January 21, 2016 – In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Talley Student Union on North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) Central Campus, blurs of orange emerge from the sea of red and white. The line of students waiting for free “Beat Duke” shirts bisect the atrium under the building’s picturesque skylight. A feast for the senses await – smells of fresh baked pizza and roasted coffee waft from the food court; posters stamped with hashtags and incomprehensible conversations about relationships and the upcoming statistics exam. Once sensory overload settles, curiosity sets in motion: where are these orange balloons coming from?
Armed with an orange display “television” and thousands of balloons, the HealthBeMe (HBM) team welcomes students with bright eyes and big smiles.
Beyond the hard-to-miss orange television and friendly, smiling faces, it’s clear that there’s more. “It’s so refreshing not to be marketed at but rather to be made part of something so positive,” says NC State engineering student Jonathan Duncan. “The world would be such a better place if everyone made doing good even a small part of each day.” Not only did students get the message and purpose of HBM’s “Go Do Good” campaign, but felt apart of it. They embraced the simple idea of encouraging intentional acts of kindness. HBM’s campaign also extended into the local Raleigh startup community. Liz Tracy, Director of Community Engagement at HQ Raleigh says “companies like HealthBeMe are the essence of the startup community. They are living proof that having a for-good mission is really something inspirational to rally behind.”
It’s not hard to hear or read stories on the news about violence, death, poverty and injustice. Quite the opposite can be said for good stories. Feel-good stories are few and far between.
Just days earlier, the nation celebrated and honored the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with its annual day of service in communities throughout the country. Dr. King, a well renowned proponent for civil rights, strongly encouraged service and elevated its importance – “life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others.” Additionally one of the most recognizable victims to gun violence, Thursday’s event is also especially timely with President Obama’s executive action in early 2016 to tighten gun restrictions at the federal level in an attempt to curb gun violence.
“HealthBeMe represents a growing campus presence of emerging social enterprises that have at their core a mission to do good in the world,” says Elizabeth Benefield, Director of Social Entrepreneurship at NCSU. The campus launched an initiative to support social entrepreneurs in December of 2013 and houses an institute to mentor, nurture and develop students with hands-on learning opportunities in the burgeoning field. “HealthBeMe is a powerful idea that has great potential to change the way we access and manage our healthcare, and is uniquely bringing together many pockets of campus expertise.”
What kind of impact can this campaign make on NCSU’s campus community? Can that impact be replicated to other communities across the nation?
I first met Jason Dragos, CEO and Founder of HealthBeMe, at a meeting in Durham introducing the local B Corp movement in the Research Triangle. Jason radiates passion in his work and has such an internal desire to make a positive impact. This became a recurring theme throughout the morning. I can say without a doubt that I left the meeting inspired, energized and encouraged that others were so determined to leave the world a better place.
I caught up with the fun loving CEO a few days after their “Go Do Good” event and wanted to learn more about his motivation and vision for their event and the future. Let’s hear what Jason had to say.
Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing? Is it something specific that pushes you?
Jason Dragos: I genuinely feel like I was born to change the world in some way. I’m driven by my values and I’m always pushing to do things differently. That combination makes me pretty much a corporate nightmare. I don’t like following rules, I hate the staus quo and I’m a whistle blower (damn values). I’m not driven by money or recognition. Since starting HealthBeMe I’ve just felt pure inspiration. I don’t need motivation, I have purpose. I would do it for free. Actually, I pretty much am right now. So yeah, I pretty much knew I was going to take the entrepreneurial route. I tell my team all of the time, “the riskiest thing we can do is to play it safe.” That kind sums me up too.
Me: Describe your journey to your current role as the CEO and founder of HealthBeMe.
JD: Most of my life I didn’t have purpose or a clear direction. I was just on this quest to find myself and figure out what mark I wanted to leave on the world. I was certain about two things though. I love helping people I wanted do something technology could never replace. So the core values behind HealthBeMe have been with me as long as I can remember.
HealthBeMe first came to me while I was living in London. I was a partner in a healthcare marketing agency but I didn’t really believe in the work we were doing. We we just chasing cash. I knew this role wasn’t right for me, so I decided to leave the company.
After I left, I felt free to create my own vision. I went crazy from day 1 almost with whiteboards and post it notes, sketching out what had been in my head for the past few years. The freedom I felt completely changed the ‘idea’ of HBM. HBM became a purpose. Just changing my perspective changed everything. I no longer saw HealthBeMe as a company, a way of making money or a solution to a problem. It became my reason for existing; I really felt a true sense responsibility. I know that a change in perspective sounds simple, but it completely changed my vision for HealthBeMe and even me as a person.
Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?
JD: That’s easy. Like I said, it’s the people. The people we are trying to help. They make sure my internal compass always points me in the right direction. Without them, my purpose is dead. Having a purpose is what gives me the confidence to keep fighting each day. My wife is my other true inspiration. I want for her to look at me and be proud of the man that I am.
I feels more like a privilege really. So the list of things that inspire me is long. I wake up each day and remind myself that I get to work toward improving someone’s life. That is so awesome. There is no separation between ‘Jason’ and HealthBeMe at this point. But I can’t do it alone knowing that people who have my back is so important. My friends, my family and my team inspire me everyday. I am inspired by their commitment to me and our purpose. It’s just another bit of proof that our purpose is far bigger than me.
Me: What do you use for motivation?
JD: I don’y need much motivation at all. I’m inspired. But one motivator is fear. I am 100% confident that HealthBeMe’s vision is the right kind of vision to bring about huge change to health/healthcare. The social opportunity is massive but so is the financial one. I just want to make sure that I am the one that does it because I know that my values and purpose are genuine. We will do it the right way, use resources for-good and truly care about helping people. I get angry when I think about another company creating some exploitive platform or purely doing it for the money. I know I’ll do what’s right for our members. I will maximize the right kind of value.
Me: How important is your company as it relates to the local community?
JD: First of all the idea of ‘community’ is central to HealthBeMe. Our philosophy is ‘HealthBeMe by the power of ‘We’. Our ability to build communities will directly dictate our level of success. We actually refer to ourselves as a community building company, not a technology company. We’re learning how to better build and strengthen relationships within all types of on/offline communities, especially in the Research Triangle. We know how vital it is to create win-win relationships with people and organizations who offer different perspectives, approaches and resources.
Our journey so far has us very much plugged into the Research Triangle community which has been a massively support. We do try and can to give back to the community anytime we can. For the past 6-7 months we have been deeply involved with North Carolina State University (NCSU). We work with the schools of Computer Science, Social Entrepreneurship and Communications the most. We’ve secured a technology and University partnership with NCSU. That has been so amazing for us. The CSC Department, specifically ITng and Oscar Lab have done so much to help us design our platform strategy and architecture.
NC State is actually a part of everything we are. I am an NCSU alumni, our early round investor was an alumni and our team (6 brand team, 4 tech team) is comprised of either current NCSU students or NCSU grads. Our tech team is based on NCSU’s Centennial Campus. Our brand team regularly work together at the Talley Student Union on Main Campus. We are also involved with local technology hubs HQ Raleigh and American Underground (in Durham). Building a community is important; building a community of people who believe in our purpose and are willing to help us bring it to life…that is truly awesome.
Me: Describe your vision for the company.
JD: My vision is to make HealthBeMe the most trusted brand in healthcare and most widely used health and wellness platform in the world. To bring my vision to life means we will need to be absolutely committed to our purpose and our values in everything we do. I’ve worked hard to make sure our purpose is built into all parts of the company from the beginning…our technology, our communities, our brand and even our business model have to be aligned. I feel trust has been really damaged by healthcare, so we need to continue to be genuine and transparent with with everything. So yeah, the biggest thing we can do is to keep our purpose at the center of everything rather than simply seeking profit. Profit must only be seen as the result; the result of the positive impact we make.
ME: So what kind of impact do you see HealthBeMe making? Meaning impact on society, healthcare system and the business world?
JD (on society impact): One thing I really love about HealthBeMe is that our ability to make a positive impact on health and society are closely linked. The vision is to create a philosophy, a product, a social environment and a movement that inspires people from a very basic human level. You can take away every feature, tool, button or setting relating to health and you will still find a social network inspired by the willingness and ability of people to help each other. As a society, our progress is totally dependent on our ability to unite for good…not be divided into a group of haves and have nots. We need each other to thrive.
I’ll tell you one story I really like. Nearly 150 years ago, Charles Darwin wrote The Descent Of Man, highlighting the future drivers of evolutionary progress. We tend to only recall one main anecdote from it, ‘survival of the fittest’. An expression regularly used to justify self-seeking behavior our lives, in business, in sports, even in education. But the part of this story that gets overlooked in Darwin’s book is that ‘survival of the fittest’ is only mentioned twice but he talks about ‘love’ 95 times. He mentions selfishness only 12 times, but moral sensitivity 92 times. The point is, we generally have it wrong. Society and social networks can advance fast and more effectively by a collective purpose. By creating social networks that are about more than self promotion we will be able to unify a movement around help each other, spreading kindness and doing good. This is a completely new type of social currency which can propel us to do exactly what Darwin claims will truly progress mankind: empathy and love.
JD (on healthcare impact): Well it all comes back to our purpose, my vision is to humanize and democratize health/healthcare. For an industry who exists to help and solve the most basic of human needs, it is incredibly cold and scientific. Because of this, it can be confusing and intimidating. By making access to health, health information, and other health resources accessible to all we can help level the playing field. We can give the people some control and power in the process. The industry currently operates like a monopoly. In fact it’s the only industry in the world where the market isn’t dictated by the consumer. Healthcare controls nearly every aspect of the buying cycle. They are only able to do it because we physically need what they have to stay alive and the system knows exactly how to maximize the economic value of each life. My vision for HealthBeMe is to create an environment that brings balance into the system, one that give everyone a voice and easily consumable and accessible information. We are breaking down barriers by making the experience more human, consumer driven and accessible for all.
JD (business world impact): I’m also incredibly driven to make positive impact in the business world by proving that business can be used a force for good. But not in the form of a year-end, tax free charitable donation. My vision is to incorporate doing good directly into the business model. We will do this by taking a ‘for good’ profit mentality. I want to prove that this is actually good business. In a world that is ever more connected, this approach will allow us to build a deeper level of trust with current and future members. Trust will then become its own social currency that will help us spread our brand mission and our grow our brand’s story. We are absolutely dedicated to using our platform to help people live healthier and we will use our resources to give back. This is something we’re serious about and we’ll prioritize.
Our potential impact can be huge. In fact, I told my team recently that the best possible outcome of HealthBeMe’s vision would ultimately be bad for our business. Best case, we make such positive impact to health and healthcare that cures take the place over treatments. If it happened, I would happily accept an unprofitable business model.
Me: What are the current needs in the Triangle as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?
JD: The biggest social determinant affecting health in the triangle is the same determinant affecting health across the country. A fractured sense of community. As a society our value center is constantly manipulated by competing self-interests. In healthcare, the existing power structure (insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and healthcare providers) constantly fight to protect their interests at the expense of consumers. The monopolistic behavior of the industry places value on control of healthcare rather than access to healthcare. The only way for the us as a society to gain any influence within the current healthcare system is to have a collective voice. This requires both reestablishing a sense of togetherness and community.
I feel that there are three core components that need to be addressed to help empower and inspire a renewed sense of community to improve health for all. The first is to start telling a different story. Secondly, improving access to health education and information a communal experience. Finally, to create a small scale, grassroots model that can be replicated.
If you’re interested in connecting with Jason, follow him on Twitter: @JasonDragos or by email at email@example.com