The MATTER Health Podcast

Tales from the Trenches: Don Brown, Founder and CEO of LifeOmic

April 05, 2022 MATTER Season 2 Episode 2
Tales from the Trenches: Don Brown, Founder and CEO of LifeOmic
The MATTER Health Podcast
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The MATTER Health Podcast
Tales from the Trenches: Don Brown, Founder and CEO of LifeOmic
Apr 05, 2022 Season 2 Episode 2

Don Brown is a serial entrepreneur with a resume that speaks for itself. Throughout his career, Don has founded seven startups and brought three to a successful exit: he sold his first company to General Motors, another to IBM and most recently, sold Interactive Intelligence to Genesys for $1.4 billion in 2016.

With a career that would satisfy most, Don had a nagging feeling that he wasn’t done yet. A lifelong interest in healthcare, an unused medical degree from 1985 and a recent masters in biotechnology pointed Don to start his most recent venture: LifeOmic. Observing a large gap in the healthcare IT landscape, LifeOmic uses precision medicine to reduce the time it takes for researchers to identify patients’ problems. Investing $20 million of his own life savings to launch the Indianapolis-based company, Don says that building this startup is the most fun he’s ever had, and he doesn’t intend to slow down.

Don joined MATTER and Elise Singer, MD, MBA from VillageMD to discuss his pivot to healthcare, the critical lessons he’s learned throughout his career and what’s next for LifeOmic.

Tales from the Trenches™ is sponsored by VillageMD.

For more information, visit and follow us on social:

LinkedIn @MATTER
Twitter @MATTERhealth
Instagram @matterhealth

Show Notes Transcript

Don Brown is a serial entrepreneur with a resume that speaks for itself. Throughout his career, Don has founded seven startups and brought three to a successful exit: he sold his first company to General Motors, another to IBM and most recently, sold Interactive Intelligence to Genesys for $1.4 billion in 2016.

With a career that would satisfy most, Don had a nagging feeling that he wasn’t done yet. A lifelong interest in healthcare, an unused medical degree from 1985 and a recent masters in biotechnology pointed Don to start his most recent venture: LifeOmic. Observing a large gap in the healthcare IT landscape, LifeOmic uses precision medicine to reduce the time it takes for researchers to identify patients’ problems. Investing $20 million of his own life savings to launch the Indianapolis-based company, Don says that building this startup is the most fun he’s ever had, and he doesn’t intend to slow down.

Don joined MATTER and Elise Singer, MD, MBA from VillageMD to discuss his pivot to healthcare, the critical lessons he’s learned throughout his career and what’s next for LifeOmic.

Tales from the Trenches™ is sponsored by VillageMD.

For more information, visit and follow us on social:

LinkedIn @MATTER
Twitter @MATTERhealth
Instagram @matterhealth

Speaker 1: (00:13)
Everyone and, uh, welcome to matters signature tales from the trenches series, uh, which is a program we produced together with village MD, uh, I'm Steven Collins, the CEO of matter. We are a healthcare technology incubator and an innovation hub with a mission to accelerate the pace of change of healthcare. Um, tales from the trenches is our longest standing event series, uh, at matter where, uh, accomplished healthcare entrepreneurs share their journeys from how they got started to what they've learned along the way. Um, today will be joined by Don brown. Who's the CEO and founder of life OIC. Um, Dr. Don brown is a serial entrepreneur. Who's founded seven startups, uh, brought three of them to successful exit. He sold his first company to general motors sold another one to IBM. Um, 2016, he sold a company called interactive intelligence to Genesis for 1.4 billion. Um, instead of retiring then at age 60, he started another company life omic, uh, putting his medical degree, which he got in 1985.

Speaker 1: (01:19)
Uh, finally putting that to use. Um, so we'll hear more about life omic and the journey that got Don, uh, to this point in his career. Uh, shortly. Thanks so much, Don for joining us. My pleasure, and we are, uh, fortunate to produce this series, uh, together with village MD, which is a Chicago based company that, um, designs and implements innovative value-based care models and communities around the country. Six months ago, they announced an additional 5.2 billion investment from Walgreens with plans to add a thousand primary care clinics over the next five years. More than half of those in medically underserved communities. Um, Dr. Elise singer who's village's, uh, village MBS national medical director will moderate the conversation, uh, with Don Elise is a family physician, a geriatrician, uh, healthcare executive, and an entrepreneur. Um, notably she is a co-founder of Dem which in public, uh, last year she also advises a number of startups and, uh, growth stage companies, including, uh, one called canopy, uh, which is a matter member company that recently came out of, uh, stealth mode with, uh, 13 million of financing, some really terrific data, uh, and a number of leading, uh, cancer treatment centers as clients.

Speaker 1: (02:35)
So, uh, Dr. Brown and singer, thank you so much for joining us today. And, uh, Elise, the zoom is yours.

Speaker 2: (02:43)
Great. Thanks. So Don, that was, uh, kind of, you know, point by point what you'd see on paper, um, about your background, but we're, we're rarely exactly the people we are on paper. I'd love to hear from you kind of the real story, you know, as to how you started and got to where you are today. Let's start there.

Speaker 3: (03:10)
Well, you know, I, I grew up as a, as a kid, uh, uh, always wanting to be a scientist. You know, I, I revered, uh, scientists, uh, I think partly, uh, my parents, uh, came from deep Appalachia, you know, uh, they both stopped, uh, their education at the eighth grade. And, uh, uh, my mother just instilled the value of education in me. And I started reading science fiction books and was just, uh, captivated. So, you know, I went to college thinking, you know, I'm gonna do something that, uh, takes me down that path. And, uh, I got an undergraduate degree in, in physics and, and enroll enrolled in, um, uh, MD PhD program, uh, with a PhD, uh, part in, uh, biochemistry, uh, thinking that I'd be working at some, you know, basement, uh, lab at Eli Lilly or someplace like that. Uh, but I ended up switching to computer science, um, as I was finishing a medical school, started a little software company and took a detour, uh, into the enterprise software industry for the next few decades. So I'll take a breath there. , that's, uh, just kind of, uh, the, a quick, uh, overview of, uh, kind of my strange, uh, path.

Speaker 2: (04:30)
No, I mean, that's amazing Renaissance, man, educational. I mean, really that's that right there, you've logged more, you've touched more parts of the world than many people do. So computer science related to healthcare.

Speaker 3: (04:45)
Yeah, no, unfortunately I, I started, uh, the original company. Um, my, I had a buddy who had a, with his data string of car dealerships, and he asked me to write a program to compute finance payments. So I did that. We ended up selling that to EDS in general motors, and I started pardon me, another company called software artistry that used some of the in, in grad school. I'd done some, uh, work on, uh, AI and expert systems. And so, uh, that company leveraged, uh, that and ultimately became the first software company in the state of Indiana, uh, ever to go public. But, uh, unfortunately, no, none of, uh, I, I started several companies and until this one, none had, uh, been in, uh, healthcare. And so this is OMA has been kind of a chance for me to close the circle in my life, you know, to, uh, get back into, uh, the life sciences.

Speaker 2: (05:45)
Okay. So before we move into healthcare, then let's talk a little bit about your entrepreneurial background. I mean, you go to medical school, I don't know if you had debt or not, but like that's a lot of years of your life, you are deep in a space, you had some computer science background, but, but you pursue a car, you know, like, right. So that right there is actually not only interesting, but unexpected. I mean, I would say, so I've been an entrepreneur too. And you know, how do you find the idea? What do you pursue? That's a really big question. You're about to put five, 10 years of your life. If you succeed, right. You could have an exit like you've had, so I'd love to hear some of your thinking at that time. And was that the right decision when you're so deep and expert in something to pursue something else? I mean, clearly you love business right. And on, and our entrepreneurial. So you've got that, but yeah, let's hear about that.

Speaker 3: (06:45)
Yeah. You know, I, I came to love business at the time. I didn't know anything about business. You know, my, my dad was an army Sergeant and, uh, uh, like I said, I was planning to be a, a scientist. I, I really got lucky in that first one because I was paired with a domain expert, uh, because, so my buddy, he knew the problem that was, that needed to be solved, you know, in, in this case, uh, finance system for, uh, car dealers. And so I could be the technical expert. And so I, I, I was, I was the programming department. I, I don't probably wrote like, uh, close to a million lines of, uh, uh, uh, Pascal code. Uh, but so that, that's the ideal pairing, you know, when you've got somebody who has a problem, they, uh, he had the problem in his own business.

Speaker 3: (07:34)
And fortunately it was a general enough, uh, problem that we were then able to, uh, uh, you know, start a business and sell it to, uh, others. But he was the one as I was, you know, concluding medical school, starting to think about fellowships or, you know, other things that, uh, I might do is why don't you just give this a try, you know, give me two years  and, uh, let's see what happens. And, you know, that's, that's dangerous, uh, in life. Uh, as you say, two years can turn into five or, or 10. Fortunately we, we got lucky and, uh, uh, it turns out that, uh, general motors had, uh, charged EDS with building something like this. But as often happens in the tech industry, uh, EDS had the disadvantage of having a hundred people and I had one  and so, uh, or two with my buddy. So we were able to just move much more quickly and, uh, finally, uh, uh, GM for CDs to buy us.

Speaker 2: (08:38)
Okay. So the right domain expert, and you had a problem that you were getting after.

Speaker 3: (08:45)
Exactly. Yeah. So that's, that's the right way to start a company that I stumbled, uh, uh, into, I mean, this, I take no credit for it and I didn't know at all what, what I was uh, doing. So, but, you know, I, that is the right way. And so, uh, when we sold that company, I got something like 800,000, uh, dollars. Uh, I thought I was the richest man in the world that I would be able to retire. And yet I, somehow I foolishly thought I could fund another business. Uh, and so I started that second company and I started that company in the worst possible way, which is no specific problem, no idea, no specific idea. Uh, just thinking that, well, I, you know, it worked out the first time, then I must, I must have the mid touch and surely it'll work out the second time.

Speaker 3: (09:44)
So I, I quickly learned, you know, after we burnt through, uh, money and were maxed out on credit cards and everything, I learned the value of focus at that company and identifying a specific problem, which we did. We, as I said, we used some of my AI, uh, work to, uh, create a corporate help desk solution that we sold to bank of America and a lot of, a lot of, uh, big companies. But we had to kind of wander through the wilderness for, uh, a couple of years before we realized, you know, we need a specific problem. We need to build a specific solution. Uh, and so, uh, when we did that, then the, uh, company took off and as I say, went public and, uh, was, uh, later acquired, uh, by, uh, IBM and, uh, folded into their Tivoli division.

Speaker 2: (10:38)
Okay. So I'd love to hear about that wandering in the desert a little, um, because there it's a time that a lot of entrepreneurs face where, you know, there's something there, but yeah. But you know, also you haven't quite nailed it and you can keep iterating, listening to the customer, trying to find it, um, or you can call it and it's painful to yeah. Take a, take a baby and leave it out in the cold to die.  have it. I mean, not to be like terrible, but, you know, that's how it feels. Um,

Speaker 3: (11:11)
That's exactly how it feels you, you are exactly right. So, you know, at that, uh, a second company at software artistry, I, what, what I really learned was the difference between a tool and a solution, right? So at first I, I thought, well, I've built this, I've done some work on expert systems in grad school, I'll build, what's called an inference engine, an expert system inference engine that can take a, a knowledge base and, and lead somebody through like a diagnostic session or, you know, other, it was, you know, very primitive, uh, AI that we did at the, at the time. But I thought we'll wrap this up and we'll sell it. And then companies can use it to build whatever they want. . And, uh, so the dangerous thing about, uh, a tool like that is that everybody you go to says, yeah, that's interesting.

Speaker 3: (12:04)
You know, we we'll have to look at that. Uh, and so you get lulled into this sense that, oh, we're onto something, uh, here, but then you find nobody buys, you know, everybody kind of kicks the tires a a little bit. And, uh, so what we belatedly, uh, realized is that what we need to do is sell these people. Something that they recognize, you know, inference engine, expert system, inference engine isn't in their budget. They don't have a budget line for, for, uh, this, this tool, but they do have a budget line. And actually, uh, we, uh, settled on two, uh, domains. Um, one was, uh, for, uh, the, the car dealer finance application that I mentioned, the other, we thought we could build it, use this to build a labor, ER, uh, which was a huge problem. So what, what we found was we had two opportunities, but we didn't have the money to explore both.

Speaker 3: (13:08)
And, uh, one was a bigger opportunity. The labor scheduler, uh, but was, would require much more work was, uh, was higher risk. And the, the help desk, uh, market, uh, was more focused, uh, smaller, uh, but less risk. And so you talk about kind of leaving the paper out, uh, outside. That's what we had to do with the labor scheduler. We had to kind of ax that part of the business, uh, lay off some people, you know, cut back. And then once we did that and focused on the, the help desk, uh, then the company took off.

Speaker 2: (13:49)
Okay. Yeah, I love it. So, um, not entirely luck,  just

Speaker 3: (13:57)
Always luck, but, uh, hundred

Speaker 2: (14:00)
Percent, but I, but, you know, recognizing opportunity, um, knowing when you, when there isn't opportunity, you know, that's, that's a lot of the, the work you've done, so let's move, let's move towards healthcare. Um, I mean, you're still a doctor this whole time.

Speaker 3: (14:19)

Speaker 2: (14:20)
Tell me how you got back into healthcare.

Speaker 3: (14:23)
Well, you know, I, I knew there was something wrong with me because, uh, I would go home, you know, I'm the CEO. Uh, I, I started a, another company after, uh, a software artistry called interactive intelligence, you know, that went public and, uh, grew to about 2200 people. Uh, so we, but with both those companies, I found that, uh, when I would go home at night, I wouldn't grab a business book or a trade magazine. I would grab a molecular biology book, you know, and start leafing through, you know, DNA, uh, error, uh, correction and, you know, bizarre things like that. Um, and you know, this went on, I think for, for a few years and, uh, but it, it just felt so random, you know, that I would, there, there was no focus. I wasn't really learning, uh, anything, but it was, it was fun because during this time, much of this time, there was the human genome project, uh, that was going on.

Speaker 3: (15:26)
And so I just watched with fascination as, uh, biology and ultimately healthcare, uh, on top of it became an information science. Um, and so ultimately, uh, I stunned my kids, uh, as I Elise and I were talking about, I've got eight, uh, and I said, guys, I'm going back to school. I said, what the hell dad, why, why, why would you want to? I said, I would really like to catch up, you know, so much has changed. I don't, I don't feel that old, but since 1985, you know, when I graduated from medical school, think of what we've learned about genomics and immunology and, you know, countless subjects. Uh, so, so anyways, I enrolled in a, uh, master's program in biotechnology at Johns Hopkins. I was, you know, twice the age of the next, uh, oldest person and, uh, every class that's grandpa out in Utah.

Speaker 3: (16:24)
And I'm a very competitive guy. So I, you know, I had to get the highest grade in every class, especially since I'm competing against these, uh, young east coast, uh, hot shots. Uh, so, but it, it was, uh, wonderful. I really rekindle that flame in me, you know, that love for, uh, the life science is. And I just began to see how this combination of AI, uh, but what I'd been working on at my companies, you know, cloud technologies, you know, big data processing, uh, and the, the advances in science could combine to really move the needle in terms of, uh, healthcare.

Speaker 2: (17:07)
And, um, so you come out of school, I assume you start a company, right. Or, or what,

Speaker 3: (17:14)
Well, so, you know, I'm going through this program. I don't think I was quite finished, but, you know, I'd take an molecular biology, cell biology, biochemistry, immunology, advanced immunology, and just getting more and more excited. Um, and so, uh, uh, but still, you know, I'm the CEO of a publicly trained company. I remember going and giving some, you know, address in Australia at some big conference, then going back to my hotel room and taking a test , you know, in, uh, in cell biology or something, I thought, what the hell am I doing? But, uh, I, I didn't know what I was gonna do with it. This is, you know, very much a, an personal intelligence, uh, for, for me, but then, uh, a big California company came along and, uh, made an offer to, uh, interactive intelligence to acquire it for $1.4 billion. And, uh, I thought this is my chance.

Speaker 3: (18:12)
Um, , it was funny. We had a board meeting and I initially recommended to my board that we turned down the offer, you know, that we keep on going with, uh, that company. And, uh, one of my board members, uh, pushed back, his chair was quiet for a second. He said, Don, yeah, you could keep on going, but why would you want to? And he said, . And he said something that felt like a bucket of water, cold water had been poured on me. He said, dude, you won, you know, lay down the sword  you don't have to keep battling here anymore. And it was like, he gave me permission, you know, to stop as an entrepreneur, you just get into this battle mentality that you gotta keep going. You gotta keep winning. And especially, uh, as a public company, you know, you've got the quarterly pressure of making numbers.

Speaker 3: (19:05)
And boy, you can just get locked into this, this mode, you know, where, where, you know, you're just going to keep running through walls because that's what you have to do as an entrepreneur. And sometimes knowing when to stop, when to say, okay, this is good enough for this, uh, effort is, is really important. I mean, because it, you can, you can have, you know, bad judgment. I mean, how many entrepreneurs have run that built companies and then failed to see changes and have run to them into the ground? Cause they're just too stubborn to give up or change. And our, our stubbornness is great, you know, at some points, but it can really, uh, blind us, uh, to realities. So fortunately I, that good board and they really, they said sleep on it, but you know, if you wanna continue, we'll support you, but dude, if you do you're nuts, , you know, because they knew that I, I had other things that I wanted to do. And so I came back the next day and I was excited and I said, uh, I, I, I, you know, I agree. And so, um, um, we announced the sale of interactive intelligence and the day I closed, I announced the formation of life. So it was my chance to, you know, now I can maybe make use of, you know, some of this, uh, knowledge and, you know, see if I can, um, make a, a small difference.

Speaker 2: (20:34)
Okay. So you've brought up a few themes that I wanna talk about a little. So this idea of doing two things at once, um, is something I personally experienced and sounds like you have too, and I'm gonna go out on a limb and say, is the norm for entrepreneurs. So I have a story when I, um, this is kind of like being a doctor life, making a change. I was, um, thinking about business school in a way to shed my MD. So I I've still been practicing, but in a way that deep expertise can really hold you back, cuz people see you at the table just in a certain way, right. Sometimes you will be seen in a different way. Um, and this doesn't have to be just for professional degrees, but so I said, okay, very last minute, I'm gonna go ahead and apply to business school.

Speaker 2: (21:27)
And I only applied to Stanford and S I was late in life at that point. I was like, if I do this, you know, kind of like you were, I'm just it's because I want to, and for this reason, and, uh, so I was literally in labor with my third child and I had , I had the GMATs coming up. And so my husband was like packing up the bag. And I was like, remember the GMA book, literally  doing my math work to then sit two weeks later for, you know, where, uh, I wasn't the hotel room at the hospital for me, but yeah, you, I had a flashback there of, uh, doing surprising things at surprising times,

Speaker 3: (22:08)
Are you're a tough lady. That's, uh, that's far tougher than anything I did.

Speaker 2: (22:12)
Well, I'm not sure about that, but, um, so two things at once, and then, um, anyway, I had another thought, but I'll let you keep going. So, so life, so did you have that kind of baked as you were coming out? Or did you say this is the space I'm gonna be in and I'm going to figure it out. And I think that probably some of the folks listening would love to understand your thoughts on that. So we've heard about, um, and, and I wanna get to team too, so don't let me forget, but we've heard about domain experts. Well, now you've demonstrated, you've got a lot of the expertise at the table. I'm sure you're still partnering with experts, but, and this idea of problems. So I'm sure that part of your answer will be, you knew that this convergence space was gonna go somewhere, but it's different to like your first endeavor, where there was a problem that you were getting right after than saying, Hey, here's an opportunity in a space that I know exists, but where's, where's that problem. And then finding it,

Speaker 3: (23:19)
Uh, yeah, I mean, you're very student it's exactly right. And I, I freely admit that I, uh, I did, I threw out all my experience, everything I knew was right. And I just jumped into this one and did it the wrong way, uh, which I, I, I admitted from the beginning it's with no clear idea, but some money to burn . So that was kind of the, the basis for, uh, for lifelong. I mean, I, I, I knew about this space and as you, you say the confluence of all these trends, and I felt there would be many opportunities, but I didn't have a specific problem, uh, to, to solve. I just wanted to jump in our, our initial thought was, you know, we we'll do something around DNA sequencing. So, uh, you know, so I, I hired a, a team. Uh, I had, uh, several of my senior engineers from my interactive intelligence who came to me and said, we're coming with you where we're not asking permission.

Speaker 3: (24:23)
We're, we're, we're, we're coming . And, and I said, guys, I don't even know what the hell we're gonna do. I said, we don't care. You know, we'll, we'll figure it out together. So, uh, so I put together a team and I, I, I hired some, uh, bioinformaticians and, uh, I genomicist. And, uh, so we had an initial meeting out here in park city at my house, you know, uh, oh 12 or so of, uh, probably four kind of genomics experts, eight or so computer science experts. And there was fear every place and everybody's eyes, uh, the, uh, the developers, you know, I joke they couldn't spell DNA. And so, you know, the genomic sister talking about, you know, all the cruel stuff that we could do and , and the, the software guys are just going, oh my God, what the heck have I gotten myself into?

Speaker 3: (25:16)
Uh, but we, we came out of it out of it with the rough idea that we will buy a couple of the biggest baddest, uh, Illumina sequencers, the, uh, then new, uh, Nova seqs. And we'll set up a Clea certified lab, uh, and start doing whole, uh, genome sequencing. And of course for that, we're gonna need software. And so the software guys will build a platform to take, you know, the whole genome sequence is roughly a hundred gigabytes of, uh, information. Uh, so, you know, the software guys would, uh, build the software, the pipeline, you know, to, uh, uh, do something with, uh, the genomic information and the science team, you know, we have another team working on the Clea lab. And so that, that was the initial idea. Shall I go ahead?

Speaker 2: (26:10)
I think so. I think that it would probably be really instructive to folks to hear how you went from, okay, I'm in the right space, you know, you're different in that you had funding and could bring that team together to get going, but just leaving that aside, cuz there are ways to kind of hack that, right? Like let's just leave that a moment. And so where'd you go from there and how'd you get there

Speaker 3: (26:33)
six months or so later, uh, the software stuff is going great. You know, the, uh, our developers have learned how to spell DNA. , they've learned, uh, how to structure, how to ingest, uh, whole genome sequences, you know, kind of ingest them into a data lake. They've created a little workflow pipeline, uh, to be able to even do variant calls and uh, stuff like that. Uh, but we're mired over on the lab side. Uh, and I'm coming to realize that, uh, the whole genome sequencing is kind of a commodity and it's gonna be a race to the bottom. Uh, you know, the Chinese are starting to offer whole genome sequencing for less than, uh, our cost of reagents. Uh, and so, uh, I went to, uh, my, we were just across the street from my Amma mater the Indiana university school of medicine. I said, guys, do you wanna buy a couple of sequencers, uh, on the cheap?

Speaker 3: (27:35)
And so we sold them at a loss. Uh, we shut down. So it's kind of similar to my previous business. We kind of shut down that, uh, that part of the operation, fortunately, it was pretty, pretty small. Uh, and we decided let's just stick to what we know, you know, all we really, most of us, including myself really come from the software industry. And so let's focus on that. And so, uh, we, uh, uh, started working with the school of medicine. They had, uh, a project that they call the precision health initiative or Phi. And, uh, it was, uh, several, uh, cancer teams. Uh, there were, you know, looking to really understand, uh, uh, prostate cancer, triple negative breast cancer, others at a molecular level at a, you know, understanding exactly what, uh, mutations or driving the cancer and then trying to offer precision therapy.

Speaker 3: (28:31)
And so they they'd conceptualized something that they called it data comments. Uh, they were seeing it as a big database where they could ingest, you know, electronic medical records, information from wearable devices, uh, omic data, everything, put it into a massive data lake and then being able to, you know, kind of magically do analyses. And, uh, we said, you know, you, what you really want is a cloud platform to do that because in the cloud we can bring to bear massive amounts of computing power, you know, essentially infinite storage. And so we worked with them and we built a platform that we call the precision health cloud, uh, that, uh, allows them, uh, what used to take a couple of weeks they could do in a couple of hours, but say a woman on, uh, comes in, uh, newly diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.

Speaker 3: (29:25)
Uh, they can load her, uh, germline sequence, the DNA. She was born with, uh, the sequence, uh, from the cancer. And, uh, we can help them, uh, identify the, uh, genes. There may be thousand millions of, uh, specific, uh, uh, changes in, in the genome. But, uh, generally there's a handful, sometimes one or two genes that are really responsible for the proliferation that kind of set the snowball, uh, rolling, uh, down the hill. And it's critical to identify those because, uh, more and more we can find very precise ways of targeting those, uh, mutations, uh, either through, you know, immunotherapy or, uh, through even our existing FDA approved drugs. And so that's what we started doing, working with the school of medicine building out that platform.

Speaker 2: (30:22)
OK. So sounds like at this point, uh, you understand that data's gonna be useful, probably can be monetized. There's a need cuz you found, you know, a group who are already doing this and you furthered it. How do you, how do you come up with a business model? I mean, how are you gonna do something with that platform? How did your team, um, process and actually find customers learn enough? I mean, I guess now you, in a way have a domain expert, you have your, your medical center who would understand something about that potentially, but often actually universities and medical groups are notorious for having valuable assets that they don't recognize can be monetized. Um, so yeah, they don't necessarily have that answer if they did. They probably would be doing it without you or maybe. Right. So, so how did you get to, I have an asset I'm gonna turn this into a business, what that business is gonna be.

Speaker 3: (31:21)
Uh, yeah. You know, so initially really for the first, uh, um, I mean three years of the company, we're only five years old, we really just focused on building that platform. And so we're not, we're really not worried. We'll figure out some way to monetize this later. You know, right now, uh, we have a chance to work with some of the leading cancer researchers in the world and IU has just some fantastic people. Uh, uh, one, uh, uh, person, uh, we worked with in particular is, uh, uh, professor, then professor, uh, Milan Rodich, uh, he's now, uh, heading research at Caris, but, um, just a great collaboration. And so Milan his team, some of the other teams at the school of medicine gave us very specific, uh, input about the sorts of visualizations that they needed, you know, cohort definition tools. Uh, and so it was great because the platform just kept getting richer and richer and richer.

Speaker 3: (32:26)
And we built in, uh, support for the common workflow language for, you know, Docker containers, uh, just, you know, uh, uh, AI and machine learning, uh, capabilities. So we, we really just worked with, uh, initially the school of, of medicine. We negotiated a, a deal so that we were getting some revenue, uh, uh, from, uh, uh, this, uh, engagement. Um, but you know, so that, that was the initial focus. We're just gonna build a platform and others can build businesses, uh, whatever applications on top of it. Uh, but, uh, you know, we, we, we found that, you know, people would look at the platform and go, it's cool, but I wanna see something. And so we realized, okay, we're gonna have to invest in some of the eye candy. I know some of the, but kind of put an interface on, on top of this.

Speaker 3: (33:23)
Uh, and so we, we did that so that we could ingest, you know, medical records from Cerner and epic, uh, uh, OCR capabilities. So we could ingest faxes. It's, it's unbelievable how much fax is still used in healthcare in, uh, 2022, uh, we've got, uh, one company doing, uh, like a million pages a day or something, something crazy. Um, so the, you know, the platform kept getting richer. We started going around and, uh, marketing that the platform itself and we've got, uh, uh, device and software companies building their businesses, uh, uh, on top of, uh, the, the platform using that is just like we use, uh, we built ours on top of the Amazon web services. So now we are kind of a layer on top of AWS, uh, that, uh, other startups, other companies can use, you know, with an open API and, you know, they can build their own applications on top. So that was the initial, uh, focus on, uh, uh, you know, in terms of marketing.

Speaker 3: (34:33)
But then, you know, as, as often happens with, in building a platform, then you start to say, well, I can take that all the way on up to the solution level in this area. Right. And so that's what we started to do. In addition to the platform, we started building, uh, solutions, uh, that we could go out and market for things like, uh, patient engagement and recovery after a, a procedure. So we've got, you know, healthcare systems that, uh, you know, instead of, uh, after a surgery, giving you a, a, you know, some sort of folder with a bunch of poorly copied, uh, documents, uh, they can define a recovery plan. And it just shows up on your phone as a to-do list every day, you know, of take this medication or do this exercise, and here's a video of how to do it, uh, or take a picture of your, uh, your incision so that we can monitor her, uh, for infection, uh, uh, those sorts of things. So, you know, once you have that basic platform, it's incredible kind of the number of, uh, directions you can, uh, go, as I say, both selling the platform itself, but building specific solutions on top.

Speaker 2: (35:50)
Yeah. I love the theme. So, um, startups, dive indigestion, not starvation. I think that you can build this platform and a problem that some entrepreneurs, many I suspect have is that the vision is so clear and the myriad opportunities, it just seems like possibility. But I think for some people, especially your customers, you're buying customers that is very quickly just either overwhelming or irrelevant, even if it's not to them, if they don't have it specific as to how that maps from here's this platform, here's what we could do to a need that they, that they have putting two and two together. Isn't their strength. It's, it's our strength sometimes. And so I love how you approached this in the sense that, um, you knew there was a space, you got the platform asset in place, but then very importantly, you mentioned, how did you communicate it?

Speaker 2: (36:54)
So you realized you needed to do that in a way that others were gonna understand what you had built, that they could see, that they could understand is really important. And frankly, is, is the core of marketing in early stage, um, much more so than say advertising or number crunching and all which is relevant later, but just how do you communicate what it is? And then you mentioned that you had specific solutions in which you just ran through and sometimes, you know, building for somebody, something that you see the need. It doesn't mean that you're forever gonna be in the business of building that bridge across. I mean, maybe you do get to AWS where you are just that platform and then folks will come and build on top of it. But to start, um, you know, I don't actually know the story, um, in cloud servers, how that, how that went down, but I suspect it, there might have been,  a similar, a similar situation there where, um, you really do have to get really explicit and sometimes build all the way out for that customer so that others can see how you verticalize on top of that.

Speaker 3: (38:09)
You're exactly right. So, you know, in this case, you know, our solutions that we build are we, we can turn around and say, this is what you can do because we're using the same platform we're using the same APIs. And so this is a great example of, uh, the possibilities, you know, the other interesting thing I think we, we did, uh, is, uh, really just kind of an accident, uh, during my studies at Johns Hopkins, I had, uh, tripped over a couple of papers that sent me down the rabbit hole around, uh, caloric restriction and, uh, ultimately intermittent fasting. And I became a, a huge fan of the practice, you know, kicking your body, you know, periodically into aji, you know, letting things, uh, be recycled, uh, a little bit. And so I, uh, early on, we have this platform, you know, we're working with the school of medicine and I, I took my team.

Speaker 3: (39:03)
I wanna build a mobile app and this, uh, dude, what, what the hell does this have to do with anything that we're doing? And, you know, I really wanted to do this almost as a little community service thing. You know, I was really passionate about the practice. Uh, I found myself texting my kids. We were texting each other, comparing notes, you know, about how we were feeling after 16 hours or 24 hours or whatever, you know, what we ate to break our fast. And I said, I just wanna build a little app, a little, you know, fasting timer, we'll put it out there. And maybe a couple thousand people will use it. And because it uses our cloud platform for the back end for account management, data storage and everything, we'll be getting some free, low testing, you know? So I see there's, there's value to us.

Speaker 3: (39:52)
They go, I'm not sure I buy that, but okay, you're the CEO. So I guess we'll, we'll do it. So we did it. And it's one of those things, odd things in, in life. We now have over 4 million downloads of that and a successor app, we just kind of touched a, a nerve. Uh, we, uh, got happened to get published in USA today, or, you know, there's some mention in someplace and things just blew up. And, uh, so it, it, you know, uh, left us with these two very different assets, you know, a cloud platform, you know, and then there's a mobile app. And so that's kind of what, uh, led us into patient engagement that we said, okay, well, we've proven we know a little something about, you know, uh, mobile. We have built really nice social capabilities. People could create circles and interact with each other.

Speaker 3: (40:45)
There were thousands of public circles. And, uh, so anyways, that became kind of another element of our platform, not only kind of the cloud part, but this mobile part that then, you know, so now we're working with health healthcare systems that they want to have, you know, their app that when you engage with that, you know, healthcare care network, a, you know, that you go to the app store, you, uh, download an app and everything from getting there, finding parking, navigating the building, you know, finding a doctor, scheduling the prehab, you know, the prep you want to do before, you know, chemotherapy or surgery or whatever. And then the recovery plan that, that is, uh, all automated. So that combination of a cloud platform and kind of a mobile platform has really opened up a lot of doors for us.

Speaker 2: (41:41)
Yeah. So you never know where opportunity is going to strike. And you know, when that traction hits very exciting and can often be surprising, you know, not what you think is gonna happen either.

Speaker 3: (41:57)
Not at all.

Speaker 2: (41:58)
Like what you just off exponentially in either direction, right? Like you think it's gonna that J curve, and this is everything. And then it doesn't develop vice versa. You're like, oh, let's just try this. And next thing you know,

Speaker 3: (42:11)
Yeah. Your

Speaker 2: (42:12)
Load testing with a million

Speaker 3: (42:14)
It's hard, harder. Yeah. We got plenty of load testing, you know, by millions of people around the world. So now we're very confident about the scale of our, uh, our, uh, platform. So, uh, that that's been wonderful. It's really pushed us.

Speaker 2: (42:27)
And something else that I love is that you are eating your own dog food. So that is just whenever possible, so important. Um, it,

Speaker 3: (42:35)
It, it is. And, you know, the, the other, uh, kind of strategic thing we did was decide that we're not gonna try to monetize the data, you know, that the data that goes into our platform belongs to the organization that puts it there. Uh, so when you know, IU, so the, the platform ended up being, uh, so successful on the research side that then they moved it over to the clinical side. So it's being used by oncologist and day to day treatment, uh, uh, you know, especially for tough cases. And they've had some wonderful results. We go out every night and scrape, I don't know how many billions of, uh, uh, variants that are, you know, growing in public databases daily. So more and more we understand, uh, you know, our genetics, uh, certainly, you know, more and more in cancer, but now we're starting to be able to use genetics to understand our risk for heart disease, or, you know, my favorite example is Alzheimer's where, um, you know, it's certainly, there's a, you know, multiple genes that contribute, but, um, the poster child is APOE.

Speaker 3: (43:43)
Uh, it's a Jane and there are three flavors floating out there in the population, E two E three and E four and E four is the bad. And if both mom and dad gave you an E four, uh, it means that you've got, uh, roughly a 90, uh, percent lifetime chance of developing Alzheimer's. And I think it's important to, to know, because five years ago, doctors would've said, don't find out, you know, there's nothing you could do. It's just gonna make you feel bad. And now we're coming to understand, you can do something, you, you know, you can control your blood sugar better. You can try be as lean as you can. You can eat more fruits and vegetables, you know, these behaviors. And so pardon me, so that, that's kind of the other, uh, thing, maybe the, uh, third leg of the stool. So we used the cloud platform and the mobile app to build a general corporate wellness solution, kind of a medical grade corporate wellness solution.

Speaker 3: (44:43)
We just, uh, enrolled, uh, 4,000 students at, uh, Butler university in Indianapolis, uh, this week where they're really focused on, uh, mental health. Uh, but, uh, you know, so, so now we've got this interesting combination, you know, this cancer center and cloud platform, you know, really built for the hardest, uh, indication in all of medicine, but now we can apply it to cancer, uh, more day to day, you know, clinical care for diabetes, heart disease, others, and then, uh, into wellness where, you know, the goal is let's, let's prevent people from developing these diseases in the first place. Let's help them understand their risk because we were all dealt to different, uh, deck of cards, different hand of cards. And, uh, so, you know, maybe you, you never have to worry about heart disease. You know, your heart is like, uh, fire engine and, and, you know, you have no genetic risk, but, you know, maybe, uh, you have cancer risk. And so it's important to know those so that we can focus on, you know, uh, the things we can do to help you, uh, prevent, uh, developing these diseases.

Speaker 2: (45:58)
All right. Let's talk about team, cuz I keep forgetting. So, um, I feel sure you're not gonna disagree. So team is critical. Um,

Speaker 3: (46:08)

Speaker 2: (46:09)
And so you have built and headed so many teams, you know, from, I don't know, originally two, probably when you first started all the way up to, you mentioned in the thousands. Yeah. Um, what are some of the elements of success? How do you keep that going? Um, how do you build culture?

Speaker 3: (46:37)

Speaker 2: (46:38)
Conscious compare to thousands. Um, where are those inflection points where you realize you need to stay on course.

Speaker 3: (46:48)
Yeah. You know, at any size I think what it really boil and, you know, we talk all day about this. There're a lot of interesting things, but the biggest thing is making people feel like what they do matters. You know, we, we all wanna matter as human beings, we're on this earth for a relatively short time. And I, I think we all wanna feel like we're doing something that matters and you know, you spend eight hours a day at, or so, uh, you know, uh, 40 hours a week for many of us, many more hours than that, uh, at, at work. And, uh, you know, I, I think increasingly I, I see this, especially in younger people, they wanna feel like, you know, that work part of my life is going towards something that's making a difference. So I, it comes down to conveying that, look, we're doing something important, we're doing something worthwhile.

Speaker 3: (47:44)
And what you specifically are doing is making a difference and it's, and it's not opaque, it's, it is recognized. Uh, and, uh, you know, for me, those are the, the biggest things. We, we all want that. So just trying to create that visibility, you know, what we do is, uh, we have a Monday round table for the whole company that's, you know, on slack and, you know, we've got three offices. So especially pre pandemic, there'd be, you know, most of the teams in those, uh, three, uh, offices and, uh, we we'll bring in users of our staff. Uh, so if, uh, just a couple months ago, we brought in a pediatric oncologist talking about how our software helps save the life of a little boy and boy, you know, telling if that doesn't get you excited, you know, get you up in the, the morning.

Speaker 3: (48:36)
So knowing that the company has a worthwhile mission, uh, and then that you, what you specifically are doing is contributing to that. And then we know it. Uh, so, you know, we do status reports where, you know, and I read everyone, uh, every week, you know, just a bullet list that we ask, uh, everybody to do. So other people can comment, we slack for this, but I'm, I'm sure you can, you know, use, uh, teams. And then the other big thing we, we do is we bring everybody out to, uh, invite everybody out. Not everybody wants to come to Utah once a year. Uh, there's a high altitude forest at 10,000 feet, about, about an hour from here. And we camp for four nights, no cell service, uh, we're out in the wilderness at, uh, 10,000 feet above sea level. We go rock climbing and, you know, get scraped up and everything, but have a great day time. So's just important to create those bonds, you know, uh, you know, the mission, but really the, the, the mission, the recognition within the personal relationships too.

Speaker 2: (49:44)
Yeah, I think that's, I think that's really key. Um, at village, we also spend a good amount of time thinking about how to help everybody connect with, with that mission. Um, it's something I've always thought, you know, you brought up luck several times. I, I do, I know that luck makes or breaks us all. Um, but I, but I also think that some of that luck is created. Um, and this is one of those, but, well, I'm so biased. I've been in healthcare my whole life, but you know, if I'm working those extra hours or, um, spending all this time and energy, I think every last person who's involved in what we're doing when it's healthcare is even if it's one step away is dramatically changing people's lives for the better. Um, and that is something that in our industry you can always, um, rely on, which is, which is, which is lucky, I guess

Speaker 3: (50:48)
it, it is. And, you know, it gives me a great, I've built, I'm proud of what I've done before. I've built great companies. We've done, you know, really good work. Uh, but you know, this is a different level of, of mission that, uh, you know, has, um, me very personally engaged.

Speaker 2: (51:06)
Yeah. So, um, we only have about five minutes left. Um, if you were to speak to your 25 year old self

Speaker 3: (51:19)

Speaker 2: (51:20)
What would you, what would you say? I mean, you've had a great career path.

Speaker 3: (51:27)
Yeah. You know, I, I, I kind of, uh, get to do that in, in some sense in counseling, my children, you know, I've, uh, uh, my, uh, kids are great. I've got six girls and, and two boys. And so I give them some of the, the advice that I would've given my, uh, 25 year old self, uh, my number seven, uh, uh, is, uh, uh, her name is Angie and, uh, she's a planner. Uh, she is the most organized person I've ever met, you know, far more so than I should make up far better. CEO. I've told her that many times she make a far better CEO than, than me. Uh, I, but she wants to plan out every aspect of her life for the next 50 years. And she was getting kind of anxious and nervous about it. And I sat down with her and I said, Angie, you know, the world is changing too fast.

Speaker 3: (52:24)
I don't know what the world is gonna be like in 10 years or 20 years to even give you any advice. And you are going to work yourself into a you're, you're gonna be so frazzled. If, if you continue to try to do this, my advice to you is take life in chunks. So take this next five years and say, this is what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna get this degree, or I'm going to go to the, uh, get this job and, and then get to that point and say, okay, what does it make sense to do from here? Uh, because you, there's just no way that, uh, you can possibly know. So that would be the advice I would, uh, give myself and the, the other one, you know, the, I, I made so many mistakes along the way. I, that I, I don't wanna portray, you know, myself as, as any sort of, you know, Paragon, uh, in any way.

Speaker 3: (53:19)
But the, the one thing that I, I think I, I have done that's helped me is to maintain a love of learning and to always, always be, be learning. I, you know, so, you know, at, at 66 now, you know, I've got books all over the place, you know, um, uh, you know, learning French. I know French pretty well, but I'm learning Spanish. Uh, so, you know, to just to have that curiosity about life and about the, the world, that's the thing, because life can just beat it out of us and boy education in particular. I mean, you know, they can take the most fascinating subject in the world, you know, quantum mechanics or biochemistry, and they can make it so dull and lifeless, you know, and memorize these structures, you know, and you lose, you know, that joy of about the, the bigger picture of the, just the wonder of, uh, of all of this. And so that would be the biggest advice I could give anybody, you know, maintain that childlike sense of wonder, you know, try to remember what were you like at five, you know, when you looked up at the night sky, or, you know, when you saw a fizzy bottle, you know, explode, you know, your, your, how your mind felt at, at that moment, that's the biggest thing to never lose

Speaker 2: (54:43)
Mm-hmm  yeah. It's like choosing, choosing the course based on the professor. , it's interesting how, yeah. Um, yes, I, I couldn't agree more. Um, and I think that you illustrated, uh, really nicely, this, I guess the only thing that doesn't change is change itself, right? Like, so I, you reframed early on in the conversation, I said, oh, you're gonna spend five or 10 years of your life. And in fact, your partner said, give it a try. Right? Exactly. Give it two years.

Speaker 3: (55:16)
Exactly. Once you get to lose.

Speaker 2: (55:18)
Right. And you, you started off by investing time and money on sequencing and then recognized it's a commodity. Yeah. Moved on. Right. Yeah. So that, um, that flexibility, curiosity, um, that's a great recipe.

Speaker 3: (55:35)
Well, and I think just not beating yourself up when you inevitably screw up, you know, we, we all do.

Speaker 2: (55:41)
Yeah. All right. Well, it's been a pleasure. This

Speaker 3: (55:44)
Is, oh, I've enjoyed it.

Speaker 2: (55:45)
Really fun. So thank you so much for the time. You bet you all appreciate your wisdom.