We publish our conversations with inspirational individuals in the healthcare industry to promote the innovation discourse and support framework. We spoke with Chris Godfrey, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bloodbuy. Bloodbuy recently won the 2016 Harvard Health Acceleration Challenge.

Mr. Godfrey explains how he discovered the inefficiencies in the blood supply industry and outlines his approach to tackling those issues. He also provides invaluable advice for students beginning their careers. A transcript of our conversation is below.

Healthcare Innovators: What made you enroll in the Executive Masters of Healthcare Leadership at Brown University?

Mr. Godfrey: It was one of those instances in my career where I was later staged. I was already progressed and, in my opinion, doing very well as it relates to professional development. Plus, I had a really tremendous foundational experience relative to getting my BBA at SMU. I went from that directly into an investment, private equity, and finance role so I had a lot of professional experience in terms of learning how to do things on the financial and investment side. I didn’t see a lot of value for myself in doing an MBA. I wasn’t in a position for a full time type of degree program because of the obvious opportunity costs for that.

The program at Brown is really dynamic and really suited what I was looking for because it’s a hybrid type program, designed for individuals that are already established in their careers so they are not using the program to get a raise or something to that effect. Plus, the curriculum is really unique. They cut it in thirds, where one third of it is focused on MBA type curriculum, one third is curriculum consistent with a Masters of Public Health program, and one third is a curriculum based on an MHA program, or Master of Healthcare Administration.

I was looking at those three categories exclusive with one another. The program at Brown was really the only program that gave me pieces of each of those in a dynamic setting. They designed it that way because they wanted to bring together clinicians, bankers, people in the pharmaceutical industry, administrators, nurses, and people with a really broad background so that we could do the obvious learning based upon the curriculum, but they also wanted to have a lot of peer-to-peer learning and exchange. That’s something they accomplished really well. We had an extremely diverse cohort and I learned as much from each other and dealing with my colleagues working in team based environments throughout the program as I did just throughout the peer curriculum based learning.

Healthcare Innovators: I read that you started the Bloodbuy project in class. How did you identify the gap in blood sourcing and how did you come up with a solution to address it?

Mr. Godfrey: One of the real differentiators of the program at Brown is a capstone project, which is the equivalent of a Master’s thesis. As a component of the admission process, you have to already have a problem statement identified, something you want to solve. It could be within your organization, or a bigger picture challenge. Mine was addressing the uneven geographic distribution of available blood supply, basically defragmentation.
How I came about that was really happenstance. I was watching the local news in Dallas after a terrible ice storm in early 2011. As a function of that, there was a spot shortage of blood in the Dallas area because blood mobiles couldn’t do their routine collections and people couldn’t drive in and donate at brick-and-mortar locations. The storm created an acute spot shortage.

As one might assume, just because the weather is nasty, it doesn’t mean people aren’t presenting at the emergency department or arriving for scheduled procedures; utilization of healthcare services continues while access to blood products was halted because of this weather event. I started to reach out to some people in the industry to really try to deconstruct it and figure out how something as predictable as a weather event could create such a potentially significant public health risk. As I really dug deeper, I started to identify some glaring deficiencies in the marketplace. That’s how it really all began.

Healthcare Innovators: Amazing. You said this storm occurred in 2011. You graduated from the program at Brown in 2015, correct?

Mr. Godfrey: Correct. I joined the program in 2013 so I had a couple years to think about and start to frame what is this issue. By the time I applied to the Master’s program, I knew this issue was not a theoretical one; I knew it existed. I knew it was pervasive in terms of scale. I knew it was a systemic issue.

In advance of entering the Master’s program, I knew I had a really big problem to work on because it was something that I had already put in al lot of thought and research into. I also leveraged a lot of industry experts because at the time, I was learning about the industry from the outsider’s perspective. I had a fair amount of knowledge with respect to healthcare but my specific blood industry knowledge was limited at the time. I really had to learn from industry veterans that had been 30 year or 25 year blood industry professionals to share with me the political and cultural dynamics and the inefficiencies that existed within the industry that had not been addressed for many years.

Healthcare Innovators: How do you think your own experience in finance and private equity has impacted your ability to run and grow BloodBuy? I know to win the Harvard Health Acceleration Challenge, you had to demonstrate improving access to care to more people. I believe Dr. Huckman mentioned in the video on your web site that you also increased access to patients. How did you strategically lead BloodBuy to achieve growth greater than that of your competitors?

Mr. Godfrey: That’s the billion dollar question that everybody’s trying to figure out. Scaling innovation in healthcare is extremely challenging because healthcare is not designed to change rapidly, both in terms of cultural and organizational aspects of how these organizations are comprised. We really designed and developed our technology to be as easily adoptable as possible with respect to technological, financial, and workflow barriers to adoption. Regarding implementation, how do we get our technology integrated into a clinical or lab workflow with as little friction as possible where the process level stakeholder, the person that will actually interface with our application, will use the application, not because he’s forced to do so, but would engage because he wanted to.

The process level stakeholders are not doing it because they’re being told by a department level or organizational leader. They’re using it because it adds value to their daily routine and workflow. In order to do that, it starts on day one when you’re thinking about how you’re going to design a solution as it relates to the user experience and how it integrates with existing IT frameworks and workflows. It is important to know that there’s a lot of entrenched behaviors in the industry and a lot of inertia built up in the way healthcare organizations do things. Encouraging them to change can be challenging even if you have internal champions that are serving as change agents; getting everyone on the bus is difficult.

From day one, we took a thoughtful approach to design our products around stakeholders. We knew we were trying to build and solve a very big picture issue, a systemic issue related to the inefficiency of the US blood market. If we can’t get the end user to adopt our solution, we’re never going to solve the big systemic issue. We started very early on by working with blood banking teams at the Texas Medical Center through some current state analysis. We would process map their workflow, identify pain points in their workflows, and interview stakeholders. We interviewed everyone from lab directors to blood bank managers to the tech level individuals who are actually ordering the products to learn what worked and what didn’t work with respect to their workflows.

That kind of design thinking and taking the approach that we leveraged is called User Driven Development and was really integral in us designing a solution that made sense. It starts at day one. If you have a product or solution that doesn’t add value to the user, you can try all you want to sell and force it but you’re not going to get anywhere.

Healthcare Innovators: That sounds like a lot of research. How long was the interview process?

Mr. Godfrey: Several months and it’s ongoing. When you think about developing a technology solution, whether it’s a B to C solution or a B to B solution, especially when you’re building enterprise solutions, which is what our platform is, you really try to gather as much data up front, work with stakeholders to develop the minimally viable solution, and then iterate that to a point where you think it can be piloted in a real clinical type of setting, not in a lab or in a vacuum. You really need to see how it stands up to workflow and see where it creates either friction with existing workflow or just an unacceptable impediment to getting the job done.

Based upon when you deploy into a pilot, you need to immediately identify blind spots; no amount of due diligence, front end data collection, or design will deliver a perfect version one. When we delivered our MVP into a pilot setting at the Texas Medical Center and some other key care facilities, even some of the individuals that participated in designing some of the platform for us would say, “Gosh I can’t believe we missed this. We need to improve the feedback loop or we need to improve…” You start to gather much more intelligent feedback because you’re testing the solution in a live environment. That’s where you start to refine the solution.

Healthcare Innovators: Have you identified any other areas within healthcare that are ripe for disruption? What’s another area that people have missed?

Mr. Godfrey: It’s tough when you talk about “disrupting healthcare.” It’s tough to make that categorical comparison to how an Uber has disrupted the personal transportation business because it’s really apples and watermelons when you’re comparing an industry. Personal transportation isn’t a matter of life and death unless you’re engaging with a really unsafe transportation method and if not, there’s not an urgency there and typically, there are multiple comparative alternatives.

With healthcare, there is an immense amount of regulatory oversight, internal controls, and other validation. Often times, the incentives of the stakeholders are misaligned, sometimes by design and sometimes not by design. You really have to address the concerns of multiple stakeholders: clinical, supply chain, financial stakeholders, and not all these people care about the same things. I think when people talk about disrupting healthcare, it’s really tough to have those “flip the switch,” truly disruptive, massive types of innovations that don’t have some incremental change.

I want to be careful with the term “disrupting healthcare” because everybody loves to say it now. It’s very challenging because the healthcare environment is not designed to change overnight. If you can make marked significant incremental progress to where over the course of a short period of time, relative to healthcare, you’re making this transformational shift. I think that’s the correct approach to look at it. How do we make significant incremental change trending toward a transformational change because healthcare as an industry isn’t set up to be “disrupted” with the type of velocity one would anticipate in other industries, like technology, consumer products, and things like that.

WIth that as a very long winded caveat, I would say that the category that we work within is the intersection of lab and supply chain with significant amounts of informatics and big data analytics mixed in. I think there’s tremendous opportunity in the supply chain sector. We’re dealing with one category at the moment, human blood and biologics. There are several other categories in the healthcare supply chain that present opportunity for very smart and creative individuals with fresh ideas to go out and test those ideas and theories against practice. Typically, you can follow the dollars, it’s indicative of a lot of the investment trends in big data analytics and interoperability; trying to address some of the massive pain points that have served as an impediment to quality outcomes and effective sharing of information. I think interoperability is a big challenge healthcare is facing.

I think democratizing patient information while still protecting privacy is a massive opportunity because it would just blow the door wide open in terms of discovery relative to identifying new ways, experimenting in new ways, and trending data to identify ways to address disease processes in terms of treatment for illnesses and injury. From a data standpoint, there’s an immense amount of opportunity there. When you look at where a lot of the dollars have been deployed the last couple of years such as in the most crowded categories of “digital health,” a lot of it has been patient engagement, wellness, preventative care. I think that’s absolutely warranted but what I think you’ll start to see more of as a total portion of that overall investment is really provider-centric solutions that are more enterprise level solutions that help organizations, whether it’s up and down the continuum of care, communicate relative to identifying the appropriate setting for a patient or care handoffs. How do we identify and optimize handoffs from an information exchange standpoint whether its intra-facility or inter-facility? This goes back to interoperability.

With an industry as large and screwed up as healthcare, it presents a lot of opportunity to spend time to create solutions to big problems. One of the rewarding things of trying to solve problems in healthcare is that you’re doing something that is very valuable. You’re improving the framework by which people receive care. It goes back to that: do you want to work on another picture sharing app that’s very popular but doesn’t save anyone’s life or do you want to solve problems that can improve someone’s outcomes or quality of life? The social value is why I think a lot of very smart people try to focus on creative ways to innovate in healthcare. It is because it’s very rewarding. When you’re doing something that’s saving or improving lives, that’s not lost on your team. When you accomplish goals, that can be a very validating thing for people.

Healthcare Innovators: Awesome, thank you for the caveat in the beginning by the way. I never thought of healthcare disruption in that form and what you said makes sense. I guess going forward we can rephrase that.

Mr. Godfrey: No, not at all! You don’t need to rephrase it because it might be telling in how far along that individual really is in “disrupting healthcare.” If you don’t have a lot of experience dealing with large integrated delivery networks and large health systems, then you may be bullish. I don’t want to diminish anyone’s desires to really come in and create this transformational change overnight but I think people should be aware about how challenging it is to create the behavioral change within an organization even if the organization wants to change.

We work with a lot of large health systems where maybe the leadership’s on the bus and you’re trying to get the process level stakeholders on, but they are resistant or vice versa. There are so many different stakeholders involved in these evolutionary types of exercises because you’re trying to evolve thinking and processes and evolve a potentially antiquated process perhaps by leveraging technology to capture some sort of value. However, there are always more people involved than you think and all the people involved have their different motivations and incentives within the organization often don’t align. You want those checks and balances but at the same time you don’t want an organization that has so many checks and balances that it can’t get out of it’s own way.

Healthcare Innovators: I see. To wrap up, what advice would you give students today? What advice would you give yourself if you were in our shoes? We’d love to hear your wisdom.

Mr. Godfrey: My wisdom is limited, but what I would say is, especially if you’re an undergrad, it’s going to be your first job. This wisdom was given to me when I was coming out of school. A) I would encourage students to get as many undergrad internships as possible. I was very beneficial to have three or four internships prior to graduating. A) you get a flavor for what a professional work environment is like because it’s dramatically different from an undergraduate schedule. B) you start to be able to differentiate between different work environments whether it’s at an investment bank or boutique investment firm or a marketing firm, etc. You can start to identify the different cultural aspects that are specific to an industry or organization and all the nuances associated with that. Once you start to build that understanding, you’re not going into the professional world blind.

I would also encourage folks to focus on the total value of the opportunity relative to where they think they want to go because they’re going to change their mind relative to the direction of their career several times in the first 10 years of their career. The old approach of “Get the best job I can out of school because I’m going to be there for 20 years.” Odds that you’re going to find that unicorn job are really low. I would focus on A) what’s the best fit for me, my skillset, and my goals at the moment. I wouldn’t focus so much on the economics of each arrangement. Now, if one job is willing to offer you $150,00 and the other is offering $75,000, yes, this is probably something that needs to be focused on, but odds are that’s not going to be the case. There’s probably going be to $5, $10, $15k of difference within these opportunities. I wouldn’t focus on the pay as much as how much you think you’ll be able to grow at that organization in terms of skills acquisition. The first 5 years of career, individuals should focus on acquiring skills, whether that’s financial modeling, valuation skills, marketing skills, professional writing skills, negotiation skills, and a whole host of things. That’s largely dependent on that particular individual because everybody has different strong suits, goals, wants, and needs.

I really think the focus should be on skill acquisition because that’s what’s going to shape you as a professional over the coming years. You really want to build as many skillsets as possible and become highly adept in many skillsets as possible because once you have those skills, you can go from investment banking to healthcare to marketing. You can take those skills with you anywhere and learn the nuances of industry segments and sectors. I would focus on skill acquisition in terms of total value. What does that organization have to offer you from a growth standpoint? I think that’s what’s most important because once you have those skills, it’s really empowering as you get further into your career. Those skills will pay economic dividends orders of magnitude greater than whatever your salary was.

Healthcare Innovators: Awesome, thank you so much for that. This definitely is really helpful. I can’t thank you enough for all of your advice so far Chris.

Mr. Godfrey: You bet. It was my pleasure.

About the speaker

Chris Godfrey is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Bloodbuy. Prior to founding Bloodbuy, Mr. Godfrey sourced and structured control investments within healthcare at HealthCap Partners. Prior to that, he worked at The Cirrus Group, Hillwood Capital, Macfarlan Capital Partners, and JP Morgan. Mr. Godfrey has been on the Dallas Business Journal’s list of Who’s Who in Healthcare and has been recognized by the Harvard Forum on Healthcare Innovation. He received a Bachelor of Business Administration from Southern Methodist University and a Master’s in Healthcare Leadership from Brown University.