Dorothea Koh  is the CEO and Founder of  Bot MD , a smartphone AI assistant for doctors. She has a passion for healthcare and emerging markets and her personal mission in life is to impact 100 million patients by the age of 40.

Dorothea Koh is the CEO and Founder of Bot MD, a smartphone AI assistant for doctors. She has a passion for healthcare and emerging markets and her personal mission in life is to impact 100 million patients by the age of 40.

1. What's your story?

I grew up in Singapore but have lived and worked in Chicago, San Francisco, Shanghai, Jakarta and Manila -- so I’m really a product of multiple cultures or what some would call a “3rd culture kid”.  I often joke that I can speak 4 different languages, English, Mandarin, Singlish and American.

My undergraduate degree was in Biomedical Engineering and Economics at Northwestern and I did my Masters in Bioengineering at Stanford. I then spent a year at a medical device innovation program called Stanford Biodesign which I attribute to really igniting my passion for healthcare, design and entrepreneurship.

Although I had a strong desire to start a company after graduating from Stanford, I had a few really wise mentors who gave me the advice to focus first on building operational experience within the industry instead of impulsively launching a venture. In hindsight, I’m really glad that I listened to them -- the healthcare industry is a tricky one to navigate because of all the regulatory,  safety and quality considerations -- so it was great advice that they gave me.

My work experience over the last decade has spanned across government and two large Fortune 500 healthcare companies. I had a blast especially being able to live, travel and work across multiple large emerging markets like China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.  These experiences also shaped my passion in life to want to create sizable impact on healthcare in emerging markets simply because of the size of the patient populations and the fact that traditional Western healthcare models don’t scale well in these larger countries.  

2. What did you want to be as a child?

My childhood ambition was to be a lawyer. I loved Literature and Debate and the liberal arts.  Even though I was a Triple Science student in school I never wanted to be a doctor. In fact, when I graduated from high school, I told my mother that I wanted to burn all my textbooks and never study science ever again. Clearly they were famous last words because I not only ended up falling in love with being a biomedical engineer, I’ve spent the last decade working in the healthcare industry!

3. Tell us something unique about yourself!

I love inventing. The first patent that I ever filed was a one-handed Egg Cracker that I invented as an undergraduate freshman engineer to help stroke patients be able to cook an egg. It’s probably still the invention that I am most proud of -- especially when we took our crappy little prototype down to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and I watched a stroke patient successfully crack 10 eggs. I will always remember that moment I created something that someone else found useful!

4. Why did you decide to move to Singapore and start Bot MD?

My co-founder Yanchuan and I are both proudly Singaporean and we aspire to build a world class healthcare company from Singapore.   

5. What do you notice about the different tech/working environments between US and Southeast Asia?

That’s a really interesting question. I think that the biggest difference is perhaps the fact that the US is a single, relatively homogenous market -- whereas Southeast Asia is a melting pot of countries and cultures. So there is a lot more diversity in working styles and you are more likely to find multi-ethnic and multicultural teams here than in the US.

I also find that because of the large size and the history of development in these markets that technology leapfrogging can happen far more often in Southeast Asia compared to the US. One great example of this is the dominance of smartphone penetration over computers or laptops in these markets.  Most of the doctors I meet in Southeast Asia rarely have access to a computer during the day, but are usually carrying multiple phones!

6. What's the most exciting thing about building a startup in Southeast Asia?

We are surrounded by some of the largest and fastest growing markets in the world. The talent pool in Southeast Asia is immense and there are so many unmet needs especially in the area of healthcare.  There is really no better place to be right now.

 

7. What has been the biggest lesson you learned since you started Bot MD?

The importance of always getting out of the building to test assumptions – especially when it comes to products where you are not necessarily the end user.  Humans often have many hidden assumptions that we make about what we think we know versus what we actually know versus what the customer actually wants and it’s really important you start to eliminate these assumptions as quickly and cheaply as you can.  For us at Bot MD, we obsess constantly about making something doctors want to use and this requires a lot of customer feedback and iteration.

8.  What do you do to stay on top of relevant news/ trends in the startup world?

I love to read -- I once had a mentor who told us that the first thing you should do in the day is to read the news.  I juggle between the NYTimes, Wall Street Journal, Economist and a few tech blogs on Medium, TechCrunch and Tech in Asia.   I do a lot of my reading on planes as well since I travel a lot and it’s usually the one uninterrupted period I get to catch up on the latest news and to think.  Lately, I’ve also been listening to Reid Hoffman’s podcast “Masters of Scale” which I highly recommend.

9.  What piece of advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Obsess constantly about making something people want.  Build it fast and iterate as cheaply as you can till you get to product market fit.

10. If your life was a book, which book would it be?

To be honest, I don’t know that any book can truly represent my life -- but I suppose the one book that resonates with me is a book titled “True North” by Bill George, because I believe that throughout my journey I have always found it important to find and develop your true north calling in life.

11. Any tips for our readers thinking about moving to Southeast Asia?

Get on a travel website, book a trip to Singapore and a few Southeast Asian countries across a week or two. I think most people fall in love with the culture, diversity and accessibility of our markets once they get here so it’s really getting them in the door so they can start to explore its potential.  

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