Jayanth builds a healthier tomorrow with Jawbone®

Jayanth Chakravarthy

Director of Product Strategy, Health

UP3 Silver Cross

Jawbone is a unique place. It‘s rare to get a mix of people with such diverse backgrounds collectively motivated to solve challenging health problems.

“A group of very talented people work at Jawbone, with a strong product sensibility,” says Jayanth Chakravarthy, Director of Product Strategy, Health at Jawbone. “We approach the broad problem of health in a unique way that even traditional healthcare companies making health devices don’t have.”

Jayanth says his formative years at home living with his parents and grandparents had a big impact on his decision to enter the health space. “I’m a typical Indian dude from a normal middle class family,” says Jayanth. “Growing up in India, it was not uncommon to have three generations living at home. Until the end of his life, my grandpa was a relatively healthy guy, with no chronic conditions, but then one day he fell asleep and didn’t wake up.”

“At the time, I didn’t know what to think. My parents assumed I would become a doctor of some kind, but I decided to become an engineer—which, being Indian, was really the only alternative option given,” he explains with a small smile. “But, as I was studying engineering, I saw my grandmother was suffering a lot. She had a hard time breathing due to asthma, which ultimately led to pulmonary fibrosis. She was a person who would cook for me when I’d go home, and suddenly she couldn’t walk easily. She reached a point where she couldn’t use the restroom, and my parents used to help. It was a very drawn out and terrible way of dying. Over the course of five years, she slowly suffocated to death.”

While coming to terms with his grandmother’s difficult death, Jayanth continued attending engineering school. “We tended to just accept the tough conditions in India, but then I took an Intro to Medical Devices class at Stanford which changed everything,” he explains. “That class—it was the moment I realized I could apply engineering skills to solve health problems. When I look back now, I realize my grandparents’ quality of life was compromised because someone didn’t create good enough solutions.”

After graduating from Stanford in 2006, Jayanth started his career at a medical device startup company, Radiant Medical, as a Research & Development Engineer. “There, I experienced one of the high points of my career. I was developing catheters to induce controlled hypothermia for patients suffering from strokes or myocardial infarctions, commonly known as heart attacks,” he explains. “I worked on this project for quite some time, when my manager said, ‘OK, Jayanth. Let’s go to a clinical trial.’ I was super excited. We go to the trial, and I’m in a hospital room; the physician is using the product I helped design with a group of engineers. He turns to me and asks, ‘Am I doing it right?’ It was amazing. That single interaction—where the doctor was turning to me because I knew the tool I created better than anyone—it changed my perspective on how you can develop tools and seriously impact health. It changed the hierarchy for me of physician, patient and tool-maker.”

After spending six years developing successful medical device products, Jayanth found himself becoming frustrated that he couldn’t do more to help those in need. In August 2010, he joined Design Revolutions (D-Rev), a nonprofit design firm based in Palo Alto, California. “Before I joined the company, all of the products I helped create only helped one percent of the world’s wealthy population,” Jayanth explains. “I was immediately attracted to the organization’s mission to develop market-driven solutions for people earning less than $2 a day. It was exactly the job I’d envisioned. Instead of developing innovations that only a small percentage of the world’s population can afford, I was creating world-class, yet affordable, products for the poor.”

As Product Manager at D-Rev, Jayanth was responsible for design, development and launch of a world-class jaundice treatment device. “A lot of children in India, Africa and China have jaundice, a condition where the skin turns yellow because of a chemical called bilirubin in the blood. At D-Rev, we created a much more affordable style of treatment,” he explains. “When we did the clinical trial of this treatment in rural areas of India, I was floored by the response. We were in a childcare facility with rows of children and parents waiting to get treatment. Indian women walked 20 or 30 miles to bring their babies to our childcare facility to receive treatment—and then waited hours for their turn to get care. The human effort behind that is truly inspiring to me.”

Today Jayanth finds inspiration in his role as Director of Product Strategy, Health at Jawbone. “For the past decade, I’ve sought to build technology that empowers people to take charge of their health and transition the current health system from sick care to preventative care,” Jayanth says. “One thing I love about working here is I can clearly see we’re at the cusp of a movement that will ultimately affect health outcomes. That makes Jawbone a special place to be. If we step back, and we assess evolution of digital medicine and the assets Jawbone has, I genuinely believe there’s a tremendous opportunity to impact health at a much larger scale than what we’ve been doing in the past—that could mean getting fit, taking medication on time or engaging someone with a certain chronic condition.”

Being in a role that touches so much of the organization, Jayanth says he spends many of his days in conversations with various Jawbone teams. In his colleagues, Jayanth has found a bevy of inspiration. “The best part of my job is I get to sit in the middle of an exceptionally talented group of people trying to solve a challenging set of problems,” he says with a big smile. “We have someone like Yves Behar who creates compelling designs for consumers. We have talented people like Dr. David Benaron, who’s spent his entire life being a physician entrepreneur, trying to figure out how sensors can be leveraged for chronic conditions; or Michael Luna, who developed sensors for a totally different technology space. Then there’s someone like Kelvin Kwong, who was a magician to start, but leveraged behavioral science to change people’s health habits. It’s such a unique set of talent to try and solve world health problems.”

Though Jayanth has high hopes for the impact Jawbone will make on the health space, he admits the evolution of its technology is key. “We use a framework here at Jawbone: Track, Understand and Act,” he explains. “Back in 2011 when we created our first UP band, we had a conceptual framework, but we didn’t really understand what each of those areas really meant to a user. We did Track really well, but Smart Coach is basically the Understand and Act pieces. As our system evolves, I believe Smart Coach is the most compelling interface to meaningfully engage and drive behavior of users. Smart Coach will be central to helping our community evolve their habits.”

According to Jayanth, his UP3™ band has also helped him evolve his own habits around sleep. “Before I started using UP, I had no idea when I went to bed or how much I was waking up at night. Sleep was a black box, and it piqued an interest in how sleep plays a role in my well-being,” he explains. “The feedback from the UP band helped me learn that about myself. For example, being Indian, I’m used to eating heavy rice portions before going to bed because it’s what I did in India. Now I have a very light dinner with veggies before 7pm and my sleep quality is much better.”

Jayanth says improving his sleep has helped him improve his mental acuity at work, and additionally pursue his home life and passion for dance with gusto. “Growing up in India, I wanted to become a dancer. My parents said no, but were kind enough to encourage me to pursue it as a hobby, so I started learning dance when I was 11,” he says with a huge smile. “It’s always been a great outlet for me. When you’re on stage, it requires a different way of preparing, and that brings another side out of me. I’ve been dancing for 18 years now, and I still have a hundred-dollar bill from my only paid dance performance I ever did. I also met my wife, Shobana, at a Bollywood dance company in the Bay Area. She was a lead dancer; I was a guy in the last line. I married up, for sure. My marriage is a very high point in my life.”

When asked about his biggest supporters, Jayanth doesn’t hesitate to praise his wife, parents and his sister. “When I’m stuck trying to solve a problem, my wife’s perspective is extremely refreshing. She’s got a much more intuitive and emotional approach to life and I’m much more structured and logical. She doesn’t take life too seriously, or have a traditional view of success and failure. She just wants me to be my best self when I’m with her,” he explains with a smile. “As for my parents and my sister…if I had a child like me, I’d never put up with him,” he laughs. “They’re exceptionally patient people and they know me several layers deep. I don’t have to say too many things and they know where my mind is at—we’re close friends. My dad used to say, ‘When you’re on your death bed, none of this matters. All that matters is how many high points you have, and it’s upto you to define and seek your own high points. So go for it.’ Coming from my dad, that sentiment is humbling and grounding for me.”