Search Interviews:

Jeremy Weisz 16:12 

Was that the idea from the beginning of what point did you introduce what we should print on these things?

Michael Korn 16:18 

I mean, if the idea at the beginning, I had 100 ideas, the challenge was focusing on the one that mattered that really would make a difference, and then introducing the new ideas as and when it was the right time to

Jeremy Weisz 16:32 

Do you remember a time that someone asked for that? Because it seems like you’re you know, your product is very user-centric, right? You’re going in you’re observing people, you’re not just going in a dark room, and just coming up with an idea. You’re getting user feedback here. So what was the what was the user feedback that you remember a time when someone said, I wish it had X?

Michael Korn 16:57 

Yeah, I mean, we’ve got that I’ve got that list, right from day one. And the in EO terms, it’s the parking lot, the parking lot of ideas is endless. In fact, it’s longer than the ideas that we’ve already implemented. And that’s why the company is still very youthful, we, our aspirations are still much greater than our achievements. And we’re still always engaging with customers and hearing their feedback and coming up with new ideas. And so the beginning, I told you, are five products that we’ve launched, there’s loads of other products that we would love to be able to develop, and also lots of other, features and things we can add, but we need to make sure that what we’re making is, is brilliant and perfect and does the right job. I think it’s in the early days, it was great, because it was just me. So I could actually go out with products that weren’t completely ready, and I could test it. And I could show people something that had loads of different things on it. And it is true, the one that everybody loved was the printing. And so that was one of the things that I’m like, Okay, look with minimal effort, we could make a massive impact. And so fine, let’s do it, I was actually unaware at the beginning, how impactful it would be to have the prints, and also how difficult it is for architects to get artwork in other spaces in a hospital ward is really hard to print on the wall behind you. And if the room changes from being pediatric to being elderly care, then it’s suddenly you need to do a whole new refurb you know, with the screens, you just swap the screens around. So I was pleasantly surprised with that.

Jeremy Weisz 18:35 

How did you get the idea for the KwickSwitch? Where basically, you have this completely switching the room? This always seems complicated to me.

Michael Korn 18:49 

Yeah. Okay, so the KwickSwitch was exactly from the same conversation that I would be having with these nurses. So we have in our current catalog, a KwickScreen that is see-through. Why would you want to see through screen well, that’s the spread of infections in hospitals. This was something that we developed 15 years ago, why would you want a Great Big Sea through divider in a hospital that stupid? Well, we all know now are the COVID no, it isn’t that is really helpful in preventing the spread of airborne infections. So we have this see-through screen. And then we also had the white screen. And by the way, we could print on both. So when you print on the see-through screen, you can get like a semi see-through translucent sort of stained glass window effect, which is quite helpful in some environments. And obviously when you print on the white screen, but then you just get a lovely picture. And some people would say to us, it was a bit annoying at the time. Hey, why don’t you just make a screen that I can press a button and it goes from see-through to not see-through that way. I always have the benefit of not getting the germs of my neighbor but when I press a button, I don’t see them and I don’t need to pull out a curtain. And I’d say yeah, great. Like, give me 10 years and I’ll make that. Well, that’s exactly what happened. 10 years in, we won a really competitive government innovation grant to do just that. And we developed a roll-up, KwickScreen, see through KwickScreen, and you press a button and it goes not see through. And we trialed it in a couple of hospitals. And feedback was great. Problem was, it is very expensive. So it’s one of those things that it that is in our pipeline, we’re going to do that at some point when we can, basically when the cost comes down, but after we did that, and we developed the know-how to make a roll-up screen, that you can press a button, we have actually done something much harder than what you see there, which is, being able to have a film that you can stick on a window and retrofit and make the existing glass walls into smart glass. And that is actually really innovative, because most of the solution is that you have to actually buy the double glazing glass with the film inside it. And so that means that it’s expensive, you can’t retrofit you have to pull out your glass and put in new glass. And a lot of spaces are nervous, because if it breaks, then it’s not, you can’t change it. So, yeah, we really stumbled upon something bad by developing something different.

Jeremy Weisz 21:15 

Michael, one thing I want to touch on here is this stuff is not cheap to manufacture. Okay. In the beginning, how did you start the company and fund this thing?

Michael Korn 21:28 

Well, yeah, I mean, that’s one of the hidden successes of the business is that we have never raised any money. And neither am I like some haven’t inherited a fortune. So it’s all been bootstrapped. And I mean, we were fortunate in the early days, I won some prize money, I won a student entrepreneurship competition, which is why I’m a big champion of the GSCO Awards, in EO. We got joined in with a government innovation program with the NHS in Britain. And we were chosen as the company to produce a product. So they paid in advance of us making the product. So that was like an amazing way to prime an innovation, they said, we’ll buy 10 of them if you can make it so then we had to make them. And I did everything myself. So I’m a manufacturing engineer, I’m a product designer, and I guess, salesmen. So for the first few years, I would drive to a factory, somebody who allows us the corner of his factory, I’d make as you know, in the early years, it wasn’t a factory, it was the basement of the university, and then in laws garage and things like this, so anywhere I could I built this thing, then I would take it to a hospital to demo it, and I’d sell it for whatever they’re willing to pay for it. And then I’d get the feedback. And I’d go back to the hospital, the neck, the back to the factory, rebuild it go out again. So it was this very, very quick turnaround of prototype, sell, improve, sell the kind of thing that you can’t do if you’ve got an outsourced manufacturing partner, let alone an international manufacturing partner. And I guess the hospitals paid us quicker than we had to pay our factory. So we could just about cashflow it. But the most important thing was that we learned so much in those early days. By having that quick, quick, quick turnaround. It’s the kind of thing that’s now encouraged with tech businesses to launch something in a way before you’re completely ready with it. But we did it in a manufacturing business. And it enabled us to grow to where we are now without ever raising money. The situation now with KwickScreen is that actually we’ve developed the opportunity to really replace curtains is enormous. We’ve always known it’s enormous. We’ve invested everything that we made through the pandemic in developing a new product, a new version of this product to be able to completely replace and supersede curtains. In order to get that product into production, we need to really scale up we need to invest, and we don’t have the funds to do that ourselves. So now we are raising money for the first time 16 years in, but we’re raising money a much healthier valuation, and we’d like an incredible opportunity ahead of us. But yeah, I don’t think we wouldn’t have been able to do this have we had we gone down a more conventional route of, you know, products invention, entrepreneurship journey, because it’s been a long slog.

Jeremy Weisz 24:25 

So the opportunity is basically to expand this product into hospitals across the world, US etc.

Michael Korn 24:34 

Yes, but I guess not the product that you see on the website. I’m not sure if we’ve got a new product, a new version of the product that’s a lot more complicated. So right now, we’ve made a few of them and they’re trialing and hospitals and hospitals love it. And then hospitals say okay, I want to buy 1000 of them. We’ve got you know, hospitals really interested in purchasing large numbers of them, and we can’t cashflow that. It’s a very good problem to have, but it is the current situation. And so that’s why we’re now raising money.

Jeremy Weisz 25:05 

Describe what the new product, how it’s different.

Michael Korn 25:09 

Basically, it goes round the corner. So if you look at our KwickScreens, they go in and out. The duo is a corner product. So it’s 10 foot and 10 foot. But what we’ve developed here is something that is specifically designed for use in a hospital to go down the side of the bed, and then across the foot of the bed and link up with another one. It’s really specifically designed to optimize and solve this problem of replacing all curtains in hospitals. And to do that we’ve really, a lot of thought, and a lot of detail has gone into it such that it is quite a complicated product with some internal mechanisms. So we can’t make and sell that we can’t bootstrap this new product, this new business, we need to make that in high volumes, and sell it at a much lower price point as well.

Jeremy Weisz 25:57 

Yeah, I can visualize what you’re saying. Because I mean, they’re the curtain some of those curtains, you kind of pull and it kind of goes around the corner, and it’s out in one of those tracks on the ceiling, and it goes around the whole bed. And so some of the hospitals or demand, I mean, you have the two that kind of go together that enclose it. But you feel like a better solution would be just something that almost mimics the curtain.

Michael Korn 26:20 

100% and importantly, we don’t use any curtain tracks so we can create a hospital ward anywhere. Yeah, that’s exactly it.

Jeremy Weisz 26:30 

I feel like it would be a good Shark Tank product to pitch to the sharks. How do you go about now raising money.

Michael Korn 26:44 

If anyone listens to this, we were invited on Dragon’s Den.

Jeremy Weisz 26:47 

Dragon’s Den, right. In Canada? No. Oh, one in England. Okay.

Michael Korn 26:53 

Yeah, I’d like to think we started it but who knows? Anyway, that was in the early, early, early days. No, you’re quite right. If Shark Tank want us on we’d come on, for sure. Because US is our market now.

Jeremy Weisz 27:06 

Talk about the biggest milestone because you have good problems, right, where you have people wanting it and you need to expand and it costs money to make these things. What was the first major milestone of a sale for you in the company?

Michael Korn 27:26 

Yeah, I’m gonna Well, this is a shout-out to anchor Nia at Wolverhampton New Costs Hospital. And it was one of our first demo products. And we took it there for her to trial. And when I went to pick it up, this was in ICU intensive care department. And I’m like, okay, you know, you’ve tried it for a week, I’ve turned up to the hospital to pick it up. And she’s like, oh, I know you were coming. But you can’t take it now. And I said why not? She goes, I know we need it. We’ve, there’s been a car crash with some kids in gangs. And we’re actually using your screen right now to divide up the gang members from the family members who were here grieving their friend. And there’s a policewoman sat between the two and we’re using your screen to divide them off, because otherwise we’re worried there’d be a fight in the waiting room. And I was like, wow, this is not what I designed the product for. But hospitals are crazy places. You never know what’s going to happen there. And she was like, you can’t take it, I need to buy it. And I was like, okay, for sure. And so it was unexpected, an unexpected use. And we thought about the significance of not cashing that check, because it’d be worth so much in the future, just as you know, that actually someone bought this product. But we cashed it we took a picture of it.

Jeremy Weisz 28:44 

Just take a picture of it, frame it. Yeah, it That’s a great feeling when someone demos it, and then basically tells you, you can’t take it, we need it. Now, Michael, this wasn’t your first product actually. When we talk about entrepreneurship, there’s many learnings. We will call it failures, but many learnings that get us to where we’re at. So you actually had a product before this, that didn’t make it commercially. Talk about that.

Michael Korn 29:16 

You’ve done your research, but good for everyone listening he does a good podcast. So digging up oh my god, this is like a wish one. Like when the head teacher would say to me, Michael, tell me about the thing you did that was wrong. And I’m like, oh, no, I’m like, what about this and this and this? She’s like, no, like, there’s more than one previous product. I mean, the one that I was sort of, like, for 15 years, if I was high up in the screen guy. Before that. I was the needle safety guy. I’m here holding a pen in hospitals hypodermic needles. There’s a big risk that you would stab yourself with a needle that often happens. It’s terrible. And when you do you can contract whatever was in the needle, so the blood in the blood-borne pathogens from the patient, or if it was from a bin, then the blood-borne pathogens from an unknown patient. So this is a crazy problem, needle stick safety. And yeah, I love the product, I invented their needle safety device incorporated itself into the paper, bulk packaging of a tray. So rather than changing the needle, I changed the paper pulp tray that they use in UK hospitals. That was brilliant idea. And then there were other ideas from that.

Jeremy Weisz 30:31 

Talk about stick safe for a second. Talk about sticks safe, Mystic safe, because you did I think get a grant for it. And you made a go at it. It wasn’t just like some idea you came up with that you actually took it further.

Michael Korn 30:46 

I did, I did. I got a grant, I won awards, I made it go in it. And that is why I was hanging out in hospitals. Because Sticksafe predated KwickScreens. Sticksafe was my first-year product, KwickScreen was my second-year product of a two-year degree. So after spending the first year hanging out in hospitals, looking at needles, I also saw curtains. So and also because I had won some awards, and got some money to develop the Sticksafe. It meant I was already in the ecosystem of the NHS, the National Health Service. And so it was easier to start the next thing that was also solving a problem in the same space. So I wasn’t completely from scratch, scratch, which is what you do with a needle as well. But yes, I mean, look it up, there’s not much to say about Sticksafe anymore. I did, I got it into production. But it’s one of those things where, unlike the KwickScreen, I couldn’t make and sell it, you know, I couldn’t make it there, it was going to be sold for pennies. So it was a high-volume, low-value product. And therefore to get started, I needed this big injection of money and investment and manufacturing commitment. And it’s quite counterintuitive that such a simple product would be so much harder to launch, that there was something about a high-value product that I could actually build myself that zero labor cost and actually sell and make some money, but I wasn’t able to make any stick safe trades myself. And that’s really what, one of the reasons why it never got started.

Jeremy Weisz 31:56 

Sticksafe looking back, the challenge with launching that as it was maybe not perceived as high a value and also the cost you can sell for as much so it made it harder to make it a viable business without a huge injection of capital.

Michael Korn 32:48 

Yeah, you could definitely say that. But also hugely competitive market space, massive companies have spent billions of pounds developing all of these safety needles. And here I come along with something else, it was it was going to be difficult fight. Whereas in the in the world of hospital curtains, I was the king because there was no innovation there. It was a much easier space.

Jeremy Weisz 33:13 

At what point though. I’m not gonna say give up but the you decide to switch because some people, with whatever product they’re doing now, there’s comes to be a decision where like, I just want to push forward, I’m gonna make this work. I know this is it, versus, I think I’m better served. Moving on to a different product. How did you make that decision to shift?

Michael Korn 33:37 

Yeah, just I guess, because my time got consumed with KwickScreen. If quick screen had not been a success, I probably would have focused more of my time on Sticksafe, and I could have made that a success. And I think it’s a real shame. Because what I know now, I think I would have been able to hand Sticksafe over to there were people that wanted to take it on and I didn’t quite know how to navigate that. So yeah, take my IP take the product, I don’t, really, I would be a lot happier if there were stick safes in the world being used and I was getting zero money from it, but instead it’s not it’s an it’s just nothing. It’s in a there’s a load of prototypes in the loft in the house. And that’s it’s actually quite a sad thing. And there’s a lot of that and I’m sad that I have a I mean, I’m gonna horrible word. I’m not gonna say it was in my head, a stillborn of an invention. It could have been something somebody could have taken that and done something with it, and gone in whatever direction but I didn’t know how to and I think that’s a real shame.

Jeremy Weisz 34:39 

Talk about Neurodiverse works and the idea behind that.

Michael Korn 34:43 

Well, anyone listening to this might have gathered that my brain is slightly wired differently to other people. And I’ve only really come to embrace that recently. During the pandemic, I had an ad or just before an ADHD diagnosis as a student I was diagnosed with dyslexia, I sort of hit that I was a bit ashamed of it. And I now, as you mentioned before, I’ve got two sons who are autistic. So, over the past few years, I’ve really been thinking about people thinking differently, me thinking differently. My children, what are the pros and cons and challenges of that one of the reasons I’m an entrepreneur, is because nobody would employ me. And yet, I looked at the business of KwickScreen. And I think, actually, the reason we were so successful, Yeah, I’m good at coming up with ideas, but we have a lot of people in the business who are really talented, and we’ve given them the space to be themselves and to lean into their strengths. And we don’t trip people up for their weaknesses with, positive spirit. And because of that, we’ve got so much more out of our employees than they would have in other companies. And we’ve been able to compete with companies much better resourced and bigger than us. And I put everything’s come together to make me realize that that’s because when you are inclusive, that’s because so many of us are quirky, different thinkers and create an environment where diversity is embraced. And so this is my interest in my passion. And so the new business that I’m working on now, tech-enabled way to support neurodivergent people in finding work that really matches with them.

Jeremy Weisz 36:20 

So how does Neurodiverse work?

Michael Korn 36:23 

Nice. So right now we’ve set ourselves up as a consultancy, to work in this space, the platform that we’re building is a matching recruitment platform, where people who are neurodivergent can articulate themselves, what my attributes might be, like, you mentioned it before, I am a chaotic creator, there’s a good and a bad, but I’m not hiding the fact that I’m messy, and I talk a lot and I might turn up late. But you know, with that comes a lot of creativity. So take the rough with the smooth and embrace both of them. We also help people figure out what careers there might be a lot of people are pigeonholed into a career. But when they really discover who they are, they might realize there’s loads of other careers. And as we know, in the next few years, there’s going to be loads more careers being in a be created lots more opportunities and AI-enabled. And people that think differently are going to be great for those kinds of creative jobs, innovative thinking. And we’re also yes, part of being neurodivergent is that a workplace might not be set up for me, I might need some performance, enablers, some accommodations, so that I can work with headphones on to have noise cancelling, or play music all the time, or I can have different hours of working or when I’m on a zoom call, I don’t want to have the screen on loads of different interesting accommodations that actually enable neurodivergent people to perform at their best and not be tripped up. And I want people to be able to voice that early on in the interview process, rather than be ashamed of it and hide it. And we’re building a tech platform based on other platforms that exist to facilitate that. And the theory is that if we help neurodivergent people be themselves and find work that really matches with them, we’re going to have the same platform that’s going to help Gen Z is find work that match with their values, and enable them to bring their full selves to work. And then introverted people who don’t really like turning up at an interview and faking it and bullshitting about themselves, they will also thrive and will actually create a much more equitable society and world.

Jeremy Weisz 38:35 

Can people find that? Where can they find that? Is there a separate website for that or?

Michael Korn 38:41 

No, we’ve not launched a product yet. But people that are interested and want to work with us, please get in touch, we’re building this in the background, we’re looking for companies that want to have new ways of recruiting. So we’re not only going to present the candidates authentically, in a completely unique way that you don’t get anywhere else. But we’re also going to give companies and it’s essential companies also present themselves authentically. Because it’s a yin and yang to be your inclusive, you need to both ask the candidate what they need, but also you need to show the candidate what you can do. And I think that that is a we want to say any companies that would have embraced this, they want to learn about it, they just want to ask me, I guess reach out to me on LinkedIn.

Jeremy Weisz 39:21 

I want to talk about some of the inspiration behind your journey and your products and company. And it kind of goes back to your grandfather’s. Can you talk about that? Their inspiration?

Michael Korn 39:34 

Sure. I know, you’ve also got a story of your grandfather on your website. So I have two very different grandfather’s with very inspiring stories. One, a doctor and an academic who grew up in Baghdad was, I think, the highest-ranking Jewish officer in the Iraqi army. One of his claims to fame is that he might have delivered Saddam Hussein. Anyway, he came to Britain, when the NHS was just started, the National Health Service was just being born. And as an immigrant who didn’t really speak English, he had to retrain as a doctor. And he had to take whatever job he was given. So he was given like some awful GP practice. And he took it. And so he was part of building the NHS. My other grandfather, also a Jew.

Jeremy Weisz 40:25 

Why did he end up leaving? Did you ever talk about that?

Michael Korn 40:30 

Yeah, I mean, my cousin has written a book about it the story of the Jews of Baghdad and why they left like, Yeah, after the Second World War, the Arab world was not a safe place to produce. Prior to the Second World War. It was the safest, best, most wonderful place where Jews lived and thrived alongside their Muslim and Christian neighbors. It really was the most wonderful place Jews of Baghdad had been there since the Babylonian Empire, like it really was, you know, absolutely wonderful. But I mean, similar to the Jews of Eastern Europe. What happened in Eastern Europe, happened during the Second World War, what happened to the Jews of the Arab countries happened after the Second World War, because Nazism spread them, unfortunately. And so yeah, they were all forced out of their homes. And so that’s how he ended up here, his siblings went all over the world. They went wherever they could go, many of them to Israel or to America, or one to Burma. And that’s the story of the Jews of the Arab world,

Jeremy Weisz 41:31 

What’s the book called your brother wrote?

Michael Korn 41:33 

Oh, no, my cousin, Wolf of Baghdad. It’s a wonderful book. It’s a book, that’s a cartoon. She’s an illustrator. And she’s drawn the stories as a picture book. And she’s also a musician. So it goes with the music, the music that the Jewish community would have been playing then. And so she continues that and shows the whole journey of Jews that were living in Baghdad, and then where they’ve ended up going and the lives that they’re now living and continuing their Iraqi and Jewish heritage in these different parts of the world.

Jeremy Weisz 42:09 

And the other grandfather.

Michael Korn 42:11 

So the other grandfather was from Poland, Poland, that is now Ukraine. His family was less fortunate than my Iraqi grandfather’s family, because I don’t think any of them were killed. I think one was abducted. But they left before the massacres happened. My Polish grandfather, he lost all of his family extended family, except for his one brother, one of his brothers that he left with all the rest were killed, we think probably shot in the fields outside his village, which I visited just a month ago.

Jeremy Weisz 42:49 

What was that like, when you visited?

Michael Korn 42:52 

What was it like visiting it. Well, I went to Ukraine, I went to Ukraine, because I wanted to explore my roots, I also wanted to do something to help the war. I’ve done a lot in helping Ukraine through EO as well. So I had a refugee and we donated loads of our KwickScreen products for the EO refugee center in Warsaw. And I just wanted to keep doing this because I mean, bizarrely, I sort of grew up disliking Ukraine, hearing the stories of how my family were shot by both the Nazis and with the support of their Ukrainian neighbors who allowed it to happen. I had always been scared of Ukraine, and I didn’t want that I didn’t want to be racist and have any hatred within me. So I sort of it’s been my EO journey has been to explore that. And most recently, I drove an ambulance to Laviv, which we donated with some medical supplies, and the soldiers there. And then while I was there was, the people were so wonderful and took me to the village where my grandfather was from, and I got to sort of get a good understanding of the life that he might have lived in. And where his ancestors Well, I was more interested in the life rather than the end of their life, I wanted to sort of see the life that they would have had rather than worry too much about the death anyway, this was him. He came to England and was a tailor. So he makes stuff with his hands. So I think you’re referencing an article that the time’s right, where, I sort of drew on both of their inspirations to be both someone that could help the NHS. The NHS sort of needs help now, like it did 70 years ago, but also to make something for my grandfather, who was a tailor, it was like, hugely rewarding to actually build something and I wanted to I wanted to do that. But yes, I mean, I can’t, it’s maybe worth saying the trip to Ukraine was for me to put a lid on the traumas of inheriting the massacres that had impacted my community. It was like, okay, it’s three generations now. I don’t need to carry around the trauma of the Holocaust any. Okay, this was me trying to sort of like cleanse myself trying to rid myself of that because it’s not helpful. A week after that, or two weeks after that the massacre happens in Israel. And it’s just like, it’s just horrific. And we donated pickup trucks to Ukraine so they could rescue their soldiers. The same pickup trucks were used by Hamas to kidnap people adopt them and take them into Gaza. So all these memories that I was just about to sort of put to the side and somehow, living my life without the anxiety of a traumatized Jew. I must have just bought that all back and it’s really a very awful, awful, scary time.

Jeremy Weisz 42:59 

Yeah. Michael, first of all, thank you for sharing your story, your journey and your inspiration with all of us. I want to encourage people to check out to learn about what you’re working on. That’s and thanks for everything you do in the world. So Thanks, Michael. And thanks everyone.