Health Tech: Amnon Bar-Lev of Alike On How Their Technology Can Make An Important Impact On Our Overall Wellness
By using Alike, one can tap into the experiences of others with similar social and clinical characteristics like age, gender and BMI as well as diagnosis, medications, symptoms and more, to help the user understand what’s happening on their own healthcare journey.
In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amnon Bar-Lev.
Amnon Bar-Lev, co-founder and CEO of Alike Health, is the former President at Check Point Software Technologies. Prior to joining Check Point, Amnon was the founder and CEO of Xpert Integrated System Ltd. Amnon began his career in the Israeli Air Force and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Computer Science and Management from Tel-Aviv University and has continued his studies at the faculty of medicine, school of graduate studies.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?
I grew up on a farm. My parents were farmers. As a child, I would drive on a tractor while standing because I couldn’t reach the brakes! I think the beauty of growing up in a village is that you’re totally independent, and I really enjoyed that. But also, when you grow up on a farm, it also means you understand the meaning of hard and demanding work.
It also gives you good values and taught me that there’s nothing that can be achieved by being opportunistic. Achievement comes with hard work.
I think my overall upbringing actually encouraged me to always be curious. I always wanted to learn things. I remember at the age of 12, I learned that there was a program at The Weizmann Institute, one of the top universities in Israel for kids interested in science. So once a week I took three buses and commuted two hours in each direction, just to spend time raising microbes and doing different things in the lab. It was fascinating to me.
The environment I grew up in was great, because I had the option to choose, and I still choose interesting things to do. It’s your role to create your reality. Many times I’ve seen that people wait to be challenged by somebody else. I’ve always believed that this is my role to challenge me and then challenge the people around me.
Like every pupil in Israel, once you finish your high school, you go to the army. So that’s what I did.
I joined the Air Force. I flew F-16 for many years.
You learn how to work in a very disciplined environment. You learn how to teach yourself, how to debrief yourself and how to challenge yourself. But the most important thing I learned was the ability to cope and to learn from failure. Learning from failure is how you learn to be successful.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
This is a story about how one sentence at the right moment can make your life go in a different direction.
I was 32 and in the Israeli Air Force. In Israel, you can retire from the military at the age of 40 with a pension. But at the time, I didn’t have any money or savings, and I had a family to feed. I was struggling to decide what I was going to do with the rest of my life: Should I wait until 40 or start my own adventure without a financially secure environment?
I was having a debate; what should I do? “Hey, it’s only eight years until I can become totally financially independent.” And my aunt said to me, “You know, 10 years is actually about 30% of your active life. You could be contributing to important things.” And I thought, “you know what? You’re absolutely right.” The lesson is that if you want to do something and you have a chance to do it, then do it.
Dare to do things.
Don’t be afraid.
Don’t waste your time waiting for something.
If you can do it, just do it.
That was an extremely important lesson to learn. Whether it was a crisis or major change in my life, my wife and family supported me without having any idea if we were going to be okay. I’m very grateful for that.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I’m going to answer this question in the context of management: don’t try to be popular, and don’t try to satisfy everyone. If you do the right thing, people will appreciate it. Build your philosophy, and go with it. Long term, don’t compromise on it. It’s like educating your kids. You’re not there to satisfy them; you’re there to grow them. You want them to be happy, but you want to grow them, too. We grow through the process of challenging ourselves. I saw this as a manager. People came to me and thanked me for challenging them and growing them.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Think far and act now. Lead with your vision, but be aware that a lot of processes can fail if all you do is talk about the vision without having the ability to execute it.
Building a team is not less important. We want people who are professional and great human beings. No discussion; it’s a win win. The question is: would you choose a great person but not a great professional rather than choosing an amazing professional but not a great person? It’s very important for organizations to look at the person rather than just the professional qualifications of that person, as knowledge and skills can be learned, yet human characteristics do not usually change. Find the people who fit the DNA of your organization.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive impact on our wellness. To begin, which particular problems are you aiming to solve?
When dealing with our health, we always feel less confident. There’s a clear need for people to get more tools and knowledge to better manage their health. We all go to Dr. Google, Dr. Facebook and multiple forums from Quora to Reddit to get advice. Those platforms generate a lot of irrelevant information. It’s very difficult to find a piece of information that’s relevant to you.
We’re here to change that; to give users an environment that will bring them the exact piece of knowledge and the relevant person that will advise them. It’s a matching technology. It’s like Spotify that recommends certain songs. It’s the same idea. We’re going to bring you the exact information that you need at the right moment — for you.
How do you think your technology can address this?
The power of AI in healthcare enables the transformation from population health into personal health models. By utilizing patient similarity network technology, we are building a personal, supportive and knowledgeable network of similar patients for each and every user. By using Alike, one can tap into the experiences of others with similar social and clinical characteristics like age, gender and BMI as well as diagnosis, medications, symptoms and more, to help the user understand what’s happening on their own healthcare journey.
These networks of “Alike” individuals increase patients’ engagement and understanding of their own health issues, which reduces doctor visits and unnecessary medical expenditures.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
After finding out that only 30 percent of prescribed medications provided for diseases are appropriate for their target patients and how archaic some aspects of healthcare are, I did a lot of research and found that patient similarity models could address some of these discrepancies.
But the need to find similar people to you is also for emotional support from others who are going through the same journey and can understand us the most.
How do you think this might change the world?
There’s a lot of insight and wisdom out there. One journey that we’re all going through is our health journey. If we can reveal wisdom and insights, it will change so many people’s lives. It’s relevant for each and every one of us, because we’re all on this journey. That’s the beauty: if someone else has been through something similar before, we can learn so much from them. It’s the wisdom of the crowd. And we’re bringing that to health care. It will change our lives.
Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?
To be fair, technology can work for or against you. As technologists, we need to address those challenges; we identified two.
One is privacy and data; we built the system to be totally anonymized. We took all the data and made it deidentified. There’s an avatar that represents the user; this came from my background in cybersecurity. Even though users connect to their medical records, we can’t identify them. We took a very extreme approach to security and privacy.
The second concern people have is “what will happen if people give the wrong advice?” The wisdom of the crowd really helps to solve that issue. We’re building different mechanisms into the network that allow users to check the data. We also provide tools for the crowd that enable them to report misleading information.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”?
It’s not about technology, surprisingly. It’s about people and what they can do with technology, what technology can help them do and how to bring them the technology. It’s about the go-to market and the value you offer, not necessarily about the technology itself.
Simplicity wins. Don’t do things simpler; rather, make them simple. Look at the Google interface; it’s simple, because there’s only one place to enter information. Look at the dollar store model- it’s simple. Everything sells for one dollar. Whatever you do, think about it in simple terms, because people don’t do complicated things.
Listen to your users. We all have perceptions, but they’re not necessarily right. By nature, we tend to stick to our beliefs. Spend time listening and be open, and you’ll see things you haven’t thought about before. At Alike, we debate a lot, and I think it’s the right thing to do. A discussion is a long-term debate about the subject matter and yields much better results.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
There’s research that looks at what causes people to be happy. Apparently, experiences make people happy much more than equity — more than a bigger car or larger house. The best experience I can think about is affecting other people’s lives for good.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
While he was working at CERN in Switzerland, scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the convention of what we know of as the world wide web — the graphic interface, domains, email, browsers. He created them so people could communicate in a much better way. His friend encouraged him to sell it, but he wanted to do it for science. I’d be happy to have a long discussion with him about his journey and his life.
Pierre de Fermat was a brilliant mathematician who, in the 1600s, made incredible advancements in mathematics.
Both of these people challenged the world with a totally different way of thinking. I think they’re both really interesting.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
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LinkedIn for Amnon Bar-Lev: https://www.linkedin.com/in/amnonbarlev/
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.