HealthTeacher, the online health-education curriculum provider based in Brentwood, has hired former Apple Inc. senior product manager John Herbold as vice president-product, said CEO Scott McQuigg.
Herbold played key roles in leveraging Apple's development of the iOS operating system, iCloud, MobileMe and iPad-iPhone applications and cloud services. Herbold told VNC discussions with HealthTeacher began in February; he joined HealthTeacher June 13; and, his family has relocated to Middle Tennessee from the Cupertino, Calif., area.
Asked whether hiring Herbold signals broader change for 12-year-old HealthTeacher, McQuigg said, "We wouldn't be making a hire like this is we didn't have significant plans to evolve our offerings." He stressed that HealthTeacher is not "abandoning" its classroom focus, but aims aggressively to foster "digital engagement" among teachers, parents, students and others, whever they are.
McQuigg said Herbold "is in the early stages of putting together his product strategy plans [and] I envision him building a team -- both staff and external resources -- to develop apps, social media, games, dynamic content, etc., to enhance our current health education offerings to schools and to directly engage youth and their families."
HealthTeacher offers curricular content, testing and related services, made available via the Web to parents, educators and others. The company's business relies on subscription income and "funding from local hospitals to support health education in schools in their communities," McQuigg said this morning.
Herbold said he has already found "great ideas floating around internally," generated by the existing team at HealthTeacher. He's now begun "defining the product roadmap" and the communications required to address benefits to customers and product attributes. Ultimately, he said, the goal is to encourage youth to view health and healthy behavior as "cool and aspirational."
The newest HealthTeacher vice president also knows that all this has to pay-off for the still-developing company: His background includes a stint as an investment banker with A.G. Edwards & Sons, and he earned a Duke Fuqua School of Business MBA and a Miami University bachelor's in finance.
Next, he'll begin planning to hire "some really great engineers" and designers for his product team. "Ideally," Herbold said, he'll find those team members in Nashville, where he believes "the Music industry pulls in a lot of talented folks"; to get "the best talent" he'll do "whatever I need to do to find great people who care about the problems we're solving."
Herbold, 31, said that signing-on with HealthTeacher provides a "great blend" of things he sought: After four years at Apple, including an intensive year's work on iCloud, he was ready to work in a smaller, more entrepreneurial company, he explained. Particularly as the father of a toddler son and another child due in July, he continued, he's eager to determine "how we can innovate to create things that kids are really going to love using," and thereby help address declining health among youth that is of "epidemic" proportions.
Top-notch talent choosing Nashville is no small thing, said David Owens, the educator, engineer and author who is professor of the practice of management and innovation at Vanderbilt University Owen Graduate School of Management; and, faculty director for the VU Summer Business Institute (the Accelerator program).
"It's a big decision, choosing to come here" from Silicon Valley for a job, given that follow-on opportunities are often fewer in a smaller market, said Stanford-educated Owens. Given Nashville's healthcare services industry concentration, planting a healthcare-education venture here "makes sense" and "transplanting" Apple marketing talent could give HealthTeacher "deeper knowledge about the Cloud" and how the technology will "play-out" in various sectors, he added.
It's easy to imagine, said Owens during a VNC interview, that nothwithstanding Apple's vaunted creative resources and the fact that obstructions to creativity can be removed by powerful founder and CEO Steve Jobs, an executive there might want eventually to go elsewhere to try their own new ideas, rather that continuing to work within Apple's relatively narrow "product spectrum."
An executive making a transition such as Herbold is undertaking is inherently somewhat "at risk," said Owens, given the degree of adjustment that may be required by both company and executive. Owens is the author of the forthcoming Creative People Must Be Stopped: 6 Ways We Kill Innovation (Without Even Trying), due out in November from Jossey-Bass (Wiley).
McQuigg said Herbold's arrival "from the greatest product company in the world" and the prospects for HealthTeacher are "exciting." The company is taking funding the Herbold-driven effort seriously: "In our 2011 budget," he said, "we have allocated funds to support the company's new product development efforts; we anticipate these investments will grow in subsequent years."
McQuigg also expressed confidence in the Herbold-HealthTeacher fit: "I interviewed a half dozen candidates. John has demonstrated experience developing digital products that drive millions of repeat users per month, with an emphasis on creating engaging user interfaces; he has strong experience working across mobile, tablet, web and connected TV platforms; he is passionate about youth health and making a difference. I believe he will be additive to our culture," McQuigg explained.
Lessons learned in the Apple culture "absolutely" transfer well in the HealthTeacher context, said Herbold. True, he said, he'll now be concerned with teachers, children and others, whereas his Apple stakeholders included "pretty much every customer on the planet."
Herbold said he's confident HealthTeacher has already come a long toward establishing a culture similar to that at Apple: "Everybody there shares a deep desire to do the right thing for the customer, to create the best possible experience," regardless of the effort it takes, in line with "cultural expectations of quality." Even though he has a learning curve to master within HealthTeacher, he expects his adopted conceptual frameworks, research methods and "gut reaction" to work just as well in his new role, said Herbold.
Herbold said he takes many lessons from his Apple experience. First, he said, he'll keep in mind that the challenge is not 'creating new features'; rather, the challenge lies in answering the question, "How do we create a product that truly delights people, [so that] we're not giving them 'features', we're giving them something they actually desire to use" and which addresses "a real pain-point."
Keeping such factors in mind, he said, will allow HealthTeacher to create offerings that are simple and intuitive and which solve problems that may surprise users: "Sometimes they don't know the problem exists until we create the product."
Second, he said, he'll work to ensure that products are addressing identified problems and that marketing and communications are characterized by "clarity of thought" and simplicity.
Though Herbold may be a new name in Nashville, his work has preceded him. For example, Nashville-based Griffin Technology makes personal accessories for computing and digital media, many of which accommodate Apple products.
Asked about Griffin's interest in the iCloud, Griffin spokeswoman Jackie Ballinger told VNC that the company's software professionals recently attended Apple's World Wide Development Conference (WWDC) and they're now "looking forward to integrating iCloud into our existing apps, as well as upcoming app projects in development. We've used third-party cloud services in the past, of which Dropbox integration into our popular iTalk Recorder app is a good example.
"iCloud will be the next step in this integration," said Ballinger, "making it even easier for us to implement cloud services into apps by simply tapping into Apple's iCloud platform." Griffin will also continue to use other Cloud resources, she said. VNC