Of Baby Wipe Bots and Artificially Intelligent Bandages

One of the more obvious challenges facing humankind is how to ensure a growing and aging worldwide population of over seven billion people has reliable access to quality healthcare at affordable cost. It’s audaciously trying to solve exactly these sorts of Big, Hairy Problems with massive societal implications that drew me to technology in the first place. And it’s why I’m thrilled to be joining Johnson & Johnson, the global leader in health and wellness and an iconic $300+ billion brand, later this month to lead their technology strategy and go-to-market efforts (tech partnerships, investments, joint ventures and the like) worldwide across their pharma, device and consumer businesses.

The 130-year-old purveyor of Band-Aids, Bengay, Tylenol and Listerine (or as my new colleague, Sandi Peterson, alliteratively puts it, “baby powder to biologics”) may seem like an odd choice for a tech OG like me (attentionally challenged version: Co-founded a dot-com in the late ’90s; joined Google when they were fewer than a thousand people; built and led platform and partnerships functions at Dropbox). But generating better health outcomes at lower cost at global scale will require transforming the way healthcare is practiced, delivered, measured, and paid for — and this in turn will require innovative technology plus the sorts of assets a company like J&J uniquely brings: A brand that’s among the world’s most admired and ubiquitous and which already touches over a billion users daily; a world-class executive leadership team; unrivaled scientific, regulatory, legal and operational expertise in health and wellness; extensive ecosystem relationships with providers, researchers, payers, retailers and others; a deep understanding of both direct-to-consumer and B2B2C dynamics; and a patient-centrism that’s woven into the company’s DNA (as reflected in the company’s credo).

It’s exciting to see so many smart, tech-savvy people (many of whom I’m fortunate to call friends (you know who you are)) turning their immense talents to this challenge over the past few years, resulting in a “thousand flowers bloom” health tech explosion: A dizzying array of ambitious early efforts to utilize emerging tech (sensors, big data, VR, robotics, etc.) to address real health and wellness problems (cancer, diabetes, mental illness, asthma, etc.) that affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide. But no one seems to have cracked the code yet in terms of how to put technology to work to scalably and sustainably deliver improved health outcomes.

My mandate is to try to make sense of the many disparate health technology initiatives already afoot both within J&J and in the broader science and technology community, to see around corners to where technology is going, and to formulate and execute against a plan to transform healthcare by bringing the best of the tech ecosystem together with the best of J&J in creative ways.

Though I’m essentially a newcomer to the healthcare space (after entering college as pre-med back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was seduced to the Dark Side of economics as a sophomore), I think many of the experiences and lessons I’ve learned throughout my career in tech can be applied impactfully to this opportunity: In particular, while the “atomic unit” here is different (lives vs search queries or files), the strategies (eg, put users first, think at global scale, embrace change) and go-to-market principles (eg, build partner networks, be mobile, design matters) behind creating global scale businesses around technology are highly re-usable.

I’m looking forward to starting this new adventure, and hope to see and work with (if not be joined by) many of the folks in the tech community I’ve gotten to know over the last two decades while also building a broad and deep set of new relationships.

I’ll be staying in the Bay Area, so please don’t hesitate to hit me up with ideas, suggestions or requests for hard-to-find Neutrogena products.

Stay healthy, my friends.

Marc

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