“What Rutgers gave me is the ability to continuously learn and adapt. If you don’t adapt and grow, you are falling behind. That’s why it’s so important to be open to new things and different perspectives.” –Vladimir Castillo
Entrepreneur Vlad Castillo has applied training from his Rutgers BS in industrial engineering and MBA in marketing from Rider University to improve conversations between health care providers and their patients. He is the CEO and co-founder of Phase 4 Digital, a marketing consulting firm that provides niche expertise in digital and multichannel marketing for life science and health care organizations. He is also president and co-founder of xReach.io, a technology company that engages key health care stakeholders by integrating the latest advances in voice-enabled technologies and speech synthesis with proprietary AI technology. He was the CMO and co-founder of The Encima Group (now Indegene Encima), which was regularly listed as one of the “Inc. 5000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies” in the nation. Before that, he held several key brand-marketing positions at Bristol-Myers Squibb. His innovative marketing initiatives have earned him industry awards such as Top DTC Marketer and the Trailblazer Award.
Why did you choose Rutgers School of Engineering?
I chose Rutgers for its outstanding reputation. I wanted to stay in New Jersey but go to a great engineering school. I grew up in Paterson – my parents were Colombian immigrants who worked hard at factory jobs to put my sister and me through college. I’m very grateful to them.
Why did you major in industrial engineering?
Since I didn’t really know what I was going to do later, I thought industrial engineering would give me the broadest foundation for moving forward, especially for getting into the business world. To me, industrial engineering uses both the right and left sides of the brain – connecting the technical and scientific side with the social, business and creative side.
You took part in the Educational Opportunity Fund, or EOF, program. What did it mean to you?
It was life changing for me. EOF is essential for kids like me from places like Paterson or other inner cities who need extra help in making a smooth transition to college life. It’s just a very different cultural, social, and academic perspective. EOF opens doors – you go in thinking one thing and come out with your eyes wide open.
Were you mentored as a student?
Retired Dean Donald Brown and Associate Dean of Student Services and the School’s Director of EOF Ilene Rosen were mentors for me. Just being able to communicate to someone, have someone listen to me, to have that support – and be part of a group that is there for you and cares for you – made all the difference. Dean Rosen would ask, “How do you eat an elephant?” We learned that you eat it one bite at a time.
You are an active mentor yourself these days. Who do you mentor?
I mentor people who are new to pharmaceutical marketing. I also mentor a few younger people who are students in inner city schools. I often speak to elementary and high students in different cities in New Jersey. I try to mentor as much as I can – I really enjoy it.
What is your message to younger students?
People tend to bring other people down especially on social media. This doesn’t do any good. I tell kids not to put themselves down. I ask them to see themselves as two-year-olds – they wouldn’t say bad things to their two-year-old selves. I say, “Show yourself some love and lift yourself up.”
You spoke at the recent EOF closing event this summer. Why was it important to share your story with these new EOF students?
I wanted to inspire the incoming EOF students with a simple message that I hoped would shift their mindsets. They’re thinking that they’re going to Rutgers to get an engineering degree. That’s true, but what they’re really doing is engineering a new rich life.
When you engineer a new life, you need pilas, which means “battery” in Spanish. You need the inner strength and perseverance that pilas gives you. You have to be able to hustle and run through walls. You need positivity to overcome any negativity. You have to be able to get up every morning and be the best person you can be.
What kind of advice did you have for them?
Nothing in this life is easy. Getting an engineering degree from one of the world’s best universities is difficult -- but it has high value and is worth a lot. Conversely, when something is easy, it has less value.
My message to these EOF students is that they’re here because they have a lot of value and can engineer the next level of their lives. I let them know that while they’ll be surrounded by people who want the best for them, in the end, it’s up to them to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them. They’re the only ones who can make decisions that are the best for them.
What advice would you give yourself if you were starting college tomorrow knowing what you know now?
I’d tell myself to embrace learning. There is so much out there to learn and so you want to get as broad an education as you can. Follow your heart and your passion and consider combining disciplines. This could be a career differentiator down the line.
You’re an entrepreneur. What are the secrets of your success?
When I was at Bristol-Myers Squibb, I learned to understand brand marketers – their behavior and their needs. I developed TV commercials for my brand, websites, and led teams that promoted education and created messages to help them talk to physicians about their products.
I learned it’s important to step out of your own shoes and get a different perspective.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t start with a product. You must first understand and become your audience. So before you do anything as an entrepreneur, you need to identify two things – your audience and their need.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you?
It means freedom, following my heart, and no limits. It means visualizing products and solutions to fill needs, working hard to make them a reality, and becoming a blessing to people on a personal and intimate level.
What prompted you to leave Bristol-Myers Squibb and become an entrepreneur?
Even though I was so successful and happy with my career there, I knew in my heart that my true path was to become an entrepreneur.
It certainly wasn’t easy – I really enjoyed the people I worked with and felt I was helping patients and those who care for them every single day. But I knew I needed to try it out.
Looking back, I’m glad I did because building and running businesses and helping people is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
What came next for you?
So, after more than a decade at Bristol-Myers Squibb, I started The Encima Group. As CMO, I provided strategic marketing guidance to clients.
After selling Encima, I co-founded Phase 4 Digital, which focuses on digital and multichannel marketing for life science and healthcare organizations that improves conversations between patients and health care providers.
I also co-founded xReach.io. We help voice-enabled technologies give real responses to patients and health care providers. Voice is growing and becoming increasingly impactful in our lives. Who has time to search when you can just ask Alexa or Google Assistant?
What is your vision as a CEO?
For me it’s all about helping patients who are going through tough times. By improving and engineering richer conversations, we can have better patient outcomes.
How would you describe your leadership style?
It’s exactly who I am as an individual – authentic, open to new ideas, supportive, positive, and always learning.
What do you most value about your SoE Education?
What Rutgers gave me is the ability to continuously learn and adapt. If you don’t adapt and grow, you are falling behind. That’s why it’s so important to be open to new thing and different perspectives.
Rutgers taught me to be a problem solver and gave me the power to adapt so I am – I hope – able to help my community and the world.
What did you do in your down time at Rutgers?
Rutgers offered many opportunities to get involved with your passions, so I got involved with different groups and organizations, such as the Society of Hispanic Engineers. I joined basketball groups. We played other dorms in football and volleyball. It was good to play each other and hang out at the student center.
What do you do for fun these days?
I’m gym rat –I lift weights, do yoga and cardio treadmills. I run and walk.
I love, love, love traveling -- my family and I travel whenever we can.
Where do you like to go?
My favorite place in the world is Positano, Italy. There’s a wonderful restaurant on the top of a cliff with no menu and a wonderful view.
Cartagena, Colombia is a super fun place – a bit like Miami, with gorgeous beaches and friendly people.
We also love San Andres – a beautiful natural island that belongs to Colombia but is not well known here in the states.
What is the last book you read?
I love to read. Seth Godin’s best seller, All Marketers are Liars. It talks about how it’s not the product you’re trying sell customers on but more about developing stories for people and improving on that.
I’m big on novels. I love Gabriel Garcia Márquez and just reread, for the tenth time, his classic One Hundred Years of Solitude.
I also read the Bible. I’m a positive person. My goal in life is to be a blessing to people and help and support them.