Unlike your typical tech founder, you’re less likely to find Jason Friesen talking through slides in a corporate board room than traveling between ambulance and fire stations, emergency call centers, and ministries of health in far-flung places.
That’s because he’s the founder and executive director (and former full-time paramedic) behind Trek Medics, a nonprofit that develops pre-hospital and emergency care systems in low- and middle-income regions including Tanzania, the Domincan Republic, and Haiti.
Their mission? Reduce preventable death and disability by improving access to emergency care for at-risk and vulnerable populations through mobile phone technologies.
Tune into any news channel and it’s clear: even the richest countries and populations in the world struggle to guarantee access to rapid medical response during emergencies, and often hit logistical and technological snags doing so. Just imagine the breadth and scope of challenges facing providers serving at-risk populations in lower-income regions.
To develop Trek Medics’ now-flagship application—Beacon, a text message-based emergency dispatch platform for emergency medical responders that’s powered by Twilio APIs—Friesen started by drawing on his past experience.
That approach, though, was less useful than expected. We sat down with Friesen to discuss how he re-evaluated his method for developing mobile phone products for this unique population, and how his learnings apply to any leader looking to better understand their audience.
“Because I started working in emergency medical systems in a wealthy country, where we had all the resources we needed, my assumption was that if I diluted that— if we stripped away all the trappings, and brought it down to the most fundamental steps—then we could translate that into what you would need to ensure access to emergency medical services in developing countries with far fewer resources,” he explained.
“That was kind of true, but not entirely. We really had to learn much more about their challenges and what they were trying to accomplish, the job they were trying to do, so that we could build a software that they valued as opposed to what we assumed they would want.”