I haven't done a “Throwback Thursday” post in a while, but I'm going to do something similar here on a Monday. Exactly ten years ago today, l shared a post where I talked about leaving my employment with the Lean Enterprise Institute and Catalysis to expand the work I was doing independently and to join a software startup called KaiNexus.
Looking back, it's been an AMAZING decade!!
For one, KaiNexus has survived… better than that, the company continues to grow and thrive!
You'll notice the video refers to serving healthcare customers. That's where KaiNexus started (and that was part of the appeal for me), but we now have customers in just about every imaginable sector.
I was introduced, in early 2011, to one of the co-founders, CEO Greg Jacobson, MD. I also had the chance to meet the other co-founder, now COO Matt Paliulis. At the time, it was just the two of them and a part-time contract developer. They were on the verge of finding their first paying customer outside of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the original users of the software.
Greg and I, not being software salespeople, had to figure out marketing, sales, and (thankfully) customer success and customer support roles. I remember sitting with Greg and mapping out the flow of the sales process (or what we thought it might be). Given Greg's exposure to (and love for) the book KAIZEN, it wasn't hard to get him to talk about process — and improvement — practicing what we preached as a company.
It was that shared love for continuous improvement (I was working on the Healthcare Kaizen book at the time) that really drew me to Greg and the product vision of “making improvement easier” (note we never said “easy”).
Here is a short overview video from that era:
Here's the original “explainer video” that Greg made:
Those early days were definitely in the “fake it 'til you make it” mode that people often talk about. I had previous experience at a software startup, as a pre-sales engineer and an implementation consultant. But this was a new challenge. We had working software (so there was no “faking” in that regard), but bringing something new to market and convincing organizations to take a chance with us was an uphill battle.
We gave presentations about continuous improvement. We did software demos — trying to sell the software and, more importantly, getting feedback and input. We found enough customers to get (and keep) the ball rolling.
The company has grown from working out of spare bedrooms (and Greg's garage) to a small office in an investment property Greg owns, to a “real” office — to the pandemic virtual workplace (and it's again returning to offices).
As we've acquired more customers, we've been able to grow a team full of amazing people. Jeff Roussel, as our VP of Sales (and now the Chief Revenue Officer). Maggie Millard has played a pivotal role in marketing and Adam Hamed was a key hire as the Principal Architect.
I've never worked full-time for KaiNexus (I've worked for equity, been a 50% employee, and have also worked as a contractor — as I do today), but I've always had a full commitment to the team, the product, and our customers. I had the opportunity to make an additional investment in the company a few years back, as well.
Here's a video from six years ago about why I joined the team:
The spirit of humility and “we'll do what it takes to figure it out” is strong at KaiNexus. In the early years, I made an introduction between Greg (as a first-time entrepreneur) and Allan Wilson, who had been one of the CEOs at my first startup, Factory Logic. I thought they'd enjoy meeting each other… and Allan ended up being a formal advisor to Greg and to the company.
At one point, Allan became CEO of KaiNexus for about 18 months and Greg had the humility to step back to a Chief Product Officer role. The intent was for Greg to learn from Allan — and he did! The plan was for Greg to take over the reins again as Allan once again tried retirement — and that happened too. That was a pivotal era for the company and set things up for growth and success.
I've had different titles and roles over time, trying to do what was needed (as you tend to do with a startup). These days, I serve as an ambassador to the Lean community. I run our monthly webinar series and our podcast. I try to help where I can with marketing and making introductions… and giving feedback and ideas about new product features.
I love sharing our customers' stories and I'll be doing more of that:
I also have tried to be one of the “keepers of the culture” as we've tried to build a “Lean culture” and a “culture of continuous improvement” in the company. As leaders, Greg, Matt, and Jeff, have been very cognizant of this, as well. We're currently doing a book study of the 2nd edition of The Toyota Way, as we talk more about what that means to us as a software company (and what that means to our customers). I also led a group down to the Toyota plant in San Antonio a few years back.
We've worked hard to create a culture where, when something goes wrong, we look at the process instead of getting upset and blaming an individual. Here's one example of that:
We practice “Kaizen” and use those principles and methods for small staff-driven continuous improvements within the company — and we, of course, use our own KaiNexus software to manage this.
We listen to the voice of the customer and our software has evolved from just helping manage small Kaizen improvements to a broader improvement platform that's the electronic record for all types of improvement in an organization. The original “Kaizen” functionality was probably our “Minimum Viable Product” — viable in the sense that customers were willing to pay for it and those early adopters who bought into our vision helped shape the product that we have today.
Recently, we hit a really big milestone… a customer entered the one millionth item into the database. That doesn't mean a million improvements, but that includes comments, results, and other things that are tracked in the system.
Speaking of results, we share these on our website, but Greg sends out an email every month that summarizes our customers' results for our team. Greg says it's his favorite email every month, and I agree.
Total Completed Improvements, Projects, Incidents, and Charts: 381,057
% resulted in a change: 78% –> Our customers aren't running an “electronic suggestion box” where a vast majority of ideas are rejected. Our customers are “finding something to implement” and they're working toward finding a way to solve problems that matter. They're not just accepting or rejecting ideas. They're working together!
The total financial impact, as self-reported by our customers, is Total Impact = $4,697,983,550.39.
That's almost $5 billion dollars in financial impact that's been facilitated and tracked through our software.
And that's just the improvements that can be easily added up in dollars and cents. Our customers are also improving (and tracking) safety, quality, customer service, and workplace satisfaction improvements and we applaud that also. It's not just about cost savings or simple ROI. Our customers are building and sustaining cultures of continuous improvement and that has a such a positive impact for the long term.
Anyway, thanks for reading my thoughts and reflections here. This post is by no means the definitive history of KaiNexus… but I wanted to share some of my experiences here. I'm thankful that Greg and Matt have been such great leaders to work for and to work with. I'm proud of what we've built and I look forward to the next decade of progress!! It's been challenging, rewarding, and a lot of fun!
I was really happy to log in to see this today in our KaiNexus system:
Related Podcast Episode:
Here's an episode of the KaiNexus Continuous Improvement Podcast where Chris Burnham (an old friend of Mark's and a new employee at KaiNexus) gets me to talk about my KaiNexus journey:
Thanks for listening…
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