In the fast-paced technology world, innovation drives success and helps companies thrive. Ted Achtem takes on the challenge of thinking every day about how Madaket can stay on the leading edge in his role as Chief Innovation Officer. Ted, also a co-founder of Madaket, dedicates his days to exploring new ideas and keeping up with the organic sparks of inspiration generated both internally and externally. We sat down with Ted for our Open Source team spotlight to get to know him a little better as a co-founder, innovation leader, and team member.
Tell us about your role at Madaket.
I’m a co-founder and chief innovation officer. My role as chief innovation officer is interesting because it involves looking both externally and internally at opportunities around processes, technologies, business models, and target markets that are not in our current areas of focus. For example, we have our products for our current client base and a clear roadmap and vision of where we’re going. But then the question becomes: Is there something else out there that we could be doing to get us to that point faster? That’s where my role comes into play.
Innovation is more a search function, rather than an execution function. While product functions track adoption and progress, innovation is less linear and often focuses on learning and discovering. Without someone on our team looking at things this way and trying to uncover new information, we might miss opportunities. We may read about something and want more information, but without the resources and time to chase that down, we can’t follow that thread.
What’s a typical day like for you?
There isn’t a typical day, but there is a lot of bouncing around and having conversations with people about what’s going on, what problems they’re facing and opportunities they see. We can end up steeped in our own vision and methodology so it’s important to explore a different set of ideas, particularly those outside of our walls since where more of the unusual ideas live. I take an approach of looking at our current customers and prospects, as well as the market, to determine who I should try to meet with and discuss if there’s something we can approach differently or if there’s a different way to solve a problem. Gaining knowledge of these approaches to problems from an external vantage point beyond is crucial.
I take a similar approach with our team here as well. Internal folks are constantly talking with our partners and getting firsthand perspective on ways we can improve. All of that interaction sparks ideas that may not fit neatly into a product bucket but are still worth chasing down. Hence, the innovation function can help follow the leads. So, my days are often less structured and more about building these relationships with people so that when they think of something interesting, they can reach out to me.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about the healthcare space now that you’ve been in it a while?
When getting into healthcare, I noticed quickly that the mechanics were different than other industries. The structures are can be challenging considering the patient, provider and payer are not always motivated to make the same decision. Additionally, the industry is resistant to change, so learning about how to talk to the industry and what we propose to the market as evolved over time. We had more learning to do about healthcare than, say, engineering or product. And, what we’ve learned about healthcare from day one to the present day has dramatically helped our approach to solving problems for our partners.
As a founder, how have things changed through the years at Madaket?
We’re still in the same area trying to help providers get set up with insurance companies faster and more efficiently. Overall, what the company is trying to do and accomplish hasn’t changed, but the details have evolved. But, it’s very different running a four-person company versus a fifty-person company. Some of the differences, as you would expect, are that we’re all not in the weeds of everything as we were before. From a founding team perspective, we originally approached this with an expertise in multi-sided networks and enterprise SaaS. That was our skillset and healthcare was new to us. However, over time our knowledge of healthcare improved every day, month and year. Therefore, we could start to ask better questions, optimize our strategy and continue to grow. The more market knowledge we gain, the more market-focused decisions we can make.
What does leadership mean to you, and how has your approach to leadership changed as Madaket has grown?
As an entrepreneur, I tend to lead by example. When building a company, establishing trust through knowledge, attention to detail and collaboration is important to achieving your goals. Early on being able to hire and instill that type of trust in your team is critical because startups have such dynamic, “controlled chaos” environments. Early team members were many times pulled in one direction only to have us quickly refocus in another direction as a result of us learning so much so quickly about the market. Our day-to-day tasks would shift so much with the controlled chaos of a startup that it was important to have a team that openly trusted what we were asking them to do. Interestingly in my role of innovation, part of what I do serves to push us back into that nimble, eager mindset of a startup.
What are you reading these days?
I read a lot of industry news as well as industry-derived analysis that talks about the direction of healthcare. Because of the way healthcare is, some of the challenges from a technology and business process perspective have also been encountered in other industries, and therefore I keep an eye on those as well. As an example, Ben Thompson, a blogger out of Taiwan, has a blog called Stratechery where he talks about strategy and technology. It’s more consumer-facing, but it’s very thoughtful and insightful. He’s an example of someone who thinks deeply about strategy and technology, and that helps inform my thinking from a different perspective.
It’s always interesting to take lessons learned from other domains, like fintech, and see how they apply to what we’re doing. In my role, it’s a requirement to note important trends that we can apply to help make better decisions. I try to understand as much as I can about what’s working, and what’s not working, in other domains to help us predict how that might unfold in the healthcare world. That’s another great aspect of innovation— seeing how we use the lessons learned.