In today’s episode of Earned, Conor sits down with Doug Sweeny, seasoned marketing expert and current CMO of innovative smart ring company Oura. In case you’re not familiar, Oura’s mission is to “give every body a voice,” helping users understand their bodies’ key health indicators like sleep, activity, and recovery, all with more accuracy than other wearable devices—not to mention more fashion.
Doug is no stranger to health and tech companies—or scaling startups into success stories. Prior to Oura, he served as the CMO at Nest Labs, which was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion, and CMO of One Medical, which was acquired by Amazon for $3.9B. Clearly, he’s doing something right.
We start the episode by digging into this success, and learn about the qualities Doug looks for in a company before joining. Doug emphasizes his interest in companies that are solving real-world problems, and shares his experience working at One Medical during the peak of the pandemic. We then hear about what attracted Doug to Oura, and how the company navigates the tech ecosystem and integrates with tech giant Apple. Next, we dive into Doug’s process for crafting Oura’s simple yet compelling brand message of “giving every body a voice,” and discuss the importance of aligning the company around this message, before hearing how Oura’s clear mission has helped in establishing partnerships with companies like Strava, Gucci, Best Buy, and Equinox.
We switch gears and learn how Oura facilitates content creation among its “rabid fans” and members by introducing new offerings like Circles and the “Refer a Friend” program, as well as partnerships with athletes and wellness influencers. Doug also explains how the company constantly leverages its member community for beta testing and product development feedback. To close the show, Doug shares why he enjoys taking on advisory roles for other companies outside of Oura, and reveals what kind of startup he’d enjoy leading next.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“My passion has been focusing on companies and products that are solving real-world problems”: Doug Sweeny’s Advice for Picking Successful Companies
Conor Begley: If you were to look at your track record, there's a variety of things that stand out. I think your ability to pick companies, particularly the last several, has been really impressive. You joined Nest Labs after Levi's, which then was acquired by Google for $3.2 billion, then you joined One Medical, which was acquired by Amazon for $3.9 billion, and now you’re at Oura, which has done very well. So I'm curious, what are the criteria you use when picking these companies? Also, what made you decide to go the startup route and why Oura?
Doug Sweeny: If you look at what I've been focused on over the last 30 years, the first 15 years I was on the agency side. I was a creator. I loved being in these agency cultures where you're actually working across a variety of different products—automotive, tech, apparel, footwear—and I did that at agencies like TBWA\Chiat\Day and really loved that. I loved the idea of pivoting across all these different industries.
After I left Adidas, I wanted to try the client side and move to Levi's. It was very akin to what Adidas was trying to do in its time, which is reconnect with a whole new audience. How do you regenerate this original sportswear brand, not dissimilar from Levi's as the originator of denim? I loved doing it, and they were very similar roles, even though I was on the client side.
Living in the Bay Area for 20 years, I really had this itch to work for a startup and work for a technology brand, and I wanted to make the pivot. I got introduced to Tony Fadell, who had created the iPod at Apple under Steve Jobs, as well as the first couple generations of the iPhone. Nest was a small startup at the time, and I just was like, I really want to do this. The core of it was solving real-world problems. It was about sustainability. It was about reinventing these crappy things that sit on our walls from the 80s that suck all this energy out of your house. I mean, truly devoid of innovation, one of the least sexy products. And Tony’s energy and spirit and this idea of partnering with him, it fueled the fire in me. And I think from that time forward, my passion has been focusing on companies and products that are solving real world problems. Nest was creating life-saving devices and smoke alarms and energy-saving thermostats and security cameras.
With the pivot to One Medical, it was a product I knew very, very well. It was solving a real-world problem, or a U.S. problem for sure, which is that the primary care experience in healthcare for most Americans is just really crappy. The NPS in healthcare is just not good. You don't really hear people saying, “I had a wonderful healthcare experience.” The typical wait for a primary care doctor is two months, and if you have a specialty issue and you need to get any specialty care, it's multiple months. So this idea that it was a tech-enabled platform with same-day or next-day appointments, it was a healthcare 2.0 level experience, and it was something I felt like I could really bring my skills to bear. I could help it in its next phase as it was scaling. I grew up in a household where my dad was a technology leader at IBM, my mom was a healthcare professional in New York City for 30 years, so this idea of health and tech was something we talked about at our dinner table, and something I was very, very passionate about.
So that was what really got me fired up and excited about those two experiences, and why I wanted to join them on their mission.
Conor Begley: What was it about Oura that attracted you? In some ways, it's kind of a combination of Nest and One Medical, with the health focus plus device.
Doug Sweeny: The consistency, I'd say, is back to this idea of solving real problems for people and really making a difference. I think that's what I really love. I love mission-based companies that have a real, clear purpose and are adding value to our lives. Life is short, and I think it's really important that brands show up and help people day to day, and Oura, for me, was the cross-section of multiple things. It was a hardware and software brand. It has this unique form factor and position and is delivering value similar to One Medical. It has incredibly rabid fans. Our net promoter score and word of mouth for the company is incredible. The members of Oura have been introducing the product to friends and family, and that's really how this has spread virally over the last 10 years. It's both a wellness brand and a healthcare brand, it's got a fashion component, it sits in the middle of pop culture too, which is very interesting.
I mean, the list of celebrities who love the product, Jeff Bezos, Bono, Jennifer Annison, Prince Harry, it’s amazing. What it does is this amazing thing: it translates signals from the body, your physiology, your heart rate, your respiratory. The language we use internally is that it gives your body a voice. Our goal is to give every body a voice. Your body is telling you what it needs and the Oura device is helping you communicate. It takes these very complex signals from the body, it simplifies them, and it gives you three scores, your readiness, sleep, and activity. But there's this ritual that people go through once they get the product and they're able to see the information in a really simple way that you can act upon. It's incredibly empowering, it surprises people, and it's different.
And I felt I could really help out at this stage as the brand expands across the world. So I'd say first and foremost, it was the mission, it was the product, and then third, it was the people, the team, the leadership, the CEO. That is the decision-making process that I go through.
“You need a simple idea and story that are authentic and true”: Doug Sweeny’s Strategy for Crafting a Simple, Yet Compelling Brand Message
Conor Begley: You mentioned how Oura “gives your body a voice.” How do you think about distilling that [brand] message and getting it down to something that's really simple for consumers to understand and remember? What's your process? Was [that messaging] already formed when you got there?
Doug Sweeny: No, it really wasn't. I think in these sized organizations, the thing I do love is that I own a large portion of the business and the brand story. So this idea of brand and business is really important to me. Membership, retail, and the direct-to-consumer business roll into me, and my partner Dorothy Kilroy runs the commercial side and B2B. But when I started in the fall of last year, I started onboarding with people and asking, what do you think the brand vision is? What do you think the story is, and where are we going?
I got a lot of different answers, to be honest with you. And I started talking to our CEO about how we've got to go through a process of really getting to the heart of what Oura is all about in a very simple form. So we started in January, it took us about three or four months, and we interviewed people across the company in Finland, the U.S., and looked at our qualitative and quantitative research, consumer research. And we came back to this idea that it's really about the device as a catalyst, and it is about giving every body a voice. And it’s an idea that was simple enough, true, and authentic to what the product offering is, but also something that everyone in the company could rally around.
You need a very simple idea and a story that are authentic and true—true to the product, true to the brand, true to what consumers want, what connects with culture. It's got to do all these things all at the same time, so that an engineer in Helsinki or in Oulu or in San Francisco or New York, or a CX person talking to a consumer, is actually able to embody that spirit and understand what that means and how to communicate it.
So it's now impacting everything we're doing. It's employees, it's our partners, it'll start being infiltrated in advertising, of course, but it is a process. We went through it at One Medical and I went through it at Nest, too. It's really critical foundationally to get the brand and the business firing on all cylinders and marching to the same beat.
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