Life Powered by Adaptation

Open Road — Week Four by Team OKRA

Two years ago, I volunteered for Down Syndrome Association -Turkey, where I worked with children living with the disorder. It was an eye-opening experience, which made me realize how many people around the world do not have access to technology that could significantly better their lives. This realization was the catalyst for my passion for the use of technology to empower anyone to reach his or her full potential, and ignited a change in my life and career goals.

With this mind, I want you to meet two individuals: first, meet Danielle — a writer, a sister, a loving aunt. She has Cerebral Palsy and needs a wheelchair to be mobile. Danielle uses her left index finger to control everything she does. Second, meet Wayne — a man diagnosed with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease) in 1987. He had been totally bedridden, living off on a ventilator and feeding tube since 1991. He was a champion who outlived the 3–5 years that the doctors gave to all the ALS patients because he made a choice to live.

What both of these individuals have in common is not a disability, but how their lives took an incredible turn once they met RJ Cooper. RJ is a pioneer in the field of Assistive Technology, and founded RJ Cooper & Associates, over 34 years ago. RJ is an inventor, technologist and a student of human behavior. He has devoted his entire life to creating customized software and hardware to solve the mobility, communication, and quality of life challenges faced by Wayne, Danielle, and thousands of other people living with special needs.

Team OKRA made it to Orange County to meet RJ, after driving more than 3,000 miles

Team OKRA traveled all the way to Orange County, California because we were inspired by RJ’s laser focused mission. Between the inspiration and the fact that RJ was the most mature of the companies we worked with on the road, we were faced with a challenge unlike those of previous weeks. Team OKRA had less than 2 days to absorb as much context about the company as possible before narrowing down the week’s scope.

Team OKRA AKA “RJ’s Angels” with RJ

Over these last 30+ years, while RJ has been innovating and adapting technology for his customers, he has also been forced to adapt to market changes, which have included the introduction of Apple’s iPad and the rise of larger competitors. RJ had been used to marketing his products through industry trade shows, magazine publications, his website, annual road trips across the country and word-of-mouth. Just like RJ had to adapt technology to serve his community, it was time for RJ to adapt his marketing techniques to attract a new generation of consumers and a larger community.

With this goal, Team OKRA set out to work. Thanks to Strategic Brand Marketing Professor Marcus Collins, we concluded that RJ Cooper & Associates is driven by a cause, driven by the belief that “everyone deserves the chance to learn, communicate, and thrive!”, and that this cause needs to be the focus of RJ’s messaging. We also conducted preliminary consumer research, speaking with our own family members who have worked in special education along with current users of RJ’s products (mainly Danielle Mullaney and Natalie Dragotto, mom of Gianna Dragotto). These conversations lead to a better understanding of how consumers heard of RJ and what product adoption looked like.

Natalie Dragotto with daughter Gianna Dragotto, and RJ Cooper

In just 36 hours, Team OKRA covered a lot of ground. From hour 1 to hour 12 we migrated products to RJ’s new Shopify-powered website; synthesized RJ’s passion into a cohesive Mission Statement and updated his biography on the company website. By hour 24 we were creating a social media strategy that covered both of RJ’s existing platforms: Facebook and Simply Cast, but also added new channels like Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn. Save a handful of hours set aside for sleep, in our last working moments with RJ, we drew insights from his 2016 financial statements and provided him a list of recommended next steps, as well as a list of resources that have a real potential to grow his business.

Team OKRA at lunch with RJ Cooper & Associates staff

Working with RJ Cooper & Associates, was unlike our past experiences working with large corporations, the government, and/or startups. Working with RJ showed us what it takes to keep a business going for over 30 years — it means being flexible and adapting to the market as you see it change before your very eyes. But he also showed us that one man’s passion for a greater mission can be an extremely powerful force and it’s RJ’s passion for serving people through innovation and technology that will continue to make an impact on Team OKRA, as each of us progress in our lives.

Paolo, RJ’s Shipping Clerk and Production Assembler puts Team OKRA to work