Numbers Game

Bob Lokken doesn’t consider himself a “serial entrepreneur.” Just a guy who likes to build things.

Bob Lokken was happily retired… for about a week.

After selling his previous company, ProClarity, to Microsoft, then spending several years on the Microsoft executive team, he decided it was time for a break.

“I got a one-way to Scottsdale and played golf. Lots of golf,” Lokken says. “But after about a week, I was bored. I was too young to be done.”

He decided the best thing — the right thing — was to go back to what he loved.

“What I enjoyed most was not managing 1,000 people at Microsoft,” he explains. “What I enjoyed most is working with a small team on a goal that will help make the world better. And creating it all out of white space. There’s not much that is more interesting, fun and meaningful.”

As Lokken weighed the best use of his experience, knowledge and talents, he kept coming back to the team who had followed him from ProClarity to Microsoft, many of whom had expressed interest in working together again.

WhiteCloud Analytics employee

“I had a team of people at ProClarity that were world class in the area of analytics. I just kept thinking about where that could be put to best use.”

He looked closely at opportunities in energy, education and healthcare — three industries at the intersection of his personal interests, global impact and the team’s skills. Healthcare won out, partly because Lokken saw the challenges more in his wheelhouse (“I saw the energy as physics issue, and I’m a software guy.”), partly for the chances of success (“Education’s challenges are more about the human ecosystem than the software”) and partly because of the potential impact (“The cost of healthcare is bankrupting the country.”).

And with that, WhiteCloud Analytics was born.

The company, stationed in the heart of downtown Boise above 8th Street, provides physicians with analytics-based insights with the goal of improving efficiency, effectiveness and, ultimately, patient outcomes.

“From the beginning, we wanted to enable healthcare systems to use data to operate better and save lives. That felt like it was worth getting out of bed every morning.”

Lokken got an office and began talking more seriously to past employees were interested in a change. “We basically started the company with ex-Microsoft/ProClarity people who wanted to do something different.”

Their challenge was (and is) huge. While hospitals collect lots of data, it is spread out across many different sources, each with its own structure and format. Even once the data is pulled together in a way that it can be analyzed, there are few tools to analyze the data and even fewer tools that make these insights useful to physicians.

That’s where WhiteCloud comes in. Their team and software help hospitals collect, organize, analyze and, most importantly, use the insights to improve their practice.

“Fundamentally analytics are about extracting patterns out of large data sets,” Lokken explains. “Analytics done poorly expose a bunch of data and gives you data overload. Analytics done well expose meaningful patterns and help them make focuses and good decisions.”

To meet the challenge, the company spent five years in research and development. Not only were they building the technology, they were creating a new paradigm for how data would be managed and delivered.

“If you don’t go back and challenge the fundamental assumptions that led to today’s problems, you’re going to come to the same conclusions. So you have rethink everything.”

For Lokken and the WhiteCloud team, this meant rethinking not only the technology, but also the way data is often used. For example, while the traditional approach in healthcare has been to reactively wield data as a weapon to punish people for poor performance, WhiteCloud’s approach proactively uncovers what is working and how to spread that positive performance throughout the organization.

It’s working. The company is growing fast, adding new customers and employees at a dizzying clip. Lokken expects to double the size of the company in the next 18-24 months.

“We picked this market before it got hot. Before Obama passed the Affordable Care Act. Now all the vectors have aligned and it is white hot.”

The key to keeping up with rapid growth, Lokken says, is a strong team and strong culture.

WhiteCloud office clocks

“My biggest challenge to growing? Hiring,” Lokken says. “We’d rather make an error of not hiring someone who would’ve been good than to risking bringing someone in who doesn’t fit with our culture. It’s not just about what you’re capable of, it is why and how you do it that really matters. You don’t only have to be good at what you do, but also good at playing on a team.”

After decades of building businesses, Lokken says, he is more focused on the quality of his team than ever before. A deliberate emphasis on culture lays the foundation for innovation and faster growth.

“I’ve had a great run of it and I’m humble to be part of such a great team. I’ve worked with some great people and there’s nothing I could have done on my own. This startup stuff is absolutely a team sport”

Editor’s note: Often when writing Built in Boise stories, some of the best quotes get left on the cutting room floor. I loved this one from Bob Lokken that came out during a discussion on his advice for startup founders:

“You got a business plan. A business plan doesn’t mean squat. It’s just a collection of guesses. Recognize that. Own it. And get to work seeing which of your guesses are right.”

Photography by Joe Jaszewski

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