Health Tech: Kamran and Nadia Ansari On How SHIFT’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness

An Interview With Dave Philistin

Dave Philistin, CEO of Candor
Authority Magazine

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Patience: Overnight success is very rare. Most businesses require a long-term dedication to the daily investment of time and effort that will inch the business forward incrementally. Inevitably, one gets frustrated that the world is not rapidly beating a path to one’s door and not instantaneously validating one’s ideas. Patience is required to get through those darker times.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kamran and Nadia Ansari.

Growing up, Kamran and Nadia had a very strong bond and were (and still are) each other’s best friends, so seeing Nadia in so much pain was very difficult for him. From the moment she was diagnosed, Kamran felt he had to help in some way. That process began one day when Nadia declared that a particular pulsed electromagnetic field therapy device no longer worked for her — Kamran got the green light to take it apart and figure out how it worked. After he finished dissecting it and researching how the therapy was supposed to work, his childhood became focused on how he could build a better device to help his sister.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

NADIA: We went to school, played with friends, and tried the standard elementary and middle school activities, like soccer and karate classes, until it became obvious that we really don’t have the hand-eye coordination to pull that off for the long term.

Our childhoods changed, however, when I was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. In July 2017, I was hospitalized for a week. I then spent the rest of the summer on the couch in severe pain, rotated in and out of school for the next couple of years, and experimented with multiple types of treatments, which were, at best, ineffective and, at worst, caused adverse side effects, like brain fog or hallucinations. It was a transformative period for our family since, for the first time, we were faced with navigating the complexities of the healthcare system and researching different therapies and the nature of neuropathies, among various other topics, just to find some way to help me feel better.

Kamran was deeply impacted by my diagnosis. We have always had a strong bond and were (and still are) each other’s best friends, so seeing me in so much pain was very difficult for him. From the moment I was diagnosed, Kamran felt he had to help in some meaningful way. When I declared that a particular pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy device, which I had regularly used to manage my pain, no longer worked for me, our parents gave Kamran the green light to take it apart. He quickly figured out how it worked. After he finished dissecting it and researching the mechanisms of actions underlying PEMF therapy, he began devoting most of his time to building a better device to help me. Years of dedication later, he would come to create that exact device.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

KAMRAN: As one can imagine, knocking on people’s doors and offering them to use a novel neuromodulation device for its meditative effect, produces interesting — and sometimes unbelievable — stories. Some of the most interesting stories arise from people who have been open-minded enough to try SHIFT and have been surprised at how dramatic the effects are. Specifically, we were introduced to a professional athlete who suffered from tension headaches and anxiety for as long as they can remember. Although I attempted to explain that she could experience relief in one twenty-five-minute session, the concept did not fully register. Due to her background as a disciplined athlete, she presumed that finding relief with SHIFT would require patience and use for weeks to months. However, at around ten minutes into use, she opened her eyes and asked if she was supposed to be feeling anything at all. When asked what she felt she said that the pressure she feels in her forehead all hours of the day, every day, was dissipating. She was in a state of utter shock. The data that we extracted from sessions with her would later enable me to understand how SHIFT changes the brain’s functional connectivity, allow me to create a team of pain and PEMF experts for our SBIR NIH grant submission, and allow me to speak at Stanford’s AI + Health Conference.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

KAMRAN: There are many people along this journey that we have met and are immensely grateful towards. Beyond our parents, there were a couple of early adopters of SHIFT who gave us a chance to demonstrate the true power and were open-minded to us. When first attempting to understand the brainwave changes that were occurring in Nadia, we went to many physicians and neuropsychologists. However, it was Dr. Christine Kraus who was open-minded to SHIFT after conducting electroencephalograms on Nadia. After seeing the data, she immediately began recommending it to other people who were suffering and failing to find relief with traditional solutions. The initial base of first adopters and users of SHIFT stemmed from people that she forwarded to us. Dr. Kraus allowed us to gain tremendous faith in SHIFT and, for that, we greatly thank her.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

KAMRAN AND NADIA: We’ve cataloged quite a few favorite phrases and sayings that seem to hold, even as circumstances change. One that we reference regularly is — within our strengths lie the seeds of destruction, rooted in our weaknesses lies the foundation for victory. We’re not exactly sure where it came from. We’ve said it in our family forever, but it may have begun as a paraphrase of some other words of wisdom. Wherever it may have originated, we like it because it is both a reminder to be humble when we experience success and to be hopeful when we suffer a failure. It prompts us to always think deeply about how our strengths could end up hurting us — often in unexpected ways — and about how our weaknesses can end up being a competitive advantage. “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Professor Clayton Christensen, brings this concept home by examining how well-run, dominant companies can -within a matter of years — lose their market position because the successes of their business models prevent them from being able to pivot and adapt to changing market dynamics. Think of Kodak missing the digital camera revolution because of its dependency on the once-dominant film business.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

KAMRAN AND NADIA: Three character traits that we believe have been instrumental to our success are focus, patience, and optimism.

Focus: From the outset of any venture, it is tempting to concurrently run after numerous opportunities. After all, one doesn’t really know what will work, so naturally there is a desire to hedge against failure by running after anything that may remotely seem feasible. But, in the process, it’s easy to get distracted and. Instead of doing a handful of things well, do many things poorly. To truly build a business, one must focus on solving one problem — or a very limited number of specific problems — well.

Patience: Overnight success is very rare. Most businesses require a long-term dedication to the daily investment of time and effort that will inch the business forward incrementally. Inevitably, one gets frustrated that the world is not rapidly beating a path to one’s door and not instantaneously validating one’s ideas. Patience is required to get through those darker times.

Optimism: Perhaps we should say an optimism borne from naivete. Building a business is a remarkably difficult task. Successful entrepreneurs have admitted to us that, “if they knew at the outset when they learned in the process, who knows if they would have started the business”. In many ways, they survived, and thrived, because they operated with a naive optimism that kept them moving forward in the face of enormous obstacles. Plainly stated, if you don’t have blind faith that the business will succeed, then it simply won’t.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

NADIA: When I was first diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, I tried many conventional pharmaceutical treatments, including anticonvulsant and anti-depressants. However, I either experienced minimal pain relief or an alleviation of symptoms at the expense of adverse side effects. I did find acupuncture to be beneficial, but it’s not an “on-demand” therapy and couldn’t be easily accessed the moment I started feeling pain. I experimented with some other therapies — such as pulsed-electromagnetic field therapy — which helped to some degree, but many of the PEMF devices are clunky and awkward to use. I also had a hard time bringing the devices to school, as they drew a lot of unwanted attention.

KAMRAN: I created SHIFT to help Nadia manage her pain, primarily by entraining her brainwaves so that she could effectively meditate, and to do so in a form factor that is discrete, portable, and amenable for use in public (mainly, school) settings. As more and more people began using SHIFT, we realized that by helping people meditate, we were addressing problems that extended beyond pain relief. Users transitioning into a meditative state were able to access numerous other benefits of meditation, including feeling less stressed, sleeping better and having improved focus.

How do you think your technology can address this?

KAMRAN: SHIFT uses multidirectional Earth-level magnetic fields to entrain a user’s brainwaves, increasing functional connectivity within certain brain regions and thereby shifting the user into a meditative state within twenty-five minutes of use. Further, we designed SHIFT as a comfortable cadet cap to minimize the fear and anxiety that often accompanies the use of complex technological devices.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

NADIA: In July 2017, I was hospitalized for a week after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome. I then spent the rest of the summer on the couch in severe pain, rotated in and out of school for the next couple of years, and experimented with multiple types of treatments, which were, at best, ineffective and, at worst, caused adverse side effects, like brain fog or hallucinations. It was a transformative period for our family since, for the first time, we were faced with navigating the complexities of the healthcare system and researching different therapies and the nature of neuropathies — among various other topics — just to find some way to help me feel better.

Kamran was deeply impacted by my diagnosis. We have always had a strong bond and were (and still are) each other’s best friends, so seeing me in so much pain was very difficult for him. From the moment I was diagnosed, Kamran felt he had to help in some meaningful way. When I declared that a particular pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) therapy device, which I had regularly used to manage my pain, no longer worked for me, our parents gave Kamran the green light to take it apart. He quickly figured out how it worked. After he finished dissecting it and researching the mechanisms of actions underlying PEMF therapy, he began devoting most of his time to building a better device to help me. After years of experimentation, he would eventually create SHIFT.

How do you think this might change the world?

KAMRAN AND NADIA: SHIFT has the power to help people transition into a meditative state in only twenty-five minutes, which is faster than typical pulsed-electromagnetic field therapy devices currently available to consumers. Enabling people to transition into a more relaxed, focused state on demand is important in our increasingly stressful, disconnected world.

That said, we tend to avoid ruminating about how SHIFT could change the world. Projecting the future on such a grand scale can be a bit overwhelming and candidly, distracting. Our focus is on helping one individual at a time. We have met young athletes with chronic ankle pain who have found relief, moms who use SHIFT to mitigate the onset of migraines, and veterans who manage stress with SHIFT. Each successful case is immensely satisfying and reaffirms the reason we do this.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about? KAMRAN: As an inventor, while it is undoubtedly important to be optimistic about the potential good that your innovation could bring to individual lives, it is equally important to thoroughly investigate unforeseen drawbacks. In SHIFT’s current state, given its stimulation protocol and safety, it is difficult to discern harms with its rapid meditative effect. However, we are finding that this technology could be adapted to treat cybersickness. Cybersickness or virtual reality (VR) sickness is a state that can occur just twenty to thirty minutes into using a VR system, consisting of nausea, headaches, and dizziness. The widespread occurrence of these symptoms actively prevents the universal adoption of VR and integration into a larger metaverse. We believe that our PEMF technology could decrease the strength of that sensation and allow individuals to use VR for an extended period. Attempting to treat cybersickness is a virtuous goal. However, enabling people to spend an inordinate amount of time in simulated worlds and the metaverse could have downsides. While the amount of time spent in these systems would’ve naturally been regulated by our physiology, with our technology, people who would have spent only 30 minutes may now spend 2 hours or more. Supplanting time spent physically with friends and family with more virtual interactions can be physiologically isolating and damaging. The unforeseen consequence of increased VR utilization, as a side-effect of attempting to alleviate cybersickness, requires more attention and further investigation.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

KAMRAN: It is hard to narrow the list down to just five things, but here are my suggestions.

1. Clearly define and thoroughly understand the problem you are addressing. We contextualized our target problem based on Nadia’s personal experiences. As a young person with chronic pain, she found it difficult to carry around a large medical device that made it obvious she had a medical condition. Conventional medical devices also have a degree of complexity and unsightliness that can prompt an operational anxiety which exacerbates sensations of pain. Given those experiences, we knew that we had to make a device that simply had a different aesthetic and form factor, leading to numerous downstream design choices.

2. As a corollary to point 1, solve 100% of the problem for a small class, rather than 50% of the problem for a larger group of people. In high school entrepreneurship classes, we’re always told to focus on market size from the outset but that tends to skew one’s thinking from a design perspective. It’s easy to confuse targeting a large market with designing for a large market. I suggest optimizing one’s design for a small, well-defined group, which makes the likelihood of exceeding their expectations high. Once that design is perfected, one can then determine how to position it for a larger market.

2. Build it. No matter how rough or crude it may be, create a prototype. Only by creating a prototype can one truly begin to understand whether your solution is addressing the identified, problem, where it falls short and how it needs to improve.

4. Tap individuals with deep expertise related to specific aspects of your prototype, as opposed to working with generalists. Find the most knowledgeable, skilled individual for a particular prototype development task. To do so, I suggest first breaking down your prototype into various components, each of which may be associated with a different skill. For example, if you’re creating a new toy, you may have a need for graphics design, CAD/CAM modeling, injection molding, and/or fabric selection and sewing skill sets. I would do the legwork to find individual consultants who have spent years in those respective fields and have a portfolio of work specific to the individual tasks that, taken collectively, would yield your prototype. It requires far more work and analysis on your part, but I don’t believe it’s wise to try to avoid making that kind of time investment, if you’re really serious about commercializing a product.

5. Expose your creation to people you trust early on. It’s natural for anyone to want to wait for the product to be perfect before exposing it to people one may admire, respect, and trust, but waiting risks the possibility of missing out on valuable insights that can help the design process. When I first allowed people to try my prototype, I realized how the design had to change simply to accommodate variations in head sizes — an issue I was not sufficiently focused on from the outset.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

KAMRAN AND NADIA: A positive impact does not need to be something large or revolutionary. On the contrary, it may be best to start with a very specific, narrowly defined, easily executable objective. Focusing on an apparently small, manageable problem has numerous benefits. First, it increases the likelihood that you’ll actually do it — big problems tend to be too overwhelming to tangibly address. Second, it increases the likelihood that you will create an optimum solution that will fully solve the problem. Third, once you have a solution in hand, it positions you to find others who share the same problem and to scale your solution to a larger audience.

KAMRAN: When I first started designing a SHIFT, I focused entirely on Nadia’s personal usage preferences and optimized it for her. Only after creating the first crude prototypes did we realize that SHIFT may be suited to a larger audience. However, my initial focus on Nadia’s needs enabled me to frame the problem in a way that had not been considered before, leading to SHIFT’s innovative design.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

KAMRAN AND NADIA: We’re big fans of Sir James Dyson. He is able to look at everyday objects and completely reconceptualize them, not just aesthetically but from a fundamental technical and engineering perspective. He recognizes the value of having an outsider’s perspective, with even a bit of naivete, when tackling problems and believes that pleasing design and clever engineering are naturally intertwined as opposed to being separate disciplines. He has the courage and patience to teach the market why his extraordinary redesigns of common objects are far superior. As you can imagine, we deeply connect with his entire philosophical approach to product creation — not to mention the fact that we love his hair dryers and fans. So, Sir James Dyson, could we offer you a meditation session with SHIFT?

How can our readers further follow your work online?

KAMRAN AND NADIA: Readers are encouraged to visit our website, www.fluxwear.com, for the latest news and follow us on social media. Our Instagram (@fluxwear) account is still ramping up, but we do regularly post updates there, so please follow us.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

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Dave Philistin, CEO of Candor
Authority Magazine

Dave Philistin Played Professional Football in the NFL for 3 years. Dave is currently the CEO of the cloud solutions provider Candor