2017 Reading List: Skiing, Politics and Healthcare

2017 began with a week in the backcountry of British Columbia earning my turns and appreciating the simplicity of a ski skin track, good conversation and warm food.

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Although I knew that my family and I would be moving to Washington, D.C. later in the year, my head was filled with ideas on Ski Towns and the Ski Industry.  I spent some time bouncing around the updated Venture Deals book by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson, a fantastic read and good book for the office bookshelf.  I also really enjoyed reading Ski, Inc by Chris Diamond and gave a few copies to friends.  Ski industry history is full of stories about the intersection of business, the love of skiing and environmentalism.

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As the year continued on, like many people, I was still trying to get my head around the election.  I had seen the Trump/Pence signs in a few places in Ohio, but never in Colorado or anywhere else I had traveled (mostly cities and CO ski towns).  I loved reading Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance because it made me think hard about the thought-bubbles and divides we have in our country.  Of all the books I read this year, I recommended or referenced this one the most in casual conversation.

June in Colorado means it’s Bluegrass Festival time, so I picked up a few “beach reads”. Shattered: Inside Hilary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign by Jonathan Allen and Giant of the Senate by Al Franken were both easy, lighthearted reads that I  enjoyed while listening to music in the sunshine of Telluride.
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As my family packed up our house and headed to Washington, D.C. for our year-long adventure, I wanted to understand more about Washington.  I have never worked with or around Think Tanks or Lobbyists and grew interested in understanding on a deeper level how these firms play into politics and policy decisions.  The Fifth Estate by James McGann took me a bit to get through, more like a project I was tackling versus a hangout on the couch read.  I took notes, built twitter lists and went down serious research rabbit holes while reading this one.

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One of the best parts of working at the United States Digital Service is spending time in the Executive Office Building, learning from the White House staff and working hard to build software within the walls of an Agency, which for me is HHS.  The USDS has a Chief of Staff and I’ve always been interested in this role which led me to The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency by Chris Whipple.  Each chapter describes a different Chief of Staff or Presidency so it’s easy to pickup and put down.   I learned a lot about Cheney, the hub-n-spoke model some Presidents like Carter used and a few other players and key moments in history.  It was fun reading about Denis McDonough and healthcare.gov as it was the genesis for the USDS.

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As many Product Managers working in healthcare do, I am always reading at least one healthcare policy book.  Ezekiel Emanuel was deeply involved in the ACA work and his other healthcare books are also excellent. Prescription for the Future: The Twelve Transformational Practices of Highly Effective Medical Organizations by Ezekiel Emanuel is full of examples, ideas and charts to help you understand innovations of healthcare policy such as ACOs.

In the fall, I enjoyed books that tugged at the heart strings.  One of the cool things about D.C is the access to authors and book signings thanks to independent bookstores like Politics & Prose.  I had a chance to listen to and meet Mitch Album, Ted Koppel, Chris Matthews, Al Franken, Atul Gawande and others this year.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanith is a shorter read that makes you appreciate each day that you live life as a healthy person.   My wife and I read this one together and it prompted thoughtful discussions about life and cancer.

Promise Me Dad by Joe Biden had me in tears a few times.  Like many Americans, I love Joe Biden and enjoyed reading about his day-to-day at the White House and stories of time spent comforting families.

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My year ended with Bobby Kennedy, a Raging Spirit by Chris Matthews.  I’m a Hardball fan and have grown to really like Chris Matthews over the past year.  I didn’t know very much about Bobby Kennedy and loved this book.  I would read a chapter and then watch a black and white YouTube video of a speech the chapter referenced such as Bobby delivering the Ripple of Hope speech in South Africa.   I learned a ton about American history and had some fascinating conversations with family members that remember Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and other moments of his time in politics like it was yesterday.  I highly recommend this one.

Reading lists are a fun way to reflect on the year that was.  I’m looking forward to seeing what 2018 brings.  I just picked up my first fiction read in a few years, maybe that’s a sign that I need a mental escape to begin the year 😉

I’m Joining the U.S. Digital Service

I have never been particularly interested in Government, Civic Tech and Politics with the exception of reading the Sunday NY Times, watching Meet the Press occasionally and being somewhat interested in the Open Data movement.

A year ago I had a conversation with Susannah Fox about AI, Healthcare and Aneesh Chopra’s book “The Innovative State“. I was inspired and began digging deeper into the intersection of Government and Technology. I learned about 18F, Cloud.gov and played around with datasets from data.gov. I watched hearings on the OPEN Data Act and subscribed to newsletters from Think Tanks like the Center for Data Innovation.

As it turns out, there’s an incredible amount of innovation and goodness happening in Government today from the use of open source to data transparency to progressive tech policy.

Susannah connected me with the US Digital Service, a group of Engineers, Designers, Product Managers and Digital Policy Experts that work across the Departments of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs, Defense, Education, Health and Human Services, and the Small Business Administration to improve websites, access to datasets, user experiences and more. It sounded awesome and I decided to give it a go.

An election, a hiring freeze, a few background checks and many interviews later, I was accepted into the program. My wife, kids and I are relocating from Denver, CO to Washington, D.C. for a year long “tour of duty”.

Learn more about the US Digital Service and how you can join!


Keep Reading:

How Product Managers Can Mess Around With Open Datasets

Most Cities, States and Federal Agencies are working on some type of Open Data initiatives. The most common is an “Open Data Portal” that makes it easy to grab and use datasets:


Some cities are using Open Data to publish performance metrics like the Seattle Police Department or Louisville’s LouieStat.

Civic Leaders working on these initiatives cite promoting transparency in Government, improving performance and providing data for innovation as reasons why Open Data is so important.

As a Product Manager, it’s helpful to be familiar with what’s out there and how you can play around with these datasets to better understand how your product may benefit.

Before you dive into querying APIs, checkout a few of these projects to see the end result of building something with Open Data.

500 Cities Project

Ok, now let’s dig into some datasets you can play with.

Socrata’s Open Data Network
Socrata hosts over one hundred different data catalogs for governments, non-profits, and NGOs around the world. Checkout their Open Data Network where you can search for datasets.

For example, here’s a page about San Bernardino County Employment. Click “View API” to end up on a page giving you data and an API call you can paste into your browser or Postman.

Namara has organized a bunch of public datasets into a beautiful UI. Create a free account, sign in, create a new project then click Open Data in the left column to search and add datasets to your project. You can view the table data and manipulate it or call the data using their API.


In your project settings, you can generate an API key. Then, in each dataset you can click “API Info” and get the data_set_id and version_id.

You can use ProPublica to request data about Congress such as a list of Recent Bills and Member Voting records.


You’ll need to request an API key by emailing apihelp@propublica.org then pass that in the X-API-KEY header.

For example, to query Rep. Jared Polis’s voting record:

Open Data and the big IaaS Platforms

Another approach is to checkout Public Datasets baked into AWS, Google Cloud Platform and IBM Bluemix.

This is a great example of using Google BigQuery on NYC Public Datasets.

AWS hosts a bunch of Open Data in S3 buckets.

IBM, as part of the NOAA Big Data Project, has built an easy way to download tons of data.

Additional Reading

A few hashags to search around on are #govtech, #opendata, #opengovdataand #opengov. Follow people like @Josh_A_New, @JoshData, @DataInnovation, and the @SunFoundation.

Here are a few links related to Open Data policy and relevant news.

Some history on U.S. Federal Open Data Policy

DATA Act passed in 2014, America’s first open data law. It directs the federal government to transform all spending information into open data.

Conversation on the future of Open Data as Administrations change and the Preserving Government Data Act of 2017

The OPEN Government Data Act “directs all federal agencies to publish their information as machine-readable data, using searchable, open formats and requires every agency to maintain a centralized Enterprise Data Inventory that lists all data sets, and also mandates a centralized inventory for the whole government (data.gov)”.

Open Data 500 US is an interesting survey results showing what kinds of companies use which agencies’ data.

What I Want To See From Evernote in 2017

I have almost all of my strategic thinking, articles I’ve found useful and reference material in Evernote. Their browser extension works great as does their Mac, iPad and iPhone apps. I even have the WSJ integration enabled so I see relevant news with my Notes.

It’s time for Evernote to not only store my information, but really help me be smarter and better at everything I do.

I would happily opt-in to this feature giving them access to learn from my personal data as long as I had a mechanism to “mark Notes private” which would exclude them from Evernote’s Machine Learning activity.

Given a seed list of Notes or a Notebook, I want Evernote to help me:

  • Monitor important news and activity from Companies and People I’m interested in
  • Show me correlations and visualizations in my Note data so I can better connect the dots and broaden my context
  • Suggest actions I should take based on my Note data

Evernote knows the Companies, People and Topics I’m interested in. Their browser extension could contrast my browsing behavior and work style with what I save into Evernote to learn more about me. They know my travel habits based on where I save Notes and all of the travel data I store in Evernote. They know about my kid’s activities because of the receipts I save, they know the gift idea list I’m keep for my upcoming 15th wedding anniversary.

I want to build a list of Venture firms funding healthcare companies. I know that Mattermark and CB Insights have these by segment, but I want my own list and to apply my own logic. I want to understand all the people that work there and what they are talking about. I want to know about their investments. I want to know when people leave the companies. I want to dig deeper and see trends using visualizations, etc.

I have been to the Evernote conferences, think Phil Libin was a visionary leader (#selfie) there and continue to be a paid user of the product. I’m hoping 2017 is the year that the Evernote team blows my doors off.

Thinking about the Government’s Role in Healthcare and Life Sciences Technology Innovation

My personal philosophy of Government is one that takes a long-term view, provides infrastructure and conditions to enable Citizens, and holds the massive responsibility to self-regulate and optimize itself.

I have read four books recently that have really informed my views and inspired me about the role of our Government in Technology:

I want to see Government continue giving Entrepreneurs Access to:

  • Data
  • Policy Makers and Regulators
  • Pilot programs

The Entrepreneurs, Venture Capitalists and Big Tech Giants will build products, fund ideas and get innovation to the people. Government will ultimately set the regulations. Lately, Government has also taken on an increasing role in sponsoring hackathons and innovation challenges (Challenge.gov) to promote adoption of their data sources and generate awareness of their role in the overall tech ecosystem. From the JOBS Act to Patent Reform to Cybersecurity to the Open Data Initiative to the America Invents Act, there are many good examples of progress outlined on Whitehouse.gov.

I also recommend this Recode Decode interview with the U.S. Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil for good examples of how various Government Agencies are using data to iterate on problems.

As I zoom in on Healthcare and Life Sciences I think about:

  • HL7, FHIR and data interoperability
  • Open Data Initiatives and Data.gov
  • FDA regulation, Medical Devices and GxP compliance
  • HIPPA compliance
  • Cures Act
  • Moonshots
  • Why do we allow drug ads?
  • Reproductive rights
  • Medicaid, Medicare
  • ACA impacts and opportunities

There are incredible examples of Government using their scale to make progress such as the Million Veteran Program (Genome study) in which Veterans volunteer their DNA analysis and health information into a massive database for Researchers. Government is also funding technology pilots and new approaches to improving care such as a Mount Sinai paramedicine pilot in which Paramedics consult via telemedicine with Docs and treat the patient in their home without transporting them to the hospital.

I hope our Government continues to build upon the power of open data, collaborate with Entrepreneurs and view Healthcare as a fundamental right for our society and citizens.

The First 90 Days for a Product Manager New To Healthcare

I talk to Product Managers all the time that are considering building products or features that would move them into the Healthcare space. This post is for them.

As you venture into Healthcare, you are embarking on the most TLA filled space imaginable. Talk to other Product Managers that are veterans in the space and you’ll barely be able to follow along. They are not trying to sound smart, it’s simply that the TLAs get ingrained so deep that it takes real effort to not use them.

You’ll also come across a few big topics like:

  • How regulation impacts business models
  • Selling into large Healthcare organizations
  • HIPAA and GxP
  • Healthcare and Life Sciences are very different

I began my first 90 days as a PM in Healthcare on a beach in Florida with my wife and kids on Thanksgiving break. I lounged around reading/listening to these 3 books:

Doing this gave me an understanding of the ACA, Pharma and all of the problems especially in the US Healthcare system. I was beginning to understand some of the TLAs.

My next step was to talk with other Product Managers. I had to ask a lot of dumb questions in these conversations but everyone was super nice and helpful. #givefirst These conversations helped me build a list of news, people, podcasts, blogs, etc that now make up my daily healthcare and biotech information pipeline. On a daily basis I found myself reviewing the Healthcare Top 100 and thinking about the business models of these companies. I subscribed to daily healthcare industry news from Becker’s Hospital Review, STAT and Modern Healthcare. I followed Zdogg and David Chase on LinkedIn. I listened to podcasts from Catalyze.io and a16z.

At this point in my first 90 days I was back in the office, still under a nice “you are still new” grace period and learning from everyone I could. The next step was to talk to Techstars Alumni, Denver-based Founders and friends of mine that are running Healthcare Startups. I had 50 conversations in two weeks and summarized most of them in a shared Box folder the team uses. For a handful of the conversations, I summarized and sent an email to entire team to raise awareness. This quickly established me as the expert for our “Healthcare Startup Developer” persona.

In the first 90 days:

  • Tell stories to build empathy about the people the product is trying to help.
  • Establish yourself as the voice of the customer on your team.
  • Show you are passionate and curious about the problems to be solved and the people you are trying to help.

It’s been one year since I began my journey as a Product Manager in Healthcare. I am once again sitting on the beach over Thanksgiving break pondering our Product Roadmap, Industry trends and reading everything I can about AI in Healthcare, Big Data Analytics use cases, Serverless Compute, how the ACA may change in the next Administration, CRISPR and more.

If you want help with your first 90 days, please don’t hesitate to reach out….and good luck!

Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/@joaosilas

Thinking about Enterprise Software Startups

I ended up down a rabbit hole of research on Sapphire Ventures thanks to the Origins (Notation Capital) podcast on my flight home from Boston early this morning. Sapphire invests in Enterprise software companies. I got to thinking, if I were to analyze companies in that space with my Product Manager hat on, what would I look for?

These 5 areas came to mind.

1. How will the Product interoperate?

Ex: Zapier, BI fabric, Hybrid Cloud

Is the team thinking about how to move pieces of data around from their app to other apps, from their app to the Enterprise systems, between their Public Cloud and the Enterprise’s on-prem and Dedicated Clouds?

How will insights and raw data from their product be accessible to the Enterprise’s BI Fabric, Data Scientists, etc? How does that strengthen the value of the offering?

2. Where are Users interacting with the Product?

Ex: Mobile, APIs, Slackbots, Echo

Is their product enabling all types of Users to be engaged anywhere? Is extension of the product easy by a Customer Developer via APIs? Is there potential for an Ecosystem to organically grow around the product? Does it feel like a Platform? Is the pretty Mobile app for the on-the-go Sales person just as well thought out as the Developer API?

3. What are the Combinatorial Effects?

Ex: Exongenous Datasets, Data Network Effects

Is the team thinking about combining datasets together to create something new? Does the product have inherent data network efforts? As more people use this, will the value increase?

What two features used together accomlishing something really powerful?

4. What role does analytics play?

Ex: NLP, Computer Vision, Salesforce Einstein

Enterprise data is flowing through the product. How is that data being mined into features? How are signals being extracted using NLP, Computer Vision, Machine Learning, etc? Does the business analysis get smarter the more people use it? Does AI feel like a foundational part of their approach or do they think of it as gimmicky and a nice-to-have?

5. Talk about the Tech Stack

Ex: Microservices, Serverless

Is the team using technologies like AWS Lambda? Do they talk about Reference Architectures and Blueprints? Are they taking a Microservices-first approach?

A few more articles I came across while writing this post:

It’s fun to think this stuff through. I remember the days of meeting with investor after investor while in Techstars and how many of those conversations led to strategy and product improvements.