The team is a startup’s DNA

Ginger.io, a startup which emerged from the MIT Media Lab, recently raised a $6.5M Series A led by Khosla Ventures. The round also included follow-on participation by Romulus and True Ventures, Ginger.io’s seed investors. As an original investor in Ginger.io, it’s great to see our confidence in the team and what they’re doing shared by some of the leading investors in the Valley. However, the reason why I’m writing this post is to share how radically different Ginger.io’s current activities are from what the team was originally planning to do. Ginger.io is a great example of the value of pivoting to meet a greater customer need. It also shows how, in the context of tech startups, it’s far better to back great people pursuing an undefined idea rather than average people pursuing what appears to be an incredible idea. Ideas change much more easily than people.

In its current form, Ginger.io uses passive and active data from patient smartphones to give physicians vital information about how their patients are doing. Patient behavior, including who they talk to, for how long, from where, and at what time, is a strong predictor of the progression of many illnesses. The value of this passive data is enhanced by the active responses which patients provide to specific questions asked by their physicians. So far, Ginger.io has focused on illnesses like Alzheimer’s, depression, and diabetes. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Ginger.io’s vision of using mobile analytics to improve healthcare outcomes has the potential to change the lives of patients with a much wider range of conditions in the future.

If this is what Ginger.io is doing now, then what were they doing when we first met them? Although the idea still involved mobile analytics, the application was very different. In its original form, the team was looking to use your smartphone data to improve your social life. By looking at similar data like who you call, how long you talk for, and at what time of day, the application would give you recommendations for your social life. For instance, perhaps it’s time that you call a certain friend who you haven’t spoken to in a long time, or perhaps the fact that someone has been calling you repeatedly over the weekends is a sign that they’re interested in you.

Although your social life is very important, with several studies showing that it even impacts your health, most people would agree that directly improving their health is more important to them. This is especially true for the serious illnesses which Ginger.io is focusing on. However, since Ginger.io has yet to become the go-to tool for physician-patient communication, the jury is still out on whether Ginger.io made a winning pivot. Even if Ginger.io is wildly successful, we won’t know for sure whether it would have been less successful in its original form. However, the early signs suggest that it is indeed on a better path than the one it started on.

As Ginger.io has experienced, it’s possible, although certainly not easy, for a startup to change its path. After all, the team is responsible for choosing the startup’s path. If one path doesn’t appear to be working, it can pivot to a better one. There will certainly be costs, largely in terms of lost time and money. However, as long as the investors still believe in the team, the startup won’t be allowed to die. ┬áRather, it will learn from the experience and embark on a strictly better path. To borrow an example from Ginger.io’s domain of healthcare, the team, and not its original idea, is a startup’s DNA. To build a winning startup, you don’t need the right idea on day one. You simply need the right DNA.