Category Design Category Creation how books define categories

“Health assurance is an emerging category of consumer-centric, data-driven healthcare services That are designed to bend the cost curve of care and help us stay well.”
Hemant Taneja, General Catalyst

A new book may turn out to be the most far-reaching, impactful act of category design I’ve been involved in. It is meant to describe, define and spark a giant new category called “health assurance.”

The book is a collaboration between Hemant Taneja, one of the most influential U.S. venture capitalists, Steve Klasko, CEO of Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, and me. They brought Silicon Valley thinking and a deep knowledge of the healthcare industry, and I brought my category design lens.

The core idea of the book: A wave of new technologies such as cloud computing, internet of things and artificial intelligence are allowing us to build user-friendly health services that can understand our health on an individual basis and help us proactively stay healthy and out of the traditional healthcare system. 

These new services are what we’ve called health assurance, and it should dramatically drive down the cost of staying healthy, while freeing the U.S. from its reliance on an unworkable last-century model of healthcare. If you think about it, what we now call healthcare really is a “sick care” system designed and incentivized to help you once you already have a health problem -- which is too late. 

We believe that by the end of the decade, the health assurance category will be home to a couple dozen new $100 billion companies. 

Books Accelerate Categories 

We started the book – actually, at 60 pages, more of a manifesto than a full-length book – long before the Covid-19 crisis. It was all but done in February, and we hit the brakes, believing that Covid would affect our work. In fact, the virus made a significant difference by speeding up a lot of what we proposed – for instance, the pandemic quickly got the public used to a doctor’s “visit” happening through a video call. Covid is likely to make the health assurance category happen faster than it otherwise would have, and the technology and services being developed promise to help the world better manage future pandemics. We ended up revising the book to take all of that into account. 

The impetus for the book goes back to a previous partnership between Hemant and I. In 2018, we published the full-length book Unscaled: How AI and a New Generation of Upstarts Are Creating the Economy of the Future. One of the chapters was about how such unscaled forces will change healthcare. After that book, Hemant invested in or co-founded more unscaled healthcare companies, in some cases along with Steve Klasko, who runs one of the most forward-thinking hospital systems in the country. (At this point, General Catalyst’s “health assurance” portfolio companies include Livongo, which has since had an IPO, Commure, MindStrong, Ro and Color.) 

The more Hemant and Steve got involved in health-related companies, the more clearly they saw how old healthcare could move to new health assurance. But they wanted to do more than just start companies in this emerging space. They wanted to create the space, and invite other founders to join them. A book would be a good way to define that space in detail, and present the three of us as the space’s de facto thought leaders.

Category Design for Healthcare

That’s why, when we started, Hemant and Steve asked me to wear my category design hat on top of my author hat as we pulled the book together. That’s also why the website for the book is not some version of It is Good category designers know it’s more effective to promote the category first, then promote the brand or product. 

We decided we liked the idea of a short book, modeled on management author Jim Collins'  “monograph” titled Turning the Flywheel, which came out in January 2019. The format is interesting for category design – long enough to fully communicate a unique point of view (“POV”) and define a new space as a serious piece of thinking, yet a quick read that eliminates the time barrier a book presents to a lot of over-scheduled people. 

Over the coming months, I’ll watch how UnHealthcare is received and whether it does the category work it’s supposed to do. The whole process has already generated a lot of insights about using a book and a big idea to establish a new category.