Rutesh Shah: “Be the change you want to see in the world”

I strongly believe that success is transitionary and cannot be sustained if the community in which you are operating your business is not sharing that success with you. I believe happy and healthy communities influence business positively. I have taken the 1% pledge where we use 1% of our time, 1% of our profit and […]

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I strongly believe that success is transitionary and cannot be sustained if the community in which you are operating your business is not sharing that success with you. I believe happy and healthy communities influence business positively. I have taken the 1% pledge where we use 1% of our time, 1% of our profit and 1% of our equity to help community causes.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Rutesh Shah.

As co-founder, CEO and president of a fast-growing digital engineering services company, Rutesh Shah has overseen many leading-edge technology concepts. The company has participated in software quality engineering for mobile devices, the connected car, and such healthcare advances as the “smart pill”. Participating mainly behind the scenes, Mr. Shah’s team has the inside scoop on many innovations long before they reach the market. A highly-respected quality and management consultant based in Silicon Valley, he is a member of the Forbes Technology Council. He founded Infostretch in 2004. His extensive experience in software development processes has resulted in his unique insights into methods for applying technology to deliver superior solutions. His acute ability to successfully identify business, technology and quality trends has made him successful in leading 200 consultants serving more than 50 clients and 120 projects. Prior to Infostretch, Rutesh Shah served as Vice President of Reliability Services at Arsin Corporation, where he deployed quality solutions for mission-critical distributed applications for clients like Bank of America, McKesson, Oracle, Informix, Charles Schwab, Wells Fargo, Varian Medical and E2Open.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was born in a business family and learned a lot by watching my dad, who was an entrepreneur. My education is engineering, but I am an entrepreneur at heart, I thrive to challenge the status quo, and love to innovate leveraging technology. I have started three companies (interestingly all three with the same partner) and while starting the third one I reflected with some of my past customers. They began telling me that they weren’t interested in products or technology alone. They were looking for “outcomes”. A light bulb went off in my head, and instead of starting a pure product/technology company as I would have done in Silicon Valley — we conceptualized Infostretch as a service provider that works with clients to create outcomes. We founded the company in 2004, and now we have more than 1,200 “Infoneers” working across the globe who share that vision.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Without getting too personal or specific, I would like to phrase this lesson I learned as advice to other entrepreneurs: don’t hire a lawyer in the first year of doing business. Your productivity will be 25% higher, and you won’t suffer from “analysis paralysis.” If you need outside advice, fine, but make your own decision.

Can you tell us about the “bleeding edge” technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Since we provide a full spectrum of Digital Engineering Services to fast-moving industries, we are privy to some of the most amazing technologies ever to be introduced to the larger consumer markets. For this reason, clients expect us to develop a Proof of Concept in the shortest possible timeframe. Although we cannot pre-announce clients’ innovations, it is safe to say that a revolution is at hand in the area of Pharmacy Benefit Management, changing the whole supply chain scenario, from the drug companies to the prescribers to the distributors to the patients. Of course, much of our existing business continues to involve pre-testing digital products before they reach the market.

We were involved in such areas as the development and testing of the first ingestible sensor for medications (the first “smart pill”), and you can expect far-reaching benefits in the area of digital medicine and wearable biosensors. Already we are seeing web conferencing and chatbot enabling patients to access services remotely, and we are just at the beginning of this trend.

As for other industries, you will see advances in the connected car that will increasingly assist and automate the driving experience. Wearable IoT and biosensors will continue to reshape industries such as sports, fitness and entertainment. In financial services, AI will improve security, reduce risk and expedite processes such as applying for credit cards. I could go on…

How do you think this might change the world?

Taking as just one example of our work with digital healthcare treatments, we got involved with this trend when it was just starting. As such, Infostretch’s wearable biosensor lab has worked with some household name technology brands to test and deploy some of the most demanding applications and use cases in wearables. Some of these applications are already saving lives. Others will redefine established industries, and some of them will even create entirely new ones.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Let me start by answering that question with another question: how can we build products that make the misuse of technology impossible? It has never been more important to ensure robust engineering and testing practices. We help companies improve the performance of their digital products, which goes hand in hand with accelerating the maturity of their whole digital ecosystem. Security is a big part of that. Security measures should be baked into product design right from the start of the engineering process, to reduce the chance the product can ever be exploited. That approach is considered best practice, yet many businesses still struggle with the digital agility required. This represents a big change to the traditional method, which frequently means merely testing the robustness of a product. This process essentially entails running the product through its paces after a prototype has been developed. At that time, it was much more difficult (and hence, costly) to make changes in the product, but that was a different era when the security implications of testing late in the cycle weren’t nearly so severe.

Another concern that shows like Black Mirror speak to is around the morality of the person or organization deploying a particular technology. How people use and interpret data is not just a futuristic issue. We already know that data analytics can be used to influence all kinds of outcomes, from brand preferences to election results. Data is just about the most powerful tool you can have in the digital era. But, to paraphrase an old adage, you only get out of it what you put in. So the challenge is to create means of interpreting the data that is free from unintentional bias. As a digital service provider focused on outcomes, I think we are particularly focused on ensuring data is rigorous and reliable.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

In the case of the ingestible sensor or ‘smart pill’, designing and testing this product was unlike any other we had worked on up to that point. We needed to test how the smart pill would behave inside the human body, which was exciting and challenging at the same time. When it comes to the area of digital medicine, engineering and testing best practices simply did not exist before now. It was on us to set the precedent. The experience expanded our understanding of what is required to test products within the Internet of Things (IoT). One of the ways we met these challenges was to design tests that actually mimicked the human body to ensure the pill behaved as it should.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

We are at a turning point in healthcare where analog systems are being supplemented and even superseded by new digital technologies. New digital technologies are appearing through the healthcare industry and are by no means restricted to smart pills and wearables. Digital is profoundly disrupting the healthcare sector, ushering in improvements in treatment, increasingly personalized medicines as well as significant efficiencies thanks to streamlining the value chain. As exciting and revolutionary as this all is, there are challenges ahead. These range from the regulatory environment to setting up robust test practices for these innovative products.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

Many of our most innovative clients are start-ups or new branches of larger companies, without the resources or time to focus on marketing. Through our “customer PR” initiative, we bring attention to these developing technologies, sometimes without even mentioning our own role. These activities range from outreach to editors working on specific articles to actually drafting and placing articles for our customers directly. This works well for us on two fronts: building both customer support and editorial relationships. Most importantly, it helps spread the word.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This would have to be my business partner, Manish Mathuria, who co-founded three companies with me. For the first two years, we worked side-by-side, seven days a week, without a salary, developing this company. We would spend every weekend together, discussing events of the past week and how those events might impact the company in the future. We still do that once a month. Having a partner who is honest can be a blessing because not only do you get a shoulder to lean on during difficult times but also a true reflection for you to demand better from yourself every day.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I strongly believe that success is transitionary and cannot be sustained if the community in which you are operating your business is not sharing that success with you. I believe happy and healthy communities influence business positively. I have taken the 1% pledge where we use 1% of our time, 1% of our profit and 1% of our equity to help community causes.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each)

  1. The business world is moving to a services model. The information technology industry has countless talented engineers designing the next great product. But what I wish I had discovered earlier is that customers are looking for solutions, not the next shiny object. Solving business problems is more sustainable than delivering the next tool.
  2. Hire people you like. This may seem counterintuitive for a high-tech business that relies on innovation, but if I don’t like a person, I’m not going to be able to work with them. Reverting back to my first point, the same will hold true with customers. If they can’t have an excellent working relationship, they’ll never get to address the business problems at hand.
  3. Innovation means being able to tolerate a certain level of failure. By definition, innovation and creativity means trying unproven approaches. Learn your tolerance level and figure out how to turn dead-ends into new roads.
  4. Despite what is generally taught in business school, the customer isn’t always right. If a client is unwilling or unable to follow our recommendations, we have to try harder to understand their point of view, their preference. This will not always work, and sometimes it is necessary to walk away. Knowing when to do this –when to stop expending resources on a lost cause — has bottom-line implications.
  5. The boss isn’t always right. I was fortunate to learn this lesson fairly early-on. As a result, I am able to listen to the people whom I hired because I trust their wisdom and judgment. Aside from keeping me from making mistakes, this approach encourages team morale and helps us retain good talent.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We must do more to protect our environment. Science has told us many of the things we need to be doing, and yet we seem to be dug-in against much of the progress. Fortunately, the truth eventually seems to have won out over tobacco use, but air pollution still continues on a grander scale more than ever. Whether you believe in climate change or not, all of us have an obligation to leave ‘mother earth in a better place than what we received from our forefathers. The images of people walking around with gas masks to protect their lungs from dangerous air are compelling. Clean, renewable energy. There is some movement in that direction, but I’m not sure I would call it a groundswell. CEOs need to use our bully pulpit to engage — there’s that word again — the public in this discussion. I actually published an article on LinkedIn on this subject —

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have two favorite “Life Lesson” quotes: “Be the change you want to see in the world” (paraphrasing Mahatma Gandhi) and “It’s better to be a pirate than to join the Navy” (Steve Jobs). “Be the change you seek” is directly related to my leadership by example style. I have observed that if you lead by example, your team creates a very different bond with you as a leader. You actually become a mentor and a trusted advisor, which results in a cohesive force for common objectives. Being a pirate is my way of looking at the outcome and not the process. It is important to be a pirate to bypass bureaucracy while being nimble, agile and creative to accomplish out-of-the-box outcomes in a difficult environment. I have realized much better innovative ideas while thinking like a pirate.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Infostretch is a pure-play digital engineering services firm focused on helping companies accelerate their digital initiatives from strategy and planning through execution. We leverage deep technical expertise, Agile methodologies and data-driven intelligence to modernize systems of engagement and simplify human/tech interaction. We deliver custom solutions that meet customers’ technology needs wherever they are in their digital lifecycle. Infostretch works with both large market-leading enterprises and emerging innovators — putting digital to work to enable new products and business models, engage with customers and partners in new ways, and create sustainable competitive differentiation.

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