Interview with CEO of Capsule, Eric Kinariwala

You have a massive headache perhaps a migraine. You contact your doctor, and he prescribes medication. You stumble to your local pharmacy to pick up the prescription, but it’s out of stock. Unfortunately, the pharmacy is providing little to no support. Making matters worse you call the doctor, to see if there is an alternative, but you can’t get a cell phone signal so out of frustration you head back home.

Unfortunately, that is not just an opening paragraph it’s what happened to Eric Kinariwala. But instead of shrugging the experience off as status quo; Eric got angry, not road rage angry, but what Todd Henry explains as a compassionate anger. Henry describes, “What do you experience that fills you with compassionate anger and compels you to take action? What do you see and think someone should do something about that?

Kinariwala’s compassionate anger gave birth to Capsule; whose mission is to be a better, smarter, kinder pharmacy. Let’s read as Eric explains how his effective leadership is evolutionizing the pharmacy business.

So, Eric what’s your story?

I grew up in suburban Detroit and spent the early part of my career investing in retail, healthcare, and technology companies. I had the good fortune early on to learn and be mentored in the investment business from some of the very best people in the industry.

One morning in early 2015, I woke up with a throbbing headache and that led me to the pharmacy and an awful experience, where everything that could go wrong, went wrong. That experience was the spark that connected so many things and led me to start Capsule. It brought together thematically the big structural shifts in the retail and healthcare industries that I'd explored as an investor and it led me to reconnect with an old friend who became Capsule's Chief Pharmacist, Sonia Patel.

A close friend loves Sir Francis Drake's motto: Sic Parvis Magna, which translates to "Thus Great Things From Small Things Come." I think most people's lives–personally and professionally–follow that arc and I try to remember it daily.

Why should leaders lead, and when they do lead, what is their first responsibility?

Leaders should lead because they have somewhere worth taking people–whether that's physical (like a place) or figurative (careers, skills). Everything starts with trust and the first responsibility of a leader is to build high trust, emotionally connected relationships with her team.

What is more important to you, the traditional hierarchy (director, manager, the boss, etc) or how teams are formed to get the work done?

I'm naturally averse to hierarchical structures, but have come to appreciate that clear structure is a necessary, but imperfect solution to organizing a large group of people to move forward toward a common goal while rapidly growing. It's always more important to me that we get to the right answer as quickly as possible than figuring out who was responsible for arriving at that answer. We all cross the finish line together or not at all–there's nothing in between.

Are you open to the nontraditional ways that teams can get work done? Can you site one example you are currently fostering?

We have a highly diverse team–both at on the individual level and in our role structures. We have software engineers sitting next to our pharmacists and our partnerships team regularly interacts with our operations team. We focus on fostering empathy for each other's work and workstyle–so that together we are enabling our collective best work. We regularly have people from different teams do the day-to-day work as if they were on another team. It builds real empathy across the team and enables us to continuously approach our work with a fresh perspective.

How do you make sure that when you are assessing talent, you are not only identifying the ability to do the job but the talent’s capacity to scale and do more?

The ability for people to scale and do more is a function of two things:

  1. The self-awareness to seek feedback to understand what's required from a skills and experience perspective to scale to the next stage and the gap that exists in current skills and experience between today and that next stage.
  2. The tenacity, desire, and resourcefulness to acquire the experiences and skills to close that gap.

We hire people who are honest with themselves about both where they are today in their careers, where they want to go, and how driven they are to move between the two places. All three ingredients are important for an individual to scale: a clear, honest view on current capabilities, a clear understanding of what success looks like at the next step, and a strong desire to close the space between those two things.

In the competitive market of product creation how do you manage your “No’s?”

We try and stay focused on the ONE THING that is most important right now. It requires ruthless prioritization and a strong belief that we will eventually get to all of the things we want to do, but that sequentially executing on them one at a time is the best way to succeed. We have spent a lot of time crafting our strategy so that it will unfold on itself as the business progresses—where the sequencing is natural and logical and where accomplishing today’s focused objective very well, will make tomorrow's easier and more impactful.

Shortly, after the launch of Capsule a woman texted the team about 9:00 PM asking, “Is it safe for me to take this medication while I am pregnant? You’re the first person that I am telling I am pregnant. I have not even told my husband that I am pregnant yet.”

At Disrupt NY 2017, Eric explains, “That was a special moment.” He continues, “It was an amazing moment for the team because we really built the right thing.” As a leader, especially in a young company, it can be challenging to build the right thing. Why, because it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on multiple things.

It takes a competent leader to recognize when the company is diminishing its limited resources by focusing on too many objectives. Kinariwala mentioned in the last question (above), “We try and stay focused on the ONE THING that is most important right now.”

While there is no one strategy in building a successful company, but if there is a cornerstone, it would be to focus on one thing at a time. That is a level of maturity that comes when you have good leadership in place.


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