“Clear And Direct Feedback Is A Gift” 5 Leadership Lessons With Dr. Shantanu Gaur

Yitzi Weiner
Jun 5, 2018 · 7 min read

It is often too easy to avoid difficult conversations, because they may “rock the boat.” We instituted a regular senior management meeting at Allurion with the specific goal of creating a space where senior team members can deliver feedback to one another. As opposed to rocking the boat, it has created a mutual level of respect among the senior team members.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Shantanu Gaur, a Harvard educated, Pittsburgh native who is the co-founder and CEO of Allurion Technologies, a 50-person company dedicated to helping people realize their full potential with innovative, scalable, and trusted experiences. The company’s flagship product, the Elipse Balloon, is the world’s first and only swallowable, procedureless gastric balloon for weight loss. Individuals treated with the Elipse Balloon typically lose between 25 and 30 pounds over 4 months.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I was raised in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My parents instilled in me a love for science and discovery, and I committed myself to a life devoted to both. I attended Harvard College, majored in biology, and then enrolled at Harvard Medical School in pursuit of my M.D. During medical school, I was struck by how infrequently groundbreaking research was translated outside the laboratory to benefit consumers.

In a class on nutrition, my friend and co-founder Sammy and I met a patient who struggled with obesity her entire life. She had tried diets, she exercised, and she underwent risky surgical procedures. But nothing seemed to work and the complications from the surgical procedures had limited her ability to live her life to the fullest. She had lost hope and even more importantly, had lost trust in the healthcare system.

We started talking about ways we could serve the 2 billion people around the world who are overweight and formulated a set of criteria for the next generation of weight loss products, what we now call Weight Loss 2.0: safe, effective, procedureless, affordable, and frictionless. Unlike previous weight loss products, like fad diets and risky surgeries, Weight Loss 2.0 products would be innovative, scalable, and trusted. Most importantly, they would be designed with the consumer’s best interests in mind.

That gave birth of our company, Allurion Technologies.

After extensive research and development, we launched our first product, the Elipse Balloon. Elipse is the first and only procedureless weight loss device: we like to say that it can be done on a lunch break. In a 15-minute office visit, it is swallowed in a capsule, filled with fluid through a tube, and once full, remains in the stomach before deflating and passing naturally after four months. No surgery, no endoscopy, and no anesthesia.

To make our experience truly consumer-centric, we also provide a Bluetooth scale that connects to an app that consumers and their care team can use to track progress in real-time.

To date, we have already treated more than 5,000 people around the world with Elipse. On February 1, 2018, enrolled the first of 400 individuals in our FDA pivotal trial.

No matter how quickly we grow, however, we will always keep the consumer at the center of everything we do.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Allurion stands out because of its innovative and dynamic culture. We refrain from using the word “patient,” and instead refer to “consumers.” This simple part of our lexicon speaks volumes about our DNA. We are not a traditional medical device business that caters to what insurance companies will reimburse or what doctors will prescribe. Instead, we build experiences — not just products — that consumers connect with.

To do this, we knew we had to come up with ancillary products and services — beyond Elipse — that would make the patient feel comfortable and safe. The technology and seamlessness of the balloon — in our view — are table stakes. The app and the Bluetooth scale make this a truly accessible, real-time experience for our users.

We put so much effort into creating our scale and app that we have been approached by multiple physician groups asking us to buy them separately to use with their patients. While these are not the core of what we do, they are integral in making the consumer experience that Allurion prides itself on.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

It’s one thing to tell the people you work with that they should “feel” empowered. It’s entirely different to give them the latitude, training, and confidence to “be” empowered.

I encourage those in leadership positions to think about what they are actively doing that doesn’t just make their employees “feel” empowered, but “act” empowered.

I understand that sounds nebulous and there is nuance here, but for example, I am very transparent with my staff about all issues — good and bad — impacting the business. I also work to make sure I give them every tool I would want (and then some) to make managing their responsibilities as straightforward as possible.

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?

Entrepreneurship can be very lonely, but it does not have to be. When you have a co-founder who rides the highs and lows with you — side-by-side — the highs are more fulfilling and the lows turn from frustrations into opportunities for growth.

Sammy and I have also grown together in all walks of life as leaders, husbands, and fathers. When we meet one another at our homes, we rarely talk business, because we’re too busy spending time with each other’s kids!

Great friendships are like great businesses: they are built to withstand the tests of time.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) Clear and direct feedback is a gift. It is often too easy to avoid difficult conversations, because they may “rock the boat.” We instituted a regular senior management meeting at Allurion with the specific goal of creating a space where senior team members can deliver feedback to one another. As opposed to rocking the boat, it has created a mutual level of respect among the senior team members.

2) If you are thinking about it, it is already too late. The power of compounding is real. Every day that goes by where any part of an organization is operating sub-optimally will have ripple effects well into the future. The old adage is “hire slow, fire fast.” The reality is, you need to hire fast, and fire even faster.

3) Be mindful of the journey. Life moves fast, but I always try to take some time, especially around milestones, to add some context that puts how far we’ve come into perspective.

4) Articulate your vision and stick with it. Don’t chase the latest and greatest. I’ve encountered many CEOs and leaders who are constantly chasing the “next” thing. Stick to your strategy (that presumably has been thought through). It’s OK to adjust your course, just make sure it is strategic and data-driven.

5) Say “yes,” often. It’s cliché, but so true, that the more you open up to new experiences, opportunities, and situations the more that will come to you. If Sammy and I hadn’t said yes during that nutrition course in medical school, we would probably be practicing physicians, not pursuing our calling at Allurion.

9. Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?

I have this quote framed in my office, and I read it every day:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

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