Although Chris is an entrepreneur in the digital health software space, there is something in this episode for every Veteran. We talk about making sure that you are running towards something in your career, not running away from something. We talk about how to find a co-founder. We talk about Chris’ own Founding story… and it’s a good one, which draws deeply from his military experience. We talk about how failure is not really failure if you learn something new and become better - advice that sounds pretty, but is actually pretty messy, painful, and often embarrassing, while still being true. We talk about being flexible in your career and not just sticking to an idea or aspiration that no longer servers you. And we talk about the power of understanding your own mission and intent, and how to apply this to your career.
Christopher Molaro is the CEO & co-founder of the digital health software company, NeuroFlow, which uses advanced data analytics from wearables to objectively measure mental states and emotions for behavioral health, wellness and performance applications. He started out at West Point, after which he served for 5 years as a Field Artillery Army officer. After transitioning off active duty, Chris co-founded the veteran literacy non-profit Things We Read, and received his MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
Outliers by Malcom Gladwell - inspired Chris to start his non-profit, Things We Read. It sparked Chris' love of reading.
Grow Bigger - a book about entrepreneurship and having a mentality to grow the company bigger. Acting like you’re 300 or 3k employees, even when you’re just 30 people
How I Built this
Masters of Scale
Info about Chris
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Philadelphia, PA is Chris Molaro. Christopher Molaro is the CEO & co-founder of the digital health software company, NeuroFlow, which uses advanced data analytics from wearables to objectively measure mental states and emotions for behavioral health, wellness and performance applications. He started out at West Point, after which he served for 5 years as a Field Artillery Army officer. After transitioning off active duty, Chris co-founded the veteran literacy non-profit Things We Read, and has received his MBA as a graduate of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Can you talk about your transition out of the Army?
The easy to get out wasn’t easy. I loved being in the Army for many reasons. But ultimately, my wife and I decided that the best route was for me to transition out. I was given a great piece by Brigadier General Banks who is now the Vice Dean at the Kellogg School of Management. He told me that if I decided to get out, I needed to make sure I was getting out because I was running toward something rather than away from it.
Can you describe NeuroFlow to us?
We’re a software solution and integrate with many wearables like FitBit and Apple Watch. We integrate behavioral and mental health services into any medical setting. The thought process is that mental health affects physical health. If you have a severe medical condition, you are at a higher risk for mental health issues as well.
We believe that if we can get a better handle on mental health, we’ll be able to improve health conditions for people everywhere.
Can you share a couple concrete examples of ways NeuroFlow has been used?
There’s something called a Muse headset that which is a five electrode EEG Bluetooth enabled headset that reads the prefrontal cortex of your brain. We can use this headset to understand more about rest and relaxation issues our patients might be having.
To give a hypothetical example, If I’m being seen for chronic pain, I might be seen on a monthly or bi-monthly basis. The doctor is likely going to give me a prescription or send me to physical therapy. The doctor may or may not screen my mental health. If a doctor does do a mental health screening, I may get a referral to see a psychiatrist but that’s it. There’s no follow up. We know that that 60% of people that receive a referral to mental health services never even go to their first appointment. What we do is follow-up with these patients and make sure they are getting the mental health care they need.
How did the idea for this company come about?
During my first year of my MBA program, I was in a technology fellowship. I got to know a bioengineering Ph.D. student that was in the same program. Wharton has a business plan competition specifically for health care solutions. Going through that was kind of a defining moment for me. It made me reminisce back to my days in the Army. My platoon and I were deployed to Iraq. After getting back home, a lot of us were seen by physical therapists. There were also a few soldiers that screened positive for mental health concerns. Those soldiers often didn’t get the care they really needed. There was one in particular that ended up committing suicide because nobody was really following up with him and make sure he was given proper mental health care. I consider it my greatest failure as a leader.
At Wharton, I wanted to find ensure that mental health care was accessible to people. So that Ph.D. student and I entered the business plan competition. We didn’t win but we both still thought that there was something there.
After not winning the competition, why did you persist with this idea?
At this point, we have a team of 30 employees. We try to encourage the idea that failure is OK as long as you learn from it. In the business plan competition, we failed but we learned a lot. We were asked a lot of questions that we didn’t have answers to.
Part of the business plan was conducting market research. In doing that, it really became apparent that there is a great need for better mental health access and care. Millions of Americans are not getting the care that they need. That’s what kept us motivated even after the competition.
Was there a point in which you felt that the momentum started to be on your side?
Over the time that NeuroFlow has been in existence, we constantly evolve in response to the market. Going through the various fundraising stages was a slog. We had a very tough time raising our first investment round.
We competed in a national business plan competition and ended up winning $150,000. That really kept us afloat until real investor were willing to put money into our company. No matter what stage you’re at, you’re going to face challenges. Often, as your organization grows, the problems will grow larger too. So it’s important to be ready for that if you go into entrepreneurship.
So much of what I learned in the military has fed into my experience with NeuroFlow. In the military, we always had a mission statement and a plan. When things got chaotic, you’re just doing whatever you can to make sure the mission still gets done. My experience in entrepreneurship has been similar.
What is your day-to-day like?
My co-founder is the fine print guy and I’m the strategic guy. Every day, we get our daily tasks accomplished to keep our current customers happy and successful. We also go out and try to get new clients.
It’s hard to say what a typical day is like because it can vary so widely. I do a lot of traveling to various hospitals to talk to their executives about our product. I also talk to potential investors to share with them all that we are doing at NeuroFlow.
Doctors and nurses are on the frontlines directly taking care of patients. I view myself as providing a tool that can help them be more effective. I feel that we’re doing our job if we’re providing doctors with a product that assists them in providing care for patients.
What are your thoughts on whether or not to pursue an MBA?
It’s absolutely not necessary. You can learn everything you need to be a successful entrepreneur on the job. As a CEO, I have to create the strategy and vision for the company. Then I need to put the best people on my team to execute that strategy. It’s a lot like being in the military. My military experience is extremely applicable to what I do now.
The reason why I chose to do the MBA is that I wanted to work on mastering the building blocks of business before going out and creating my own business. I didn’t feel like I had that foundation.
What advice do you have about finding a co-founder?
My co-founder was in the engineering school getting his Ph.D. and I was getting my MBA at Wharton. At Wharton, you can often feel like you’re in a bubble where you never interact with anyone outside the school. I wanted to expose myself to life outside Wharton. Adam and I met through a technology fellowship where students were from different schools in the University of Pennsylvania network.
Adam and I bring different skill sets to the company. We think very differently. My strengths are his weaknesses and his strengths are my weaknesses. We’re very complementary and that has worked well for us.
Do you have any resources you would recommend?
For veteran entrepreneurs, I recommend that you checkout Bunker Labs. They have been a huge resource for us.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?
As a veteran, your biggest strength is your military service. My biggest strength as an entrepreneur has been my experience in the Army. Make sure you highlight that leadership experience during the transition process.