Chandra Devam tells us how Aris MD uses a patent-pending augmented and virtual reality system to help bring medicine into the 21st century.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Aris MD.
Chandra Devam: I have been an innovator my whole life. My first invention was when I was 8 years old when I built my grandmother a doghouse with a feeding system so that she did not have to bend down when feeding her dog. I liked to solve problems throughout my childhood, whether it was taking things apart, playing with electronics, or beating a video game. I also had a strong affinity for the arts, contributing to being a founder with big ideas. For the first 5 years of my life, my family lived on a bee farm with hundreds of acres of land, no running water, and it was pretty remote. I think this really fostered my imagination, independence, and problem-solving abilities.
Our company was founded after I had a medical procedure that went wrong. It was supposed to be a simple day surgery, but the surgeon hit an artery, and I started to bleed out. When I recovered, after nearly dying, I thought as a problem solver: why did this happen? Whose fault was this? What went wrong?
It turns out the fault wasn’t with the surgeon or their ability. It was simply that our anatomical makeup is slightly different from person to person. They didn’t know that artery was there as it normally isn’t. I realized that we’re as different on the inside as we are on the outside. Our hearts are literally in different places. We all have them, but they (along with other internal organs) are in various positions within us. You and I both have eyes and noses, but our faces look different because the placement of those things is different for each of us. The same is true inside your body, with your organs. This means that when surgeons are cutting in, they have a general idea of where things are but not an exact understanding, leading to surgical complications. This got me thinking, what if there was a way for doctors never to have to cut in blind? What if we could develop a way to provide surgeons with X-ray vision?
This was the start of Aris MD. With my Co-Founder Scott Edgar we created a rendering engine that allows us to see even more detail than what is available with regular, traditional diagnostic imaging. When we paired our rendering engine with AI, we were able to provide surgeons with an exact map of where organs are placed as well as the ability to map out the surgical procedure in advance of performing the surgery. Furthermore, our product can be used for faster and more accurate diagnostics in radiology, essentially creating autonomous radiology. Our product can be used in other imaging verticals such as industrial scanning, aerospace, and inspection, and it made us consider what else we can disrupt and improve.
Is there a way you would have marketed Aris MD differently at the start knowing what you know now?
Chandra Devam: Yes, I would have marketed us more broadly as we have a lot more verticals than I was aware of at the beginning. I would have marketed us as an imaging company rather than positioning us as a medical company from the start. Keeping a wider approach in marketing and stating medicine as the first vertical, rather than the sole focus of our business, would have been a better approach.
What do you find to be the most effective way of marketing your business?
Chandra Devam: Being that we’re business to business, our marketing approach is different from a consumer product. We use some traditional means like social media, a website, and a general online presence. Entering pitch contests and winning helps too. If you build something amazing and get some notoriety for it, it markets itself. You can post those things on social media, people see it, and customers come to you. It’s also about building relationships within your industry. It’s important to attend trade shows like CES or SXSW to meet other people in your industry and build relationships. A lot of business is about relationships, not so much about having the right sales hook.
The pandemic has been hard on businesses everywhere and their ability to market; how have you navigated this?
Chandra Devam: You have to be very agile and have the ability to pivot as you need to. We looked at other areas and business opportunities closer to home as travel was not an option. We spent a lot of time attending remote meetings, remote interviews, and exploring new verticals. We saw it as an opportunity to solve a problem rather than seeing it as a restriction on our ability to do business.
What roles are important to fill in a successful company?
Chandra Devam: It’s really important to have strong advisors, mentorship, and hire high-quality talent. A company is only as good as its people. We are privileged to have excellent advisors, mentors, and talent on our team.
I would say it’s also important when co-founding that your hard and soft skills are complementary. My co-founder and I are a good match in this, where I have soft skills, he has hard skills, and vice versa.
What is unique about the way that your company approaches problem-solving?
Chandra Devam: We have a company policy amongst the founders that we unplug from all media during the patent and problem-solving processes. We don’t want to accidentally have a blueprint of someone else’s idea in our minds. If you were to say to a child, “Draw a house,” all children will draw a basic house with windows, a door, and a roof. If the children had never seen a house, they would draw something unique to them. We unplug as best we can in order to be like a child who has never seen a house. This keeps us from subconsciously having solutions in mind for problems we’re facing and being able to come up with out-of-the-box and unique solutions. We also have the company motto of nothing is impossible. Anything you want to do is possible, and it’s just a puzzle that hasn’t been solved yet.
How do you maintain a competitive edge over any competition?
Chandra Devam: Again, I don’t subscribe to things being impossible. The harder the problem, the more interested we are in solving it. I don’t worry about what the competition is doing at all. I focus on ensuring that we are on the leading edge of technology and always pushing that boundary by solving hard problems.
Tell us how you knew your technology was a success.
Chandra Devam: That’s a three-part answer.
The first time I learned more was when we went to TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco to show our beta, get feedback from the industry, and see if it was interesting. Not only was the technology interesting, but it was also impressive. We were the busiest booth and were named top 10 of the conference by Startup Grind (https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/favorite-startups-from-techcrunch-disrupt-2017/). People kept saying it was amazing we’d done this. We were so busy that we were hoarse by the end of the conference.
We went to CES that same year and were named top 5 with a more polished version of our beta (https://earlyinvesting.com/top-five-startups-from-ces-vegas-2018/). It was non-stop at our booth. I started to see companies emerging in places where we had already filed patents, and I realized we had foreseen emerging markets.
When we were at SXSW, we won our pitch competition and entered a NASA pitch on a whim. We won that competition as well and went on to win serval more NASA events. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/charliefink/2019/07/29/aris-md-makes-x-ray-vision-science-fact/?sh=5a8350eb577e). To have people from such high professional esteem and educational esteem approaching us and asking how we had done it and letting us know that they thought what we had done was impossible validated a lot.
What is on the horizon for your company?
Chandra Devam: We’re looking at different ways to image the brain for mental health. We are also looking at pilots in autonomous radiology, as well as pilots specific to breast cancer. We are also looking at pilots in the industrial and environmental verticals. We are always looking forward to approaching problems with new solutions.
Your final thoughts?
Chandra Devam: If I was to advise a company starting, I’d say:
It’s really important to have confidence in your idea. Many people will tell you it’s not a good idea or isn’t going to work, or it’s impossible to do. The founders need to believe in the idea and stick with it. Believing you’re on the right track and knowing that you can succeed is important. You need investors to bet on you, and you need to bet on yourself.
I also think it’s important to only take advice from people who have done what you are doing or something similar. Many people who haven’t invented anything or founded a company like to give advice and claim to be experts. Avoid them.
And once you have reached success, be a mentor and give back to new companies starting. I’m a firm believer in paying it forward with mentorship and giving back to the community.