The Importance of Passion in Building Your Digital Health Company — Ron Gutman, HealthTap — Full

StartUp Health
15 min readJun 7, 2016

Ron Gutman, Founder and CEO of HealthTap, sits down with StartUp Health Co-founder and President Unity Stoakes to discuss HealthTap’s mission, applying technology to healthcare and the importance of passion in building your company.

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Key takeaways from this episode of StartUp Health NOW can be found here.

[00:04] Unity Stoakes: Welcome to StartUp Health NOW! The weekly web show that celebrates the Healthcare Transformers and changemakers reimagining health. My name is Unity Stoakes and today we are at the Wearable Tech and Digital Health Conference in San Francisco. We’ve got a special guest Ron Gutman, the CEO and founder of HealthTap. He’s a serial entrepreneur and we’re going to be talking about the importance of passion, passion, passion in building your digital health company. Stick around.It’s going to be a great show.

[00:34] Music Intro

[01:13] Unity: We’re here with Ron Gutman, the CEO and founder of HealthTap. It’s really wonderful to have you here. You’re a serial long-time entrepreneur in the space. I thought we’d start just by learning about you. Why did you become an entrepreneur? How did you get started?

[01:28] Ron Gutman: Absolutely. You know I think that my entrepreneurial career in healthcare started at Stanford University with a big passion to make a big difference in people’s lives. I think that the idea of meeting people where they are or understanding their health and well-being and understanding more than anything why we know we should do certain things about health, but we don’t really do it.

[01:52] Ron: That was very interesting in my mind. This whole notion of adherence. This whole notion of doing or living healthcare was something that was very interesting for me, and understanding human behavior and understanding why the underlying reason is that people don’t do what they know they should do what they’re told to do and help them do that. Right?Or help them overcome that. We did a lot of work at Stanford on this.

[02:14] Unity: When you started at Stamford did you know you wanted to be involved in health or did that developed while you were there?

[02:19] Ron: Absolutely. I think that one of the main reasons that I decided to come to Silicon Valley, and to Stanford in particular, was the combination of tech and healthcare. I think that I was very excited about applying some of the most cutting-edge innovation in healthcare and technology together to human problems. I think that Silicon Valley is really second to none in having some of the best technologies in the world.

[02:44] Ron: I was always excited about computer science. I was always excited about the opportunity to apply technology to healthcare because I think it’s the place where actually we can get the most human impact.

[02:55] Ron: Both Silicon Valley and Stanford gave me an opportunity to bring them all together and I think that it’s not just Stanford University as an academic institution which is fantastic, but also the community.

[03:05] Ron: I think that people to come to Stanford, both the professors and people in the community and the students that come to study at Stanford, are very, very, very innovative nature. They’re very interested in changing things for the better, right?

[03:19] Ron: I think the open environment and the receptiveness for change and innovation was something that attracted me and was a lot of fun when I was going through it.

[03:29] Unity: There’s also this culture of entrepreneurship. When did you know that you were an entrepreneur? When did you take that leap?

[03:38] Ron: My mother claims that I was an entrepreneur since I was three years old. [crosstalk]

[03:44] Unity: It sort of is in DNA. It’s born into you.

[03:46] Ron: I love building stuff. I love seeing opportunities and then think how to build things that actually solve human needs. Solve problems. I like challenges and I like applying all kind of like innovative solutions, particularly technology, but not only.

[04:02] Ron: To solve human needs. I think what I discovered really early in my life, that I’m getting really excited when I see a problem and I can solve it. I can solve it at scale. It actually makes me happier. I think that discovering healthcare was fantastic because it’s one of the first things that I really built and got to understand that I can actually make a huge impact in the world.

[04:4] Ron: More than just the satisfaction of building things, and writing software, and creating things out of bits and bytes. Now I can actually impact people’s lives and I think it adds another dimension to the creativity and to the creation process. It is very inspiring and makes you jump out of bed in the morning knowing that you’re making an impact on people’s lives.

[04:44] Unity: You’re focused on a very big mission now with HealthTap. Tell us what HealthTap is. Tell us the mission of HealthTap.

[04:52] Ron: Sure. HealthTap is the first global health practice. We have more than a hundred thousand physicians, U.S. licensed physicians in our network. We actually start opening networks elsewhere in the world. We have thousands of physicians in New Zealand and we’re going to announce more markets very very soon.

[05:08] Ron: The idea, basically, make these physicians and their knowledge available to people anytime, anywhere and provide care from query to cure, from any mobile device or web connection.

[05:20] Ron: This is not just telemedicine. This is actually figuring out how to provide to people the information that they need about their health and well-being. How to connect them to the right doctors. How to facilitate the channels of communications between doctors and patients via text, via video, via voice.

[05:36] Ron: But also, back to what they did at Stanford, engage people around their health and well-being because their communication with the physician doesn’t end the story in health care. It just starts it.

[05:45] Ron: When the physician prescribes a medication, even if they did it over text or a video consultation, you’re not done. You’re just starting the recovery process.

[05:52] Unity: You’re right it’s just the beginning.

[05:53] Ron: Exactly. So, how do we use technology in order to help people adhere? In order to help people take their medications, use a medical device. Go for a run. Eat a little bit better.

[06:04] Ron: There’s a lot of things that we can do after the doctor visit, after the recommendation of the professional, of the experts, to help people stay on track, recover, and feel good. From information to communication, to engagement, the first time ever experienced an end-to-end query to cure experience in virtual care.

[06:23] Unity: What are some of the things you’ve learned during the journey of HealthTap? Specifically, it’s very interesting. You have a consumer product or solution but there’s also this platform that works with the clinicians and doctors. What are some of the things you’ve learned over the years that you’ve been building HealthTap?

[06:44] Ron: Absolutely. The journey of building a whole operating system is like five and a half years of really building core software. The PHR, an engagement module, an information module, a communication module, scheduling, payments. This is really core technology.

[07:00] Ron: It’s only one layer. But just like you said, in order to bring life into it you need to bring people and you need to bring physicians. We went in this exercise of creating a community, a network of more than a hundred thousand physicians that are engaged in health.

[07:14] Ron: We’re actually communicating with more than a half a million physicians but the ones that are engaging the network are more than a hundred thousand of them. That’s only the building block. On top of it, we layer hundreds of millions of people from all over the world by the way that come to seek their advice, seek the information of some of these best physicians in the world.

[07:35] Ron: Facilitating the marketplace in a way that the baseline is free. That’s a very important key in healthcare because we are very mission driven as a company. We always want to create awesome free services in the baseline.

[07:47] Unity: Free for people to come on and ask questions.

[07:50] Ron: Ask questions,

[07:51] Unity: On the flip side, for clinicians to get involved is there a fee for them?

[07:55] Ron: No, the baseline, we want to provide healthcare to all. I really believe that healthcare is a fundamental human right. I really do. That’s the foundation of why I’m doing everything that I’m doing. We always want to have a free service. We always want to improve it all the time but on top of it, we want to create premium services. Do we want to create basic healthcare for everybody? These questions and answers so you can go on HealthTap and ask a question and get an answer from a physician in minutes for free. From anywhere in the world. That to me is amazing, right?

[08:22] Ron: On top of it, we’re creating premium services that you can subscribe to that you can get immediate access to physicians for consultations. You can get a prescription, you can get lab test results interpreted like literally in minutes. You can actually get a referral to a lab test today on HealthTap.

[08:38] Ron: You can actually get a plan done for you. The doctor can create a real plan that will involve the right kind of information the right kind of medication or treatment and then a whole process of care that is associated with checklists that the doctor is creating for you. Then technology that reminds you to take your medications, use a medical device to get a test done, to get another appointment with a doctor. You get the whole care pathway on HealthTap and that’s really exciting.

[09:03] Ron: These are premium services. These are actually paid for people that want to come to us and actually manage their health in an active way.

[09:12] Unity: What are some of the biggest lessons learned specifically that you can share with other entrepreneurs wanting to either join the revolution and transform health or start their first digital health company? What would your advice be to those entrepreneurs based off of what you’ve learned building the HealthTap operating system or less five and a half years or however many years it’s been?

[09:37] Ron: Passion, passion, passion, passion. You know do it for the right reasons. If you’re passionate about helping people, making a difference in the world, you can have a lot of fun in healthcare. Healthcare is challenging. Healthcare is not linear, it’s not simple.

[09:49] Ron: I like games. When I was a little kid I used to write computer games. What I enjoy more than anything else now is really helping people, because you can get joy about building games. It’s like it’s fun, it’s really fun. But it wouldn’t keep you going for an extremely long time. [10:06] Ron: Healthcare does. The mission. The idea of helping people you know in a meaningful way. Impacting their lives in a significant way. People that you love. Your family or friends but also people you’ve never met in your life.

[10:18] Ron: Knowing that the code that you write in the evening can save lives in the morning elsewhere in the world. In China and Australia. In New Zealand. In Europe is amazing. I mean there’s a second to none and it’s very inspiring.

[10:31] Ron: A lot of people worked their entire life only to be able to do good later in their life by doing charity, by volunteering. We’re doing both of them at the same time all the time. So, I think the key thing to talk with entrepreneurs about is, are you really passionate?

[10:47] Unity: If they don’t have that passion your advice would go do something else because it really takes that sort of mission-driven component in your DNA in order to withstand the many years that it is gonna take two to do something meaningful in the sector.

[11:07] Ron: I think it’s the drive. It’s the passion. I think it’s about surrounding yourself with the right people. Also helps a lot. People you enjoy working with. People that you respect and appreciate. That know how to solve the problems that you want to solve. But also, you get along with him really well. Why? Because you are going to spend many days and nights with them together solving a really challenging problem and conquering this opportunity. But, you need to bring the right people.

[11:33] Ron: I think that it’s your passion. It’s bringing the right kind of people that they’re passionate as well with you to the journey together.

[11:41] Ron: Being committed to solving it. I think it is very important to understand that the journey to actually creating big accomplishments and entrepreneurship is sometimes longer than you think it is. If you’re committed you will solve it eventually. If you’re doing something that is worthy you bring the right people, the right kind of skills, and you’re committed to it, you’ll solve it. You need to be committed to it and I think they’re all tied to each other very well.

[12:05] Unity: One of the questions that come up frequently for entrepreneurs as they’re building a healthcare company is what’s your business model? How do you make money? What are your thoughts in terms of early-stage digital health companies focusing on the business model from day one, like many investors ask, or focusing on product, scale, solution, what’s the balance there? What would your advice be to entrepreneurs? Obviously, it depends on what the solution is perhaps, but what would your thoughts be there?

[12:41] Ron: I’m very biased. I’m a product guy. I will always say product, product, product, product. Before you solve how you make money on things make sure that you add value. I think that building a great product. Understanding your market. Understanding your user really well. Understanding the needs. What are you solving?

[12:58] Ron: I talk with other entrepreneurs, other people come to me to invest in businesses and do these kinds of things, and they come with these great ideas and especially here in Silicon Valley they come up with this awesome technology. And I think, “Hold on one second, what problem are you solving?” Show me the pinpoint. Show me the need. How many people have this need? How is this solution applied to this problem solve it so much better than anything else?

[13:22] Ron: Once you have this. Once you understand this then you can go to the next level of understanding how much value it adds. Once you have the solution and it works well and it works to scale because you need to build scale. I mean you really want to build something that is big and meaningful after you understand how to solve the problem locally. Scale it up. Once you understand the problem, solving it and scaling it out, now is time to figure out how to make money.

[13:50] Ron: I think that problems solved at scale in healthcare will find a way

[13:54] Unity: There’s always a great business there.

[13:56] Ron: Find a way to monetize. The opposite is problematic. If you think from day one also is how to make money, how do I make money? You’re not going to are about the product. Too many businesses in healthcare , what they do is create something quick and then build a software very quickly and brute force it into the market. That’s not a way to build a great sustainable business that will change the world. It’s a way to maybe make money in the short term but it’s not the way to change the world for the better.

[14:19] Ron: If you want to be the really big business that is sustainable you need to go through the steps of understanding the market, and understanding the solution, building the product that works, iterating on it, building scale, and then monetizing.

[14:32] Unity: Fantastic. Predictions. What are your thoughts on where things are going, specifically in health and healthcare, technologies coming in, amazing entrepreneurs are coming in, a lot of capital flowing in? What are your thoughts just in the next few years in the direction of the whole industry?

[14:51] Ron: What we need more than anything else in healthcare. When we learned that from serving hundreds of millions of people. We need speed. We need quality. We need compassion. Speed, quality, and compassion.

[15:04] Ron: These are the three things that are missing today. I think that where we’re going with healthcare is applying technology and businesses to create more speed, more quality, and more compassion in healthcare.

[15:16] Ron: What does it mean? We need to create engagement. We need to make sure that both patients and doctors are engaged in the process of care. We don’t see enough engagement and that’s something that I’m very, very excited to see going forward. We need to create interoperability. We need to bring all the pieces in the system together because connected systems are smarter.

[15:38] Ron: When you have a fragmented system, anything, if you think about data. If you want to start doing predictive modeling on any system and you have a fragmented system and you need to start predicting what’s gonna be good for certain people. It’s fragmented there’s no way you can do it.

[15:52] Ron: We start connecting the dots together and you have data flowing into the system you can start doing these amazing things that we’re doing in commerce, that we’re doing in entertainment, that we’re doing an advertising, but we’re not doing in healthcare.

[16:04] Ron: I think where we’re going with this is interoperability. How do you connect the systems together? How do we bring data from multiple parts in the system to talk with each other? Then on top of it, create a bunch of engagement. Once you have these two, wow. You can use machine learning, you can use a lot of amazing techniques that have been used elsewhere to start doing in healthcare things that were not possible before.

[16:26] Unity: Exciting times, exciting times. Couple quick last minute questions. Favorite app, favorite technology, something you find yourself using all the time?

[16:36] Ron: My favorite app is HealthTap obviously. [laughs] But to go beyond HealthTap, things that solve the fundamental problem in a meaningful way that impacts my life on an ongoing basis are things like Uber. In my mind. I’ll go back to Uber again, and again, and again because I love it . Why? Because it’s an experience. It takes a need that I have frequently and builds for me an end to an experience that it takes care of all the component in a very delightful and simple way.

[17:07] Ron: I think we need that in healthcare. I think that we need to create these journeys. Think about yourself. You need to get from one place to the other. You go to the app. You click a button and it just takes you there. You don’t need to pay you, you don’t need to think about the ride, it just takes you there.

[17:19] Ron: What if we had in healthcare a way to manage health from query to cure, from end to end, in the same way, we’re doing it with Uber.

[17:27] Unity: Fantastic. So last question. What do you do to stay healthy? You’re working all the time as an entrepreneur. This is a very important question we think for other entrepreneurs

because staying healthy through the journey is very important. What do you do?

[17:42] Ron: It’s very important for both physical and mental health and to being resilient and to

just enjoying your life while you’re doing something that is challenging. It’s very important to stay healthy. I actually run every single morning. If you are ever are in San Francisco or in Sao Paulo come run with me in the morning. Doesn’t matter where I am in the world, doesn’t matter how long I slept at night, I start my day before I brush my teeth I put my running shoes on and I go running. That’s a daily routine 365 days a year. I enjoy that a lot. I have my exercise routine after that. I try to eat healthily. I really do try to eat healthily. Eating in a way that keeps you going. Not heavy foods and think that there’s no tempting to eat especially when you’re traveling it’s very tempting to just get whatever and it just weighs on me. I feel it after that. I prefer to eat light. I love salads I like healthy food that really keeps me going.

[18:37] Ron: The third thing is really surrounding myself by amazing people that make me laugh and make me smile and make me feel good. It doesn’t matter if it’s people at work like I have an amazing team and they inspire me and make me happy every single day. But I also have good friends and family that I go back to. They make me feel emotional, not just physically

[18:58] Unity: Exercise, food, and people. Great advice. Thank you for everything that you’re doing with HealthTap. Where can people go to learn more?

[19:05] Ron: Yep. Or download our apps on iPhone, Androids, on the web, and enjoy Healthtap.

[19:11] Unity: Thank you so much.It was great to be here with you.

[19:13] Ron: Thank you

[19:14] Unity: Thank you. We’ll see you soon.

[19:19] Chime

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