From Analog to Digital: Elevating Emotional Well-being with Cloud Innovation

A conversation with Matt Kaplan, CEO, and Eric Rice, Chief Creative Officer of The PeaceLove Foundation

How do you scale your business from an in-person analog model to potentially impacting millions of lives? Hear from Matt Kaplan, CEO, and Eric Rice, Chief Creative Officer of The PeaceLove Foundation, as they share how they made the leap to digital products in service of their mission to improve mental wellbeing through creativity and storytelling.

An audio version of this interview is also available on the Conversations with Leaders podcast. Listen by clicking your favorite icon below.

Learn how “working backwards” from the ideal customer experience led to innovation beyond what seemed possible. See the details of the conversation below:

From “proudly analog” to “dreaming in digital”

Digital experiences that build customer confidence

Ellen Cowan (00:00):
Thanks for joining us here today. My name is Ellen, I'm with AWS Innovation and Transformation Programs, and I'm with Matt Kaplan, CEO of PeaceLove Foundation, and Eric Rice, Chief Creative Officer of PeaceLove Foundation. And we're here to talk about the innovation journey to create Scribl.

Matt Kaplan (00:30):
At a high level, our mission is to help people create peace in their minds and lives. The way that we do that is we design and deliver expressive arts programs in a variety of settings. We work with kids, teens, adults, we work with schools, healthcare systems, veteran’s organizations. Again, really with the goal of giving people permission to talk about their mental health and using creativity as the catalyst to do that.

Ellen Cowan (00:58):
When we started together, there was a big challenge on the table. Can you tell us about what it was?

Matt Kaplan (01:12):
Aspirationally, we've always had big dreams of reaching millions. The need is there. There's so much need. So for us over the last 14 years, we've impacted about a hundred thousand individuals. And we're proud of that. But I think now that we've set this goal in 2024 of reaching a million people, we're on our way to doing that. Having had a successful pilot. And I think using the Working Backwards framework, we have been able to set ourselves up to reach probably many, many more millions of people.

Ellen Cowan (01:44):
Well, you have a digital modality now, right? Anybody can pick it up and use it. So now the effort is not in the human effort to get people together and do the longer interaction and train creators. You have something that anybody can pick up and use. And really, it's hard to have a limit to the scale of that. You could get to a billion. I mean basically you no longer have something standing in the way of your scale.

Matt Kaplan (02:12):
As you know, we're starting in the workplace, but there are so many applications even to be thinking about. What would a single player version look like? We talked about the different communities that have already expressed interest in this tool. So I think we'll continue to dream big and set our sights high and just continue to do the work.

Ellen Cowan (02:37):
You're becoming a company offering digital products. This is a transformation for you?

Eric Rice (02:42):
Very much so. We've always used technology in the background for databases and filming and things like that, but at no point did we ever think we were going to become a tech company. We were proudly analog. We actually told people, "Turn off your phones, turn off your laptops, get your hands dirty, make some art together," because it truly worked. But now we've had to kind of embrace the opposite of that. It's a little scary.

Working Backwards leads to an aha moment

Digital experiences that build customer confidence

Ellen Cowan (03:04):
When we first started working together, we shared a bit about our culture of innovation at Amazon, and we looked at our Working Backwards mechanism where we reframe problems through the lens of what the customers might want or need, not thinking so much about organizational goals, but more thinking about our customers. And then we work to define the most important problem to solve for those customers, and start with something quite specific as an invention that we can then test and iterate upon in order to bring a solution to life quickly. What was that process like for you, moving away from your goal to scale to a million?

Eric Rice (03:42):
Working Backwards made us completely rethink how we would scale our programs. For years, we were for everybody and anyone, but we couldn't just build bigger. We had to build smarter. And so through Working Backwards, we identified several personas. People with emotions and families and jobs, and all these things that rounded them out. And then we looked at the intersection of what do they have in common? And we found the workplace — struggles in the workplace, struggles connecting, struggles with trust. And also coming out of the pandemic, hybrid was taking over and it was a lot.

Matt Kaplan (04:18):
And we dove into this work right in the throes of the pandemic. So for us as an organization, it was actually our first opportunity to use virtual platforms. We were doing Zoom workshops, we were doing our trainings via Teams. It was our first experience of not being with people and holding people and hugging people. It was really, really different for us, and it didn't always feel great. And I think that really helped us as we got into the Working Backwards is like, "We better stretch our comfort zones here." And especially where we landed with digital first.

Ellen Cowan (05:32):
Now, I know we looked at many potential solutions, so then how do you decide what's the right thing to build once you know what the problem is?

Eric Rice (05:44):
Working Backwards really helped us define exactly the person that we wanted to serve. And then we put that idea out to all sorts of different friends, companies, partners, asking for ideas. And what we got back we were able to take a look at, reflect on, iterate on, and really refine for that segment what would be the best product to put out there.

Ellen Cowan (06:03):
What did you end up with?

Matt Kaplan (06:54):
We actually landed on something that I think we were really comfortable with, which was an analog game that would bring people together, help people connect. And that game, as much as we loved it, we're going through this exercise and we're like, "Are we going to sell a million board games? Who sells a million board games?"

Ellen Cowan (07:19):
How do we lose the scale? We've got something people love to do, everybody who sits down and does this feels great. How do we bring it into the workplace, and will it scale to a million? What's the process there?

Eric Rice (07:37):
The one nice part about the analog game is it really helped us identify the core of our modality. We ask people or we give them space to be creative, and tell us a story. And it worked as an analog game. And so when we decided to pivot into the digital game, I think we weren't as scared to approach technology like we had been in the past.

Matt Kaplan (07:57):
But it was also like there was an aha moment when, you were there, there were 20 of us around a table playing a game. And we all kind of looked at each other and I think it was Sanju said, "Well, why don't we just do this digital first?" And that sounded great. We've never done anything digital in our life. I think over the course of the next two hours, we whiteboarded how we would take an analog game and convert it to a digital product. It was fun. And we ended up selecting that as our pilot product. And we set out to build that MLP right from there.

Pilot and iterate quickly to capture vital feedback

Digital experiences that build customer confidence

Ellen Cowan (08:38):
We talk about customer testimonials and what do customers say and what do customers feel. How do customers think about this new concept?

Eric Rice (09:00):
The things that we never thought of when we put it out into the world. Companies telling us that they're having better meetings, more productive meetings. One of my favorite stories is a leader who was using it and had never heard the voice of somebody on his team before. They were always in the meeting, and they were always present, and they always got their work done, but they had never spoken up. And now those people who are never speaking up are the ones talking the most when it comes to the game.

Ellen Cowan (09:25):
So, explain a little bit what the experience is so that everybody can understand. What is it that we do together that makes people suddenly be able to engage, to feel that they're included, to have their voice heard, to feel comfortable. What is this process?

Eric Rice (09:40):
So our approach is bringing people together. And building meaningful connections. So the process is, you take out your phone, you scan a QR code, a host is running the game, a prompt hits the screen, it might be, "Blank gives me peace of mind." And everybody has 60 seconds, most people take 30. And you scribble with your finger on a phone, and it is about the process. It's not about the product. And it is fun. It is easy to engage with. And it is amazing how many barriers that breaks down. Because when it comes to sharing now, you see this cool game board, all these pieces, all this art, and then you share.

Ellen Cowan (10:57):
It's really amazing. I've done it with teams that I've been part of and I feel like we've “Scribl’ed” together. It's like we have this thing that we've done together. We're connected in that way and we learned from each other. And I also learned such interesting things about what people love and don't love about their job day to day. I mean, everybody just starts to share. It's safe to have an opinion, it's safe to share, because there's been a space held for sharing.

Matt Kaplan (11:20):
That safety piece is huge.


You build this space, you allow people to be vulnerable, and once you are allowed to be vulnerable, transformation happens."

I think, if you can do something that is already embedded in your existing workflow, it's not another thing you have to do or another meeting you have to take. And after seven minutes and you're like, "That felt good. Let's do that weekly."

Ellen Cowan (12:07):
What are some of the routines you're seeing?

Eric Rice (12:09):
We have the data in our backend, and it's fun to look at, but we as an organization, we tell stories. And so we're going out to these hosts that have been piloting the program and saying, "Tell us your stories. Tell us exactly what's happening." And what we're hearing back the most is, "It's helping my team build the emotional data set that has been missing for the past few years." And that emotional data set is necessary for things like trust and connection and just knowing your coworker as a human being, not just a little box on the screen.

Limitless scale opportunities

The path to greater conversions

Ellen Cowan (12:45):
Let's talk about scale a little bit. We were first going to serve all people, and then we narrowed down and said, "How can we focus on the adult in the workplace?" How big can that be? And how do we reach back to get as big as we can with this?

Matt Kaplan (13:05):
So the easiest way to answer that question is, I think it's limitless how many people we can reach. For us, the most interesting thing, and maybe one of the most rewarding things is when we play this game and we show it to somebody, everybody has a use case in their head. Like, "Hey, I would love to do this with my faith-based group," or "I work with veterans and this would be a great way to kick off a meeting." We work with a very large group in the mental health space and they work with underinsured or uninsured youth through schools. They're like, "Every counselor should have this game, and they should use it as their orientation for teachers." I think it could benefit any community.

Ellen Cowan (14:11):
We pick so that we can be really intentional in what we're going to build and test and iterate. And it's okay to fail if we're starting somewhere that's actionable and smaller. But the idea is of course, that we're going to look and see how big can it be, with every invention. I'm really excited to see all that's coming along.

Advice for tackling big problems

The path to greater conversions

Ellen Cowan (14:30):
Having taken this journey with us, and knowing that there are so many organizations out there that have massive challenges that they need to tackle and overcome. What advice could you give them after going through this process that might resonate?

Eric Rice (14:52):
Trust it. Trust the process. We were just talking about other segments, opening up new segments. We're going to go back and we're going to do it again, and we're going to refine the product for those segments. We now have that tool set that we learned through Working Backwards to do it properly.

Mark Kaplan (15:34):
My advice would just be you've got to take chances. Especially if you want to solve for something as challenging as mental health or emotional wellbeing, or how do you develop empathy in the workplace? These are big things. We don't get here if we aren't partnered with you guys. If we're not partnered with Slalom, if we were smart enough to know that, "Hey, we're going to need people that not only have the expertise but can actually help us build this," because as a nonprofit, you are not going out and raising substantial dollars to build a new technology product, at least in our case. So we had to be really thoughtful about how we talked about this, how we approached it. And I think it's the greatest investment that we've ever made as a company. We have the opportunity now to truly impact many, many more lives.

Eric Rice (17:22):
In the same way that we give people permission to talk about their feelings, AWS has given us permission to dream as big as we possibly could. And while that can be a little bit scary, you've been so reassuring during the process I think one of my favorite times was during the solutions workshop when I was talking to Sanju Sonny about how should we end this game? And we had an idea, and it was kind of crazy at the time. It was very much out of the realm of what we were normally doing. And I asked, I said, "Is this even possible?" And he said, "Of course it's possible." He had this little smile, and he said, "We're Amazon, we can do anything."

Ellen Cowan (17:58):
Well, with technology, we can do anything. Or almost anything. And the hard part is how do we frame the problems in the right size and shape where we know exactly what we need to go do and we can test and measure it? And how do we start with something that we could build upon? If we try to boil the ocean and take the biggest problem and have the best big idea that anybody's ever seen, the first time, and we're afraid to be wrong, that's really hard. But if we can give ourselves permission to start with something that seems actionable and then see how good we could be, we can test, improve and get there. That's not hard, that's fun.

About the leaders

Matt Kaplan
CEO & Co-Founder, PeaceLove

Matt Kaplan Co-Founded PeaceLove in 2009. PeaceLove's purpose is to empower millions of people globally to share their mental health stories and create peace of mind through expressive arts. As Chief Executive Officer Matt is responsible for overseeing the strategic vision and direction of the PeaceLove movement. Matt is an active member of HATCH and proudly serves on the Board of Directors for The Phoenix Empowered.

Eric Rice Headshot

Eric Rice
Chief Creative Officer, PeaceLove

Ellen Cowan
Innovation Programs Team Lead, AWS

Ellen helps customers, partners, and internal teams to prioritize strategic initiatives and clarify new business solutions using Amazon's distinctive customer-obsessed innovation mechanisms. With over 20 years of experience in digital technology business development and innovation, Ellen is passionate about sharing and learning from the innovation culture of AWS and Amazon, and empowering others to do the same.

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