Josh Nesbit – CEO of Medic Mobile

[quote style=”boxed”]Great ideas deserve time, focus, criticism and iteration.[/quote]

Josh Nesbit is the CEO of Medic Mobile, a nonprofit company using low-cost, mobile technology to create health systems that save more lives. Josh also founded Hope Phones, a recycling campaign designed to engage millions of Americans in global health efforts. Josh and his team have worked in 15 countries in East Africa, West Africa, Asia and Latin America, using mobile technologies to support a wide range of programs – from infectious disease surveillance in rural Malawi to emergency response after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. He is an Ashoka Fellow, PopTech Social Innovation Fellow, Echoing Green Fellow, Rainer Arnhold Fellow, Strauss Scholar and Haas Public Service Fellow. Josh was selected by Devex as one of 40 Under 40 Leaders in International Development, received the Truman Award for Innovation from the Society for International Development and was recently named by Forbes as one of the world’s 30 top social entrepreneurs.

What are you working on right now?

On the technology side, we’re trying to figure out how to do complicated and useful things on simple $10 phones. We’re developing applications that run directly from SIM cards.

Regarding scale, we need to equip 1 million+ community health workers with useful mobile tools and design high-impact services around those tools. Reaching that scale will require partnerships.

Many of our projects in Africa and Asia focus on maternal health, child health and disease surveillance. Generally, we’re attempting to: a) get more people access to care, b) ensure people stay in care and c) improve care and services at the community level.

Where did the idea for Medic Mobile come from?

I remember exactly when I started down this path. In 2007, I was talking to a community health worker in rural Malawi who was walking 40 miles to the hospital every week to hand-deliver updates on patients. I had better mobile coverage in his village than I did in Palo Alto. I knew we had to make use of this brand new infrastructure.

More important, though, was a group epiphany of sorts. While I was busy running a pilot with community health workers in Malawi, my co-founders-to-be were developing their own complementary visions for mobile technology in healthcare. I met one co-founder in the lunch line at Stanford when I was an undergraduate and our other partner commented on a blog post I had written.

What does your typical day look like?

This is always changing, month to month, week to week. In 2011, I wasn’t in the same country or a U.S. state for longer than 6 days at a time. This year, I’m staying put in San Francisco.

Aside from trips and major events, my calendar is pretty flexible 1-2 weeks out. Once Sunday hits, Monday-Friday are booked with calls, Skype chats, coffee meetings, proposal writing, pitches and speaking engagements. I’m working 80-100 hours per week, but I prefer staying busy. That leaves at least 70 hours a week for other stuff.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Great ideas deserve time, focus, criticism and iteration. In my current role, the majority of the time I rely on an amazing team to follow-through.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

It’s exciting when big numbers match up in (potentially) system-shifting ways. One example: the next billion mobile connections are headed straight to rural areas in low-resource settings; today, one billion people will never see a health professional in their lives. We’ll have a great opportunity to increase access and improve outcomes.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I’ve never had a bad job, and I don’t take that for granted! Some humbling tasks include snowboarding, golf and working in an infectious disease lab.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I try to continuously start again. I think it’s a useful exercise. Wake up in the morning, and start questioning yesterday’s assumptions.

A more straightforward response to your question is that I wouldn’t have spent 10-20 hours per week in the very early days submitting long documents to business plan competitions. It’s a huge time sink and I never looked at those plans again.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I prepare for every meeting and call, usually for 1x or 2x the length of the call, meeting or interaction. I try to approach every potential funding opportunity, partnership, etc. thinking it will work out brilliantly–which only happens once every hundred conversations. Without the optimism and preparation, though, I’d guess that just one in a thousand would pan out.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’ve talked about many of the ideas I’m tracking!

Tell us a secret.

I used to draw polar bears as a kid, lots and lots of polar bears.

What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?

  • Twitter: it’s a platform for serendipity and broader thinking and has led to some of our most important collaborations.
  • Yammer: it’s our distribution team’s water cooler.
  • Hellofax: I can’t remember the last time I printed something.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Rework by Jason Friedman and David Heinemeier Hansson. Everybody works, hire when it hurts; those are a few key messages from Rework, a brilliant little book that resonates with my experiences.

What’s on your playlist?

For focus: Zoe Keating and Ratatat

In transit: Jay-Z

Airports: Girl Talk

In the park: Citizen Cope and Florence + the Machine

If you weren’t working on Medic Mobile, what would you be doing?

This is a tough one, I wish I could reach through the multiverse for support. Let’s say part-time firefighter and part-time philosophy student.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

  • @FareedZakaria to maintain perspective.
  • @KatieS for her authenticity and well-earned respect.
  • @PSFK to keep tabs on the future.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

I’m 99% sure it was a YouTube clip my brother sent me.

Who is your hero?

My parents, as a pair. I like to say that one taught me how to care for people and the other taught me how to dream big. They both gave me space to think for myself and for that, I am so grateful.

Second answer – almost every community health volunteer I meet. They are saving the world every day.

I have an idea. What’s a great resource for developing my impact model?

The Mulago Foundation:

Strangest eating experience?

I was offered a field mouse on a stick. I went for it. It tasted like hairy jerky. I really don’t recommend trying one.


Medic Mobile
Hope Phones Website:
Medic Mobile on Facebook: Medic Mobile
Hope Phones on Facebook: Hope Phones
Medic Mobile on Twitter: @medic
Hope Phones on Twitter: @hopephones
Josh Nesbit on Twitter: @joshnesbit
Josh Nesbit on LinkedIn: Josh Nesbit