Going Down the Rabbit Hole
Christopher Godfrey, Founder and CEO, Bloodbuy
Sometimes a change in the weather can be life-changing. So it was for Chris Godfrey, a Dallas-based investment professional whose new start-up is attracting plaudits—and investment-grade partners—for addressing a persistent gap in the US medical supply chain. His company, Bloodbuy, is using innovative data management technologies to create a transparent and consistent process for exchanging price and supply information around the core commodity of healthcare: blood. And, like most entrepreneurs, Godfrey scoffs at the notion that inspiration came from one of those fabled “eureka” moments. Instead, it was something far more prosaic: an epochal ice storm coinciding with the 2011 NFL Super Bowl that shut down the Dallas/Fort Worth area for days and led to critical spot shortages of blood, whose ripple effects were felt in hospitals throughout the entire region.
Godfrey was curious about finding an explanation for the widely reported plunge in blood inventory, which also featured a hasty, largely uncoordinated series of appeals to the public to donate. “Part of my role as SVP of private equity firm HealthCap was to identify promising businesses in the healthcare market that were underperforming and to find out why,” Bloodbuy’s 34-year-old founder and CEO told Pharm Exec. “I reached out to contacts within the blood industry and started going down the rabbit hole, posing the basic question of how such a deeply rooted supply network could simply crash, especially as everyone had been able to see this weather event coming. I found it absurd that, with all the advances in data management and integration as well as the rise of predictive analytics, a predictable weather event could cause our patient population to face such a major public health risk.”
Godfrey discovered a fragmented national blood supply infrastructure, unevenly distributed resources, with sharp geographic abnormalities, resulting in a system mired in a constant state of disequilibrium. A silo mentality was pervasive and fiercely protected. Very few in the system shared information, while the vast majority of blood bank communications in this second decade of the new millennium relied on 1970s technology—phone and fax. “None of these infrastructure challenges seemed unsolvable, if only because blood procurement and supply is a remarkably small universe compared to other parts of the health system, with a participating national network of 4,500 hospitals, the Red Cross and some 50 or so independent blood centers. To me, it was a model opportunity to thoughtfully engineer a solution that would bring the entire blood ecosystem on line, using a modern IT infrastructure, and at a relatively modest cost,” Godfrey said.
Godfrey prepared a business plan for Bloodbuy, the centerpiece of which was a cloud-based, interactive, silo-busting web app that institutions could join to manage their stocks of blood. It used proprietary algorithms that filter key data on fulfillment, and matches need with available supply at a cost-effective price based on real-time conditions in the market. It’s essentially about diversifying risk. Hospitals will have a better chance of getting the blood products they need, when needed, and at an optimal price point. The blood supply centers get help with addressing the institutional decline in acute care services and resultant lower blood utilization, which makes decisions on how much blood to collect increasingly challenging, by seamlessly connecting the centers to new customers in need located outside their geographic space. Notes Godfrey, “Our pitch to partners from both sides is simple: Bloodbuy acts as a Priceline for blood products.”
Bloodbuy was incorporated as a privately held enterprise in 2013, with a staff of 12 and Godfrey as CEO. After launching pilot programs in cooperation with facilities at Texas Medical Center and other teaching hospitals, Bloodbuy closed an institutional financing round, raising $3.75 million with two strategic partners: Premier Inc. (NASDAQ: PINC), a leading healthcare process improvement firm; and St. Joseph Health, a California-based integrated care provider with facilities throughout the state and in New Mexico and Texas. Bloodbuy also signed a partnering deal with Premier Inc. in March. The two organizations now work closely to make Bloodbuy’s technology solutions readily available to the 3,600 hospitals participating in the Premier network. And in April, Godfrey and team won the first Harvard Business and Medical Schools’ joint award, the Health Acceleration Challenge, which recognizes innovative solutions that raise healthcare value. Bloodbuy beat out nearly 500 applicants from 29 countries, netting a $100,000 prize as well.
Godfrey earned an Executive Master’s degree in Healthcare Leadership from Brown University by evaluating just a few of the hurdles that had to be overcome to turn his concept into a viable business. Relates Godfrey, “Innovation is a popular catchword in healthcare right now, but the real truth behind it is painful. The healthcare system imposes an endless cycle of checks and balances that must be carefully understood and then leveraged in the context of the business plan.
Bloodbuy is creating a niche where the supply chain and the laboratory intersect, with vested interests on the line in functions ranging from lab technician to the medical director of transfusion services, or from materials management personnel to the CFO.
“Our model had to be validated as a new solution superior to the incumbent process, and to make it easily relatable and implementable for each of these key stakeholders. There are so many competing priorities: lab people are focused on safety and workflow, while those engaged in the supply chain are anxious about managing costs effectively.”
To make this a reality, Godfrey took a user-driven approach to product design and development. “When I introduced our solution to stakeholders, I titled it ‘A Day in the Life of a Blood Banker—What Does it Look Like?’ The solution has to be dynamic in a way that works in line with the commercial interests of each stakeholder, consistently and repeatedly, and at very low risk. Deploying the platform in multiple pilots also allowed us to identify blind spots in our data management and user interface systems that we might have missed initially.”
With the new business on its way, what has Godfrey learned that exemplifies the characteristics of an Emerging Pharma Leader in a start-up world? He cites three.
First is resilience. “Bloodbuy was a novel concept. You have to counter the uncertainty that pools around a new idea with an awareness of your customer’s motivations—not your politics, but their politics, including stakeholder hierarchies and competing priorities. Accept the risk inherent in this novelty while accentuating the positive side of what’s new. If a customer reacts to your plan by saying ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ claim it as a compliment rather than a criticism. Being associated with a change-maker actually has appeal to many people.”
The second is creativity. “I define this as a capacity to anticipate problems and then to execute in order to solve them. Another characteristic of creativity is a good head for thinking about design—how process, systems and data all fit together. That is going to be a high-value skillset of the future, whether your organization has 5,000 people—or five.”
The third is motivation. “I go back to my college football days, when I saw how a distinctly mixed bag of players could be inspired as a group to perform on all cylinders. It’s a healthy respect for differences that allows this to happen. We just hired a PhD in biology and one of the reasons for that is we thought his background would inspire us to think differently; he brings a fresh perspective. Strive for people who bring an entirely new dimension to the group—avoid perpetuating redundant skill sets. People on your team who are too much like you is actually demotivating to others.”
— William Looney
This article was originally published at http://www.pharmexec.com/christopher-godfrey.