September 7, 2022
[00:00:18] Nancy Howell Agee: I’m Nancy Howell Agee, the President and CEO of Carilion Clinic. And I love Her Story and what we’re doing to share thoughts about how to really mentor women leaders in healthcare in particular. And Anjali I’ve known you for a long time. I know what an incredibly brilliant, talented, phenomenal woman and leader and entrepreneur you are. I don’t have to read your CV, but I thought it’d be good to give our audience a little bit of information about you. So you are what you call a serial entrepreneur. And you are the President and CEO and co-founder of Mytonomy. And in a minute, I hope you’ll tell us a lot more about Mytonomy. I think Mytonomy is your third growth-equity backed enterprise software company. And your previous company was purchased by Oracle. And then you were in the Obama Administration, as I recall. You’re the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence with the FDA. The FDA is certainly getting a lot of attention in the last couple of years. And then you served as a Senior Technology Advisor in the Office of the CIO for the President of EOP. A lot of acronyms there, you may want to describe what the EOP is. And I know that you’re a fellow Southerner, grew up down in North Carolina and also went to Duke. And you were a Duke Merit Scholar, which interestingly, I was just talking to someone who’s also a Duke Merit Scholar entering school. And I know how prestigious that is. So congratulations in hindsight. And then I believe you went up to Harvard and received your master’s from Harvard. Extremely fascinating background. But why don’t we just get started and have you talk a little bit about what got you from the young girl in North Carolina to where you are today and in particular, your interest in healthcare and how that journey began.
[00:02:19] Anjali Kataria: Absolutely. Thanks, Nancy. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you today. And. I you’re right. I did grow up in the South. I grew up in rural North Carolina, Eastern North Carolina, Greenville. And I don’t think you’ll ever be able to take that out of me. I love so many things about the South and the friendliness. I think I learned so much. My parents immigrated here from India. They were both physicians. My mother’s passed now, but my father is still a practicing physician, even though he’s emeritus. And we moved to North Carolina from Ohio, because they wanted to be part of the founding team to create that medical school. So I think my parents were a big influence in terms of entrepreneurship in a way that I didn’t realize until you look back. Sometimes you’re in it, and you don’t really see it. And then you look back, and you’re like, ah, that makes a lot of sense. So we moved from Columbus, Ohio to North Carolina. I was actually born in Chicago, and they told me, they took me in a little bassinet. When I was like six months old in a car with air conditioning, they were very proud of that, to drive to Columbus because I was so little. And then we moved to Ohio and then to North Carolina, which is really what I consider home, where I grew up. And I did go on to Duke, and everybody kept asking me why I was going to the North I thought what? And so that was a real realization as well. North Carolina is very partial to its own state and to the South. And Duke has a lot of people that come in from all over the world, and it was such an exciting place for me to be there in college. And particularly, not, certainly college is expensive for everyone. The scholarship was very helpful. But really it was the community of scholars there that I landed in and the ideas, the exploration of ideas, and really debating and thinking and staying up late at night. And really enjoyed that time. Those four years were very formative and being able to take on service projects, I lived in a service dorm, the round table, and really enjoyed that mix of service and people and ideas. And from there did go on to Harvard for my graduate work. And, I thought I was going to be a doctor. I came into Duke thinking I was going to be a doctor, just like my parents and my family of physicians and nurses and scientists, but really fell in love with public policy and research policy. And I had done a lot of research, but just the ability to just explore the policy implications, it was very exciting, the breadth of that. And so I did go to Harvard, Kennedy School, where I did my master’s in Public Policy, thinking I’d then go to medical school and completely changed my course. I ended up coming to DC, working at the advisory board company, did healthcare consulting, and actually had my first private sector job, and had always done research studies and been on the research and academic side prior to the advisory board. And then I went on to law school. And that’s really where I became an entrepreneur, believe it or not. My first semester of law school, I loved law school, I made the Law and Technology Journal and was so excited about that, and then took a class at the business school and wrote a business plan for a problem that I saw. And I ended up calling actual COOs of wineries out in Napa to see if they had this tax compliance problem and this operational problem, and lo and behold, they did. And the next thing, that became a company, and it became my first company. I left law school thinking I was just going to leave for a semester. Totally naive, which is probably why I’m a serial entrepreneur. I think as serial entrepreneurs, we just don’t always see all the challenges and risks, and we see the opportunity tenfold. And so we’re just like, oh, let’s go do this. So it’s a different mindset.
[00:05:55] Nancy Howell Agee: So I loved the comment that you made of the intersection of service and ideas which clearly drives you. I know your passion. You’re passionate about healthcare, about improving things, and about finding new solutions. I don’t think much grass grows under your feet, maybe that’s the whole personality of an entrepreneur. From what I just heard though, maybe you were an accidental entrepreneur, and that you found a solution and then you went out to wine country. Do I have that right?
[00:06:23] Anjali Kataria: Yeah. Wine country was my first area of product development. We built a really beautiful product for wineries, and I think it was one of my favorite products even today, software product. But this was pre-COVID. But this product would tell you what the winemaker, what the recipe was, what the little barrels. And they would change colors if it was white or red, depending on what the varietal was, and tasting notes, and we were just ahead of our time. So part of what I learned, that was a complete, you know, didn’t go anywhere. That company folded. Second company got acquired by Oracle. Third company, I’m in right now, is just named the 40th fastest growing software company. But my first company was not a big success. It had a great product, and it was the best product on the market. But the problem was we didn’t have cloud. We were ahead of our time, and timing is everything in business. We had great relationships. That’s important in business. Building relationships, that’s really what it’s about. But at the end of the day, it was too expensive to implement that product. And had we had AWS now, that they would’ve flown off the shelves, but timing and technology implementation, ease of use, in terms of the product was super easy to use, but the implementation was so expensive for these small wineries that it put us out of business.
[00:07:40] Nancy Howell Agee: Can you talk about that? I mean that your first business, and you’re fairly young at that time. And yet, and I don’t know, I think it takes so much courage to not have a safety net. I love working in a bureaucracy. I don’t think I have the courage to be an entrepreneur. And there your company failed. So what did you do? What did you learn? How did you feel?
[00:08:03] Anjali Kataria: I learned so much. I now invest in other people’s businesses, and I don’t invest if they have not had a failure, because I think that it’s so valuable in life to really learn. I You spend so much of your time , I think it’s like getting a master’s in failure and a PhD in resilience and standing back up again. Because you really have to be able to weather the terrain of what happens in your business. And there are a lot of unknowns and uncertainties. Now I see a lot of patterns. There’s a lot of pattern recognition. And certainly, I’m a student at heart. I’m always learning and reading. That helps a lot too. But, if you’re thinking about going out on your own or starting something with a team of people, I think you really have to be schooled and educated in the business environment, the industry, what else is out there, why are you going to be so much better? All the questions that you want to have in an elevator pitch are just so important to really understand, why are you going to solve this problem better? First, you got to find a really big problem, and you got to solve that problem better than anybody else can. And if you believe you have something, and you have the optimism, and you can weather it with the resilience, I think it can be a really great career. And I just found in my first business, it was very demoralizing, it was depressing, I thought about it and thought about it for a long time. But, I pretty quickly took those assets and turned it into an area that it would work well in, and repurpose some of the technology from that first business. And we got funded by Sequoia Capital and other investors, Javco and SAP. And it just became a great team of people. It’s also just not about you. It’s a whole team of people that came together and led us to an exit, and now same thing, and same in the Obama Administration, even in government. I think when I was one of the first wasn’t the first, but I was one of the first entrepreneurs, part of that first 6 that came in and when I left, we had over a hundred, but the same thing applied even in big government. So like bringing that team together, finding a problem we can solve, however big or large, and thinking about a new way to innovate that really jazzes me.
[00:10:08] Nancy Howell Agee: You haven’t mentioned mentors, and I don’t know if you had a mentor when you started your first company or you have mentors now. Can you talk about what mentorship means or at least having a team that you can rely on?
[00:10:23] Anjali Kataria: I think mentors can be really important, and they have been in my life. My first job at the advisory board, the woman that hired me, ultimately my first boss, became a friend and a mentor. First a mentor and then a friend, and then almost like an older sister, and I’m still very in touch with her. And we talk about our businesses. And she tells me things that are going on with her. I tell her things are going on with us. We advise each other on our families. So I think the mentorship relationship can be deeply personal. It is going to be deeply personal if someone’s going to take the time to really look into your life and help advise you on things that are in front of you. And I don’t know that I’ve always called it a mentor, but in that case I did, but then it turned into a deep friendship and a sisterhood. But I think that’s so important in life to have people that are ahead of you. I have a couple of friends who are five years ahead of me, and I love that because I’m always learning. They’ve just gone through my walk of life, and it’s just so great to hear their stories and then think about what’s next.
[00:11:23] Nancy Howell Agee: So you would recommend to others that they seek out mentors, or at least take advantage of learning from others in a pretty meaningful way or disciplined way?
[00:11:34] Anjali Kataria: Absolutely. Absolutely. And even when I was at EOP, the Executive Office of the President, where I was a Senior Technology Advisor in the Second Obama Administration, I supported the CIO to the President, and I had mentors there, but I didn’t necessarily call them mentors. But they were folks that had been in the government for many, many years and gave me advice on how to make that transition from the private sector into government, which is different, right? There’s a lot of differences. And most people don’t survive. I came in for six months, and I ended up staying almost three years. And that was because I had people that looked out for me and were able to share, you know, here’s how you might think about this in this environment.
[00:12:18] Nancy Howell Agee: So let’s change the subject a little bit and talk about Mytonomy, a company that you started 5 years ago, maybe. Talk about how great Mytonomy is, but talk about why Mytonomy.
[00:12:29] Anjali Kataria: I joined Mytonomy in 2016, and Mytonomy actually started in 2011 in Ed Tech, and it was growing nicely but not super fast. But it was growing. And of course, post-COVID that Ed Tech company would probably be flying off the shelf. So again, timing is everything. But I came in and said, wow. When I joined the Obama Administration in 2011, I dealt with a very difficult situation. My mother, bless her heart, became very ill very suddenly. And I learned firsthand when you become a caregiver, which nobody raises your hand and says, I would like to be a caregiver. It just happens to you, usually because someone you love got a bad diagnosis. So I suddenly got dropped into healthcare where I had been in pharma, and I’d been in life sciences, so healthcare broadly, but I hadn’t actually had a lot of healthcare system experiences. And boy, what you all deal with, Nancy and your hospitals, is so complicated and hats off to everybody there because of all the great work that all the nursing staff and all the physicians and the frontline staff do to make patient care accessible and to have a stay that you can feel comfortable and trust. But boy, I learned a lot and it was not a great experience. It was not consumer friendly. I was up late at night, trying to get trusted information, and I never forgot that experience. And so when I left the Obama Administration, I looked a lot of different things and Mytonomy, which was an Ed Tech, had a great solution, a video based engagement platform, I thought, wow, that would be so helpful to families, to patients and their families at home, because so much of healthcare is shifting to the living room. And so much of us are looking up information either for ourselves or for loved ones. And you just can’t find trusted information online in a deep enough way to actually drive behavior change. So to me, Mytonomy was really solving that problem of how do we help providers educate their patients in a completely modern, consumer-oriented way using the power of content streaming, which is at our backbone of really high quality content, streaming that content, and engaging patients and their families remotely. And I think that timing is everything like we thought of this five years ago, six years ago. But now, fast forward post-COVID, wow, like this is the world we’re in, and we all have our favorite show. We’re all streaming content. Why not also bring that into healthcare where it can really make a difference? And we’re seeing those kinds of results now.
[00:15:06] Nancy Howell Agee: Well, and I know Mytonomy is just winning awards over awards and an incredible company. Can’t wait to see where it’s headed on that. I Want to get personal for a minute and ask a question and maybe in this era right now, where there’s a lot of concern and consideration for DEI. You’re a woman of color. You grew up in the South. And talk about any barriers that you felt concerns and how you navigated that. Your success is phenomenal, but there’s something, there’s some great core that you have that’s as strong as steel. And I’d love to know about that.
[00:15:46] Anjali Kataria: Well, thank you, Nancy. I think that it’s such a relevant topic. Learn about each other in our country, which is a fabric of diversity, we have to understand each other’s experiences. So thanks for that opening. For me growing up in the South, I was a little bit of a wallflower. I felt a little invisible, maybe. I was Brown. I was a person of color. But I wasn’t Black. I wasn’t White. I wasn’t Hispanic. And I was Asian. So I sat outside of everything. I was a little bit of a, I would say, an invisible observer. And I got to see the dynamic between my Black friends, my white Friends, the Black side of the lunchroom, the White side of the lunchroom, and how things had been. This is 1989. We had two Homecoming Queens. We had two Class Presidents. It was jarring. I didn’t really realize it until I went to college how unusual that was for the rest of the country but not so much for where I came from. And I think though what it did for me is, it gave me an appreciation for both sides. And living in Washington, we always see two sides of something. But for me, I see multiple sides and Silicon Valley was also very formative for me where the pie just gets bigger. It’s not that if I get a slice, you don’t have anything. And we’re in this two party system, but rather the pie can keep increasing for everyone. So that optimism and that belief that we can have a better world, I think, was really cemented when I got to Silicon Valley. But I think growing up in the South, I liked the niceties. I liked the fact that people knew each other. They stopped and talked to you. It was expected that you would talk to the person who was checking you out at the drug store, or you would wave to somebody when you were driving and you knew them, and you knew somebody’s aunt and you knew somebody’s cousin and you would stop and talk. And we had human interaction regardless of race. And so I think that’s something people maybe outside of the South don’t always understand that there can be a very symbiotic relationship. But I do think that the challenges of our country and the race relations piece of it, coming from an Asian, kind of looking in and being on the outside, was very formative. And it was formative in the sense that I saw the challenges on both sides. I saw the challenges of engaging, of not engaging, of how we bring our different people, our different backgrounds together in a respectful way to all people. So I think that was very formative for me. And luckily when I got to college, a lot of people were there. I felt very embraced, and people were very used to people who were very diverse, and I grew up a lot there and felt very welcomed. And so I think that was just a very formative time on how we all come together.
[00:18:29] Nancy Howell Agee: Interesting. If I could Summarize that a bit, I guess what I heard you say, well, first of all, I heard you say you were a bit of a wallflower, and I just can’t imagine you being a wallflower, but not so much that you felt shunned, but just invisible. And in some ways the invisibility allowed you to be observant and pull out of that the good things and the not so good things. And I know you’re a incredible business woman. You are the CEO of a fast growing company. You’re also a wife and a mom, got a daughter getting ready to go to college. How do you think your formative years as a Asian woman in the South helped you raise your own children and then separate from that, how do you balance it all?
[00:19:20] Anjali Kataria: Yeah, that the balance question is always so hard. For me, I feel like the balance comes from internally, like, what works for mom? What makes mom happy works. And so, every mom’s going to be different in every house. And whether you’re an aunt, whether you’re a mother, whether you’re a brother, a father, it just takes you to realize for yourself what’s your right balance. For me, I don’t look at every day I have to do the same thing. I look at, if I’ve been traveling, then I need more time to reconnect with my kids. And I need to strike that balance over a two week period or over a 10 day period. And. That works for me that may not work for the woman next door to me. And so I always encourage each woman to think about what’s the right balance for you, where you feel connected to your kids. For me, that balance is I need to know what’s happening with them, with their friends, with their school. I need to know what’s happening in my husband’s family’s life, my own family’s life, but I can go, seven to 10 days, two weeks and not have to know every single thing every day. As long as I get caught up. And then I have some time to kind of lead a little bit too and take them somewhere, take my kids somewhere, do something with our dog, there’s that getting reintegrated in if you’ve been gone for a while which, as a CEO, there are a lot of demand. There are a lot of meetings. Luckily during Zoom, a lot of things went virtual, which I’m really enjoying, but there’s no substitution for that in person when you can get it, and you need it, and whether it’s in business, whether it’s in your family, and it’s just striking that right chord for what makes you tick, what makes you happy. I think that’s been my journey. I think coming out of the South, where I felt invisible, learning to really own my space, own my power, own my, the desires I have, the things I want to do, and really putting that out there has been a lifelong journey. It doesn’t always come easy, I think, to women in general To put your needs first or put them out there. The inclination is often take care of everybody else, and you are a little bit invisible as a woman. Sometimes women can be invisible sometimes in their own families. And I think that’s been a real important part of my own growth as a person and what I took from the South without realizing it, maybe these conversation is making me realize it, but is really learning to advocate for myself and say, I really need this. I need to do this. And can you support me in this? And I want my daughter to really find her voice and her power and know her worth. And I think that’s super important. And something I’ve really tried to instill in my children.
[00:21:57] Nancy Howell Agee: So you mentioned the word power, and I’m going to ask you, what is your superpower?
[00:22:04] Anjali Kataria: So, I have a couple different superpowers I think. Like, when I think about heroes and the superpowers that they have, I feel like they quickly can understand. There’s some mind readers. I’m not a mind reader, but I think being able to walk into a room and read the room quickly, read my audience and then figure out what is it that they’re really saying, what’s really going on here, and get to that heart of that issue quickly. And A, you’re saving time, but B, you’re getting to a deeper place with that person. You’re able to create a deeper relationship because you know what’s going on. And I think like with Mytonomy too, with our nurses, you know, trying to help them be able to walk into that patient room and feel confident, feel educated, that they can just quickly get to that deeper issue, that’s another driver that we have with the solution, and I think that’s really important in healthcare. So I think that’s one of my superpowers is to really build that relationship with someone, understand where they’re coming from, and then try to figure out where do we go from here together.
[00:23:04] Nancy Howell Agee: Fascinating, you may not know this, but once upon a time in my life, I was a hospice nurse. And one of the things that we did in training was to write our own obituary, in part to imagine what the patients are going through, who we’d be caring for. I’m not going to ask you to write your, or say your own obituary, but if this was, I don’t know, 10 years from now, and you were looking back a bit, and you’re writing your own memoir, what would you title this book?
[00:23:36] Anjali Kataria: Well, I think I would want to be known as the woman who was humble, hungry, and smart.
[00:23:43] Nancy Howell Agee: Oh, I love that.
[00:23:45] Anjali Kataria: I would want to be known as someone who really cared a lot about other people and took the time to understand them, took the time to recognize that she didn’t always know everything, but she was willing to hear other people’s ideas. And from there go forward and really listen. I think that’s where humility comes from. It’s having that insight. I would want to be known as someone who is hungry, ready to dance on the floor, dynamic, passionate. And I think I’d want to be known as someone who is smart, who had good ideas and innovative ideas, and brought something new to the world.
[00:24:21] Nancy Howell Agee: You know, there’s that very hokey song, I hope you dance. But it is one of my favorites, because I think it says so much about balance and giving life a chance and all it’s glorious color. But humble, hungry and smart would be exactly what I would say about you. Anjali, it’s been just fun. It’s been fun to spend a little time with you this morning and talk about your life’s career. Despite the fact that we’ve been friends now for years, you’ve told me more about yourself in the last 30 minutes and perhaps I knew. So thank you for being so honest and open, for describing your journey. A take home message for me is that it’s okay to fail, and you can pull yourself back up and get back on and have great ideas that come into formation and have a winning strategy. I love the idea of your saying, I’m looking for problems that need to be solved. Big problems. And we certainly have plenty of those in healthcare and plenty of those in our country. And thank goodness for people like you who are willing to solve those big problems. Can’t wait to see where you’re going 10 years from now. And I hope you will write that book. Thank you.
[00:25:35] Anjali Kataria: Thank you, Nancy. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you today. I’ve so enjoyed your leadership and learning from you. So over the years you’ve been a fantastic friend and mentor, and so it’s wonderful to share this space today.