Dr. Robert Masson is a world-class neurosurgeon who is revolutionizing the medical field through his spirit of competition, innovation and pursuit of excellence. He is the Founder of the Masson Spine Institute and Co-Founder of eXeX (Expanded Existence), a surgical tech based platform that uses mixed reality and AI to optimize surgical procedures specific to surgeons and operating rooms. Growing up in Los Angeles, California, his journey to Florida involved football, space, and a desire for better living.
From an early age, Dr. Masson displayed a strong inclination towards science and math. This affinity, coupled with his pursuit of athleticism, exploration, and competitiveness, set the stage for his future endeavors. Much of his inspiration came from his grandfather, an Air Force aviator test pilot who flew fighters in various wars, including World War II, and was one of the original pilots in the Gates Flying Circus. The legacy of his grandfather's bravery and passion for exploration inspired Robert to set his sights on the stars and aspire to become an astronaut.
Playing football at Palisades High School in California, Masson received a football scholarship to the University of Florida. With the goal of getting on a shuttle, he pursued a degree in aerospace engineering in an effort to become an astronaut. After one semester, however, Robert realized there was no pathway to getting on a shuttle.
At the time there was a lot of research going on with zero gravity, space exploration, human tolerance and conditioning, and how that was going to navigate space. It became very obvious that becoming an expert in some sort of biomedical science was a great vehicle to find himself in the shuttle program, so he shifted gears and ended up in biomedical engineering and a seven year BS/MD program.
Approaching his senior year of medical school, and having finished his engineering program, Robert was doing research at the department of Neurological Surgery in stem cell biology. He was working in a spinal cord transplantation lab with Dr. Paul Reier, PHD, who was an international leader in spinal cord injury cellular biology.
While doing micro surgery as a med student trying to see how stem cell use could encourage nerve regrowth, spinal cord regrowth and regeneration, the Chairman of Neurosurgery asked Robert to apply for training in Neurosurgery at the University of Florida. It was at this same time that his dreams of becoming an astronaut were in jeopardy due to the tragic Challenger explosion and the shuttle program being shut down.
Robert applied to neurosurgery, was accepted, and never looked back.
A first generation American, Dr Masson has been a world class neurosurgeon now for 35 years. While his upbringing wasn’t what you dreamed of, no matter how crazy life got at times, his family found joy and positivity in being competitive, athletic and adventurous.
Competition was the one thing that brought connection to Robert's family growing up. There were no negative vibes connected to it and it just came naturally.
Upon Graduating, Robert and his wife Denise (who he met at a Chili’s happy hour in Gainesville) moved to Washington where he took his first job as the Head of a Neurosurgery Department at a hospital in Olympia, Washington, just south of Seattle. After 93 days in a row of no sun, he and Denise decided they were over it. With family back in Florida, Robert found an opportunity in Orlando and they made the move in 1999.
Robert felt that Orlando was in a revitalization period at that time. He felt it was a great fit for his life both personally and professionally. He remembers seeing a big influx of economic growth, housing growth and educational growth. He also saw a burgeoning tech community that was starting to be seeded at that point.
Robert and Denise, who is also a fierce competitor, have 5 children together. Kyle, Brett, Casey, Alex and Keira. While both have strong competitive mindsets, they never wanted to force that on their children. As each of the children began to play sports, including eSports, they found themselves excelling. Their competitive DNA began to show up naturally.
Masson's son Kyle was determined to become a professional race car driver. With a bit of nudging, Robert chaperoned him to the Skip Barber Formula Racing School. It was there that one of the dads approached Robert to show him how to hold the umbrella over his son’s head to prevent him from getting hot. At that moment, he realized he’d rather race along with his son than sit on the sideline. At 52 years old, Robert joined America’s Young Race Development Program.
Racing with his son was one of the best opportunities he could have asked for. Robert played the role of the coach for Kyle in baseball, tennis and basketball. In racing, he realized that Kyle was better from day one and Kyle became his coach.
The two of them competed against each other and by doing so, they both got better. Robert says that looking back at some of the professional photos, Kyle was always in first and he was always right behind him.
“I was chasing my first born. It was a great metaphor for the competitive thing within our family that I’ll never forget.”
Robert has always seen himself as the head of his wolfpack. Coming under Kyle in racing, he never saw himself as less of a leader.
“In order to maintain healthy engagement with competition, it's important to never lose your boundaries. The opportunity to step back and see me and my kid, in a high level, competitive, sophisticated environment, and watch him excel while trying to emulate him was probably the best experience competitively of my life. It was the purest it had ever been. Everything else had been aspirational. Everything else had been about trying to get somewhere else in my life. This was different. This was really me getting to look at my life and my family and why it all mattered in the first place.”
Robert sees all of his experiences as opportunities and the reason he’s been able to apply it with the rest of his kids. It changed his family dynamic and it’s grounded all of them.
One value that is shared in Robert’s businesses and family is excellence. He says, “There’s no substitute for hard work, persistence, and being the best you can be. That doesn’t mean there is an aversion to the risk of failure, failure is a normal part of it.”
“My family is very comfortable with being uncomfortable. I would argue they’re uncomfortable with being comfortable!”
As a Neurosurgeon, Dr. Masson has treated hundreds of professional, elite athletes in multiple sports, who have been able to find their way back to what they love. Some of them include olympians who, after artificial disc surgery, found their way back to the podium with medals. Robert says his number one goal, which led to all the innovation, was performance [Human Performance]. He has made that his patient's recovery profile.
Robert’s approach is a consequence of massive rebellion against the standard of traditional wisdom in spine surgery. It’s this approach that laid the canvas for improving technique and enabling technology to improve the operating room.
Masson saw mixed reality and artificial intelligence as a way to improve the surgical team. Not as a tool for how the surgeon executes surgery himself, but more on the surgical team, the logistics, waste management and execution of flow-state.
Robert’s goal is to make surgery better. His company eXeX has created a software environment leveraging mixed reality for the unsung heroes; scrub nurses, circulating nurses, and support staff all in an effort for a more efficient surgical execution.
With a lot of surgery organizations built on a methodology where the standards haven’t changed since the 1920’s, Robert and his team saw an opportunity to build a software environment of logistics and performance fed by artificial intelligence in a closed environment where the goal is to identify best practices and organizational patterns that lead to better outcomes.
Providing access to care, necessary resources and reducing economic waste has led Robert and his team to produce a highly effective and efficient operating room.
“The way I think about competition and performance, put that on steroids and then build a scalable software system powered by AI in a closed environment. That’s what we’re doing.”
Robert sees mixed reality tech as a way to give the surgical team access to the digital workspace while operating in a completely sterile environment. He sees so many opportunities to perpetually improve healthcare based on data.
Robert holds a very tight circle which includes members of his family who also participate in his medical pursuits. While none of his kids have so far decided to become surgeons, they are intimately aware of the opportunities to bring massive contributions to the healthcare industry.
Kyle, who he raced with, is passionate about technology, and like his dad, is a humanistic person, but with a ferocity that comes with competitive instinct. Same goes with his son Brett, who just finished his MBA program at Rollins and joined their team right after graduation. Both share the same passion and commitment to excellence but come with different strengths. Because of the upbringing they share, they function as a team on a high level and love to compete.
“We’re insanely loyal and fierce within our family.”
Out of all the accomplishments Dr. Masson has achieved, there is one that stands out amongst them all. It’s the one he’s most proud of:
“It’s not the personal stuff that was easy, that was just normal. That was every day, that was waking up and breathing. It was growing up in a difficult family environment and then somehow figuring out a way to build my own incredible and proud family environment.”
Dr. Masson finds his love for Orlando when he visits every other city. He finds the quality of life to be incredible and sees the growing opportunities for our local culture. As a family who travels often they always look forward to coming home.
“I define the Orlando Life as simple, effortless, joyous, high quality and purposeful. You're not distracted by unnecessary complications of so many big cities and yet you have access to anything and everything you could possibly want that a major metro area can give you, and yet it's still a community based lifestyle. It's the best of both worlds in my mind.”