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Episode 75: Through the Looking Glass with Oculogx Founder Charu Thomas

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IANWA Through the Looking Glass with Oculogx Founder Charu Thomas

Duration: 40:42

IANWA Open [0:11] It's time for another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas, the podcast covering the intersection of business, culture, entrepreneurship, and life in general here in the Ozarks. Whether you are considering a move to this area or trying to learn more about the place you call home, we've got something special for you. Here's our host, Randy Wilburn.

Randy Wilburn [0:42] Hey folks, and welcome to another episode of The I Am Northwest Arkansas podcast. I'm your host, Randy Wilburn, and I'm here today. I have been so busy these past few weeks, and I don't know exactly when this podcast will come out and when you hear it, but since the pandemic has happened, I've just had to reorganize with how I do everything. And then, of course, we had, unfortunately, the killing of George Floyd and just so much unrest in this country and protest and looting and everything, you name it, and I've had to kind of rethink and reorganize how I do things. But one thing that has kept me sane has been connecting with the great people of Northwest Arkansas. And so, I was doing that with the podcast before all this stuff happened. And I just said, you know what, I'm going to plow into this even more. And so today I'm sitting with the smartest person in the room. I put a video out the other day and I said that it's important that if you are the smartest person in the room, you need to find a different room. So today, I found a different room and I'm in that room with one of the smartest people and that is Charu Thomas. Charu is the founder of Oculogx, which is an outstanding company that was founded right here in Northwest Arkansas. I'm not going to butcher what they do. I'm going to let her tell her story, and I'm going to let her tell you a little bit about herself. And, oh, by the way, she is a Forbes 30 under 30 Award recipient- I think it was just this past December. So again, she is the smartest person in the room and without further ado, Charu Thomas. How are you doing?

Charu Thomas [2:08] Randy? I'm doing so well. Thank you so much for having me. I'm definitely not the smartest person in the room, first of all, just to clear the air there. Thank you so much for having me. To give you a quick introduction to what Oculogx does, we build a digital order fulfillment platform. So, the three million-plus associates in stores and distribution centers can do work faster.

Randy Wilburn [2:30] Yeah. And I saw you. You were on the big pitch program the other day, which was a program that was hastily put together within the last month to create some opportunities for entrepreneurs of black and brown color to be able to grow their businesses. You were one of 15 businesses that were chosen to be a part of that. I thought your pitch was great. You were right on point you were very crisp, and I think all the people that pitched did really well and I actually had a chance to sit in on the pre-session where they kind of talked about how you pitch and how you present yourself. And I'm a big shark tank person, so I get it. You got to get in and tell your story right away. So, I love how you just kind of came right out of the gates talking about that. I do want to back up just a little bit because I always tell people, every company has a great idea. But behind every great idea is an individual that is able to create something, right? Because when you think about Google, you think about Sergey and Larry. When you think about Facebook, you think about Mark Zuckerberg, and the list goes on and on of all these different tech people that have built something or anyone that has built a company- it's still somebody behind that start. So, I'd love for you to tell our audience a little bit about who Charu Thomas is and really what got you to this place right here where we are now. As I like to say, and everybody knows that listens to the podcast, tell us your superhero origin story.

Charu Thomas [3:49] Oh, wow. Well, I would first like to call attention to the fact that it's definitely not just me. I have an absolutely incredible team. I know you met Tedder*(sp) yesterday. And he is just one of the many incredible teammates and supporters that we have as a part of our Oculogx journey, and I'm just incredibly grateful to have such an incredible group of people. I've said incredible, like 15 times.

Randy Wilburn [4:11] That's fine. It's a good adjective to use to describe things. But seriously, though, tell me because I think even with that team, the idea had to come from somewhere. I know you've had some experience with some pretty smart people that were part of the Google Glass experiment if you will. You've been involved in this space for some time, and you've done research for some time. I was listening to a podcast where you talked about how just the advent of the technology that Oculogx is focusing on was kind of born back in the early 2000s, like 2008 or somewhere around there. But I'd love for you just to kind of talk about you and how you got to this place. When you were 15, you weren't like I'm going to start this company and help people go out and make more efficient use of how they pick groceries in the store. You weren't thinking that way, right? So, how did you get to where you are? You went to Georgia Tech? Again, the smartest person in the room, in this room, at least if nothing else. How did you get here? I mean, what led you on this path that said, you know, I'm going to be a woman founder of a tech company. And I mean, who knows where it goes? I mean, this thing could be huge.

Charu Thomas [5:16] Right? Yeah. Well, I guess it does start with my education at Georgia Tech. I was at the number one industrial engineering program in the world. Essentially, that's where I was introduced to supply chain and logistics. I did a lot of research with the current worldwide Director of Automation, Amazon. That's how we kind of got into the space of supply chain. It's a pretty big focus there. And then there was this really big event where I went to a hackathon with mixed reality devices. And that's where I kind of saw the power of augmented reality, mixed reality, wearables. And I was just really excited by this idea that you could create something, a digital object that wasn't actually real. And so, I went to go meet one of the world's leading experts on our campus, Dr. Thad Starner. Thad Starner is the inventor of Google Glass. And he's a pioneer of the wearable computing movement that started in the 1990s back at MIT Media Lab. He is an incredible person, an incredible advisor, and he started by giving me a book called Business Plans that Wins Dollar Signs.

Randy Wilburn [6:14] I like that. Who wrote that book?

Charu Thomas [6:16] It's just from--- I don't actually remember who wrote the book, but it's lessons from the MIT Enterprise forum. And he just had a box of them in his office, and he gave them to students who came to him and said, I want to be an entrepreneur. And I know he was just joking, but he said something along the lines of, go take this read it, and then when you're a billionaire, give me 10 percent. And he was 100 percent joking. But it was such a huge compliment and a vote of confidence from someone I really respected and looked up to that prompted me to keep coming back. So, I ended up working with FAD* as the lead of his order picking research. So, the research projects were built and incubated over a decade from 2008, and I was the lead in 2018. We essentially were finding the best ways to optimize the order fulfillment process. And we ended up publishing our work at an international symposium, one best paper there. That's pretty much the origin story of the research behind what became Oculogx.

Randy Wilburn [7:19] And then you just kind of said maybe I should start something with regard to that and let's put it together or I mean, is that how Oculogx was born?

Charu Thomas [7:28] Well, so it's a little bit interesting. We were part of quite a few innovation competitions while we were still students. So, we won second place in the Microsoft Imagine Cup. We won the Atlanta Startup Battle. We were finalists for the Lemelson MIT student prize in this USPTO Collegiate Inventors competition. So that was initial validation that maybe there was something there. But you learn a lot about pitching from those competitions; you don't really learn about how to build an actual business. Essentially, we ended up with $100,000 of seed money. When I was graduating, I had to make a decision. Do I want to go and pursue a Ph.D. in Computer Science or do I want to become an entrepreneur? And for me, it was a really hard decision because research was something I was really comfortable with. But I was really drawn to the impact of an entrepreneur. I didn't like the fact that as a researcher, I would spend months and months slaving over paper, and then ended up having three people read it- it was kind of frustrating. So, I was drawn to the fact that as an entrepreneur, you could impact a lot of people on a global scale. And so that's how I kind of made the decision.

Randy Wilburn [8:31] All right. I like that. Well, I'm glad you made that decision. And okay, so you were in Atlanta. Why leave Atlanta and come to Northwest Arkansas?

Charu Thomas [8:38] Yeah. So, the next part of the story is we were picked up to be a part of this Fuel Accelerator Program. And it was based in Northwest Arkansas partnered with some of the biggest companies in the world like Walmart, Tyson Foods and JB Hunt.

Randy Wilburn [8:52] ---because all of them deal with logistics and things of that nature.

Charu Thomas [8:55] Absolutely. So, it was a supply chain focused accelerator right in the heart of NWA. So I took the opportunity and moved over here.

Randy Wilburn [9:03] What did you know about Northwest Arkansas before you came here?

Charu Thomas [9:05] I knew absolutely nothing.

Randy Wilburn [9:08] So okay, well, that's good. Where did you grow up?

Charu Thomas [9:11] I grew up in Atlanta.

Randy Williams [9:12] So, you are from Atlanta. Okay, cool. All right. So, you're from the south anyway. But I mean once you came here, what did you realize about Northwest Arkansas that really stuck with you and has made you say, wow, this actually is not a bad place to be.

Charu Thomas [9:24] I think Northwest Arkansas has a unique value proposition. And the value is that there are these incredible companies based here, and they have huge operations that have a lot of problems in them. But the thing is, it's also a really small area. So, it's a lot more accessible to get in contact with these companies than if you were else. I think it's just an incredible community. We were supported by entrepreneurial organizations like Startup Junkie, Endeavor, NWA all these great support organizations who are dedicated to making entrepreneurship really attractive in the region, and yeah, I think that was kind of, as well as I mean, the low cost of living.

Randy Wilburn [10:07] --- and all those good things. I mean, at that time when you came here, did you think man, I will be able to build a strong team here. I will be able to create something that maybe you couldn't create or maybe because you'd be competing with so many other firms. Like if you were to go to Silicon Valley or someplace like that, that you wouldn't be able to attract the type of talent and skillset that you need.

Charu Thomas [10:26] You know, it's actually funny, because before I built a team here, I think it was in maybe July of last year, I was pitching for the plug and play supply chain launch because we are a plug and play supply chain company in the valley. And there was a pretty prominent venture capitalist who was also at the event and he was actually a speaker, and he came up to me and said, hey, that was a great pitch. I was like, thank you. And he said real question. Are you concerned about the talent? And I said, the talent in Northwest Arkansas. And I didn't really know what to say because I hadn't built a team yet. But I mean, now that I have there's talent everywhere, first of all. It's absolutely ridiculous to think that there's only talent in Silicon Valley and Atlanta.

Randy Wilburn [11:10] And when you think about the pandemic, and what that's done to the way people work, remote work nowadays, you're like, oh, where are you? Sure, we can work from there? And that's it? So, I think that's kind of like an old school mindset that a lot of people have. And I think if you operate and you run your business without limitations, and you don't do it from a place perspective, then you can consider a lot more options.

Charu Thomas [11:36] 100 percent. I completely agree. And we kind of built our team around this, like remote-first idea. Some of our teammates are in the Valley, Boston, Atlanta, you know, just very spread out and we kind of hire more for a fit in terms of do they fit with the team? That's just because our values are very, like entrepreneurial. I guess we--- Okay, sorry. I'll start this over.

Randy Wilburn [12:01] I like this idea because I guess my next question would be to follow up with that is, how do you define culture for Oculogx? Because I think that plays into how you choose people to join your organization. So, I think that's important.

Charu Thomas [12:14] I think it's really important too. I think all of our teammates have this fundamental entrepreneurial spirit. And that's what really separates them from anyone else in the world. Obviously, there are other things like they can get shit done. And they're incredibly ambitious and bright. But the big difference is they're very entrepreneurial. A lot of our teammates are either past founders or they want to start a company in the future, and they are really drawn to that innovative, fast-paced kind of mentality that we have.

Randy Wilburn [12:46] When I spoke with your Chief Operating Officer, Tanner Green, he actually has a podcast episode that we will be sharing. It may have come out before this or it may come on after this. I'm not sure, but he shared some really great insight and talked about FastBags and what he's been able to do. And I talk about this all the time, and I tell people, you know, maybe it's one of the reasons why Google had such success and has been able to keep such great talent is because they give people a chance to kind of explore their own things, their own dreams and aspirations. After all, Charu has a dream. But Tanner also has a dream and employee B over here also has a dream and the list goes on and on. And I think companies are starting to figure out that man, if I give people a bigger sandbox to play in and give them the opportunity to try different things, not only are they going to help me continue to grow, but they're also going to come up with some other things that might be ancillary to what we're doing and might be complimentary, or they may create something and then go off and be competitive or just go off and do something else great. I think that to me, is really what it's all about. Too often people say, oh, I'm going to hire somebody and I want to keep them forever. But I don't think nowadays the average young person we were talking about before the recording Gen Z which is your generation. I don't think they are looking at employment that way.

Charu Thomas [14:02] I think you hit the nail right on the head. I think my thesis is---

Randy Wilburn [14:09] That's fine.

Charu Thomas [14:10] I think what's worked really well for us is the fact that we've kind of understood what each of our employees visions is for themselves, you know, so like, what do they really want to get out of this experience? What can we offer them that they can't get anywhere else and making sure that they have those opportunities to get to those goals? So, we start by--- I guess this kind of sheds a little bit of light into our hiring process. But as soon as we hire people, we start by asking them, let's create some like questions for you. What would you want to get out of this experience? What would you want to learn that when you look back if you had answers to those questions, you'd be like that was a good use of my time? So for instance, some of Tanner's--- maybe I could share Tanner's because you know him and you know what I'd like, you know clear and just incredibly thoughtful person he is. So actually maybe I will pull them up because I don't know them off the top of my head. Do you want me to real quick?

Randy Wilburn [14:59] Yeah, please? I'd love for you to share. Well, because you never know who's listening and it could be your next employee listening to this episode. So, I think it's good. You know, it's funny, I was telling somebody as you're pulling that up. I was telling somebody that one of my dreams with this podcast was to really impact people to choose Northwest Arkansas as a place to live because they want to come here to work. I actually had a guy reach out to me not too long ago, and he said, you know, I'm considering working for one of the big three. He didn't tell me which it was. So, it was either Tyson, JB Hunt or Walmart. But he said your podcast, listening to your podcast, understanding, hearing you talk about this area and how great it is and then hearing your guests talk about it, reaffirm my decision that maybe Northwest Arkansas is not a bad place to go. And so, I think it's great. You just never know who you will find or how somebody will come about finding out about Northwest Arkansas, but I hope that this podcast plays a role in that when and where possible.

Charu Thomas [15:54] Absolutely. So, I hope Tanner doesn't mind. I doubt he would mind me sharing some of the stuff. But here are some of the goals that he had when he first started almost a year ago. So, one of them is how do you communicate in a team with remote work? He was curious about communication because building a team culture is incredibly valuable. He was also curious about how do you vet and hire employees. And he wanted to understand and learn as much as possible to become a valuable asset to the team. So those are just a few of--- he has seven different goals. Those are just three of them. But I mean, we had measurable ways that he got to all of those goals. So, for instance, he actually just led this incredible rebranding initiative that launched on Monday. So that directly addresses how do you create a brand strategy because he had to build it from the ground up. He built our brand guidelines; he spearheaded the development of our new website. He's been kind of in the trenches with all of our marketing and how we're positioning ourselves. You know, based on like market analysis that we did, he kind of takes that and translates it to make it easy to understand. And that's something he's uniquely suited to do because he has this incredible clarity. And he's a very visual person as well so, creating a visual story comes really naturally to him.

Another one. How do you vet and hire employees? So that's a responsibility that more recently I gave to him. In fact, he hired one of our latest interns all by himself. He's the one who started the entire interview process. I gave him some of the materials to get started there, but he was leading the interviews for the venture intern program and was handling that entire process. So, he learned how to do that and he definitely has become an incredibly valuable asset to the team. And I think he's understood a lot about our core business. So, he definitely hit that goal too. So those are just three of the many goals.

Randy Wilburn [18:01] That's cool. I mean, I guess at the recording of this podcast, he's been here about 11 months according to him. That's what he said the other day. So, wow, in less than a year, he has made his presence known.

Chari Thomas [18:11] 100 percent. And it's not just him; every single person on our team has their own little piece of Oculogx. That's why I say it's not just me.

Randy Wilburn [18:21] Right. I get it. There are a lot of moving parts and a lot of people that make it move forward. Why don't you help just for our audience, so they have a complete understanding, because it took me a second to wrap my head around the value add that you would bring to a client or to somebody that would use your service? But as Tanner kind of walked me through explaining what a picker does and how that works, which I thought is fundamentally interesting. And I guess for the average person when you think about like, when I go to the store with my shopping list, I waste a crapload of time getting through that store, partly because if I go to the store and I'm hungry, I stop at places and look at the food that I want to eat, not necessarily what my wife wants me to buy. But a picker doesn't have that luxury to just be wasting their time going up and down the aisles. And so, I'd love for you just to kind of take it from there and kind of walkthrough. So just in the eye of the listener, help them understand exactly what Oculogx does to make that process much more efficient.

Chari Thomas [19:26] Absolutely. So, the fundamental issue is order fulfillment is incredibly labor and time-intensive. It accounts for up to 60 percent of operations so, it's a huge problem. And essentially, we build tools for people on the floor, so that they can do their job more efficiently. And we have three different products at the time of this recording.

Randy Wilburn [19:52] Oh, you're a pro now.

Charu Thomas [19:55] Our first product is called OX-1. It's a hands-free picking solution and it works on smart glasses. It's a prestige product geared towards F50s who have really optimized buying and pick up in-store or order fulfillment processes already. So, it kind of gets them from 90 percent to a 100 percent kind of level.

Randy Wilburn [20:16] And when you say F50, you mean a Fortune 50? Because I want my audience to make sure--- they may ask what's an F50? Because they're probably thinking, oh, she missed the one there. You mean the F150? And I'm like, no, she's not talking about Ford Trucks. So, just so that everybody understands. But that 10 percent difference is huge. I mean, we're talking millions of dollars.

Charu Thomas [20:37] Multi--- Yeah. Think about also the scale of the operations at that level. You know, they have up to 250,000 personal shoppers, so a 10 percent difference. For one of our clients, we could save not like two hours almost and then shift. So, from 9 to 7.8. Okay, so it's not two hours, but it's like 1.2 hours.

Randy Wilburn [21:07] But that adds up over time.

Charu Thomas [21:09] ---for each person, for each shift. So, it's pretty significant. And then we also have two new products. One of them is called OX-Portal. And it's a bird's eye view of your floor operations. So, it's more geared towards managers who are trying to optimize their labor. And so, it does all this pick walk optimizations. So, for instance, it routes you through the store in the most efficient way. And it allows you to see exactly who's doing what and how they're doing with it. Are there any blockers, you know, you can handle that? And the third product we have is called OX-Outline. And it's a modular mobile picking application- so, it's a Bring Your Own Device application. You can use it on a cell phone or current hardware, Tc70s, or scanners. And essentially, it is geared towards companies that don't necessarily have a buying and pickup store optimized process yet. So, they want to get up and running as quickly and as cheaply as possible while getting those benefits of the F50s. So that's kind of if you are just using manual methods like paper, or Excel to pick. That's what gets you from maybe 30% to 80 or 90%. That's what get you to a really good baseline.

Randy Wilburn [22:32] So, let me ask you this. Was OX-Outline working in play before the pandemic hit?

Charu Thomas [22:39] It was not.

Randy Wilburn [22:41] So, it was a pandemic pivot in terms of an offering for clients and a need that you saw that was there.

Charu Thomas [22:48] Absolutely. We actually went from concept to launch in just four weeks.

Randy Wilburn [22:54] Yeah. Wow. That's exciting. And you have put it into practice. What's the feedback then so far?

Charu Thomas [23:01] Oh, it's been great. Users love the UX. They have really enjoyed that. We've also been like optimizing it on both the outline and portal side. So, with feature requests that they have, we go ahead and prioritize them and then add them and make it as generalized as possible. So, it's been really good.

Randy Wilburn [23:20] Would you say that one of the advantages that Oculogx probably brings to the table, especially for larger entities, is that when you go with another larger entity to provide this type of service, it may take longer for them to get iterations of what they're requesting? Whereas when you guys do it, it's like you asked for it on Monday and Friday you're presenting them with something that they can actually see and touch.

Charu Thomas [23:43] Absolutely. I think the key pain points that each of the product addresses are also kind of different. So, OX-1 is a highly customized solution. OX-Portal is supposed to fit this pain point of integration, right? So, it's really hard to integrate all these [inaudible 24:00] or [inaudible 24:01] or whatever you have. So portal is that intermediary that can kind of handle it all. And then there's OX-Outline. And it's just a really low cost, really low ROI; I will say affordable. An incredibly affordable way to get your buying and pickup store process, pretty optimized, or warehouse process- pretty optimized if you're using manual methods.

Randy Wilburn [24:22] So, for the smaller mom and pop shop out there that's trying to participate and hang with the big boys, is there still hope for them?

Charu Thomas [24:32] Absolutely.

Randy Wilburn [22:34] And Tanner kind of walk me through some of the things that you guys were doing and the impact that you're making, even with smaller-scale entities. Because I mean, there's the HEGs of the world and the Wegmans and all these big chain grocery stores, Kroger's. And then there's smaller stores and your natural grocers and others and, then even local places like I know enough here in Northwest Arkansas. So, there's a large audience that can really benefit from this technology.

Charu Thomas [25:05] Yeah. And we are seeing that just rapidly progressing because of the pandemic, right, because people need to get food. It's a huge need. And these grocers are just throwing more labor at it. And at some point, it's just not profitable. You're losing money.

Randy Wilburn [25:25] What people don't realize--- I learned back in the day when I was doing business studies and looking at the profit markets of grocery stores. I mean, we're like talking about pennies- pennies on the dollars. So, every penny matters. It really does. Okay, well, I love that, I really do. And I think that this is certainly a much more technical conversation for some of you that normally listen to the podcast, but I think it's good for you to share that. And I want to just kind of pivot a little bit from this, just to kind of ask you aspirationally, if there are young women that are listening to this podcast that have thought about getting into computers and have thought about coding, and you have called yourself a hacker if you will. What would you say to them? What would your advice be to them?

Charu Thomas [26:11] Wow, that's a really great question.

Randy Wilburn [26:14] I mean, did you have fear when you got into this and saying, man, I got to put on my big boy pants on or big girl pants on because this is a different environment than I'm in. Are people going to take me seriously? I'm just having real talk here- because people need to know that. And I think what it takes is--- I've always told somebody; I don't care who you are. Once you've seen somebody that looks like you or acts like you or talks like you, do something that you want to do, it's a lot easier for you to go out and do it. So, there's probably going to be a lot of young women that are going to see you and say, man. Maybe they've read about you in Forbes. Maybe they heard about you through something else. And they saw you and I don't know maybe there was a young lady that was on the pitch, the virtual pitch yesterday and saw you and said, oh my gosh, she's doing that. I want to do that same thing. So, what would your advice be to them for them to get over any humps or hurdles that they may encounter? Maybe even some that you encountered?

Charu Thomas [27:11] Yeah. That's, that's a really great question. So, I want just to clarify, do you mean, like, more practical advice in terms of like, join a research lab? Or starting---

Randy Wilburn [27:20] Just in general, because first of all, you got to be smart, and you've got to want something. I would just be curious to know what your thoughts were. I mean, really what pushed you to kind of be able to do this and not be like, oh, hey, I'm not in Silicon Valley. I don't have a bunch of VC, private equity money that's pushing towards me and offering me the world. Not that it won't come and it probably will after this podcast. So, we can talk about my fee later. But seriously, though, I mean, you had to think of those things. And I think that informs how you are but I mean, for a young woman coming up at 15 or 16- year old that you know is pretty sharp, is already well advanced in school, wants to conquer the world and create new things. What would you tell them? What advice would you give them for them to recognize that well if Charu can do it, I can do it?

Charu Thomas [28:17] Yeah, there's this one book that I really like. It's called the Greatest Salesman in the world.

Randy Wilburn [28:22] Oh, yeah, Og Mandino. Oh, yeah, of course. That's a classic. It's a parable. It's a great parable.

Charu Thomas [28:32] I think one of my recommendations would be to read that book. That will just give you a different vibrancy, I feel. But I think there's also this aspect of people in power have a responsibility to break down the systems that don't support young people, people in different communities. So, I think that's a really big aspect of it.

Randy Wilburn [28:59] Do you think Northwest Arkansas is a place where people empower, and people that have opportunities in front of them may open doors for others?

Charu Thomas [29:08] Yes, I do feel like that. That reflects a lot of the experience I've had with entrepreneurial support organizations, accelerators, just people in the community in general; they love NWA. And so, it's just about building the community and making sure that everyone's benefiting and that's what makes it so special. So, I guess some of my advice to young women would be to read The Greatest Salesman.

Randy Wilburn [29:37] Now you're going to make me because I have that book. I read it maybe a couple of years ago. There are certain books that I read over and over again. So, I tell people you have to have certain books that you just have as a go-to books and that's one of them. Think and Grow Rich is another one that I like to read, the Prophet. There are quite a few books that I like to read over and over again, so they are on my regular rotation, but that's a really good book. So now you've made me decide to go back and read that book again. It is a great parable.

Charu Thomas [30:06] It takes ten months, but ten months well spent. And then the second piece of practical advice is try to join research labs. I think that was really, really helpful for putting me on the right trajectory because you learn a lot of really technical knowledge, and it's hard to replicate elsewhere. And so, you basically end up learning about an intersection of two. Like, for me, it was like the intersection of supply chain and wearable computing originally- and that's a very specific niche thing. So, I'm like one of the only maybe ten people in the world who know about that, because that's super niche. And so, I think research allows you to learn about something very specific, which can help. So that's also another piece of advice. But again, I believe that there's also the responsibility for people who are at the top to make sure that those opportunities are accessible for everybody because they are not.

Randy Wilburn [31:09] Absolutely. And mentoring is important, so I think who you choose as a mentor is really important. I mean, all those things play into that, and I'm glad you outlined kind of like a game plan of what you can do. And I would just add to what you said about, you know, in the same sense that finding a research opportunity, or research lab or research study that's being done that you can be a part of, is even just going to affirm that you admire in asking to intern there. Just be proactive and just say, hey, I don't know if you're taking in but I will work for free, F-R-E-E in exchange for exposure to what's happening.

Charu Thomas [31:45] Well, I mean, I would say you should always ask for payment, but I agree with your sentiment. That's actually how Tanner emailed me the first time. He just cold-out reached.

Randy Wilburn [31:57] Which is good. We talked about that. And I think what I said to him was, I mean, it's important to do that. My grandfather used to tell me all the time, closed mouth doesn't get fed. If you don't open your mouth and say something, you're never gonna be able to get something.

Charu Thomas [32:12] I love that. Actually, one of my favorite quotes that my best friend's dad told me was, the best start is showing up. It's a very similar message.

Randy Wilburn [32:23] Just showing up and doing it. Listen, I have three boys 15, 13, and 10. So they keep me busy and I'm constantly trying to teach these truisms to them so that they get it because eventually, they are going to go out into the world and sometimes the world can be a very cold and unwelcoming place. But I mean, you only get out of it what you put into it. So, you dropped some knowledge on me and gave me some things that I've learned. I really appreciate just the time to learn a little bit more about Oculogx and I guess I could say that you're probably the first person that I've interviewed where I could legitimately say, man, when you guys become a billion-dollar company, I can look back to this podcast and be like, I remember I interviewed somebody that really did something big, no I'm joking. Everybody that I talked to is doing amazing things. And it doesn't mean that you create a nine or a ten-figure company. I think if you provide something to the world that makes a difference and makes people's lives a little easier, I think that's important.

Charu Thomas [33:29] Absolutely. Hey, and that's not true, Tanner is on your side---

Randy Wilburn [33:32] We will see. Again, I try to keep good company with good people. But Charu, thank you so much. Any last words that you'd like to share with our audience before we close out this particular episode? Anything?

Charu Thomas [33:45] What is commonly said?

Randy Wilburn [33:46] I don't know any words of wisdom. I mean, you already told us your favorite book, so I'll ask it this way since we are talking about Northwest Arkansas a little bit. What's your favorite restaurant?

Charu Thomas [33:55] Here? Oh my gosh, there's this place called Callatis Mangalia*(sp). It's the 8th Street Market. It's a Filipino.

Randy Wilburn [34:03] Yeah, they have very good wings. They have some really good food. I went to the taste of NWA last year, and I had more samples than I should have of their food, but their food is really, really good.

Chari Thomas [34:16] It's absolutely incredible.

Randy Wilburn [34:18] That 8th Street Market is amazing. There's a bunch of different stuff in there. I think Omar Kasim has a Juice Palm in there. There's a lot of different Yeyo's there, which is really good Mexican. So, there are all kinds of good stuff. But I mean, if you were talking to somebody that was thinking about coming here, and they were like, Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas, what one thing would you say to them to say, hey, don't knock it until you try it. What would you say that really kind of got you over the hill, when you came here?

Charu Thomas [34:47] Oh my gosh.

Randy Wilburn [34:49] Culturally, right. I mean, just from not necessarily from a work perspective, but what was it that like, once you got here, you can exhale and say, wow, okay, you know what? I can do this.

Charu Thomas [34:58] Yeah, that's a great question because actually, there's a lot of people who do react in that way.

Randy Wilburn [35:04] My friends do all the time. I'm from the Northeast. I talk about that all the time. They're like, why are you going Arkansas? First of all, there are no black people there. And I'm saying, listen, listen, black people are everywhere first of all. But secondly, Northwest Arkansas is a special place and don't knock it until you try it. So, what do you say to that?

Charu Thomas [35:24] Oh, my gosh. Well, I would say that honestly, it's just an experience. There are some incredible opportunities here. And that's from visiting Crystal Bridges, which is the best museum I've ever been to in my life. And I've been to the Louvre*(sp. I don't even know what to say.

Randy Wilburn [35:44] Louvre, is the RE silent or what? Yeah. So, that's all good.

Charu Thomas [35:50] I like Rome, Museums, and Dallas and Atlanta and all these places, but Crystal Bridges is by far my favorite museum. Then there's 8th Street Market like you mentioned. Yeah, a great place, super hip. There's downtown Bentonville, which has the Spark Cafe where you could get super cheap ice cream and milkshakes or whatever you want.

Randy Wilburn [36:11] The Five and 10. I mean, there's a little bit of everything.

Charu Thomas [36:15] Absolutely. It just has a very different energy that I think you can only feel, but you have to visit and check it out.

Randy Wilburn [36:20] Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I love that. Well, folks, please take Charu's advice. If you're not from here or if you're thinking about moving here definitely visit Northwest Arkansas. I think you'll like what you see. You can always hit me up on Instagram or Twitter @iamnorthwestarkansas and ask me questions of places that you should visit and I'll be more than happy to share that with you. You can always visit our website at to get more information. Charu, before you leave, tell us if people want to contact you, what's the best way for them to reach out?

Charu Thomas [36:50] Yeah, well, one of them is LinkedIn. That's a pretty good way. My name is Charu Thomas, C-H-A-R-U, and my last name is Thomas, or my email, which is my name

Randy Wilburn [37:06] Yeah. And I'll put that in the show notes, so everybody has it, they will have access. I will put your LinkedIn profile and different social media contacts for Oculogx so that way people can check them out. But listen, we've got a great company right here in our backyard, folks, and we need to support them. So please reach out to Charu after you've listened to this podcast. Let her know what you think about what she's doing. The amazing work that she and Tanner and the rest of their amazing team. I mean, I'm going to use that word again, is doing to make Northwest Arkansas a very fertile place to start a tech company and really do something big. So, the sky is the limit. So, I can only hope and pray that you guys have a tremendous amount of success and that the world benefits from what you have to offer.

Charu Thomas [37:52] Thank you. Thank you so much. And actually, I do have one last thing to say sure. Shout out to my incredible team Tanner, Philip, Victor, Ajis*(sp), Jaspher, Will, everyone who's been a part of our journey. We are so grateful to have you.

Randy Wilburn [38:04] Yeah, that's awesome because you could not do it without them.

Charu Thomas [38:07] 100 percent. They are so valuable. We love you guys. Oculogx forever.

Randy Wilburn [38:12] Yeah, there you go. All right. Charu Thomas, Oculogx. Thank you so much for coming on the I am Northwest Arkansas podcast.

Charu Thomas [38:18] Thank you so much for having me, Randy. I appreciate it.

Randy Wilburn [38:22] Well, folks, there you go. Another episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. It was so great to bring Charu on and I'm excited to see what happens next with these guys at Oculogx. They are doing some amazing things. You definitely need to check them out. Even if you don't have a store or a company that could benefit from what they do, you still should see what companies here in Northwest Arkansas are doing to make this place so special. And I just want to encourage you to check them out. And if nothing else, just support them. That's the other thing that I love about Northwest Arkansas is that we like to support our own. And so, Charu is one of us and so, I would encourage you to reach out and let her know what you think about what she's doing and how she's really building something special right here in our backyard in the Ozarks.

So that's all I have for you today. I will be back with you with another episode next week. Remember, you can find us at You can follow me on Instagram, Twitter And lately, I've been putting out a lot of videos just because of everything that's going on. So, I've been sharing my thoughts a lot more frequently. I'll be doing many more live videos and eventually, at some point in time in the near future, I'm going to do some live streaming of some of these podcast episodes that we do with amazing people like Charu. So definitely stay tuned for what we're doing here at I am Northwest Arkansas. We really, really appreciate each and every one of you. And our goal really is to provide you with great insight, great understanding and to focus on the intersection of business culture, entrepreneurship and life here in the Ozarks. I will see you guys next week. Peace

IANWA Open [40:00] We hope you enjoyed this episode of I am Northwest Arkansas. Check us out each and every week available anywhere that great podcasts can be found. For show notes or more information on becoming a guest, visit We'll see you next week on I am Northwest Arkansas.

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