Ruth Everard: How My World Improved When Everyone was at Home

DragonMobility is a social enterprise that provides wheelchairs with superpowers for severely disabled children. How did a life enhancing and vital service providing packages of high tech hardware and software to consumers adapt to a world where engineers could not visit their customers? She will share some observations on the positives of remote working for herself and how the past two years have created opportunities for new ways of working and thinking.

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Ruth: Yeah, I was just saying in the breakout session, I have many hats. I have a disability, that means that I can’t move. Except that I can, because I went to the right people at the right time, who gave me the technology. That meant that I could access all the mainstream things that my parents had intended me to access, right. So they, built that technology. So I’m a former lawyer. And I now run Dragon mobility. So we build that kit. Same technology, obviously, modern versions of same technology. We built over 2000 machines, for people all over the world. And that’s why I do this. So first thing, Dragon mobility, you are sending pretty high technology pieces of stuff, to people, pandemic hits, what happens because you can’t install them, you can’t.

Product Servicability.

They are traditionally a very physical piece of kit, you can’t really make someone mobile with software, and do things remotely. And but actually, we were in a very good position in the pandemic. Because we always worked on the principle that the quickest way to resolve problems for someone who’s immobile is the people who are physically with them. So all of our kit was designed to be serviceable at home. Also, one of the social effects of having a child with a disability is that often typically, Dad tends to feel very left out. Because it tends to be that mom is the one who doesn’t go back to work, she’s on maternity leave, so she stays home, dad’s supposed to be earning the money, he goes out, she’s at home with the child. Right. And so it can put quite a lot of strain. Because dads tend to want to fix things, they want to be able to make things better. And so what we did was we created a machine where you didn’t have to call an engineer out, you could if you were an accountant, or bricklayer, or, you know, you didn’t have to know anything about electronics to do the regular maintenance and repairs on the machine. Of course, when the pandemic hit, that meant that compared with our competitors, we were in a position where we’d already done remote servicing for 15 years.

Accidental Pandemic Proofing.

So we use technology, we’ve been at the cutting edge of technology, we were the first of our competitors to have a website, we used to do telephone servicing, all our machines have lots of audio indicators. So we can say: hold the phone up here it’s making a funny beeping noise, right? Hold the phone up to the to the machine. And we will tell you what that beep means. When the machine is designed the way before we got zoom or anything like that. We were doing it by phone, which meant that we were able to keep people mobile, where our competitors were saying: yeah, sorry, we can’t send anyone into your home. So that was a huge advantage. What of course it did was it put us to the test. And where we’d always had the backup of being able to do it our competitors’ way. And certainly in engineering, we were finding the things that didn’t quite work. So we applied to Innovate UK for a grant, we got a grant to redevelop the things that we had discovered needed a bit of work. So we took a number of elements on the machine, which are okay, easier to service them, and we redesign them. So we now have a machine where the gearbox servicing is that much simpler. So you can do it in the outback. You can if you’re in the outback, and you’re running your dragon, then we don’t have to send you anything special. It’s all D skilled and D tool, you can do it. You can do it with a kitchen knife, basically. Right? And, yeah, so we really kind of pivoted, well, I say we pivoted. We didn’t, we had the product that everybody needed if we were one of those lucky ones. We didn’t know we designed it for a pandemic. We designed it so that a child can go to school, two days after the chair was installed, we had one child, she wasn’t in it at the time, but her chair was hit by a Volvo. Well, and we have that machine up and running. She was back in school, she missed one day of school. Because we didn’t have to go out to them. We sent the parts they needed, we identified what they needed, we sent it. And that’s what we thought we were designing for. Turns out we were designing for a pandemic. And, yeah, that’s where we’ve got to now; we’ve got a product which is that much more robust. We’ve got people internationally, who want that kind of mobility. And they’re asking to come to the UK to get it


Mark: It’s an inspiring, it’s a really, really fascinating story. And if people want to find that absolutely go to Ruth’s website, but also then dragon mobility and a few other places. Just as an aside, I hadn’t realised that you have kissed Rick Astley.

Ruth: I have indeed kissed Rick Astley and Shamu the killer whale also.

I was in the Daily Mail. My mother dared me to do it. I was. It was a fun day for 50 disabled children. And back when I was a child in the business I used to do all our PR and stuff. You can’t do children’s wheelchairs without a child in a wheelchair. So 49 disabled kids had a great day. And I did an eight hour photoshoot. Wow. My mom dared me to kiss Rick Astley. And a Daily Mail photographer got a photo of it. And I was in the Daily Mail kissing Rick Astley, age nine.

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Online Networking.

Mark: So one of the things that when we were talking a little earlier in the year, we were talking about was how things have changed. And this really struck me as being super interesting and thought provoking and quite inspiring for people. And we were talking about how things have changed for in lockdown for you. And you’re obviously talking about some of the marketing and events and things that you used to be doing with Dragon. Let’s not get too into that. But talk about networking and things generally, because this was amazing.

Ruth: Yeah, I have to say back in 2019, at the conference, in real life. I said on stage, that if it was suddenly a level playing field, and it was as easy for me to get to meet, you get to do everything everyone else did. Just as easy, I blew everybody out the water because I have to work so much harder to achieve the same. And actually what the pandemic did was it really made me put my money where my mouth was, because all of a sudden I didn’t have to navigate into buildings, inaccessible buildings and deal with transport and find a disabled toilet and you know, all of a sudden I was nice and comfortable at home and could do exactly the same as everybody else. When I was seven, I remember saying to my dad: what I need is a robot that will go into places I need to be with a screen with my face on. And I’ll have a robot a little bit like Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, if anyone’s seen that episode, I will stay in a nice, safe place where I can be looked after and I can be comfortable. And then the robot can climb stairs and it can, it can deal with everything. And my dad said: no because how would it ever broadcast? How could it possibly broadcast? Yeah, this was mid 80s. That will never work. And of course, actually, that’s the world that we’ve had for the last few years. And so now I’m finding, I’m getting lots of emails going, yep. We’re back to in person conferencing and getting networking events again, how are you? I’m like: not for me.

That means I have to say, can you tell me what the venue is like? You know, how am I going to get there? I’ve got to get my staffing right to get me there.

My disability means everything takes me longer physically. So yeah, I said: I’ve been really busy today. I’ve been doing many, many things. I’ve been able to do that. Because I’ve been sat right here. Yeah, I think I’ve done all four of my jobs today.

Mark: So it’s really interesting. There was a line that I absolutely remember, when you were talking about your networking, and you’re like: Well, it’s been great for me, because I was excluded from a lot of networking in a way. And I think there’s something in that I think we’ve found that online is an incredibly powerful way of doing all sorts of things. What are the big differences that you’ve noticed, in the way that people do business? And I know some people are excited about going back to the office and in person and yadda yadda. But has there been a kind of a big mindset change amongst people that you work with?

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Understanding the Value of Remote Fitting.

Ruth: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, certainly Dragon. We, we struggled with people, not seeing value in remote fitting and remote measuring, assessment. And, yeah, we would then kind of spend more time with them than was really necessary in person, because they’d just done a three hour journey to get to Cambridge. So we had to give them some value, we had to kind of, yeah, we couldn’t just do the 20 minutes we needed and turn them around again. But they didn’t see the value in doing, say, an hour on a screen, where we could really get in depth and they wouldn’t have to do a whole day out of school to come for their assessment. That’s been much more accepted. And particularly, I mean, that the rehab and health and disability goods world is horrifically backwards. But that’s been much more accepted. The NHS therapists are realising that you can do it without physically being in the room. And that you can have expertise without doing a physical job. Hands on. So that’s been a huge, huge thing. And, you know, just that kind of understanding of that booking time with me. Yeah. And recognising that you can just take time to get that expertise. Yeah, and all the tools that all the project management tools, Innovate UK were incredibly impressed with the management of our project. Because we use Trello. I don’t think that Trello is particularly groundbreaking. It’s great. Don’t get me wrong. But you know, we were sharing our screen and saying here’s where we are on the project. At each update meeting. technology’s there. How you? How did we used to communicate those things? I don’t know. I can’t remember.

Mark: I think the pandemic was probably a terrible time for the shareholders of Genesis. Who are, for those of you not in the UK, basically the kind of road-warriors-lunchtime-service-station snack of choice. Clearly, a lot of things have changed. I wanted to kind of save some time for questions, and we’re going to run slightly over, but I think people will forgive me. You said you’re doing four jobs? Dragon mobility.

Mediation is a Full-Time Job.

Ruth: Yep, Dragon Mobility. Well, I’ve taken on some freelance work, which is a bit crazy, but never mind. So I’m doing some video presentation, I suppose that’s kind of those two jobs, I run a team of domestic staff, I run a team of PAs, because I can’t lift my own arms, which makes life quite tricky. So I borrow people’s arms 24 hours a day. So I have a team of fabulous young women who just keep everything working. And that is in itself a full time job. I think. I’m currently recruiting again, because they change or change over in the summer, they do a year. So where if you know any bright new graduates wondering what on earth to do with their lives, and wanting to spend a year learning how to do problem solving and adulting? We call it adulting? We just practice on that. Yeah. Yeah, so that’s, I do a little bit for the disabled community, because I’m quite good at doing the things that I do as a disabled person. So I tend to share that knowledge. But the main job of the job is my mediation. So I am very much a problem solver communicator. And it turns out, there’s a career for that. Yeah. So I used to be a lawyer. And I studied law at Oxford. I did law and I got a job in the city because it’s what all the cool kids were doing. And I didn’t actually go into litigation. Because I didn’t like it. I didn’t, I kind of, I preferred to prevent problems and solve them. And then in my business, that’s really not how lawyers should operate. Litigation is only about 10% of lawyers.

But what I found was the skills I had were good for solving problems in a more pragmatic and useful and less costly way. And so a mediator sits between two parties. And it’s a real exercise in confidentiality, because my job is to absorb all the information on both sides, understand the whole dispute, and guide people to a resolution without giving anything away to either side. So it’s a real mental exercise. And also in the pandemic, as another example, of an industry where the the establishment were convinced that you couldn’t take it online. And they were absolutely determined that you have to have two people, two parties in rooms side by side, and you’d have to have the mediator, physically shuttling back and forth, so that they are face to face and having that conversation. And that’s true. There are situations where that’s the best or the best solution. But actually, no, it’s if parties won’t travel. They don’t believe in the process to travel. They don’t want to put themselves in an environment which is out of their control. But logging in to a two hour mediation from their sitting room. Trying to keep them focused on solving the problem. And then while you’re off talking to the other party, they go and put the laundry on and someone rings the doorbell. And, you know, so you do lose that focus. But actually, it’s just a different beast. It’s not well, you can do it just as well. And actually, I offer both I do in person, I will do in person again, mediation. Because there are people who absolutely want the ceremony. They’re happy not to go to court, but they want the ceremony and they want to show up in a venue and and stare each other down. And you can like, do you want to do that? That’s fine.

What is Mediation and How Does it Work?

Mark: I’m really fascinated. So mediation, essentially, is a way of settling disputes that may be contractual or whatever, some of them will be between two corporations, quite often they’re between an employee and an employer.

Ruth: Yeah, employee-employmer is a slightly separate one. And what I do is anything that would end up in a civil court. So I mean, the most obvious one that everyone’s heard of, is Prince Andrew who has just settled. Now, if there wasn’t a mediator involved there, I would be very surprised.

Mark: God knows how they managed to get through to him.

Ruth: Yeah, so somebody whether it was the two lawyers on either side, being very reasonable and pragmatic, which is unusual for lawyers, because actually, there is an incentive to go to court, because the money you’re saving by settling is the fees for the lawyers. So you do I mean, obviously, you get lawyers have to have to act in their clients best interest. So they will be trying to settle it. But ultimately, humans are humans. And the financial incentive is the other way. Yeah, so in anything that settles, you’ve either got people on either side, being pragmatic and talking about the losses that that those parties are going to suffer. At the moment, it’s a 51 week wait in the UK, to take a small claimed. Well, you’ve got for 51 weeks, you’ve got that hanging over your business. Now, that means that with every insurance renew, with every investor discussion, every, every time you budget for anything, you’ve got to factor in this massive unknown. And you wouldn’t take your business money to a poker table. When ultimately, court is very similar to a poker table, because you can be better or worse at it. And you can have better odds or worse odds. And ultimately, you’re taking that money, and you are risking it. And not to mention, you’re sat at that table for 51 weeks. Not paying attention to your business.

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Mark: Yeah. So there’s a distraction. Well, look, I think that everybody, everybody hates going to court, there are some organisations that know all messy, a large amount of their operation is based around threatening people with legal action. And that’s an expensive process that pretty much everybody ends up ends up losing. So if, if anybody needs a decent, pretty smart, magic circle, trained mediator who knows stuff, get in touch with Ruth, I want to open up this conversation to some questions, though, because I think there’s some really interesting insights for me, I mean, but I hadn’t thought about the world being put on someone else’s level. I mean, I think there’s this kind of model of the pandemic. That was a big disaster, and it was a total shock to everybody system. And of course, there was to the majority and I think it’s fascinating to see that the good things that are coming out of that.

Ruth: Many, many disabled people just said: this is how we live. Oh, you’re having trouble leaving your house. Well, welcome to my Tuesday. I think lots of people have realised that it’s been an eye opener for a lot of people.

Mark: And it’s really clear, I think there are a bunch of things that have just changed. And quite often getting people to come to meetings has become a power move. Not a pragmatic thing. Who’s got any questions, comments? Who’s got a pending litigation that Ruth can solve in 30 seconds? Can’t see the whole screen here? Anybody got any thoughts?

Question from Audience: I have one. Yeah. Do you feel that this is basically new normal, that’s going to stay normal in regards of people not really needing to go and meet someone physically, because I feel that even though now we can move freely, right. So many people have experienced this as a liberation, especially ones who are sick of travelling, I’ve worked from home for 15 years. So I’m very, very happy for not spending time in the car 50 to 45 minutes in each direction. So and I see the exodus of people, for example, moving away from Silicon Valley, purchasing farms for less money than they need to purchase a flat for summer in San Francisco. So I think that now might be actually a sizable percentage of people who want this to be the new normal, how do you feel about that?

Ruth: I agree, I think, don’t get me wrong, I miss seeing people in person, I am not somebody who would naturally fade away the whole time on my screen. And I do think that there are advantages there are certain times when, as I said, there are mediations that will just never work on online. We are physical beings who need to be in touch with other physical beings. What worries me actually, is that the demands, the professional demands are gonna get greater, because, as I said, I used to have to work very, very hard to get to places to do things. I can now do more, because I don’t have to go somewhere physically, but so can you. And so the demands on your time, are gonna stop allowing for that travel time. They are our general business expectation has always been that that person commutes for an hour a day. Well, if you’re not commuting, that doesn’t mean you get to read your novel, sat at home until your meeting starts. Even though you’d be reading your novel on the train. That means that people are expecting you to be doing things during that time. And I do worry that the expectation, the expectations on people, given that everybody understands that we can now do things remotely, and travel time is reduced. I don’t think that time saved is going to be used for days and chocolate breaks.

Mark: Work harder, not smarter.

Ruth: Yeah, absolutely. I fear that’s what’s gonna happen. Yeah, I think there is a new normal, but I don’t think it’s the normal that we’ve become accustomed to. So I’m not sure how it’s gonna go. Yeah, you know, if there is anything, you can spend 50,000 pounds on legal fees each on litigation, if you end up in a dispute in Fast Track, called Fast Track even, and it’s the slower one than the 51 week plan. Or you can spend 1000 pounds each for a day with me and 93% of mediations settled. And if you’ve gone to mediation, then the judge will look more favourably on you. If you win and you’ve been to mediation, you will get more of your vote, you will have your costs back. So asking your opponent to go to mediation is a tactic. Even if they say no, in fact, if they do say no, you’re gonna do better in court, if I can help. If that resonates with anybody then get a hold of me privately because nobody wants to talk about it in this country.

Ruth Everard

Managing Director, Dragon Mobility

Ruth has a law degree from Oxford University and trained as a solicitor with one of the world’s largest law firms, practicing in the City in hedge funds and private equity.

It all began before she was two when her parents built a new kind of powerchair to give her the same level of mobility as other children at that stage. “From there, each developmental step was right there, throughout my childhood”. She was, ‘The Wheelchair Toddler’.

She went on to become managing director of DragonMobility, the social enterprise that gives to others the specialist powerchairs which made it all possible for her and now runs this alongside her other career as a mediator.

Find out more about Ruth

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