Surrounding yourself with great talent is a crucial component of great leadership. I have heard it said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. We should not underestimate the importance of the people we are with.
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 Prof. Dr. Kai Oberländer.
Prof. Dr. Kai Oberländer studied mathematics and sports science at the University of Koblenz and graduated in 2008. He subsequently received his doctorate from the Institute of Biomechanics and Orthopedics, German Sport University Cologne, graduating summa cum laude. In 2015, he co-founded the healthtech company Motesque, which aims to improve people’s quality of life through biomechanics. Since then, he has guided the company’s strategic and technological direction, constantly working to identify new opportunities for development.
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 share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In the early days of Motesque, I had a meeting with a customer in Brussels to present our sensor system. I took the train in Cologne and only carried a part of the system, as the other part was still manufactured by my co-founder in Aachen. Since the train stopped in Aachen, he handed me the missing system parts through the train window. During the train ride, I assembled the electronics, housing and installed the software. Our timing was everything. I will never forget the moment as the train staff and other passengers looked at me as if I was building a bomb on board.
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?
I feel grateful for my wife, who supports me in every situation. Balancing my professional and personal life can be challenging. But over the past 10 years, my wife has always had my back and encouraged me, so that I have gotten to where I am today. Being a CEO, dad and husband are tough sometimes, so I am very thankful to have a great partner by my side.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Maybe you know the saying, “When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back to you.” We all face challenges at times. Some are personal and some are professional. Whenever I find myself blaming someone else for a problem, I try to take a step back and consider what my contribution to the situation was.
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?
I like to bring it down to the most important one which is my reluctance to accept pre-trodden paths or a status quo. Innovation is driven by an insight that something is wrong with the current situation. In the implementation of innovative ideas, many people will try to maintain the current status, especially the more different or radical the innovative product or approach is. If you are listening to such restrictions, you are bound to the familiarity and innovations will not happen.
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?
Our vision is to keep people healthy as long as possible and improve their quality of life through biomechanical solutions. Unfortunately, this is becoming increasingly difficult nowadays. Apart from ever-increasing stress and its consequences, unsuitable products, such as the wrong mattress or wrong running shoes, contribute to the burden on our health. Many people report back or knee pain, but our belief is: This can be avoided due to the choice of the right product.
How do you think your technology can address this?
We combine the power of biomechanics with advanced artificial intelligence technology to support individual needs for advice-intensive products. Our solutions instantly transform concrete data into valuable, science-based product recommendations.
With just a few points of customer data, our cloud-based system compares many products in the background and calculates the perfect fit and size of a product. This allows our 3D Avatar solution to recommend the perfect mattress or bike frame within seconds.
Our biomechanical solution also uses advanced motion sensor technology to measure people’s movements and turn them into recommendations in the field of orthoses and prostheses or shoes. On one side, this solution is intended for doctors, orthopedists, medical supply stores, hospitals, rehabilitation centers and health tech companies. On the other hand, it is intended for sports stores that can use sensors attached to the body to find the perfect running shoe.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
My decision to start Motesque is based on the fact that the biomechanics industry was shockingly failing to innovate and realize state-of-the-art product concepts.
As a consultant for leading companies in the US and Europe, I experienced that incumbents love to hear the new concepts but often fail to technically realize them.
That was the main reason for me to start Motesque, as I saw a clear need in the market that I could solve by bringing cutting-edge innovation. To execute that market approach, I put together an interdisciplinary team of industrial designers, software developers, and biomechanics experts, like myself.
How do you think this might change the world?
We accompany people from young to old on all their journeys to optimize their health. Whether it is a night of healthy sleep, healthy running, or healthy cycling.
However, I would not talk about “changing the world,” but I believe that with the power of biomechanics and advanced AI our solutions are a meaningful contribution to improving people’s health, saving the environment and creating better customer experiences.
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”?
- Understand and value the uniqueness of every individual. Allow the uniqueness of individuals to build better solutions.
- Adaptability is the key to sustainability. Build responsive technology that can change with the people and the environment.
- Never give up! Being an entrepreneur, you will have challenging days. Breathe deeply and remind yourself of why you started your business. Be sure to celebrate the little wins! Many small successes will add up to the big milestone.
- Surrounding yourself with great talent is a crucial component of great leadership. I have heard it said that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. We should not underestimate the importance of the people we are with.
- Problems are like dice — multifaceted and ever-changing. When you’re stuck on a problem, it often helps to look at it from another perspective. So, sometimes I close my eyes for a moment and imagine that I am taking the point of view of one of my colleagues or clients.
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?
Do what you think would make you the happiest. But in a world overflowing with options, be careful. Make a contribution to the world that really matters. When your idea/solution is deployed in the real world, the vision often diverges from reality. Your customers, for example, will use your product in unforeseen ways and you can’t predict the social impact. When you set a big goal, consider the consequences and have a plausible explanation on how to achieve the goal.
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.
Nelson Mandela is someone I find very inspiring. With his wisdom and courage, he raised his voice against the system of racism with uncompromising power.
For me, promoting equality and fighting discrimination are fundamental issues. Discrimination involves racism, sexism and other forms that we cannot ignore. It is indispensable to give equal opportunities to all people because all are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
And although Mandela went to prison, his vision to end apartheid was an unconquerable goal. He never gave up! The power of his vision gave him the strength to fight! He once said, “Anyone can rise above their circumstances and succeed if they are dedicated to what they do and do it with passion,” and that inspires me a lot.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Kai Oberlander on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/oberlaender
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.