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Nadia Boutaoui
NanoNares, Inc
Problem First MVP Second
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NanoNares Inc, is a life science technology company developing tools including organ on chip technologies that pharmaceutical companies with respiratory drugs in their development portfolio. Organ on chips can be used to complement existing preclinical methods for drug testing of respiratory drugs in order to improve the predictability of success in clinical trials.

We also do business coaching for healthcare technology companies to move their innovations to market and expand existing products or services to new markets using data-driven approach.

Dr. Nadia Boutaoui is the founder and CEO of NanoNares, a startup developing preclinical tools for respiratory drugs. Dr. Boutaoui graduated from INA, Algeria & holds a Ph.D. in genetics, England, and has 15 years of research experience (Postdoc at UMASS, Harvard & Lab Director at the University of Pittsburgh). She co-authored 34 peer-reviewed publications.

Dr. Boutaoui has an executive MBA in healthcare and technology innovation and entrepreneurship certification. She pursued her MBA while caring for her four children, modeling lifelong learning. Team NanoNares won multiple competitions (Randal Big Idea, Kusneski Venture cup). She coaches healthcare tech to move innovations to the market.

She is passionate about inspiring girls and women to pursue a career in STEM and youth to follow their dreams and supporting women entrepreneurs. She is building a membership community to support women entrepreneurs in the healthcare tech space.

Dr. Boutaoui is a research, business, and role model leader for many.

In this episode

Nadia Boutaoui of NanoNares likes to zag while everyone else zigs. Starting with a Minimal Viable Product (“MVP”) is the conventional wisdom in the startup world. An MVP is a launch version of a product with the elementary set of features to learn about customer needs and gain customers with least effort. Nadia advocates starting with a “problem first design thinking” approach prior to working on your MVP.

She argues you spend more time defining the problem statement based on talking to stakeholders that makeup the market ecosystem including buyers, influencers, gatekeepers, and saboteurs. This allows you to contextualize the problem and evaluate the need for your solution and justify the need to solve the problem before you develop an MVP. Nadia observes that design-driven companies have outperformed the S&P Index by 219% over 10 years. She provides a 4 step process to implement a design first approach. Listen to the end where Nadia offers a special gift to our listeners.

Problem First MVP SecondNadia Boutaoui
00:00 / 26:28

A glimpse of what you'll hear

03:44 Improve your MVP by starting with a problem first design thinking approach.

05:11 Use observations on how the customers experience the problem to inform building your MVP.

07:40 Complexities in large ecosystems where your solution fits drives the need for observation before MVP.

11:14 Starting with a problem first design approach can reduce the risk of your MVP and shorten your time to market.

13:07 The benefits from adopting a problem first design approach in advance of your MVP.

15:34 What you need to do to implement a problem first design approach.

18:55 Learn about Nadia. Email Nadia at

Episode Transcript
(Note: this was transcribed using transcription software and may not reflect the exact words used in the podcast.)

00:04:13 - 00:22:18


Welcome to the best kept secret video cast and podcast from Centricity. If you are a B2B service professional, use our five step process to go from the grind of chasing every sale to keeping your pipeline full with prospects knocking on your door to buy from you. We give you the freedom of time and a life outside of your business.

Each episode features an executive from our B2B services company sharing their provocative perspective on an opportunity that many of their clients are missing out on. It's how we teach our clients to get executive decision makers to buy without being salesy or spammy. Here's our host, the co-founder and CEO of Centricity, jokingly.

00:43:04 - 01:14:20

Jay Kingley

My name is Jay Kingly Co-Founder and CEO of Centricity. Welcome to our show where our guests share their provocative perspective on what their target market is missing out on. I am happy to welcome to the show Nadia Boutaoui of Nano Nares. Nadia provides business coaching to health care technology companies focused on innovation. In addition to running a life science technology company, developing tools for pharmaceutical companies who are developing respiratory drugs.

Nadia is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Welcome to the show, Nadia.

01:19:15 - 01:25:09

Nadia Boutaoui

Thank you, Joe, for the introduction. I'm so happy to be here and to share the stage with you and the audience.

01:25:16 - 02:00:15

Jay Kingley

I started my first technology startup back in 1993, and in those days we developed basically the entire product before we ever took it out into the market. And that's how everybody did it back in the nineties and prior then in the I believe it was 2001. A bunch of guys came out and said, there's a better way to do this, and it's called the MVP, the minimum viable product.

And their insight was you shouldn't develop your entire product and then take it to market. You should take only the most essential features and functions. That thing that made your product at a minimal level viable and useful to customers. Take it out to the marketplace at that stage. Get feedback and learn and then iterate as you go from minimum to your full product.

And that really changed the game compared to what we did in the nineties. And in the last, I guess, 21 years, this is become the gospel in the tech entrepreneurial space. Everybody talks about their MVP. Everybody talks about what they're doing and how and the results they're getting when they take the MVP to market. This is what investors are are asking in the fundraising stage.

This is the conventional wisdom. Well, Nadia, I have learned that when something is the conventional wisdom for over 20 years, I begin to think maybe it's not so wise anymore. We are humans that constantly learn, are constantly trying to improve. And it's hard for me to believe that no one has figured out how to do this any better in the last 21 years.

Now you're somebody who is completely focused on emerging technologies and getting those emerging technologies out into the marketplace. I'd love your point of view on is the MVP approach as articulated 21 years ago, still the right way to think about it? Or is there something that we could do better?

03:56:10 - 04:30:10

Nadia Boutaoui

Thank you for your insight, Jay. Well, the MVP method, as you mentioned, is very widely used in the spinal cord. I think, however, that we should be using the problem first thinking approach, which is an alternative that to complement the MVP method and to make it even better. In such a case, you spend more time observing your customers and defining the problem statement that you are trying to solve before you even develop anything.

So that's called design thinking, and you can get into more details about that before. But I think focusing and spending more time in defining the actual problem and making sure that you are addressing the problem as the end users, as your customers experience, it will increase your chances of success.

04:54:02 - 05:26:11

Jay Kingley

So, Nani, let me play devil's advocate for a moment here. So the conventional wisdom would be, how can I possibly get that feedback without having some type of prototype, some first minimally functioning product that I can ask customers to play with and react? So how is it that I can start to gather that information without having my MVP for people to experience?

05:26:15 - 05:58:09

Nadia Boutaoui

What you do there is you initially go and observe without anybody is how the actual customer experiences the problem. You use empathy to look not only for the how they experience the problem on the outside, but what are the real triggers for the emotions that are linked to that problem? By observing them and interviewing them that your target personas you can a360 without the problem.

Then you can go back, develop the problem statement, ask the right questions. Then you start brainstorming. How can you solve that? Then develop a potential MVP that you can go back then to those original group and test whether it solves the problem or not.

06:19:07 - 07:03:01

Jay Kingley

So let me be sure I understand exactly what you're saying. When I think about, you know, my experience in the tech space, typically the entrepreneur, the founder of the business had insight, had a point of view about a market need that wasn't being met. And then they would build this MVP. I think back in the nineties, we may have used the term like a prototype, but it's basically that minimum viable product and then you would take it out and see to what degree your hunch, your insight into that market need was on the money.

Maybe it was a little off and you would fix it. Maybe it was very often you had to go back to the drawing board. And what I'm hearing you say is you don't start with the solution. You should actually start with the problem. And while a founder may think that they have insight into the problem, they are one step removed from the people that actually are experienced in that problem and who you are counting on to pay you their hard earned money for your solution to that problem.

You know, I guess what what I'm trying to understand is how big of an issue is it when you say, you know, but I can just get so much better feedback back if I had something tangible for them to play with, rather just having conversations, observing, talking. So just expand on that a little bit if you could.

08:07:00 - 08:45:20

Nadia Boutaoui

Yeah. Let me give the example of health care and that's like my executive MBA was in health care. So health care systems are pretty complex. So the solution does not work with the actual end user only it's part of an ecosystem. When you go and observe how the problem or the issues or the pain points are being solved by your target customer, you need to also see the ecosystem evaluate the the supply chain, evaluate the buying patterns, you know, the emotion.

So the key difference here between the MVP and the problem, first, thinking is that you do observe with empathy. So you get deeper knowledge of the persona of your target customers before you develop your solution. When you get that deeper connection at the emotional level, not just the thinking or what we see on the outside. And you get you are in a better position for having a better adoption down the line.

And when people connect to the solution you develop, then they have a better chance to adopt in your solution. And we know that tech innovation, adoption, especially in health care, is pretty low. The healthcare workers are so overworked. And if you add, even if it's a smart solution, that can relieve some of the pain, if it doesn't sit seamlessly within the workflows, if they're not going to use it.

So that's why by observing and empathizing at the deeper level, how they experience the problem before you even develop a solution for an MVP. Because in this approach, the. Don't get me wrong, the MVP is still part of the solution. But before you develop that, you can a deeper understanding of the actual problem they experience.

10:06:06 - 10:32:13

Jay Kingley

So as I think about how this problem first are designed, centered approach works and I think about it in terms of the fundraising because if you're a tech entrepreneur, that is always front and center of your mind. I mean, typically you would look to raise money, whether it be friends and family or a seed round to perhaps take that first pass on your MVP.

You take it out, get a little bit of data, and then you're going to look to your series A to take that MVP and start really developing into the marketplace. And what I'm hearing from you is that now before you start developing an MVP, you need to have the resources to go out and do the kind of research that you're talking about into the problem.

And while you may think that's going to push out your timeline, the other thing that I'm hearing and I want to get your reaction to this, that you ought to receive a big reduction in risk, because when you then create your first iteration of the MVP, you are likely to be far more on target because it's been informed by your understanding of the market that you're going after, rather than just going on your hunt for insight and then hoping that you are representative of your target market.

What you you may happen sometimes, but a lot of times you aren't representative of your ideal market. So just add a little bit to that and confirm that that's your experience.

11:50:06 - 12:21:03

Nadia Boutaoui

That is my experience. And to add to this, the even the funding agencies that help startups and technologies move from an academic setting into the marketplace, they recognize the importance of engaging with your customers, with your stakeholders very early on, even before you start your startup to test the waters is the problem that you're trying to solve, because typically they will have a solution, a tech solution that is trying to solve.

The problem is how how are the end users to stakeholders experience in that? And there are programs out there by the National Science Foundation, for example. They have the ideal program they will give funds to early or even pre initiation startups to do that kind of work to evaluate their technologies and will give you up to $50,000 to do to talk about 100 people within the ecosystem to evaluate your technology before you even get to the MVP stage.

So it's critical in terms of increasing your chances of success when you move to the marketplace scenario.

13:04:13 - 13:34:18

Jay Kingley

I have to say that I think the argument that you're making is a compelling one, and I think you've put forward a pretty strong rationale for the next iteration of how tech type companies should be thinking about going from the idea stage in to the marketplace. But let's go from the the strength of the intellectual argument to real results in impact.

So can you share with us any sense of companies who adopt this approach versus the traditional way of thinking about MVP know how does this impact their business in a positive way?

13:48:18 - 14:15:02

Nadia Boutaoui

There are a lot of studies out there about the performance of companies that use design thinking in their product development and design driven companies. The ones that use that method of doing the deep understanding of their customers, how they experience the problem as part of their innovation pipeline. Over the past ten years, they outperformed the S&P index by over 200%.

The company is 60% of the top global innovators. They focus on engaging their customers very early on and very often as part of their development, and they are typically first to market. While this is important only 6% of executives are satisfied with their innovation performance because there are challenges to innovation, especially in the tech field. There is a very long development time.

There's also the challenge which idea the like pursue and there is the culture. You can't forget about the risk averse culture in many companies because most of the innovations are high risk and the return on investment per say. It's not as it's long term rather than short term. So I think the risk of versus in the culture is another problem.

But there is like data shows that many companies that are design led firms, they have more emotional downs to their customers and therefore their brand loyalty is higher too.

15:29:12 - 16:08:11

Jay Kingley

So I think you you've really made some great points that establish not just why this is important, which obviously drives engagement, but why you really need to act. And you hit on some of those, I think, emotional levers, which are to give a sense of urgency to people in the tech space to move away from starting with the MVP and instead being sure that the creation of the MVP is informed by a really detailed understanding of what customers are really trying to solve.

So having said that, and and the case is strong, talk to me about how a, you know, a tech company would implement what it is that you are recommending in terms of this design centric approach.

16:24:00 - 16:59:01

Nadia Boutaoui

So the company is what they need to do is first, they need to gain clarity. They need to clarify by defining and prioritizing the persona of their target customers. They observe them in an unbiased way to see actually how they experience the problem, how they, if anything, any, how they get around that around it. If there is an alternative solution, they can also do interviews with their target personas in 360 without selling anything.

So the idea is that you gain as much insights from your customers about their pain points. And this way you can develop the customer journey map. You can pinpoint their biggest pain and potential solutions. And before you get to developing new solutions, you spend time on developing your problem statement. That's the key thing. Before that, that is different from the MVP.

You spend more time defining the problem, get that and then develop your problem soon. Then you get to the ideation stage and that's where you begin to brainstorm potential solutions. Then you develop a solution, including an MVP that you can test with the same group, original group of customers that you talked to in the first stage.

17:50:00 - 18:20:16

Jay Kingley

As I said in my opening, when something becomes the standard way of operating for over 20 years, it does make me nervous because what happens is good thinking and principles start to become dogmatic and start to be, you know, this is the only way to do things. What I love about what you have shared with our audience today is you are not advocating blowing it all up because there is a lot of merit to the NBA MVP approach.

But what you are saying is that we can improve it, we can do better. And I don't think anyone can object that putting your customers front and center in the process is anything but the right way to go. So we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we're going to learn a bit about not of you.

18:44:06 - 19:07:00


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19:42:20 - 20:04:06

Jay Kingley

Welcome back. We're talking to Nadia Butterly of Mt. Iris. Let's find out a bit more about Nadia. Nadia, let me start by asking you about new and non-answers. What are the pain points that you address for your customers and why do they need you to get rid of that pain?

20:04:15 - 20:33:03

Nadia Boutaoui

Absolutely. Yeah. When I did approached by startups in the healthcare space, they typically need help prioritizing which ideas or which technology should they move to the market. They need help gaining the clarity for developing their products or services through hands on approach. And that's why I offer them the costs because of the cost of product development is so high, especially for startups.

They are typically short of money. There is the money pressure, so they can't afford to have a higher failure rate at launch. So having that problem first thinking and gaining that clarity that you get from observing and talking to your customers early on is of great value to them. So that's that's how I help them get clarity for the projects or the technologies to move forward in.

21:00:20 - 21:33:00

Jay Kingley

Nadia Certainly in the health care tech space, it's not cheap to develop new technologies and get them through the the process of into market. And the returns, if you do it right, can be astronomical. So nobody in that space is going to want to work with third party who's just average or mediocre at what they do. So let me ask you, what is it that you think makes you great and what you do for your clients?

21:33:05 - 22:08:22

Nadia Boutaoui

I've already helped many tech companies gain clarity about their value proposition and go to markets strategy, which saves them a lot of time and money. I do have an executive MBA with Focus on health care concentration from the top business school. I'm also tech innovation and entrepreneurship certified. On top of that, I have over ten years of senior level research management experience, so I understand both the researcher technical person mindset as well as the business mindset.

So I feel that I think that I am in a great position to bridge that gap between technology and the market.

22:18:14 - 22:49:13

Jay Kingley

I encourage all of our listeners to go to LinkedIn, look up Nadia, and you'll get a sense for the details of her career and her education and really will support what she just said in terms of her expertize in this area, but not. I'm going to ask you a slightly different question. Can you share with our audience what happened in your life that would most explain why you do what you do today?

22:49:23 - 23:24:14

Nadia Boutaoui

So during my time at as a genetics epigenetics lab director, I worked on asthma genetics in children for close to ten years. We had great results by any academic standards, high impact papers, including in peer reviewed journals. I worked with top pulmonologists that are renowned across the world in one of the top ten hospitals in the US. However, I saw firsthand the lack of drugs to treat asthma while two of my own kids had asthma.

And this is why I am passionate about helping move innovation to the market to explore, expand existing ones to bigger markets so they can impact the people that are supposed to help the most. Because I believe that breakthrough innovations or technologies, they're not helping anyone. If they stay in the lab. That's why I started the Life Science Company on the nose to develop tools to help increase the chances of success rate of these joints in respiratory diseases, in clinical trials.

23:59:15 - 24:26:05

Jay Kingley

What powerful motivation? Terrific. You've talked about, I think, our truly next step, way to get new technology, new ideas, new products into the market. I am sure we have listeners that are saying, wow, I'd like to learn more. Maybe reach out and get some help. So how is it that people should contact you?

24:26:13 - 24:39:19

Nadia Boutaoui

Yeah, sure. They can reach out to me through direct message on LinkedIn. You can search for Nadia Boutaoui or you can email me at nadia.boutaoui@nanonares.orgAnd yeah, I look forward to hearing from you.

24:40:03 - 25:17:08

Jay Kingley

I will put that contact information into the show notes and as an insert into the video to make it easy for everybody to reach out to Nadia and continue that discussion. Nadia, this was fabulous. I think you have really given us a new way to think about tech and product development that could make a material difference in terms of the ally and the risk profile around how you get from the idea stage into the market and really create a viable business.

And I'll be honest with you, I think that anybody who has you on as a guest would be doing their little happy dance right now, would be saying, Yay, what an amazing show. My audience is going to love it. And they would say, okay, let's bring this thing to a close. But Nadia, I take pride in not being like everybody else, and I really see myself as the advocate for our listeners.

And every time I have a fabulous guest on Like Yourself, I'm thinking, is there anything else I could get this guest to do that would make this even more valuable to our audience? And based on our discussions leading up to the show and our conversation today, I'm thinking there is I'm thinking surely you must have a gift, something that you could offer our audience that would give them some incentive to reach out and start a conversation so that they will benefit from your expertise.

So not trying to put you on the spot, but then again, I don't really care. So, Nadia, what is it that you can do for our audience?

26:35:14 - 27:01:06

Nadia Boutaoui

I actually have two gifts for your audience. If they can contact me through a LinkedIn and put in the body of the direct message, the best kept secrets show that they heard me on the best kept secret shelf. They can have a 30 minute free consultation with me as well as a PDF that has two steps How to evaluate ideas for impact in business.

27:01:17 - 27:33:23

Jay Kingley

Nadia That is fabulous. I might say to my listeners, you absolutely need to take advantage of this as most of our listeners will. Now, the riskiest part of innovation is how do you get your idea actually out of your head, out of your lab and into the marketplace? And that's where the majority of failures take place. What Nadia has shared with us can make a material difference in your success rate.

So reach out, start that dialog to my audience. Let's continue to crush it out there until next time.

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