The Asia InsurTech Podcast caught up with Cole Sirucek, a co-founder and the CEO of DocDoc, to talk about what is new with DocDoc, what entrepreneurship really means and why product innovation is so hard.
You can find our previous conversations with the DocDoc team here.
Michael Waitze 0:00
Okay, we’re on. Hi, this is Michael Waitze. And welcome back to the Asia InsurTech Podcast. Today we’re joined by Cole Sirucek, co-founder and the CEO of DocDoc. Cole, super great to have you on the show. How are you doing? By the way?
Cole Sirucek 0:15
I’m doing well.
Michael Waitze 0:16
You know, it would have been better if we had caught up when I was in Singapore. But to be fair, what I hear about the mosquitoes now I’m kind of glad I’m not there.
Cole Sirucek 0:31
Singapore is good, at least we’re out of, we’re out of the cold COVID deal. And that’s super helpful. So things are getting back to normal, which is good. And I think we’re seeing a lot more travel. I hope they stay normal. A lot of weird things happening in geopolitics right now. But that’s another discussion.
Michael Waitze 0:49
We’ll put that on different podcasts. I will say this though, I was in Singapore for a lot this year, probably more than I’ve ever been in my whole life. And remember, my first time there was in December of 1990. So I’ve been going there for a long time. But I really enjoyed it there. I really did quite a bit. Anyway, I want to talk about docdoc a bit. Can we back up just a little bit for some context and just understand, like, what the original idea was, what the experience has been, like trying to build that and then see, like, what happened since then.
Cole Sirucek 1:21
It’s interesting. So people think about they use this term pivot. And, you know, pivot comes from a basketball term. Right? You know, like, you come in and you throw me the ball and I fake left and I pivot, right? I think it’s a very, I think people totally, I think they often misunderstand and miss, you know, just get confused on what that really means. You know, the nature of a pivot, you’re still playing basketball, you got a ball. You got to hoop you got a backboard, you got people defending you, you got people you can pass to it’s the same game. It’s just that you might be going left and then right. But you’re still going to the hoop.
Michael Waitze 1:59
Yeah, fair enough.
Cole Sirucek 2:00
So docdoc was always about going to the hoop around helping patients find the right care with cost and quality data. Yep. That was our I believe every great company. And I’m not saying docdoc’s a great company. But I believe every great company, when you dig into it, they have what I call a genius seed. There’s one core little thing that if you just nurture it, it will grow into a giant tree stock. But you’ve got to nurture it. And so what is your genius seed? For docdoc, it was about recognizing the mammoth about amount of arbitrage that was available in healthcare, around cost and quality.
Michael Waitze 2:43
And is when you talk about arbitrage, you’re talking about time arbitrage.
Cole Sirucek 2:46
No I am talking about delivering higher quality care at lower cost
Michael Waitze 2:51
In different locations or all over the world?
Cole Sirucek 2:57
The market is so opaque universally. That inside the markets, there’s a wicked amount of arbitrage.
Michael Waitze 3:05
So even at like Boston general or Brigham in Brigham and Women’s Hospital, you’re talking about like, it’d be a mile away
Cole Sirucek 3:13
I do believe there’s a lot of arb there too to be clear. But let’s try to narrow the scope. So the US healthcare system has the world’s best tech and the best access to structured data, there’s a whole bunch of things they do better than anybody in the world. But it’s so corrupt on so many levels with so many intermediaries, and such unbelievable legislation that gets in the way of any kind of a market force, that we just pay an absolutely obscene amount for health care there. Those problems are kind of unique to North America. Yeah. Fair enough. They’re unique to not even North America. They’re unique United States. And, you know, if you take a Brigham Women’s or you take a Stanford or you take any of the Mayo Clinic, you can compare that to a tier one hospital in Asia, because those hospitals are building care teams, and half of their effort is being put into innovation. I mean, and that’s just not happening in almost everywhere else in the world. Now, there is a little bit here and there. But to compare Mayo, and Mayo’s mission, which is really about not just delivering world class care, but driving the frontier of medicine forward, right, it’s so it’s a completely different thing. So what I’m talking about arbitrage, in Asia, specifically, is I’m talking about arbitrage among medical specialists in Singapore. I’m talking versus in Singapore, and then Singapore versus Malaysia, if you want to take it that way. And then you can even open it up regionally. Like you’ve seen the fundamental genius seed that we’re trying to build into a big into a big tree here is that there’s so little information about care quality and care delivery available to the consumer, and it’s packaged in such a poor way that the consumers are in essence, operating in the dark. And in the dark, you don’t really build efficient markets. And so as a consequence, if you can bring in structured intelligence around that, there is a ton of arbitrage that you can take. And that arbitrage is higher quality care at lower cost,
Michael Waitze 5:24
In other words, so and if you understand, not you, but if one understands where the arbitrage market works, the mere fact that there’s an arb, right, I come out of a trading background. So we talked about this a lot. The idea is, if there’s a time arbitrage, if there’s a location arbitrage, or if there’s a knowledge arbitrage, over time, everybody will understand that the right tech, the right information will get built, and that arb will close over time. And in the trading markets, that actually happens relatively quickly. It could happen in weeks, it could happen in days, it could happen in minutes, oh, no, this is trading on this exchange over here like this. But but this feels like it’s taken a long time for this
Cole Sirucek 5:57
In insurance it’ll take decades. It’ll take decades for people to catch up to what we’re doing in terms of arb.
Michael Waitze 6:05
But why is it taking so long?
Cole Sirucek 6:08
Okay, so what does a public market? Let’s talk about your trading background and compare and contrast? Go ahead. So in a trading environment, you have, you may not have information asymmetry, in terms of you may have information asymmetry, but it has its of limited duration. Yep. So I see something, but I see it first
Michael Waitze 6:30
By definition, by the way, almost by regulation, but go ahead.
Cole Sirucek 6:33
Yes. In the trading environment. Yep. In the trading world, yes. Yep. This is why it’s so efficient. So I have got an edge and it lasts a millisecond and in that millisecond ice and arb. So as long as I can operate within that millisecond, I have an advantage.
Michael Waitze 6:49
That’s high frequency trading.
Cole Sirucek 6:51
That’s agreed. But even at a more fundamental level, at a more basic level, I have access to Bloomberg, I have the ability to run basic valuation metric analysis of PE and EBITA and peg ratios and, and return on invested capital versus you know, these things and right, like, I spent a lot of time in finance as well. So there so what makes the market efficient? Is that information quickly gets broadly disseminated. And it’s put out there in a way that’s actionable. Okay, so 50 years ago, in Asia, there was virtually zero information about quality of care and cost. Today, there’s virtually zero information about quality of care and cost. So I have no worries about, is there the arbitrage and does it exist, we have 100, we literally at this point, have millions of proof points. And we understand exactly how to do it. And it’s taken a team of people that are really committed over a decade, to actually put together the infrastructure to collect the data, and then to use the data in an intelligent way to identify the arbitrage.
Michael Waitze 8:12
So can I understand I can understand how you get that because to me, this is also super interesting, right? Like, how do you what does that infrastructure look like from the inside?
Cole Sirucek 8:19
We had to go door to door we have over 4000 specialists in our network. We’ve gone door to door and signed contracts with and collected the data from them. Like it’s the hardest possible way you could ever do it. Yeah, there’s no website, you can scrape this is not this is that thing, right. So, so a lot of guys thought slick, hip and cool. I’m gonna start a telemedicine company. Because hey, it’s COVID, too, right? So now I’m you know, and they thought they could take zoom, introduced doctors and patients and somehow magically, they’re gonna be convertible hospitals. Turns out, there’s a lot more to doing anything have any impact in the health insurance risk? Every part of it’s incredibly hard. And and so what I have found, is that when the going gets tough, only the committed hang out.
Michael Waitze 9:10
Yeah, for sure. I mean, look, I love this in my business, too. I love when people try to operate in a hard environment and give up. I love it. I mean this so seriously, everyone’s like, Oh, that looks super easy. I think I’m gonna do that I call these people chasers. They’re always chasing this thing that looks super easy. And then when they get to the point where it gets hard, they’re like, I’m just gonna go into the NFT business kind of thing.
Cole Sirucek 9:30
So as we talk more about doc doc, and kind of where we’re going, I think what you’ll find really interesting, and one of my biggest weaknesses as an entrepreneur, and it’s so weird that this is my weakness, because everybody that would meet me would say, That’s not him. Are you kidding? Right? My biggest weakness as an entrepreneur is how inherently reasonable I am. And I’m actually a really, truly I sit down I think about the other person’s point of view. I understand they’re in sentence I see what they’re trying to accomplish. And then I try to reason with them to find a win win. And I bring this up in the context of I was at an event before COVID. Yep. And Elon Musk was speaking. And I’ll never forget, because this just hit me like a ton of bricks. Elon said, he goes, Look, I just realized very early on that it was going to be easier to build a rocket and fly to the moon, than it was going to be to convince NASA to work with us.
Michael Waitze 10:26
Cole Sirucek 10:28
And it just hit me like a ton of bricks. That is exactly the truth. Apathetic, bureaucratic organizations don’t want to change and trying to get them to change takes an act of Congress. You’re not going to get there with reason, you’re not going to get there with logic, you’re not going to get there with pilots that demonstrate exceptional results, you’re not going to get there because they fundamentally don’t want to change they want if they wanted to change if they wanted to disrupt if they wanted to innovate, they wouldn’t work at the organizations they’re working at.
Michael Waitze 10:59
And look isn’t part of the problem, that there’s no incentive for them to do it. Because by the time the change happens, either a they’re not going to get credit for it be they’re not going to get compensated for it.
Cole Sirucek 11:10
They’re not suboptimal humans.
Michael Waitze 11:11
No, they’re completly optimizing.
Cole Sirucek 11:13
Yeah, they’re exactly. They’re smart people. And they’re like, look, I want every three years I better be promoted, I’m not going to be here. And really to do anything that’s innovative. So in the InsurTech space, which is more germane to this particular conversation, I think all of this is around entrepreneurship, and what causes transformation? There’s really two camps. And the industry is going to wake up here pretty soon, the entrepreneurs well, and they’re going to realize the camp ones kind of, there really is no other place to be. So camp one is distribution led innovation. There are a bunch of companies in Asia now that are, are basically aggregating insurers, and they’re providing kind of new kinds of distribution platforms to help enable agents to sell more products to create new independent agent networks, like out of the Gojek drivers, the Grab drivers. That basically that’s what I call distribution innovation.
Michael Waitze 12:12
Cole Sirucek 12:13
There was a bunch of them. Right. Qoala, fuse. There’s a bunch. And there’ll be a bunch more to, frankly, my opinion, right? There’s a couple in India, it’s an interesting space, as an entrepreneur to look at, in that you can get reasonable amounts of traction early. You can then take that traction, you’re not going to have good unit economics, but you can get reasonable traction, you can use that to get to generate lots of capital. You know, you couldn’t get people excited. So you can raise a lot of money. And then maybe you can figure something out along the way. Right. I mean, like, really is the model. Right? And you know, Practo in India is another company that in a different way, tried to play that there. I don’t want to, there are a bunch. Yep, there are a bunch of and this isn’t necessarily a bad strategy. There are a lot of companies that have figured it out along the way, and actually become pretty became pretty interesting. Go ahead. Okay. Then there’s the other camp. The other camp is what I call product lead innovation. Yep. There are people that are fundamentally trying to build better products to help consumers ultimately meet the needs for which they’re hiring that product and service. That’s super hard. It’s also where the biggest companies in the world are all formed. It’s the reason why Tesla is Tesla. Like, it really is. Right. It’s the reason why SpaceX is SpaceX. And I’m not just mentioning that because it’s Elon, I’m just saying he’s the if there is a kind of prototypical person for that. There it is. But there are people that just say, it’s the reason that Apple’s Apple.
Michael Waitze 13:54
Yeah, I mean, that’s product lead innovation, right?
Cole Sirucek 13:56
True product, right. Now you can make the end the problem, it’s so hard to maintain that product lead innovation for a long period of time. But if you look at what’s going to happen in the insurance industry, the insurance industry is in desperate need. Everyone thinks that distribution is actually you know, it’s where the innovation is happening. That’s the part that needs the least amount of innovation in the entire chain.
Michael Waitze 14:20
Well, bancassurance worked for years, right? I mean, for decades, to be fair,
Cole Sirucek 14:23
There’s tons of ways to distribute insurance. There’s banks, there’s all these startups. There’s all these big brokers. The problem in the industry is not can I distribute a good product? It’s how do I build a good product?
Michael Waitze 14:38
But isn’t the distribution also the one with the lowest barriers to entry?
Cole Sirucek 14:43
Yeah, no, no, that’s why the that’s why so if you understand economics, so you’re a trader, right? So we’re, we’re going right back into arbitrage. The barrier to entry
Michael Waitze 14:52
Is zero for distribution. Not zero, but closer to zero.
Cole Sirucek 15:03
So the long term unit economics are a function of barrier to entry and unique value. Yep. Right. So So I agree with you that distribution has a lot less barrier to entry, inherently, particularly when the products are fairly commoditized. Right. But, again, that I look at, there are some there are a bunch of companies that have done really well in this space. And I think that there will be some very successful companies there. We’re not doing that. We’re doing product led innovation. It’s because that’s why we started the company, we started the company, because my wife and I had a very unique experience with our daughter, where we just weren’t getting access to the information we needed to make informed decisions. And the deeper we dug into it, the more we understood that there was just a massive amount of arbitrage here. Now, what blew me away, was that we had to go this far into the value chain to get to market. I really thought bringing, like, you mean, if you think of the insurers as gold miners, I really thought bringing them a better pickaxe would really, really resonate. But it turns out that these organizations have become so complicated, and so vertically integrated, and so siloed. And they’re so mature, that they just don’t put money into technology. Hey, so if you take, I don’t want to name any of them big global insurance. And you look at their Singapore operation. And you look at their Hong Kong operation, you look at their Malaysia operation in their and their Indonesia operation, I can only just tell you the markets that I know deeply, because we’re live in those markets. And each one of those, they’re run almost 100% siloed. Short of all the insurers.
Michael Waitze 16:46
So just just to be clear, so people can understand that you’re saying that the Singapore operation of big insurance company A and the Hong Kong operation of Singapore company A, they’re like two seperate.
Cole Sirucek 16:56
They are almost 100% different technology stack. Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. They’ll have their own completely independent management team, they will have a, they will have virtually zero overlap in r&d. None of them have like product managers in the Google sense of the word or the Amazon sense of the word. And so to try to get Singapore to innovate, they’re just not geared for it. So these big insurers have federated in the pursuit of efficiency, to such a large level, that they don’t have the ability large, in many instances to innovate anymore. And that’s happening at the exact same time that the industry, the fundamental needs of the industry in the consumer, have really moved along ways.
Michael Waitze 17:47
Yeah, they’re just like get, they’re just so far away from where they were even like five or 10 years ago no?
Cole Sirucek 17:52
What consumers need. The future of insurance is very simple. It’s going to become a wickedly information intensive business, where all of the data that they collect, they need to structure and they need to structure in machine readable formats. They need to spend huge amounts of money on their data infrastructure not and then they need to be able to use algorithms to derive insights, insights on cross selling insights on where the risk is residing insights on cost containment, it needs to move. Right now it’s still amazingly analog. And it’s analog, as much from a psyche point of view, as from a technology point of view.
Michael Waitze 18:31
What do you mean?
Cole Sirucek 18:32
Well, like, Okay, so we’re now going to talk I like how we’re doing just talking about sales and trading and arbitrage, right? It’s a nice, basic framework to think about some of these things. So the insurance industry, is really been about having a group of Actuaries sit down, identify a product, define the risk, and in a certain way, build a table around it, and then push that out to as many different sales channels as possible, and try to sell it. And if they in the initial years got it wrong, they would just kind of pass the cost on in the following years. So it was this very incremental refining system, right. And so that’s, that’s, that’s kind of how they’ve, they’ve evolved. So their sales teams, right, a lot of manual work. There’s claims teams, very little of that that data is basically going into a PDF type format. And even if it’s machine readable, it’s still very siloed in that division, and then there’s the actuarial teams. So I’ve sat with larger insurers, and I’ve said, Well, what if I gave you all of this data? In the medical book, how would you affect claims? And I watched him get and this is like, some of the top actuaries and the top insurers in the world in places like Munich, and Paris and London, and in the in US markets, these are not your actuary in a Southeast Asian country, these are the top people. And I see him get kind of uncomfortable a little twitchy. And I go, this should be super helpful. Yeah, we’re not geared for that data. We’re not geared for that we’re not we’re not really sure how we would use that in a Model A priori, we don’t really do that. I guess what we’d have to do is see how much money you saved next year. And then from that, we probably need a few years. And then from that, we could say that was a discernible pattern.
Michael Waitze 20:34
Okay. So this is where I want to get into the reasonable Cole. Okay. The because you said people say about me, and it surprises me. Is that really that guy that your reasonable,
Cole Sirucek 20:45
Yeah, so I, I really thought you could sell, take access to gold miners. If you brought a fundamentally better pickaxe, I thought, the goldmine and be like, hey, I can mine more Earth with that. But what I didn’t realize is the way the workflows are set up. And the way the organizations are siloed. They can’t absorb new technology, not really new stuff. This is why distribution is the first thing that’s taking off. It’s not asking them to change.
Michael Waitze 21:14
But it’s it seems to because the pickaxe is a really good example of this in the sense that if my tool belt, right, if I’m really digging for gold, and I have a tool belt, and I’ve got a place for a small shovel, a place for like a tiny little thing to put my gold and you come over to me and go, actually, here’s a jackhammer, you can dig 15 times faster, you’re like, I don’t have a plug for this thing. Like, I think I’m just gonna use my shovel.
Cole Sirucek 21:37
So that’s the reason why we decided it was just like, we just like that. What are you undecided? We just decided we needed to go and do it ourselves.
Michael Waitze 21:46
So what does that like internally, though, when you tell the whole team like, you know what we’ve been pushing this way, the whole time, right? We have this genius seed. We’ve been nurturing it the whole time. And like you right, pivoting is not just going over here. In the real world, what is it like internally?
Cole Sirucek 22:03
All right, so this stuff isn’t so hard, you know that there was a guy named Dr. David Morgan. And he was, he’s a well known venture capitalist in the United States. He was my mentor when I was in grad school. And I remember David saying to me over and over and over and over Cole, Cole, there’s nothing common about common sense, right? There’s nothing common about common sense. And, and it’s taken me I just turned 47. It’s taken me a long time to really, really process what he was saying, yeah, the essence of leadership is being somebody people want to follow. I mean, that’s just the essence of it. So if you’re living true to your values, and you broadcast your values, and you’re consistent with your values, you’ll recruit a team that resonates with those values. And if you do that, they’re gonna hang with you. If you’re basically making smart decisions. Because you can explain them. Right. And if you can’t explain them, they’re not smart decisions. Right. So this is not complicated. Right? No one’s ever said, God. You know, I will work with Kobe Bryant because he pivoted left I want them to pivot right. Right. It just doesn’t work that way. Right. It’s a pivot like in basketball, we’re still going to the hoop. The hoop has always been to help patients find the right care at a lower cost and better quality. And we’ve always been going to the hoop we’ve always been playing with the same ball. We’ve always been playing on the same cord. What we haven’t done is get fatty. You know, we haven’t got we haven’t chased fats. I remember some good friends of mine, right in the start of COVID Come came to me from one of the governments and the markets were in, they said Cole, there’s tons of money here, get into COVID testing, right? There’s tons of money here, get into telemedicine, there’s tons of money. And I looked at it and I said, but that’s not core to anything that we’re doing. And so I know that, frankly speaking. I know that there’s probably some of my shareholders are frustrated that we have just said, No, we’re sticking to what we’re building. We know what we’re building. It’s always been the same thing. Yes, there’ll be adjustments left and adjustments right. But it’s always been the same idea. And yeah, if it takes five years, it takes five years it takes eight years it takes eight years. It takes 15 years. This is a big enough vision that we’re going after that if it’s the only thing we do in our lives, it was a life well lived right I agree. People get lost because they just like I gotta get rich quick man. My friend bought Bitcoin. Right? Like that is just not the path to prosperity if you take a more holistic perspective of your life.
Michael Waitze 24:49
yeah, I mean, nobody’s ever built anything of substance in a year. It’s just not possible. That’s my point. Is that like everybody wants to look we we talked about this before we started recording right There’s a lot of let’s just call it noise to be politically correct in the world in which both of us operate. And yet most of that noise is complete garbage. I do like to say, and if you listen to a lot of the recordings that we do I say this a lot, everyone’s an overnight success 10 years later. But you understand my point, like, I can’t say 20 Because nobody would even believe that the 10 year thing maybe they will agree with, they’ll go yep, that makes sense to me.
Cole Sirucek 25:24
If your source of validation. IIt’s weird, because I’m 47. And I cannot get over the fact that I just turned 47. I still feel 18.
Michael Waitze 25:40
I’m 57, I still feel 18.
Cole Sirucek 25:41
The difference between 18 and 47 for me, is that I’m really responsible a lot. People are coming to me and saying how do we solve this hairy problem, right? How do we solve that hard problem? What do we do here? How do we do this? What are you going to do now? Right? That’s the only in my mind, that’s the only difference. But when I but I feel really blessed and that I’ve had a chance to mentor a few people that are younger. And I’m really worried about nihilism. Because I just see a lot of it in the younger generations. If your goal is just to get rich quick, if your goal is just to kind of riff kind of grift off of somebody and make some money or, you know, come in and the moment it gets hard to go somewhere else. Try this and it doesn’t work go somewhere else. It all of that quitting and all of that it’s so detrimental to self esteem. It is so detrimental. Who you are as a human is a direct reflection of how hard you try on things you care about. It’s just it is you skip that you skip the meaning and people think that you’re happy with, wealth is important. I having no money is a problem. But the moment you have a little too a medium amount, it becomes really not that big of a thing. No. And that’s the thing you can’t get people to understand because they’re caught in the Kim Kardashification of the world.
Michael Waitze 27:00
But do you think nihilism is age related? Or do you think it’s situation related? Do you? What do you think it is?
Cole Sirucek 27:09
I think they’ve been told the world’s ending because of global warming? I think they’ve been told that the world’s ending because of one of the 1000 alarming issues. And then I think at the same time, they’ve been told that this is actually real, it’s actually happening, right? They’ve also been comparing themselves not just to the best person in their high school, or the best person in their junior high, but the best person in the world at that thing. Yeah. And, and the distance is so big, that they stop taking, they don’t take the first step, and then they don’t, and then when they fall, they don’t get up. And then they don’t. And I think this is a I look at my life and like, my early trauma as a childhood is the single most important thing in my life and defining me, because it allowed me to realize that falling down isn’t that scary?
Michael Waitze 27:53
Sorry, I was having this conversation with somebody last night. And I think this will resonate with this idea of that, like when you were little, and when I was little as well, the comparisons really were super hyperlocal. There was a guy in town who had a Bentley, and you just thought, Oh, God, and I’m using a Bentley as an example, right? Just a metaphor, but like, there was a guy in town with a Bentley, just like, I want to have a Bentley. But you knew that that guy was in his 40s. And you were 15, it takes time to get there. But now when you’re 15, there’s somebody somewhere just like you who’s doing something that is broadcast to be amazing, and you feel like, I need to hurry up and catch up to that person.
Cole Sirucek 28:32
Justin Bieber I’m 15 and I’m comparing myself to Justin Bieber at 15. Right?
Michael Waitze 28:38
Which is insane, right?
Cole Sirucek 28:39
It’s just statistically, that and that makes you not try. China has this thing called the lay down movement. Where it’s a big thing, you can go look it up, where people are just saying, Look, I’m not going to work that hard my whole life for this amount of money, or I’m just gonna lay flat or lay flat movement, lay down or lay flat, lay flat, and it’s a big cultural thing. And it’s like nihilism is what Nietzsche said, it’s nihilism. And I see that, among a lot of my daughter’s friends, I’m seeing it a lot. And I just, it’s, I think it’s cancerous. And so you asked me about how do you manage a team? You don’t allow nihilistic people around you? You just don’t. We’re all here to accomplish a mission. We always knew it would get hard. We’re going to scrape our elbows and knees. It’s okay. In that people are going to be angry some days, people are going to be happy some days. But if we keep pushing, and we protect the genius seed, a big tree will emerge. But it may take time and it is wickedly hard.
Michael Waitze 29:38
No, it’s super hard. But this is the other thing too, right? Is that this nihilistic or nihilistic behavior? makes people think that getting to be Justin Bieber when you’re 15 must be easy, because that dude from Canada did it like it’s got to be simple. And I’m going to make a choice. Either I’m going to rush for that. Or I’m just going to lay flat and do nothing because those seem to me
Cole Sirucek 29:57
Or I’m going to try and realize how far I’m away and I’m gonna give up.
Michael Waitze 30:00
Yeah, that’s my point, though, right?
Cole Sirucek 30:01
Yeah, they just give up. That’s nihilism. The world’s already screwed, why should I care?
Michael Waitze 30:08
But don’t you think? Because I say this a lot too, right. Like, I like to tell the stories of people that are building things that are super cool, because part of and part of the reason why is because I don’t think you can be great at something at all anything. Unless you super care about it. You say that sarcastically?
Cole Sirucek 30:26
Of course it’s true. I agree. Of course. It there. No, it’s 10 Staffel. There are no free lunches.
Michael Waitze 30:31
Yeah, but, but again, people this is why I said earlier. Like I call them chasers, right. And the reason why is because they think hey, if I just do an NFT, or become a billionaire, or if I just sell pixels on the screen, I’ll become a millionaire. If I just do that, I missed that one. I’m chasing the next thing. But what you do to really succeed is commit to the thing that you’re super good at. And like you said, over 20 years or over 10 years, if you’re really good at it, you will be able to either earn enough or have enough impact depending on how you judge your own personal success. Mine is with impact. To be fair. To make a difference.
Cole Sirucek 31:10
I agree. So I got a good one for you. Aristotle’s definition of success. Operating in one’s core competency in a life that affords one scope.
Michael Waitze 31:23
So but what does that really mean, though?
Cole Sirucek 31:24
So operating in one’s core competency doing something that you do really well. And when you do that, it gives you the ability to do everything else. Like it’s That’s a profound one. So Mike Tyson had an incredible right hook. Because he had an incredible right hook. He could drive any car in the world he wanted, fly anywhere in his own jet, go meet anybody in the world. Everybody thinks he’s, uh, you know what I mean? Yeah. That’s success.
Michael Waitze 31:52
No one he but he was definitely operating in his core competency for sure.
Cole Sirucek 31:55
I think though, for most people, we don’t have someone like Cusumano pick us out of the pickup would pick us when we’re 12 or 13. I, he was a young man, maybe 14 was very young. I think that’s very unique. I think most people have to just pick something that they care about. And just dig in. And in the process of digging, you will get better at it. I can tell you that when I started docstoc, almost 10 years ago, my wife Grace, I knew almost nothing. I did invest in technology companies. So I knew a lot about finance. I knew a lot about structuring deals I had a good network. But I knew almost nothing about managing a development team or managing a product or being a product manager, how to run sprints or daily stand ups or any of that I knew almost nothing about you know, really doing really running it really running an organization that had complex operations, I knew almost nothing about the insurance industry, or actuarial analysis or the reinsurance industry or the broker industry. I knew almost nothing about any of it. Right? And and I knew nothing about healthcare data technology, and algorithms and the way you build algorithms or the way you build data malls. I just, I mean, I knew almost nothing. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know, because I was so unbelievably sheltered by the organization that I worked at. Nothing strips you naked, like being an entrepreneur. I mean, nothing does.
Michael Waitze 33:26
Were you surprised by just like how complex and hard it was
Cole Sirucek 33:31
Everything. I couldn’t get over it. For years. I just kept going, I cannot. Even just building the basic finance system to get all the receipts in an orderly way so that you could pass an audit. It’s hard. And particularly in Asia, Asia is getting a lot better. In the last decade, there’s been a lot more expertise and scar tissue around building companies that’s kind of developed here. Yeah. And that makes a huge difference. So you can hire a financial professional. It’s set up the systems. And there are tools like, what is it Expensify? Yep, there are tools like that, that didn’t use that didn’t used to exist, there’s so everything is getting easier in that regard, kind of the overhead. But yeah, no, I think being an entrepreneur is incredibly hard. And I think this is why it’s so important that we really have a deep mission. Because if you don’t have a deep mission, you will sell out. It’s just a matter of when. Right we’ll get to hard entrepreneurs very rarely failed, because the idea is bad. They’re smart enough to get most entrepreneurs are quite smart. And they get involved and they have a good idea. They fail because they give up. They just give up or they run out of money. But very few people I’ve seen run out of money that truly aren’t going to give up.
Michael Waitze 34:55
So this is my point that I wanted. We talked before about this a lot of noise in the entrepreneurial world, particularly out here. I think it’s a complete misrepresentation that a great idea with great entrepreneurs fail because they run out of money. I really do.
Cole Sirucek 35:11
Well, in this market, it’s gonna happen.
Michael Waitze 35:13
It’s always going to happen. But that is the fundamental reason the core reason why somebody fails is because they run out of money.
Cole Sirucek 35:21
Yeah. So okay, it’s never one mistake. So I remember Marc Andreessen was talking about this. It’s never one mistake. It’s lots and lots and lots of mistakes. Yeah. And it, you have to defend your you got to defend your psychology. It’s so important to defend your psychology as an entrepreneur.
Michael Waitze 35:40
What does that mean?
Cole Sirucek 35:41
So what the CEO is, number one job is to develop a compelling strategy, and make people believe it? The number one job? The CEO can’t do that. Everything is going to be 10 times as hard for that company.
Michael Waitze 35:58
Yeah, or impossible, really, because because this is what you said earlier, like you building these teams, and people come to you and you they join your team, because they believe in the mission that you’ve built around it, and you’re gonna make reasonable decisions and good decisions that you’re smart.
Cole Sirucek 36:13
What am I first? I just remember, this is such a crazy thought. And such an arrogant thought. And it’s such a, like, one of my first real realizations about running a startup was that I really, truly had to walk the walk in all dimensions. Like there was no, you know, when I was in finance, it just didn’t work that way. The analysts had a certain kind of the way they worked was, they worked way harder. And they worked way longer hours, and then you had the next level. And they didn’t work quite as hard. And their lives were a little better. And then another it was a true hierarchy. And in that hierarchy, there were real, there were real pieces of the food chain. Right. And as an entrepreneurial startup leader, it doesn’t work that way at all. You are an associate and an analyst and a VP, and a CFO and a CEO and a chairman, all at the exact same time. And that’s the that’s the part that I that was the that was one of the parts that was the most amazing to me, or the most. I didn’t, I was surprised. I was surprised that I was, you know, emptying the trash cans in my own company.
Michael Waitze 37:28
But also, when you were 37 years old, right? And I’m rounding when you started, Docdoc, you said it was about a decade ago. Right before, let’s say your previous job, pick any of them. On a Thursday night, you weren’t the poster boy for anything. Right? You could have had a killer job, a killer career. And people could look across the room and go like no idea who that dude is. But for some reason, and maybe it was the time that you started it the location in which you started or the topic that you expected to cover. Or maybe it’s just the way you spoke about it at some point. Docdoc, and you and Grace became like the poster children for a certain thing. Which means also, though, that not only you taken out the garbage for your company, but you have to walk the walk almost like 24 hours a day, seven days a week in public to which is different. You understand, right? Because even the chairman of Goldman Sachs, where the CEO of Goldman Sachs is like, on a Saturday afternoon, he can go out to like shop or shop right? And buy milk because nobody has any idea who he is. So it’s a whole new sort of way of living as well as an entrepreneur in that respect. No.
Cole Sirucek 38:36
I agree. 100% I made a decision. So you know, it’s weird, like so. So they say men plan and God laughs.
Michael Waitze 38:50
The laughing part I understand.
Cole Sirucek 38:51
No, I totally get it too. And I think that I, when I was recovering from the transplant, when I gave my daughter part of my liver. I felt like, I remember that. I remember thinking to myself, if I don’t truly commit to make this successful. And if I don’t truly could not even just make docdoc successful, whatever that means. If I don’t truly commit to make a real dent in this problem, who am I as a human? Right? Like, who truly am I as a human? Am I just a guy that became an MD and a bank and and wears custom made, you know, you know, leather shoes and wonderful suits. And and am I just that guy, there’s nothing wrong with that guy. Right? I’m not I’m not but am I just that guy because I’ve been given a window into something. And I’ve been given the immense amount of fortune to have the capital at the moment to kind of bail myself out. And the knowledge and a wife that was the, you know, former or head of Medtronic, Asia. I mean, like, you know, I had all these gifts that we were able to kind of bring to bear to really make sure our daughter got the right treatment to give to grow up and be a healthy young, you know, she’s now almost 10. Right? And, you know, we were given that I mean, and I said, Who am I as a human to let this go and pretend this is okay, because it’s just simply not. And and that has, if there’s one reason why docdoc makes it, it’s that, like, that’ll really be the end, it’ll be because the whole team has gotten behind the idea that this is a problem that we have to solve, not just because I say it is, but because a lot of them have lived it to. See everybody that can hear my voice right now. Either they or someone they love is going to have a major medical problem, and they’re going to be there to help them. And it’s going to be a huge financial expenditure, and they’re not going to be given the information they need to make informed decisions. And the consequences of those decisions are going to be some of the most profound decisions you ever make. Like, that’s just screwed. Yeah. Which is he’s got, we got to fix that. And that’s, that’s the essence of what we’re doing. And we got into the insurance business, because ultimately, that’s where the arb is.
Michael Waitze 41:14
So talk to me about this.
Cole Sirucek 41:17
So we know we got into the insurance business, because it was the Elon Musk moment, we just realized it was going to be easier to to bring the innovation directly to the market ourselves, figure out distribution, figure out really figure out, you know, relationships with risk holders, figure out relationships with license holders, and just bring a fundamentally better product to market than it was then it was going to be trying to enable existing workflows and existing infrastructures, right? That it’s not any more complicated than that. The only reason that that was even possible for us, right? Is because we had built a fundamentally better product. If it was just a me too, thing we had done. But then the industry is way too competitive, way too cynical way too adverse to change, to even get around anything. So you got to build a fundamentally better product, the industry needs fundamentally better products. Like that’s its core need. It doesn’t need fundamentally new forms of distribution. They’re fine on the margin. It doesn’t need gimmicks, it needs fundamentally better products. It doesn’t need like, here’s a step counter. Right, like an example of the fallacy of trying to influence behavior around lifestyle. So can you tell me, let’s go back and forth and very quickly name something that if you did it, you’d be a lot healthier? You go first?
Michael Waitze 42:47
Cole Sirucek 42:49
Quit drinking. Your turn.
Michael Waitze 42:52
Cole Sirucek 42:53
Define eat better?
Michael Waitze 42:56
That’s a good question.
Cole Sirucek 42:58
My turn stop smoking.
Michael Waitze 43:00
Fair enough. Sleep more.
Cole Sirucek 43:02
There you go. Right. We just hit them all the key ones. Okay. What are totally transform your health? Yeah. Eat or eat a diet full of mostly plant eat? Not too much, mostly plants? Like, frankly, right? Your proteins make them very high quality. Get plenty of sleep. We didn’t talk about water, drink lots of water. Don’t smoke, don’t drink use Transcendental Meditation to take care of, you know, or some form of stress, real stress relief. Right. It’s not that we don’t know. We all know, right? Basically, it’s that we don’t do it because we like fat crispy foods, is because smoking is enjoyable, drinking is fun to socialize. So the idea that we can the reason why the insurance industry is always trying to innovate around the edges, is because the edges are easy. You look at all the insurance, I don’t want to name names, but these new insurance technology ecosystems that are coming out. And they’re like, Oh, here’s a step counter. Oh, check into a gym get a Starbucks coupon. Like they’re gimmicks? Yeah. The fundamental problem is, is the industry has not been able to get a hold of cost and quality control. That’s the fundamental problem. And it’s a really difficult data management problem.
Michael Waitze 44:22
So this gets me back to this idea of if you woke up today without having ever started docstoc. Right. But you realize that this was a problem. Yeah. And you said, Okay, we’re just going to build better products in the insurance industry, because we think that that is the part of the value chain where if the innovation happens, it then spreads to the rest of the but you didn’t do that. You went out and you tried to close the arbitrage to understand the source and the reason for all this information that was out there. And I would submit to you that that’s the moat around the businesses. There’s 10 years of like struggling to figure out how to close the arb because now you can build better products. And I want to get to that in a second because you have all this data and also the understanding of where all that data is coming from. And also where what’s the right word where the roadblocks are for actually building those products? Does that make sense? That’s what I’m thinking.
Cole Sirucek 45:18
I understand. I’m, I’m pretty transparent. A lot of things. But you know, there are I do believe that arbitrage there is a lot of secret sauce. So I’ll tell you some of it.
Michael Waitze 45:31
I’m surmising, I don’t know.
Cole Sirucek 45:32
I know I get it. That’s and I love it that way. Exactly. But, but um, all right. So so there’s many different pieces here. I think product I think that product lead innovation in insurance is the is where the DECA corns will come from. Right. And I think the risk, and I agree with you 1,000%. That, well, here’s, here’s the best way to measure it. I can say with 1,000% certainty that I’ve put the full faith of my the full like, the full faith and credit, if you will of my character. And my life force in the building docdoc from the day I started it. Yep. Like I’ve really, really tried. I really tried. I’ve really learned as I’ve tried to maximize my learning agility. Every time I found something I didn’t understand. I’ve tried to dig into it. I’ve really tried. Right, and it’s taken me 10 years to get to the point where I really understand that its product is the key. It’s not, it’s not the other pieces. Now, the there’s going to be some cycle issues here. So, you know, most InsurTech’s are down what 80 90% right now in public valuations. They’re not down a little bit. They’re down a lot. When capital contracts like that, if you’ve built a business that needs a lot to feed the beast, you’re out of business. So there will be cycles. And that’s why we’ve never done that. You haven’t heard us take a huge round of capital your haven’t heard us try to raise a huge round of capital. Because once you build that machine that way that beast got to eat. Yeah, and you really lose your you lose a lot of ability. This is why Elon Musk is truly so interesting, is he’s been able to keep a first principle perspective, why he’s building just deploying massive amounts of capital. He hasn’t lost that ability. So why I think it’s product led innovation. Let’s talk about life insurance for a second. So if you’re worth five or six million bucks, because you’ve had a good job, and you’ve worked hard, and you were you know, it was a good white collar job, and you save some money, and you had some options, you got lucky here a little bit lucky there. You know, you hit a big medical issue. And you need to come up with a million bucks, you can’t, no, it might be in real estate, you might have to lever it and get it out. But you can get it out. If you’re worth 50,000 or $100,000. And you’ve worked your whole life for that, and you live in a emerging market. Maybe you’re only worth 80,000 70,000. Yep. Right. And that’s everything. If there’s a reasonably likely reasonable likelihood medical occurrence to occur. Not only is that family forced to make a decision, that is going to be wickedly hard. But when they they almost make always make it to save the person, right. And when they save that person, they’ve just literally wiped out the opportunity for that family tree. And I find that to be so if we can really make health insurance cheaper if we can really make access to care, improve the quality of it on average, if we can really bring regionalization into care. That profoundly impacts millions and millions and millions of people in places like the Philippines and Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand, because they can afford $100 a month for a family of three for insurance. And they don’t and when that hit because that hit is coming. Hell I tore my ACL in jujitsu a couple of years ago. That was like a $40,000. Bill. Yeah, I had insurance. It wasn’t a big deal. Right? If I was worth $50,000, I’d walk around with a bum knee forever. Yeah, it was party I problem I would die.
Michael Waitze 49:43
Right. The one of the guys that I recorded with in India said and I quote, India’s middle class has one hospital bill away from poverty.
Cole Sirucek 49:52
And it’s worse than that because it’s their family tree really
Michael Waitze 49:54
Exactly. But that the point he was trying to make was exactly what you just said is that and this is the thing I think One of the things about age, I think that’s misunderstood, is that everything that happens to one individual, particularly if it’s the breadwinner for that family is that it doesn’t just affect that person or their immediate family. It affects their entire family tree, because that’s kind of the way it works. And you’re right at that level of income and asset ownership it’s punitive. And it’s punitive generationally. Yeah.
Cole Sirucek 50:23
Oh it totally is. So if I can get if I can dis, if I can short circuit that, if docdoc, if we can help short circuit that it’s enough for this lifetime. That’s the way you got to think about it. I don’t have to I recognize that. I’ve had a lot of people come to me and say, Cole, how you doing this so long? Like, seriously, why are you? Why are you sticking with this?
Michael Waitze 50:46
What else would you do? Like?
Cole Sirucek 50:47
You’d go make a dump truck of money doing something else? If you chase a dump truck of money somewhere else? Yeah, whatever. I obviously made the decisions that we’ve made. And you know, my wife and I made it together, which was , And we didn’t, it’s not like we came from a bunch of money. So we did it together, which is even crazier than it. But you know, so one of the things I realized before we jumped off in this path was I realized that if I was going to write a book about life, yeah, I wouldn’t necessarily include, I probably wouldn’t include myself. On the course I was on, prior to starting this, if I didn’t really go out and try to do something that mattered. Like, I wouldn’t include myself in that book, I wouldn’t be a character what would I write? guy went to some ivy league schools, and went out and got a job, made a bunch of money was a reasonably good dad was a reasonably good wife died. The end? Well, that’s a good story. Yeah. Well, I really liked that character. And if I’m not going to wrap if the the, the substance of my life is that I’m not even going to include myself in it, then well, I’m I’m obviously not doing it in a way that’s consistent with my real character.
Michael Waitze 52:05
And now what?
Cole Sirucek 52:07
I’d include myself. I’m not sure if I’d be a tragic character. I’m not sure what I do yet. Not sure what the moral of the story would be. But I’d be in there.
Michael Waitze 52:18
I think that that part of the chapter hasn’t been written yet. But isn’t this like, I love this idea that you say that people ask you, why do you keep doing this? Why have you been doing this for so long? And I kind of think it gets back to something we said about 30 minutes ago. It’s like, how do you and I don’t want to sound trite at all right? Because this is something I think about a lot. It’s like, how do you measure your own success? Because, in a way, like, I’m 10 years older than you are, right, so I have just a little bit more experience. We did different things. I started my entrepreneurial life a lot later than you did. But I do come out of a finance background, you know, I did, like you said, and probably for both of us, we saved a little bit of money. We were well educated and all this kind of stuff. And, you know, I remember saying to my brother once because my brother is a neurosurgeon. So he’s done well, but he’s also helped a ton of people, right? But I remember seeing him once if I ever lose my job. I’m only qualified to be your housemade.
Cole Sirucek 53:21
Finances is wicked that way, isn’t it?
Michael Waitze 53:23
But it really is. Oh,
Cole Sirucek 53:24
I know. It’s so specialized. And it’s I, I agree. I couldn’t get over how useless I was when we started. docdoc? Yeah, it couldn’t go. I knew nothing.
Michael Waitze 53:41
I asked you this before. But were you surprised? Because one of the things about living in that world is that? You feel like you know everything?
Cole Sirucek 53:54
So I totally get it. And I really hope that you know, one of the things I saw happen in the valley, which I think is very healthy is a lot of the venture capitalists ended, they ended up being people that started companies. Yeah. I just think it’s so critical. That, you know, it’s so critical to have real operating experience. It’s just so critical. And I agree with you finance, investment banking, private equity, take your pick. It’s very sales and trading, equity sales, all of it is very niche, very efficient, very lucrative. And super interesting. But narrow, and a long, long, long, long ways away from where actual things are built right in the real world. I was blown away by that. I was blown away at that. You know, humans like like I said, Nothing strips you naked. like being an entrepreneur?
Michael Waitze 55:01
I agree. I agree.
Cole Sirucek 55:02
No, nothing strips you naked? Yeah, it’s an that’s an interesting thing.
Michael Waitze 55:08
Do you want to talk a little bit about the QB thing so we can put it like goes because I really want to talk about that because I think it’s a precursor to a whole bunch of other partnerships that are going to happen like this. And I want to understand what they’ll be
Cole Sirucek 55:18
There will be a bunch more, we just had the press releases are coming out now. We’re really excited about our partnership with QBE. They’re real high quality guys they are, and they have really been partners with us. And they, I think that you know, what we’re doing, we’re launching a group health solution, we believe we’ve brought a fundamentally better product to the market. And we’re real optimistic that it’s going to do really well in Singapore. That’s our first market with them. We’ll be announcing another market with them shortly. But we need regulatory approval before we can make the announcement. But I think it’s going to be very exciting.
Michael Waitze 55:54
Because one of the topics we covered earlier was this idea of when you go to a big established company, and QBE has been around for 150 something years. So we’ve had them on the show as well. It’s been around for a long time. Right. But when you go and talk to them, they are it’s a great team of people. But why was there no friction, they’re in this idea of the new product? Okay,
Cole Sirucek 56:15
We’re taking them into an area that don’t really have much of an existing business infrastructure.
Michael Waitze 56:20
Got it? Go ahead. Okay, that makes sense.
Cole Sirucek 56:22
So so we all of the partnerships that we’ll be announcing here shortly, we’re not asking them to do anything that they don’t already do very well. So in terms of like, they’re good at compliance, they’re very good at at at, at managing that part, got a license. That was those were the core pieces that we needed in the beginning. We’re not disrupting anything that they have, from an operational point of view, from a systems point of view, we just, we’re not. And if we I can’t really, press releases are coming out. We have some of the biggest brokers in the world around us. Yeah. And and, you know, we’re just asking those brokers to just work with us in the exact same way they work with anybody. We’re not asking anybody, anybody outside of us. They need to innovate nothing.
Michael Waitze 57:11
So they providing capacity for you.
Cole Sirucek 57:14
No, we’ve got some, we’ve got one of the largest reinsurers in the world for that. We’ll be announcing that shortly as well.
Michael Waitze 57:21
So let me ask you one more thing, and then I’ll let you go. Did you have to search and not just with QBE because you’re gonna be announcing a lot of different partnerships, right? Did you have to find the right guy or gal or group of guys or gals?
Cole Sirucek 57:32
It’s really critical. It’s I did not realize how critical this is. I can’t tell you we did this in the most inefficient way possible. Yeah. And that we just kissed every single toad we could. But but the only real way to ever get in any so. So the two things that I learned, and this is very valuable, actually, yeah. One, they’re never going to disrupt themselves. So if there’s any existing workflow, if there’s any existing business, if there’s anything that they have to change internally, it’s probably not going to happen. It’s just too hard. No matter how good an argument no matter how, no matter what you put at the table, it doesn’t really matter. They’re not going to change for it. Right. They’re not incentive to add throughout the reason we talked about in the earlier conversation. But just because you find somebody find an organization that you’re not, they’re not having to disrupt themselves in any way doesn’t mean you get anywhere, right? You have to also find a champion there. That actually really is senior. And like, they can’t be like CEO of x. But you’ve really, when you dig into it, you realize that’s really like Office Manager, like is that the inflation out here is so ridiculous, particularly in the insurance world, you really have to be dealing with guys that really can wield their organizations. And then so so they have to have something that’s worth wielding. Right? Like you, they have to be willing to take this on, the thing they’re taking on needs to be really achievable. Like you’re not firing people in their existing systems, you’re not, you’re not it has to be something that can actually get done, right. And then if you get those two things with chemistry, you can make progress. That’s not quickly, but in a year, you can get there. Because you still have legal. And after you get through legal, there’ll be cybersecurity audits. And after you go through cybersecurity audits, then there’ll be compliance with the local regulator, and you got to submit all that. So it’s a couple year process. It took us five years of meeting everybody in the industry at pretty much every level, regional, local division. I mean, just just 1000s of meetings in our company 1000s of meetings, to get the blueprint of kind of who are the guys in those organizations or who are the people? Who are the people in those organizations that actually can wield the organization and how do I structure something that they could get done without creating huge amounts of channel conflict. And that’s why product lead innovation is so hard. But once you get there, there’s a lot of distribution for better products. And there’s very reasonable margins there as well. There’s huge arbitrage. So I, I have never been more excited about docdoc than I am right now. I don’t love the capital markets. Like I just think that it’s going to there’s going to, you got to make sure that you know, if you get too close to a black hole, it sucks everything in. So you know, if, you know, all bets are off, if Xi Jinping takes Taipei, all bets are off, if, you know, we see inflation at this rate for the next three years in the stock market drops another, you know, four or 5000 points. But he I think if we just kind of level out here, I love where we are. I just I think that we’re just really in a spot where we’ve figured out what the industry needed. It’s we’ve built exactly what they need. And we’re it’s a deeply scalable, profitable place to be with a big moat
Michael Waitze 1:01:09
Cole Sirucek, a co founder and the CEO of docdoc, thank you so much for doing that.