On the stage at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, will.i.am’s Christian Louboutin loafers stood out like a neon light in a field of brown and gray business shoes. He wouldn’t fit in at Medtronic or Humana or Eli Lilly either, but that is exactly why he should be there.
Will.i.am helps Intel figure out what devices people will want 10 years from now. He persuaded Coke to launch the Ekocycle line that turns plastic bottles into jeans, headphones, and a phone case. He also works with kids in inner city schools to promote STEM education.
It wasn’t the VC from Andreessen Horowitz or the digital health entrepreneur who had the most important message for healthcare companies.
At the CES Next Generation of Innovators keynote it was the singer-turned-inventor who had the clearest vision of the technological forces that at work and how the industry needs to change.
will.i.am was on the Next Generation of Innovators panel with David Lieb of Bump Technologies, Cyrus Massoumi of ZocDoc, Eric Vishira of Rockmelt. Jeff Jordan of Andreessen Horowitz asked the questions.His comments Tuesday show that he understands how data, 3D printers, and mobile tech will reshape healthcare. Here’s how he could help healthcare companies connect with 21st century patients and reshape the business model.
- He has hardware experience.
Will.i.am’s latest project is the foto.sosho: a case that turns an iPhone into a better camera and a photo editing app to go along with it.
“I was looking at the iPhone as a chip and figuring out how it could be a bigger chip,” he said.
Yes, there was no FDA approval required, but medical device manufacturers don’t need that expertise. It’s the ability to look at how people are using technology and how to make the experience better, faster or easier that is important.
The inspiration for the device came from observing the results of a photo shoot.
“There was a photographer there with a fancy camera, but it was the iPhone picture that traveled around the world,” he said.
He and his team of 6 people took the project from an idea in May to a product for sale at Selfridge’s of London in December.
- He gets the space.
Will.i.am was the only person on the stage to mention the game-changing potential of 3D printers, and he gets the future of a doctor’s office visit.
“Pretty soon, when you are sick and go to the doctor, he will say, ‘Hand me your device.’ He’ll come back a bit later and say, ‘You’re probably sick because the chef who made your sushi has a sick daughter. Also, the fever is because you went out running without a coat. I know because I saw your tweets.'”
- He has a patient/consumer perspective.
Will.i.am said when he travels the world and attends conferences, he looks at the world like an anthropologist.
“I like to see and feel and smell what’s happening and then go create something,” he said. “You all are geniuses but I just see things that other people don’t see.”
He sees the need for patients to control their own data and that homes will become personal data centers.
“It’s not going to be in some cloud and I don’t know who has my shit,” he said.
- He understands disruption and reinvention.
He has been through the complete evolution of an industry and figured out how to thrive in the world of no more record stores and digital music.
When Jordan asked about his consulting work, will.i.am described his Ekocycle project with Coke to recycle plastic water bottles into jeans, headphones, and an iPhone case.
“Certainly it’s not the first time that someone has turned plastic water bottles into shows, but those shoes were ugly,” he said smiling.
“Let’s go backward, let’s design with tastemaking and disruption in mind.”
As will.i.am pointed out, Samsung sells more units than Apple, but Apple is the “megabrand” because of Steve Jobs.
“The next big megabrand is going to come from someone the youth can identify with,” he said. “Think of what Doctor Dre did for headphones. You never used to walk through the airport and see headphone shops.”
This is exactly what the healthcare in general needs. The old business model is being systematically dismantled by patients’ access to data, the trend toward outcomes based care, and increasing transparency around cost and effectiveness. The changes are not happening fast enough.
Will.i.am could help device makers understand their customers better and how to make elegant design part of the entire process. He could provide the power of celebrity to people who are doing this already with diabetes monitors.
He could help with gamification in health too. There are lots of good apps and web sites designed to help kids live with diabetes, manage their fears, or move more. But, the graphics are just ugly. They just can’t compete with all the gorgeous, modern, engaging games and sites that companies like Disney and Dreamworks make.
He said during the session that he is working with kids at inner city schools to show them how cool science and technology are.
“Music saved my life, but it’s not going to be save their lives in the next 10 years,” he said. “It’s going to be math and science.”
African-Americans are much more likely than whites to be diagnosed with diabetes. Maybe will.i.am could help change diabetes education and access to care.
Part of the panel discussion was about hiring the right people. Jordan said that the executive team at PayPal made a point of not hiring anyone with experience in the financial services industry.
PayPal needed a new perspective to make payments convenient and user friendly. Will.i.am could bring the same fresh eyes to the business of healthcare.