I first encountered the Kaleido team back in 2015, when we met in a central London cafe on a rather dark autumnal evening. Contrary to the gloomy weather outside, they placed in front of me a very bright, very colourful, very slick-looking and very new insulin pump. As we chatted about how the Kaleido came to be, it was clear that this pump felt like it could be something quite different.
The fact that we were just having a casual natter in the corner of a cafe already said something to me. As a person who’s lived with type 1 diabetes for 22 years, the prospect of new devices and more choice when it comes to managing this tricky condition are always gratefully received, but attempts to penetrate the corporate walls aren’t always easy, which can sometimes be a barrier to the honest, candid conversations that need to happen around what it’s really like to live with and manage type 1 diabetes. But it’s understandable, given how very tightly the medical device industry is - and should be - regulated.
But I was taken by co-founder Tim’s story as he detailed how he’d witnessed first hand the way his dad’s own type 1 diabetes affected his life. How, some years later as an engineer with a simple (read: not so simple) idea, he’d sat on the living room floor together with co-founder Joseph for months trying to get a working prototype in a bid to create something that could improve the lives of people just like his dad. People who want their diabetes to fit in around their lives, and not the other way around.
So in 2018, with that little idea now a living, breathing, on-the-market insulin pump with hundreds of people using it each and every day, I was honoured to be asked to host Kaleido’s first ever blogger’s meet up at the 2018 EASD in Berlin.
From the very first phone conversation I was welcomed into the Kaleido family with open arms, with the aim of working together to enable Kaleido to hear the voices of other people with type 1 diabetes. To listen to our concerns, worries and problems, so that the pump can work to provide solutions to these issues. And it’s so important to get user feedback to the people that matter in diabetes tech companies. Because with the best will in the world, a coder or an engineer might not know that you don’t want to have to press any buttons to find out which basal programme you’ve got running. That the smallest pump on the market is no good if it’s not simple to bolus. Or how it feels to have to create workarounds for the device you’re very grateful for, but doesn’t quite meet your needs.
It sounds trivial, but when you’re having to mercilessly change your pump every three days and you’ve got four minutes before you need to leave to get the train, functionality matters. When your gym class starts in two minutes and you need to set a temporary basal, functionality matters. When it comes to choosing an insulin pump (if you are indeed fortunate enough to have that choice), how a device makes you FEEL is arguably just as important as its ability to deliver insulin.
And so we gathered in Berlin, in a room just as colourful as the pump itself. Myself, Kaleido and a fantastic, vocal, diverse mix of people all living with type 1 (or parenting someone living with type 1) from various countries across Europe. Some were on pumps, some were on injections. Some had had type 1 for decades, some a few years. We opened the discussion and immediately there were two completely contrasting opinions around the future of finger stick testing; which highlighted very quickly how unique type 1 diabetes is for everyone living with it, and as such how difficult but how important it is to create a product that works for as many people as possible.
It was wonderful to listen to this collective of voices - so passionate and so respectful of each other’s opinions. There was a lot of heartfelt experience and powerful testimony around what it really means to live with this demanding chronic condition - through work, through school, through running marathons and raising children. The type 1 community is incredibly inspirational and that makes me so proud to be a part of it.
The Kaleido team were very honest about what hadn’t worked, and what wasn’t realistic, and I certainly appreciated this candour. They were clear about the fact that their work is far from over now they’ve got a pump on the market - we were told in no uncertain terms that conversely, this is just the beginning. I’m really excited about what this means for the future of diabetes tech companies - Kaleido are being politely disruptive (not least because you can’t ignore those bright colours in a rather sterile sea of devices!) and we need companies who are disruptive to create change. Two hours of discussion flew by in what felt like minutes, and the chats continued well beyond the official close of the event - until we were kicked out of the hotel in fact! I truly hope that this event marks the first of many - that type 1s are able to keep offering our experiences, our concerns and our opinions and that this leads to real, continuing evolution of the Kaleido pump. I left feeling reinvigorated about my own advocacy - that we, as a collective of patients, have a voice - many voices in fact - which is making a difference to how companies innovate. Conversations between product and patient are happening more and more, but Kaleido have been doing this from day one, in scattered corners of cosy cafes in central London and beyond, at a time when the product wasn’t even yet ready. And that, to me, feels far from gloomy.
Jen Grieves is a writer, digital producer and type 1 diabetes blogger from London. She has lived with the condition for 22 years and you can find her blogging at missjengrieves.com.