How The Covid-19 At Home Test Battle Was Won    

There was a race to win the battle to dominate the at home test market
There was a race to win the battle to dominate the at home test market
Image Credit: CT Senate Republicans

I think that we all realize that the Covid-19 pandemic affected just about everyone. Even after the vaccine was available, people could still get sick. The one thing that everyone wanted was a way to determine if they had Covid-19. Sure, they could go to the doctor and get tested, but what they really wanted to be able to do was to test themselves at home. This customers desire for an at home Covid-19 test created a marketing frenzy and that’s when the product managers stepped in.

How To Create A Winning Pandemic Product

The product managers at Abbott Laboratories have been able to create the dominant Covid-19 at-home test. That product is called BinaxNow. They were able to build an early lead in the race to seize the sudden new market and provide the leading at-home Covid-19 test. Whether they can keep that position depends on how well they can anticipate the future course of the Covid-19 virus. The Abbot product managers created 1 billion Covid-19 tests last year. At one point, Abbott controlled 80% of the U.S. retail market for at-home Covid-19 tests.

The About product managers were able to create one of the standout products of the pandemic due to a mix of research and manufacturing horsepower, industry connections and some good fortune. The design of the test that they created gave the Abbott product managers an early advantage. The rectangular paper card the company produced was similar to an existing format it had been using to make other tests in the U.S. This meant that Abbott could ramp up production right away. The Abbot product managers were able to use their relationships with big retailers to help Abbott get its tests on store shelves. The product managers got lucky when U.S. regulators authorized only a handful of at-home tests at first, which helped Abbott build a lead as the pandemic hastened the willingness of consumers and officials to test for more medical conditions at home.

Everything did not go perfectly for the Abbott product managers. They encountered problems as they miscalculated the course of the pandemic. The company had to idle its factory and lay off employees when demand for the at-home tests cratered as more people became vaccinated. However, when the arrival of the new Covid-19 variants called Delta and Omicron reversed that slump, many potential customers found empty shelves as they hunted for tests.

The Future Of At Home Covid-19 Tests

The Abbot product managers fully understand that new uncertainties await them. They are facing increased competition on pharmacy shelves from brands including On/Go, Flowflex and iHealth. Additionally, the possibility that there is an end to the public health crisis could impact its business. Federal officials say they still want tests for future surges, but consumer demand has recently dipped as the worst of the Omicron wave waned. The product managers understand that it’s difficult to predict what that demand is going to be. The question that needs to be answered is, do they want to be ready for future variants, which will likely occur this year?

Soon after Covid-19 was identified, the product managers worked with Abbot scientists to develop tests for the virus, starting with more complicated diagnostics that required bulky laboratory equipment and skilled technicians. In order to create something simpler that would be portable and fast-acting, the product managers came up with an antigen test that hunted for pieces of viral protein. To use that test, customers put a swab up their nose, added that sample and a liquid mixture to a rectangular paper card and closed the card shut so that the entire apparatus resembled the shape of a lollipop. The liquid then traveled up the paper strip. It then revealed either one or two pink lines: one for negative, two for positive. The test takes about 15 minutes to complete.

What the product managers didn’t anticipate is that demand for the BinaxNow tests would dry up so fast. That is what happened in the spring and summer of 2021 as the U.S. vaccination campaign really hit its stride. Covid-19 cases and related hospitalizations fell and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear masks in indoor public places or get tested in many situations. The Abbott product managers kept making tests and stockpiling inventory, at first. The company slashed BinaxNow production to a few million a month, discarded the expiring test components, laid off hundreds of their workers. Just as the product managers were cutting output, the Delta variant drove up Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations again, catching the company flat-footed. Testing demand surged; states and pharmacies wanted more tests. As the Delta wave cooled off in the fall, test makers briefly caught up with demand. Then the Omicron variant arrived and pushed orders higher than ever. A government-industry partnership would help maintain test-making infrastructure in preparation for future Covid-19 flare-ups.

What All Of This Means For You

Product managers at Abbott realized that they had an opportunity when the Covid-19 pandemic started to sweep across the country. There was a need for many people to get tested to see if they currently had the virus. However, these people didn’t want to have to go see a doctor or a hospital. Instead, they wanted to be able to get tested at home. The Abbott product managers realized that if they could create an at-home Covid-19 test, then there was potentially a huge market for it.

The Abbot product managers created an at-home Covid-19 test that they called BinaxNow. They were able to ramp up production of their test because it was similar to previous tests. They were able to use existing retail relationships to get their product onto store shelves. When a vaccine became available, demand for the tests dropped off. Additional competition has showed up; however, the government is saying that they still want tests for future waves of the virus. The Abbot product managers created the product by working with scientists to create a nasal swab that clearly indicates if a person is infected. As the Covid-19 pandemic faded, the demand for the tests also faded. However, additional waves of the virus have generated new demands.

The Abbot product managers need to understand that they have a product that will experience ups and downs. This means that they need to be very careful in the quantities of the product that they create. When customers want their product, they should expect to see a surge in demand. They need to make sure that they stay on top of the current variant and they can provide the tests that customers are looking for.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How can the Abbott product manager match their production to the ups and downs of demand for their test?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

The post How The Covid-19 At Home Test Battle Was Won     appeared first on The Accidental Product Manager.

Product Managers Get Interested In Drive-Throughs

Delivering products to customers in cars is becoming more popular
Delivering products to customers in cars is becoming more popular
Image Credit: Michael Steeber

As product managers our job is to create products that our potential customers will want. We don’t often spend a lot of time thinking about how we are going to deliver our products to our customers. However, perhaps we should. If it turned out that how we get our products to our customers had an impact on how much of our product we were able to sell, then all of sudden we’d get very interested in just how this gets done. Some product managers have realized this, and they have all of sudden become very interested in drive-throughs.

Everyone Wants A Drive-Through

Produce managers realize that the demand for the humble drive-through lane is booming, as chicken joints, coffee makers, and other fast-food operators vie for what is in limited supply. Interest in drive-through real estate had been growing even before the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it exploded when the pandemic arrived and total sales volume for restaurants, pharmacy and bank properties hit a record US$12 billion. That represents a 43% increase from the previous year and a doubling in sales from 2012. What product managers realized is that coffee and fast-food customers gravitated to drive-throughs in the early months of the pandemic, when dining rooms were closed, and fear of infection kept people in their cars.

What has happened since then is that many customers have realized that they enjoy the convenience of drive-throughs, especially now that mobile ordering reduces wait time and the need to yell into a speaker to place your order. The migration of drive-through businesses from cities to the suburbs has also boosted the drive-through business. Properties that support a drive-through offer product managers the opportunity to cut costs in terms of both square footage and staffing.

A company that sells coffee and energy drinks, is a good example of the advantages of serving customers in their cars. Visits to the chain’s locations, which are almost exclusively drive-through, went up more than 50% during the pandemic compared with before the pandemic. The product managers at the company had experimented with cafe seating in the early 1990s but decided that the drive-through model best positioned them to grow. The company operates mainly in rural and suburban areas, where customer demand leans toward drive-through, and their staffing was easier without a dining room.

Drive-Throughs Change Everything

Competition for car-friendly real estate is up significantly since the start of the pandemic as existing operators expand. Other companies, including Starbucks, are developing more drive-through properties. Companies that had been previously dine-in only have started to open drive-throughs for the first time in recent years, including Shake Shack. A property on Long Island, N.Y., leased for 20% higher than its original asking price after four different franchise operators from the same fast-food chicken brand got locked in a bidding war.

The scramble for drive-throughs is causing prices to increase nationwide. The average property sold for $392 a square foot last quarter; this is about 7% higher than during the same period two years earlier. Product managers need to realize that finding drive-through real estate can be challenging, especially in densely built areas, because the properties need to have enough space to accommodate long lines of cars. When product managers are looking for potential drive-through sites, they may want to look at bank branches because these buildings are small, and the properties were designed to accommodate drive-throughs. What is happening is that bank properties are increasingly becoming available to product managers as mobile banking reduces the need for branches.

As more product managers get in the drive-through game, industry veterans are innovating. The Checkers and Rally’s burger joints, known for their double drive-throughs, are starting to devote one of their lanes at many locations to e-commerce customers, so third-party delivery drivers and customers who use mobile ordering can get their food faster. Every piece of data that product managers have suggests that people have developed that love for the ease and convenience of delivery, order ahead and drive-through in general.

What All Of This Means For You

Product managers for fast food and coffee restaurants are starting to once again discover drive-throughs. The pandemic caused customers to stop going out to dine in restaurants and instead they stayed in their cars and ordered take out food. As the pandemic has eased, these customers are deciding that they like the ease and convince of being able to use a drive-through lane to get the food that they want.

The growth in interest was caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. The need to stay in your car as your ordered your food caused the amount of traffic that was seen by drive-throughs explode during the pandemic. As more drive-through restaurants open in the suburbs business owners are discovering that a drive through can help them to cut their operating costs. Examples of companies that focus on offering drive-through service has shown firms that are growing rapidly. Competition for sites that can support a drive-through has increased. As prices for sites increase, it is becoming harder and harder to find the right site. Former bank branches often provide what is needed to create a new drive-through restaurant. Existing drive-throughs are evolving to boost support for ecommerce.

The drive-through is not something new. However, product managers are starting to discover that the pandemic has changed everything. The drive-through has become the preferred method that customers want to use when they are ordering food. This means that product managers are going to have to become good at selecting new store sites that can provide the drive-throughs that their customers are looking for.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that it is possible to open a restaurant without a drive through today?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Just imagine if you were a product manager who was responsible for a very popular product. Perhaps this is a fashion product or a high tech product that everyone wants. Yes, your sales would probably be exploding; however, something else would be exploding at the same time – counterfeiting of your product. Other manufactures would see how successful your product was and then they would go ahead and start to make copies of it and sell it for less. As a product manager part of your job would be to put a stop to this kind of thievery. However, you first have to find the counterfeits that are being sold. How can you go about doing this?

The post Product Managers Get Interested In Drive-Throughs appeared first on The Accidental Product Manager.

How Will Cruise Product Managers Reclaim The Seas?

What needs to be done to get cruise customers to return?
What needs to be done to get cruise customers to return?
Image Credit: Mish Mish

It’s not cheap to take a cruise. That’s why being a cruise line product manager can be a very good job. However, the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic literally shut down the cruise industry – the boats didn’t leave port for over a year. Now that they have once again been granted permission to sail, how are their product managers going to go about finding ways to get their customers to come back and travel the high seas with them?

Making Cruising Safe

Cruise product managers are starting to become happy once again. The reason is because after a long time in the age of Covid-19, cruise lines are increasingly beginning to sail again. The 2022 itineraries on Viking Ocean Cruises are almost fully booked which shows that there is pent up demand. Clearly passengers are willing to climb aboard. The question that product managers will now have to answer is: is it safe to cruise now? Public perception that cruising is safe significantly increased in recent months according to a survey by a travel marketing firm. The grim images of giant virus-riddled ship marooned off shore have been fading – at least until when coronavirus infections were identified aboard a cruise ship sailing out of Galveston, Texas.

Product managers know that the cruise model does give them a chance to control the environment more than other sectors of hospitality. Product managers want everyone to know that there have been low incidences of Covid since sailings resumed. Only 27 positive Covid-19 cases have been identified among the estimated 1.6 million passengers who have sailed in 2021. Covid-19 cases among crew members are much harder to track. However, it appears as though the cruise lines’ new safety protocols appear to be working.

After Covid outbreaks were reported on dozens of cruise ships, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a “no-sail” order, banning most passenger vessels from sailing in U.S. waters. The order was lifted and replaced with a set of rules that ships had to comply with before they were allowed to resume their voyages. Even with these precautions in place, CDC officials say cruising is not a zero-risk activity and that non-vaccinated people should avoid all cruises. The CDC also recommends that vaccinated people should get tested before boarding a ship and that anyone with a serious illness or an increased risk of serious illness should not cruise at all. The agency has also established a Covid-19 color-coding system that tracks ships sailing in U.S. waters, operating under health and safety protocols that align with the agency’s standards.

Product managers have to make sure that their potential passengers understand that there are clear risks involved in cruising. The key is that the risk is stratified by vaccinated people versus unvaccinated people. The unvaccinated are clearly at much higher risk of contracting and then spreading the virus. Even in the before pandemic times, cruise ships were subject to biannual CDC inspections. Now, under strict pandemic scrutiny from the CDC, the industry will be even more highly regulated – from below-deck waste management systems to guest-facing food service protocols – and required to make regular health and safety reports to the CDC. Product managers have had time to identify vulnerabilities, overhaul internal weaknesses, retrain staff, arm themselves against new eventualities and form advisory boards. Some product managers undertook all-volunteer test cruises to put all the upgrades and protocols through their paces.

Making Cruising Popular Again

Product managers believe that this very difficult time has provided them with an opportunity to demonstrate that ships are extremely safe. They want their potential passengers to know that they have hospitals on board, very well trained personnel, and that they need to produce reports of anything that happens on board which helps to make it well managed. They will not allow the virus to get out of control. They can stop it at the beginning.

As they resume sailing, most cruises are operating at reduced capacity in order to give people more room in common spaces like bars and theaters on board and to work within local guidelines in port. Product managers know that taking into account vaccination rates among passengers and mask-wearing protocols, density matters more than the size of the boat. Product managers also realize that the nature of activities has to be considered. Outside activities are generally fine. There will be higher risks in a gym with lots of people. Product managers realize that a three-day party at sea with gambling, dancing and drinking is different than going whale-watching.

Making sure that the ships are well ventilated is something that product managers have to be able to assure their customer of. An open bar, state-of-the-art water toys, and a fancy steakhouse are all expected on any cruise. However, onboard amenities now also include hospital-grade disinfectants, new fresh-air ventilation systems and robots that clean at night using UV light. Many cruise lines are using bipolar ionization technology for their HVAC systems, which generates positively and negatively charged ions to reduce contaminants and pollutants in the air. Sales of interior cabins are down, and some lines use them as isolation rooms, if needed.

What All Of This Means For You

Cruise product managers had a hard time during the pandemic. Their product consists of having a large group of people get together in an enclosed space. That product was taken off of the market during the pandemic. Now that the pandemic is starting to fade in everyone’s memory, these product managers have a real challenge on their hands: they have to make people want to go cruising again. There are some significant safety concerns that everyone has. How will these product managers make cruising popular once again?

The key to getting people to be willing to go on a cruise is going to be to make sure that the public’s perception of cruising is that it is safe. This means that there can’t be any news stories about stranded ships with lots of sick people on them. Product managers do have the ability to control the environment on board a ship. The goal will be to get vaccinated people to cruise and get unvaccinated people to stay home. The CDC will be keeping a close eye on the cruise industry. Cruise lines will operate at reduced capacity in order to allow people to have more distance between themselves. Product managers will also make sure that ships are well ventilated and cleaned every night.

Let’s face it: people like to go on cruises. Yes, the pandemic put a stop to this popular pastime. However, the cruise product managers should be able to see a rebound in the demand for their product. However, in order to make sure that they get the people who want to go cruising to commit, they are going to have to advertise that their boats are safe and well maintained. If they can do this, then they should be sailing off in no time.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: How can cruise product managers show that their product is safe?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

If you think about it, all of the screens in your life have already been claimed by someone. Your PC screen is owned by either Microsoft or Apple. Your phone screen is owned by either Google or Apple. The list goes on. Right now there is really only one screen that is still up for grabs. Which screen is this you ask? It’s the screen that is on the dashboard of your car. However, even as you read this, product managers are scrambling to try to win over this one last remaining unclaimed screen.

The post How Will Cruise Product Managers Reclaim The Seas? appeared first on The Accidental Product Manager.

Silicon Valley’s surreal weekend

As Silicon Valley Bank collapsed before our eyes on Thursday, a founder told me that the world felt like it did when COVID-19 first bared its teeth. I scoffed at his analogy at first: are we really using a still on-going and devastating pandemic to describe the fall of a prominent bank? But then I realized, we are indeed witnessing the crumbling of something sacred.

Now, I see the similarity between those dreary COVID days and the surreality of the past weekend — even among the collective relief that echoed through Silicon Valley as regulators told depositors funds would be accessible in full starting Monday. Over the past four days, we’ve reported on a Twitter-induced bank run, SVB taken over by regulators, venture’s resulting scramble to help startups and entrepreneurs’ resulting scramble to survive. All while Tech Twitter went from panic to anger to dread to relief, all with fear sitting heavily on both shoulders.

Some investors spoke up, others pointed fingers, and even though Twitter was full of hot takes and ill-timed jokes, my DMs have never been more active with raw, real stories of how SVB’s collapse is impacting the people on the frontier of innovation. Now my DMS are full of people celebrating, pouring one out, and appreciating a moment of straight up relief that felt like the end of lockdown.

But while it may feel like the cheery ending to a nightmare, here’s what has irreversibly changed: people were slapped in the face by the interconnectedness of tech and over-dependency on certain institutions and voices. I think we all were reminded that a finance story is innately a human story; and that a failure of this magnitude impacts well beyond “tech elite” and whatever your definition of Silicon Valley is. And, I’ll add, I hope there was the realization that we should all stop trying to be banking experts (just like we should all stop trying to be epidemiologists).

I don’t see tech functioning the same after what was said, seen and pushed out loud over the past few weeks. Founders are more aware than ever on which of their investors truly add value. VCs, often ever publicly cordial, have drawn lines and picked teams I’m sure we’ll see act together in the future. And normal people just had their eyes opened on how the often insular world of venture and startups works (messy as it is).

Silicon Valley let out a collective exhale with the news that depositors will be covered by regulators. There’s still more questions to iron out before the rebuilding starts. But the big story ahead is still being written, both in better understanding what broke and what is breaking in Silicon Valley’s broader tank.

Silicon Valley’s surreal weekend by Natasha Mascarenhas originally published on TechCrunch

‘Pan-variant’ COVID vaccine could defang future strains thanks to machine learning

A new approach to vaccines with a machine learning twist could put an end to boosters and seasonal variant shots, according to MIT researchers. This “pan-variant” vaccine would ignore the virus itself but quickly control infections by cracking down on infected cells.

To be quite clear, this is still in animal testing and is nowhere near being deployed. But with COVID becoming a resident virus in the human population, longer-lasting solutions than occasional boosters for particularly bad strains are in demand.

The problem is that, as amazing as the mRNA vaccines are, they are reactive, not proactive: you see a variant, you sample its spike protein or some other distinctive feature, and you slip it into the immune system so it knows to be on the lookout. It’s a bit like letting a rescue dog sniff the belongings of a lost hiker.

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory wanted to find another, more enduring way to keep the body safe from COVID attack. A paper describing their findings was published today in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.

The team decided to punt on the idea of attacking the virus itself, because its most distinctive feature, the spike protein, is always changing. Instead, they focused on certain molecular signals that reliably appear on the surface of cells infected by the virus. If these could be spotted early and the immune system’s T cells deployed quickly, the infection would be stalled before it reached dangerous or potentially even infectious levels.

These surface signals, called human leukocyte antigens, and they present a variety of peptides to T cells, kind of like raising semaphore flags. If everything is in order, it’s the usual combination of familiar peptides and the T cell moves on. If something is wrong, a fragment of the virus may be hoisted up the flagpole, and the T cells open fire.

So what does machine learning have to do with all this? There’s a lot of data out there cataloguing the various proteins and amino acid chains found in COVID, and what they turn into once they’ve infiltrated a cell, and how the cells indicate using HLAs that they’re infected.

Machine learning algorithms are good at solving optimization problems like this, where lots of noisy data must be sorted through for specific combinations of qualities. In this case they designed algorithms to catalogue the relevant peptides and select about 30 that are present or “conserved” in all versions of the virus, but also are associated with HLAs, and are likely to be used as flags for T cells to see.

Transgenic mice given our versions of HLAs and this new vaccine showed a far more voluminous immune response in the short term after infection, and none died of the virus.

“This study offers proof in a living system, an actual mouse, that the vaccines we devised using machine learning can afford protection from the COVID virus,” said MIT PhD student Brandon Carter, one of the paper’s lead authors, in an MIT news article.

An interesting possible benefit is that immunocompromised people may get important protection from this approach while the mRNA vaccines don’t work for them. “Long COVID” sufferers too may get some relief in the form of a more comprehensive immune assault on their especially resilient infection.

As the study’s abstract puts it:

The undetectable specific antibody response in MIT-T-COVID-immunized mice demonstrates specific T cell responses alone can effectively attenuate the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Our results suggest further study is merited for pan-variant T cell vaccines, including for individuals that cannot produce neutralizing antibodies or to help mitigate Long COVID.

It’s a promising line of inquiry and a great way to employ advances in computation in service of global health. But it’s also important to recognize it is still early days for the “pan-variant” option. For one thing, it may work with or against existing vaccines — what if the best peptides for the immune response vaccine are the ones targeted for destruction by mRNA priming? The two would be working at cross purposes. And too strong an immune response also runs the risk of collateral damage, mistaken culling of ambiguously signaling cells and the like.

But these are the good kind of questions — ones that are relevant because the basic function of the new vaccine appears to work. We’ll know more as the team progresses through more tests of this promising approach.

‘Pan-variant’ COVID vaccine could defang future strains thanks to machine learning by Devin Coldewey originally published on TechCrunch

Peloton Product Managers Search For Ways To Keep Growth Going

How can Peloton keep growing after the pandemic is over?
How can Peloton keep growing after the pandemic is over?
Image Credit: Tony Webster

You might be thinking that there is no good side to a pandemic. However, you wouldn’t be thinking that if you were a product manager who works for the stationary bike company Peloton. Their sales have shot up as more and more people were forced to stay home and could no longer go to the gym to exercise. Their pricy bikes seemed to fill a need in people’s lives. However, all good things have to come to an end. When the pandemic is over, how are these product managers going to keep a good thing going?

Everybody Starts To Exercise At Home

Peloton’s stationary bikes and remote fitness classes have been in high demand since the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic began. All of sudden the gyms closed and millions of people who still wanted to exercise were cooped up at home. Product managers at Peloton were thrilled when orders for new bikes surged, and Peloton changed their product development definition and stopped most advertising for several months as it struggled to fulfill the demand for its products. As the pandemic wore on, wait times for new bikes reduced, while orders remained up. The benefit of the pandemic is that the company was able to report its first quarterly profit. What made things even better for the Peloton product managers was that the number of $39-a-month connected-fitness reoccurring subscriptions for owners of Peloton bikes and treadmills more than doubled. This would look good on anyone’s product manager resume. The product manager’s challenge then became to figure out how to sustain that growth as gyms in parts of the country reopened.

The product managers at Peloton realize that there are over 180 million people around the globe who pay monthly for access to a gym. Currently Peloton only has 3.1 million members on their platform today. What this means is that they believe that they have a tremendous runway for growth. Thanks to the pandemic, the product managers think there’s a fairly large percentage of the population who are unlikely to, or who may not ever, return to a gym. What this means for the product managers is that it’s important to continue growing their connected-fitness memberships as quickly as they possibly can to keep their first-mover advantage.

When you are selling a stationary bicycle that people can use in their homes, you are competing with people that use your product who also have gym memberships. However, the product managers believe that that percentage has declined from about 60% of their members two years ago to less than 40% today. The Peloton product manager’s plan is to aggressively grow different fitness offerings. They hope to continue to add more value to the connected-fitness subscription. An example of what they are trying to do can be seen in their recent announcement of the addition of Barre [a ballet-inspired fitness workout]. The product manager’s goal is that over time they can eliminates any need for their members to need anything else other than their Peloton connected-fitness memberships.

Preparing For The Future

One issue that the product managers need to remain aware of are gym reopenings slowing down their growth? The product managers do want everyone to return to normal and this means for all businesses to reopen, including gyms. They are not that concerned about the completion that gyms represent because the fitness market is massive and has room for many players. Their hope is that there is room for both bricks and mortar and connected fitness online. Well before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Peloton product managers believed that streaming digital media was shifting. They believed that shift was also going to happen in the fitness industry as more exercise moved into the home. During the pandemic people had to suspend or cancel their gym memberships and build new habits at home. In order to keep them engaged, the Peloton product managers continue to add new content and programming.

The good news for the product managers is that even where gyms have reopened, they’re still seeing significant demand for their products. Many outsiders saw Peloton as a Covid-19 story; however, the pandemic just accelerated trends that were already there. In order to win in global connected fitness, the Peloton product managers have to win in cardio. Additionally, they have to win in strength training. Both of these areas are the two pillars within fitness. In order to accomplish this, Peloton has been introducing new products. The product managers now have a “better, best” portfolio in bikes. They also have plans to create a “better, best” portfolio of treadmills.

However, the Peloton product managers are planning on being very careful. They won’t be launching dozens of new products. Instead, they’re going to have a very pruned portfolio of cardio equipment that stands the test of time, things that people have been doing for a long time. For strength, the product managers are planning on turning more to their digital content. For this product it is unlikely to require heavy investments in any hardware. The thinking is that most of what a customer needs to do strength training is either their own body weight, or a set of free weights or resistance bands. The product managers think if they can win both cardio and strength then that will ultimately pull people out of the gym and fully into the home where they can use Peloton products.

What All Of This Means For You

The Covid-19 pandemic caused a revolution to happen in the home fitness market. The product managers at Peloton stationary bikes were originally caught off-guard by a surge in orders but were then able to quickly start to deliver the products that customers had ordered. The challenge that is now facing them is that as gym start to reopen, can they use their product manager job description to continue to keep the customers that they have while gaining even more customers?

The product managers at Peloton believe that they have a great opportunity to capture gym members who want to start working out from home. The product managers realize that they are competing with gym memberships and so they are actively working to distinguish their product from the gym experience. As gym reopen, the product managers are not that worried because they believe that the fitness market is large enough to support both gyms and their product. The product managers believe that they have to capture customers in both the cardio and strength training areas. The Peloton product managers are releasing more products, but they are not planning on releasing too many new products.

Having a pandemic suddenly cause customers to start to come flocking to your product is something that no product manager could have predicted. However at Peloton this is exactly what happened. Now that the pandemic is going away, the product managers have the challenge before them of finding ways to both keep their existing customers and finding ways to continue growing their business. If the new products and services that they introduce allow customers to continue to enjoy working out from home, then they will probably be able to continue to be successful. We’ll have to watch and determine if Peloton is truly a pandemic success story.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that the Peloton product managers should encourage their customers to drop their gym memberships?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Once upon a time, being a product manager for a strip mall was a pretty good job. Your mall was a mecca for the local population and so it was easy to attract customers and all your product development definition said that you had to do was make sure that each of your stores was leased out. However, times have changed. As more and more people start to do their shopping from home, the need to go out to the mall has gone away. Strip malls have fallen on hard times. However, some may be starting to make a comeback. How can strip mall product managers breathe new life into their products?

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Virtual research institute battles Long COVID with backing from Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin

A new nonprofit “startup” is emerging from stealth today with $15 million in funding from Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin, with a focus squarely on studying and treating Long COVID.

While the global pandemic may have neared something close to a conclusion for many, millions of people around the world are still suffering long-term effects from COVID-19. Studies suggest that anywhere between 20% and 40% of those who have contracted COVID-19 experience at least some longstanding symptoms, ranging from mild fatigue and “brain fog,” to more serious debilitating conditions such as headaches, sickness, muscle weakness, and respiratory problems.

The truth of the matter is that we simply don’t know enough about Long COVID and how best to treat it, which is where the Long Covid Research Initiative (LCRI) is looking to make its mark.

LCRI is spearheaded by a quartet of founders, one of which is Dr. Amy Proal, a prominent microbiologist at the Polybio Research Foundation with more than 10 years experience studying conditions similar to Long COVID — Proal has herself been an ME/CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) patient, which is similar to Long COVID, for nearly 20 years. Proal is accompanied by Henry Scott-Green, a London-based product manager who has been absent from his day job at Google’s YouTube for the past two years due to Long COVID; Helga Gutmane, previously an investor at KKR; and Nick Harrold, a former SaaS startup founder.

LCRI’s Dr. Amy Proal

Move fast and fix things

Scott-Green first contracted COVID in August 2020, and the symptoms he experienced in the months and years that followed include what he calls “crushing fatigue” and brain fog. “I’ve improved significantly over the past year thanks to a variety of treatments — at my worst, I was very seriously unwell and unable to do even basic tasks,” he explained to TechCrunch.

But it was his experiences trying to treat his condition, including working with health professionals, that led him down the path to where he’s at today — though he feels he has been more fortunate than some other Long COVID sufferers.

“Two years ago, very few people — doctors included — knew about Long COVID, and it was hard to even get a diagnosis,” Scott-Green said. “I have been lucky to eventually make my way to great specialists who have helped me a lot, but many people aren’t so lucky. Getting good quality care is still a huge problem for the vast majority of the huge number of people with this condition.”

Though LCRI is being led substantively from the U.K., officially it belongs to the U.S.-based PolyBio Research Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that focuses on studying complex chronic inflammatory diseases. Despite its nonprofit status, the LCRI founders’ tech backgrounds could serve as the bedrock for something more like a “lean” startup, and solve what Scott-Green calls the “global public health emergency” that is Long COVID.

Indeed, as well-intentioned and rigorous as some of the government-led funding programs and initiatives have been, Scott-Green said that from his experience, things just move far too slowly, which is why LCRI is adopting an operating model more akin to the “urgency and pragmatism” of a startup.

“A Long COVID research program reliant only on government grants would take a long time to show results,” he said. “As a patient, I recognized the need to move faster and bring rapid answers to the enormous number of people who are suffering around the world.”

To support his mission, the founders have amassed an impressive team of researchers and specialists from Harvard, Stanford, Yale, UCSF, John Hopkins University, among other renowned institutions, philanthropists, and patient communities, who will work together with a view toward solving Long COVID.

“We’re running as a lean organization that prioritizes fast execution and close collaboration — and generally, and where it makes sense, trying to apply the organizational principles that have allowed tech to deliver big, ambitious projects quickly,” Scott-Green said. “This has allowed us to bring together a team of the world’s best researchers to work collaboratively in a model that isn’t that common, on a mission to solve a disease, and executing a shared research roadmap that addresses the most pressing questions in the space.”

LCRI’s Henry Scott-Green

A virtual research institute

The remote, collaborative nature of LCRI — none of the founding team have met in person — essentially makes it a virtual research institute. And it plans to adopt a two-pronged approach to achieving its mission, spanning research and therapeutics.

For the initial research phase, scientists from some of the world’s most esteemed institutions will share their collective expertise and study the disease mechanisms that constitute Long COVID, while follow-on clinical trials will strive to put the research program’s findings into real-world treatments.

None of this comes for free, of course, which is where today’s funding announcement comes into play. Buterin, better known as one of the creators of the Ethereum blockchain, is investing around $15 million in USDC stablecoin via the $100 million Balvi fund, which he set up earlier this year specifically for COVID research projects. Additionally, LCRI has secured commitments from the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation (CSSFF), a charitable body led by surgeon, scientist, and billionaire businessman Patrick Soon-Shiong with his philanthropist wife Michele B. Chan.

“Balvi and Vitalik reached out to Amy to ask about supporting her research projects, and the partnership grew from there,” Scott-Green said. “CSSFF has made commitments to donate with a minimum, but we’re still discussing the final amount.”

While $15 million gives LCRI a decent start, it likely won’t be enough for the long haul, which is why it’s targeting some $100 million in funding in the coming years — with plans to eventually expand its model to related conditions such as Epstein-Barr virus and enteroviruses. But first, they need to get to grips with Long COVID.

“In one to two years, we want to have raised substantially more funding for Long COVID research and have extensive research and clinical trials programs underway,” Scott-Green continued. “We will have our first results from the research program, and we will be able to use those results to inform our clinical trials efforts. Our sole focus is on finding answers for the people who are suffering with Long COVID, and our goals are to understand the disease mechanisms, and identify treatment options.”

Virtual research institute battles Long COVID with backing from Ethereum co-creator Vitalik Buterin by Paul Sawers originally published on TechCrunch

It’s the era of at-home health diagnostics and Senzo is finding its flow

Biotech company Senzo just raised a $2 million round at a $20 million pre-money valuation to further extend options for lateral flow diagnostics. “Lateral flow,” in this case, is the same type of testing you’ve seen from at-home pregnancy or COVID-19 tests.

The company is creating a product it calls Amplified Lateral Flow (ALF). For starters, it’s hoping to bring a COVID-19 at-home rapid test through regulatory approval and then to market, but the company has a plethora of other tests up its proverbial sleeves.

The innovation is in the “amplified” part of the ALF — the company recently announced promising results from a third-party study demonstrating that its ALF COVID-19 antigen test was 100% accurate in concordance with PCR testing, even in cases with very low viral loads. That’s where other at-home lateral flow tests often come up short and (part of) the reason why we do PCR testing in the first place. The upshot is that the ALF tech enables better and earlier detection of viruses.

“Our vision at Senzo is clear: to make the diagnosis of disease as fast, simple, inexpensive, and accurate as taking a temperature or blood pressure reading,” Jeremy Stackawitz, CEO of Senzo told TechCrunch in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the potential for accurate point-of-care diagnostics. Our ALF technology converts that potential to reality in myriad applications where more and earlier diagnosis results in better patient outcomes and more timely and cost-effective patient care.”

Senzo is also working on lateral flow tests for at-home and professional use for other applications. The company suggests that a wide variety of infections — including influenza, HIV, tuberculosis, strep, hepatitis C, sexually transmitted infections and many viruses — could be candidates for at-home tests. These diseases are usually diagnosed in central laboratories, with the cost and time implications thereof.

The company recently announced the $2 million equity funding round led by BioAdvance. Wellness Coaches also participated in the round. The company tells me it raised at a $20 million pre-money valuation and points out that that was a huge step up from its Q1 2021 fundraising valuation. The company views the round as being pre-seed, suggesting it will raise a larger Series A in early 2023.

FDA won’t require lengthy clinical trials for COVID-19 boosters

Future COVID-19 vaccine boosters won’t have to go through a traditional, lengthy clinical trial process to attain emergency use authorization in the U.S., according to a report in Reuters. An agency official, speaking to the publication today, said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will instead rely on data from trials on shots developed earlier in the pandemic to combat specific virus variants as well as manufacturing data in considering whether to clear boosters for administration. Preclinical animal study and safety data might also be used, the official said.

As The Verge notes in its coverage of the news, the COVID-19 variant known as omicron has branched into multiple substrains since emerging late last year, including BA.4 and BA.5. The FDA is encouraging vaccine producers to target BA.4 and BA.5 — the most widespread lineages in the U.S. But boosters currently in testing target an earlier omicron version dubbed BA.1.

Boosters targeting BA.1 are still effective against BA.4 and BA.5, early data from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech suggests. But the immune response they generate against the newer lineages is weaker than the response against BA.1. Pfizer is also developing BA.4- and BA.5-specific booster, which is in the early testing  stages.

New boosters are expected to be available in the fall fall. It remains unclear, however, how many eligible folks will seek them out. Across the U.S., over 78% of the population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. But it’s proven to be an immense challenge to get subsequent doses to adults, with one study showing that as many as 50% of people failed to get a follow-up shot — or shots —  within a year after their first.

With omicron, nearly 60% in U.S. have been infected during pandemic, according to stats released in April from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, national hospitalizations from COVID-19 are averaging around 1,400 to 10,500, with deaths hovering between 1,300 and 4,600.

In an encouraging development this week, COVID-19 vaccines were authorized for children as young as 6 months old.