Fable is working to improve cognitive fitness, says CEO Padmasree Warrior

Topics Technology | cognitive | Startups

Padmasree Warrior
After working as chief technology officer at global firms, such as Motorola and Cisco, Padmasree Warrior is now busy scripting her own entrepreneurial journey in the field of technology. Her start-up, Fable, looks at improving cognitive fitness by delivering the right content on the right platforms, using AI and machine learning. The US-based IIT-Delhi and Cornell University alumna, who was in India recently to attend the AnitaB.org annual event, which connects women in technology, spoke to Samreen Ahmad about what led her to launch Fable and how technology will shape the future. Edited excerpts:

How was the transition from being chief technology officer and CEO at global tech companies to being the founder of a company?

It’s been very exciting. When you are chief technology officer (CTO) of big corporations, such as Motorola or Cisco, your job is to identify key technology transitions relevant for those companies. When I was CTO at Cisco, I was looking at the world through Cisco’s lens and the business that we were pursuing at that point of time. When I was CEO at another company (Chinese EV and autonomous vehicle manufacturer, Nio), I was trying to figure out what users would want in the future. As a CEO,  my biggest job was hiring great people because when you are running a company, the biggest requirement is talent. As a founder of a company, right now I am super focussed on what products I want to launch. 

What are the challenges of building a company from scratch?

Being a founder is a lot harder than playing a leadership role in a big company. Of course, you have a lot of freedom as it’s your company, but at the same time, everybody is relying on you. They are coming there because of the vision that you are bringing in. So it comes with an additional responsibility. And that brings an additional level of stress and anxiety to me as a leader.

What is Fable about?

Our aspiration is to help people improve their cognitive fitness through Fable. Our mission is to bring the world of stories to everyone. Reading is a delightful way to be mentally active, but a lot of us say that we don’t have time to read. So how do we make reading a daily habit and how do we bring an element of social to it so that people can read along with friends and family and make it super fun?

Fable is going to completely redefine content combined with social. The initial test product will roll out early next year in the US. We want to be a global company some day, but you need to know how to walk before you can run. India is the second largest English reading country. So when we grow up, we definitely want to bring the company here.

How did the idea come to you? 

When I left Nio, I was looking at healthcare and how AI and healthcare could come together as industries. I am an avid reader and I came upon this research that said mental fitness is declining around the world. People are more stressed out, burnt out, anxious. They are lonelier than ever before. Social anxiety and social isolation are on the rise, including suicides. So I started to think about the things we could do to help people alleviate these problems and get cognitively fit. There is a lot of research that says that reading, especially reading fiction, helps in empathy, helps us understand different viewpoints and stay mentally agile. There is a field called bibliotherapy that recommends reading for curing depression. So I started thinking about what we could do via technology to help people read a bit more every day, and this led to the idea of Fable.

How difficult was it to lead a large group of engineers and innovators at Motorola and Cisco?

I was leading 26,000 engineers at Cisco and tens of thousands of them at Motorola, and the challenge was to make everyone move in the same direction. Engineers are problem-solvers by training, so there is a tendency for each group to work on their own thing and not share that with others. For me, the big challenge was to make them collaborate with each other and make sure they march towards executing the same mission.

From growing up in India to becoming a global citizen — how has the journey been? 

I have seen the transition in India. There is a lot of entrepreneurial spirit now, with a lot more young people starting companies. During my undergraduate years at IIT Delhi, this wasn’t the case. Back then, you graduated from school and went to work at big companies. Technology is now bringing us closer, and in that sense, India has a big role to play in how the future gets shaped.

What was it like being a woman in the competitive world of Silicon Valley?

Silicon Valley has a lot of room for change. The good thing is that there are a lot of great ideas and people who support you. I created a support network for myself by reaching out to other women in the tech industry and also men who I thought could be mentors. We need to create a support infrastructure for everyone in the Valley.

How is technology going to shape the future? Where will the opportunities lie?

There will be a lot of personalised content. And we will see a lot more services in the content space. Hopefully, Fable will be offering reading services. The application of AI and Blockchain is going to reshape the financial services sector. Health tech is going to be reshaped too. There are a lot of inefficiencies in the sector that can be made better by using data. Manufacturing industry will be reshaped with automation. Literally, every industry is going to be a tech industry.

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