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  • Matt Haber

The Hacker Culture at This Company Saved a Co-Founder's Life

Inc. Magazine by Matt Haber, San Francisco Bureau Chief

When an MX executive was given a Stage IV cancer diagnosis, the whole company went to work to get him the best treatment possible

Every founder knows that the culture they create can ensure their company's survival. Rarely, though, does it save an actual life. But that's exactly what happened at MX, a Lehi, Utah-based fintech company co-founded by Ryan Caldwell and Brandon Dewitt in 2010.

In 2016, Dewitt learned he had Stage IV salivary acinic cell carcinoma, a rare cancer that had already spread. He'd just turned 33 and ran every day. Yet Dewitt's doctor informed him that he had, at most, 90 days to live.

His colleagues mobilized immediately. The plan: hack the cancer and do everything they could to save his life.

MX's business is partnering with banks, credit unions, and fintechs to analyze the data they collect so that their customers can make better decisions about their own finances. "We look at code, right?" says Caldwell. "So, proteins are code." Why couldn't a bunch of coders bring the same info-crunching and -aggregating skills to another kind of data set and find a positive outcome for Dewitt?

One of MX's values is that employees adopt a founder's mindset. This means asking themselves, "If not me, then who? If not now, then when?" Caldwell, 43, and his team knew the answer had to be now.

They got Dewitt's genome sequenced and put in long hours poring over research papers, teaching themselves about protein pathways and treatments that eventually led Dewitt to a clinical trial in Seattle that would ultimately arrest the cancer.

All the while, he, Caldwell, and their team continued to run MX at full capacity, rallying themselves around a new slogan: "Seemingly impossible, certainly improbable, but necessary."

That was four years ago. "I'm still alive," says Dewitt with a note of amazement. Going through what he went through, he came to understand "the incredible value of not having a monetary mission, but having something that's so much bigger."

The company, too, is thriving. "You watch decisions get made faster, you watch bonding happen faster, you watch people turn to a mode of helping one another instead of trying to stop things or trying to hurt one another," he says. "You watch them turn into a service machine, and that has been probably the most beautiful experience in my life."

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