I’m in my twenties, and (surprise, surprise!) have a lot of friends and professional acquaintances who feel like their career story thus far is disjointed. I’ve been reflecting on this lately, and often find myself citing Sunny Williams as the person who can give us all hope that someday things will fall into place.
Sunny has worked as a teacher, a short films producer, and an attorney at a law firm. These are three seemingly unrelated jobs, but Sunny is leveraging all three skill sets as the founder and CEO of a startup, Tiny Docs, with a very bold mission. Sunny is working to improve the healthcare experience for an important group of people: kids.
Tiny Docs: Making human-centric healthcare information for kids
Tiny Docs produces short, animated cartoons to explain health concepts to kids. The videos are intended to talk about health topics in a way that kids will understand and feel comfortable with. The videos feature a regular set of characters, all of whom are very carefully designed to feel trustworthy and approachable for kids. Sunny’s goal is to create a repository of content in which characters that kids regularly see and trust explain basic healthcare concepts.
In practice, Tiny Docs utilizes a board of certified pediatricians, pediatric nurses, and psychologists who vet and help to prioritize all topics and content that is converted into a cartoon. Beyond this board of experts, Tiny Docs uses a “kids brain trust”—basically, a crew of kids—that reviews the content and gives feedback on everything, from the characters’ appearances to their behavior. As Sunny put it, “The kids are brutal when they evaluate the quality of the content and the characters, but their input is critical for us.”
This is one of my favorite things about Tiny Docs: As a start-up, they are putting principles of user experience and human-centered design at the heart of their process for designing products.
But how do they make any money?
There’s an answer to this question, and it’s brilliant. Tiny Docs is creating a library of content that partner organizations can pay a small subscription-based fee to access. These partners may include private practices, hospitals, other healthcare centers, and even schools. And these organizations are willing to pay for the subscription because in many cases, they just don’t have a collection of kid-friendly video demonstrations and educational materials.
In short, Tiny Docs is creating Netflix for healthcare education. Not only does this approach generate revenue, but it also enables Tiny Docs to reach their target audience through channels that already exist instead of having to build direct connections with families from scratch.
Getting started: From corporate lawyer to startup founder
So how did all of this come to be?
A few years ago, Sunny was a law attorney in Chicago. He had always pictured himself living a big, meaningful life from the time he was little, despite not really knowing what that meant. As an aside, this sounds a lot like my friends mentioned in the intro of this blog post. Maybe we should all throw caution to the wind and start something of our own. Back to Sunny though…He knew he wasn’t living that life—a life of passion and fulfillment. He took time to reflect and think about where his skills and talent intersect best with the needs of society.
In doing this, Sunny found himself thinking a lot about his childhood. One particular experience stood out for him.While playing basketball, he got poked in the eye and damaged his eye pretty significantly. He remembers being anxious and confused in the hospital, in the company of anxious and confused parents. The doctor’s explanations and the nurse’s informational pamphlet didn’t actually make much sense to him. Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar in your own life.
This is the memory that led to Tiny Docs, and it was bolstered by Sunny’s awareness that many of his friends who are now parents themselves witness similar challenges when they are at the doctor with their children.
Fast-forward back to Sunny’s life as an uninspired attorney. He knew what issue he wanted to solve—he just needed to figure out the right way to do it. In early 2015, he coordinated a Kickstarter campaign and was able to form and operationalize Tiny Docs as a start-up at the end of it.
Tiny Docs began as a responsive website where visitors could watch videos on topics of interest, and now Sunny’s team is working on a mobile application so kids and parents can access content on-the-go. But in many ways, Tiny Docs is still in the discovery phase as a start-up. Sunny asks a lot of questions, coordinates with partners, and looks to identify all of the potential applications for Tiny Docs. He originally dreamed up Tiny Docs to help explain surgery to kids, but there is potential to cover seemingly limitless topics that are relevant to his target audience.
It takes a great team to get it right
Developing content that teaches children about health is a big responsibility. Sunny and his team need to make sure that every detail is correct and easy to understand. “We have to come from a position of incredible curiosity, and ask every relevant question to make sure each video is the best that it can be.”
Even from the beginning, Sunny was conscious of this responsibility. In starting out, he created a list of “superpowers” that Tiny Docs would require in its team members in order to succeed. He thought of his own strengths, including experience in entertainment law, animation, and teaching, and then added team members to complement him.
Ultimately, Sunny assembled a team that supports Tiny Docs from multiple locations across the United States. And while they may be a small, remote team, they are already seeing evidence of their impact. In the last year, they’ve received very personal, uplifting, and heartwarming notes from kids and parents who have watched Tiny Docs content. For Sunny, it is amazing to see kids enjoying, trusting, and learning from the characters.
“We didn’t know how people would respond to the videos,” Sunny explained. “That’s the nature of the art, right? The small details take a long time to get right, and you still don’t know with certainty how people will react. To see them respond favorably is a huge relief and also deeply gratifying.”
Words for the World
“I just want folks to be kind to each other. At Tiny Docs, we work around kids a lot. We see their goodness and how they spread goodness. They are so good-hearted and kind to each other the majority of the time. I wish more adults would allow that value to lead them in life. I hope this message will become contagious, because I don’t think we were very kind to each other in 2016. Hopefully it’ll be a better year for kindness.”