Reed Community

Life Beyond Reed

Kinari Webb ’95 & Michael Richardson ’07

December 1, 2014

Our recurring series explores how the liberal arts shape the careers of Reed grads. For more, click here.

Kinari Webb ’95 [biology]

Founder, Health In Harmony, Borneo, Indonesia

Kinari Webb trekked through the swamps of Borneo to study orangutans—only to discover that she was really more interested in helping people. After Reed she went to med school at Yale and returned to the rain forest to start Health in Harmony, a nonprofit dedicated to the notion that human and environmental health are essentially connected. HIH supports a medical and dental clinic and promotes conservation of the rain forest. The organization has grown to 101 staff, impacted the lives of countless people, and protected thousands of acres from deforestation. Her pace slowed recently after she was stung by a venomous box jellyfish in the South China Sea, but she won't stop—she's now working on a new health center.

Thesis: Regeneration of Two Primate-Dispersed Rain Forest Trees, Alangium Javanicum and Baccaurea Bracteata. Advisers: Prof. Steven Black [bio 1989–2012] and Prof. Keith Karoly [bio 1994–]

What was your career ambition at Reed? I thought I would be a primatologist like Dian Fossey. After my junior year, I took a year off to research orangutans in Borneo. And I learned something very important. Orangutans are boring. They are mostly solitary, sitting in trees and pretty much doing nothing for hours and hours. I realized it takes a certain type of person to do this research. After a year, I said, "Nope, not going to do this."

Then what? During that year in Indonesia I visited a hospital, and thought, "Wow, I could be a doctor." I could see how profoundly blessed—and lucky—I had been to have been born in the United States. I realized I wanted to come back to Indonesia and make a difference. 

What did Reed teach you? Reed helped make me an integrated thinker. And that is so important in my work today. It’s about thinking in systems—the history, the politics, the linguistics.

How did you like med school? Med school was tough, but I did very well. I knew what I wanted to do. I got a lot of flak for wanting to do international medicine. People couldn’t understand why I wasn’t pursuing the most prestigious specialties and residencies. I started worrying that maybe I was making a stupid mistake. 

What kept you pursuing your dream? I talk about it in terms of stepping off a cliff. At first you don’t know what’s going to happen, but as you move forward, each time a step materializes out of the mist. That’s one piece of advice I’d give young people starting out. If you follow your passion, things will work out. 

What do you appreciate most about living in the rain forest? Imagine a cathedral of trees towering sixty meters up, and you have this beautiful sun, and the gibbons are singing—they sing a beautiful song. 

What’s the first thing you like to do when you get back the States? This is a very conservative community—there’s no dancing. So one of my favorite things is to go out to a club and dance. 

Michael Richardson ’07 [political science]

Senior Director of Product, Urban Airship, Portland

In 2009, a Portland startup named Vidoop went broke and software engineer Michael Richardson was out of a job. He signed up for a special Oregon state program that provides unemployment benefits to entrepreneurs, and launched Urban Airship together with three former coworkers. 

From a fledgling startup, Urban Airship now employs 180 at its Portland headquarters, providing push notifications, in-app messaging, and location targeting on mobile devices. If you rely on your smart phone to tell you about Arsenal’s goal or remind you to refill your prescription, chances are good that UA is behind it.

Raised in rural Idaho, Richardson credits Reed with broadening his worldview and strengthening his critical thinking. “I thought Reed would make me a better person, and it did.”

Thesis: Stumptown Under Scrutiny: Who Votes in Portland, Oregon. Adviser: Prof. Paul Gronke [poli sci 2001–]

Have you always been an entrepreneur? When I was about five years old, I wanted money to play video games at a store in town. So I sold twigs as kindling and pretty rocks out on the sidewalk. Every time someone took pity on me and paid me a quarter, I’d run into the store to play, then rush back out to the sidewalk to make more money.

What was the worst job you ever had? In high school I came up with the idea with some friends of starting a catering business—a fine concept in a city, but not such a great idea in a town of 800. It was an excellent lesson in market demand and supply.

What was your first job after Reed? I interned in Portland City Hall for Commissioner Sam Adams [who was later elected mayor]. My first job was doing technology for a political consulting firm, combining my interest in politics and programming. For a while I worked for a tiny start-up named Bac'n. We sold bacon.

You worked at Vidoop, which eventually crashed. What did you take away from that experience? We tried to learn as much as possible from a terrible experience. The biggest thing for me was the value of integrity and critical thinking in business. You can’t get away with convincing yourself something is true; you have to prove it out.

What does a senior director of product actually do? I manage the roadmap for the company, basically.

How do you handle the pressures of the startup world? I don’t know how else to be. I just can’t imagine operating in a world where there wasn’t something always on the line. 

What advice do you give budding entrepreneurs? Keep yourself grounded in reality, but don’t be afraid to be ambitious. Constantly expose yourself to new ideas and different ways of thinking, and when the right thing happens, it will be obvious to you.

Tags: Alumni, Business, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Health/Wellness, Life Beyond Reed