Health Tech: Kelly Roman On How Fisher Wallace’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our…

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Health Tech: Kelly Roman On How Fisher Wallace’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness

You need to know enough about your customers to succeed — and not only the customers you are selling your product to. The FDA is the customer of my research. The customers who buy my devices are also my investors because I thought to ask them, through equity crowdfunding, if they want to invest — and we’ve raised millions of dollars that way.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Roman.

Kelly Roman is the Co-Founder & CEO of Fisher Wallace Labs, the market leader in prescription wearable technology for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders. He has helped pioneer the prescription wearable category for more than a decade, with a proven track record in product development, regulatory affairs, and clinical trial strategy. Prior to co-founding Fisher Wallace, Kelly graduated from Harvard, served as an award-winning executive in the digital advertising and SaaS industries, and authored the acclaimed graphic novel, The Art of War (HarperCollins, 2012).

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I’m a second-generation New Yorker and my parents came from different sides of the street. My father is Puerto Rican, one of nine kids in a small apartment in Williamsburg — his bed was the couch — decades before it was gentrified. He became a private investigator after serving in the Army. My mother grew up on Park Avenue with a driver and governess and worked as my father’s secretary and then associate after she left the convent. My personality reflects both of them — discipline and skepticism from my father, kindness and optimism from my mother. I ended up moving into a rural community in the Hudson Valley with them after second grade, where I spent most of my free time in nature, then went to boarding school on scholarship when my parents divorced, then Harvard, but I always retained a level of street smarts from my father, paired with my mother’s optimism.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

It’s hard to single out a story as “most interesting” — meeting with a member of the SEAL Team 6 Bin Laden mission was definitely one. However, I can say the most growth I experienced came from launching three clinical trials simultaneously during the height of the pandemic while operating a business and raising money. Then over the past year, building the next generation of our medical device in collaboration with Eric Fields and Alloy Product Development, who between them developed Nest, Beats and the Microsoft HoloLens. These are just incredibly talented people and without them I would not have been able to turn my idea into an actual product that could soon become the first wearable device to be FDA Approved to treat depression. Ultimately, the most interesting stories from my career come from my experiences with the people I’ve had the privilege of working with, including the hundreds of patients I’ve spoken with over the years who have used our technology.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My co-founder Chip Fisher, who bankrolled the early days of the business and could have decided not to yield authority, has been a study of grace and friendship. He fully supported me assuming the role of CEO and has trusted me to take significant risks to follow the vision I’ve developed over time for our growth. Many startups fail because the co-founders can’t overcome ego and internal competition. We’ve stuck it through so many years, and of course we’ve knocked heads a few times, but we’ve never lost civility — we’ve managed to navigate the emotions and stress that all disruptive startups face.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Before Fisher Wallace, I spent years adapting Sun Tzu’s The Art of War into a graphic novel for HarperCollins. It was a passion project for which I gave up a very lucrative opportunity at a startup, Bebo, in order to see it through to completion. I think my favorite quote is, “The principle on which to manage an army is to set up one standard of courage which all must reach.” As a leader you have to do that by example.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

First, the ability to absorb new information and, almost immediately, start leveraging it for macro strategy while also thinking through every tiny detail and implication. It’s how I went from learning how the FDA works to very quickly being quite aggressive and decisive in how I approached regulatory affairs, which is often critical for a medical device company. Additionally, knowing when to be thrifty and when to pay top dollar. I may not have the fanciest office, but I happily pay $1,000 an hour for the best advice. You end up saving a lot of money down the road when you pay for the best advice early on. Lastly, I’d say integrity. Having integrity is a trait that is tested when your back is against a wall and you might be able to make things easier on yourself by being unethical, but I’ve never regretted maintaining my integrity, not once. I think the universe kind of opens up for you once it sees you pass that test.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?

Half the country suffers from the symptoms we treat: depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Medication helps a lot of people but it’s an inadequate standard of mental healthcare — there is the cost of doctor visits to manage dosage, the side effects, lack of patient compliance, and ultimately moderate efficacy. Behavioral therapy works well, but cost and a lack of patient compliance prevent a lot of people from having results. If everyone was able to execute cognitive behavioral therapy homework, there would be a lot less mental and physical health problems, but it’s not going to happen, regardless of digital health innovations.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Our prescription-only brain stimulation wearable, currently called the Fisher Wallace Stimulator and soon to be called OAK, treats the brain electrically with daily 20 minute treatment sessions, with no serious side effects and a high response rate. The brain is an electrical system, and so there’s an open seat at the table for tech that can improve the brain electrically. We are selling devices that are affordable out-of-pocket and are generally prescribed asynchronously during e-commerce checkout and FedExed to the patient’s home.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I have many family members who’ve suffered from mental health issues, and I have suffered from depression and anxiety since I was a teenager. However, I wouldn’t say that made me passionate about the cause. Discovering a hardware solution that is safe, effective, and scalable, which no one has ever heard about, is almost unimaginable. And, when Chip Fisher handed me the tech he had acquired from the inventors, at first, I could barely take it seriously. But, when I used it after medication and talk therapy hadn’t succeeded, I was a different person within a month of use. I had no previous medical device experience, and I didn’t know anything about the FDA or how to conduct clinical research, but the idea that I could play a role in bringing this under-the-radar technology to millions of people — affordably and safely — filled me with energy that is still driving me today.

How do you think this might change the world?

We are on a mission to make mental health treatments more accessible and affordable. That said, Fisher Wallace is in the business of changing people and it’s up to those people to change the world. If our technology succeeds in allowing millions of people to realize their full potential, the world will be transformed by their actions.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

There are no drawbacks for patients, but there are drawbacks for entrenched competitors. I’m glad we are not competing with the pharmaceutical industry at a time when all the blockbuster antidepressants and sleeping meds are still in patent — at least now, almost all of them are generic. But when you remove the need for doctors to monitor dosage and side effects, when you start giving all the power to the patient instead of to institutions and lobbies and so forth, conflict arises.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

  1. You need to know the most important things to build and prioritize resources accordingly. For me, building scientific evidence is at the top of the list, because without scientific evidence, it won’t matter what the device looks like. And with evidence, it’s OK if your device doesn’t look beautiful. But making it beautiful is the next priority.
  2. You need to know when and how to bring innovations from other industries into your field. For me, that has meant applying aspects of e-commerce and consumer electronics and branding into the highly regulated, long-lead field of medical devices. I read scientific journals, but I also read how companies like Bolt are decentralizing e-commerce.
  3. You need to know your strengths and weaknesses, lean into your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses by working with the best talent. I work with the best talent I can barely afford, and in return I think I inspire them to do their best. Inspiring people is one of my strengths.
  4. You need to know how to take a break while still working. I spend a decent amount of time jogging around Brooklyn and sport climbing every day. I get some of my best ideas during those times. I view the office as the place to execute, not really the place to do my best thinking.
  5. You need to know enough about your customers to succeed — and not only the customers you are selling your product to. The FDA is the customer of my research. The customers who buy my devices are also my investors because I thought to ask them, through equity crowdfunding, if they want to invest — and we’ve raised millions of dollars that way.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Making a positive impact is a great way to feel fulfilled, and if you feel fulfilled and happy about what you are doing, you will likely want to give it your all and produce your best work.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Tim Cook. My goal is to put in the work of doing the scientific research, getting the regulatory approvals, building a beautiful, desirable piece of hardware, and then soon thereafter partner with a company that can bring enormous supply chain advantages, and massive marketing and distribution channels to the table — things that would take a decade or more to come close to approaching without a partner. Because who wants to wait to improve the world’s mental health? Once we’re ready, the right partner will make things go faster at the exact moment that they should go faster. Of course, Apple is at the top of that list. I realize the chance of that outcome may be remote, but I’d like to have breakfast with Tim Cook and have a conversation about how ready we are.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can learn about and purchase our proof-of-concept device at and pre-order OAK at

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

Health Tech: Kelly Roman On How Fisher Wallace’s Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.