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The Resolute

April 28, 2017

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past…

The Great Gatsby

Like the first crocuses of spring, yet four years later, I’ve reemerged from winter’s snows and a long, long entrepreneurial journey in which we’ve rethought and remade a company in the beautiful likeness of my many almost-learned lessons from MIT.

It will be four years this June since I graduated from the EMBA program.  I stopped writing about my experience as an EMBA shortly after parting ways with many of you in front of that great dome and walked away with Cynthia and two of our boys who had come to see me graduate. We went home, I hung my diploma on the wall and wrote one last post in which I made vague promises to write again, to tell you how things went, to send you a postcard when I got there…

I’m here now. It’s really cool. We have cookies and self-actualization. And I want to share it with you a post at a time.

I came to MIT because I wanted to automate the management of healthcare facilities all around the world. As a robotic scientist, I was well aware of just how powerful robotics and AI technologies had become and even more aware of how slowly they were making their way out of the lab and into practical use.

To put the snail’s pace into more recognizable form, 26 years ago, I started my doctoral research on a DARPA self-driving vehicle program at the Robotics Institute, which in recent years finally emerged in Uber, Tesla, and other commercial vehicle programs. This new generation of robotics technology is particularly powerful; in many ways we now have the ability to embed human-like intelligence into any object. Vehicle programs are easy for folks to grasp, since most of us drive and can understand just how hard it is to drive a car, but this same class of robotics technology is broadly applicable and I wanted to see it applied to the management of hospitals.

Robotics has historically had a rather limited impact in healthcare, focusing almost entirely on surgical robots and pharmacy applications. By contrast, robotics technologies have successfully automated the management of production and processing facilities across dozens of global industries. I came to MIT because I needed help. I understood how modern robotics technologies could be applied to manage hospital operations, but I needed to understand how to build a company that could scale the delivery of that technology across the globe. That’s what we’re doing at BluPanda and I’m fully ready to credit the EMBA program with making our work possible. As advertised, the EMBA experience is transformative. MIT delivers, occasional tears notwithstanding.

Change, like dating after 40, is not for the easily discouraged. You have to want to change and you have to be fully prepared for a thousand no’s before you get to that first yes, and then the second yes. We are resolute and full of purpose and must resolve within ourselves that we will leave behind every doubt and build instead an organization that transmits that resolute purpose to the world. But we’re also weak, and change is hard, and the way isn’t always clear, and it costs more money and takes more time and there are more dead ends than we imagined when we set out all resolute in our purpose.

One of my favorite MIT lessons is JVM’s story of hikers lost in the Pyrenees with little food, little water, but fortuitously, a map. They carefully plan their descent while waiting for the snow storm to clear, then set out, initially following their plan, but soon deviating along the way until they discover a small village, where they find shelter at an inn. While warming themselves around the fire, one of them discovers that their map was not of the Pyrenees after all, but of the Alps.

When I hung my diploma on the wall and headed to work at BluPanda, I didn’t know where to start… or rather, I knew way too many places to start. I wanted to experiment with all the delicious possibilities that MIT had presented… all at once… but sensing that we might all die in an avalanche of confused change, we instead concentrated on three things. First, we took on any work at any hospital that was interested in automating the management of any process. Second, we worked on scale… we questioned every part of our organization with the end goal in mind: how would we deliver this to any hospital, anywhere in the world? And third, we cash starved the company… on purpose. We only raised enough cash to keep the doors open and, like an ascetic monk, forced ourselves to minimize our dependence upon cash, locking in an incredibly tight cost structure in the process.

These three goals became our hikers’ objectives; learn, scale, and be frugal were our food, water, and shelter. Once we set out and started our work, things happened along the way, we created opportunities by aggressively engaging with hospitals and capped costs by steadfastly refusing to hire more people. Ultimately, we created a new healthcare IT platform that is able to automate the management of virtually any healthcare process on about $6.5M in total capital. In a larger sense, we’ve created a company that is now channelling some 30 years of robotics research into the efficient management of hospitals and other healthcare facilities. We are still young and small and have far to go, but we’re here and our first successes give us great optimism that we can impact the global healthcare system. No small goal and entirely in keeping with Sloan’s tradition.

So I’ve rededicated myself to this blog with the new mission of documenting those four years and sharing the connection between BluPanda’s emergence as the first competitor in a new segment of the healthcare IT industry and lessons that I learned as a MITEMBA.

-R.

 

 

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