What the Heck is Healtheon?
Jim Clark set out to build an Internet start-up that would revolutionize healthcare . . . Clark, never one to admit mistakes easily, concedes his vision was perhaps “a bit” too big and the industry more resistant to change than he had imagined . . .
Fortune, February 21, 2000
Our sudden prominence meant that everyone in any business that, however remotely, overlapped with ours was calling to propose that we work together. They saw our $4 billion market cap as a gold mine.
The opportunities that flooded our doors required thorough analysis before reaching any kind of negotiation phase. So, I had the bright idea that the company’s five primary iconoclasts—Jeff, the wanderer; Anil, the missionary; Dave, the inventor; Stephen, the salesman; and me, the architect—band together and tackle the task of researching opportunities.
Short, intense, intelligent analysis combined with a shrewd knowledge of the complex healthcare and Internet markets—that sounded like something this bunch of misfits could handle. The company liked the idea too. They weren’t quite sure what to do with us anyway. We were good start-up types, but no one wanted us to disrupt the execution phase.
So, I assembled the crew together and we began to analyze the opportunities. As I should have foreseen, asking this group of people to narrow the list of prospects was an exercise in futility. We were too used to seeing every obstacle as an opportunity.
The group only met for a couple of months before we scattered back into various folds of the company, trying to recover the sense of importance and belonging we had once felt there.
With Neoforma entering adulthood, the boundaries and main ideas had been set. It was mostly about execution from here, at least for the next couple of years.
The idea of helping hospitals and suppliers connect more efficiently was being implemented. The ethical and caring culture was there. But the basic idea of helping healthcare providers and their architects build better hospitals and efficiently equip them was gone. It was not about equipment anymore, it was about supplies. A subtle shift from what Jeff and I knew—to what we didn’t.
I was struggling to get the company to hold onto the architectural part of the business. After the R&D group disintegrated, I became the official manager of the business we called Plan.
There were about twenty of us, swimming upstream in a company that had diverted its attention elsewhere. We were very close to break-even, bringing in a substantial portion of the company’s revenue. However, the development effort to build our business was so out of sync with the rest of the company that it didn’t make sense to divert much attention to it. I knew that, but I couldn’t let go.
The reality was—Neoforma didn’t need me anymore. And I didn’t need Neoforma. But that didn’t mean that a separation would be easy. I had experienced my last attempts to find a long-term role in the company, though it would take a full year after that for me to come to terms with the inevitable separation.