Tailor Made Talks To
In this instalment of our ‘Entrepreneurs Series’ we meet CEO and Founder of Babylon Health, Ali Parsa to talk tailoring, his career journey and the story behind setting up his company.
Can you tell us a bit about the concept of Babylon and how you came to set up the company?
I was a middle-class kid from Iran who, just for a short period of time, became a refugee when I moved to the UK. I learned English and won a scholarship to UCL to study engineering and received a PhD in Engineering Physics before moving into investment banking. That wasn’t for me, so I chose to work in healthcare.
In 2004 I founded Circle Health, it grew in a few short years to employ a few thousand people, have a few hundred million dollars of revenue and to go public. It was the first private firm to run an NHS hospital and it was tough, but we turned a loss-making hospital into an award-winning, profit-making one. It became the first district general hospital ever to win the CHKS quality of care award.
In 2013, I saw the chance to have a bigger impact. The existing global health delivery system just wasn’t working. Despite spending trillions of dollars on healthcare annually, billions of people are being left behind. Half of the world’s population doesn’t have access to basic healthcare. And for those of us who are lucky to live in countries with good healthcare services, accessibility and affordability is still a chronic problem.
There has to be a better way of increasing accessibility and affordability of healthcare. By harnessing technology, Babylon has been able to start addressing a shortage of doctors and giving people access to medical experts around the clock, every single day of the year – and we’re driving down the price as we do it.
Our service removes the problem of waiting times by enabling patients to have video and phone consultations with a doctor at any time of day or night. Patients can review their medical records, replay consultations and have prescriptions delivered to the pharmacist of their choice, or the medicine to their door. If they live or work in London, people can join our NHS practice GP at Hand and get this same service for free – along with physical consultations and everything else that an NHS GP offers. At the same time our cutting-edge symptom checker and Healthcheck tools are free to all so everyone can access medical information and help to remove the pressure on doctors by being better informed about the care they need and ways they can stay healthy.
What were your biggest challenges faced when setting up Babylon?
Perhaps the biggest challenge in a regulated sector like healthcare is to persuade the authorities to give you permission to deliver your mission. By definition, innovators are not apparent to all when they are conceived. So, staying true to one’s beliefs and visions and safeguarding it through thick and thin are often the biggest challenges.
What has been your proudest moment in the Babylon journey?
This changes every day as we need to overcome a new challenge every time we enter unchartered territories, therefore every achievement we make is a proud moment for our team. I think the part I am proudest of however, is the team itself. Our biggest and most humbling achievement is the fact that we managed to assemble one of the world’s best teams.
I am blessed to be surrounded by the group of truly remarkable scientists, engineers, physicians, developers and support staff who help drive Babylon one step closer to achieving its mission every day.
What is next on the horizon for Babylon?
Expanding to more global markets; further innovating our already cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology; growing and supporting our multi-national team; and, throughout it all, looking after the health and wellbeing of the millions of Babylon members worldwide.
What has been the best piece of career advice you’ve been given?
Rupert Murdoch once told me ‘only compete for the long term. Most companies have a budget for a 3-5-year plan. If your plan is for 10-15 years, then usually there is no competition as most don’t think that long term.’
Can you tell us a bit about your career background?
Before starting Babylon, I built a chain of hospitals that I took public. Prior to that, I was an investment banker at Credit Suisse, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs. Then in an even earlier incarnation, I was an entrepreneur back in the early-Nineties.
What has been the highlight of your career to date?
Realise you’re part of an ensemble cast – not a solo act. You might be the Founder or CEO with the vision and ambition, but you’ll need to surround yourself with the best cast of professionals possible to make that vision a reality. Be tough and tenacious, by all means, but at the end of the day, a generous dollop of humility goes a long way. Success is a gift, it can evaporate quickly and should never be taken for granted, in my opinion.
What advice would you share with entrepreneurs looking to set up their own business?
Don’t be afraid to attempt the near impossible. Just because something’s difficult doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Babylon’s motto is ‘Dream big, build fast and be brilliant’. I do my best to live by that credo each and every day.
What websites or apps do you personally use most frequently?
In addition to Babylon, I’m a big fan of LinkedIn, The Economist and WhatsApp.
“I feel a lot of affinity with the Tailor Made brand. They’re giving customers a 5-star experience using a combination of the latest technology, great care and meticulous attention to detail – much like we’re trying to do at Babylon”
Describe your personal style, what’s important to you?
I like a splash of colour in my wardrobe. And whilst I do my best to get regular exercise, I’m hardly a ‘jock’, so am a big fan of well-tailored clothes that can be both comfortable and forgiving where they need to be.
Was this your first experience of body scanning and utilising technology to create bespoke garments? How did you find the experience?
It’s seriously brilliant technology – very precise and efficient. I was in and out of my fitting in minutes. I feel a lot of affinity with the Tailor Made brand. They’re giving customers a 5-star experience using a combination of the latest technology, great care and meticulous attention to detail – much like we’re trying to do at Babylon.