A Look Inside: Andy Chan, CEO

In a regular series, we plan to explore what makes VIT tick and give readers a look into our company culture and values. First up, CEO and co-founder Andy Chan!

Q. What is your tagline?

Our fearless leader

Our fearless leader

A. Simplicity is the greatest complication
    - Da Vinci

Q. Why start VIT?

A. As a little kid I always dreamed about starting my own company and being my own boss. Looking back I think most kids have that crazy spark of creativity and inspiration to go against the grain but I guess I never outgrew it.

Why specifically VIT? I’ve been a student-athlete my entire life and while playing college football I met my to-be co-founder, Connor Young. I remember standing on the sidelines in between drills and chatting about what we would do with our electrical engineering degrees and how we wanted to change the world. You know, typical football chat.

Having been injured many times during our sports careers, we became very fascinated with the notion that injuries can be better prevented with new sensor technology and data analytics. It was all the more personal when I broke my back ending my football career because of poor stretching and years of repetitive stress of tackling.

And so, we kicked off VIT with the aims of helping us reduce the burden of musculoskeletal disorders, or MSD, which is one of the most common cause for disabilities in the world affecting one-third of our population. We started by targeting enterprises since they have very significant costs for the safety of their team members and haven’t seen a whole lot of innovation in the space of safety while other parts of the company (like operations) have seen an explosion of technology.  

Q. What would you be doing if you hadn’t started a company?

A. Hmmm that’s a good one. I probably wouldn't even be an engineer even though that’s what I was formally trained in. I’d probably pursue a career in music production/writing and film-making. I grew up with music and art and was classically trained in piano for over 13 years. A lot of people see music and science as very different silos but for me I see beauty in technology and precision in art.

Q. What keeps you coming to work every day?

A. Knowing that if I don’t do this who will? Who else cares enough to sacrifice everything just to ease the burden back problems a little bit? Honestly, it might be the ego in me but it’s also the idea that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself. Also, I get to work with my very good friends and what other work environment do you really get that opportunity?

Q. What has been the most surprising part of founding and running a company that most people don’t think about? Or what is the most random skill you had to develop?

A. Mmmm I think the most surprising part of founding a company is how hard and lonely the life of a founder is. I knew that it was going to be the most challenging thing I’ve ever done which is partly why I was drawn to it: I love a challenge. Even though I read dozens of books about founding companies and watched movies, nothing prepares you to actually go out and do it.

It’s like the Mike Tyson quote: “Everyone has a plan until you get punched in the face.” You can strategize it, study how Steve Jobs did it, or whatever and none of it matters because you can be sure it’ll never turn out the way it plays out in your head.

This sounds really weird but the most random skill I developed was learning how to be alone. It’s a isolating existence being a founder and that’s something I wish someone had told me before going into it so I could prepare myself better mentally. Thankfully having a co-founder really helps with that which is a huge reason why I highly advocate having co-founders.

Q. What brought you to Pittsburgh and why have you stayed?

Important resources

Important resources

A. Growing up in Texas, Pittsburgh was a huge shock both weather- and culture-wise. I came to study at Carnegie Mellon University to become an Electrical and Computer Engineer. Originally I had thought I was going to get my Ph.D. and then spin my research off into a company. Little did I know I wouldn’t even finish my Bachelor’s, leaving to start VIT.

I stayed because Pittsburgh has some tremendous resources such as close proximity to our clients’ distribution centers, talent from the colleges, low cost of living, and the resources we got through the Alphalab Gear program which is the startup accelerator where we got started.

Q. Outside of work, what do you fill your time with?

A. [Andy laughs] For the first full year I used to work all the time like 80-100 hour type weeks so by the time I got home I just crashed. But that lifestyle was absolutely not sustainable and the startup game is all about sustainability.

Now in my free time you’ll find me recording and producing music and writing, acting, and filming skits/short movies. But most importantly, I always find time to spend with my friends and family which was something I did a very poor job of during my first year in business.  

Q. Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?

A. Can’t name a particular person but a few. My mom. My dad. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Ed Sheeran. Leonardo Da Vinci. I know, it’s a random group of people. My mom because she is the most selfless person I know and gave up her career to make sure I had the best childhood. My dad because he’s a grinder. He never complains, never falters. He just keeps going no matter what and gets the job done.

Arnold because he had every reason to fail but his will was made from the stuff of superheroes. Ed because he’s so dedicated to his art that he left everything behind, sleeping on the streets as a kid, and never letting go of his fire. Da Vinci because the man saw a world without boundaries, a world where art and science were the same.

Q. If you could take the place of any movie/tv show/book/cartoon character, whose place would you take and what would you do?

A. Probably Tony Stark from Iron Man. I would definitely be less of a narcissist. I mean the dude was borderline a sociopath. If I were Tony, I’d definitely use my power and influence to help promote changes like clean energy, better education, and prison reform.

Q. They’re making a movie about your life. What’s the title, who plays you, and who is the villain?

Basically Andy.  Photo by  Anthony Citrano

Basically Andy.  Photo by Anthony Citrano

A. Wow this a great question! Hmmm I would say the title would be, A Borderless Life, or something like that [Andy laughs again]. I love so many things about life, things that perhaps people don’t think would go together like playing football and piano, running a tech company and producing films. But that’s my life, a little bit of everything. I would love to be able to play myself but if I wasn’t able to...well I don’t know because there’s not a big appetite for Asian actors in Hollywood now [Ed. Note - My choice to play Andy would be Terry Crews]. The villain would be my internal demons, played by Danny DeVito(s).

Q. What song did you sing last time you did karaoke?

A. Last song I sang at Karaoke was A Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton. It was a great time! My team members took me out to the bar and we all sang it together.

Q. What additional question should we ask in the next employee profile?

A. What is your dream vacation and who would you take with you?