Abacus Insights: The Doctrepreneur is In
Is healthcare about getting better when sick or living a healthy and vibrant life?
Minal Patel, founder of Abacus Insights, is a Harvard-trained physician who deeply understands the challenges of being a doctor, being an insurance payer, and now, helping patient data come to life.
In our interview, we discuss:
- Minal’s epiphany about how data can help medical providers serve their patients better
- The role of marketing in helping launch — and sustain – a company
- The lessons Minal learned transitioning from a doctor to an entrepreneur
Would you like your company featured on “Series A, B, C?” Drop me a line and tell me about your B2B tech company.
Transcript of Video
Angus Nelson: Welcome to “Series A, B, C” where technology companies share their insights and strategy of growth. I’m your host Angus Nelson, Director of Development at Golden Spiral and today I’m talking with Minal Patel. He’s a physician turned corporate payer with Blue Cross Blue Shield, turned serial physician entrepreneur. Welcome to the show, Minal, how are you?
Minal Patel: Thank you, great to be here. Thank you. Fantastic.
Angus Nelson: Awesome. Well I want to just jump into some of the content today and as I told you before, I’m fascinated with your career trajectory story and just as I interview you, can you briefly share how did this all come about from being a physician, from Harvard, going into… jumping into the world of entrepreneurship?
Minal Patel: Yeah, so I’ve had the luck of my career unfolding without really any plan, to be honest. As a academic physician at Harvard, got more and more involved in some of the administrative aspects of work and so the thought was to go get an MBA. I didn’t want to get an MBA. So instead I went to work for McKinsey and Company, but the thought was to get the business training and then come back to an academic environment, do what I love. But as you open one door, another one opens. I found myself at McKinsey and my last client there was the CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey. They said, “Why don’t you come work for an insurance company?” I said, “Wow, okay, I’ll learn the payer side of the business. Then I’ll go back to be at the large hospital setting.” And then in the large payer, uncovered some needs that I looked for solutions for.
Minal Patel: I was putting nurses in call centers and trying to do the right thing for our patients and realized that taking them out of the emergency room and putting them in a call center wasn’t the right thing. So I said, “Well, can someone help me do this from overseas?” Looked for companies to help do that, nobody could. So a couple of years later I went and built that company. I saw a need in the market for something really meaningful and important, nobody could offer it. And so it wasn’t like I want to go start a company, it’s I want to go solve a problem. And the only way to do it was to start that business. And that’s when I got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and then it hasn’t stopped since.
Angus Nelson: Awesome. And that actually leads to a question I wanted to ask you in regards to… On your website you talk about how we face these fundamental problems with healthcare data and we do the old cliche, doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. And you said that now is the time to do it differently. What is it about Abacus Insights that makes it different and better?
Minal Patel: Well I think if you can take a step back in the industry, I think from a healthcare perspective, a couple of things have evolved and from a technology perspective, a couple things have evolved that made now the right time to do what we’re doing. From a healthcare perspective, we’ve been in this fee for service treadmill. Every time you get sick, you go to the hospital, a doctor, the doctor gets paid. No one’s really thinking about how to keep you healthy. And of the last five to 10 years, the industry’s talking about value based care. How do we pay physicians and hospitals not to take care of you when you’re sick, but fundamentally take care of you so you stay healthy. So that’s one big paradigm.
To do that, you need data. Put that aside for a second. The second thing that’s changed is that the technology has allowed for healthcare data to be digitized, meaningful use, and others have thrown lots of money at this to make sure that records are electronic. But more importantly, the technologies for the cloud have now been able to say, “Well, can we take those data and using the infinite compute of the cloud, begin to create that value,” right? So when you put those two things together, the market need for more data in terms of transitioning how people think about financing and consuming healthcare plus the technology to take all of this data that’s being generated and actually create meaningful value, bringing those two things together, that’s the different way of doing things. And that’s really at Abacus, what we’re focused on.
Angus Nelson: Yeah, I love it. And the more data that’s created, the more that’s provided, the more knowledge we know, the more solutions we can bring in. Love it, love it. So as you look at the future horizon for Abacus Insights and what would you say has you most excited of… Two parts. One, what has you most excited about your product? And you kind of alluded to that obviously, but then also what is the role of marketing?
Minal Patel: Yeah, well so our product is aimed at helping the insurance company, the healthcare payer, and the companies that serve the payer become much more efficient with how they integrate and use their data, right? Now that doesn’t sound all that sexy. At the end of the day, it sounds very data and engineering focused. Fundamentally though, if we do that well, consumers, patients, doctors, all can make better decisions about their health, about the kinds of resources that they want to consume. So for us, what’s exciting about our business is that if we’re successful, we’re enabling an ecosystem of individuals, ourselves, our family members, to be much more proactive and engaged in the health that they need to be. And if and when they get sick, we all do. We’ve got the right tools and resources to make us better. So fundamentally, that’s the mission of what we’re trying to solve for.
Minal Patel: And again, we’ve found the path to try to help the one part of ecosystem do that, and in the insurance industry, but we know there are others out there, lots of companies that are serving the payer market. So for us, assuming we’re successful in building the product and launching it and we’re well on our way to doing that for our early clients. The role of marketing allows us to take our message from not just the large clients, we have relationships and access, but to not just the ecosystem of the middle size and other companies in the space. But for the entrepreneurs out there, that said, “Look, if I had access to data, could I create a new type of predictive model or a new population health solution or patient application that can actually create meaningful value. And if we can lower the cost of entry using our platform to do that, boy, it would even further innovate it. And the only way to do that is by really telling our story and telling it well, and that’s the essence of marketing from my perspective.
Angus Nelson: Excellent. And then my final question in our small time today, and it really sucks that we have such short time, because I have so many other questions that are baked into your answer I love. As the CEO and founder of Abacus Insights, what have been some of your personal challenges to overcome both as a leader and then as a company as you’ve scale?
Minal Patel: Yeah. Well so first and foremost I’m a physician, right? When I told my wife that Abacus Insights is a cloud computing data technology company, she looked at me and said, Boy, you can barely turn a computer on. How are you going to do that,” right? And so really learning the concepts around modern technology and engineering, and the cloud and data ,that’s just been a phenomenal journey.
Minal Patel: Mind numbing at times, but a phenomenal journey. But more importantly, and this comes through some of the challenges, is that when you’re in an industry as conservative and as regulated for the right reasons, for the most part, sometimes not the right reasons, as healthcare is, finding the talent that understands engineering with the level of creativity that they do that other industries have brought, bringing those two things together, is not easy, right? You get engineers who really want to test build quickly and then the healthcare behind cycles are long. Our clients are large enterprises. They’re very conservative in their ways as they should be. People’s lives are at stake. This is not just about an app that is going to make a game sexier. That, bringing those two things culturally together has been a journey for us.
Minal Patel: We believe frankly, we exist for that reason. Large clients, our large customers have a hard time doing that. If they did, they’d hire those engineers and solve the problems without us. But on a personal level as someone who’s thrives on, recruiting talent, motivating talent. This has been both inspirational and challenging at the same time. And as a company perspective, that translates through as well. How do you build the right level of competence, team domain, in an industry that requires it, but can attract the best minds and the best energy and talent that need to bring the expertise from other industries, if we really, again, do things differently and not the same way we’ve done it over and over again, expecting a different result.
Angus Nelson: Yeah, I love it. I love it. Well, thank you so much for your time today and if you are interested, you, the listener, Abacus Insights is helping clients unlock the value of their data to improve patient’s lives. If you haven’t picked up on that already, they are pioneering a new way of health insurance company… A new way for health insurance companies to access valuable data trapped in solid legacy systems and use it to create actionable insights. I love your leadership and all your energy. I’m sure it’s transferrable to everyone that’s involved.
Angus Nelson: For those of you who are listening, this show has been brought to you by Golden Spiral, a full service B2B technology marketing agency built to help companies generate demand and realize their market potential. For more information, you can go to goldenspiralmarketing.com. Thanks so much for joining me Minal.
Minal Patel: Thank you. Have a great afternoon.