Editor’s note: As part of CNBC’s “20 Under 20: Transforming Tomorrow” TV documentary, we interviewed thought leaders and visionaries who have paved the way for the next generation of entrepreneurs. In a series of Q&As called “5 Minutes with a Visionary,” we discover what has shaped and molded the careers of these innovators.
The odds were stacked against Ryan Howard, growing up in a low income family in New Hampshire. In his early 20s, the founder and CEO of Practice Fusion set out for California and secured a job during the dot-com boom.
At around 27, as Howard told us in a phone interview, he woke up one day and had an epiphany: “If I’m going to do something, I want to do something where I’m helping people.” He felt that health care was a place where he could apply his skills. The process wasn’t easy. At one point, Howard sold his house and car. By the time he founded Practice Fusion, he says he was four years behind on back taxes and needed two root canals.
Ultimately, Practice Fusion took off, and now over 150,000 physicians and practice managers in 50 states use its Electronic Health Record (EHR). Founded in 2005, Practice Fusion provides a free, web-based EHR app to physicians who might not otherwise be able to afford expensive computer programs.
Howard’s perseverance against all odds has resulted in the creation of the fastest-growing EHR in the country.
Q: What do you consider to be your greatest success as an entrepreneur?
To know that something I created saved someone’s life is really invigorating and fulfilling for me. We’ll do 3 million visits this month. That’s why I do what I do.
Q: What innovation in the last 20 years has had the most positive impact on your life and/or society?
Online video. It’s really the ability to access rich content from the best teachers and speakers in the world … Any type of content out there on entrepreneurialism, I’ve absorbed all of it.
Q: What current challenge, when resolved, would do the most to change the world?
The fact that people are starving as we’re talking right now is a tremendous problem, but hugely disturbing for me as well.
Q: If you had the world's intellectual elite all in one room, what thought-provoking question would you pose for debate?
What do you think as an individual, or as an exceptional producer, is your obligation to give back to the world?
Q: What individual or innovator has had the biggest impact on society? (and/or your career)
Two come to mind. Peter [Thiel] has been a huge influence on the way that I create as an individual, the way I've built my company … There are so many venture capital firms in the valley. It’s just nauseating. All the investors are cookie cutter. And these guys [Founders Fund] are truly unique … The resources they provide are instrumental in building some of the greatest companies out there.
The other one is Howard Schultz. I used to work at a local Starbucks every night because I didn’t have office space. The people there were so high-quality. At one point, they were opening five stores a day. The cultural piece is amazing. The scale of that blows my mind because hiring is hands down the hardest thing to do. If you have the best people, you’ll always have a happier environment. People talk about incentives all of the time … Happiness is the ultimate incentive in life. I have 160 employees … and the impact of one person is just amazing. The fact that he’s scaled the global environment … it’s really amazing. I have a lot of respect for him.
Q: How important is recruitment?
I still meet with every hire. Fifteen minutes of my week with new hires is the best way I can spend my time and it’s still scalable. The wrong person will be a terrorist in your organization … I don’t hire anyone who doesn’t understand our mission. It’s not sustainable long-term. We don’t compromise that standard ever. And it’s super hard.
Editor's Note: This interview has been condensed and edited.
Watch "20 Under 20" on CNBC. Part I Premieres August 13 and Part II Premieres August 14 at 10p ET
For more details on “20 Under 20: Transforming Tomorrow,” check out our Facebook app and follow our Tumblr blog.