As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Langshur, co-founder and CEO, AVIA. Eric is the founder and CEO of AVIA, the leading partner for digital health insights, strategic guidance, and consulting services. A values-based entrepreneur, Eric is also the co-founder and Managing Partner of Abundant Venture Partners, a purpose-based incubator. He is co-founder and director of multiple companies in the healthcare and digital media space. Before transitioning to values-based entrepreneurship, Eric held top corporate executive positions at both United Technologies Corporation and Bombardier Aerospace. Throughout his career Eric has also been actively involved in community leadership roles. He serves on the boards of The Joint Commission, the organization that accredits 20,000 global healthcare organizations and also the Center for Transforming Healthcare. Eric also serves on the board of HopeLab, the Omidyar Group’s foundation to improve the health and well-being of adolescents and young adults. He is also past Chairman of Nutmeg Big Brothers/Big Sisters and director of DC based National Family Caregiver Association. Eric is a New York Times best-selling author. His book “Start Here: Master the Lifelong Habit of Wellbeing” was published by Simon and Schuster: North Star Way in 2017 and has been translated and released internationally by Hachette/Larousse.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your professional backstory and how you got started?
I started my career in the corporate world and held executive positions at both United Technologies Corporation and Bombardier Aerospace. In the early 2000’s, I became interested in entrepreneurship and the promise of digital’s impact on how we live and consume healthcare. I was lucky to jump into the early days of the digital health field when I founded my first company, CarePages. I feel fortunate to have found my passion in values-based entrepreneurship and subsequently founded my firm Abundant Venture Partners, a purpose-based incubator focused on improving Human Wellness, Human Performance, and Human Engagement. We have a fantastic portfolio of amazing companies, including AVIA.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or takeaways you learned from that?
Well here is a near miss story that is funny in retrospect! When I was a much younger man running a business unit at United Technologies, I flew to the UK to meet with the president of one of our largest customers. At the airport, I was met by a man with a sign bearing my name, so I followed him to the car. He put my bag in the trunk and as I’m about to hop into the backseat and start making phone calls, I suddenly sensed that something was not quite right. I stuck my hand out and reintroduced myself to my ‘driver’, only to learn that that this was the president of the company — my client. I still cringe when I think about it about how close I came to making a world class blunder and career-limiting mistake! My takeaway was to always trust your instincts and always be gracious.
The healthcare industry is sort of like a middleweight boxer in the ring with a heavyweight — namely government. Rules and regulations change at the whim of Presidential election aspirations. Even with the size of AVIA’s membership, how do you stay in the ring and get meaningful results for your members?
Government policy matters. It’s one of the big levers that drives action, behaviors, and results. That said, we don’t expect it to change radically in the coming years. At AVIA, we’re focused on driving those strategies and actions that are foundational and required no matter the shifts in policy. We’re laser focused on driving transformation strategies for our health system clients to help them thrive in both a fee-for-service or value-based care environment. For example, improving the consumer experience, the clinician experience, and reducing the cost of care are fundamentals that need to happen no matter what.
AVIA’s 25% challenge targets administration costs, often driven by error-prone functions. Given that each of your members has their own operational procedures and philosophy, in addition to variations in quality of personnel, why do you believe there can be a meaningful solution?
As an industry, we have not substituted capital and technology for labor. We have an outsized opportunity to learn from other industries that have achieved results leveraging digital technologies. For example, the manufacturing industry in the US has innovated its way to incredible productivity gains resulting in an economic win for our country. We can do that in healthcare. We know what to do and how to do it. AVIA is organized to help our members accomplish similar incredible results with speed, efficiency, and confidence.
One of the areas of your Medicaid Transformation Project is healthy communities where you seek to address the social determinants of health like transportation, housing, nutrition, and violence prevention. Are you biting off more than is possible to chew? How can digital solutions have an impact in the real world of large and small communities?
We’re not biting off more than we can chew because as a society, we’ve already taken the bite. We are already experiencing the adverse economic implications of poor community health and the complexity of social determinants of health. What’s more, our not-for-profit health systems have already accepted the moral obligation to support our communities. So, for me, the question that matters is how can we do a better job of addressing these issues? For example, how might we leverage the fact that we are all now connected through technology in ways that we simply weren’t 10 years ago? There are now five billion smartphones on the planet, throwing off data and connecting us in a way that really opens the door to delivering community-based care using new models. Digital is tailor-made to do this work.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
AVIA was founded on the principles of collaboration and scale. It’s a simple set of ideas. If we bring people together to work on hard problems and we’re willing to share with each other, then we can do so much more than going it alone. We can create out-sized value, move faster, make less mistakes, improve efficiency, and ultimately, we can have greater impact for our communities and the country. Our members, and their leadership, understand this. It’s inspiring for me to see this great leadership.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
It’s pretty simple, really. We stand behind a purpose statement that we use all the time in internal and external presentations. Why do we exist? What are we up? What good are we seeking to do? Why does our work matter? Why have we come together to put our life energies into this work? Clients and colleagues then self-select into this work who want to line up behind a common purpose and set of values.
We also believe in that old expression that culture eats strategy for lunch — every time! Accordingly, we make an out-sized investment in building culture and have myriad programs that drive it such as Conscious Leadership, LIFE XT, Enneagram work, Diversity related programs, on and on. How can we not be successful if we bring in great people, treat them with enormous respect, invest in their wellbeing and give them a place to contribute?
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I’m out of the closet on bringing love into the workplace. We come to the office, and we all work really hard with long days that are often filled with stress. Why not be in radical service of each other, becoming true fans of one another and bring profound compassion to every interaction and everything that we do.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When I made my career shift, going from the aerospace industry to the healthcare industry and from running a very large enterprise to running a startup, I had no idea how hard it was going to be. We were building a social network company in the early days of the internet, when nobody had heard the term “social networking” and we struggled for years before we figured the basics out. Along the way, my wife Sharon and I emptied our bank account into the company. It had to work! I learned first-hand about the value of perseverance and giving it 100% — no matter what.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Wonderful! I feel incredibly privileged to be working on hugely important societal challenges with amazing colleagues. We’re setting out to create the world in which we want to live. We are driven to create positive impact and are anchored in this idea that you can do good and do well at the same time. All of this is resulting in the most creative and successful period of my career.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business?
1. Listen deeply to your customer. The market knows.
2. Listen to your people!
3. Be authentic.
4. Think big and set a grand vision but…
5. Start smart and pay close attention to the details.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My life is full of mentors. I feel extreme gratitude to so many people starting with clients and colleagues who put their trust in me. Like many of us, I also have mentors who have offered the perfect advice at the right moment, in the right way. Recently though, I’ve been feeling especially lucky to be surrounded by colleagues who constantly save me from myself — given that I have multiple bonehead ideas every day.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I don’t know if I’m a person of great influence, that might be a stretch! I think what I’m up to at my core is promoting the idea that well-being is a skill that can be trained, and it belongs in the workplace, in our lives, and in our homes. I think it’s a contagious idea to just want to feel better.
How can our readers follow you on social media?