From founding a company that tracks breast milk to fighting corneal blindness, Slalom data and analytics guru Vidur S. Bhatnagar gets around. He took a few minutes from his busy schedule to talk about some of his accomplishments, what drew him to Slalom, and his favorite NBA player.
Before we get into it, could you talk to us a little bit about basketball? We hear you’re quite the player.
I’ve been playing ball for 16 years. Back in India, I played at the national level, for NBA India, and I used to play for my college. Once I moved to the US, I stopped playing competitive sports. I still play in pick-up games though! There’s a tournament that goes on in my apartment.
What’s your position?
Funny story, I was really short. When I entered high school, I was barely five feet. I used to play point guard. Then, within two years I shot up to 6’2”, and I went from playing point to playing center, and ever since I’ve been a center.
Steve Nash! My number was 13 because Steve Nash was 13. And he got his Hall of Fame ring on my birthday.
Switching gears completely, I want to ask you about Keriton Kare, a company you founded that has pretty much revolutionized breast milk management for nurses and moms. How did that come about?
I was pursuing my Master’s in robotics at the University of Pennsylvania in Philly, and participating in their hackathon, called Penn Apps. A couple of nurses from Penn Medicine showed up and said, “Hey, can somebody help build a dashboard to track moms’ pumping supply for babies in the ICU?” This hit home for two reasons: One, my sister had an NICU-baby , and I saw her go through the pain of pumping breast milk at home and sending it to the hospital. Two, at my own job before Penn, I was building dashboards. So I told them, “Yes, of course we can build you a dashboard.”
We went with the nurses to the ICU and did a quick design session with them on the spot. We figured out it wasn’t just a dashboard issue. The whole breast milk management process is extremely time intensive, manual, and error prone. Breast milk is like blood in that you can transmit HIV and hepatitis via milk. So during the hackathon we put together a holistic solution about how to manage it and improve the patient experience.
And that turned into Keriton Kare?
Yes, we ended up raising a million dollars, and I dropped out of my program to work on it full time. We built a full-fledged platform that was managing breast milk, donor milk, and formula. We had the world’s first lactation analytics platform. We then built a WhatsApp-like text service and an Instagram-like photo-sharing service, so moms at home could be sent photos of their babies in the hospital. That was a big stimulus [to produce milk] for the moms.
It sounds like the key was listening to your end users.
Yes, design thinking was at the heart of it. We were living and sleeping in the ICU, observing at all hours of the day and night how they were using the product so we could fix it the right way.
And Keriton is still going.
The company is still going and has had phenomenal success. For example, we brought down the expiration of breast milk by 50% with smarter tracking, and moms in the program ended up pumping 40% more breast milk because of the stimuli we were providing. We’ve prevented 400+ breast milk errors, which would have resulted in multi-million-dollar fines on the hospital. More important, moms and nurses love it.
With your background, I would think you could go anywhere. Why do you choose Slalom?
I love the openness in the culture around feedback and how people look at products and services. The willingness to change is phenomenal. And the projects I’m working on include everything from building a tool for sales intelligence to assisting SightLife, an organization working to end corneal blindness. The breadth is so interesting.
Tell us some more about SightLife.
India has a big population of people with corneal blindness, as well as a big at-risk population. If you make a pictograph of corneal blindness in the world, India pops out. What we’re doing with SightLife is to automate their data and analytics pipeline. Currently a lot of their tools and processes are manual. And it’s a very data-driven organization, with data going from many satellite offices up into the corporate office. With a manual process, it can take seven to ten days for that data to roll in. So what we’re helping them with is scoping the problem, scoping a solution, and eventually delivery of that solution.
And you’re going to India, right?
We are. The team is going to SightLife's New Delhi office to talk to the folks on the ground, and then to some places where their people are running an excellent program called Asha. In Hindi, asha means hope. We will meet with some of the women in villages who are helping out with that program.
This sounds like it’s all right up your alley.
Yes! What excites me about it is a couple of things. My grandfather was an eye surgeon back in India, and this gives me a chance to honor his legacy. And I personally believe that my work—the technology we are building—should improve at least one human life. If we’re improving this world, we're doing something right. The SightLife engagement touches on all these things, and is deeply aligned with my personal beliefs.
What’s one thing you’d tell young developers?
Embrace imperfection. People get embarrassed when something doesn’t work, and want to perfect it before they release it. But if your software has no bugs, you've missed the bus. You’ve spent too much time chasing perfection, and your solution is already obsolete.