MO Studio: Our Founders Story

MO Studio

November, 2016. Los Angeles.

MO Studio, a boutique innovation and strategy consulting firm that aspired to connect the multi-disciplinary creative talent in Los Angeles to solve big hairy problems using Human-Centered Design, was newly created and our founder Jeff had just experienced the VA’s healthcare system for the first time. The actual care he received was exceptional, however, the overall experience and barriers to gaining access to care fell far short of his expectations. He wondered how the same VA system that has trained world class caregivers for decades could be the same system that required him to fly from Los Angeles back to Seattle (where he lived during his service and immediately after) for a doctor’s appointment simply to confirm the injuries he sustained while serving. Two years later, before he was able to schedule a needed appointment, he had to hand-deliver his paperwork (DD214) to a local VA facility in Long Beach, CA to validate ‘he is who he says he is’. All before he could get his first appointment to see a health provider.

This is all wrapped around the simple fact that Jeff had been using VA services (education benefits via the GI Bill) since his separation in 2010. After this, Jeff knew that the Veteran experience needed to be improved. Although inconvenient, Jeff was well aware that he had the resources and ability to fly and drive around to meet these check the necessary boxes to gain access to healthcare. However, being empathetic to the neediest of Veterans, Jeff knew that some Veterans would not be able to do that. He didn’t want Veterans to carry the burden of following the complex processes and requirements and/or formalities of the VA healthcare system. As a result, he was driven to address the root of the problem at the VA itself and how MO Studio could help.

Jeff enlisted in the Air Force out of high school in May 2003 and started his career as a loadmaster on the C-17A. He spent nearly the next decade on an amazing adventure that would take him around the world and back.

Graduation from basic training at Lackland AFB, TX (left); Escaping the enemy at SERE school at Fairchild AFB, WA (center); Graduating Loadmaster training at Altus AFB, OK (right)

He accumulated over 2,500 flight hours, operated 250+ combat missions, and supported a wide range of non-combat missions, such as the National Science Foundation in Antarctica, humanitarian relief in Asia, and presidential support in Africa.

Getting a little R&R during a deployment to the Manas AB, Kyrgyzstan (top left); A quick trip to Bagram AB, Afghanistan for breakfast with colleagues (top center); Work and study break on a tour outside of Turkey (top right); Operating presidential support missions into Africa wearing civilian clothes (bottom left); Returning Saddam Hussein’s gold plated AK47 to the Iraq Consulate for the State Department (bottom center); Supporting the National Science Foundation at McMurdo Station, Antarctica (bottom right)

Seven years in, after struggling to balance the demands of wartime operations tempo with the demands of an education, he separated from active service to complete his undergraduate studies. True to his strong sense of duty, Jeff chose to remain in the reserves — which meant flying missions to Iraq and Afghanistan on his breaks — all the way through graduation.

Being awarded as NCO of the Year his last year of active service in 2010 (left); Heading home from the office on a Saturday with enough time to see the Huskies take on the Bruins in 2013 (right)

After graduating, Jeff spent the next half decade in Deloitte’s strategy consulting practice where he served clients across industries while also finding ways to use this platform to impact Veterans on a larger scale.

Jeff and his Deloitte team getting coined by Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin E. Dempsey for their pro bono consulting work with USC CIR.

Coaching 25 of 400+ transitioning service members at Deloitte’s CORE Leadership Program

While completing an executive MBA program while working full time on Deloitte’s talent strategic priorities, Jeff discovered human-centered design. He immediately recognized its potential to transform customer experiences and change the way leaders approach business challenges. Jeff jumped into entrepreneurship together with a business school colleague and an ex-IDEO designer. They launched MO Studio.

Jeff and his MBA classmates visiting IDEO Shanghai (left); MO Studio founding partners (center); Hand drawn logo concepts on a utility bill (right)

MO Studio initially worked in higher education to improve the student experience, then moved into commercial sectors delivering dynamic projects, such as validating value propositions for emerging technologies and defining opportunities in new markets. But with entrepreneurship came the loss of corporate benefits, and thus Jeff’s first experience gaining access to VA healthcare, which catalyzed a change of direction for his life and their company.

Jeff was persistent in his follow through after his experience at the VA: he connected with the head of the Veteran Experience Office who shared with him both the initiatives occurring internally as well as all the work that still needed to be done.

Attending the Inc 5000 as a member of Inc ’s Military Entrepreneur Program in October 2017 (left); MO Studio being sponsored as a WeWork Veteran in Residence (ViR) powered by Bunker Labs in December 2017 (right)

Jeff and his team spent the better part of a 2017 learning about the VA, understanding their priorities, learning how the VA designs service delivery models, learning how federal contracting works, figuring out the ecosystem of contractors, and developing relationships with the contractors delivering the types of projects that MO Studio is passionate about. MO Studio finally got its first opportunity to deliver a human-centered design project for the VA to improve the Veterans experience. This first engagement led to another, which led to MO to shift its focus and repositioning the company to the public sector.

The VA team (Atlas Research, MO Studio, VA VE, and the Lab @ OPM) after a 2-day co-design workshop in Washington, DC

During this process, Jeff identified an opportunity to make an impact for Veterans in his own backyard at the West Los Angeles VA Campus. Jeff was honored by the opportunity to serve on a newly established Federal Advisory Committee called the Veteran Community Oversight and Engagement Board (VCOEB).

The VCOEB kickoff meeting at the West Los Angeles VA Campus in December 2017

The VCOEB was established in 2016 by statue and chartered to provide advice and recommendations to the SECVA on opportunities to improve services and outcomes for Veterans, their families, and their caregivers. The VCOEB’s aspirational mission is to redevelop the West Los Angeles VA Campus into a community in attempt to end Veteran homelessness in LA. The VCOEB and an impetus for transformation was created after a lawsuit and subsequent agreement between the ACLU and the VA. The VA is in the middle of a transformational opportunity to take an underutilized, overlooked, and massive VA campus (388 acres), in one of the wealthiest communities in Los Angeles (Brentwood), at one of the busiest cross streets in the country (the 405 and Wilshire), to address chronic homelessness for the largest Veteran population of homeless Veterans in the US (~4,000 of the ~40,000 homeless Veterans sleep on the streets of Los Angeles every single night). In an innovative public-private partnership initiative, the VA is working to redevelop the campus into ~1,200 units of permanent supportive housing for homeless Veterans.

The Barrie families story and pledge to restore five original buildings on the land that their family donated to the VA in 1887 as a “Home for Veterans”

Since late 2018, Jeff and his team decided to reposition MO Studio to focus primarily on the public sector and making an impact for Veterans. MO ’s vision is to bring a team of mission-oriented and like-minded partners together and integrate the right capabilities to improve customer experiences, service delivery, and outcomes for Veterans (e.g., reaching self efficacy post military service), their family members, and their caregivers. Jeff and the team are as passionate about solving complex challenges as they build a unique culture.

MO Studio’s global HQ in Los Angeles, CA (left); MO Studio’s spirit guides (right)

Being first and always a user-centered design firm, MO Studio designs internal teams and partnerships around a shared vision of executing the hard work necessary to gather the necessary buy-in across the VA to improve customer experiences. Knowing that this will only be effective over the long run if the VA has the right capabilities to internally drive this effort forward, MO Studio is focused on helping their customers build the internal skill sets and experiences necessary to transform culture.

MO Studio’s Vision (left) and Mission and Values (right)

MO Studio has extended this approach of enabling positive change to other public sector agencies, such as Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). MO also continues to deliver engagements for our valued commercial clients, including several who have been with us since the beginning. The team believes that private companies and government will benefit from sharing knowledge, stories, and experiences.

MO Studio’s Manifesto

Jeff’s personal mission to solve big hairy problems, his optimistic perspective that no problem is too large to overcome (as a team), and his energized, focused mindset needed to stay aligned with his lofty vision for the company can be felt as the fabric of MO Studio’s culture. When Jeff isn’t grinding it out with the team to achieve their ambitious goals, he can be found sharing his passion for HCD with students as a guest lecturer at USC, advocating for the neediest Veterans and their families across Los Angeles, engaging with the thriving Veteran entrepreneurial ecosystem across the U.S., and spending quality time close to nature with his wife and newborn son.

Completing Veterans Institute for Procurement (VIP) Grow training in Bethesda, MD (left); Completing Syracuse University IVMF GrowCo training in Dallas, TX (right)

Please don’t ever hesitate to reach out.

MO Studio

Written by

MO Studio

We design human-centered products, services, experiences and strategies, with a focus on innovations that make life better.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade