Within a year, we grew from a Typeform survey into a venture-backed startup with a distributed team of 13 people.
Talking with Dr. Quinn Wang felt like having a conversation with a multitude of people at once. Her insights made us think differently about the world around us. Quinn has acquired an awareness like nobody we have ever seen. She’s lived in 21 different places and plans on seeing the rest of the world when the pandemic reaches the finish line.
Quinn is the co-founder of Quadrant Eye, a rapidly-growing startup that is improving eyecare access (by the way, they’re hiring!) She and co-founder Kristine Yoshihara recently took Quadrant Eye through YC’s Winter 2021 Batch. Quinn is a cataract surgeon who holds both a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Doctor of Medicine degree from Duke University.
During our conversation, she wasn’t afraid to open up about what scares her the most and the challenges that she encountered building her startup. What a blast!
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What were your dreams as a kid?
Growing up, I moved around a lot. I was born in China and moved to the US when I was two. Living on the West, East, and Gulf coasts, I never felt a sense of permanence. I always had in mind that within a few years, I would be traveling again.
I was extremely introverted, but despite that, I had big dreams. I remember distinctly wanting to become a neurosurgeon who was also a lawyer on the weekends and a superhero at night.
How did this translate in college?
There really wasn’t that much thought that went into going to Duke -- out of all my options, it was the best school with the best financial aid package!
An interesting aside about choosing a medical speciality in the US is that it can be a little random. As a medical student, you have a very short amount of time to pick a specialty from a large number of possibilities. You choose to rotate through a few of them, but your experience still remains very surface-level because the rotations are at most a few months long.
For me, I liked that ophthalmology is a mix of medicine and surgery, with pathologies drawing upon the different organ systems.
There is no better feeling than seeing the improvements in someone's life after 15 minutes of eye surgery. Patients immediately tell me that their worlds are clearer and brighter!
What happened after med school?
I did my ophthalmology residency at UCSF, which is one of the top training programs in the country. After I graduated, I worked as a private practice cataract surgeon in San Francisco.
But Covid hit?
Yeah, what a year! When covid hit, eye exams were deemed to be non-essential across the country. As a result, my clinic closed for a couple of months.
Since the very beginning of my medical training, I had noticed many types of systemic inefficiencies that could be potentially improved with simple software and/or workflow solutions.
I realized that I was in a special position to use my insight and grit to improve eye care access at scale. So I decided to take the leap into startup world.
Quadrant Eye. Can you provide us with the aha moment and how everything started?
When my clinic closed during shelter-in-place, I still kept on receiving tons of questions from my patients. Because I couldn’t get any objective eye data from them, I was constantly balancing the risk of bringing my patients into the clinic (and therefore exposing them to Covid) versus reassuring them (online) that their eyes were OK based on the limited information I had.
I wanted a way to gauge my patients’ overall eye health, so I decided to use out-of-the-box software -- a Typeform survey -- to launch a prototypical remote eye exam. Surprisingly, I found out that the data I was getting allowed me to more confidently make decisions regarding whether or not it was OK to have a patient stay at home. My patients loved the eye exam as well, they felt reassured by its thoroughness and felt like it took a lot of guesswork out of our phone calls.
This was a big deal, it got me excited.
Finally, when my clinic reopened, I took care of a grandpa who had gone blind during the quarantine.
I remember vividly thinking that if this person had done my quick Typeform test, I would have been able to save his sight.
This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
What’s your vision for the company?
We want to build an end-to-end eye exam that can be deployed anytime, anywhere.
Within five years, we want to make eyecare accessible regardless of geography or mobility constraints, and we want to do it without introducing lots of proprietary hardware.
How did your family react to you leaving a secured job for the entrepreneurial route?
My parents were very concerned, but they’ve since come around. My friends are all doctors and lawyers, so it’s hard for them to understand why I’d choose such an unpredictable path, but they respect that doing this takes guts.
Honestly, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There are still so many things I have to learn, but it’s extremely satisfying to see the huge amount of personal growth I’ve experienced this past year.
YC. How was your experience there, and what are your main takeaways from the program?
YC was all about holding yourself accountable to goals in a compressed amount of time.
The founder network and the fact that you’re surrounded by other folks who are doing incredible things is very motivating.
Before the YCW21 batch started, I briefly co-worked out of a warehouse with Noya, started by two amazing founders who want to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere.
Without YC, I probably wouldn’t have the opportunity to get to know and work alongside such incredible people working to bring world-changing ideas to life.
What do you love the most and the least about being a startup founder?
I both love and hate the unknown. The possibility of building something that the world hasn’t seen yet is intoxicating and really frightening.
I’m someone who came from a background of knowing that, as long as I put in a certain amount of effort, I would achieve my desired results. This is the opposite of startups, where you can try a bunch of things, devote years of your life... and your idea still might not work.
Exciting and horrifying, right?
If you could change one thing in your journey, what would it be?
I really wish that I had believed in myself more in the beginning. Throughout my journey, I have let other people give me distracting advice that took up a lot of my time and energy.
Today, I trust that I have the expertise and skills to move things forward. I know that I’ve got what it takes to not only do hard things, but to do them well.
When was the time you felt the most vulnerable?
I felt extremely vulnerable when I started Quadrant Eye. I was really afraid of what everyone, especially my colleagues, would think of me. I mean, I was so much younger and greener than most of them!
Later on, when Kristine and I rolled out initial versions of the eye exam, I was so uncomfortable with how imperfect they were... I’m still accepting that things will probably never be perfect enough (laughs).
What would you do if you only had 30 days to live?
I would go backcountry skiing around the world, starting with revisiting Hokkaido, Japan.
Genghis Khan and the making of the modern world by Jack Weatherford.
If you were to start another company today, what would be your one-billion-dollar idea?
I don’t know yet, but it would likely be in eyecare. As an aside, I do think psychedelics are a high-potential space! There’s a lot of promising research into how responsible use of psychedelics can heal intractable trauma.
Inspiring story Quinn, thank you very much.
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