Firestarters: Adil Abrar on “minimum viable technology”

At the Firestarters event at Google ton Wednesday, we got to hear three fascinating talks on entrepreneurship (a topic naturally very close to my heart, being 6 weeks or so into the first year of Brilliant Noise‘s new phase).

I may not have time to write everything up, but here are some notes on the excellent talk given by Adil Abrar, a serial/simultaneous entrepreneur.

Adil told the tale of Buddy, his company that he set up to develop a product that would help people suffering from long term depression and anxiety disorders.

The brilliant thing about his story was that it was warts and all. We were presented with a series of cool design ideas – a mirror that helped measure your mood, real time therapy apps and Dieter Rams-inspired radios that record your mental state which – over the course of 18 months of experimentation had all failed miserably.

From the misery came lessons for Adil and his team. They learned to listen to the -sometimes angry – patients, therapists and the NHS managers and discovered what their real needs were. They began to realise that the place where they could make a difference was in the effectiveness of the time patients spent with therapists.

The solution was a text message system that asks people to record how their days have been, rate them and then presents them and their therapist with the results in an online right before their appointment. This helps both parties to go into their session focused on what the issues are and often with some clear ideas about problems and solutions (e.g. my mood is always better on days when I get out of the house for a walk).

Buddy also reminds them to go their appointment (one of the major stumbling blocks in people’s treatment is often their missing appointments) and to do other things that they agree would be helpful (taking exercise, eating well etc.).


What had started with an Apple-like product vision, wandered through all sorts of voguish ideas like smartphone apps and personal data-recording had ended up finding a problem and solving it with the simplest, most widely available technology (almost everyone has the ability to text message).

Adil offered us four lessons for product developers and entrepreneurs from his experience with Buddy (the headlines are his, the qualifiers are my thoughts)…

  1. Head for the ditch: It’s not just about willing to fail, it’s about being so willful in pursuing a goal that you probably will fail. And learn.
  2. Bring crazy to the world: This was echoed the next day when I was having a chat with Mark Adams, who founded Pembridge which helps agency entrepreneurs. For investors something that sounds like what everyone else is doing is not very interesting – people who seem on the edge, obsessive about a crazy idea – they might be on to something.
  3. Vision changes. Values don’t: The vision for Buddy changed several times and each time Adil was passionate about it and believed. When he found out he was wrong he changed the vision, but the values remained the same – in this case that technology could help people with mental illness, their carers and save money for the NHS.
  4. Solve problems that matter: If the problems they were trying to solve weren’t important they may well have given up when they failed. The importance of the problem bound the team together and helped them dust themsleves down and return with new ideas, new visions…

Here’s a video of how Buddy works…

Buddy from sidekick studios on Vimeo.

: : Many thanks to Neil Perkin for having me along to the event which he curated excellently  – and to Google for hosting in their amazing new St Giles Street offices.

One response to “Firestarters: Adil Abrar on “minimum viable technology””

  1. hey, someone was listening! Glad you enjoyed the talk so much to blog about it. All the best, 

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