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Passion for health care and for helping people

January 3, 2017 – Ron Gutman began his entrepreneurial journey leading a multi-dimensional group of graduate students and faculty that focused on personalized medicine. As a result, Gutman found his passion for health care and helping people. He also recognized the need to not only engage people in their own health care but also to measurably prolong the life expectancy of humankind.

With the launch of HealthTap, Gutman and team began to explore and ultimately create solutions that enabled end to end care, building the experience “that is very similar to what Uber did in transportation, for example, or what Amazon is doing in commerce, what Netflix is doing in entertainment.”

Having a vision was one thing, but creating a team and culture that can bring the vision to reality while continuing to grow and evolve the mission was critical. That’s where culture building came in. Gutman believes that culture is based on authenticity and must be intentional. Before even writing a single line of code for HealthTap, Gutman and his founding team spent weeks in his home study creating the vision and credo for the company. This credo is a living, evolving document that is used weekly to ensure the company continues to stay true to its mission.

What matters most? “Caring and kindness matters a ton. We value impact. We want people on the team that want to make a difference in the world, that want to make a change and that actually want to do something big at scale. And “being a health care business, you need to be committed to your own health and well-being.” Gutman shares.

The full transcript is below.

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On his entrepreneurial journey:

The journey that started out with understanding the fundamentals of engagement, morphed into understanding how people comprehend their health and well-being and learn about their health and well-being, and ultimately to tying it all together and creating solutions that help us improve the health of large populations and reduce the cost of the population managers.

On culture building:

Culture also needs to be fun. We want people to come to work not only because it’s a job, but because they can really have fun. They need to enjoy the people around them, they need to feel that they’re doing things that are meaningful, they need to learn all the time, and most importantly it needs to be fresh, exciting, challenging and all the great things that great people love doing.

On hiring the right people:

The people we bring on board value caring and kindness because we are in a caring business. It’s very important that people here are not just highly skilled, highly experienced and very good at what they’re doing professionally, but they must also share the same mission and vision that we have about helping other people.

On the best piece of business advice:

The best piece of advice I’ve ever received from my mentors was to listen. It’s really important. I think that the more confident I’ve become, the more experienced I become, the more I listen to people around me and I think it helps me to be a more effective leader.

Transcript

Navin: Welcome back to Chat with Champions. I have the pleasure of hosting Ron Gutman, founder and CEO of HealthTap. Ron is a speaker, writer, adviser, serial entrepreneur, and angel investor. Essentially, he has a lot of experience and has worn multiple hats. He is an active angel investor and adviser to incubators such as Rock Health and startups such as Massive Health. Ron is also the Curator of TEDx Silicon Valley. Ron, welcome to the podcast.

Ron: Thank you, Navin. It’s a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to our conversation.

Navin: Great, great. So let’s start with you sharing your entrepreneurial journey. Our audience would love to hear about it.

Ron: Absolutely. So, my entrepreneurial journey started at Stanford University with a multi-disciplinary group of graduate students and faculty, that I headed, looking into personalized medicine. I did a lot of research, particularly into the whole notion of engagement in health and well-being and really understanding the behavioral common denominator around why people don’t engage in their health care and actively managing their health care as they should. We wanted to see what was happening with medication adherence, which is less than 50%by the way, medical device adherence, and the patient journey and experience. The group actually came together with folks from the medical school, from the engineering school, from the business school, and some other departments, to really try to build technology that would enable us to engage people in their health and well-being and create measurable results.

The fruit of this research was a really amazing opportunity that was given to us by Stanford University to go empower a new solution that we called “Be Well at Stanford”. The concept was a population management solution that took 30,000 faculty, staff, and students and went into building technology to engage them around their health and well-being. As a result, I discovered a huge passion for health care and for helping people. It was very rewarding to see results. “Be Well at Stanford” still exists today.

With HealthTap, we focused on a bigger mission to measurably prolong the life expectancy of humankind.  We realized that the notion of information is only one building block in a structure that will enable us to actually provide care end to end. And provide health care experiences from the viewpoint of what we call “from query to cure.” We define this as, “How do we build experience in health care that is very similar to what Uber did in transportation, for example, or what Amazon is doing in commerce, what Netflix is doing in entertainment.”

The journey that started out with understanding the fundamentals of engagement, morphed into understanding how people comprehend their health and well-being and learn about their health and well-being, and ultimately to tying it all together and creating solutions that help us improve the health of large populations and reduce the cost of the population managers.

Navin: It’s great to hear your vision, and that’s the reason why we partner invested with you starting in 2011. It’s been a great journey helping you accomplish your mission and vision. So let’s turn into some of the learnings you’ve had over the years. In your experience, how does one build a winning culture and scale it as the company grows in size and stage?

Ron: Culture-building, in my mind, is really based on authenticity. It needs to be very real and authentic. And it needs to be very intentional. At HealthTap, before we even started writing the first line of code or even the first sketch on a napkin, I spent a couple of weeks in my home study, with the founding team, writing our vision and credo.

The beautiful thing about this document is that it didn’t become just a web page or a plaque on the wall, but instead it’s actually something that we’re revisiting every single week in our town hall meeting. There’s a set of values there, there’s a description of what matters to us most and it’s an evolving, living document.

What I’m most excited about is that periodically I’ll hear, in meetings and in calls, people saying to one another, “Yeah, I understand what you’re saying, but you know that’s actually not congruent with our vision and credo.” I actually heard this recently when somebody had a very strong opinion about a change that they wanted to make, and then another member of the team answered, “Well, can you substantiate that with data?” And the other person said, “I don’t have data, but I know that this is right.” And the response was, “Yes. But it’s not congruent with our values. One of our values states that we are going to be data-driven, and when we don’t have information, the data will always prevail over an opinion.”

I want to add one other aspect that we learned really well over the past few years: culture also needs to be fun. We want people to come to work not only because it’s a job, but because they can really have fun. They need to enjoy the people around them, they need to feel that they’re doing things that are meaningful, they need to learn all the time, and most importantly it needs to be fresh, exciting, challenging and all the great things that great people love doing.

Navin: Well, that’s a great learning, even for me. So let’s switch to people. I have a strong belief that people make products, products don’t make people. And they’re key to building a company. Given that, you’ve been an entrepreneur and building companies for a while, what do you look for in people as you hire them?

Ron: It’s back to the values, right? Making sure that the people we bring on board value caring and kindness because we are in a caring business. It’s very important that people here are not just highly skilled, highly experienced and very good at what they’re doing professionally, but they must also share the same mission and vision that we have about helping other people.

So caring and kindness matters a ton. We value impact. We want people on the team that want to make a difference in the world, that want to make a change and that actually want to do something big at scale. But they’re not concerned about climbing Everest, in fact they’re actually excited about it. And when they want to solve something, they want to solve it at scale. It’s not enough for them to make small solution. We also value facts, data, and analysis.

On the other hand, as I mentioned before, we also value fun and play and in people that are not just about working all the time. It’s important that they are well-rounded and have hobbies and passions that they love sharing with other people in the company. We give our employees the opportunity to shine in this way. We also value trust, openness and transparency.

We value passion and positive energy too because it doesn’t matter how smart you are, when you climb Everest, you need to have this positive energy and passion in order to move forward and succeed on an ongoing basis. So it’s a very key and important thing for us. Also, this whole notion of health and well-being is key. If you are committed to building a health care business, you need to be committed to your own health and well-being. You can’t just sell something to everybody else and “not eat the dog food that you’re creating.” So we want to see that people are personally excited and committed to their own health and well-being, and to that of their families as well because they’re going to do better here as team members.

We also value curiosity and innovation. Another very important thing is simplicity, particularly when you tackle convoluted systems like the health care system, you have to be simple, you have to think simple, because if not, you get entangled in all this hodge-podge of stuff that was created over the years.

You need to create solutions that people understand and adopt very quickly and that are very useful to their lives. And last but not least, we value sense of adventure. I mean it’s fun, going out and changing the world and in saving lives every day and doing new things. It is a really great adventure. Some people love adventures and some people, it’s not their thing, and we’re looking for people that are adventurous, that enjoy the journey. We don’t look for people who endure the journey. We want people that join us and love all these things and help us change the world for the better.

Navin: Got it. Let’s shift to advisers and mentors. What would you say has been the best piece of business advice you have received from an adviser or mentor or a board member over the years?

Ron: The best piece of advice I’ve ever received from my mentors was to listen. It’s really important. It doesn’t matter which room you’re going into, it’s employees, it’s users, it’s partners, it’s investors, it’s any player in the ecosystem, you need to get into the room and first, before the immediate tendency to just say something, and take a step back to listen. I think it’s an extremely important lesson that I learned over time. I think I became a much more effective leader after I started to take a pause, count to 10, let people talk, absorb what they’re saying and only then jump into doing things. It’s really helpful and it’s really important. I think that the more confident I’ve become, the more experienced I become, the more I listen to people around me and I think it helps me to be a more effective leader.

Navin: That’s great. So let me end by asking you a final question for our audience. What are your thoughts on the current climate for entrepreneurs?

Ron: I think it’s a wonderful time to build companies right now. I think that we, particularly in Silicon Valley, particularly in health care, have the ability to build on a lot of technology infrastructure that was created in the past decade. Everything that has to do with internet, with cloud, with engagement, with digital channels, with Internet of Things that’s coming into play right now. There’s a lot of opportunity, and I think that there’s also a tremendous amount of resources and smart partners and investors that are here to really support bright, ambitious entrepreneurs that actually want to go and really push the envelope.

I think there’s a lot of opportunity in other industries as well. Technology is an enabler, and the platforms are there to build on top of in a very inexpensive way. The ability to iterate cost-effectively is so much better than it used to be. We live in a wonderful time for entrepreneurs to go out and push the envelope and continue improving this world, helping people, and in our case, saving lives and making this world a better place.

Navin: That’s great piece of advice and your thoughts on the current climate. Ron, really appreciate you taking the time today. Thank you very much.

Ron: Thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity, and looking forward to hearing what people think about it in their comments.