HIStalk Connect Interviews Michael Hollenbeck, CEO and Founder at Proskriptive


Michael Hollenbeck is the CEO and Founder of Proskriptive, in Boise Idaho.

Tell me about yourself and the company.

I’m just somebody who is really interested in healthcare data and fascinated by how we can make that data more useful. I’ve had an interesting career doing that type of work for Microsoft and a number of startups but I think the project that we’re working on right now with Proskriptive is one that’s timely and hopefully interesting.

What we’re doing at Proskriptive is we’re really focused on data science applied to value based care. I think that we all agree that value based care is something that is only going to get to be a bigger issue especially as we really start being put at risk. Data science becomes really pertinent because it’s going to help us identify where we should be spending our time and energy and focus. The way that we’re doing that right now seems horribly inefficient and a bit broken.

At Proskriptive, we believe that there needs to be a better way of scaling data science, creating an open ecosystem of all of these great pieces of analytics. These great analytic modules that people have been creating for their own internal use or maybe they’re a really smart data scientist that’s been working for somebody or it’s a research organization. How do we create an open ecosystem where we don’t all have to continually rebuild the same thing time and time again or get locked into a vendor relationship where the only data science that will be delivered through that channel is the stuff that they’ve created.

Proskriptive is about really making sure that we figure out how to leverage data science, how we make that open ecosystem and how we all get really a lot better and a lot more efficient at using it.

What made you decide to take the leap from a sales leadership role to founding your own startup?

Yeah, so sales leadership has been something that I’ve done for a long time. I think that when you are a dedicated sales professional, what happens is you find that you get to spend a lot of time with customers. You get to spend a lot of time with people who have big problems that they’re trying to solve and if it’s a passionate area for you, you really want to get in the trenches with them. You really want to understand those problems and so throughout my career I progressed from a sales leader, as you’ve pointed out but then to product management to actually helping to create the products that solve those problems.

What I found was that I really like that, I really enjoyed that very much and we had a lot of success with those products that we were developing and there was a huge opportunity in the market just regarding value based care and data science in the way that we worked on that that I just didn’t see anybody addressing and it was just really compelling. It was something that I’m super passionate about and wanted to jump into and keep working on.

What has been your greatest obstacle in getting the company to scale and how did you mitigate it?

I think the assumption there is that we’re at scale and I’ll tell you that we’re definitely more at scale today than we were a year ago. We’re definitely more at scale than we were a year and a half ago. When you’re starting a company from the ground up, it’s … there’s always the finance issues that are involved and there’s a talent acquisition that’s involved.

How do you take these things that people are doing in a one-off way and programmatically create that product that solves that problem that hits the most common denominator and eliminates those efficiencies so it’s not one thing. It’s not the finance thing, it’s not the product thing or the employee thing or the customer thing, it’s all of that and I think what you do is you stay very focused.

Hopefully you’re really organized and you find the critical path of each one of those and you stick with it every single day and you try to learn as you’re doing that so that you can do micro-pivots to make sure that you’re adding the most value for your prospects and your partners.

Speaking of finance, your lead investor is also an investor in Heath Catalyst which offers similar solutions. What do you think they find attractive about investing in both companies?

First of all Health Catalyst is a great company so it’s easy to understand why they’d want to do that. I think philosophically though they understand that we do different things. Health Catalyst is, they’re a data warehouse company that offers great content on the front of that but ultimately it’s tied into the data warehouse.

Proskriptive takes a different role on that, which is people have their own data structures, they already have maybe their own data warehouse vendor or maybe they want to do that internally. If they are already dedicated to doing the data underpinnings on their own they still want somebody who is really dedicated on providing them the extremely valuable content that they need in order to thrive in this value based world we’re going into, so.

I don’t want to put words in their mouth but I think that they looked and said here’s a company that is dedicated to helping people get that in an open ecosystem type of a way which is really different and I think they believe strongly in our mission that we believe that we build great analytic modules. We believe that we have great data scientists that are doing really good things but you know what, we’re not the only ones that have awesome data people and we’re not the only ones that have a great story to tell, so.

I believe that our mission of making sure that we provide that open ecosystem where people who want to share that content, people who are willing to think about the way we scale data science a little differently have a great way to commercialize that information and people who maybe want to handle the data pieces on their own and certainly we help them a lot with that too, have a good alternative.

There are a lot of companies offering analytic solutions to healthcare organizations what is your strategy for getting the attention of decision makers? How do you get in front of those people?

Yeah, so there’s a lot of different ways. In healthcare, more than I think any other industry, but other industries behave this way as well but specifically healthcare because it is such a culture of risk mitigation you find that trusted relationships are huge. People who have worked with Proskriptive, people who know Proskriptive, people who know the founders, Justin Richie and myself and Elsa MacDonald, people who have worked with us who have that trusted relationship are really, they’re a really critical part of how we get in front of people because when they know you to be a quality person that they trust you can build on that.

That happens for example in our channel relationships. We have a great relationship with Microsoft where Microsoft provides great plumbing but they are focused primarily on the underpinnings and not necessarily the solution area so that type of a channel relationship makes a lot of sense for them and us because we provide really detailed solutions for healthcare using their great plumbing. Then you use other partnerships where there’s synergies like that.

We participated in Healthbox, which is a really, I thought a fantastic digital health accelerator and through that experience we met a lot of people, lots of introductions, lots of ways to meet people and tell our story and get feedback from that. Most importantly I think the critical thing is you’ve got to get a customer. You’ve got to get somebody who will give you a chance and then you have to show them that you’re dedicated to their success, to their value.

I think that once they recognize wow, this company is in the trenches with me, they understand what we’re going through and they’re not just about delivering a piece of software and leaving. They really care about what we’re trying to do. They really care about our outcomes. I think that is the single greatest way that we’ve been able to scale into opportunities and to get our voice heard is that when you have a customer that’s out there going man, these guys get it and they … when you get them and they’re passionate about that and they want to tell the story, I think that’s really when you’re in the game.

You market your product as offering innovative and simple analytics. Can you talk a little bit about that how that’s different from other solutions?

I don’t know why as vendors, there’s the thought that we need to be at the epicenter of everything, that everything good comes from us. Again, I’m very proud of the work product that we put out there but holy cow I have met some incredibly gifted data scientists in healthcare. I have met others at many of the healthcare organizations out there, hospitals and provider groups, I’ve met some smart people doing great work and they are willing to make available, matter of fact a lot of these guys are super passionate about helping the greater community. They have these analytic modules that are very share-able and they find in us somebody who really shares the passion that it doesn’t have to be single source, so.

That open community where we do aggregate this great analysis and we make it simple to access by creating a single data structure that can be relied upon. I’m not talking about a data warehouse. I’m talking about the really skinny data structure where if we can just take the data the way that you have it, organize it, all of the sudden you have just virtualized your business intelligence, your data science team. You now have access to the greatest healthcare data scientists in the country, in the world through that. That’s the idea, just keep it simple.

Do I really need to rebuild another readmission model? Do I really need to rebuild another census model? There’s got to be a lot of people out there who are doing great work, how do I get access to that work? That’s the problem that we’re really trying to solve. Number one, helping them get access and then secondly understanding what do I do about that to drive to the outcomes? I think part of the simplicity is that we understand not just the analysis that needs to be done but the infrastructure elements and then ultimately what it is that people would want to do with that information when they have it.

What have you learned from starting your own company?

This is number five for me, not that I’ve started but in the last twenty years of my professional career I’ve spent seventeen of those in startups.

What I have learned is it is really obvious to me why so few of these are successful and the reason that I would say is because it’s really hard. A startup is really hard and you have to be tremendously passionate about what you’re doing and you know what, you’ve got to have a marathoner’s mentality of I’m going to get to mile twenty five and I’m going to hurt, there’s going to be a lot of things in your soul that say man, it’s time to walk for a minute.

I think that as an entrepreneur, as somebody doing a startup you’ve just got to have that dedication. You’ve got to be willing to suffer for your craft and be passionate about what you’re doing and know that the reason that you’re doing what you’re doing is, that it’s going to be a benefit to the world if you succeed. If it’s not a benefit, you need to figure out how you do add value.

I think that when you’re passionate about what you believe in, you’re really smart about understanding what it is that people want and need and where the inefficiencies are. As you get each of those tiny wins I think it helps you stay, to keep going ahead and as those wins mount it adds a lot of fuel to the passion. It adds a lot of incentive to keep going because you do start to see the traction and what you’re doing and you hear the passionate voices that are saying yes, we love what you’re doing, please do that.

What advice you would give to others who are thinking about launching a startup?

Making money is nice, we all like to make money. We all need money to pay our bills but ultimately it’s about service to others and it’s about adding value to what others are trying to do. It is a recognition of a problem set that you can solve and the desire to do that and if you’re successful at that the money is great but I think that ultimately you have to go into this with a humble attitude of service to those people you partner with, those people you want to be your customers and recognize that this is an outcomes game.

I believe that folks who take that attitude into their own enterprise will be far more successful than those who want to be on the cover of Tech Crunch or those who will want to have the opportunity to be celebrated in some type of entrepreneurial forum. This is about service and very much the mission that we have with regards to the value based care and the role that data science plays in that. It is one of genuine service because I think that there is a chapter that needs to be written that can make sure that organizations big and small have access to the analytics they need to understand who needs help, to understand how, what types of things are working best for those individuals and for those patients and for those members.

Just a final thought to the other entrepreneurs in healthcare, man I welcome them all, keep fighting the good fight. Like no other time in history, at least in our life times, have we had such a tremendous opportunity to make such a profound impact on people’s lives through transforming the healthcare economy with data science and with many other great technologies.

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