Tom Parsons: A Healthy Approach to Tech — Quotes Magazine
Tom Parsons

A Healthy
Approach to Tech

Illustration by: Mila Spasova

Тоm Parsons is the co-founder of HealthXL — a Dublin-based company dedicated to health innovations. He was recently featured in MedTech’s “40 Under 40 Healthcare Innovators” list.

Tell us more about your company — HealthXL. What do you do exactly?

HealthXL is a global market for health innovations. Together with our partners we establish audacious goals (Moonshots) to work towards within healthcare. Then we search for innovators in digital health that can work with us and our partners to achieve those Moonshots. We help them find each other, create business partnerships, and facilitate their relationship through collaboration. Our clients are Bupa, Cleveland Clinic, Becton Dickinson, IBM, ICON, ResMed, Janssen Healthcare Innovation, Linde Healthcare, Novartis, Partners HealthCare, Silicon Valley Bank, EY, SoftServe, Hermitage Medical Clinic, SoftLayer, Apollo Hospitals.

Which are your biggest achievements so far?

In the short time we’ve been around there have been a number of exciting collaborative projects sourced through HealthXL, including a project launching in Cleveland Clinic focused on changing the way we think about self-injectable medications at home. This project includes the piloting of a smart sharps bin device called Health Beacon, from the Dublin start-up of the same name, who are also a silent industry partner helping to fund the project and provide expertise. At the end of 2014 we also announced the partnership between IBM Watson and iDAvatars. The two companies are combining their technical capabilities to deliver avatars to Parkinsons’ disease patients so that they can be more active participants in their own care. IBM and iDAvatars are now exploring opportunities to leverage this solution across the HealthXL partner group.

Tom Parsons

Is it a difficult task to connect healthcare brands with tech companies? What makes you believe in an idea, how do you evaluate it?

In short, yes. Healthcare is still a very traditional industry with extremely complex co-dependent stakeholder relationships. To cut through the fog, we drill down to the individual interests of our partners in terms of their appetite for risk, therapeutics, care delivery models, etc. It is really about where they are ready to place their bets on the next shift. A deep understanding of their interests, as well as leveraging a group of advisors who are experts in evaluating these opportunities, help us identify which high-growth companies are most likely to be interesting to our partners and the collaborative projects they are working on within HealthXL. Through our online platform, our partners and advisors can easily filter digital health market information based on their interests. This way they can see at a glance which companies in the market are applying solutions in line with their interests. Think of Bloomberg for private digital health companies.

You are part of the “40 Under 40 Healthcare Innovators”, does that make you feel accomplished? What is the next challenge ahead of you?

I was very honored to be included in the group and honestly quite shocked. A number of our advisors were on the list, all of who I look up to, so having my name beside theirs was pretty humbling. I have no doubt that there are many amazing people in Ireland and around the world that should have been there ahead of me, but I was very appreciative to be considered in the same group of these esteemed individuals. The next challenge is helping to scale-up HealthXL, and speeding up the realization and activation of collaborative opportunities within the area of digital health that will lead to healthier and longer lives around the world.

A lot of young people are now starting their own companies, what advice would you give them? And do you think the start-up trend will carry on?

Tough question, I am only on my first startup, so I still have a huge learning curve to go through myself. Maybe a few points:

1. Focus on something that genuinely interests you because when the going gets tough, it will be very hard to persevere if you are not excited and passionate about what you are doing.

2. Talk to as many people as possible who are experts/end users in the area you are looking to apply a solution. Don’t hide away and build. What you think you know about what your target customers want is probably way off the mark to start with, so begin with an ethos of building a product your customers really need and will pay for. In general, listen to what’s important to your customers, and constantly put your solution in front of them to see how they react.

3. Start the company with the smartest and best person you know, great people make great companies.

At HealthXL we have been incredibly lucky in finding the best people, and if we grow to be a big global company one day, I have no doubt that the people we’ve hired (and the ones we will hire) will be the main reason behind that success.

Who were your influencers or mentors?

Apart form the obvious influencers, such as my parents, I find sporadic inspiration in individuals whose achievements you can learn something from or who grew an amazing business, or overcame some extreme circumstance. The most recent of these is Brad Katsuyama. His strides to conquer problems related to dark pools and high frequency trading wеre excellently summarized in “Flash Boys” by Michael Lewis. I’m sure that the recommendations for future readings in the foot notes of that book will lead me to find my next influencer of the moment. In terms of mentors I have plenty, the biggest ones being my colleagues, whose expertise I try to leverage every day.

How do you hold onto your staff? There are tons of opportunities for tech people, so job hopping is kind of typical.

Provide people with real responsibility, and give them a clear vision of how their actions are helping to grow the company. Every time we bring on a new partner or announce a new project, our whole team congratulates one another because everyone has played a role in making that happen. If you have this kind of self-fulfilling environment and the company is growing, then it’s easier to keep people on board. As for keeping people on board when times are tough, as I said, this is the first startup I have been involved with, so I suggest reading ‘The Hard Things About Hard Things’ by Ben Horowitz. He gives great insights on how to motivate great people to stay on the journey even when the outlook is nasty.

Tom Parsons

How do you see the future of technology and what kind of significant innovations should we expect in the next 10 or more years? Twenty years ago home computers and internet were a luxury, as well as mobile phones, now we can not really imagine life without them.

The million-dollar question. From a digital health perspective, I think we’re going to see two big shifts. The first will be moving away from sick care to a health system focused on prevention and the second will be a more consumerist approach to healthcare, which we have already started seeing with the emergence of design-centric wearables such as MisFit and innovative insurance schemes like Oscar Health Insurance. These companies are beginning the trend of applying the same thinking as big consumer brands (P&G, Nike, etc.), which I think will result in a very positive reaction from the market.

Walk us through a typical day of yours.

There is no real typical day to be honest, like most start-ups, you can go in with your day all planned out and it can very quickly take an alternative route. But we always try to have a daily standup first thing in the morning, to go through what we’re working on and where we need help. The majority of the actual work then runs through until about 4pm at which point it is broken up by calls from the US where most of our clients, and the vast majority of entrepreneurial companies in the segment, are based. Most days, we will wrap up by saying what we need to focus on during the next day, as we’re generally in a race against the clock for something, which is the norm for small teams with a quickly expanding number of customers.

Published 17.06.2015