Cindy Jordan: “Empathy is the first must-have attribute or skill”

 

Empathy is the first must-have attribute or skill. Being emphatic is ingrained in the Pyx Health culture, and its why our approach is resonating so well. We’re not just going through the motions and building a widget, we care deeply about our cause and our patients and see technology as a lever in enhancing our […]
By Dave Philistin, CEO of Candor

“Empathy is the first must-have attribute or skill. Being emphatic is ingrained in the Pyx Health culture, and its why our approach is resonating so well. We’re not just going through the motions and building a widget, we care deeply about our cause and our patients and see technology as a lever in enhancing our connections with them.”

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 Impact on Our Health”. 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 Cindy Jordan of Pyx Health.

Cindy Jordan is the founder and CEO of Pyx Health, a healthcare technology company committed to treating chronic loneliness and social isolation. Cindy founded Pyx Health after witnessing the devastating toll chronic loneliness was wreaking on her stepdaughter’s mental health and well-being. Her unique background, which includes serving as a police officer in Montgomery County, Maryland, has provided her with a unique perspective into the critical gaps in the clinical diagnosis and treatment of loneliness and other chronic mental health disorders. At Pyx Health, her primary objective is to help all individuals who are struggling with loneliness and social isolation.

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?

I grew up on the East Coast, in a very blue-collar family. My parents were extraordinarily hardworking. My dad worked for a restaurant chain and my mom operated a daycare out of our home. When my brothers and I graduated from high school, she went to college and earned a two-year degree.

I was the oldest of three children, and my parents always set the tone that we could accomplish great things if we worked hard. Though there was never really an expectation that I would attend college, I received a softball scholarship to George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. After graduating with a degree in political science and government, I served as a police officer in Montgomery County, Maryland, which is adjacent to Washington D.C. That work provided me with valuable lessons that I still carry with me today.

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

Serving as a police officer in my early twenties helped me become more resilient and it also helped shape my perspective as an entrepreneur. While I did not especially love the job, I did learn about the importance of putting things into the proper perspective. If something is challenging in my current role, I step back and remember that there are always people who are having a much worse day than I am. That is important to remember.

As a police officer, a really bad day might mean you’ve seen someone get stabbed or you are rushing to the scene of a deadly car crash. Working in that kind of environment provides a unique high-level of emotional intelligence. That role also taught me how important it is to always communicate with others in a way that is personal and meaningful. This can quickly defuse a challenging situation, and it can help build positive relationships.

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?

Without my wife’s encouragement, I never would have accomplished the things I have in my career. When we first met, I was in my thirties and was working as a lead strategist at an advertising agency. I helped my clients come up with a business strategy to eventually take to market, and one day my wife told me, “You know, you could do this for yourself.” I wasn’t sure how to begin or where I would get the money to get started. She told me that money should never be a barrier to making my dream happen. That statement was really formative to me. I still remember that conversation like it was yesterday, and it changed everything for me. I began planning to build a company and thought about how I could overcome the financial challenges, including how I could secure funding. I am very grateful for that conversation and her support throughout the years.

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

One of my favorites is from Mark Twain: “All you need in life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” I absolutely love this statement, and it reminds me of another saying: “Ignorance is bliss.”

In my case, I firmly believe that ignorance gave me the confidence necessary for success. For example, when I was building my first company, Medical Referral Source, it was better for me not to know that nine out of every ten startups fail. I had no idea, so I didn’t care. I just kept going.

This doesn’t mean that blind optimism is the best approach. Clearly when leading a company you must pay attention to trouble and you must get ahead of it, but you must also not be afraid to take risks.

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?

The first trait is generosity. I believe that greed is riddled throughout this industry, and lots of good companies with really good ideas fall apart because of infighting over equity. I have always tried to remain very generous throughout the process of growing Pyx Health because I believe that generosity will come back tenfold.

For example, when I founded Pyx Health, I used it as an opportunity to right a wrong that had previously occurred in my career. At the time, I was raising capital for a company that wasn’t mine, and the CEO unexpectedly filed for bankruptcy. I felt terrible even though I had no control over the CEO’s decision. When I started Pyx Health, I pro-rata gifted shares to every single person that I took money from for that failed venture. I just felt that it was the right thing to do.

The second trait is gratitude. Here at Pyx Health, our employees take part in gratitude exercises and manifestation exercises. I believe this cultivates positive energy. These can be hard times for all of us, and some days things may look bleak. If you can take a moment to find even one thing to be grateful for, it can propel you a long, long way.

Finally, I would say grit. I am a problem solver and I never really think that anything is done. In my first company, there were times where we feared we would fail. For example, after committing to investing 900,000 dollars in the company, one investor backed out — and this happened on my birthday nonetheless! At that time, we only had about two and a half weeks’ worth of cash remaining. I pulled all of the employees together and we came up with enough money to survive for a few more weeks. Then, six weeks later, we received an acquisition offer. In hindsight, if that original investor had not backed out, we likely would not have received the larger offer. Everything happens for a reason. You can’t quit.

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?

Pyx Health is aiming to solve the increasing problem of chronic loneliness and social isolation. But we also need to raise awareness around these conditions among the healthcare community so that those suffering from chronic loneliness can actually receive the help they need and deserve. Loneliness is not just a state of being, it is an actual medical condition and it needs to be taken very seriously.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Loneliness is uniquely challenging to address because it is intertwined with two other problems we never really talk about. First, most people do not like to self-identify as being lonely because there is a stigma attached to it. Second, most people believe that individuals are only lonely if they are truly alone — meaning they live alone or aren’t close to other people. That’s not how it works. Everyone can feel lonely. The science proves that loneliness is actually a physical response in the body and the brain, and it is the pandemic of our generation.

Our technology allows individuals who are suffering from loneliness to reach out in a safe way and connect with other, caring individuals. In fact, our technology is so powerful because it is intertwined with actual human beings at our compassionate care center.

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

My stepdaughter Rylie was diagnosed as bipolar and struggled terribly. I saw her physical and mental health decline rapidly from stable to high risk. In one year, she had 13 emergency room visits and, because she didn’t live at home, we were entirely unaware.

Through this experience, I kept thinking, “What did we miss?” and, “How can we get in front of this to interrupt the downward spiral?” I knew a lot about the healthcare industry and decided that if I was going to wage a war on loneliness, I would need to work within the healthcare system to solve the problem.

Rylie recently passed away. The last text message that she ever sent said she was lonely. Because of Rylie I am more resolved to stop even one family from feeling this profound grief that is only amplified by knowing that she was lonely in the end.

Many serious mental health conditions have loneliness as one of the top symptoms — dementia, postpartum depression, depression, alcohol abuse, and bipolar. Loneliness is also one of the few conditions that shows no bias for age, socio-economic status, gender, or geography. It affects everyone. Our healthcare system must start focusing on the fact that when people are chronically lonely, they are either already suffering or will soon experience bigger problems.

How do you think this might change the world?

Unfortunately, our healthcare system follows the money. The fee-for-service model does not incentivize providers to find underlying problems. If we can raise attention and make loneliness a billable chronic condition, it will change many people’s lives.

Outside of the United States, many other countries are ahead of us in understanding and identifying loneliness as a serious condition. However, I do not believe that has anyone or any country has found a way to address the full scope of the problem.

Our goal at Pyx Health is to ensure that every person who even feels remotely lonely has a resource that can help 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. We will be there for them, and that is how we will change the world.

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?

A few episodes of “Black Mirror” explore the theme that technology is replacing humans. That is not how our technology is used. Our chatbot, Pyxir, is an extension of our human staff. Pyxir’s job is to uncover when people are suffering from chronic loneliness. Then, he passes that information along to our compassionate care center. Pyxir is not replacing humans, he is enhancing our ability to provide compassionate care.

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.)

Empathy is the first must-have attribute or skill. Being emphatic is ingrained in the Pyx Health culture, and its why our approach is resonating so well. We’re not just going through the motions and building a widget, we care deeply about our cause and our patients and see technology as a lever in enhancing our connections with them.

The second most important skill or attribute is personality. In healthcare, we often don’t let our personalities shine through in what we build. That is a mistake because, ultimately, the executives who are buying the technology and the people who are using it want to feel a personal connection. Having empathy and a personality are an incredibly powerful combination in a technology solution.

The third critical skill or attribute is understanding. I have been involved in many technology companies that fail because their software doesn’t work in practice. For example, the software is created by developers who are isolated in an office, but when physicians try to use it in their practices, it doesn’t fit into their workflows or meet their needs.. If you do not understand your end users and their needs, you cannot build something successful. The technology must be built with an intimate understanding of your end user.

The fourth is actually really simple. You must know how to clearly articulate and define the need for the technology — and the technology must solve a clear and established problem. In our case, I do not think anyone would argue the need for Pyx Health. Where the argument comes in to play relates to how the need is prioritized by the industry and healthcare providers. That is what we are trying to impact.

Finally, you need to know what your tailwinds are. For us, our tailwinds are something much bigger than our company. Tailwinds are the inertia that we didn’t create, but that help propel us to that next level. To me, that is the difference between Pyx Health and my previous companies, and it’s why we are really beginning to soar. We have tailwinds behind us.

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?

Striving to make a positive impact on our society and environment is the most rewarding and fulfilling path you can possibly choose. Those who lead in this area have the opportunity to bring a group of people along with them, helping them live their purpose and make a positive impact. That’s the beauty about being a leader — inevitably you develop a following, and those individuals will feel exactly as you do. There is joy in paying it forward.

This brings up an interesting point I recognized recently. If you think of a bell curve, people who want to make a positive impact on society are on the right side of that line. They are the outliers, the leaders. The reason most people don’t go outside the bell curve is that there is comfort in not being an outlier. When you are an outlier, you will stand out and you will face criticism. Don’t let it get to you. Anyone who tries to discourage you from taking a path that will make a positive difference should be left in the middle — and you should feel comfortable leaving them there.

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. 🙂

Michelle Obama. Even though her husband often got all the glory, she is exactly what I was just talking about with that bell curve. When you think about everything she had to endure to make a positive impact, she did it with grace and humor. I cannot think of an interview where she didn’t laugh or smile or tell a joke. She always communicates like a normal human being. She is relatable and straight to the point. I would absolutely love to have lunch with Michelle Obama.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Our website, PyxHealth.com, is the best source to learn more about our company and the amazing individuals who are dedicating themselves to changing the world. We are also active on social media — Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube — and I can be found on LinkedIn.

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