deep roots in wearable fitness and really love working in the space. One of the really interesting projects that we launched last year was working with two doctors out of Cleveland who were imagining a new product in physical therapy space. So, this was very, very interesting and technically challenging the products. So, if you would if you went and got shoulder surgery today, you'd set up a series of appointments with a physical therapist and you basically do your physical therapy in their office in the future. These doctors imagine that you will meet with a physical therapist. They'll take you through learning the exercise. They'll send you home with a tablet and some wearable sensors that will not only teach you as needed to do the exercises at home, but it will also monitor the exercises as you're doing them. Show you an image of how you're doing them with an avatar. And there are all kinds of ways that that kind of scales and disrupts the physical therapy market. So, a very exciting product, very technically challenging. We learned a lot of lessons working with these guys over multiple years.

Bram: I mean, listen, we are in a time here where mobile health technology is paramount. I do wonder how you think about COVID-19 and how it's made you think about your products and your business in the short term and long term.

Darrin: Sure. This is something that's having a big impact on all of us and something we're paying very close attention to. You know, really a lot of the trends that we've seen over the years are not changing, but will be accelerated by COVID-19, particularly in the healthcare space. You know, we think about how IoT and sensors might be able to protect healthcare workers. We've done a lot of work over the years in the areas of home health. The physical therapy application that I talked about was one example of that. But we've done a lot of other work. And in the home health space, obviously, to the extent that people recovering at home are there, their movement is limited to home, that technology becomes more and more relevant, which also gets us into other areas of IT, such as smart home technology. How might the fact that people are home more or doing different activities at home, how might that change what's needed in terms of smart home technology? It'll be interesting to hear from CJ as a part of this podcast because the work he's doing in sports tech is very interesting as it relates to COVID-19 and the ability for people to continue to train at home. So that's another thing that we see really being accelerated.

Bram: I mean, obviously, this is a big change for everybody. Take me back to normal experiences that you've had, pre-pandemic, and some challenges that may have helped you along the way to pivot the way you approached all the design and all the products that you're working on.

Darrin: Absolutely. You know, one thing that we emphasize with all of our products that we work with and all the people that we that we work with is, you know, we want to make sure we want to start by really understanding the problem that the product is trying to solve. We want to make sure that we're solving a real problem. We want to make sure that we're creating real value for users and real value for the business. So we really do start there. And we've worked with a lot of technology that has come out of universities, come out of the labs. Great research.

Darrin: But what we try to do is we think about commercial applications for that is to make sure that we're solving a real problem, creating value for users, and creating value for businesses. Our vision as a company is to build excellent teams, create impactful products, and build successful businesses so that people can thrive. The four pillars of that vision really are important and where we begin. And the reason I emphasize that is because there's a lot of technology that is interesting. It's maybe very early. But, you know, whether it solves a real problem is questionable. That's true in the AOPA space, whether you're talking about, you know, voice recognition like Alexa or some home automation applications, I think. Are those solutions really creating value? How are they creating value for people? That's really what we want to emphasize or what we want to start with. In addition, I would say over the years, what we've learned is not to underestimate the House, how tricky the integration with hardware can be when you're working with a solution that sensor-based and connected to software or there are different devices involved, hardware, software, interfaces. We've really learned to recognize that the hardware is going to impose limitations on what the software can do. And I can actually introduce a lot of usability issues. So, for example, if you're working in that physical therapy application I mentioned with sensors that are tracking movement in 3D, the calibration of those sensors is really, really important.

Darrin: When you have somebody who's just been through surgery trying to figure out how to calibrate sensors, that's a real usability issue that we struggled with. We also learned that environmental factors really matter in sensor technology and hardware technology. So, we worked on an interesting application that was tracking the performance of swimmers. You're basically at a pool that's got a lot of concrete, a lot of metal and communications with hardware works differently in those kinds of environments. So those things factor in and become very tricky. And then lastly, I would say one of the key challenges with all of those products is, you know, the data that you're getting off of sensors is complex. It's real-time. And then it has to be translated and interpreted so that it's helping the user actually make better decisions, actually decide, you know, they have to be able to interpret the data. The data has to be usable. It has to be creating value. And that usually involves some level of data translation. You know, one of the things we've started doing because of all of those factors is a lot more early-stage proof of concepts.

Darrin: So, let's make sure that very early on we're thinking small about feature sets. We're doing very introductory connections between the software and the hardware in limited, limited ways. And then let's go see how it works in the environment that people are going to be using it in. A lot of things were great in the lab. But when you take them into the field, they behave differently. And that's really true and relevant in this IoT space.

Darrin: So, let's say, you know, tested in its environment. Let's test its usability. And most importantly, let's test the value proposition of the product with the people who are going to be using it so that we can drive business value. We want to make sure that this isn't just a technical solution and it's actually solving a real problem for users. And it's actually going to be generating business value in many cases. The investment to build the software, to integrate the hardware, to create the sensors is extensive, and you want to make sure that there's an afterlife for that. So we're very intent on as we work through the Idea Launch process, we're very intent on making sure that we're reducing risk, that we're proving the value proposition. And at the end of this, we know that this is going to be commercially successful in the market.

Bram: All right. Let's leave it on some optimism. Look, obviously, everybody's mind is focused on what's happening in the here and now. Hopefully, there will be some solutions to that. So I want to kind of take you back pre-pandemic again and then think about the future. What were the trends that you were seeing throughout the IoT projects and experiences that you think will then carry over once we get a handle on COVID-19?

Darrin: I don't know that the trends have changed, pre-COVID or post-COVID. I think those trends are still in place. I mentioned a couple of those, but we're very intent and interested in is the healthcare space. As I mentioned, you know, we're really all about creating impactful software that is going to help people to thrive. And we see that very often, and particularly in Pittsburgh, with all of the healthcare innovation that's being done here. We see that in the healthcare space. So the opportunity for connected devices to really improve lives for patients, improve results for patients, and to protect health care workers. A lot of those systems are still very antiquated. And so to the extent that we can automate, to the extent that we can gather better real-time data, so much healthcare data is not even being collected today. And so by gathering that data through the use of integrated devices, you're able to gather the data. You're able to apply predictive analytics and other algorithms to that data, and you're able to track things that have never been tracked before to determine how to improve outcomes.

Darrin: So what we're really interested in, if you're thinking in the fitness space, let's say, you know, we're interested in changing behavior so that people can be healthier. If you're thinking in the healthcare space where we're very intent on improving outcomes, improving recovery times, lowering costs, doing things to help people once again get healthier, faster, and more predictably. So the more insight that we can gain from the data because we have better data, the more we'll be able to able to do that. So we're very focused in the healthcare space and then really tracking work in the home tech space.

Darrin: I think I mentioned, you know, Alexa and Voice Rec. It's one of the things that we're paying attention to because, in a world where people are not as interested in touching screens and doing things like that, we're watching for a surge in voice recognition and that technology people are going to be telling elevators what floor to stop on using his voice.

Darrin: And so that as a new style, it's not new. But I mean that as a more pervasive style interface, I think will become is one of the trends that we're watching.

Bram: Darrin Grove is an innovator and angel investor and the CEO at Truefit. Thank you, Darrin.

Darrin: You're welcome, Bram. Nice to meet you.