Storytelling about LifeGuides with Derek Lundsten

Welcome to the Use Case Podcast, episode 74. This week we have storytelling about LifeGuides with Derek Lundsten. During this episode, Derek and I talk about how practitioners make the business case or the use case for LifeGuides

Their technology matches people going through a life challenge or life opportunity with a peer mentor to help them through it. Derek is an expert in intelligence assistance and his passion for the concept of business as a force for a good really comes through during the podcast. 

Give the show a listen and please let me know what you think.

Thanks, William

Show length: 30 minutes

GEM Recruiting AI


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William  00:25

Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the Use Case Podcast. Today, we have Derek on from LifeGuides. We’re gonna learn all about LifeGuides. Derek, do us a favor, do the audience a favor and introduce yourself and introduce LifeGuides.


Derek  00:41

Hey, William, thank you. So I’m Derek Johnston, President, and CEO of LifeGuides. LifeGuides is a platform for caring people to do extraordinary good. And the way it works is we’ve built a technology platform that matches someone who’s going through a life challenge or life opportunity. So consider, you know, caring for aging parents, or a sudden change in your job situation, or a positive one becoming a new parent. There are lots of challenges mental, emotional, spiritual challenges that come with that.

The idea is that the technology pairs you with a peer mentor, someone who’s already had that same experience something very similar, they’ve literally walked in your shoes. And they are now on the “other side.” And in doing that process, they’ve developed the tools, resources, networks, relationships that can be helpful and shared with someone earlier on the path so that you can have a happier, healthier, more productive life.

And so that’s the core product, the core idea. And the business model is such that we’re offering this to organizations, to conscious leaders, to conscious companies, who recognize that the time is now to provide services and products for their people that address their well being, address their needs, whether they’re at home or at work, or the intersection of those identities, which is become very evident over the last year.

And making sure that, you know, no one has to struggle and suffering struggle or suffer in silence, but they get the care that they need when they need it personalized to them and facilitated by the technology. So that’s a quick overview of LifeGuides.


William  02:04

I love it. Let’s dig in. So does HR view LifeGuides as an EAP, where it’s a perk or something that they offer – or service that they offer to their employees, where you can take advantage of it or not take advantage of it?


Derek  02:23

So a couple parts. That’s one, I think companies do naturally look to qualify something in general. And so understanding seeing it as an HR benefit, or a perk, I think is a common area where we’re, we’re reviewed. But it’s it’s more than just that right, especially over the last year, you know, it’s really all the topics that we’re supporting are strategic issues, right. So homeschooling and time management and you know, prolonged stress management from quarantine, those are bubbling up and mental health broadly is bubbling up as an issue that CEOs are wrestling with.

And so that’s coming up right now is a very important topic in the moment. And from as far as your question on EAP is, we can supplement an EAP, we can be an add on to EAP. We have some clients that see us as the next generation of what the EAP was intended to be. Right and, and I can talk a bit about how the business model is quite different. But at the core, it’s about providing a service that helps people and you know from our perspective, EAPs probably started out with well intention, but they become more about risk mitigation than anything else at this point.

And the incentives to provide care are such that we’re changing how the pricing model works in the industry, so that people are paying and receiving value for what they’re paying for, as opposed to the traditional model. And so I think that’s something that we over time, we see our utilization rates, being at 100%, right, that anyone can use a guide, whether you’re in a really challenging situation, or again, you just want to grow, you want to develop new skills, you want an accountability, buddy, the idea is that by quote-unquote destigmatizing need for support. Period. More people will seek it out and receive it when they need it, especially.


William  04:07

I like the phrase, the next generation EAP or the next generation of that type of service. Take us into that model. We only have to go into history. Let’s just talk about your model and lifestyle life guides model in the way that you work with employees. 


Derek  04:22

Yeah, so a big part, I mentioned the technology. So we’ve trademarked this concept called intelligence assistance, right? So it’s the inverse of artificial intelligence or artificial intelligence machine learning but designed specifically for augmenting the human capabilities of rapport, empathy, trust-building, and knowledge sharing, right.

So basically saying, we can personalize a guide mentor for you, and personalized content for you relative to the profile that we understand the information that you shared, your habits of consumption and interactions with guides and keep in mind, it’s all confidential, but we’re looking at deanonymized data or anonymized data. gives me that allows us to kind of learn about the utilization patterns. And, and then we can build an entire community essentially, of guides.

And those people are everything from educated social workers and therapists to positions to executives of companies, to employees who want to have a side opportunity to contribute to the lives of better older people, to stay at home parents to retirees, right, anyone can be a guide, in theory, so long as you learn the lessons, and developed the resilience and the skills and tools that can be shared.

And that’s part of our process for screening. And then we as an organization provide a credential. We provide training content and an educational framework, we provide ongoing educational development that can be used for upscaling and cross-skilling and, you know, helping people work to prepare for a workforce of the future, where they are being in service to other people, and being able to receive, you know, a benefit themselves in helping others. And so we’re really looking at this new model period of crowdsourcing information, caring at the center, distributed through business as an enterprise as, again, business as a force for a good concept, and leveraging technology in a way that’s disruptive and personalized to a member.


William  06:20

So COVID sped up a lot of things that were probably yes, happened. This, this seems to be, again, the silver lining of COVID is that we’re a bit more empathetic, or where we’ve learned that work can be done in different ways. But it’s also presented, as you said, at the very beginning, a number of different life challenges.

So how do you- I mean, the ecosystem of life changes, like, you’re adding to that probably daily terms of what we don’t know, and what could be a new life challenge. So how do you keep track of that? And how do you kind of keep continue to innovate and add different life challenges, but also the mentors and people that might have those challenges?


Derek  07:05

Absolutely. So that goes back to the intelligence assistance aspect, right. So everything is being “tagged,” right. So the topics that are being requested, the topics that are being shared by guides on their unique, unique life experiences, the interactions that take place between members and guides and format. Whether it be video calls, or phone calls, or message conversations or small groups that are facilitated or content that’s relevant to different topics.

All that information is tagged, so the metadata that’s being processed, and as we continue to collect more and more information on these different pieces, that all informs how we build up the supply side, so to speak, right, because that’s the cool thing. What we found is even prior to COVID, but now especially through the pandemic, there’s a lot of people, there’s, there’s a massive, so I want to help other people, right, that’s the beauty of what we’ve had humanity is that even in the midst of this really challenging time, people want to help others that your exact point, the empathy factor is there.

And there’s a huge need for people to provide care to others and for people to receive that care. And so we’re just creating a platform that facilitates that relationship facilitates those connections. And to your question or comment, when one of the benefits beyond just the direct, you know, content or knowledge sharing, is that relationship, right? It’s that opening up to the isolation and the loneliness that people are feeling and allowing them to connect with, someone almost feels like a friend, but who understands them and who’s not personally a part of their lives, they can be a bit more open, a bit more, a bit more vulnerable, and sharing was that whatever’s on their mind or their spirit. 


William  08:40

So people will ask and wonder, workflow-wise, where does this sit? And is it connected to other HR systems?


Derek  08:49

Yeah, so that’s a great point, we’ve intentionally kept it outside of the organization. So LifeGuides, it’s its own LifeGuides ecosystem that sits outside of an employer, we control, for lack of a better term, the access to the platform, that’s intentional, right, so that goes back to preserving the confidentiality and the intentions that we do provide utilization reporting, and when confidentiality can be assured of the members will provide population type of data, right?

So for example, we could provide, you know, a whole as an organization, these are the top 10 topics that an employer has an organization that could then form their benefits or other strategies, they might have worked if it’s large enough, and there’s enough information to confirm that anonymity. Again, we could provide even location based data, right and say that in this particular facility, these are the topics that are coming up in this area.

And you can imagine there are lots of geographic differences in how people even, you know, connect, if you’ve used to go after the, you know, the power loss in the storms in Dallas, right? That’s a unique situation that was happening there that may not be happening in other places in the country. Right. And so it allows organizations to be more nimble and responsive to the need or challenge at the moment.


William  10:02

So, thankfully, again, a silver lining of COVID, we’re talking about mental health more often publicly talking about mental health, which is nice. And some of the stigma or taboo is, is being stripped away of things like depression. Yes. Which is nice, you know, and again, 30 years too late, but it’s, it’s, it’s glad we’re here. And we’re talking about those things. But there still are some things that are, as you well know, are rather taboo.

So again, how do you deal with men and we might not deal with it, but like, incest and rape and drug abuse? And, you know, family abuse, physical abuse? Yeah. Like, how do we deal with some of our do we deal with it? I shouldn’t say it’s not assumptive, about LifeGuides. But what about those things that still are really taboo?


Derek  11:00

So let me answer that question in two ways. I know, it’s a very powerful question, but it really hits home. So let me answer from a life guide standpoint, we have parameters around the legality, particularly with things that relate to harm of self or others, and, and the legality of that. So we have an escalation process that we’ve built into the platform that addresses the addresses that


William  11:27

I’m thinking about suicide. 


Derek  11:27

Exactly, yeah, exactly. So that or the topics, you know, child abuse or abuse, those that those types of things are their use cases, or, you know, cases that are, they’re independent, they kind of that we have to triage, and they have to run through the process that we identified, and that’s continually evolving, right? On a moral level.

This is so -take my LifeGuides hat out for just a second. As I think it’s important, this is bringing up the underlying issue, right? What are those? What is that a symptom of right? Why are those events happening? What is unhealthy in a person, or in our society, that that is the external expression of the pain that people are experiencing? Right? 


William  12:10

And so you’re looking for the root causes? 


Derek  12:15

Exactly. And so does this, was it? This is more of a question, right? But this is something we want explore over the next 20 years? Can we learn more about the psychology and the mental, spiritual, emotional alignment of people in such a way that we can move truly to preventative care?

Can we learn more about “unique” populations of people, geographic issues, backgrounds? Can we use data more effectively to preempt or to address these types of things? systemically? Right, I mean, that’s a question. I don’t know the answer. But as a whole, it’s an aspiration that we have. So I think at least we’re starting the conversation around it.


William  12:54

Yeah. And I love that. And again, there’s going to be things I love the way that you bifurcated. There are things that are illegal, that we need to get other people involved in. And then there are things that obviously, we’ve got guides that can help them and mentors that can help them. So when you’re talking to a CFO, yeah, which is, you know, CFOs, or they get a kind of a bad they get kind of a bad name, but their job is, you know, to make sure that the company is financially stable.

So yes, you know, that’s kind of their job. But they do get kind of routed into that, you know, is this a nice to have or need to have, like, you know, and to me, you one of your cases is productivity. I know that there’s a bunch of other cases, right, you know, there’s moral, there’s ethical, there are all kinds of, you know, me being just a good company.

But again, some to somebody that’s just staring at a spreadsheet. And they’re spending X number of dollars on something. They’re gonna want some form of return. It could be unclear math, but they’re gonna want to at least know that there’s some type of return. Yeah, you have that conversation with folks. Yeah. So it might not just be CFOs, by the way. Anybody that cares about those types of things?


Derek  14:17

Yeah. So the answer, let me answer that question in two parts. So one, in this model of post-pandemic, commerce, I’ll call it. And it’s not going to be a one-year process, but let’s call it that over the next decade or two. That comment that you made about companies doing the right thing, being moral being examples of good community stewardship, and values and people care, I don’t think is a, let’s just kind of put that second-tier.

I think that’s going to continue to become a major driving force in how people choose what companies they want to work with, how people choose what companies they want to transact with, how people choose to spend their time, money, and resources and that is a shift that we’re experiencing the very beginning of and I think that the last how companies respond over the last 12 months is going to ripple for the next 10 years. That’s going to have a whole impact on talent retention, recruitment, incentives.

And just overall to your comment, reevaluating how budgets are allocated, especially around benefits period. Right. So I think that’s, I don’t want to discount that. So I think that’s the first piece to your more immediate question about, okay, how do we, how do we show an ROI? Now? How do we justify an investment now? You’re exactly so I can share all kinds of data around why it’s important, but we’re actually putting our “money” where our mouth is, with certain clients of ours, we are actually taking on the financial burden, if you will, our responsibility is better, showing the value that we’re bringing in terms of outcomes, the organization, whether we work with companies to identify what those are.

So whether it be, you know, maximizing the investments they’ve made in traditional benefits or other products, whether it be a reduction of hospitalizations, or mental health claims, or other benefits that are lost to waste, or other mis tagging parameters, whether it be actual productivity measures around engagement, or presenteeism, or you know, other pieces that are driving direct revenue or savings, whether it relates to just overall well-being scores, whether it relates to other, you know, we’re quantifying all that.

So we’re identifying these projects, with these companies, and we’re doing long-term, you know, multi-year evaluations and benchmarks of the impact that’s having across different topics and across the different measures. So we’re quantifying that very intentionally. Because I think that it also will support as we talked about that bigger macro issue, that companies that are doing good and doing well, concurrently will be the market leaders of the near term future.


William  16:56

So candidates that are looking at jobs, if you know, again, customers that are using LifeGuides, should they put this in their job descriptions, so that they talk openly about, you know, again, to two candidates that don’t know them from Adam? And that they want to bring onboard? Should they? How should they market life guides to not just employees, we can talk about that, but also to candidates, people that don’t know them?


Derek  17:25

Yeah, I think I think it shows again, back to this concept. We’ve trademarked this idea of the kind of the pioneers of cultures of caring, I think that that does differentiate them and say, Hey, we are this is beyond traditional benefit. This is about a community, right, this is about creating human values and human-centered workplaces and employers. Right.

So I do think that being sharing that with candidates is an important piece. I think, also keep in mind, a number of candidates, hopefully, will be guides, right? I mean, I think I told you this before; our long-term mission over the next 15-20 years is to have a million trained guides worldwide. Right?

So I mean, we’re creating economic viability and employment itself, just by being good caring people, and good, you know, responsible people and learning and applying the lessons of life in a way that supports others. So it’s really is creating a whole model of reciprocity. And employers have the opportunity to play a role in that transformation. Right. So I think they need to be sharing that, to your comment, William. 


William  18:20

It’s funny, because you know, there’s a concept in PR, and it’s called goodwill. And I learned this at Eaton Corporation when I was there. And essentially, it’s like, why does, why does Eaton sponsor the local softball team in Nebraska, or Lincoln, Nebraska. And one of the reasons that they do that outside of altruism is, is that at any point, something could go wrong.

And they want to have enough goodwill built up in the community to then be able to make up for his for mistakes that might get made. And so you know, there’s this is it’s an interesting concept, but I had to get my brain around. 


Derek  18:59



William  19:00

Like, why would you do this? I don’t understand, like, Why would you do this as a corporation? And spend money in this way. But it’s been that way for that reason, for both the ultras, and philanthropy, philanthropy and things like that. Yeah. community partners, but also to create goodwill with community. 


Derek  19:19

Take it a step further. Right. What extension of that you described as trust? Yeah, right. That’s the like, what you’re really creating is a sense of trust between the stakeholders, and a sense of forgiveness when things don’t go optimally, because that’s inevitable, right? And the goodwill is designed to be a bridge on those moments where there’s greater vulnerability and a need to lean into the relationship based on the mutual investment. It’s taking place over time.


William  19:46

So let’s take that as a backdrop to LifeGuides. Are we doing this for all the right reasons, right for not just the altruism and treating employees as human beings You know, all that type of stuff? But are we also trying to build some trust with employees?


Derek  20:06

Yes. Simple answer. Full stop…but I don’t mean full stop on all questions. 


William  20:11

Yeah. So so how do we get them over the first hurdle? So when you first onboard clients, and you know, this is “News,” so you sell it. And we own I want to ask you a couple of questions on the sales front, but when you sell it, okay, now you got the sale and you implement it? How do you get employees over that first hurdle of using it?


Derek  20:32

So that is the single biggest factor, right? Because that’s your comment, what we’ve shown that once people go over that first hurdle, they love it, right? They will book more sessions, they will share it with their friends and family, they will share it within the stories. Right.

So that’s the first piece and there’s – there are multiple factors about why I think that’s hard. But are we have a whole, you know, model of different engagement methods, educational methods, we’re applying around making people aware of it, understanding the value, and personalizing understanding what motivates someone and when to have that first interaction?

Or alternatively, why do they get to the point? You know, it’s like, if ever been cliff jumping, it’s like they get to the edge, they’re about to jump. Why do they pull back in fear, right, what parallel is taking the next step. And that’s a big part of the work that we’re doing now. Because we it goes back to once people do move past, we had a client the other day, we were on with their whole executive team, who talked about the bravery that it took to have that first conversation, right, because they don’t know what it is, they don’t know who this person is. They don’t, they don’t know they can be open.

But they find what they see in the mirror of their own humanity. They see a person who knows what they’ve been through who’s experienced it, and they there that that got that same point of trust, that we just talked about, they feel that they experience it. And that creates that empathy that creates that trust, that creates the openness to explore the relationship. And we’re just creating that opportunity at scale for people that, you know, have been feeling for a long time that they don’t have a voice, or they’re not seen, or they’re not invited, or they don’t belong, for whatever reason.

And so that’s what we are doing. I mean, that’s really, you know, I think early on. So, you know, I, before I had been in the CEO role, I had been one of the early, early investors in the company, because when I saw this was the idea, it’s the business of empathy. And when I say not the bit, not the monetization of that busy, it’s the business of using a platform to accelerate empathy. Right. It’s about creating that as a movement amplifying that need. And we’re hearing a lot about that we’re right now, because of what’s happened over the last 12 months. This was four years ago, we were doing this.


William  22:42

Right. But again, that’s the good news is is you spent all that time getting it ready and prepped and getting it, you know, proof of concept and MVP, and all of that stuff. And then COVID hits and speeds the business up. Yeah. Because we come out the other side of COVID we’re different. Well, you know, whether or not we like it or not for who we we’ve been, we’ve been changed because of this experience.

Three questions left. One is when you demo LifeGuides to HR, or even business leaders. What what what do they stick up on? What’s the thing that they like, really love about LifeGuides?


Derek  23:24

They love that they can imagine themselves as a as a guide or as a person seeking guidance. Right? That’s, that’s where I think this is different than other benefits. You have HR leaders. Right? So we just released the PR yesterday afternoon. And then we’re, we’re opening up an office in Miami, Florida. There’s a lot of buzz going on down there. The mayor of Miami actually said to us, I want to be a guide, right? I can I can be a guide. And he meant it sincerely, right.

And when you talk to CEOs, we talked to major leaders in this organization. And they had the same reaction, which is I want to be a guide because I I know what it was like to be in that situation. And I didn’t have the answers. It’s a totally different experience as a human need. Right, not as multiple human needs. It’s it’s the need for providing certainty and clarity its need for understanding of diversity of life. It’s the need for love and connection. It’s the need purpose and contribution. It’s the need for you know, belonging to that community.

All of this is being nurtured through life guides, and that that connection that people have as a human being to another human being is happening regardless, but that’s the amazing part. 


William  24:34

I love that. I love how – just to be able to see yourself there – in one way or another either I’ve been through that – have been in a car accident and I know what that’s like. Yes, you know, whatever the trauma, drama life events, however, however it gets phrased people have been through experiences and can help in and they know more than they think about getting through those experiences. And so I love that they can see themselves either using it.

Because they’re going through something. And again, we go through these these traumas, or life experiences as you phrase them, we go through these things pretty quietly. You know, I mean, there might be, you know, like I was in a car accident in 2016. My family knew, my wife knew, my kids knew, my immediate family knew, my business partners knew. Outside of that, no one else knew. Right? For months, if not years, because I just chose to kind of keep it private.

But and I think a lot of people have those types of things going on, again, on the positive sides, kids graduating and going to college and having a baby or getting engaged, whatever. So I love that. Give us give us an idea of not not the dollars and cents, but your pricing model, like how do you go to market, how do you how do you approach pricing?


Derek  25:59

Yeah, so two parts. So we are in a state of I’ll call our introductory period, where we’ve essentially come at a price parity point to traditional benefits of the EAP space, for example, right? So and we’re showing a tremendous amount of more value, relative to that in terms of the that the depth and breadth of service, the experience, the technology, the quality, all these different pieces.

And we’re and we’ve told our clients that this is a period of time for us to learn the patterns of utilization, the supply and demand of the guides, optimization of all the personalization we talked about to get rid of, they’re going to scale globally. And the process that we’re going to go through then is to invert this to a utilization and value-based partnership-driven pricing structure where people are paying for service relative to quantifiable metrics that are being achieved, or services being rendered or partnerships that are being you know, vetted.

And so that’s where our disruptive pricing is going to change the industry from that standpoint. So if you look at the PEPM model of EAPs, for example, where the nationwide rate of utilization is 3%. And we’re, we’re coming out of the gate, triple that, for example, right, and our long term model is to get to 100%, we’re going to charge only on value received, so that there’s no to your point about the CFO, they’re only paying for what they receive and use.

And they’re going to do that because they’re willing to see the benefit. It changes the whole framework on that. So we’re changing the game on how pencils are priced.


William  27:32

I love that. And again, it’s consumption. I love that and it’s based on Hey, if they don’t consume, then that they’re not going through those issues or and or they don’t need that help and are the correct, love the last thing before we roll out? What else should we know about LifeGuides?


Derek  27:49

The mission is huge, right? I mean, I think that’s the important thing, right? This is the long-term goal. When we started, we invested this was to impact a billion people’s lives over the next 15 years. right to reduce their unnecessary struggle and suffering to help them with happier, healthier, more productive lives. Right.

The goal is a human need, we’re a public benefit corporation. Right? So we’re taking a virtue almost, and what we’re trying to do is create more connection, create more love, create, maybe understanding between people, but we’re leveraging business as the model to create that change. And so when you work with us, organizations work with us, they are creating the future, literally, right?

They’re creating a more healthy, sustained world, a world where people are at greater rapport and connection understanding with each other, and where we’re creating economic and developmental opportunities in both developed and emerging markets. I love it.


William  28:48

I love it. Brother this was great. We could go on for another hour. But we’ll save that for part two. Awesome. Thank you so much.

I know it’s early for you. But thank you, thank you for the time and the energy and just a good really, really good use of of just, you know, corporate energy. So I love what you’re doing, and very supportive. And thanks for being on the Use Case podcast.


Derek  29:12

Thanks for hosting me. Always a pleasure talking to you, William. 


William  29:14

Absolutely. Until next time. Thanks to everybody for listening.

The Use Case Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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