Continuous Improvement with Chris Jacob at Gateway Genomics

Learning is a process of continuous improvement. Leaders are often looking for strategies that activate continuous improvement across their organizations. My guest today is Chris Jacob, CEO of Gateway Genomics. His company was ranked #236 in the 2019 Inc 5000 list. Continuous improvement is not just a mantra; it is a way of working. Their products have iterated over the years to create the innovation they have now. Discover how you can engage your team to higher levels of continuous improvement.

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Chris Jacob: The Transcript

Target Audience: Chris Jacob is the Principal at Law Office of Christopher Jacob, P.C. and Director at Gateway Genomics.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Chris Jacob
I want to be 10 x better than anything else on the market. And I believe that but I think that’s really hard to do with your first run at a party. So for us instead, what we’ve done is we’ve made incremental improvements over time, so that within a timeframe, within a few years, we can bring our 10 x better than where we started.

Intro [0:19]
Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insight from the founders and the CEOs of the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?

Gene Hammett [0:37]
Creating an environment for continuous improvement isn’t just something that sounds good. And it isn’t something you hope to have, you can actually create that if you’re very intentional about it. Continuous improvement is a mindset. It’s having the right people that are willing to fail, but willing to iterate on those failures to get something innovative out of it. And that’s exactly the story. We have today.

We have Chris Jacob is the founder of gateway genomics, they were number #236 on the Inc list, they’ve really created a really innovative product. Over the years, it took many, many iterations to get there. And that is because of continuous improvement. So one of the things I love about this has walked through the three areas, which really, really does, you know, highlight how they’re doing this continuous improvement and really reinforcing it and living it every day. So that will be a highlight inside this episode. So make sure you tune into that.

Commercial [1:35]
Thanks for tuning in here to Growth Think Tank. Really excited about sharing this with you. And before you run. I have done so many interviews in the last few weeks. I have such an exciting time to share with you. Those interviews have been organized into the 12 core principles of fast growth companies. So all you have to do get that it’s going to so you can get 12 principles And I’ve been able to go in there and find which episodes will align to each individual episode. When you subscribe to Growth Think Tank, you will find exactly what you need so that you can move forward. And many of them haven’t been published yet, depending on when you’re hearing this, but you can tune in to the date that means the most to you. Here’s the episode with Chris.

Gene Hammett [2:20]
Hi, Chris, how are you?

Chris Jacob [2:22]
Doing Great, Gene. Thank you.

Gene Hammett [2:24]
Well, excited to have you here at Growth Think Tank. I’ve already let our audience know a little bit about you at a personal level, but I’ve also told them a little bit about the company but give us some context about gateway genomics.

Chris Jacob [2:35]
Sure. So Gateway Genomics is a personal genomics company. We’re focused on developing innovative beetle and infant DNA test products. Our company provides access to prenatal genetic information that was previously inaccessible to families to prove their child’s health and development.

Gene Hammett [2:55]
So this is really about innovation.

Chris Jacob [2:57]
It is certainly so we’ve got the first product that we brought to market is the first 99% accurate at-home fetal sex test that allows families to learn the gender of their baby as early as eight weeks into pregnancy.

Gene Hammett [3:12]
My wife would have been the first one to sign up for that because she had to move her appointment earlier 12 years ago.

Chris Jacob [3:19]

Gene Hammett [3:19]
And if before we went on vacation so that we could spend the vacation to figure out the name of the, of the baby.

Chris Jacob [3:27]
I’ll tell you a quick story on that. We had someone flying from Canada yesterday to California to take our test and fly back to Canada the same day. Because they wanted to find out the gender early in pregnancy. It’s a big deal for families. It really is. It’s one of those life-changing moments. For me personally, when I was having my son, finding out the gender was sort of a JFK moment where you don’t forget where you were. Remember that call you remember finding out boy or girl and it’s a life-changing, impactful piece of news.

Gene Hammett [4:01]
Well, I know that a big part of this company is having a great team around it. And you really are providing other services behind sex. Right? There are some other aspects that you’re working on for the evolution of your company. Is that fair?

Chris Jacob [4:17]
That’s correct. We’ve got some very exciting products we’re going to bring to market and coming here that families can use on young children, infants, newborns, babies, to gain insight into the genetic information, the inherited traits that childhood picked up from their parents. That’ll be coming here in the near future. So we’re very excited about that.

Gene Hammett [4:38]
Well, I brought that up, because it’s, it’s not a one-product company and you’re done. You just gotta sell it. There’s, there’s a continuous process here. So I want to dive into this when you look at the fast growth of your company. I mean, you’ve grown really tremendously for the number of employees, you have about 35 employees that right?

Chris Jacob [4:58]
That’s correct. 35

Gene Hammett [5:01]
You know, what is one of the most critical factors, of the culture that has made this possible?

Chris Jacob [5:08]
Yeah. So I think speaking to that, you know, it’s been important processes, continuous improvement to grow the company the way we have over the past few years. We feel that in order to have great market uptake in a new product offering like ours from a new brand and new company, you really got to have something that’s a magnitude better than anything else out in the market for solving whatever problem that is that your product to solve. So for us with this fetal sex test we introduced, it’s 90% accurate in-home.

We had to continually optimize it from day one. So we’ve had multiple versions of this product since we brought to market a few years ago. It’s unique. It asks women to take a test in their home where they’ve got to prick their finger and collect a few drops of blood and send that back to our laboratory for testing. Now, collecting your own blood homas is very new to most people. Very few people have done that before. And so when we were developing this new test this new process, we had to continually look to make that customer experience better. So how do we get packages to people quickly? How do we test in our laboratory quickly? How do we increase capacity in a laboratory? These are all tough challenges that as we grew, we had to figure out and then the product itself, how do you make it easy for the customer to use? How do you make the information we provide back engaging and meaningful to the families.

Several companies have tried to operate in this space and they come and gone they fail. I think one of the reasons that they failed was the inability to continually innovate to continually improve the experience of the product and service you’re providing. So for us, you hear this. You want to be 10 x better than anything else on the market. And I believe that but I think that’s really hard to do with your first ride at a parking lot.

So for us instead, what we’ve done is we’ve made incremental improvements over time so that within a timeframe within a few years, we think we now are 10 x better than where we started. In our space pregnancy tests, your partner’s pregnancies as these came to market in the 70s. And it’s an interesting story, there was pregnancy tests. The first one that came to market I don’t know if you’ve seen this, it’s in the Smithsonian. But it looked like a laboratory chemistry set where you had to mix reagents, you had to add your own urine into this tube, mix a couple of things with droppers, you put it in your refrigerator for a couple of hours and had goat serum in there. And this stuff is going your bed you have to incubate it. And what’s interesting here is that was the first product now, today we have very simple strips, but it took almost 20 years from the interaction of that product to get to a one-minute product. That was just simply a test to see how and then there was another 10 years to go from the product, the pregnancy test strips where you would see a readout to getting one Digital, that’s like another decade.

Gene Hammett [8:03]
Yeah, that’s a that’s really a good perspective because, you know, I think in the medical industry, it’s never just, you know, one iteration. It’s a continuous small improvement. And I think every leader would probably say, Yeah, yes, we want to have continuous improvement. This is what we expect of our employees. But what they don’t understand is not really at fault for the employees. It’s about the leadership, it’s about creating that that intention and that structure. So let’s dive into what that is. What do you have to do to be, you know, really intentional about creating a continuous improvement environment?

Chris Jacob [8:44]
So, I think it starts with recruiting is what we found, when we’re recruiting, we’re looking for three C’s, we want people who are competent, competent, and care. So if you’ve got someone who’s competent, they’re going to speak up if their cell phone and they’re going to contribute, we let our future employees prospective employees know when we’re interviewing that the expectation is on this small team, we need you to be a contributor, we want to hear from you, we want you to bring some ideas to the table about how we can get better what we’re doing. So there’s that competence piece that we look forward to each person we have joining the team, the other one is being competent, really, really good at the function of bringing you in for work on this team.

And with that, the person’s really competent. And they come in, they’re going to see where we can improve, and their function in the role that they’re playing on the team. And then the caring piece, I think, is equally important. You have people who care, they care about their teammates, and they care about the customer. And they’re going to be engaged. They’re emotionally connected now to finding a good solution for our customers. So we hear back from our customers, we get good feedback. It’s direct to consumer test that we sell. So we sell to the customer, we hear back to that customer, we survey them constantly with that feedback and a team that cares, we’re going to be responsive now to their needs. And then that finds its way into improvements over time, where again, we end up with a very different product, the way we start.

The other change we’ve made is, we have a top-down and a bottom-up approach to goal setting in the company. So I think this is important to with the top down piece there, the executive team manager team is coming up with a lot of the calls. But we also expect that we make this clear with the boys, we want to see about 50% of the goals for that employee coming from new play. So they’re there in the day to day they’re working in their specific role for the business. And they know best, they’ve got the knowledge firsthand knowledge as to how improvements can be made to what they’re doing. So we don’t want to dictate that down. We want to hear from each employee. And so with that expectation that happened, their goals have to come from them. There is this ongoing, be back it’s coming again from the employee to how we are going to improve within their specific function.

The other thing we have, I think a lot of companies don’t necessarily have is a regular one on one meetings between employees and managers. This is important and also the way we conduct this, I think was very helpful for us. So we ask managers to meet one on one with all employees, and they can do that weekly or bi-weekly. The other thing they have to do is the employee sets the agenda for those meetings. I’ve seen it done the other way, it’s less useful. When you have the employee set that agenda. They’re constantly thinking about, what do I need to work through? How can the manager help me? Whatever my greatest issue, what’s top of mind for me, and generally, those are going to be things that are friction points, something that’s not optimal in a business. And from that discussion on a manager, an employee can work through those issues, to improve the process. So I think that those are some of the key things we do in this company to continuously improve that part of the culture.

Gene Hammett [11:49]
Well, I really love all of that going back to recruiting. Are those the company core values or did you come up with just those confidence come in care separately,

Chris Jacob [12:02]
it’s part of our culture. And it’s part of our core. core values. Yeah.

Gene Hammett [12:08]

Chris Jacob [12:09]

Gene Hammett [12:10]
Is there anything that you’ve learned through the process to make sure recruiting the right people in for this continuous learning aspect?

Chris Jacob [12:20]
So our recruitment process we have, we’ve been improving that over time. There’s a team that’s assembled ready position that we go to the higher, we make sure that we have the right people interviewing these candidates, that everybody has specific topics that they’re going to work on with the prospective employee. So that’s all incorporated in the recruiting process that I think ends up where again, we find the like-minded employees that have joined.

Gene Hammett [12:53]
Now and asked about the goal-setting. You know, it’s very common to have a good portion of the goals to be top-down. But you found this bottom-up, which is very specific that the employees are coming up with, with 50% of their own goals. Where did you learn that? Or where did you kind of adopt that from?

Chris Jacob [13:13]
Sure. So I’ll take no credit for this. A lot of us watching. It started with a TED talk. I think it’s called measure what matters, right is like john doar, and it’s used at Google Intel Andy groves got a great book from Intel to have a look at. And with that system, it’s called okrs. Right?

These are the objectives and key results. So with that system for goal setting, what they get at is your organization really needs to measure what matters so you know exactly what you should be doing and conversely, what you should not be using the time to do. So for us as an organization, although it can change from time to time, right now, currently, for us, our key objective of the keeping we measure or how many of our tests of the utilized per year by camelids.

We think as an organization, if we’re going to have an impact in this world, the way we’re going to measure that is not by dollars, not by revenue, not profit, but instead by the number of families that are using our test products. So that’s what we’ve said as the top-level company goal. Then from that now, the departmental goals all flow from that. So if we’ve set a goal, let’s say a million tests to be used in a year, from our company, by families around the world, now, each department has to figure out how they’re going to support that top-level company goal. And that’s where the management team will, of course, put down a few goals. But then employees expected to also produce about 50% of those goals. And again, that comes from that, okay, our system, we cannot be very helpful, very successful for us. It keeps people-focused. Everybody can see how everything they’re doing relates all the way up to the top goal. How many families we want users to come.

Commercial [14:55]
Chris just talked about measure what matters. Now a lot of companies put too much emphasis on the hardcore numbers of revenues and profitability. And I know that sounds really weird when it comes to someone who is an expert in growth and creating teams about growth. But you really want to create the kind of measurement that truly does connect to people’s hearts. People aren’t as concerned with the revenue numbers you are, but maybe they’re concerned with, you know, the level of impact that they’re making inside their role. Maybe they’re concerned with the measure of the impact that you’re making as a company. So you get a fine measurement that has a little bit more soul to it than just money, even though money may be something that’s driving you, and it’s a good way to measure things. Find a measurement that really does matter. Back to Chris.

Gene Hammett [15:44]
Now, let’s go into this one on one because I want to make sure that it’s absolutely crystal clear here. Like we all know that we should be doing one on ones. I think a lot of leaders think that it’s kind of a bothersome aspect and doing it once a week is probably not necessary. They also think probably twice a week as much, even a month. But you’ve got a rhythm that you do what? What’s specific about the rhythm that makes it work?

Chris Jacob [16:10]
Sure. So with respect to the cadence in terms of how frequently Are you meeting with someone? I think they’re the approaches. How senior is this person? How independent can they be? And so if you’ve got someone where you’re going to need constant interaction, maybe they’re a little bit newer to the organization or to their role in the company, you might want to have more frequent meetings. And then where you’ve got sort of someone who’s more experienced, and the frequency of these meetings can be a bit less, then you dial that down. So it’ll be for us, I find it to be once a week, or once every other week, General sort of cadence that we see for these ones on one meeting.

Commercial [16:46]
Now, Chris just talked about one on one meetings. Now I want to make sure that I share my insight behind this because you want to make sure you have the right kinds of meetings. It’s not just one kind of meeting. One kind of meeting is you know, check, check. what they’re doing and where they’re going, and maybe it’s goal setting, and all of the things that they have their agenda. But you also want to have a meeting that really does give you insight to how the organization is growing and how it’s really how you can make some changes. You would call this the stay conversation. One of them pieces to that is really about you know, what’s going on in their personal lives really connecting with them on a personal level, taking notes behind it, a lot of people are afraid to take notes. If you want to also take it to the next level. You know, ask questions around you know, what can we do to improve the culture here? What can we do to improve leadership? What do you need to perform at a higher level, take more ownership of your work? If you want some details behind that, just go to This is the stay framework conversation. So just go to Stay back to the interview with Chris.

Gene Hammett [17:54]
And I love the part that you have the employees bring their own agenda. So is there a timeframe that you’ve set to this? Or is it? Is it just a structure that they need help with?

Chris Jacob [18:07]
Sure. So the way we instruct there is, you have to have the agenda in advance of the meeting. And then it depends on what those topics are going to be in what’s going to be discussed. If it’s something that requires the manager’s review and comment, then you’ve got to do it 24 hours in advance of the meeting. If there’s no need for review and comment, it’s simply going to serve as the checklist of the items to be discussed, then that can happen that that agenda can go out anytime.

Gene Hammett [18:36]
Well, I love that you have all of these very clearly defined as a way to create this continuous improvement in the organization. Have you made any mistakes in this journey? I know there’s probably a lot to answer because I can tell by your smile. What’s one that comes to mind that really helps you maybe move forward and find something that will work better?

Chris Jacob [18:59]
Sure. So I think when we first launched our test it was perfect again, we have this at home DNA test that determines Speedo sex at high accuracy. The first version of our test worked extremely well in controlled laboratory conditions. And then when we put it out into marketing in users’ hands, user error started to create that. And for us, that was difficult. So we had to quickly work to eliminate the potential user error that existed in the early version of our test. You know, Reid Hoffman from LinkedIn, right has this famous quote about if you’re not embarrassed about the first version of your product, you’re probably launching too late. And, you know, some people I think, misinterpret that to me, it’s okay to put out a bad product.

You know, I don’t think that’s what she was getting at. I think that you come out with the best product and you have the resources to produce, it still has to serve the customer and provide real value to them. And it should also a tool that you use to get good feedback from your customers. So I think we did that I think we accomplished those things. We were providing good value, we did get good feedback. And then we were able to make constant improvements to bring the product to the condition.

Gene Hammett [20:15]
I appreciate you making that clarification. I’ve heard this quote by Reed Hoffman. And obviously, you don’t want to put out something that’s subpar and embarrassing, but you do want to put out something that you can get feedback on, which I appreciate you sharing that story with us, Chris, I really would like to thank you for being on the show, sharing your wisdom and really helping us understand how to create more of a continuous improvement organization.

Chris Jacob [20:41]
Thank you, Gene. I appreciate you having me on your show.

Gene Hammett [20:43]
What a fantastic episode. I really love the fact that he was very sharp with those answers. He’s got some media training behind him. And I really appreciate us going into the depth of the three core areas of continuous improvement. If you want to create this environment, then you can model off the success of gateway genomics.

And Chris Jacobs is created and shared with us today. Hopefully, you’re getting as much out of these interviews as I do. I’m taking notes. If you’re watching on the video, you actually see me writing down things. But I really would love for you to share this with one person that you know, could get some benefit out of it that wants to be a better leader that wants to create fast growth. That’s what I do. I help leaders really be the kind of leaders that create the kind of growth not because out of the sheer hustle, but out of clear strategy and career culture development. Now, here’s the final thing I’ll say today is really appreciate you listening here. I really appreciate you tuning in. And as always be with courage. We’ll see you next time.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


GTT Featuring Chris Jacob



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