A couple of months ago, as part of my activities with The Capital Network (TCN) as a veteran serial entrepreneur mentoring first-time entrepreneurs, I was listening to the pitch of a young entrepreneur of a startup social media company who said his passion and mission was “making the world a better place”. It started me thinking about what motivates many people in high tech, and reminded me of my own thoughts when I was a young computer science student at MIT. Many of us in high tech have the feeling we are part of something that will "make the world a better place".
In those early days at MIT I was working at Draper Labs on software for the inertial navigation systems for the Apollo and space shuttle programs. I was part of the crisis response team following "Houston, we have a problem", going without sleep for 72 hours feverishly testing patches to the inertial navigation software to compensate for the hardware failures and help get them back to earth alive. Very cool, and in a large sense we were helping advance mankind.
More recently in my career, before co-founding iGetBetter, Inc., my previous company was bought by Google, and during the ensuing post-acquisition transition period when I was a “Noogler" (new Googler), and then a Googler, I was struck by the missionary zeal of my fellow Googlers. Not only do they subscribe to the unofficial Google motto of “Don’t do evil” (this really is fundamental to the Google culture), they really believe they are part of “making the world a better place”. And they are.
But in the back of my mind, I always thought of this as a fuzzy and somewhat diffuse goal. Things like the Apollo program, the space shuttle, the Google search engine and Google Maps do, I think, generally "make the world a better place" – but exactly and specifically how is a bit difficult to put one’s finger on.
A few weeks ago something happened during a pilot of our iGetBetter care transition system with a local Boston-area hospital that brought all of the above thoughts into sharp focus for me. In this pilot, congestive heart failure (CHF) patients are discharged and sent home with the iGetBetter mobile application on an iPad mini which communicates to them their daily care plan, and a Blue Tooth-enabled scale and a Blue Tooth-enabled automated blood pressure cuff that use the iPad mini as a wireless gateway to transmit the biometric data and other self-reported data to our cloud database. In the case of CHF patients, in addition to monitoring blood pressure and checking that they are taking their critical medications and doing their prescribed exercise, the single most important biometric is their body weight, as fluid retention (which manifests as increased body weight) is the primary killer of CHF patients.
One of the pilot patients had a gradual weight increase that progressed to the point that it exceeded the threshold set by the hospital clinician, and the iGetBetter system generated an alert to the clinician. The clinician reviewed the data from the patient, noticed that the weight gain was very gradual over a period of time, and increased the dosage of the prescribed diuretic. The patient slowly lost weight and regained stability.
If this gradual increase in weight and fluid retention had not been noticed by our system and brought to the attention of the clinician, who intervened by adjusting the patient’s medication, the patient very likely would have ended up back in the hospital, or worse.
Finally, I realized, I was doing something in high tech that has a very exact and specific way it is "making the world a better place". I felt good working on the Apollo program and the space shuttle, and many other times during my career in high tech, including as a Googler. Now I feel even better. Way better.
Win Burke, President and CEO