Interview by Howie Rhee
Duke I&E: Tell us about Augmedix. How did you come up with the idea for the company?
IS: For years, I have been deeply involved in the world of healthcare. I interned at PixelOptics, a leading electronic eyewear startup, while I was an undergraduate at Duke, studying biomedical engineering. Years later, I ended up at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford. That was fateful, because I met Pelu, my co-founder, while at Stanford. He was in Medical School — and I was in the Business School. After graduating in 2012, I went on to work at a wearable technology company, MC10, while Pelu Tran, my co-founder, was still in medical school, with just a few months to go before graduating. That summer, an acquaintance of mine let try on a primitive prototype of Google Glass, and then and there I had a eureka moment about the application of Glass in healthcare. Together, Pelu and I quickly decided to build the first Google Glass company, Augmedix.
Duke I&E: What problems are you solving? How does it work?
IS: The biggest pain point in doctors’ lives is the computer and the electronic health record (EHR). Today, American doctors spend 2 hours or more entering and retrieving data into or from an EHR. This is not why they went to medical school. They hate it, and their patients hate it when doctors lose the personal focus and turn their backs because they have to manually enter data into a computer or run away because they have no time.
Our solution resolves this problem. We allow doctors to have natural conversations with their patients. We extract structured data from these conversations, by way of the audio-visual stream captured by Google Glass. Augmedix fills out the forms, fields, and dropdowns of the EHR in real-time. We also pipe information in the other direction — and serve answers back to the doctor, based on natural commands. For example a doctor can query “show me the labs” and have the result delivered right to his heads-up-display without having to turn around and hunt and peck; this creates an almost Siri-like experience. In total, our “EHR push/pull” services save one-third or more of a physician’s day.
Duke I&E: Where do you see the company going in the future?
IS: There is a tremendous product and market fit, as well as substantial demand. Large numbers of doctors are asking for the solution. We’re also looking at ways to go beyond simple pulling and pushing of information. We are currently beta testing a feature called “guidance” which reminds doctors of critical information (e.g. “you forgot point 5 of the 8 point checklist,” “the patient waited in the waiting room for more than an hour — you should apologize”) at just the right time. We are also working a variety of features that facilitate doctor-to-doctor communications and tackle various big data opportunities.
Duke I&E: What did you focus on at Duke?
IS: I studied Biomedical Engineering (BME) with a minor in Economics. I was interested in the intersection of medicine, engineering, computer science. I was also very unsure about what I wanted to do. BME seemed like a good choice to open a lot of doors at the time so that I could explore.
Duke I&E: Tell me about the Duke Start-Up Challenge and your project?
IS: In 2004, while at Duke, I founded IndyPay, the first tablet-based payment service. I know tablet-based payment sounds cliché nowadays in the era of Square ubiquitous Wi-Fi, but at the time, there was no iPad. In those days, there were just primitive Windows CE tablets. I recruited students from the business school, the law school, and the engineering school to join met and go down the “business plan competition circuit.” We did quite well. It was a tremendous learning experience. I learned a ton.
Duke I&E: What did you do next?
IS: After graduating in 2006, I went to Edwards Lifesciences in Orange County and did a rotational program that let me pick and choose what I wanted to do. That led to rotations in manufacturing, R&D, quality, IT, marketing, strategy, and business development. I strongly recommend the rotational to recent grads. The experience is invaluable.
Duke I&E: How does Silicon Valley compare to Durham?
IS: Both have a sense of innovation and are entrepreneur-friendly places with a lot of young people and great universities. But there is no argument: Silicon Valley is far and away the most vibrant community for entrepreneurs, with great angel investors and an overall culture that nurtures young startups. I’m hoping Durham will catch up.
Duke I&E: What’s your advice for other entrepreneurs?
IS: (1) There are no rules. There are no right ways of doing things.
(2) Early on, start learning how to network and build relationships with mentors and advisors.
(3) Have a conviction around your passions and the ideas you want to pursue. Generic paths to success won’t help you realize dreams. Stake your claim and realize your own true north. That’s the path toward success.
Duke I&E: What is your favorite memory of Duke?
IS: It has to be the long afternoons sitting on the bench in Few Quad people-watching and talking about the future with my friends.