I walked into the opening ceremony at the 2016 ASHA Convention in Philadelphia like everyone else—eager to hear the speakers tackle the theme “Everyday leadership. Leadership every day.” My idea that leadership is reserved for a few changed as keynote speaker Drew Dudley explained how we all can show leadership in our daily actions. After Dudley’s talk, I knew it was time to take a shot on a wild idea I’d been considering for two years—creating an app for speech-language pathologists to show patients, clients, or students images of what happens inside the mouth when speaking.
My wild idea for an app had hit me during a swallow study I administered at Pullman Regional Hospital in my hometown of Pullman, Washington. I thought, “What if I could see what I could hear?” Could videofluoroscopy provide the answer? After working with an Institutional Review Board and my hospital’s imaging department, we collected a treasure trove of visually stunning videos depicting speech-sound formation. But to turn these images into a useful mobile application, I needed to become a leader and take my idea to the next level.
I work for a small but progressive critical access hospital that includes a Center for Learning & Innovation. Among other functions, the center supports hospital employees who want to act on ideas designed to positively affect health care. Once the center accepted my proposal, I jumped into creating an app!
My first step involved figuring out how to find someone to do the programming and coding. Through a friend who works in the tech industry, I discovered Upwork.com—a global freelancing site. We searched for a developer with health care experience. We reviewed seven online profiles, interviewed each candidate, and found our developer. And wouldn’t you know, six months later we released the iOS version of Speech Sounds Visualized.
Here are key lessons about developing an app.
Do customer discovery prior to launch. Then be prepared to do it again!
We used several popular business tools to aid our customer discovery. To complete a SWOT analysis—understanding your product’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—use guidance from any number of online resources. Online tools to create a business plan include “Design Thinking,” by Stanford business school, and “Business Model Canvas.”
Attending conferences and other professional events is critical for customer discovery. After one conference, we made a major pivot in the design and content of the app. We also made changes after attending the 2018 ASHA Convention. Customer discovery is a fluid, never-ending process. Within a year of release, Speech Sounds Visualized was downloaded in 22 countries, and we discovered that different customer segments use the app in various ways. This prompted us to return to the same tools we used in the very beginning to make major revisions.
Identify and explore primary and secondary customer bases.
Your customer base is your target audience. Products often appeal to differing customer segments. It’s kind of like planning a treatment session with more than one treatment objective in mind. I may have one primary purpose for the session, but perhaps I can also work in a separate, but related objective that same session. When we first built the app, we intended our top customer base to be English-language learners working on pronunciation, and our secondary base to be SLPs with a specialty in accent modification. We gained insight through interviews, but because face-to-face interviews take time, we also used Mechanical Turk (MTurk) on Amazon to collect large amounts of data at a low cost.
We learned over time that our top customers were actually SLPs in academic settings, especially those who teach phonetics, articulation, and anatomy/physiology courses. This knowledge, combined with valuable customer feedback, prompted us to enhance the app to include phonetics.
Develop value propositions, then revise as needed.
A value proposition is an extension of what your actual product or service provides to consumers. In other words, you must know your audience and determine what you can offer them. We developed five value-proposition statements based on each customer segment.
The world of app development was a steep learning curve. But I quickly learned that SLPs possess remarkable managerial skills, given how many tasks we juggle in our workday. People often view product development and entrepreneurial work as creative and free-flowing. But in my experience, entrepreneurship actually involves a whole lot of leading.
When working to make my idea into a marketable product, I spent most of those six months leading our team through tedious processes and making calculated decisions, often during conference calls in the car between kid activities and during breaks between patients. So if you have an idea—take a good look at it—and don’t be afraid to take the lead.
Keri Jones, MA, CCC-SLP, works at Pullman Regional Hospital and specializes in voice and accent0reduction treatment. Keri.firstname.lastname@example.org