Podcasts- Project Good Boss

EP9: Raghav Murali-Ganesh on Better Communication (Tech and Leadership)


A radiation oncologist who co-founded the award-winning CancerAid app, Raghav Murali-Ganesh not only enables better clinical outcomes for patients but he takes that humanity and that empathy and uses it to run his own business and team.  He is a man who leads by example in every way and a leader who I am so humbled to have on the podcast.   Tune in for the science, the kindness and the lessons learned!

Intro  0:00

You’re listening to Project Good Boss, the podcast, with your host and Anna Shepherd.

Anna Sheppard  0:22

Project Good Boss is a podcast dedicated to understanding the business benefits of kindness in leadership. We cover topics including and not limited to leadership, equality, psychology, social impact, decent work, and economic growth, all delivered with a little splash of good vibes. So we’re really, really lucky to have Raghav Murali-Ganesh here today, who is this inspirational leader that set up a company that not only helps solve a real challenging social issue in the world, he is pioneering the way with regards to kindness in leadership, ethical leadership, and the team cohesion with the business development. So I’m super excited to have you here because you really do lead by example in every way, and I know this because my partner works for you. So we’ve been very lucky to get a bit of insider knowledge around what goes on, you know, behind the scenes. So, welcome to Project Good Boss!

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  1:27

Thanks for having me, Anna. I’m excited to be here.

Anna Sheppard  1:30

So I’m going to kick off with a question and just so we can start to get to know you a little bit. What was the last random thing that really made you smile?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  1:39

I love this question, actually, when I looked at it. So I have an 18 month old daughter – 20 month old daughter, I should count probably, and she makes me smile every day. She also makes me cry sometimes every day, because she can be very mischievous. But over the weekend, we baked a cake for Mother’s Day. I don’t bake cakes, so I have to set everything up before we baked. I had the wet ingredients on one side, mindful that I keep the wet ingredients away from the dry ingredients because that’s important. The dry ingredients reminded my 20 month old of sand at play school. So within a split second, I looked across, she had her hands in the mixing bowl. That’s fine, because we’ve cleaned our hands, but she was about to get her whole body into it because she thought “that’s the sandpit.” So it made me, well, first it made me sort of yelp and say, “Ah, get her out of there!” But it also made me smile, because she was so confused why I was taking her out of the sandpit. She was like “Sand! Sand!” I was like, “No, it’s not sand sweetheart. It’s not sand”. But that made me smile. I wish I had a video to catch some of the crazy stuff she does, because it’d just be so funny. I’d watch it over and over again, but that made me smile over the weekend.

Anna Sheppard  2:57

I think the joys of being part, you know, part of a beautiful family. And what I’ve heard of you is you know, you’re really passionate about your family and about that work-life balance and about creating a bit of a family with regards to your business as well. That family vibe that you’ve got going on. So CancerAid you’re the Founder, Co-Founder of CancerAid. You went on a journey, didn’t you go on SharkTank or something like that, and you had this concept? Because originally you’re an oncologist, right?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  3:28

Correct. So, my background is as a radiation oncologist, I actually still practice sort of a day a week. I took a break for some years or three years, but the last sort of eight months, I’ve gone back to clinical practice and that’s been really good. I think if you think of why CancerAid started as a way to better communicate with patients, it all came about from a sort of anecdotal experience. Like we’d sit in the clinic room, patients would come in, and you’d do everything in a manual way. Take a piece of paper, scribble on this piece of paper the most important conversation this person is going to have, cross off what’s irrelevant, and make these sort of intangible, sometimes ineligible notes. You’d hand this over to a patient at the end of the consultation. We use technology in every other aspect of our lives, ordering food, ordering cars, whatever we do, why can’t we use technology to have an important conversation and sort of the mandate we set out with? And more recently, I’ve said okay, being disconnected from the clinic is not just sort of damaging me from my identity as a doctor and that’s what I grew up with years and years of my life, but also in terms of trying to grow the CancerAid business and being back at that coalface. I’ve actually found it quite rewarding to be back in the clinic one day a week. So yeah, that’s what I’m doing, and that’s sort of the story.

Anna Sheppard  4:46

What does CancerAid do, Ragav? What does CancerAid do, what’s the function of CancerAid?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  4:53

So, the original and the promise we still keep is to improve that communication between clinicians and doctors, nurses, Allied Health, and patients, but wanting to do that with technology as a backbone. So we provide to patients a digitally enabled service, there’s little jargon there. In essence, what we do is we support patients with the right information at the right time, through a coaching programme. We lay that coaching programme on top of some technology, which is the award winning CancerAid app. Oftentimes, and it’s not because patients don’t know what to do, there’s a lot of information out there, it’s just not given to them at the right time in the right context. So what we do is we do bite-sized information of evidence-based concepts that can bring better clinical outcomes for patients. Just sending them an email or putting them in a brochure is not good enough for patients. What we do is we take that further step, we coach them to say, this is something that’s really important for you to do to empower yourself. We don’t provide medical advice, and we don’t try and disintermediate them from their clinical care teams. We support them so that they can have better conversations in those clinic rooms. That’s what we do, in sort of using technology as a background.

Anna Sheppard  6:09

So a cancer patient is diagnosed, for example, and they’re trying to navigate through the minefield of services provided: clinical, the information they need, their own well being. So these rooms and this support, virtual support as well, creates an opportunity for that patient to have a place to go to just talk, is that right? Get that signposting, almost like a bit of a concierge service, or something like that? Is that how it works?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  6:39

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there Anna. So, when someone is provided with a cancer diagnosis, it hits you. You know, like a tonne of bricks. Patients have a consultation, often they don’t take in what the doctor has said, or the nurses said in that consultation. They’ll go online, there’s tonnes of information online, some good, some a bit, sort of unpredictable in terms of the quality of information. What we do is we take certain concepts – sort of exercise, diet, nutrition, sleep, symptom tracking, for example, these are all sort of evidence-based concepts that if patients engage in these activities, they can improve their outcomes from that cancer diagnosis. Whilst we can’t rewind time and take away the cancer diagnosis, looking forward, there are things that you can do that give you the best chance of beating this disease. We put them to two minutes, videos and conversations, and share these with the patient in bite-sized fashion. We use human coaches who have a lot of empathy, to drive their understanding of those concepts. And thus, we measure our success by how well patients engage in our programme. Then we see what clinical outcomes we have at the end of the programme. That’s sort of the nutshell of what we try and do.

Anna Sheppard  7:52

So I think what’s quite interesting here, Ragav, is you’ve obviously come from this clinical background yourself. And there’s a lot of structure, there’s a lot of reg tech, and it sounds to me – like, you’ve put the humanity, through doing this and creating CancerAid, back into that interaction for the people that need it the most. I’ve worked for a number of charities where cancer is, especially children’s charities, where cancer diagnosis is part and parcel. That shock, and people feel completely, like isolated and powerless at times. So having that space that they can communicate how they’re really feeling a lot of the time I know that patients struggle with how they deal with it as a patient when their family are all falling apart around them trying to support them. So what are the benefits of having the technology component that you’ve created? How does that work in practice, Ragav?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  8:56

Yeah, so technology is really important. It offers in my mind two things that I think mandates for us to take this to as many people as possible. Technology offers consistency, and scalability. What it does not do is give you empathy. There’s a lot of new sophisticated technology out there – sort of IoT devices, machine learning, artificial intelligence. There have been no good examples that we see in our scan of the market, which we do all the time, that empathy can be replaced by that human touch. So we’ve got a blended model where we think technology is great for that scalability and consistency. But, we layer a human touch, again, using a reasonable amount of technology on our back end to provide this in a very scalable manner, to drive engagement. And it’s the addition of those two, which really sort of the one plus one equals three in terms of moving the needle on patient engagement. Pure technology doesn’t achieve that. There’s lots of stats, lots of evidence to show that engagement just dips, when it’s just Tech. And that makes sense. If a machine is telling you to do something, you’re far less attracted and doing it than if you know why you’re doing it because someone has explained to you and personalised this for you through a conversation, someone who’s particularly nice and empathic.

Anna Sheppard  10:13

So, Raghav, it has come to our attention that as a leader, you invest a lot of your time, one to one as well, in the wellbeing of your team. Why did you do that, and what are the business benefits for you doing this?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  10:31

First it’s very kind, and thank you for that. It’s actually really nice to hear that I’m doing that because often you do things – I mean lots of things that go not only unrecognised but also that you don’t know doing right or wrong. This is sort of, in many ways, my first rodeo as sort of running a business. I’ve had businesses in the past, but they have been single person businesses, but none with a team and none with as many moving parts as CancerAid has. I’m very proud to do that, and I think it’s something that I’ve had to say I’ve learnt. When I first started, it’s not one that, or something that I knew, and that came to me readily. There’s a lot of information out there in terms of how to grow businesses. I have great mentors, I have some great colleagues who really understand the value of this and, and my colleagues often will share with me that doing this has been beneficial. Then you start doing something, you invest some time into a process, you get immediate feedback, some benefit, and then you continue to invest in those actions. And I think, as you grow, certainly in any field, you’re shaped by those experiences that you participate in. But overarchingly, it’s a pretty obvious concept- if the team are healthy, mentally and physically, the company will do well. That’s kind of the emphasis. Some people know that, some people don’t know that. But it’s one that certainly we as a management team, believe in supporting each other as colleagues supporting each other as friends almost. I’m pretty lucky that I have, when I’m facing difficulties, I lean on my colleagues. The Chief Operating Officer of CancerAid, for example, his name is Tim Atkins is a good friend of mine, and we spend time outside it and I share with him what I’m struggling mentally, with my challenges and, and he’ll pick me up because some days I’ll be down and there’ll be some days where he’ll be down, and I’ll pick him up. So it’s actually quite nice, and then we say, “Let’s just do this for the rest of the team.” And it’s been good, we haven’t been doing this all the time at CancerAid, I think we’ve been doing this for the last year and a half, and it’s definitely improved.

Anna Sheppard  12:43

So as a leader yourself working in a space where there’s a lot of empathy required, you know, what you do is of service to the community in its very nature. How do you – what tools and support do you have to remain conscious and self-aware in your leadership capacity, especially when you’re faced with adversities like the COVID virus that’s going on at the moment, the different challenges that you need to face, but from a financial perspective, to keep a business like yours afloat and to be of service? What’re your hacks – people are tuning in for the hacks today – as a leader that needs to give so much with regards to empathy? What you do – what are your tools? How do you support yourself through that?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  13:33

Yeah, lots of tools. I mean, the obvious one that you hear about are advisors, advisory groups, people to lean on, I think having a peer advisory group is really important. We talk about governance in businesses and having a board and management team, and that very strict hierarchy of governance. I think that’s really important to drive the best decision making. I would actually tighten those feedback loops to smaller amounts. Having a peer advisory group is really important, someone who’s not on your board, someone who is a little bit more of a friend than a potential adviser, but someone who you respect their advice from, and constantly doing sanity checks on what you do is really powerful. I use WhatsApp, I’ll text a few of our investors. I’ll text a few friends, I’ll text a few investors – sorry, other CEOs – who I know who are doing this and say, “Look, I have this problem,” and just have a conversation around them. The key to doing that is actually not going to people when you need them, because then they have to – people will be there for you. If they like you and they like what you’re doing, people will be there for you, but they don’t understand your business well enough. So I think it’s important that you take them along this journey all the time. So often, I’ll create a little update and share it with them not to ask for advice, but sort of give something there so that if I do have some questions or issues, I can actually go to these people and say, “Hey, we’ve moved to this issue now,” but they already have all this background. So it’s actually a continual conversation rather than, I think with a board, or very formal governance, you have very formal processes too, and they’re very, you know, structured conversations around what you should be doing as a business. But some of these day to day activities may not come across. That’s been really powerful for me. The second thing was a piece of advice I got told when I was very junior in CancerAid was, essentially I have two jobs. One is to make sure there’s money in the bank, and talent in the door. And I constantly think of that as my two big jobs. Obviously, this is one part of that – if you start to lose staff and people are unhappy, that’s a big issue for businesses, especially small businesses, where attracting and maintaining the right talent is so important to grow. So I think a good barometer of success is if people like what you’re doing, and then continue to work with you.

Anna Sheppard  15:55

And that’s really music to our ears, especially with the peer to peer support, because that’s literally what we do at Bambuddha Group is we develop groups of peer to peer leaders that work together to support each other through the ups, the downs. Let’s talk about pressure, because there’s a lot of pressure involved with setting a business up. I know that, you know that. If you’ve come from a place where you’re operating from hearts, which, you know, is about giving back, is about the fact that you worked in oncology for a number of years. How have you gone from that transition, of remembering you need money in the bank to focus on the actual business side of things? How do you individually deal with the pressures and challenges associated with that, while maintaining yourself as a conscious and empathetic leader?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  16:54

Yeah, I mean, we talked about that ‘give first’ sort of theory, I think there’s a real big merit to giving first and showing vulnerability. Oftentimes, to hear, and certainly, in our experience that I’ve seen good leaders and bad leaders in clinical practice. Those that I think are better, their strongest suit is not their intelligence, it’s not their technical ability, but it’s actually their ability to communicate. Oftentimes, it’s really powerful and a source of inspiration is your own team. I work with super talented people that can change the world if their minds are put towards it. But often, the challenges, they don’t know what pressures I might face, or the business may face, or even sometimes I don’t know what pressures they may face, and the way to bridge that gap is having better communication. There’s a fine line between showing vulnerability and being lost and hopeless, I think there’s a fine line. As a leader, you need to find that balance, I think that’s difficult to do. That comes with a little bit of experience, but it is really powerful to share with your team, these are the challenges. And having that transparency in your mistakes transparent – having that transparency in your strategic errors. I think it lends to better decision making, and overall people are more part of the journey than sort of being told where to go. There are lots of memes online and there’s lots of podcasts and things about ‘what is great leadership’, and a lot of them are fantastic. But oftentimes, you know, I think it’s, in my experiences, sharing my problem with someone, and let’s get through this together is far more powerful than saying , “I have a problem, here’s the solution, fix it, ” which doesn’t always work.

Anna Sheppard  18:41

We’ve been very, very lucky to have you with us today. I think what I’ve just found so amazing about you, is just how humble you are as a leader. One of the first things I said to Ragav when he came on earlier was, you know, “how do you lead?” How do you lead your team, the people that work for you? He was like, “No, no, no, the people that work with me.” That is very much the mindset that I have as a leader as well – everybody’s choice is to be there, everybody’s contributing to how this machine works. We’re all working together, working with each other. But still the need for leadership that’s authentic and builds that trust is so very important. And I think that, you know, people might not tell you, you might not know, but you really are head and shoulders with the way that you operate, Ragav. I think what’s interesting about that is it comes quite intrinsically from you. So we’re really chuffed to have you today, we’re going to come on to a bit of a quick fire round and we’re gonna film on the spot if you’re up for that. So, basically I’m going to give you five questions. I just want you to say whatever comes into your head so question number one; The Working Kind Hotseat. As a leader, what is the one thing you could change in the world if you could?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  19:55

Oh, God, big question. Certainly – look in CancerAid. We think profit and purpose can go hand in hand. That’s something that I truly believe in. A lot of people in the world don’t believe that. You know, that profit should be diametrically opposed to purpose. I think you can have both in the same way. Maybe I’m naive and stupid, but we’ll see.

Anna Sheppard  20:15

Maybe you’ll be around for the next 20 years. What do you wish you would’ve known when you started out?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  20:23

Yeah, this is fair – this is an easy one. I had very little commercialisation experience. A lot of my job is selling. Certainly the clinical stuff is obvious, I think, partly because of my background, but commercialising digital health is tough. So what would I know before I started? I’ve spent a lot of time pounding pavements. So I think, understanding why and how commercial driven incentivisations work would be great. I learn every day, but I’m a lot better now than I was four years ago.

Anna Sheppard  21:02

Okay, so what has been your proudest moment as a business owner?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  21:08

So CancerAid has had two sort of lives or avatars the first half we were a purely technology company, the second half, we had this type of technology-enabled service in between those transitions, when you transition a small business from one business model to another that’s a very tricky time. You’ve got to bring people along that journey with you. We nearly died as a business, I don’t l know if you’ll know that, and it’s not fairly well publicised. Transitioning that, when a plane is heading towards the ground, but to move that around that U shape, we’re not quite out of the valley yet. But, we’re certainly on a trajectory that lends itself towards sort of growth and potentially exponential growth. But I’m pretty proud of that transition. It’ll be nice to see as sort of smooth sailing, but I know there’ll be some other questions and challenges as we go along.

Anna Sheppard  22:03

What’s been your biggest failure, Ragav?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  22:06

I make mistakes every day. I saw this question, I found it quite tough to answer, and not because I don’t want to answer it. I don’t – there’s lots of that I’ll continue to make and it’s not about the mistakes, I think. No one probably cares about the mistakes individually that I or anyone has made. But I think there’s one thing that I continue to tell people in my team and myself that, we will continue to make lots of mistakes, there is no doubt about that. We are breaking ice as a business. We’re a new – we have some experience. You know, we work hard, we’re not stupid. But we will continue to make mistakes, especially the unknown unknowns. What I think is criminal is making the same mistake twice. And if we can continue to not make the same mistake twice, doing autopsies, retrospective, the good stuff we’ve done, the bad stuff we’ve done continually. That’s really powerful and probably at least we have no regrets. And if we make the same mistake twice, that’s an issue. We need to think about why we’ve done that. So I continue to tell our team that if we make mistakes, no issues, just let’s not make it twice.

Anna Sheppard  23:10

Yeah. 100% agree with that. So, what are you curious about at the moment, Ragav? What can we expect to see from you in the future?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  23:28

We want to bring CancerAid out to as many people as possible. We know those people whose lives we are privileged to touch. We have an impact on patients (they) give us an average score of 97 out of 100 in terms of our empathy and support. Scaling that out to more than the hundreds and thousands of patients we see to hundreds of thousands and millions of people is the goal, we have some great opportunities and some great commercial pathways to do that in. I’d love to see us around in a few years time making that impact at scale.

Anna Sheppard  23:58

If you could give one message to the people out there listening today, your top tip around leadership, what would that be?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  24:10

This is gonna sound so obvious, but it’s more than that. Listen to those people who you’re working with. They will tell you what to do and what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong. You just have to listen to it, in between this, you know, read between the lines sometimes. But actually, a lot of it is internal, you don’t need to go anywhere else for that advice. The people who you’re working with will tell you how they want to be led. And if you listen to that voice, you probably do a good job in doing it. I think I’m starting to understand a little bit of that. Make lots of mistakes, even there. I suspect if people in my team are listening to this, they’ll be like, “Oh, I’m not sure,” but I try my best to do that.

Anna Sheppard  24:45

I’ve heard you do a very good job and you’ve been a brilliant leader. You’re leading with empathy, kindness, and really a perfect candidate for Project Good Boss. How can people get in touch with you? If you’re a patient, a cancer patient listening –  if you’re a delivery service or a partner. Who do you want to hear from and how can we get in touch with you, Ragav?

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  25:04

Look at our message. We have lots of stakeholders, patients, insurers, pharmaceuticals, employers. Very happy to hear, and if we can provide a service to you in any way, shape, or form we’d love to. The best way is through [email protected]. Or if you want to email me directly, I’m always happy to receive emails as [email protected]

Anna Sheppard  25:25

Thank you so much. Thank you for making the world a better place. Thank you for working kind, and I’d love to tune in again with you in the future and see how you’re going.

Raghav Murali-Ganesh  25:34

Would love to, lovely to meet you.

Anna Sheppard  25:37

Thank you for listening to this episode of Project Good Boss. Bambuddha Group is a social enterprise providing leadership coaching for corporate leaders, business owners and operators. We believe in a future where every leader is committed to creating a sustainable world of equality and opportunity for everyone. If you are a game-changing leader, and you have an amazing story of how your business is making the world a kinder and a better place, we would love to hear from you. Visit bambuddhagroup.com or slide up into our DM’s. And finally, you should know for every paid member we have in our network, we provide scholarships to reduce inequalities in leadership and business. Thank you to Sonic Union for editing this episode, Laura Roberts for writing and performing Project Good Boss and design by Flare Creative. Thank you for being kind today, thank you for tuning in, and we’ll see you again next time.

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