Nathan Buchbinder of Proscia: “You shouldn’t always listen to advice”

“You shouldn’t always listen to advice.” In something of a contradiction, this pearl of wisdom was given to me by a close advisor. Rather than suggesting that I should be closed-minded, he was highlighting the importance of having enough sense of self to do what I believe to be right. There is, of course, a […]

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“You shouldn’t always listen to advice.” In something of a contradiction, this pearl of wisdom was given to me by a close advisor. Rather than suggesting that I should be closed-minded, he was highlighting the importance of having enough sense of self to do what I believe to be right. There is, of course, a balance to strike with being obstinate, but at the end of the day, your decisions are your own to make, and without faith in yourself, no amount of advice will make you any more sure of what you need to do.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nathan Buchbinder.

Nathan Buchbinder co-founded Proscia, a leading digital and computational pathology software company in 2014, where he currently serves as the Chief Product Officer. During his tenure, Proscia has earned recognition as a category leader, bringing to market best-in-class image management software and artificial intelligence applications for laboratory medicine.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I’ve always been interested in healthcare, and specifically the tremendous impact that medical devices can have on managing disease and improving patient outcomes. It was this interest that led me to study Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins. While at Hopkins, I connected with one of our co-founders and now CEO, David West, who was doing research demonstrating how algorithms could be used to recognize complex patterns in images of tissue and predict cancer outcomes. David introduced me to his research — and the challenges inherent in the traditional practice of pathology — and we immediately recognized the opportunity ahead. Shortly after, we joined forces with Coleman, our third co-founder and now CTO, and Proscia was born.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

The practice of pathology, or the standard of care by which diseases like cancer are diagnosed, has remained the same for the past 150 years. Despite the widespread digitization of almost all other healthcare domains, pathology still centers around a pathologist looking through a microscope to evaluate biopsies affixed to glass slides. This process is manual and subjective, challenges that are further compounded by a shrinking pathologist population and a rising cancer burden.

Proscia is a digital pathology software company that is taking on the fight against cancer by disrupting the traditional practice of pathology. Digital pathology, which captures high-resolution images of biopsy slides, enables pathologists to work more efficiently and can drive meaningful improvements in accuracy to reduce the amount of time it takes to receive a diagnosis and improve patient outcomes. What’s more, AI solutions, like the ones that we’re building, can be applied to these digitized images to augment what pathologists can see. In doing so, this AI can unlock new insights that advance research breakthroughs and improve the treatment that patients receive.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we first started, we offered a free-mium version of our platform. We figured that pathologists and our other users would be bounded by the limitations that we put in place. But little did we know. We quickly learned that our users were quite creative and found ways to get around these limits. They used the platform in ways that went well beyond the scope of this version.

This experience taught us a valuable lesson about how to price our product. Though we learned the hard way, we also learned that we should never assume that our users will behave as expected. And finally, we saw firsthand that our users were hungry for even more functionality, which was a great sign for the future of our product.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Very early on in our company’s history, we brought on a consultant who was an industry veteran to help us build out an effective marketing, sales, and go-to-market strategy. It was impressive and inspiring to see that even after so many years in our space, his number one concern was being honest with the customers and partners with whom he works. We’ve maintained this same sense of integrity as a core value of our company, and it never ceases to amaze me just how impactful this can be as we grow our business and expand our user base.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

I believe that disruption is neither innately good nor bad, but it is inevitable. The notion that a system or structure has withstood the test of time simply means that it has lasted at an equilibrium point well enough that we perceive it to be an inevitable part of how things need to be done. But the world around us is constantly changing, and when enough of those changes pile up, or when a single massive change comes into play, those systems or structures must adapt to the new “entropy” of the world around them. A tangible example in healthcare that we can probably all relate to is the major disruption that we’ve seen over the past several months brought on by the COVID-19 global health emergency. Almost overnight, emerging technologies like telemedicine were cast into the mainstream due to a newfound need for social distancing. In fact, digital pathology saw the same spike in adoption. In some regards, this might be considered a “good” change — it opened up access to medical care, and many patients would say that virtual doctor’s visits are more efficient. At the same time, some patients might feel less of a personal connection to their doctors. Regardless, this disruption was necessary given the global situation, and it happened, whether we wanted it to or not. Those who are able to understand these trends and changing realities are the ones who can shape how disruptions occur and what kinds of “good” or “bad” outcomes result from them.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

“Don’t come between somebody and their paycheck.” This piece of advice was provided to us by an early angel investor back when we first started the company. At the time, he was referring to our payroll, and specifically wanted to make sure that as a leadership team, we never came between our employees and their paychecks. From his perspective and experience, that was the one thing you could do to turn even your most ardent supporter or best employee into a doubter. This advice has carried through even as we think about how we introduce our technology to our customers. While our products can have a massive impact on the economics of the laboratory, we’re always conscious of the financial implications that they can have, and what we can do to give confidence that the future is more compelling and exciting than the status quo today.

“Don’t go to bed angry.” This advice was given to me by my in-laws but is absolutely true across every aspect of my life and those of my closest peers. At the end of the day, the only person in control of how you feel or think about the world around you is yourself. When challenging or frustrating situations arise, whether in business or in personal life, it’s very easy to allow that anger or consternation to carry through day-after-day. But in doing so, you cloud your judgement when you need it most, and lose the sense of perspective that often gives birth to the best ideas and solutions.

“You shouldn’t always listen to advice.” In something of a contradiction, this pearl of wisdom was given to me by a close advisor. Rather than suggesting that I should be closed-minded, he was highlighting the importance of having enough sense of self to do what I believe to be right. There is, of course, a balance to strike with being obstinate, but at the end of the day, your decisions are your own to make, and without faith in yourself, no amount of advice will make you any more sure of what you need to do.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

Things are just getting started in disrupting pathology’s status quo. Today, we’re at the precipice of a major transformation that’s introducing AI into diagnostic medicine. As the technology evolves, there’s a whole universe of insight that can be unlocked. There’s a vast set of future technology that will go beyond anything we can think of today, helping us much more accurately and rapidly answer questions around who to treat, how to treat them, and whether those treatments will work. At Proscia, we fully intend to raise that bar as we disrupt the status quo of diagnostic medicine.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

One book that has had a deep impact on my thinking has been “The Emperor of All Maladies,” by Siddhartha Mukherjee, which recounts the “story” of cancer throughout the history of medicine. What’s striking is how clearly wrong the most brilliant scientific minds were throughout the ages about the origins, impacts, and mechanisms of action of this horrific disease. I bring this up not to emphasize just how much better off we are now, but instead to reinforce the notion that we shouldn’t assume that we really understand as much as we think we do, even about such well-studied topics as cancer. I would be completely unsurprised if a century from now, technologists and scientists look back at what we’re doing today in terms of research and treatments and have a similar reaction. I can only hope to be a part of the reason we can make that kind of progress.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

As the phenomenal one-hit-wonder Semisonic once lyricized, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” What I take from this is that there will always come moments where one chapter of your life closes at either a high-point or low-point. But the closing of that chapter, rather than putting finality in the meaning of your life, should serve as a launchpad for the opening of a new chapter that’s informed, but not directed entirely, by what’s come before.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire 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 think that universities need to drive even more focus on entrepreneurship. To a certain degree, this has already begun, and I’m fortunate enough to have graduated from Johns Hopkins, which is at the forefront of encouraging and providing resources for entrepreneurs; however, I think there is a great deal more that universities can do, given their de facto role in bringing together the best and brightest of people who are at a stage where they have omnipotent potential and ambition to change the world. From how classes are structured to extracurriculars to forming venture arms that finance and incubate startups, universities are an almost entirely untapped powerhouse for inspiring and encouraging the innovative potential of the future.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can find me on Twitter at @Nate_Buchbinder and follow Proscia’s journey at @ProsciaInc.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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