In this episode, I speak with Deborah Kan about her work to build Being Patient. Born from her own need to understand the disease, Deborah called on her background as a journalist to build a platform to help bring clarity to the families of Alzheimer’s about the challenges, research, and treatments.
While operational for less than a year, Deborah’s community is already beginning to come together, and through this interview we dive into how she has approached the development (And delivery) of the content, how she is building community, and the importance of remaining impact focused.
To learn more about Being Patient, please see the links below.
“I really wish people would ask me how many lives have you helped today? how many people have you helped today? For me, that’s a better measure of success.”
About the Entrepreneurs For Good Series
Through this series, we speak with Asia based entrepreneurs whose mission it is to bring solutions to the environmental, social, and economic challenges that are faced within the region to learn more about their vision, the opportunities they see, and challenges that they have had to overcome.
It is a series that we hope will not only engage and inspire you, but catalyze you and your organizations into action. To identify a challenge that is tangible, and build a business model (profit or non) that brings a solution to the market.
About Deborah Kan
Deborah Kan is a new media entrepreneur, media speaker and award-winning news anchor and journalist.
Executive Editor and Founder of Being Patient, she seeks to redefine health media by creating single-subject platforms around specific health topics. Being Patient is launching a news site this July solely dedicated to covering Alzheimer’s disease.
Kan was previously the Managing Editor for News Deeply’s Women & Girls, launched in partnership with the Gates Foundation. Women & Girls seeks to cover important female issues in the developing world, around health, education and crisis and conflict. Previously Executive Producer at the Wall Street Journal, Kan launched the Journal’s video and multi-media operation in Asia and grew it into a substantial operation, spanning nine countries throughout the region.
Follow Deb and Being Patient:
Driven by the belief that change begins with a single step, Richard Brubaker has spent the last 15 years in Asia working to engage, inspire, and equip those around him to take their first step. Acting as a catalyst to driving sustainability, Brubaker works with government, corporate, academic and non-profit stakeholders to bring together knowledge, teams, and tools that develop and execute their business case for sustainability.
Full Interview Transcript
RICH: And so welcome back everybody. I’m here with Deborah Kan, who is the founder of Being Patient. It is a new media company that is basically trying to help those with questions about Alzheimer’s to answer those questions about he research. She trying to develop a community. It’s really engaging and learning from a personal issue. So thank you very much for your time. Greatly appreciate it.
First off can you please briefly introduce yourself. Your personal history and then also what your working on now.
DEBORAH: Ok, so my name Deborah Kan. I’m the co-founder and actually, sorry again I’m the founder and executive editor of Being Patient. Being Patient is a media company, a health media company where we are building single subject platforms on longer term illness to really go deep into a topic and give people the right type of in formation they need that is completely editorially independent.
RICH: Great, so how did you get into this. Like what’s your personal background and what drove you to start this new company?
DEBORAH: So, I was an editor at the Wall Street Journal and worked there for quite a few years. I was responsible for video and multimedia in Asia and building out the video operation. At that time, my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. I didn’t know much about Alzheimer’s. I actually didn’t really have any contact with Alzheimer’s other than friends who had told me their grandparent or their parents had suffered from the disease. So I didn’t’ really know a lot about the disease. I did what most people do which is to do a simple Google search and found that that lead to actually more confusion around making sense of where this disease is at, where the research is, is there going to be a cure? All of that information I found it very hard to figure out on one page. It was like you would get bits and pieces.
So I decided…actually I didn’t have..I started to call people as a journalist would and I was calling researchers. I was calling all sorts of people and asking them questions about this disease and I ended up mapping it out. I mapped the pathology of the disease and I started to plug in information that I had found out through talking to so many people. I learned very quickly a lot that wasn’t readily available to me or in a comprehensive way.
RICH: What was the problem? You said you had pieces. I mean everything’s on the internet, it’s all available. Is it just too much? Too conflicting?
DEBORAH: Part of the problem is there is too much information out there and it’s hard. We’ve almost lost the ability to give people basic information and knowledge. Instead we just grab articles and they come at you so quickly, right? I found, especially when you’re talking about a disease that doesn’t presently have a cure, there’s so much research out there but there is a lot of contradictions. That’s what makes it really difficult. For example, one research study would say drink two glasses of wine it’s actually really good for your brain. It clears the plaque from your brain. It offsets the onset of Alzheimer’s. Then you’d have another study that says don’t drink at all it’s really bad for your brain.
That’s how main stream media will cover these topics because they are not in these topics deeply, right? They’re covering them on occasion. So it leads to a lot of confusion. What I found is there was no one who was making clarity of the topics. So with that example, there’s actually a lot of differences in those studies, right? There’s the difference in demographics. There’s the difference in location. There’s the difference in you know how they were measuring drinking. There’s just a lot of differences.
So our editorial approach is actually one where we give people the information we feel is necessary in the context of where the disease is at.
ADDRESSING UNIQUE USER NEEDS
RICH: In that sense you mentioned the demographic of some of these studies are always different, so for example. Would you say that in a sense you have to make your way through the information knowing the context of your own, say your mother, being from a certain place at a certain age of a certain ethnicity, like the different biometrics. Is that helpful sothat you can make your way through? How are you trying to make sure that people get the right context for their situation.
DEBORAH: Ok what we are doing is creating an entirely different media model. Prior to launching Being Patient, I spent almost a year just surveying the community of patients and caregiver, primary care doctors and researchers. Understanding where information was failing people and depending on who you spoke to, the case was you know most of the patient care giver population were angry at their primary care doctors because they felt like they weren’t getting the time and the information they needed to truly understand.
I mean you get a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, it impacts the entire family. It’s not just the patient. How do I deal with this disease? Is there going to be a cure? Where is this disease and what does this mean? How does it present itself. So we mapped where information was failing people. The researchers for example told us that they didn’t have enough connectivity to the care giving population. The caregivers hold a wealth of information to them. So there there…when we mapped all this out in the information problems, we found a lot of it was connectivity. It was addressing the right type of information.
So actually what we’ve done is we have a constant feedback loop. We not only go out to groups that we’ve aligned ourselves with now to tell them that we’re there, but we go into their forums and we say, give us your questions and we’ll get the answers. So our editorial directive actually comes from a community of people in need of information where they are directing us on the topics they want to know about rather than us telling them what they should know about.
RICH: How do you do that? Like what is the best medium for people to learn and feel like they are getting the right answers, but also in a way, like….
DEBORAH: Well, and that’s why we feel like what we do is we’re explaining the research to people in a very digestible way. I mean part of the problem, and what we’ve found interestingly enough, people…a lot of people assume that oh when you’re in a disease like Alzheimer’s people don’t care about the research unless you have answers so what’s the point. But what I have actually found is that’s not true. People do care. They care, but they don’t understand, right? And so there is no place they go where they can, where they feel like that makes sense now, now I understand it. So we produce a lot of our own content, but some of it is aggregated. When we aggregate content, we always put our editorial …you know we always put context around it. So, you know when we feel like there is more explanation that’s needed, when there is context needed and how it relates to the disease or what aspect or how science is approaching this, that is where we are providing the context.
RICH: How important is it for people of this community to see people that they recognize from their own challenge, but then also have access to the doctors that make…can they ask you questions and you can then ask them?
DEBORAH: Absolutely and that’s one of the things we do. We call it “you ask we got the answer.” So,and you know you mentioned a gentleman with early onset named Brian ______ he is featured in a podcast that we’ve created. The reason why we’re featuring stories of patient and caregivers and hence the name Being Patient, is I’ve often feel like a huge conversation exists about how health and a disease like Alzheimer’s. But the patient’s voice is often in the background. So I felt it’s really important to not only elevate what their need is for information, but elevate their voice into the conversation on health. So, it’s this happy marriage between giving people a platform to tell their stories, but also giving them the answers to the information that they are seeking.
BRINGING EXPERIENCE & TOOLS
RICH: How did your background as a reporter help to you know…what tools were you bringing to this that were just immediately…I’m going to do this, I’m gong to do this so you can start to build that platform.
DEBORAH: So I think a couple of things. One was you know I’ve always been very entrepreneurial and I’ve only worked in the context of big companies for launches. So years ago I was hired to launch/start TVs first English news cast and that was a whole launch. Later, I went to Thomson Reuters to launch Reuters Insiders. Which is a proprietary financial news channel for Reuters. Then I was hired by the Journal to launch the whole video operation in Asia, which didn’t really exist. So I have always been extremely comfortable taking nothing and turning it into something.
I…when I was at the Journal and I was realizing there was a huge opportunity in health that wasn’t being addressed and I was experiencing that first hand, I kept thinking that this was the…this was something I wanted to do. This was something I could do because it was an information problem and I know how to solve information problems. Interestingly enough, I never worked out of the context of a big company, so in the year where I was formulating how to do this, I worked with this company called News Deeply. They build single subject news platforms and I launched in partnership with the Gates Foundation a whole platform on woman and girls in the developing world.
So that actually gave me that year, gave me the skills that I needed to fill in ok…like I’ve always worked for organizations tat had huge followings and huge platforms for me to address the content, but now when we launched Woman and Girls, I learned quickly how you cultivate a community around a topic and bring them to your platform. So that was hugely useful.
RICH: So you get to play a little bit with somebody else’s issues that you were….and bring those skill sets and learn through that.
DEBORAH: Yeah. Completely. It taught me a lot. You know that’s in part, I’m very grateful to News Deeply because our model is a little bit different from what they are building, but it really taught me about how you get people on your platform and you engage them through information.
ON-BOARDING NEW MEMBERS
RICH: I mean you have Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, a blog and a podcast. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned about how you bring them onto the platform and are you trying to get them onto all 6? Or are you…is there a major one? What are some of the tactics you’ve learned through this?
DEBORAH: You can’t get them all, all there at one come. But what you can do, you can engage them on one that will hopefully turn into unique views onto the other one. But what we’ve learned quickly is, you know what’s been amazing to me is the huge amount of support I’ve gotten. We’re only two months old. The thing I wasn’t expecting was the scientific community has really rallied behind me and a lot of the associations have because what I’m giving to the equation is something they’re not given, which is really credible good content that’s editorially independent.
So what I’ve learned is those people, you have similar intentions, right? Our intention is to get better information to people. I’m the content creator. They have a platforms with huge followings. So it’s the ability to have them incubate you and so I become a content creator almost to help some of these organizations. Therefore, growing my base. But I think with media in general, it’s like you need to have a clear cut strategy, but you’re not going to be…you’re not going to be everything to everyone. It’s just impossible.
DEPTH OVER SPEED
RICH: That’s actually….cuz a lot of people would run into the fire right now and try and do it all. It sounds like you’re guarded in a sense like you don’t want to dilute the quality of the content and maybe fail….what are some of the things you struggle with in terms of how fast you go? You must want to answer these questions for people as fast as possible, but also make sure that you do it in the right way for them because it is such a personal thing. What are some of those balances at?
DEBORAH: This is where we are at right now. We are putting, I mean we are only two months old, right? In some ways it’s a really fun time because we are testing different things. But again, we’re going to let the community tell us which direction to go in. What works, you know then that’s the direction we are headed into. The Q & A, what we’re trying to build right now is my instinct from people asking…we’re already being viewed as an authority on the matter so people are automatically sending us questions. I got a message from a reader who wanted me..asking us if we knew of any scientific studies on a specific herb that he used that really helped with his mother’s hallucinations, right? You know, right away we got an answer.
So it’s that type of connectivity and having people view us as a credible source to give them good, reliable information. There’s surprisingly a lot of mistrust in this space. I think that’s along the lines to look at fake news, not so much fake news. It’s not so much blatant fake news, but what you do believe and what you don’t you. What’s attached? Like everything we report on is attached to a credible study. We’re not going to put anything out there that maybe someone thinks this works, but who knows. It has to have a substantial study attached to it.
KNOWING WHAT WORKS
RICH: Then how do you think from a business model, the media system right now is really struggling to find its next business model. How does this dynamic challenge you or how is that your opportunity going forward?
DEBORAH: Well, I have a approached this and whether it’s right or the wrong way to do it is I’m not going to be specific about my business model until I know exactly what’s working. So we have, I have a great…I have several great advisors we’re on the phone probably with one of them every day. We’re hashing out different scenarios. For me though, my mission is to leave the information free and open to all. I don’t want to put it behind a lock and key. I want people to have access to this information.
One of the things we are modeling out is, is there a room for a premium model for this where we enhance that connectivity through virtual and live events. But again, we’re so early that I’m very much focused on growing the traffic and understanding what’s working before I say this is our business model.
RICH: How do you know it’s working? Is it because the website numbers are going up? Because you get more questions.
DEBORAH: Yes. All of the above. So what we’re tracking is we are tracking how many likes and followers we get. We’re tracking how people are utilizing our content. How many subscribers we’re getting for our emails. It’s early days, but I have to say that I had the instinct that there was a huge need and the numbers are proving that. Our growth is incredibly healthy for a two month old company. Yeah, I mean we’re you know, we’re plowing the course. You know we are seeing on a weekly basis about an 8-10% growth. In media numbers, that’s huge. But again, we’re still early days. So is that great sustainable? I think it is and I hope it is. So we will see.
RICH: Last question. What’s success for you? As you look out. I know you are only two months old, but….what’s success for you?
DEBORAH: I’m so glad you asked that question because I was having this conversation with my husband and I say you know the weird thing about being an entrepreneur is the first thing people ask you is what’s your business model? What’s your business model? You know, I never got into this to make a billion dollars. That’s the farthest thing from my mind. I get frustrated sometimes because I’m confronted all the time with what’s your business model? How are you going to modernize this? I really wish people would ask me how many lives have you helped today? How many people have you helped today? For me, that’s a better measure of success. It’s not, it’s not oh are you going..how are you going to turn this into the next unicorn. Maybe you’re not supposed to say that as an entrepreneur, but it’s truly how I feel. I’m not doing this to be the next unicorn. I’m doing this because there is an entire population of people who need better information.
So if I can change just a percentage of those people and make it a better place for them when they’re going through a disease, along term illness such as Alzheimer’s, then I think that’s success.
For more interviews from the “Entrepreneurs for Good” series, check out the playlist here.
Stay tuned for more clips and full interviews in the coming weeks.