Talk about all in the family. For Ran Ma, who comes from three generations of doctors, healthcare is in her blood.
“The expectation for me was to go to med school like every other nice Chinese girl," Ma tells SWAAY with a laugh. “But at the end of the day, I wanted to find my own path. I really appreciate what doctors do but I wanted to make a difference more on the prevention side. I wanted to help give people the tools to do something about their health before they have to get cut open. I wanted to work higher up in the healthcare chain."
After working in a wound lab where she did a lot of research on diabetic foot, Ma says she found her calling. “It stuck in my head," she says, about the issue in which high blood pressure leads to nerve damage in the foot. “People in the medical industry know that diabetic foot is a very traumatic, expensive, life-threatening problem, but it's very preventable."
Siren's first smart sock protype
With that idea in mind, Ma, who studied biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins, decided to revolutionize the way diabetes patients monitor their health at home by introducing a smart sock that would help detect temperature changes in feet. In February of 2015, Ma began officially launched her company, Siren Care, which is designed to offer practical solutions to health issues through wearable technology. Ma's first prototype, which she today laughs about and describes as “hideous" was built after hours of research and her own development with a mix of parts she bought online.
“It was very painful, very hard at the beginning. I worked for a couple other start ups when I decided to do my own thing. It was a New Year's resolution. I told myself I'm going to work out and I want to start my own startup."
In March, 2015 Ma went to DFCon (Diabetic Foot Conference) with her homemade prototype to meet with podiatrists and surgeons. “They didn't know what to think of me," says Ma. “I started talking to doctors. I went back with their feedback and worked on another version."
This time Ma paid a professional to make the product, and she switched out the electrical parts and wires for smaller, more streamlined versions. Then, she went back to the conference the following year and unveiled her newest version. At this point, Ma says the reaction to her concept was even more positive.
“The sock got a little better, a little smaller, and a little more refined each time," says Ma, who subsequently brought on board two co-founders; CTO Jie Fu and COO Henk Jan Scholten, as well as an Industrial Designer to help take her to the next level. “Then I really reached the limit of my prototyping abilities," says Ma, adding that the company is currently seeking a head of growth.
Today the Siren Smart Sock, which sends a signal to a corresponding app should there be any significant change in your foot temperature, is making waves across the globe. It is available on the company's website for pre-order.
“I just started doing research," says Ma. “I made lists and kept coming back to diabetic foot and wearables I had all these ideas."
According to Ma, a big springboard to her brand's success was winning the Techcrunch Hardware Battlefield competition. After her subsequent feature in the magazine, Ma says Siren's website traffic exploded, and the product became one of the most popular articles on Reddit.
“The news about what we do is spreading like wildfire around the world."
“We are getting inquiries from as far as the Middle East, Russia, Mexico, Iceland, and Korea," says Ma, adding that she is plans to roll out in Europe next, followed by Asia. “Diabetes can happen to anyone anywhere. It touches the lives of so many."
“Our technology has a lot more uses than diabetic foot," says Ma, who plans to expand her line to include more intelligent undergarments. “I'm very passionate about prevention and health care and adjacent industries. There are many health issues that affect a lot of people, including the elderly who live with chronic disease. I want to make sure we have dignity in our older years and have devices that are easy to use and can detect things for you."
When it comes to funding, Ma says she raised about half a million in the summer of 2016, then joined an accelerator soon after. She is currently raising her seed round as is hoping to close a “significantly larger" investment in the next few weeks.
“We call ourselves consumer healthcare brand/company," says Ma, about her hybrid B2B and B2C brand proposition. “At the end of the day we need to make consumers happy, no matter who we sell to. That's what I care about."
For Ma, the biggest motivator for pushing her company forward continues to be the people she helps with her product introductions.
“I work with patients who have ulcers and have been bedridden for months trying to heal ulcers," says Ma. “They can't go to work. They're living in fear because they don't know when they will have the next ulcer, and by the time they see a doctor it's too late, surgery is the only option. We've come in and the response has been very happy and emotional."
"We want to help people. We want them to stop living in fear."
“I started with the problem," says Ma. “Then I built the technology to solve it."
"Just keep doing what you're doing and one day you will get there."
When asked what words of advice she would give to young entrepreneurs following in her footsteps, Ma says simply, “Never give up. No matter how hard it is. When I started people laughed at me. They said “what are you doing making socks in your bedroom? You're crazy. You could get some other job, but I didn't give up."
Ma, who will be making an academic presentation at DFCon 2017, adds that entrepreneurs shouldn't be afraid to put themselves out there, regardless of which point of the launch journey they may find themselves. "When I went to the conferences with my crazy prototype people laughed at me," says Ma. "But every conference I went to it got better. As long as you keep making progress no matter how small, don't give up."
The Quick 10
1. What app do you most use?
I live the Tenderloin area of San Francisco and a lot of packages get stolen. The Doorman app is really useful so I can schedule deliveries for when I am at home and I can make sure my packages get to me in one piece.
2. Briefly describe your morning routine.
I have two types of mornings: day without presentations when I wake up 15 minutes in advance, shower, get dressed, run to work, and days with presentations when I wake up an hour and a half earlier to do hair, makeup, put on heels and a dress, land take Lyft or Uber to work.
3. Name a business mogul you admire.
Elon Musk. His vision is so big he's almost borderline crazy. I admire that!
4. What product do you wish you had invented?
Penicillin. It's one of the major milestones in modern medicine and has saved millions of lives.
5. What is your spirit animal?
Tiger. Just like my Chinese horoscope. Fearless.
6. What is your life motto?
"Never give up!"
7. Name your favorite work day snack.
8. Every entrepreneur must be what to be successful.
"Willing to take risk"
9. What's the most inspiring place you've traveled to?
Silicon Valley. I knew this is where I was going to learn how to build my company and where I was going to build it. That was three years ago.
10. Desert Island. Three things, go.
Laptop, power generator, some way to connect to the internet.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.