Propel recently hosted Propulsion 2022, our annual gathering of industry experts and business leaders from the high tech, medtech and consumer goods industries. Each year, we’re wowed by the rich industry insights our speakers bring to the table—and this year was no exception.
Here are the top 7 takeaways from this year’s event.
1. The customer is at the center of everything
“Circa 2019, I would have characterized this [shift] as everyone was interested in their customers. Now people, largely, are obsessed with their customers.”
That’s according to Alexa Vignone, EVP of Technology at Salesforce, who along with Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm, and Kirsten Allegri Williams, CMO at Optimizely, explored this topic in depth during the keynote session, Connecting Product and Commercial Teams to Deliver New Product Revenue Streams.
All agreed that mapping out the desired experience for the customer should always be the first step of product development (rather than an incidental result).
As Moore put it, “We still have the same supply chain, but now instead of working forward from the scarce ingredient: the product, we’re now working backward from the scarce ingredient: the customer.”
Allegri Williams added that winners and losers in the next decade will be determined by who can move the fastest to deliver what customers want.
This theme of customer-centric experiences was echoed again and again throughout both days of Propulsion.
In Delivering Commercial Success with Whole Products, Mark Rumbaugh, VP of Information Technology at VIZIO, described how VIZIO is balancing a lower upfront price in exchange for monthly recurring revenue—ensuring built-in growth and long term customer loyalty.
Similarly, Monica Barrett, Senior Director of RA and QA at Eargo, explained in her session Quality Assurance for Customer-Centric MedTechs how their Personal Hearing Professionals (PHPs) help guide customers through the product selection process to ensure they are getting the right hearing aid for their needs and comfort.
2. Data and collaboration lead to speed and flexibility
Two speakers in particular made a strong case for data and collaboration being key to building a successful company that moves quickly and takes advantage of new opportunities.
Vala Afshar, Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce, has interviewed hundreds of successful companies and found a similar pattern: the best companies remove friction around data and remove silos between teams to create an optimal flow of business processes, which in turn creates speed.
In his session, Electricity & Flow: Designing Your Company for Success, Vala’s advice is to ask if a change will increase the flow of value. If so, he suggests we “put a dent in the universe.”
Desktop Metal provided an example of this in practice. Their growth during the pandemic is staggering: number of employees increased from 200 to 1,000, revenue increased over 600%, materials used increased 5x, and patents issued increased 12x.
Both Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder Jonah Myerberg and Senior Vice President of Global Operations Tom Nogueira (in a separate session) explored how Desktop Metal evolved from a scrappy startup to a hyper-growth company that achieved its initial public offering and became a serial acquirer.
In his keynote, Myerberg declared, “The world moves at the speed of our technology.”
3. Technology is vital for sustainable supply chains
The general impression that sustainability is a costly undertaking may be completely reversed after hearing Co-Founder of Zero100 Kevin O’Marah’s keynote “Reaching Carbon Zero with Supply Chain Balance.”
He explained how by allowing demand to feed the supply chain (rather than vice versa), product companies can reduce packaging, carry less inventory, move that inventory less often, and minimize last-minute shipping. Moreover, the efficiency gains from technology improve the overall sustainability of supply chains while delivering an ROI-positive impact to bottom lines.
We all want to save the planet but we ultimately make decisions with our wallets. Pioneers like O'Marah and Alex Garden, Chairman and CEO of Zume, are leading the charge to make this a reality.
In Garden’s session Saving the Planet is a Team Sport, he described how Zume’s robotic technology is replacing single use plastic with compostable plant fiber-based products. And they are doing it around the globe using multiple local supply chains.
“It’s so important that technology obfuscates the complexity of saving the world, and provides products at comparable prices that happen to have the side effect that they’re better for the environment.”
4. Deep customer engagement + data = better outcomes
One trend we heard again and again at Propulsion is that more product companies are harnessing data to improve the value their products deliver.
In his session Product Management in the Subscription Economy, Joe Greibel, Director of Physical Product at Sunday, explained how his company is delivering better and more sustainable lawn care as a service—i.e., their business is not selling lawn care products, it’s selling a better lawn.
"I think Sunday is unique... Being able to give the whole team visibility has helped a ton. I think it does change the responsibility. We can't just worry about our investors and stakeholders anymore; you have to keep the customer and environment in that balance as well when we're trying to launch a product."
The real wow factor Gribel mentioned is that Sunday now has a huge database of soil types by neighborhood that spans the country. Both for Sunday and for their customers, it’s a huge benefit to start with a tailored service offering that gets results faster by leveraging successful treatments for other customers.
5. Medtechs are evolving faster than ever and there is no turning back
In his keynote MedTech Industry Trends, Insights, and the Road Ahead, Dr. J Cris Salinas, Global Head of Medtech Advisory and Innovation at Salesforce, pointed out the 30% decrease in patient preference for in-person engagement, coupled with the percentage of healthcare professionals preferring e-procurement portals going from 2% to 39% in less than three years.
“The past of couple of years we’ve seen a couple of phases that have really changed the way we look at medical devices as a whole:
- We went through a highly reactive phase: How do I continue to stay connected with customers when I’m not able to meet face-to-face?
- [And in phase two:] Could we be more proactive? We’ve built some capabilities within our roadmap, how do we now proactively take those and either scale them or take them into other markets, or better yet, other business units?”
In 2019 there was little need for medtechs to worry about e-procurement. The eye-opening figure Salinas highlighted is that, now, 40% of their business is at risk without it. Medtech companies that don’t evolve their business models to meet today’s market needs will be left behind.
6. Business transformation and growth strategy go hand-in-hand
In the same session, Dr. Salinas observed that those medtech companies who are leaning into tech adoption are taking it even further and virtually transforming the industry.
“Forty six percent of medtech startups are developing some type of AI, some type of machine learning, or some type of mobile app that complements their device.”
In practice, this helps the startups answer the question, “How can I continue staying connected with the patient to get a better outcome?”
Medical device companies are talking about value creation, which of course relies on the quality of care and improved patient outcomes. But it also includes the pricing of a product and the ROI it delivers to the buyer or payer. This business evolution is delivering outsized revenue growth for the industry leaders, who are operating more like traditional high tech companies.
Vice President of Growth Strategy and Business Transformation Dmitriy Geler of BekaertDeslee is one industry expert who was especially poised to tell us more about the linkage between growth and transformation (it's right there in his title!). He explains it all in his session Revenue Growth in a Build Anywhere, Buy Anywhere, Sell Anywhere World.
Businesses are constantly faced with changes: customer preferences, market conditions, supply chains, etc. For companies to thrive, they must constantly transform to remain competitive and hop on every opportunity for growth. To maximize the chance for success, Geler urges bringing in outsiders who can provide fresh ideas.
"When you're from just one industry, there's a danger to that. I think you need an outside perspective. What I've brought is my background from [multiple] industries. I take those best practices and I double-down and I enable them."
7. The pace of change is accelerating at a macro scale, too
In a gripping finale closing out the first day of Propulsion, Bruce Mehlman, Founding Partner at Mehlman Castagnetti Rosen & Thomas captivated attendees with an overview of our political, economic and cultural environment titled The Great Acceleration.
He asserts this acceleration has particular consequences when it comes to the “four macros” driving disruption, which he identifies as technology, geopolitics, culture, and climate change.
According to Mehlman, inflation has gone from non-existent to a 40 year high in a matter of months. 30 years of globalization and the race toward low cost suppliers is now swiftly coming undone by a desire to reduce dependencies on other countries. And who could have predicted war between Russia and Ukraine—the world’s bread basket—12 months ago?
“Nobody wants to be in a war. But you look at World War II. You look at so many global conflicts throughout history. People didn't intend them, but nobody wants to back down. An immediate fear is what's it going to mean for the global recovery?
“If you look at energy prices, they're extraordinarily high. Shortages were already problematic in labor and semiconductor and critical minerals. The war has made them worse. Inflation was already clearly persistent. We put too much stimulus after a demand shock and supply shock. Inflation had already roiled global supply chains, but with this result of food inflation and energy inflation driven by the war, it's going to persist that much longer.”
Business leaders have a challenging road ahead trying to achieve success while navigating so many unknowns.
As Afshar made clear in his session, successful companies relearn best practices and course-correct quickly. At Propulsion 2022 we heard plenty of proof that that advice is more relevant than ever.
These takeaways cover just a glimpse of the insights from our incredible lineup of expert speakers and industry leaders at Propulsion 2022. Don’t miss out on all the shrewd advice, tangible experience, and real-time trends covered throughout the event. All sessions are available to watch here.