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Driven & Co. Ep: 21 – Reaching for the Stars: One Entrepreneur’s Quest to Stop the Spread of Illness

On the latest episode of Driven: How Did I Get Here?, host Justin Gray welcomes Inder Singh, Founder and CEO of Kinsa. Justin gets the scoop on Inder’s quest to become an astronaut, his work at the Clinton Health Access Initiative and his mission as an entrepreneur to help track
and stop the spread of illness.

Driven Podcast Ep 21 - Inder Singh

Can you give us a background on Kinsa?

I started the organization five years ago with a mission to create a real-time map of human health to help track and thereby curb the spread of disease.

I’m a big believer that the biggest problem in health care globally, that we have a shot at addressing in our lifetime, is curbing the spread of infectious illness, whether that is the Flu or Ebola or Zika or AIDS, TB, Malaria, or food-borne illness, or pneumonia.

At its core, Kinsa is an information gathering system. We try to understand where and when illness is spreading. To do that, we re-imagine the very first product that a person turns to when they fall illthe thermometer.

Our product doesn’t just give you a number read out. It’s essentially a health support system that coaches a parent, helps them understand how to respond to symptoms, what medications to take, when to call the doctor, and connects you to those resources. We’ve essentially proven that we have the ground-truth understanding of where and when illness is spreading and now we’re starting to leverage that data to impact health.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be an astronaut. Every single thing I ever did from the age of three and a half to about the age of 22 was dedicated to this pursuit.

I learned to fly planes when I was 16. You name the science or math competition, and I was involved in it. I studied the martial arts from the age of four to about 20 because I learned that you had to have physical stamina for space. I went to the University of Michigan for one primary reason, and that’s because three of the nine astronauts that have been on the moon graduated from the University of Michigan.

What was the turning point, the point you realized you weren’t going to become an astronaut?

In college, I started Dance Marathon—a non-profit organization that supports children undergoing extensive physical rehabilitation and has become the largest student organization at the University of Michigan.

In its early years, it operated essentially as a massive event with the goal to get every single dancer to stand on their feet for 36 continuous hours, and 100% of them to do it. I remember the look in the eyes of those kids, and the eyes of the students, and the eyes of their parents at the end of that 36 hours. That’s the moment that changed my life, honestly.

Where did that realization lead you?

Instead of going to med school, I deferred and then ultimately declined, and I came out to Silicon Valley with the intention to learn from the best and brightest people in the world how to build organizations that make an impact on people.

I ended up working at three or four different startups. Unfortunately, I was just too far removed from having an impact on a person. Over the course of the next five years, I traveled around the world and attended three graduate programs.

How’d you eventually get involved with the Clinton Health Access Initiative?

I decided to volunteer. I talked to one of the people I most respect in the world, Dai Ellis, who was their Director of Drug Access at the time. He said, “Hey, we don’t have volunteer positions, but why don’t I make you a job offer?” It was the quickest job I ever accepted.

From 2008 to 2012, I negotiated the deals that dropped the price of drugs for AIDS, Malaria, TB, and other illnesses, all told nearly a billion-and-a-half dollars in cost savings for 70 developing countries. That experience absolutely shaped my perspective of health care, and it’s the place where I learned about the problems that we are solving at Kinsa. Kinsa was essentially created during my time at the Clinton Foundation.

At what point did you realize you could be more impactful as an entrepreneur than with what you were doing in global health?

I’d begun asking our partners how they were using information to better define how to target people who need the products they need most, but no one had a really good answer.

They were deferring to the public sector, but the public sector was doing a terrible job of solving this problem of where and when. Two years later, I met a brilliant technologist, and together we hatched Kinsa. We kept thinking to ourselves, “How can we begin communicating with someone who’s just fallen ill in order to help them, and at the same time use that communication channel to map human health?”

What are some of your secrets for hiring talent?

Tell your story as sincerely and passionately as you can. If you tell it to enough people, people will come help you. Now you also need to screen those people to make sure it’s the talent that you need, people who also are expert in their area.

You said something to the effect of, “People should find something they love.” This, to me, is the biggest problem with entrepreneurship. People get excited about a product or a technology. They don’t fall in love with a problem, and if you’re not absolutely 1000% in love with the problem that you’re trying to solve, it’s very likely you will fail. Because let’s be honest, starting a company is hard. It’s really, really hard. Anyone who tells you it’s easy is either one in one million or is lying to you.

To find out more about Inder Singh and his journey to becoming an entrepreneur, including lessons he’s learned along the way, click here to listen. Plus visit KinsaHealth.com and find Inder on LinkedIn.

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