In Health – the More You Invest Upfront, the Less You Need to Invest Later – Interview Esther Dyson


Esther Dyson is a former journalist and Wall Street technology analyst who is a leading angel investor, philanthropist, and commentator in the health sphere. She is on the board of many health start-ups like 23andMe, a genetic testing company. Her focus lies on nutrition and wellness and believes that you don’t need to make healthcare better to a healthier person.

MedCrunch:  In your opinion, everything should be centered around becoming and being healthy. It’s about wellness instead of sickness.

Esther Dyson:  Ideally, yes. The reality is that people get sick and they die but the more you can invest upfront, the less you need to invest later.

MedCrunch:  That’s very true.  However, very often, the concept of wellness is not yet being perceived by doctors as something that should be on their priority list.  Is that your view on this too?  If so, how do you think we can sort of shift this idea of we need to treat people as healthy rather than sick?

Esther Dyson:  It may not be on a doctor’s list because a doctor treats you once you are sick, but it should definitely be on school’s lists, government’s lists and teacher’s lists. People should teach nutrition in schools and they should serve better food than they serve even at press conferences.  So, it’s not a question of who should do what, maybe the doctor wants to do prevention and maybe he wants to do surgery, or maybe he wants to do lung cancer, but somebody and society as a whole should pay more attention to the upfront investment to prevent disease rather than spending all this money afterwards when people are already in pain and losing their jobs, and have to pay too much to fix it.  It’s a question of thinking in advance.  It’s just like you buy a car, you don’t drive it until it falls apart and taking it to get it fixed, you change the oil and so on.

MedCrunch: You are legally bound to do that, I guess like with a car for example, you have to have it checked. How does your work fit into this idea of wellness?  How do you try to promote it?

Esther Dyson: Everything. I’m an investor in Basis, I swim 50 minutes a day. In my own life I do a reasonably good job. I invest in Modern Health, which is focused on pre-diabetics and educating them on diabetes. I like empowering people to do a better job for themselves.

MedCrunch: Do you think it’s enough?  How can we start to change the mentality of each individual, so that he or she says, “You know what? I’m living an unhealthy lifestyle and I need to become a healthier person.”

Esther Dyson:  That’s why we need to do through employers. We need to change the environment so that when you go to a hotel you don’t need to find somebody and say, “I want sugar free fat free yogurt” because all they’ve got is muffins and junk. People need to be responsible but they also need an environment that offers them help. The market is currently spending billions of dollars trying to get people to do the wrong things, such as staying up too late, going to after parties, drinking too much, smoking, eating too much, sitting down and so forth. Instead, they should incentivize staying active, eating right, and living an overall health lifestyle.

MedCrunch: Do you think that we are on the right track or are there some governments that are leading the way and going in a more positive direction?

Esther Dyson: Oklahoma City is a perfect example. I think this model will translate into other cities soon enough.  It will be difficult to implement in countries. Countries are too large and people don’t want the government telling them what to do. We generally tend to be happy with cities having zoning laws, because we can move to a new city if we really dislike it.  The city is the right level: they don’t control life and death, but they do control a lot of the daily affordances like where the elevators and stairs are located and so on.

MedCrunch:  That’s a little bit like what New York City tried to do with the soda ban

Esther Dyson: Yes, and it unfortunately didn’t pass, which is really sad.

MedCrunch:  So, looking back at your career, is there anything that you would have done differently?

Esther Dyson:  I’m still trial and error.

MedCrunch: Can you just give us some final tips for start-ups?

Esther Dyson: Look for advice but don’t look for people who don’t know the specifics and the details.  Work on communicating who you are and what you do for customers. Don’t be too grandiose. When you are starting a new project, stay really focused.

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Based in Amsterdam, Roberta graduated from Erasmus University in Health Economics, Policy and Law in 2011. During her academic path, she focused on researching the socio-economic inequalities in health care utilization in the rural areas of India. Over the past year, she has worked at Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, analyzing new disruptive patterns within the global health system -ranging from health systems to start-up business models. Over the past six years she has been working for a Dutch publishing firm as Marketing Manager and Executive Editor. Roberta is passionate about health innovations, disruptive change in developing countries, social media and photography. She is a lover of good food, travels, old movie theaters… and Apple.