Ian Kazi Shakil is cofounder of Augmedix, a stealthy company building an app for medical doctors on Google's Glass eyewear computing device. Shakil studied biomedical engineering at Duke University and then worked for Edwards Lifesciences, which makes heart valves that can be implanted without surgery. He received his MBA from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2012. Last summer, a friend who works at Google let him try on the Google Glass. He was instantly inspired and decided to drop everything in order to start a company that took advantage of the emerging technology. He discusses the hubris of youth, the pointlessness of balance, and the appeal of a good underdog story.
What is the big idea behind your business?
Creating a service for medical doctors that is powered by Google Glass.
What is the best advice you've ever received?
Most recently, I've been inspired by a quote from Stanford GSB's Irv Grousbeck. He said: "Regrets for what you have done can be tempered by time. Regrets for what you have not done are inconsolable." He encourages young people to take huge risks. There is no better time than now. It drove me to drop everything to do what I'm doing now. It helps that I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My mom has a design business, and my dad runs a steel mill in Bangladesh. It's in my blood to take risks and go my own way.
What was the most difficult lesson you have learned on the job?
Coming from Duke as an engineer, I was used to making the grade, working hard, and getting the job. You get a superstar syndrome. I was young and thought that all that mattered was the idea and who came up with it. Later I learned that very few ideas are the result of one person's greatness and what really matters are relationships. It was hard to come to grips with that.
At one point at Edwards, I managed a group of 70 people, most of whom were older than me. It was a rude awakening to understand that the world does not revolve around just me. When I first got there, I expressed the way I thought things should be done. People thought, "Who does this kid think he is?" I had very little appreciation for getting buy-in. My manager at the time, Dominique Chapman, gave me the great gift of feedback. I went through a huge growth phase there.
What advice would you give other entrepreneurs on how to build a great business?
A lot of entrepreneurs get hung up on finding the right product at the right time, but it is more important to look for cofounders you can spar with productively. You cannot recruit cofounders, but you find them in unpredictable ways. You need to put yourself out there. Whenever you are working on a group project, give it your all and treat everyone with respect. Build relationships so that when opportunities arise, you can go back to the well of human capital. It's like getting married. You want to find someone who brings to the table skills you don't have, but who is not so different that you have different core values. You have to be able to be brutally honest with each other and then heal from it.
What inspires you?
Number one, I am a technophile and a techno-optimist. Also, I have a very strong David-and-Goliath complex. I like seeing giant entities being turned upside down. I love reading about it, but it is far more fun to be part of it.
What is your greatest achievement?
The team I built as a young manager at Edwards. The team was unlikely to have existed if I didn't start it. It was a political battle to get it funded and find the right people. The team still exists and adheres to the vision I helped bring to life.
What do you consider your biggest failure?
Failing to seize opportunities. It's the worst kind of failure.
What values are important to you in business?
I value truth for its own sake — even if it's painful, even if it ruins everything, even if it brings about the end. Also, I am not happy with the status quo and want to be around other people who desire radical change and have a quest for improvement and progress.
What impact would you like to have on the world?
I think we have the potential to play a huge role in fixing health care, which is terribly broken. Patients are not able to afford the care they need. Providers hate their jobs and are leaving. I also want to help usher in augmented reality and wearable tech. I would like to show that these can be forces for positive change, and not things that should be feared.
What was your first paying job?
When I was 15, I stood on a corner of a busy intersection dressed up as a giant lotto ball and held a sign that said, "We sell lotto tickets." It was for a video rental store in Florida called Tapes 'n More. I had that job for a year until the company went under. My next job was as a cashier at a Whole Foods in high school. I emailed the CEO of the company and told him that I didn't think it was fair that part-time employees didn't get a discount. We couldn't afford to eat what we sold, so we were eating McDonald's in the break room. Soon after, he implemented a national policy change.
How do you achieve balance in your life?
I don't believe in balance in the sense of separating work life and professional life. I work when I feel inspired, and sometimes that means I work in the middle of the night. It also means I might take the day off to do something personal.
What is the best business book you have read?
Impro by Keith Johnstone. I learned a lot about real-time thinking on the fly and the importance of status in how people communicate with each other. Everyone should read it.
What businessperson do you most admire?
Mark Zuckerberg. He had a core vision, even in college, and he stayed true to it. He recognized that he is a flawed person and can't do everything, so he surrounded himself with people who did what he couldn't do and he infected them with his vision.
What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at Stanford?
"Touchy-Feely." Before the Interpersonal Dynamics class, I thought, "Who cares about these trivialities?" Now I see that emotional issues animate things for people. I am more cognizant of how people react. I am hyperaware of this and always ask for feedback, even from people I just met.
What do you think is the greatest innovation in the past decade?
I don't believe there are isolated innovations, and I don't worship the singular invention. It misses the point and is irrelevant to technological progress. The advent of the internet, which was brought about by many people, is the single most meaningful thing in human history since the printing press or the steam engine.