A conversation with TrueVault CEO Jason Wang

Jason Wang, CEO and founder of TrueVault, visited Columbia for the Health IT Startups 101 forum last week to explain the precautions that companies need to take to comply with federal health insurance privacy rules. Wang’s startup, which bills itself as a safe and HIPAA compliant data storage company, was a participant in the  Y Combinator accelerator in San Francisco this year. Missouri Business Alert spoke with Wang after his presentation, and the entrepreneur talked about the new Apple Watch, which he calls a game-changer, and the surprising lessons he’s learned from launching a health IT startup.

Jason Wang |Photo by Kara Tabor/Missouri Business Alert
Jason Wang | Kara Tabor/Missouri Business Alert

This interview has been edited for length and content.

Why is innovation and disruption in health care so important right now?

I think it has always been important. It’s just that it didn’t have all of the necessary pieces. We didn’t have the necessary technologies; we didn’t have the necessary demand from consumers; we didn’t have the willingness to participate from health care providers, payers and hospitals. But now I feel all three forces are aligned, so now it’s easier than ever. It wasn’t that it was not important before, it’s just that now the timing is right.

Why is privacy so important right now?

Because we’re used to (getting instant information from the internet); because we’re used to owning our own data. Because we have a phone that’s so powerful that it is a computer in our pocket and very soon we’ll have wearables that are just as powerful. So it is just — it is everywhere and it is good that they are providing information and in order for them to provide information, they have to collect data. So it starts with data, into information and through that process, you know, technology’s just everywhere. It’s good for us; it’s good for the consumers; it’s good for doctors because we’ll get better health care treatment. But the question is: how are those data protected? Are companies collecting health care data doing their full obligation to protect data for consumers?

What were the best things that you got out of  Y Combinator?

Focusing on growth, focusing on making a product better. A lot of startups do things that just don’t matter. They don’t talk to their customers. They don’t focus on growth. By focusing on growth, it forces you to only work on stuff that really matters. So I think more than anything, that helped us a lot. Also, the alumni network. You are in this very tight-knit group of entrepreneurs who are also very, very smart. They’re all very driven, all very experienced. We got a lot, I got a lot, of help from our batch-mates.

What is your advice for startups that are looking to get into health technology?

I think the advice is the same, regardless of the vertical. Build something that solves a problem. A lot of times it is building something that solves your own problem, because then you are that domain expert, you know what needs to be built. A lot of companies, they try to build a solution before the problem and typically there will be a mismatch. So I will say, if it is health care or not, find a problem that you are very close to that you are very aware of and very knowledgable of and go solve that, and if you can solve it for yourself, typically people will want your solution as well.

Earlier you were talking about how entrepreneurship requires one to be formidable. Can you talk about that a little more?

You learn so much more from failures, but you won’t learn from failures if you don’t try, so you have to go try. It’s okay to, you know, test an idea when it’s not fully baked, because you want that feedback. That feedback will help you iterate your idea and that is most important because most likely you will not launch the perfect product the first time. So you have to go through 10 iterations before you find that perfect product. Then you should go through those 10 iterations as quickly as possible.

What are your thoughts on the potentials for Apple Watch and health apps?

The Apple Watch is going to be — it is — a game-changer. I mean, no longer do I need to reactively enter something … the app doesn’t need to prompt me for my health stats. The watch will simply collect that automatically and, the app or the solution that’s leveraging that data can then now proactively alert the user based on their health condition and proactively offer a recommendation and suggestion. I think that’s very important. I mean, you want technology to be out of the way and I think iPhone killed the GPS, killed compact cameras. I think Watch will more or less replace a lot of the wearable devices. It will simply aggregate into a single device. I can’t wait for what it can do in practice and what’s version two, version three. I’m sure Apple will learn a whole lot from this release and it hope they keep iterating on it.

How do you think people will jump on it for developing health-specific applications or linking it up to existing programs?

I think people will try different ideas out using the watch and see what sticks. I know Watch has a lot relevant use cases in the research field. What we have learned just through our [TrueVault’s] customers and people who we talk to that it’s one thing to collect the data in a clinical setting, it’s another to collect that data in the subject’s natural habitat right at their home or at their work or at their school. The data that you collect there is a lot more relevant, a lot more accurate. So having a watch allows that researcher to be that much closer to be able to collect that data where the subject is not tensing up. I think in the research community there’s obviously a lot of use, but there’s so much things that you can do. It’s just, who knew when the iPhone was launched back when what it could do. I think that same level of being extrapolated based on what the iPhone did for us.

Being from San Francisco, why did you take the time to come out to Columbia for this event?

I have to be honest, I mean, I like talking to other entrepreneurs. What we do is very exciting and I want to talk to them, share with them my experience and also health care. My whole message is: it’s not that scary. There are tools, there is information out there that can help a developer get started and we need that, because without people trying, we won’t get anywhere. So we have to lower that barrier. It is okay to try. Use what you have learned in other verticals and apply it to health care so that we can move quickly. I think my point today is that the bar is not that high; it’s not as tough as you think. There are things you have to do right, but once you do them, you’re free to innovate.


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