There will be an acute need for trained medical professionals as healthcare becomes democratised around the world. Norm discusses what his company is doing in this very important realm using online education principles.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start by introducing our audience to yourself as well as to i-Human Patients. What do you do? What trends are you working with?
Norm Wu: I’m a serial entrepreneur. Even in high school, I had a little bit of entrepreneurial experience. I was one of the co-founders of the campus radio station. I became very interested in technology. I started working in Silicon Valley after getting my BS and MS at Stanford. I worked on reconnaissance systems for the defense industry. This was during the Cold War when we really needed to understand what the bad guys were doing with respect to radars and missiles.
I ended up going back to business school and got an MBA. I spent 10 years at Bain and led about half of the global high technology practice over time. Bain got me very interested in entrepreneurial experiences. I mentioned that I had some exposure to that back in high school. One of my last clients at Bain in the late 1980s is a very well-known high-tech company now. They were just starting at that time.
It was a very different experience for me because many of our clients at that time were big Fortune 500 companies. We spent 20% of our time helping them figure out what the strategy should be and 80% of the time developing organizational consensus. With this particular client, I’d get together once a week. I’d say, “Here’s what we’re finding and hearing. This is what we are likely to recommend.”
By the next day, the CEO would have implemented that. It was a very different experience. Every one of us on our case team felt that this was a much better way to do business. Half the team left Bain and became venture capitalist and half became entrepreneurs. I took the entrepreneurial route.
Sramana Mitra: I have a bunch of friends who were at Bain and became venture capitalists in the 90s.
Norm Wu: I ended up becoming a serial entrepreneur and I started a software company to pioneer the field for management and organizational excellence in software. Then I did a series of other startups in optical networking and semiconductor IP. My last company before the current one was in healthcare. We had a very different business model for primary care. It was one that operated outside of the insurance system. It’s a little bit like concierge medicine for the masses. It enabled us to provide a lot more care and a lot better access for very little money. It had a very significant impact on people’s health and cost throughout the entire healthcare system.
Sramana Mitra: Did that company work?
Norm Wu: Yes, we actually started the whole movement across the country in direct primary care. We are funded by venture funds up in the Seattle area. One of the reasons I did that was because I really wanted to have a big social impact. As you get older, you start to think about how you can give something back to society. This was my way.
It wasn’t a particularly high tech company like my other startups were, but it was actually something I did to initially support my brother-in-law who was one of the pioneers of this business model in the country. He needed someone with entrepreneurial experience. I joined him and commuted up to Seattle from the Bay Area every week for six years. We had a very big impact and it was a great learning experience.
As I returned to the Bay Area and thought about what I was going to do next, I was contacted by the founder of a company called i-Human Patients. He said, “What you were doing was great because you were trying to improve the quality of care and lower the cost of care. We’re doing something similar but using a very different approach. In fact, not only do we improve the quality and lower the cost, but we also help improve access by addressing, in our own way, the very significant problem with respect to shortage of qualified clinicians to go around. We need someone with your technical and healthcare entrepreneurial experience.” As I got to know him and what i-Human was all about, it sounded really appealing to me. This was just a little over three years go.