Grow and Thrive: Three Startup Learnings, Part 1

Updated: Jul 15

Startups are exciting. There’s an idea; a spark. A feeling that you can change the world. It’s that feeling that keeps you going through all the uncertainty.

I’ve done two startups in my career. I’ve also been involved in designing many leading edge applications in my nearly 20 years at Intel. Like an adrenaline junky, I keep coming back for more.

A year ago I met James Kelley. He had a vision for a new way to improve leadership behaviors. I had a desire to find another opportunity to change the world. Just like the old Reese’s Peanut Butter cup motto, these were “two great things that go great together.” But it wasn’t easy.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll share a few of my key learnings from the first year at qChange. Today, I want to share our product journey.

Learning #1

The product will be different than you thought. If you keep at it, it will be better than you ever imagined!

Our early concept - We started qChange with a focus on nudging leaders right before a meeting, to remind them of a specific action to take to help them improve their leader skills. It seemed like a great idea. You walk into a conference room, you are identified by your phone via Bluetooth, the system sends you a prompt for a specific action, and you take that action in a meeting. You improve….Voilà. Presto.

What we didn’t know.

Problem 1 – We added more work for corporate I.T.

Dang. Who wants more work? Even if we could improve leader skills, it would be a hard sell, and long sales cycles don’t get us to revenue quickly. OK. Why not integrate with a person’s calendar and nudge them a few minutes before a meeting? Yeah. That’s better. And instead of building our own app for I.T. to install, why not deliver the prompts through existing solutions like Microsoft Teams and Slack, or even G-Suite? Now that’s cookin’ with gas!

Bonus Opportunity. Who said we have to be B2B focused? Building leader skills can be for anyone. Since we don’t have hardware or software for I.T. to install and manage, we just massively increased the size of our market as anyone could connect to qChange via their calendar and collaboration account.

Problem 2 – How do we know we are making a difference?

Hmm...Impact. How to measure impact. Is it enough to just deliver nudges? The research says it should be based on the “forgetting curve”, but to investors it sounded like we were building a feature and not a complete solution. Ask the user to self-rate how they did? That’s a start, but misses the true impact they have on their team and peers.

What if we have the user identify a group of individuals that they frequently attend meetings with, and these individuals can rate them on that behavior immediately after the meeting? Now we can measure any gaps between how the user perceived they did, to how those in the meeting perceived their actions. We can keep track of these gaps, track their closure over time and even incorporate them into a normalized Leader Score. Did we just set ourselves apart from all the other solutions by measuring growth in leader behaviors? Boom.

Problem 3 – Why will our users keep using?

Is it “sticky”? For how long? What’s the LTV?

I didn’t know when I started this journey, but there are over 100 leadership models out there. With the help of John Howes, we reviewed all of them and created a leadership behavior model called LEAD (Leader Experience Action Dimensions). Now our users could receive nudges, feedback and measurement in 43 separate leader areas. But something was missing. We were leaving our users without helpful tips to improve and different ways to think about being a leader.

So we came up with qInsights. These 15 to 30 second nano-learnings are deliver right when the user receives their Perception Gap score. It’s like dessert after the entrée; bite sized and tasty. And they are tailored to each Area in LEAD. So a user can grow leader skills for over 2 years and not see the same nudge or qInsight. That’s pretty sticky.

And that became the qChange Leader Experience MVP.

Wrapping Up

qChange launched this week in Microsoft Teams. The journey turned out to be longer than expected. There were many gut-checks along the way; many moments of “you’ve got to be kidding,” and many days slogging through ambiguity to find a path forward.

Bottom line. We thought we’d develop a sophisticated AI system for nudging. I didn’t know I’d help design an end-to-end behavior change solution that can improve leadership in everyone.

Rob Buckingham, COO

Always love to connect, please email me at:

Next Week

Being different and why it matters