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Meet the Collective: Gaurav Agrawal, VP of Engineering

Gaurav Agrawal, Collective Health's Vice President of Engineering, shares a personal story behind his reason for joining the company.

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Meet the Collective is our series highlighting the great people who make up Collective Health. Today, we’re sitting down with Gaurav Agrawal, Vice President of Engineering.

Where are you from?

I grew up in India, in a small town in the state of Uttar Pradesh. I was fortunate to get a great education and support in India, and I moved to the US for work almost 25 years ago. Now, I live in San Jose, California, which is a beautiful place to live. I’m grateful to now call this place home.

What happened in your career that led you to Collective Health?

I don’t mind saying that I’m a technologist and a nerd! I enjoy problem solving, building teams and systems, and enabling businesses to grow at scale. I’ve also been able to switch industries over the years, which has been very fulfilling and a great learning opportunity.

What led me to Collective Health was more of a personal than professional reason. My mother, who was living with me for years, faced medical challenges about 18 months ago. We struggled to get timely attention from the right experts and specialists to provide her with the care she needed. Unfortunately, our healthcare system failed her and my family when we needed it the most. I got so frustrated that I ended up taking her back to India to get the right care. I even thought of moving to India to support her, which would have meant being away from my kids. I didn’t do it, but my primary mission, and my reason for joining Collective Health, is that we can help bring change in the healthcare industry so that no one else has to go through what my mother had to.

What excites you most about Collective Health?

I get a chance to work with amazing people and have an opportunity to touch a number of lives, and both of those are very important. Over my career, I’ve been fortunate to be part of what I call big revolutions driven by technology, such as the smartphone revolution, which was brought on by Apple. Then, I was part of the digital revolution in India with Reliance Jio, which touched almost a billion people. I want to continue that streak, and I get excited thinking about the opportunity to have an impact on the US healthcare industry with Collective Health.

Which of your roles best prepared you for your role at Collective Health?

Separate from any company I’ve worked at, the best education I ever received was from my parents. Observing my father, and his passion for supporting his community, his love for life, and his positivity, as well as my mother’s commitment to her family, her work ethic, and her openness to learning new things, were all great life lessons. 

In terms of my professional career, what I learned at Apple was how to create the best experiences for your customers, and how to build systems and teams which can scale. At Reliance Jio, I learned how to push the limits, and tackle things which seemingly look impossible, to understand how to make them happen. I also learned how technology can have a profound impact on the communities you live in.

All of those lessons have prepared me for my role here at Collective Health.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for Collective Health in terms of impact?

The way I look at it is we have knowingly chosen a challenging industry. We know it’s a hard problem to solve.  And I believe it’s important for us to be bold and not shy away from causing disruption. It’s time to push things forward and faster. And the reason I say that is because I’ve lived through a few of those revolutions.

Apple, for example, showed the art of the possible with the iPhone. Reliance Jio did the same thing in India. Getting a cell phone connection used to take 5 to 6 days and it was so expensive. Only rich people could have internet access, and Reliance Jio made it so quick and inexpensive that anyone could have it. Now the whole country is connected, enabling a digital revolution.

We’ve got to do the same thing with healthcare. We’ve got to show the world what the best healthcare can be, and then others will follow.

What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your career?

There are a few guiding principles I live by. One is intellectual curiosity. Things are changing so fast that you have to be in a constant learning mode, and you need to have a continuous improvement mindset, where every day needs to be better than the previous one.

Years back, I used to run half marathons, and what I learned through that experience was that you need to focus only on the next step, then the next step, and then the next step. You can’t think of it in terms of 13.1 miles because that could be paralyzing. But if you just focus on one step at a time, you’ll complete the race. The same principle applies to life as well, in that every day needs to be a tiny bit better than the previous one. And if you continue to do that, the trajectory of your life changes.

Another principle I live by is having the courage to challenge the status quo—just because something is done in a particular way, it doesn’t mean it has to be done like that, right?

Also, we spend so much time at work. You’ve got to make sure that you’re having fun and you’re enjoying it, and you’re creating a fun and positive experience for the others you interact with.

And lastly, make sure that whatever you’re doing, you’re having a positive impact on the community you live in.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not working? 

I really enjoy hanging out with my friends and family. It could be as simple as sitting around together, eating, drinking, and laughing. I also enjoy hiking and listening to music, but a really fulfilling day is spending it with friends and family.

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? How has that informed what you do today?

I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I’m glad that I didn’t have a firm opinion of what I wanted to do because the world around us changes so fast. I’ve followed the same principle with my daughters in that I’ve never pushed them or asked them what they want to do. As long as they get the right foundation and principles, they’re going to grow into what’s right for them and what’s right based on the world they are living in now.

I do have a funny story of how I got into computers. Until college, I had never seen or touched a computer. And one day, I read a book about a boy who learned computers and it changed his life. I was fascinated by it. The next day, I joined a computer course and that changed the trajectory of my life.

What’s your favorite quote?

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world” by Mahatma Gandhi. 

It’s important to first embody and demonstrate whatever values you look for in others. I love that quote and I try to live by it.

Any hidden talents or fun facts about yourself? 

Growing up, I used to enjoy dancing and I did breakdancing during the Michael Jackson era. I could even do the moonwalk! I can’t do it anymore, but I remember how much fun I used to have.

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