Eric Kinariwala

In this episode, we'll talk to Eric Kinariwala about talent, being a craftsman, helping others to do the same, contextualizing intuition, and much, much more.

Jeff Hunter:
Hi and welcome. I'm Jeff Hunter and you were listening to Coaching in the Clear, the podcast
committed to help you learn about coaching. Coaching is more popular than ever, and we
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enable you to unleash your potential, learn more and sign up at Today I'm
speaking with Eric Kinariwala. Eric is the founder and CEO of Capsule, the pharmacy of the
future. Over the last five years, he and his team have built Capsule into a multi-city, multi
pharmacy platform across the United States. Eric and I met soon after he started Capsule and
I've enjoyed watching him learn, struggle, and grow as a successful entrepreneur and a
self-aware leader. We'll talk about talent, being a craftsman, helping others to do the same,
contextualizing intuition and much, much more. Eric, thanks very much for joining and welcome
to the conversation.
Eric Kinariwala:
Thanks for having me excited to have the conversation.
Jeff Hunter:
Yeah, well, let's give this a shot. So Eric, you have envisioned designed and built an incredible
company. You've worked with me, you've partnered with Talentism. So, you know, you're
familiar with our approach and our thinking. And of course I've seen you do a lot of your own
coaching over time as a successful executive and investor. And that leads me to ask you, how
do you think about the value and importance of coaching?
Eric Kinariwala:
It's been really interesting. I'd never had a coach before you and I started working together a
handful of years ago now. And I think there was sort of initially I had some trepidation around
coaching as almost a sense of like, you know, I don't need a coach. I can kind of figure it out.
And I think the phrase, the idea of like; Hey, even tiger woods has a coach that kind of always
resonated with me which is like, no matter who you are and where you are in your own kind of
journey. I think everyone needs somebody to bring out the best in them. Then that can mean a
lot of different things. But for me, it's really been, I think what's been valuable, has been a
couple of things. I think one has been to create a safe space to really have somebody be able to
work through with you some of the unique challenges that really only, you know, in my case that
only the CEO has to deal with and to have somebody who can provide and share a framework
that I think that not only has helped me, like, think about the specific sort of situation that I'm in,
but what are the kind of guiding principles that let me then apply that framework to the same or
similar situations are gonna happen over time. I think the other thing that's been really helpful is
sort of a process of self discovery around, you know, my own mental models, my own
assumptions that are bacon decisions. I make that I might not even know their assumptions
because they're so deep rooted. So this idea of a mirror and somebody who can both
understand who you are, but bring that mirror back and help you kind of work through what the
impact of your words, your decisions, your actions are on those around you all with sort of, I
think the consistent goal of unleashing the greatness within, you know, that exists in each of us.
And so I think for me, it's been two things. One has been sort of a set of tools and a framework
to approach problems over time. And the second has been a mirror to be able to uncover blind
spots or to better understand myself, to be able to be more effective with others over time.
Jeff Hunter:
That makes a lot of sense and so thank you for saying that and thank you for saying that
because of course that's what we're trying to do. So it's good to know that it's working in some
way. The thing you said about self discovery is something I wanted to pick up on a little bit. So
as you know, cause you and I have talked about this frequently, the way I think about it as the,
you are the only tool that you have to bring to the table when you're a leader or a manager like
fundamentally, you've got this mind and the mind has models and capabilities and impressions
and all these things in it. And the most valuable thing you can do is to get to know that tool
better and become a real craftsmen with that tool, as opposed to trying to acquire new tools,
because fundamentally, if the underlying thing that you're working with, the, you know, the brain
you've got is something that's a mystery to you. All the other tools are going to be secondary to
that primary problem of you don't know how to use that thing. So that self discovery is a critical
part of what we're trying to do. And of course, as you and I have talked about many times, what
makes that especially difficult is you yourself, can't really interrogate your own mind to figure out
what's going on underneath. There's this really thin channel between your consciousness and
your unconsciousness, the consciousness of what you're going through and how you think and
what you believe, etcetera. And then this whole huge mass of intuition and instinct and memory
and emotion and all those things that are really not accessible. So you have to go into battle in
essence, you have to like get to work and you've got to do things and then try to take the data or
the evidence that you produce and bring it back to the table and say, okay, how am I going to
make sense of this. How am I going to make sense of what this says about me? Because
frankly that surprised me or I thought I was better at that or whatever it was. I think the role of
coach, at least a clarity coach is crucial to try to help you make sense of that. So one of my
questions would be just for you personally, what's been one of the things that, because you and
I have worked together so long, what have been the things that you started out and thought, you
know, I'm pretty good at this thing. I think I'm good at it. And then over time through the process,
through the work and through just being a successful executive, you've come to maybe a bit
more humility or a perspective of like, wow, I've learned that's much harder than I thought, or I'm
not as good at it as I thought.
Eric Kinariwala:
A lot of things. Hey, you know, one of the things I spent a lot of time doing is building an
amazing team to tackle the mission that we have, which is large and ambitious. And so I spent a
lot of my time recruiting and interviewing, and I think there's, I think getting more, in some ways
getting more sophisticated about interviewing, but in some ways actually just becoming much
simpler and much clearer about what, you know, what is an interview process and what is the
point of the interview process and what are you actually trying to do in a conversation or a
series of conversations in an interview process. And I think the thing that has resonated the
most for me is that it's all about context and that, you know, one of the things that I've learned
through coaching is really to start with what is the context that exists at our company? What is
the context that exists of somebody working for me or being on my team? And then how do you
use the interview process to collect evidence, to suggest whether that person or that individual
can be successful in that context as almost the primary driver or predictor of whether that
individual you know, will be likely more likely or less likely to be successful, you know, in that
environment. And so this idea that it's not about finding the world's best marketer, it's about
finding the person that can be the world's best marketer at your company, working for you. And I
think that's a really important distinction that maybe was less clear and less codified when I
started doing this five years ago. And I think has come in to pretty extreme focus as an
individual and as a company, as a team, we get better and better and better at assessing talent
and building out our team. That's been a really powerful way I think to kind of combine what you
said is like, how are you a craftsman with your own tool and your own set of tools? And then
how do you bring folks in that are going to enable them to be the best craftsman they can be?
And that's all about the context and past evidence of being successful in contexts and
environments that are successful. So I think that's probably the, one of the biggest things that I
have. I think a lot of humility for people that are really good for being able to pattern match, you
know, what kinds of people will be successful in the environment that you have, or that you've
created, you know, both who else is around the table, but also just what are the values and
norms that exist at your own company. And a lot of that for founder led businesses, the way
Capsule is, you know, stems from the founder, you know, herself or himself. And so being able
to understand your own, the context that you create as a virtue of being you and then being very
upfront, open and transparent about what that is, and this is who we are. But also then seeking
to collect evidence, whether that individual can be successful in that context. So, you know, an
example of that is really, I think, you know, communication style and pattern is something that
you know, that is perhaps not unique at Capsule, but it's certainly consistent at Capsule. And
that we're a company that prefers to be in rapid sync to be in continuous communication. And
we, because we're a company that is very focused on learning and iterating and moving quickly,
the idea of, you know, we have found that there are individuals on either end of the spectrum.
There are individuals who really prefer to take a problem and then go away for a month and put
together a very polished presentation and come and kind of have like the, tada, big presentation
moment. And we have generally found that, that is not the context that we have at Capsule. And
so like while that presentation might be really excellent and that person might be very excellent
at their craft, that at Capsule we are about learning together. We're about winning together and
we're about, you know, continuously staying in sync so that, you know, every day, every week
we're learning so that over the course of that month, the information that gets put into whatever
the initiative is, is actually kind of an uphill trajectory versus staying static for a month. And then
I think we found that people that thrive in that environment of kind of short bursts of
communication and wanting to stay in sync with the folks around them really find the
environment energizing. And for individuals who prefer to be able to go off in a corner by
themselves for an extended period of time, find that environment to be, you know, find the
environment to be distracting, believe they're being micromanaged. And generally find that to be
the opposite of energizing.
Jeff Hunter:
Yeah. I want to connect something you said, because I think it's a really important insight for
leaders and for managers, you're bringing up this idea of context, but also something that you
started talking about, which is like, what are your underlying mental models? So my experience
of us working together as when we first started working together, that you have had this great
career where you'd done a certain thing you'd been worked in the hedge fund industry, and
you'd have this sort of pedigreed educational background. And so early, when we started
working with each other, you would talk a lot about, oh, this person went to a good school, or
they've been at good companies, etcetera. And you'd really think, wow, given that resume, this
person's going to be great. And then over time, what I saw you do is cause you're very analytical
and you tend to like follow the data through to completion. So you can, so you can learn. What I
saw you do is say, you know, there doesn't seem to be much correlation in this context, inside
the Capsule between having done these sorts of things and being successful here, there must
be something else that is a correlation. And through that work, I think you've come to these
insights, but I believe connecting to coaching and the value of coaching. And what you talked
about in the beginning is this self discovery process. We all come to the table with these mental
models and we all come to the table. Anybody who's having a conversation at work is operating
from a position of having underlying unconscious mental models. And in those mental models
are all sorts of assumptions about how the world works and about what we're like, the
connection between the two and then all sorts of things like what kinds of people are going to be
successful here or not be successful here, etcetera, and a lot of those models are just wrong.
They just aren't predictive. They aren't helpful or predictive of future success. And it's incredibly
difficult to try to uncover those things because you have to again, do it through the, you know,
evidentiary investigative process. You've got to do stuff. And then you got to look at the results
and say, wow, that really doesn't work. What if we tried something else? And I've found you to
be very good at that sense-making action taking experimentation sort of loop. But now, so one
of the things I think you're especially good at is, I think you're very good at trying to use data to
understand what's happening and why something is happening. And you describe not only this
thing where you're in constant sync with people, but I can imagine also trying to find people who
want to speak your language since as CEO, you have ultimate hire, fire authority, and you sort
of create the context under which other people are going to be successful. How do you think
about having conversations about data and situations versus how people feel about things
versus how, when you're thinking about yourself as a leader and who you need to show up as in
different times in order to achieve the goal that you want, how have you thought about your
strengths around data and analysis versus other things that might be needed in leadership and
how you've come to learn about yourself in that over time?
Eric Kinariwala:
Yeah, I think a lot more like facts than data, I think same concept, but thinking about really,
because I think, you know, data can be, data is usually perceived to be quantitative, but I'm a
believer in sort of, you know, driving to decisions based on facts. And those facts can be either
quantitative or qualitative. And being able to use those facts, to be able to tell a story, to support
a hypothesis for a decision that needs to get made and being able to do that relatively quickly.
And I think it's, you know, I think in all businesses, there are parts of the, there are some parts,
hopefully they're some, if you're innovating and learning, there should always be parts of the
business that are more nascent and more unknown than others than when you first start out.
You know, you have the maximum period of uncertainty and as your business matures, maybe
there are, you know, new initiatives and new projects that have less certainty and less data and
evidence. But I think the ability for individuals to be able to gather facts and to compare those to
a hypothesis they have for a decision that they need to make is a really structured way of being
able to ensure that the decision making in the company compounds on itself, you know, with
every decision that you're getting better and better and better. And so the input to the next
decision is informed by what you learned from the prior decision that you made. But if you're
not, if you're not able to use facts to make your decisions, and you're really not getting better
and better over time, your really just staying on the same plane and just making, you know, kind
of spring a gun and just making a bunch of decisions versus really, you know, kind of coming up
a hill with every decision sort of elevating the next decision and the next decision. And so, I
mean, looking for, you know, looking for facts or looking for evidence of when people have done
that in their prior careers or in prior experiences has been something that we, or I personally
have, you know, found to be really valuable to ask in an interview process.
Jeff Hunter:
So that make sense to me, but let's talk a little bit about that. My experience is as CEO, not just
as a coach, but as a person who's started businesses is that there are times that you need to
deal with data. And I understand the distinction you're making between data and facts. Third
times you need to deal with facts and there's actually times you take a leap and there's times
you use intuition, which is a pattern matching, which of course is pattern matching, but it's
pattern matching blur consciousness or awareness, and in the intuitive space or artistic space of
like somebody is going to come in and say, I think we should just try this. And it's an opinion it's
not grounded. In fact, it's not grounded in analysis, there's very little data to support it. And yet I
do believe we should do it. I have found that to be important inside an organization as well, and
especially in the early stages, because every founder as a founder, I can say this. Every founder
I've ever dealt with is a little bit crazy because you just can't do enough analysis or have enough
facts at your disposal to convince yourself of anything other than the fact that you've got an 80%
probability of failure. And that, that's a pretty high probability. And yet you, I know you well
enough to know, you know, those odds are long and you know, that you probably could have
made more money doing other things. And yet you were inspired and compelled to start
Capsule and get this done. And to me, that was as much an act of intuition and drive and
compulsion as it was rationality, in fact. So how do you think about balancing those things and
how do you think about the time when someone shows up to you and says; Hey, listen, I really
want to give this a fly and I don't have a lot of rationality behind it, versus when someone comes
to you and says, I want to do this thing. And you're like, yeah, it doesn't make any sense. How
do you think through that as a leader, especially as Capsule grows.
Eric Kinariwala:
I think it's spot on. I think there are high beta decisions and high and low beta decisions that you
have to make. And so I think teasing out, you know, hey, like does this decision even matter,
like, is it going to have a big impact or not? In fact, I think at some of the mental models from,
you know, Amazon and kind of one way decision, two way decision. I think those are helpful
heuristics in terms of how much time should any of us be even talking about this, because
whether it goes wrong or right, like just doesn’t matter. So it's just, you know, the benefit isn't
just making the decision and moving on, I think for decisions like, that can have high impact and
yet there's no facts and data. I think what is helpful then is to really understand, well, if I'm right,
what happens and if I'm wrong, what happens? And one of the reasons that might inform, you
know, either of those things. And so I think there's intuition is a wonderful place to start because
I think as you mentioned like intuition really is, is really just, is the accumulation of experience.
That is almost so second hand that you're not taking time to kind of separate it out and codify it
the way you might with something else. And so I think we're believers in having strong intuition
for things, because it probably reflects having, you know, done something, the quote, you know,
proverbial 10,000 hours. And having the ability to sort of almost instinctively kind of know what
that decision is. And so I think there, it becomes can you really just understand what the
decision path is then going, you know, going forward? Is it, you know, if I do this, then this
happens. And if I do this and it doesn't happen, this is the next thing I'm going to do, but I, you
know, I think you're spot on like, you know, early stage companies are moving often too fast,
and there's so much unknown that you can't have facts perhaps to inform the decision, but you
can certainly have facts to understand what the impact of that decision is going to be and how to
make that decision stronger and better or to mitigate the risks that, you know, may exist from
being wrong. Which, you know, there's inherent uncertainty in everything.
Jeff Hunter:
Yeah. I think there's two things that you said over the course of our conversation, I just want to
pick up on and tie into that. So one is, I think there are, not to steal liberally from economists
and Klein and others, but there are people who are good at intuition. There are people are bad
at intuition, and you have to actually understand how to differentiate between the two. We all
have intuitions and we al,l there's innumerable biases littered throughout our intuitions. And then
the thing that I always loved about like, you know, thinking fast and slow and Gary Klein's work
is sort of differentiating and separating our, when should you trust your intuitions versus when
you shouldn't. And then to connect that back to something that you said earlier about context. I
think what that work show to the extent I understand it is people who have actually had to make
decisions that have big impacts and make those intuitions quickly without all available data, and
then experience the loss for the problems associated when those decisions go wrong and had
to repeat that and get it more right over time, because they were in that context, those people
have intuition more like that you're more likely to trust or should trust assuming they're in the
same sort of context. I think what many have talked about is the, station commander or fire chief
who shows up at a burning house and can make a relatively good decision about whether to
send people into a burning building or not, there'll be right more often than wrong in a sort of
surprising above random sort of way, but it's because the mechanics of building that intuition
have been pretty good. And the good feedback loops, high-impact feedback, loops, immediacy
low latency, etcetera. And that if you put them in situations similar to that, you can probably get
a good decision out of it. But where we make a lot of mistakes is we think because you are a
good fire chief, you're going to be good stock picker. As an example, you know, a lot of gut got
to make the trade, got to move fast. And the reality is they're extremely different contexts. And
so one of the things I've seen CEO’s think about is like, okay, what is my own mental model of
what intuition is and isn't and how I can use it and not use it. And who am I going to choose to
trust with their intuition? And some of that is, I don't know what I don't know. So I'm going to
pick, as you said, two way doors you know, simple two-way doors, sorts of situations and
decisions so that I can see how you do and we can test your intuition. And some of it is like,
yeah, I think this context is the same, and you're good at this. Like you have a good sense for
how to do these things. And I think I can trust you in that being explicit about that and learning
about your own sort of internal understanding of that through the coaching process, or just
through experience and being able to bring that as a leader, I think improves your own
leadership and management over time. And I've certainly seen that with you. I've certainly seen
you improve in that over time just by having that awareness of what intuition is and isn't, but it
very often has to do with building a fact base about the person, not a fact-based about the
situation itself and knowing when you can and should trust somebody or how you should be
able to test them as you move into that. Now, when you think about the future of Capsule and
what you're facing and all the things that you're aspiring to, cause you have huge, a huge vision
and a huge drive to disrupt the pharmacy industry, you know, to your credit, so far, so good.
What do you think about with regards to the challenges you'll face as a leader in that next stage
of growth, that next stage of evolution, what are you going to face and how do you expect
coaching to be helpful to you in that?
Eric Kinariwala:
I think you know, I think at some point you don't know when, but at some point, you know, my
job went from the very early is actually building the product that created value for the consumer
and for the doctor and for other parts of the healthcare ecosystem and making sure we got that
product right and spot on and that people love using it and that it was scalable and the
economics were right and the brand was right. And I think my job has evolved, continues to
evolve to really from building the product, to building the company that can then continuously
build the product or a series of products that create value. And so really almost from a macro
perspective, thinking about my job is now building the product, which is the company that can
then produce, you know, things of value or you know, consumers and doctors and other people.
And so that evolution or that transition is, you know, what I think about as the next what the next
phase of leadership needs to be. And so that's things like the communication cadence of the
business, that's the management, you know, it's the management rituals, it's like goal setting.
It's the team that we have in place. It's how the team engages with one another. It's what it's
culture, it's what are the behaviors that are rewarded, accepted? What are the behaviors that
are rejected and punished? It's all of those things that can then be built sort of a self
perpetuating, you know, organization or organism that allows us to, you know, systematically
and continuously uncover needs in the marketplace, you know, friction points, frustration points
consumer needs and then solve those and distribute those in the market and sort of build that to
build a quote unquote product that enables multiple products to be built and created without,
you know, without my hands in everything. And so anything from, moving the role from sort of,
you know, the builder to the, to kind of the architect, you know, is sort of, kind of something
that's already started, but where I foresee, you know, my role continuing to evolve into. And I
think the role of coaching in that transition or in that evolution, one is to have somebody who is
reinforcing that with you and making sure that your time allocations are, and your mind sharing
your attention are on those things. And that can come through a variety of things that can come
through, but the problems that get surfaced in a coaching session, you know, part and parcel of
that is fundamentally asking, you know, why are you even dealing with this? Because that really
seems like something you need to process and a machine to deal with as part of like the
organization that you're creating versus you actually need to solve that on your own. And I think
that coaching will help will be essential in uncovering where, you know, my own mental models
may prevent or preclude or make more difficult, the ability to build and architect that
organization. And so where there needs to be extra, you know, extra kind of attention to the
places that will preclude something that is highly effective from being put in place and then sort
of sustained.
Eric Kinariwala:
Yeah. So I think you're raising something that actually now that I'm thinking about it, you and I
haven't talked a great deal about, but we have this idea called the four D model. We love
models with numbers and letters in them, but the four D model is based on this concept of how
a leader, you know, a founder's evolution sort of maps to enterprise value creation. And so we
start at the lower, lowest level of enterprise value creation. When the founder first starts in their
doing, their just doing most of the work, a founder in the very early days as somebody who's
actually has to carry most of the load, they do everything from new product development to you
know, taking out the trash, and then at a certain point, you can't do everything and you start to
hire other people and enlist them in your vision and what you're trying to achieve. And then you
move from a doer to a decider. And the deciding is deciding what is important. What's not
important. What should we work on, etcetera. And the decider tells the people who are doing
stuff you know, what to do and how to do it. But at a certain point, there is a transition where you
can't possibly decide everything that needs to be done. And you move from deciding to
designing the, actually playing the role. As you just said, as an architectural role, a design role
of trying to see how this thing would operate, what is the org model and what is the strategic
model, etcetera, and how do you get people who are good deciders to be inside of that model?
And then ultimately as you grow and you build more enterprise value, you're going to start to
move from designing to decoding. And decoding is where you have the ultimate strategic birch
and you sit there and you see the longterm of the market. You see the longterm of the
customer's need in that market, and you're no longer really designing the organization. You're
just the person who sets the direction and talks about the vision and how to get there. And one
of the things that a lot of founders have is they're actually very good at the decoding. That's one
of the reasons they get into foundings because they have a vision that other people lack or don't
see, or can't activate. And I would say that was certainly true of you and that, but they also then
have to be the doing, they actually have to everyday be doing stuff to get that done. And when
they start to move from doing to deciding, it's still, it's the same sort of psychological and mental
activity. Like it's sort of quick turns high impact a lot activity in the moment. But moving from
deciding to designing is very difficult. It's a very different thing where you step back and sort of
visualize and imagine, and strategize and construct as opposed to do or tell. And so I think what
you're describing is like, you're in that moment, I think you frankly have been in that moment for
awhile, but you're in that moment of moving from more of the decider to the designer, which
makes a lot of sense to me. And then I think what you're doing is describing the role of coaching
as being like, hey, if you're going to be a designer, you've got to be good at A, B and C, and I'm
not sure you're actually good at that, which I think you should expect from coaching. But the
other thing I think in at least clarity coaching, what you should expect is calling out whether
you're actually good at that or not, because that's a very difficult term to take. And whether you
actually, I've worked with founders who cannot make that term and they can still be incredible
CEOs. They just have to make sure they have good designers around them. And so it's really a
self-awareness, which we're also describing with the self-awareness piece, so that not just like,
I've got to be good at it. So hopefully you expect that out with your coach since we continue to
work with each other and that's what we'll be doing. But I hope that makes sense to you.
Eric Kinariwala:
That makes sense and the self-awareness piece is incredibly, I think important as part of the
coaching process which is just sort of, you don't have to be good at everything. You just got to
make sure that the set, you know, in aggregate the set of people you have around you can be
good at the things that need excellence around them. So that's probably where everything starts
is being able to have the honest conversation with somebody who cares about you and who
knows you to be able to get to the realization of like, well, what are the things that you have a
shot at being great at? And what are the things that are going to be like Sisyphean, I guess, like
pushing, you know, pushing the Boulder up and it rolling back on you over and over and over
again. And which of those things may you want to bring somebody in who can actually get the
Boulder up and over the hill so that you can be that person for the things that you are that
person for.
Jeff Hunter:
Well, I certainly always enjoy a conversation that ranges from Greek myths to behavioral
economics. Eric, this has been an absolute joy. Thank you so much for agreeing to be on the
show and participating. It's been a real honor to work with you and watch you build Capsule.
And I'm just very grateful for everything and especially for you being here today. So thank you
very much.
Eric Kinariwala:
Thanks Jeff, always fun to to catch up.

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