An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Amy Kao, the co-founder and CMO of RxAll, which was honored in our:
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in New Haven
- 2019 Best Tech Startups in New Haven
- 2018 Best Tech Startups in New Haven
Tell us the origin story of RxAll- what problem were you trying to solve and why?
The story of RxAll begins with our co-founders: Adebayo Alonge, Amy Kao, and Wei Liu. Each of us personally had devastating encounters with counterfeit medicine and decided that this was an issue we wanted to build a solution around so that no other person would ever have to experience what we went through.
Committed to this mission, RxAll first started off as a logistics company (RxDelivered) providing authentic medicines to patients in Africa, and eventually transitioned into an AI and data company when the co-founders met each other as students at Yale and decided to apply an innovative approach to solving the problem. Today, we are a deep learning hyperspectral IoT platform for authenticating drugs. The platform uses a proprietary molecular sensor device with a cloud-based IP-protected deep learning algorithm and database of spectral signatures of drugs (both prescription and recreational) to carry out non-destructive drug authentication. Throughout the years, our company has evolved and grown to multiple employees globally and is operational across four continents. However, the one thing that has remained consistent through time is our commitment to ending the counterfeit crisis and ensuring that every person in the world has access to quality and authentic medicine.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
One of the initial challenges we faced as we were expanding as a team was proper governance of our organizational structure. Especially since we were a global team working across different cultures and time differences, it was challenging to provide the right balance of oversight and autonomy in the organization. With time, we identified that individual autonomy was at the heart of our performance success. As a result, we worked hard to implement a flexible organizational structure with clear roles and responsibilities. Generally, we provided autonomy to teams and individuals so they can focus on solving issues and making an impact. Naturally, we became geared towards action versus over-analysis of an issue and always focused on learning.
As a small company, we are always striving to evolve our organization’s structure. In a sense, we threw away the traditional org chart and instead focused on collaborating to define what needed to be done. After many trials and tribulations, today we commit ourselves to creating a positive environment that values creative problem solving and open communication. Honest and continuous assessment, listening to team feedback, and providing transparent communication around successes and failures is always encouraged, and we are constantly leveraging data to drive insights into action. In our organization structure, our employees are enabled to act more like entrepreneurs and self-direct their work instead of adhering to a traditional model where an employee would report to a manager who tells them what to do.
What does the future hold for RxAll?
Today, RxAll works with drug regulators and other stakeholders to reduce branded drug counterfeiting and ensure that patients receive high quality authenticated drugs. Pharma manufacturers increase sales and patients have better access to high quality drugs. The company is currently operational in USA, Canada, China, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Gambia, Ghana and Nigeria. In the future, the company is looking to expand its business into Southeast Asia, other parts of Africa, and the Americas.
The strategy of RxAll is to focus on authenticating prescription medicine by: Going to market quickly, constantly validating/iterating, and keeping costs low. Our strategy focuses on short-term profit and growth to ensure the longer-term longevity of the business. We want to create the best product and build a strong infrastructure foundation, while executing an iterative process on research and design. This strategy is largely informed by our company’s value proposition to our customers and differentiates us in the marketplace. The long-term vision of RxAll is to explore expansion into other verticals, such as authenticating food or other products. Short-term, we have decided to adhere to our focus of providing authentication for prescription medicine because of our personal experiences and commitment to saving lives.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in New Haven?
New Haven offers a solid support system for tech startups because of its positive entrepreneurial climate, technology talent pool, access to investors and capital, and business infrastructure to support companies. It is successful at attracting innovative startup companies because of the resources, values, and talent that surrounding institutions like Yale University bring to the neighborhoods. The city appeals to highly educated workers, has relatively low living costs for the high quality of life offered, and is well-situated for commuters from other transportation hubs like New York and Boston, so naturally, it is becoming a growing city where more and more people are choosing to live. This helps to draw innovative minds to advance businesses and initiate startups, especially in tech.
In addition to talent, New Haven is a great source of capital as there are plenty of investors across Connecticut. Organizations such as Connecticut Innovations provide funding for biosciences, high tech, clean tech, medical devices, and advanced manufacturing, and other investment firms such as Topstone Angels and Crossroads Venture Group are finding Connecticut to be a top market for startup investment. With well-positioned access to capital and business infrastructure, New Haven cultivates a climate of enthusiasm and positive reinforcement for tech startups, and ensures an innovative environment where entrepreneurs and innovators can collaborate, spark new ideas, and create change.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
There are many key values that have helped us to overcome roadblocks and challenges as entrepreneurs. The two that come immediately to mind are grit and passion. My passion for RxAll stems from my personal experience as a victim of counterfeit medicine and wanting to ensure that no other patient would have to suffer through the same experience I did. Every morning when I wake up, this passion rises from deep within to become a driving force of my life and because it is truly present, my efforts with RxAll rarely feel like work even on my most tiresome of days. Having the grit and determination to never give up despite major challenges are key to being an entrepreneur. Success is more than just raw talent or having a vision. It is realized by staying through the highs and lows of the journey, and constantly driving for results while being resilient when things don’t go as planned.
The last advice I would like to mention is to maintain a positive mindset. Whether you are experiencing periods of highs or lows or simply have no idea how to tackle the challenges at hand, it is important to remain calm and learn how to navigate ambiguity. Many people often underestimate the impact that a positive mindset can have on their progression. A negative mindset will only hinder progression on the journey towards success. Adopting a positive mindset provides confidence, self-belief, and motivation to do better and learn from past mistakes. Having a positive mindset is not only a key enabler for the growth of a company, but also for an individual’s overall well-being as an entrepreneur.