Cyndi Williams, CEO of diabetes-focused tech start-up Quin, discusses career paths, company culture and her ‘exceptional’ co-founder.
Cyndi Williams is the co-founder and CEO of Quin, an app designed to help people with diabetes keep track of their insulin.
The app works with data logged into a mobile device, along with continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices, to enable people with diabetes to recognise patterns and rely less on trial and error when it comes to insulin administration.
“The question that we’re focused on at Quin is how much insulin a person should take and when,” Williams told Siliconrepublic.com. “That’s a question that millions of people with insulin-treated diabetes need to answer several times a day, and no one knows the exact answer.”
What is Quin?
Williams explained that most people with diabetes have to figure out the answer to that question every day, making important healthcare decisions using their own intuition and knowledge of experience.
The goal is to “formalise” the knowledge of Quin users, with the aim of contributing that data to diabetes research in order to advance personalised medicine for insulin-treated diabetes.
“We made a mobile app that takes data from existing CGM devices for diabetes, which is a sensor often worn on the arm to measure blood glucose. People also use insulin pens or syringes to inject insulin, and all of our users use an iPhone,” Williams said.
“We take data off of those devices, we take their activity data from their phone, and we use it to observe and learn how each individual is doing their trial and error on a day-to-day basis as they are going about their lives, and give them advice in the moment they need it, based on their past experience.”
One example she gave was ordering a coffee. “You may have drank hundreds of lattes in your life and dosed anywhere from zero to five units for lattes. How much should you take for this latte?
“Quin would look at how long you slept for last night, how active you have been in the past 24 hours, what insulin you have onboard already, where you are in your menstrual cycle and how you feel in terms of stress.”
“We look at all of those factors and things that are affecting you, and we go into your past and find the latte decision that is most relevant for you and most closely matches your current situation, then give that to you as the basis for making your decision.”
The idea behind the business
London-based Quin was founded in 2014, but how did Williams end up in the world of diabetes tech?
“It was a couple of things, but mainly my interest in Isabella Degen, my co-founder. My background is in chemical engineering and software engineering, but I’ve been on the business side of engineering for the last 15 years.”
Prior to setting up Quin, Williams worked at Sun Microsystems before becoming a managing director at software and services business ThoughtWorks. This is where she met Degen, also an engineer, whose own diabetes had inspired a potential business idea.
“At the time I didn’t know anything about diabetes,” Williams said. “I didn’t even know she had diabetes! I just knew how exceptional she was and she was looking for someone to help her set up a business.”
Williams added that she was excited to solve a “human problem” with technology, and that the whole idea “tickled the nerve of the engineer” within her. “It’s also a dream to be able to do something that could actually make a material difference to people’s lives.”
The potential impact of Quin
With an official launch planned for later this year, Quin has been developed behind closed doors for the last two years as part of a research programme with around 100 people who have been providing feedback, ideas and thoughts on the design.
“We are a regulated medical device company,” Williams said. “Every release of our app is a regulated medical device that is released and pushed out to our market. We want to do a human-centred co-creation of a medical device, while also ensuring that what we are doing is safe, will not hurt anyone and will improve the lives of users.
“As part of that, we do regular self-reported results from our users and look at three categories of metrics, which are quality of life improvements, medical benefits and behavioural changes that people make.
“We have had 76pc of our users reporting that they feel more confident, relaxed and that life with diabetes is easier, from the quality of life point of view. That’s something we’re very proud of. It’s critical as a software product maker that you’ve got to make a material difference to people’s quality of life.”
Quin’s main values
Aside from tech and engineering, one area of business that Williams is particularly interested in is workplace culture. She spent much of her time in leadership roles at ThoughtWorks “coming up with the values, living the values and leading by the values”.
“What we’re doing now, our mission is very human-centred and is about making life better for potentially millions of people,” she explained. “It’s really about the values that you put underneath that. For us, our values are quite simple: be excellent, find truth and show love.”
“For us, excellence is your interest in collaborating across the areas of the discipline and your ability to draw people in and take people with you on that journey,” Williams added.
“Finding truth is about the fact that we know so little about diabetes, as well as being willing to throw away our truths when we have to and the problem-solving nature of who we are as people.
“The third value is to show love, which is about the space that we live in. Because diabetes is so poorly understood, there’s a lot of hurt that happens to people who are living with diabetes. It starts with love for the people we are creating for and working with, but it extends to love for your colleagues.”
Although a launch is upcoming, Williams said that the mission of Quin could take 10 years or more. “This is hard work – certainly the hardest work of my life and the lives of many people who work here. We have to have an unconditional positive regard for each other and really be willing to walk in each other’s shoes.”
To ensure that Quin hires the right people, Williams said that she selects interviewees based on their technical skills as well as their affinity to those values. She added that she asks some “pretty pointed questions” during the interview process to ensure that new hires share those values.
“It’s about living those values when we’re inside and what we do every day and how we behave. It matters. Isabella and I have only ever been in value-based organisations, so if you grow up with it, it’s sort of second nature.”
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