Alan Johnson was part of the team at start-up company Gnoso Inc. that won the DiabetesMine Design Challenge in 2008, with an online tool called LogforLife. We've stayed in touch, and I've asked Alan, who is not diabetic, to share his journey with us here at the 'Mine: what has he learned along the way, in the process of developing and trying to market a blood glucose record-keeping program? Surprisingly, Alan didn't talk about advances in the algorithm, or increasing competition in the iPhone space. Rather, Alan was moved by what this disease itself means to people:
A Guest Post by Alan Johnson, diabetes entrepreneur
A little over two years ago my type-1 brother-in-law and favorite designer Ethan and I were talking about creating a diabetes logging tool that would work better for him. He wanted something simple and beautiful that would work from anywhere without ads and with great privacy. I'm not diabetic, but I'm always up for working on new product ideas, so we started working on the project and about a year later publicly launched Log for Life. We've learned more lessons than I could possibly share in the process, but here are two that are particularly important to me.
Diabetes is really, really hard.
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I've known Ethan for almost 10 years now. I've seen him check his number and give himself insulin probably hundreds if not thousands of times. Before Log for Life, though, I had started to think that diabetes wasn't necessarily that hard. Developing Log for Life with Ethan and talking to the people who use it has shown me just how hard it can be.
Numerous people have shared their emotional and mental burdens with me, and those burdens are huge. A mom once told me that her teenage daughter was killing herself with high numbers (her daughter had several days with no numbers under 300 on her glucometer). A man told me about how his mother couldn't see an endocrinologist after being diagnosed with type 2 because none of them had openings in their schedules. At least once a month we receive an email from someone who stumbles across our site and sends a plea for help: "I was just diagnosed with diabetes and my doctor gave me a prescription for medicine and told me to check my blood sugar. I don't know what to do, can you help me?" One person told me about trying to decide whether or not to switch to using a pump and the terrible feelings that moving toward being "part machine" made him feel.
Helping people work through these emotional responses is probably one of the most critical pieces of diabetes treatment, at least in my non-medically trained mind. Really caring for these people and listening to what they're dealing with is so important and so rewarding. No device or software, not even the artificial pancreas, will be able to completely remove these natural responses. There are so many people who are feeling anxious and depressed because of their situation with diabetes and I think the best way any of us can help them is by being available in-person to talk and help out. Online communities like TuDiabetes and DiabetesMine are really important to that cause, but real-life communication, understanding, and openness is just as — if not more — important.
The biggest reward for launching an independent diabetes product is hearing about positive changes in peoples' lives.
When I started working on Log for Life I thought it would include some fun technology to work on and that we'd make some money. Those are pretty normal product motivations, but I completely missed the boat on how strongly I would grow to love the people who use our software. The biggest rewards I've felt from Log for Life have been great stories about how A1Cs are down, about fewer highs and lows, about doctors congratulating our users on a job well done, and about families getting along the best they have since a child was diagnosed because of more open communication. It's completely awesome to hear that you're helping people change their lives, and it has become something I look for in other project possibilities.
We've learned a lot working on Log for Life, but all of those lessons come back to diabetes being about people. We are really looking forward to seeing where the community goes and how we can continue to help people out. It's the first product I've ever worked on where my primary hope is to lose all of my users due to a cure being found. That's a really wonderful place to be.
We're right there with you, Alan. Thanks.