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Ep. 16: Darrin Grove and John Beck of Truefit

Darrin Grove and John Beck talk about the insane variety of projects underway at Truefit. Its practical approach integrates human-centered design, agile software development, and lean business principles to minimize the risks inherent in new product development. Its skilled teams provide the research, design, and software engineering expertise to define winning product strategies, acquire deep understanding of users, and craft elegant product solutions. Truefit is serving both global enterprise leaders and emerging startups, helping them all bring new innovations to the market quickly and confidently. Thanks to Comcast for powering up #50PGHSummerStories.



I keep on saying this, bringing you this 50 summer stories of Pittsburgh tech with my friends at Comcast is one of these great experiences where I get to talk to a lot of new people, a lot of new folks are doing great stuff. And I also get to talk to some old friends of mine as well too, because they're, they're kicking butt just as much as anybody else. And today, it's just that case, hanging out with Darrin Grove and John Beck from Truefit. And I think I've known you guys for it's been maybe close to two decades.  I think like, it's not really sure how I feel about falling into your old friends category.

Don't worry if anyone's old around here, Darrin.

Poor JB over there. Oh, my God.

We're all falling apart, man. We're all falling apart. Now here we are just old because we've been in the Pittsburgh tech sector for so long. That's why I think it's so cool is that you know, almost two decades now. We kind of do this together in certain sort of way. So I'm excited. On the work that you guys are up to these days, I know you guys truth is always doing something new. And that to me is always exciting. I feel like you're at this really cool leading edge developing apps and things for folks that like, they're almost too far ahead of their time there.

You're thinking about that. Okay. Yes, you are.

Darrin, I always like starting these things off for people to give some background. So Darrin, let's start with you. You run the place over there at Truefit? What's your background, tell us tell us about Truefit. Now, let's move over to john over there and talk about what he does. And we're gonna jump into some really cool projects. And of course, talk a bit about the methodology that you guys use cuz I think that's really been your secret sauce. a terrific has been your methodology. I work with clients to develop these very beyond the edge solutions. I think I've been calling them so.

Yeah. Thanks, Jonathan. Appreciate, always appreciate a conversation with you and really appreciate all that the PTC does, especially during this time, by the way, and you guys have really stepped up and been a leader in the industry. And thank you, thank you for that. Thanks so much. My backgrounds I really I'm originally from Pittsburgh so I've been in this town a long time. Love working in the innovation ecosystem of Pittsburgh and always always have my background is software engineering. So I am a nerd I come in Come on I am a I am absolutely a nerd at heart and I come at this from kind of an engineering mindset and the first many years at true fit I was an architect creating new software products and that's really was the kind of inspiration for truth it in the first place and then how I spent a lot of my time early on well what made you transition to be also like a leader a CEO of a company as well too, because that's a tough transition because like you said, You got the diehard techie and you love solving problems and writing code and absolutely still love it.

Yeah, so so that's a super interesting question a really long story maybe for another time. But, you know, we as Truefit were growing, what we realized. And I am, you know, the original founder. So as we were growing as we were creating great software products. At some point, we realized that in order for truth to really achieve its potential, I needed to stop coding and start learning how to build relationships and sell. So I did I did a major career pivots at about the 10 year mark. Truth. It's 23 year old company now.

So yeah, so I did a kind of major career pivot there. And now I it's been a blast to find people working on new opportunities. I get to have conversations like this all the time with founders and startups and people in life. enterprise companies who are creating new new products and new software products. And that's kind of one of the cool things about being a true fit is we get to we work with so many different size companies, from startups to enterprise companies. We're going across so many different industries. So some of the stories will tell today. Yeah, you'll get a flavor for the diversity of the work that we do and also hopefully get a flavor of some of the some of the challenges some of the difficult problems that our teams are solving. Okay, so that's really a lot of fun for us. I dig it, JB you got you got some seriously deep roots in Pittsburgh tech sector as well too. And I think it's been a while since you joined up with truth it to me seems like maybe was a couple years ago but I think it's been longer than that. I know I it's been seven years almost seven.

Yeah, we're coming up on on a decade. So remember that Darrin, at a decade there's a special gift you got to get him.

Planning Right now just saying, absolutely. Making a note here. Yeah, he's doing it. So yeah, I got your back. JB, I got your back.

Jonathan, you and I go back, you know, you know, at the time I studied graphic design, you know, way back, started my career as a graphic designer in Ohio and was in a couple different cities in Ohio, but I'm a Pittsburgh guy. I grew up in Lebanon, you know, came back to school, went to Carnegie Mellon got involved in that's really where I got introduced to product design, and and it's specifically digital product design. And at that time, you know, it was around 2000 it was a time when we were moving, everybody was going nuts. The tech bubble was at its highest, you know, move, move, move fast. And how do we expand beyond just you know, web applications. Mobile wasn't really a factor yet. But we were starting to get into devices and how, you know, sort of the early roots of IoT development. And I was fortunate enough to be part of the original startup at body media, a company that you know, quite well. And that's, I think, where we met. Jonathan was probably around that around that time. So I got to lead a number of different design initiatives inside of body media. We did some amazing things to sort of be there at the vanguard of wearable computing. And you guys were doing wearable stuff back then for people living with the heck it was.

Yeah, yeah. Like  having we got to work with NASA and with the NFL and with the army and Oprah, but often that you get to do that kind of stuff. But uh, You know, I, I left kind of in the early 2000s and with some colleagues from Carnegie Mellon and body media, we started a consulting UX firm called just we did that for about 12 years and somewhere along the way about the middle of that Darren and I met and you know, Darren has been very involved with the leadership community in Pittsburgh, right and in the in a, you know, sort of across the, the business domain and then specifically in technology. We met we connected we had a lot of kind of shared values and a sort of shared take on it's like the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, you know, he had the chocolate I had the butter How can we combine at the time just was doing all kinds of, you know, super cool work high end research product. development and design, but we didn't build. And that was getting to be frustrating. And we really started to feel that, you know, wow, if we had the ability to build the products that we're designing, I think we would design in a very different way was the underlying thought. And I got to a point where I shared that thought with Darrin found a very receptive audience. And the conversation started and you know, it, it really made a lot of sense to the two of us. So in 2013, just in my team came into true fit. And then what's been super exciting now after seven years, has really been able to a lot of those original hypotheses have really played out in ways that we wouldn't have expected but the results have just been tremendous. I feel like me Ever like design and build, right? I just feel like when you gotta gather, like all of a sudden leaves like, yeah, like these two elements found each other. And you're able to take on some of these projects that we're going to talk about new in different ways. And amazing. It's been seven years now. So in a couple more years, you're getting a special present from Darren, very excited about this.

Keep talking. I like that.

JB, I got your back, man. Yeah.

So tell our listeners about, like some of the methodology that you guys use it true that when it comes to developing apps, I think we need to set the stage on that just a little bit. When we jump into some of these projects you're gonna tell us about I think that'll come next. It all kind of comes together.

Yeah. So one of the things that's kind of really important to us our vision, in fact, is that we want to be about building excellent teams, impactful software and successful businesses, because we want to be a catalyst for the common good in our region and across the country. So if you have those increases Excellent teams, impactful software and successful businesses, you have to put a methodology together that makes sure that, you know, it's not just a good idea. It's not just an idea that can be built, but that it's actually going to contribute to business success. So we went a bit we had kind of have a very holistic vision around making sure that the products that we work on are going to help companies be successful, right, and that, and so, because of that, we tend to focus on the risk that's inherent in new product development right from the beginning. So when we meet, when we meet people, they just come to us with an idea generally they come your therapist at that point. Well, talking them through the process, and they're like, Oh, crap, I don't want to do this. Well, I would say, you know, that's interesting. I wouldn't call us a therapist, I would say it's a nurturing process. And I think of us kind as a as a guide, I hope you get from kind of where you are today, step by step to a successful commercial product launch, and that there's some tricky waters there. There's some dangerous waters there. And as you know, a lot of people, especially a lot of people, knowledge that changes so quickly in this day and age where like, within 18 months, something that you're thinking about can become really obsolete.

Yeah. So we're really focused on the whole process. Our process is called idea launch. It's a process that we developed internally, it's step by step, as your guide going from I have an idea to I want to launch a commercial product. And what we're paying attention to throughout that process is how do we reduce risk, build confidence and increase the chances that this product is going to be successful when it hits the market? Okay, what kind of break that down into into kind of three parts? JOHN, why don't you talk a little bit about one of those three parts

Yeah, I, you know, we get a lot of companies that come to us with some, you know, super interesting ideas, but part of what we try to do, you know, a lot of people come almost with a solution looking for a problem problem. Yeah.

And that's the bad therapy comes in. We got to tell somebody Wait a sec.

Yeah, right. You know, that there's a there's a vision there for something cool that could be done either at a technical level or at a UX level. But and, and those, you know, oftener are really intriguing ideas. So what we try to do is help make sure that they are getting their ducks in a row before we go too far into or leaping into development. And it's an interesting tension because you're we are very much you know, committed to agile committed to build measure, learn cycles and moving you know, quickly, but at the same point, you're trying to get a couple of the logical elements in place so that we can do that inside this free guide pose. So as you're doing that you're not gonna get off track.

Exactly. So you know, helping companies first make sure that they really understand the problem. And we kind of break that down into a couple different levels, looking at it through user lens of, you know, that's the number one issue of, you know, somebody trying to do something and has a problem without your product. How well do you understand that current reality and what it is that they're trying to do and what they're trying to get at what the ultimate objective is for them, because that's what's driving their, their behavior and they're doing it in a context that if you don't understand your chances for failure are only going to be greater like they're using other products alongside yours. And you know, have other responsibilities and limited attention. So trying to help them understand In that scenario in terms of what the user's needs and context and what their current behaviors are, but also understanding what the technology is even capable of doing, which they often have kind of a limited understanding of so we, you know, can very much help them understand what the possibilities are. But then put that all into a business context that, you know, is this a viable business that can be supported both in terms of either the financials if it's a for sale, you know, product or service, which it often is, but in some cases, where it's not there still, how is your organization going to use it to get to the objectives that they have whether to save money or make more revenue or improve their overall competitive advantage. So we try and make Ensure that companies help line up, let the problem drive the solution. And then we bring the full weight of our teams with expertise in design, in, in user experience research in software architecture, you know, engineering security, you know, how are we going to host this content and in set you up for success? How, on the product management side, are we going to help you develop a long term vision that, you know, build these things first, and then these other things can logically come later? And that's a lot of it's the Sherpa kind of model of, you know, how how we can help you through this process. In the case of a lot of our clients, they haven't been through that before.

Yeah, that all makes sense. And it seems like I mean, obviously that's, I think, really been the secret to so much of your success is using that process, obviously because yeah, those guys comes up, creates the expectations. And I'm assuming sometimes along the way, it becomes apparent that this maybe this isn't quite the viable product, or it becomes a whole other type of a thing based on your research and based on on the on the sessions. Yeah, right. You cool. So yeah, that's such an interesting stuff. And of course, this is create some pretty, pretty amazing projects. Let's let's dive into some of the cooler projects that you guys kind of spun out in the past year. So Darren, is there a favorite one you want to start off with that you think is pretty cool, that really represents kind of the best of what truth it can do?

Well, there's so so many. And, you know, we're excited to work with so many interesting clients, again, across multiple industries. A couple of things that we launched last year, which I think are really having an impact in the world. We worked with a local company to build an assessment and road mapping tool for cybersecurity. That is now being launched globally. This organization locally has a global reach, and so large companies are using to really assess their readiness for a cyber attack. And so we've seen this as a trend in our space, the threat of cyber attack and the need for cybersecurity. And so this is, this is a product that's really helping companies be more mature when it comes to thinking about their security practices and their readiness for a cyber attack and actually walks them through creating a plan for how to get from where they are today to where they want to be in terms of security and protection. It's it's been been launched globally, we just are implementing it. Currently, while we're working with our clients to implement it to create a new release. We're on v2.

We often work with clients not just to launch their initial product but the launch new stick with them throughout the entire summer. They know this direct further iterations as they go along. And of course the market changes so much needs change. Much that you got to be there because you're the original crafters of this Anyhow, so you got to stick on there and keep it. Keep it keep it evolving, I guess. Right?

Yeah. So that's fun for us. So when they sold the product to one of the largest companies in the world, international company, they came back to us and said, Hey, we need to do these enhancements for this client, we put a release together, and that's launching in the next couple of months. So we're excited.

That's awesome, man. Very, very cool. Well, so you guys cooking up a little bit.

So you want to jump in? Sure. Yeah. It's great. It's great fun, you know the what they say you know, sharks, you know, need they thrive in, you know, moving in, in the water all the time. And there there's just such a diversity of problems to solve and, and interesting technologies to work with. One of my favorites and a couple that we're working on now, you know, and we've we've been kind of guardian of shepherding this product through the process. Pre code The two, you know, today and it's been interesting to see how that has hit. But in one case, you know, we're working with a major university around the student engagement platform that brings sort of the best of their students have, you know, seniors that are nearing graduation and career decisions, along with their alumni in those fields? And as we're working on that, you know, how can we better engage we have a really neat technology and application that we're building for them. You know, helping to guide that along as some of the world is, you know, rapidly changing, you know, as a block that's been put out to work if there is no on campus. Students, Nick.

So, you know, lots of research has gone into it. We've gotten to meet and interact with a lot of, you know, seniors, with faculty with alumni. It's been a really interesting, you know, project on the other side of, of, you know, the world we're working with manufacturers, or a manufacturer who is helping secure and monitor electrical substations in the United States and good lord, helping them apply machine learning computer vision and lots of very complex information and image gathering to make their substations and at a higher level, just sort of tying into that whole sort of meta issue about securing the power grid. Is is fascinating. So really, you know, complete 184 From the University project, every day you come into work, then there's something different. How do you get your head in the right? The right set? For? Yeah, security tomorrow, it's gonna be an online app to connect people. Hey, let's talk about let's talk about the nation's power grid.

Cool stuff, man. I mean, you're hitting, you're hitting the extremes here. I love it.

Yeah, you gotta love to learn. That's absolutely a core job requirement and keeps you young and keeps you you know, engaged as somebody I've been doing this for. Just in the product development side. I've been doing it for 25 years now. And that thrill never gets lost. You know, you just love understanding and letting you know, tell me about your business. And let's see how the sausage gets made kind of thing and where, you know, helping them develop a vision of where things could actually go and then giving them Some something that you could test where we're very big on prototyping, you know, it's a storyboard or it's a mock up, or it's a early coded proof of concept. Give them something tangible that we can actually go put in front of potential users and learn from and make smarter, you know, sort of pivot persist kind of, you know, decisions along the along the way. So that's a, that's a big thrill in in the process of what we do.

So you also have a diversity in in not just the types of projects but the types of clients you have. So I know Gary, like, you guys have worked with everyone from startups to huge companies and everything in between, is it kind of evenly distributed, you lean more towards one side or the other? What's your typical client mix like these days?

It's, it's, it's it's pretty diverse. So probably a third of the companies that we work with Jonathan are early stage startup companies working on their first idea Probably a third of them are established software companies, we help people take a current product to the next level sometimes. So working on modernization working on a next gen solution, helping them introduce new technology, helping their internal team, adopt new technology and learn it. So that's probably a third. And another third is working with large enterprise companies who are being entrepreneurial internally. One of the really cool things that the Schwartz Center at CMU is working on is this idea of corporate entrepreneurship. How, how can large companies really innovate and behave like startup companies internally, and so that's a super important initiative. That's, again, Pittsburgh's providing leadership to nationally and Sean's doing a great job with that. And and so that's another profile of a cut as, as you know, all companies know that they need to continue To convert they need to continue to and software is changing all the time. So it capabilities are evolving very quickly.

Yeah, I just find it amazing like it's in my head would be spinning on a pivot if I were working at truth every day because it's just like different types of clients different types of projects. So it's gotta be just a ton of fun to be there in the day, use his portfolio, just exit leading edge projects, got a few more minutes any other projects that you think are kind of cool that our listeners or viewers need to know about?

I'll know two of them from again, that launched last year. Okay. One because because I found them both to be really inspiring. a startup company here in in Pittsburgh wanted to address the problem of how do we get energy companies who want to buy property rights, like mineral rights connected with landowners, if I'm looking at the way that process is done today, that process is really hard for energy companies. And it's also really opaque for landowners. So energy companies have to spend way too much time to find the land that they need or the mineral rights that they need. land owners have no idea what their mineral rights are worth. So this local companies creating a platform that is essentially an exchange, where energy companies can meet landowners and make really good deals on exchanging property rights. Fascinating. We worked with these guys from the earliest stage. We worked alongside them as they hired as they built out their team, and now they're off and running. They're doing really, really good work. It's amazing, john, john, why don't you talk a little bit about the physical therapy product that we launched last year because that's, that's pretty cool and exciting. And I think it gets to this kind of trend that we're seeing in the world of remote work. And in the world of the kind of new reality that we're living in with COVID. And we are seeing this trend across products that we're working on that, you know, the new reality is having an impact on the way innovation happens. This was actually something that launched last year, but it does work directly into the new world. So, john,

yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, one of the things that we find really interesting right now is, you know, we, we were added, you know, in 2006 when the iPhone came out, and that in the whole introduction of like, the app market and touchscreen devices, and everything that followed was such a massive upheaval to the product development world. I mean, it took years, you know, for people to really sort of grasp what that meant. And in a very different way, kind of COVID and all the changes that are coming with that this year. Is It's a much deeper issue than just, you know, the obvious, you know, personal health issues, you know, at risk, how it's changing work patterns and how people engage with their community and with each other and family life patterns. And so one, you know, we had been working on we were working on a number of projects in this home healthcare kind of space, approval systems for you know, home health. On the insurance side, on the device and sort of quality of care side we had for a couple years have been involved in the sort of early development of a home therapy platform that takes sensors, multiple sensors, so when somebody is either having a maybe a knee replacement, hip or shoulder replacement, the changes in workers comp, insurance rules and changes in the industry are really putting a lot of pressure on the physical therapy market. I mean, they just don't have enough physical therapists to deal with everybody on on this individual basis. So how can we make them more effective and being able to treat and work with their patients in a different way remotely with smarter technology that they take home with them. So there is a period of training and there's certain sessions that they they start you know, right at the hospital leave and after having this, you know, replacement surgery, but then with a tablet, and a sensor that and an internet connection, basically they're able to go home and visit A smart sort of avatar driven system that's able to read your movements with the sensors, visualize it for engagement, and then a very detailed way. It's not just counting reps, but it's actually showing you do the right really. They need to be the right reps, not just, you know, yeah, you moved your arm up and down.

You were being activated when you were doing reps and everything like that, huh?

Yeah, being able to guide them being able to facilitate a two way conversation between the therapist who can see they're both looking at the avatar, they could see what the patient is is doing or not doing and guide them to the right outcome. And that is a scenario that we're seeing a lot of, you know in different industries, but you know, work from home, home care. You know, more tools to sort of help you work in a new context, whether it's recovery or collaborate with the team or absolutely all the way around like that, to me is just just mesmerizing. Even cool yet this is all happening here in Pittsburgh. Yeah, roof gate. So that makes it just cool on so many levels. I'm just so glad to have to talk about some of this today. I really got really and check out your site, because like, you got lots of great information on there. And I think he's here to show you before it's got some great companies true fit is one of them so bad to get to tell like a sliver of your story today. It's like, such cool stuff.

Yeah, we'd love to love what's happening in the city and we'd love being part of it. We appreciate your role in what you guys do you know what you personally do, Jonathan and with the tech Council, how to support that lead it at the local level.

Absolutely. Like the press is trying to get these great stories out like this. That's why I'm so pumped to be hanging out with Comcast allow us to do this type of thing. storytelling and get the word out that there's a lot of cool truths here in Pittsburgh. So Taryn and JB, thanks so much for being part of this today. You guys best keep innovating out there. I think it's gonna be a problem, boy.

Thank you, Jonathan.

Yeah. Thank you.

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