Why Stories Matter | Will Manidis

There were a lot of things we couldn’t do with our hundred pound hunk of aluminum, bolts, and old scrapped car motors; however losing didn’t seem to be one of them. They say you can’t ‘fake it ’til you make it’; however after making it to the World Championships of FRC Robotics with a dysfunctional heap of poor planning and design, I began to wonder if you really could. Our robot lurched across the field as if it was on its death bed every match, looked vaguely like a pile of scrap and had an affinity for unintentional right turns. However no matter how bad we thought we were, here we were at the World Championships; and that meant hours onto hours of individual match planning and strategy.

Nights like this became common; the three of us packed into motel rooms until late hours of the night; any view of the outside was obscured by thick velvet drapes that held back the noise of whatever city we found ourselves in that week. We had happened on what seemed like a bad idea just a few weeks ago, use a program to capture all the data from the hundreds of matches and trend it in Money-Ball style scheme to know what our competition would do before they did. By all accounts it was a horrible idea, toss enough data together and expect it to tell us something meaning. However it did, and it helped bring us to the World Championships.

We had spent many nights like this; staring at spreadsheets and trying to pick trends out of noise for hours on end, we could do it in our sleep, and in fact we often did. As the night carried on, and Roger’s english progressed deeper and deeper into Catalonian, he began to tell a story. He had lost his grandmother after a years long struggle with Parkinson’s and just couldn’t make sense of it. Had she been able actually recall how she felt in detail; maybe, just maybe the outcome would have been different, and maybe if they had taken better notice of how she was feeling they might have noticed that her medicine would wear off every third day and maybe her outcome might have been different. 

“Maybe, we can make these spreadsheets for Parkinson’s”. The assertion even seems foolish now, that our napkin-back statistical models could maybe do more then help save a failing robot, but instead save a failing treatment plan, or most foolishly a life.

I’m not sure where the burst of confidence came from; maybe it was the late hour of the night or the instant coffee but saying this was probably something I shouldn’t have. The three of us had worked together before, we had spun up a pipe dream of a startup with a team that whose size rivaled some high school marching bands, and although we failed at that venture I learned one important thing;  if anyone was going to bring this seemingly impossible task to fruition, it would be the combined brains and attitude of Roger and Rachel.

We had a simple idea at the time, provide patients a tool that would function essentially as a data driven diary. As Parkinson’s patients struggle to remember what exactly their day to day symptoms were like over the several month periods between doctors visits and as such physicians could only treat the symptoms the patient presented in front of them and not all the little things that added up in-between those visits that could be the key to making that patients life a little better.

We figured if we could somehow collect enough data, smash it together with data collected from a wearable fitness tracker, and measure medical adherence we could somehow build a picture of their disease that was better, or at least as good as, what a medically validated history could describe. The critical difference here was it was the patient telling their story, not their caretaker, not their son or daughter; we wanted to give the patient their power back.

That week we were able to spin up our first working version; Rachel designed our user interface in Powerpoint (crazy to hear that now), Roger wrote a simple data handler to try to make sense of the literal thousands of data points, and I build the algorithm to handle all this data and make sense of it. By the time we were to embark home on our 24-hour bus ride back from St. Louis we had something that felt real, however we were yet to realize how real this would become.

In the months since our little pet project has sprawled into a full time startup. We have pitched our startup to groups ranging from 80 Middle Schoolers and their parents to some of the most influential venture capitalists in the industry. We have rebuilt the foundation of the app time and time again to ensure the people our app serves can tell their stories.

Through my independent seminar I will be exploring two main areas; first the development of a medically validated algorithm that allows patients to make sense out of their disease progression, and second the business of bringing a Mobile Application to market.

I am excited to begin this journey and I hope you will stay updated with my progress. If you are interested in learning more about what we’re doing TrackYourDisease.com is the place to go.

See you all next week. – Will



6 thoughts on “Why Stories Matter | Will Manidis

  1. kevinwang11

    Wow, this is very exciting! I am an iOS developer. When ResearchKit and CareKit first came out, I was blown away. They both promise endless possibility in the field of medical care. I couldn’t possibly imagine that 1 year later, a fellow student like you would take advantage of this technology and create something that would actually benefit patients. I look forward to seeing your product on the App Store!


  2. wbdrisco

    From the beginning of the post, your writing drew me in deep and I found myself reading each line as if they were from a novel. The way you introduced your idea and product, and the idea and product themselves, were fantastic. After a certain point in the post, I thought to myself “wow, this would actually be a really good business pitch.” I have no doubt that you had something of this level or even better as your pitch however! I’m riveted to see where this leads.

  3. maxydu

    I really don’t want to begin with a “wow” or some compliments but this idea is just so brilliant. The web page looks also amazing. I’m just curious about one thing: since lots of people with Parkinson’s are well into their 50s, 60s or even older, how would you design the app so that they would be able to use it without much assistance?

  4. yanwenxu

    This is an amazing idea. I really think the Parkinson self-check is going to benefit lots of people. I’m also amazed by how you just make the idea can true. When you obtain a good idea, the first instinct is to do it.

  5. ainsleybruton

    I think one of the things that makes your project so compelling is that there are points of interest for a lot of different people. As someone who is very interested in science, I’m not as intrugued in the process of how you do what you do (although I have a lot of respect for the fact that you are doing it), but as someone who cares deeply about human lives and helping others I’m very interested in your progress. I think that power your project has will keep people coming back to what you’re posting week after week, which is really awesome.


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