Let us tell you a story that spans over ten months and two major American ABA conferences: ABAI 2017 in Denver and ABAI Autism 2018 in Miami. It’s a story about the importance of R&D (Research and Development).
DrOmnibus has been supporting autism therapy with innovative technologies since 2013. Two years later, we launched a new project, our biggest one up-to-date. The goal was to transfer the flow of ABA therapy into an app. As close as it was possible.
With that, we succeeded. We spent almost two years, working on algorithms that met specific behavioral criteria. We implemented DTT logic, prompting, rewards and several other systems. In that department, DrOmnibus app became probably the most advanced software for autism therapy in the world. We launched successfully in Europe and visited major autism conferences in the United Kingdom and Poland.
Yet, when we took DrOmnibus software to the United States for the first time, we hit the wall. And it was an eye-opening experience.
ABAI annual is a major event for autism therapy professionals and parents. If you are not successful as an exhibitor there, you have a lot to think about. Our experience there was bittersweet. The visitors were saying the app potential was awesome. On the other hand, we realized we were clearly tuned for European educational and therapeutic institutions. And the models the industry works in Europe greatly differs from the how things work within American ABA industry. The behavioral principles are the same but the devil is in the details.
After coming back from the conference we decided to focus 100% percent on the tool for a behavioral therapist, with the United States as our primary market. In practice, it was a decision to make a soft-reset of the project.
This is where an intense R&D had to come in. The fundaments of technology were developed. The principles of it were correct. But it had to be adapted to the needs of a new. And it always means huge, huge changes. The fact you were situated over five thousand miles from America didn’t make it easier.
Yet it was a no-brainer decision for the team. The “blood sweat and tears” kind of work had to be done. We launched the new R&D goals right after Denver.
Meet the ABA DrOmnibus Resource APP
For the US reader, this may seem like a piece of cake, but for a European discovering the specifics of a specifically American industry was a huge task. We worked on it mostly on three levels:
- extensive research of internet sources, including academic databases and professional outlets
- launching the cooperation with American BCBAs
- calla and conversations with behavior professionals from across the swamp to get as much knowledge about the industry.
And when I mean it was intense, I mean it. The international calls we had were done during European night sometimes. The total number was close to three hundred. It wasn’t like a task you do during your ordinary work. Four people in our company were basically focused only on that.
What helped greatly at that time, was DrOmnibus’ acceptance into San Francisco’s Google Launchpad Accelerator. It opened many doors and allowed us to significantly boost the pace of R&D.
This is how four months later, we had a unique knowledge. We understood American behavioral therapist much better, we knew how the market works and identified the needs that could be supported by the app. The whole team did a good job.
So there comes February and we fly to Miami to attend ABAI Autism conference. We are after months of intense R&D and we have the first features which are consequences of this R&D to show.
I won’t lie to you, this is when I really hold my breath. It was like a moment well-known to every researcher. A science classic – it is about to turn out if you were right or not and the passion and drive you to have come up with a huge deal of uncertainty. Yes, you did your best but this is R&D – you never know.
After the first conference, I was literally jumping like mad in my hotel room. It was successful even beyond my expectations. The response was so much different from the one we had in Denver. You weren’t just hearing “it’s awesome” but there was more like a deep, serious interest from the industry professionals. We converted this interest into lots of presentations and demos after the conference. We started talks with the professionals from Europe who also were attending that conference. Last but not least, we also got to world final of Bridge-to-mass Challenge in Boston.
Our story proves that the R&D, with all the uncertainty it comes with, is simply super important thing. If done right, it will work like a runway for an airplane (which is your project).
It’s never easy, however. It assumes some things you do will go to the trash and this is where it’s tricky because many companies, especially startups, have a narrow mistake margin. When time or fund limits mean you cannot think something over, go the wrong way and turn back, it’s basically an R&D killer.
Of course, you also have to avoid the other extreme. Debating too much over details and making the same mistakes over and over again is not a definition of a good R&D. Yes, you can and should experiment. Yes, you can and should constantly explore. Yes, you can and should think out of the box. But you need to stay focused and never lose the goal. Especially in R&D made for the commercial product. Our goal was to tune DrOmnibus for an American ABA company.
And we’re on the way.
About the author
Wojciech Bieroński – psychologist, Head of Research & Development at DrOmnibus. Expert in video game psychology, he explores the fields of software technologies used in an educational and medical setting