Amber: Hi, I’m Amber Ambrose and you’re watching BusinessMakers USA brought to you by Insperity, inspiring business performance. Today my guest is Eli Stevens, the Chief Technical Officer of Mobius Medical Systems. Welcome to the show.
Eli: Great to be here. Thank you.
Amber: Tell us about Mobius Medical Systems.
Eli: Mobius is a company that provides software to radiation oncology clinics. We help make sure that cancer patients get safe and effective treatments. For those who are unaware, the radiation oncology process, when a cancer patient is prescribed a beam of radiation, a physician will prescribe that and then there’s an entire team of clinical staff that will go ahead and make sure that the beam of radiation that is going to pass through that cancer patient’s tumor is going to have the desired effect, which is, kill the tumor while sparing as much healthy tissue as possible. Where our company comes in is we provide software that checks the calibration of the machine that produces that beam of radiation as well as software that checks and makes sure the instructions that are going to get sent to that machine makes sense given the patients anatomy, given the disease site, given all of those different parameters. What we’re trying to do is help prevent errors. If you’re familiar with the New York Times article that came out, probably a decade ago now, talking about mistakes that had happened in clinical practice and patients that have been harmed as a result; we were trying to address those issues and make sure those mistakes don’t happen.
Amber: If it’s not too technical, can you give me a rundown on how you guys were able to launch this?
Eli: We have two product lines, like I said, one that’s focused on the machine calibration and one that’s focused on the individual patient’s plans. The individual patient plan is what I worked on primarily.
Amber: And what is that? I know that has a product name.
Eli: Our machine QA products are DoseLab. I worked on something called Mobius3D. The reason why it’s called Mobius3D is that prior to our entering the market, the standard for checking these plans was to do a calculation at a single point inside the patient, making a bunch of assumptions about the patient’s anatomy. We would basically treat them as a giant blob of water with a flat surface, which isn’t very anatomically correct. When the beam of radiation passes through a real human body it interacts with bones, it interacts with lungs, and the radiation scatters a little bit and all that depends on density of the anatomy that it’s passing through.
Amber: That individual.
Eli: Right. And so, what used to happen is that they would check a single point by doing a secondary calculation. But if you think about it, checking a single point inside something as complex as this, you wouldn’t say that, oh, we’ve got this high definition television, I’m going to look at a single pixel and that pixel produces the right color; therefore, the TV is ok. You have to look at the entire picture.
Amber: That’s a very good analogy.
Eli: What Mobius3D does is we actually do a full three-dimensional recalculation of dose. That means we’re doing a physical simulation of how that radiation passes through the body, how it interacts with all the different kinds of tissue and all that sort of stuff. What we end up with is a full three-dimensional picture of where a dose is being deposited in the patient. That actually allows us to do a lot of checks that previously weren’t possible to do as part of the QA step of that larger process. We were able to be the first on the market that did things like, as part of the QA process, to do automatic checking of making sure you’re not sending too much dose to the spinal cord, for example; that you’re not sending too much dose to the skin; and all of those sorts of things.
Amber: Because they all have effects that will be lasting for that patient in addition to undergoing the cancer treatment.
Eli: Yes, because the goal is that essentially this beam of radiation is going to kill more of the cancer than it harms the patient. There’s a lot of medical research talking about, ok, well these kinds of organs can take this much radiation before the side effects become severe, and it’s all about making those tradeoffs during the treatment planning. Our QA step will go ahead and do a sanity check on all of those and make sure that nothing got missed, that there’s no tradeoff that was being made but you didn’t understand how severe it was, that kind of thing.
Amber: So, you’re a Chief Technology Officer in the mecca here in Silicon Valley, but you have a different story to tell with your team.
Eli: One of the things I think is kind of interesting about our team is that from our founding in 2010 to our acquisition in 2018, the engineering team has had 100% retention over that time span. We did have one person leave, but he came back about a year and a half later, so I count that.
Amber: He came running back, like, ‘Take me back.’ But you have a reason for it; it’s intentional.
Eli: Early in my career I worked at a startup that was very much the stereotypical eat dinner at work 5 days a week, and you need to be there until 10 and back at 9:30 the next morning kind of a place. The sort of place where the CEO just decides we’re going to work 7 days a week until this release gets out or has arguments with me about whether or not I can take a couple of days off at Thanksgiving to go home to visit family. I remember thinking at the time it was like, it doesn’t have to be this way. When the opportunity came to run an engineering team, I said it is not going to be that way.
Amber: Sure, because you have control over it now.
Eli: Right. And so, one of the things that I would tell people during interviews and was very important to me was I expect people to go home and eat dinner with their family, put your kids to bed. You’re going to need to VPN in after that because you still have a lot of work to do, it doesn’t fit into your typical 9 to 5, but it was very important to me that there be a separation between work and personal life. I have my own friends, I have my family, my wife’s family. There’s not time in the day to then pick up an entire other family. We’re not the kind of company that goes out for drinks with co-workers on Thursdays, kind of a deal. I think that really resonated with people. It sets up a framework where yes, you’re expected to perform, and we have a lot of work to do, but it still respects the people, saying that I know you’re more than an employee.
Eli: One of the other things that I also think is very important is from very early on I wanted to be the kind of leader that demonstrates that I’m willing to do anything that I ask my reports to do. I think a lot of times you kind of get caught up in this, ok, I’m running things, and this is your job and that’s your job. Since Mobius was self-funded, there is this certain leanness that we have, especially early on. I’ve fielded calls from customers at one in the morning because there’s a site in Europe that is having a problem with our product and so we need to give them a hand. I think that willingness to step in and do, not do people’s jobs for them, but to experience what it is that the do on a day to day basis, really helps. I think that both helps people feel comfortable knowing that even though I am asking them to VPN in after dinner, I’m doing the same thing. I’m there with them in the trenches. And that, I think, is also really important.
Amber: I think that’s the startup culture, too. I think that sounds like you’ve got the right makeup for that kind of leadership.
Eli: I hope so. It seems to have worked out.
Amber: You guys were acquired, so that’s actually the last thing I wanted to talk to you about is the acquisition. How did that come about? Was it always in the plan?
Eli: I wouldn’t say it was always in the plan. It was always a possibility, but just from a business perspective, we were looking at the business landscape and decided that for Mobius to achieve our goals as a company, which is much more helping people, helping clinics, and it came down to we could spend a lot of time and energy focusing on growing the business. Not so much from a technology perspective but from an international sales perspective, and distribution, and support, and all of those sorts of things which fundamentally aren’t actually our core competencies. Our founder was a medical physicist. I’m from the software engineering side of things. Managing sales teams is what we want to do. We could either have sunk a lot of time and energy into doing that, into really trying to build the company into something larger than it was, or we could get acquired and piggy back off the—
Amber: And use their resources.
Amber: Who is your parent company now?
Eli: Varian Medical Systems acquired Mobius earlier this year and it’s a great fit. They are the market leader in the radiation oncology space; very, very high-quality engineering teams, and so that dovetailed very nicely. With any integration there’s going to be bumps. We’re still trying to get all of the sales processes worked out and manage our quality management systems. As an FDA regulated medical device, there’s a lot of process that goes on behind the scenes, and our process and their process, while similar, aren’t the same. You have to dovetail those together and there’s a lot of work to be done there.
Amber: Sure, that makes sense. Thanks again for joining us, Eli.
Eli: It was a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.
Amber: Once again, you’re watching BusinessMakers USA from San Jose, California. Thanks for joining us.
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