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Interview with Ben Rubin about New Product Development

Ben Rubin is the cofounder of Change Collective, a new innovative platform to assist users in changing their behavior. Prior to Change Collective Ben cofounded Zeo, a sleep management company that helped users track their sleep. Ben also blogs about life hacking and other topics at BecomingAwesome.com.


1) The MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) market has almost reached saturation; what is (or will be) the secret sauce that makes Change Collective different than other online educational platforms?

When you think about different types of learning, you can think of different types of learning and how they might benefit from different course networks: the type of learning like you might find in history classes or second-grade math, maybe knitting or even graphic design and Photoshop. Platforms like Coursea, Khan Academy and Udemy… each of these takes a slightly different approach in terms of the type of learning and the way the content is created.

This type of learning is split into two axes: one axis is user-generated content versus professional content. What we see is that within the didactic learning section, most of the market is well covered. In behavior change however, there’s a bit of a different game going on; it’s no longer just learning a skill and having knowledge. It’s about changing a behavior and learning things is actually just a very small part of the process.

Where we see the next technological shift — in terms of being able to serve this market — has been the pervasiveness of smartphones, the pervasiveness of availability of health data through wearables. The enablement of technology allows us to build a course platform that’s geared towards behavior change. Since traditional educational platforms are not specifically or necessarily native to mobile they cannot be with you, can’t remind you, or can’t stay there with you. Individual change fundamentally has to be accomplished in your everyday life, as you are walking around the world.

We see ourselves differentiated in three ways. The first is content type: we are specifically geared toward behavior change. Second, our delivery mechanism is mobile. The third way is in the product experience and design. We are firmly grounded in change science: from psychology, to behavioral economics, to community, and how all of these interact.

2) With regards to change you have said that, “when change matters, identity must shift.” What does that mean and how will you use technology to support this idea?

When you go back to our primal understanding of behavior change, we believe change generally occurred because someone you looked up to did that thing: If you were training to be a hunter, farmer, or woodworker there were role models, village elders, who would show you the way. Their behavior was passed down and modeled. In modern times, the idea of “role model” has shifted into the idea of world-class experts. Instead of mentors being chosen from a small group of people around us, these experts now have a global reach. We can match an individual to a mentor or an expert that has “been there – done that” for a specific aspect of what a person wants to change and/or improve.

When we were interviewing consumers about change and asking them what worked, again and again they would mention community and the community’s respective leader. It became very clear that one of the key aspects of behavior change is actually shifting your identity to become associated with the view within the group. This concept/idea is supported by academic research, too.

Vegetarianism is a great example of this. Someone who has a moral objection to eating meat is very unlikely to choose an expedient and tasty the hamburger, because their identity and their morals are tied up in that position.

Our realization was we could use technology to bring great expert content and actual change facilitation to a wide audience. The experts can now better tell their stories, create communities in a scalable way and enable user identities to shift (which will help effect change).

3) You have spent significant time on product development since announcing your new project at the 2013 QS Conference. What have you learned about your customer segment and product during the process?

We have been talking a lot with experts, and talking with consumers. The process really boiled down who our target customer is. We describe them as one of two personas: The first is the Healthy Achiever. This person tends to be 20 to 55, female, interested in holistic life change, interested in sustainable change across a broad range of avenues from physical life, to raising kids, to household products, to her spiritual life.

The second persona is the Performance Optimizer. This person tends to be male, in a similar age range as the Healthy Achiever, and interested in optimizing risk. He prioritizes career over the rest of his life, but is interested in hacks across the board, and really wants to apply the minimum amount of effort in order to get the maximum amount of the gain. He is less worried about sustainability and a holistic approach.

So we really had a chance to dive in deep, understand those personas, understand who we are going to cater to and then talked to the experts who have already served those market segments somewhat and are well-respected by those consumers. So we have learned a ton about both the consumers in this market and the experts who serve them.

4) Given you are an avid life hacker yourself, what are three “hacks” you have successfully implemented in your own life that have yielded significant desirable results?

I will give you four because I know them well.

1) Sleep: Get 8 to 9 hours in a dark cool room, with black out curtains. You need the appropriate amount of REM and deep sleep. If you sleep right, the rest of your life will follow.

2) Nutrition: For me, the hack is Paleo, but there’s good reason to believe that lots of different approaches work for different people, so you need to discover what works for you.

3) Physical activity: Specifically, for me, it’s a combination of CrossFit and Olympic lifting that works. That will not work for everyone. However, I do tend to suggest some form of resistance training or other type of weighted work.

4) Meditation

5) What is the most valuable takeaway from your experience building and winding down Zeo?

I will give you two:

1) Listen to your customers. We always knew they didn’t love wearing headbands. We also knew Zeo was a great product — the device gave amazing data quality — and we projected that consumers would get over their objections (to headbands) because the product was so amazing. That never happened. Had we listened to our customers more, gathering stronger intelligence earlier in the product lifecycle, we would have more quickly shifted to non-contact sensor products.

2) The importance of building a corporate culture based around shared values. We started Zeo when we were 20 years old, just a couple of college kids who got together and started building something, perhaps without a truly defined shared purpose. When I look at the thing that has really worked for us at Change Collective, it is unity and shared values and really being mindful of building those shared values into the organization and company culture.