About Esther Dyson, Founder of Wellville:
Connect with Esther:
Esther Dyson is the founder of Wellville (wellville.net), a 10-year, 5-community nonprofit project dedicated to showing and realizing the value of investing in equity and health (as opposed to spending on care and repair). Wellville advises the five Wellville communities on accelerating their own health and equity initiatives, in Clatsop County, OR; Lake County, CA (soon to be a Blue Zones community!); Muskegon County, MI; North Hartford, CT; and Spartanburg, SC. Dyson is the Wellville advisor for Muskegon, and is actively involved in policy and visibility for the project as a whole. Wellville’s overall mission is to inspire society to think and act longer-term and more broadly – from self to community – by illustrating benefits of collective investment in human infrastructure.
Overall, Dyson works to leverage new business models, new technologies and new mindsets (social, economic and political). From October 2008 to March of 2009, she lived in Star City outside Moscow, Russia, training as a backup cosmonaut.
Apart from this brief sabbatical, she is an active board member for a variety of companies, including Avanlee Care, PressReader, ProofPilot and Swvl (Cairo), Her current investments include Factual, GoodData, Linqia, Square/Block in information services; 4DHealthWare, Care.coach, Clover Health, Devoted Health, Eligible, Hawthorne Effect, HealthTap, Humanity, i2Dx, Ilara, Medesk, MedicaSafe, Mindright.io, Nuna, Omada Health, PatientsKnowBest (UK), Piction, Pocket Naloxone, Prognos, Rasello, Solera, Startup Health, Tocagen, Valkee (Finland), Virgo SVS in health; and Space Adventures (which organizes programs such as hers for space tourists)and Voyager Holdings in aerospace.
Dyson also sits on the boards of several nonprofits, including the Long Now Foundation and ExpandED Schools, and is a patron of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. From 1998 to 2000, she was non-exec chairman of ICANN (overseeing the Internet’s domain name & address system), and before that chairman of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
She has a BA in economics from Harvard and started her serious career as a fact-checker/reporter for Forbes Magazine (1974-77). From 1977 to 1982 she worked on Wall Street as a securities analyst, covering companies such as Federal Express, Apple Computer and Electronic Data Systems. From 1982 to 2007 she wrote/edited Release 1.0, a monthly analysis of the PC/Internet business, and ran the yearly PC Forum, the industry’s leading executive conference (no sponsors), as head of her company EDventure Holdings. She sold EDventure to CNET in 2004 and worked there for two years before going completely independent. Along the way, she served as founding (non-exec) chairman of ICANN from 1998 to 2000. In addition, she wrote the best-selling, widely translated book “Release 2.0: A design for living in the digital age,” published by Broadway Books, in 1997.
About the Episode:
For episode 79 of Entrepreneur Rx, John interviews rockstar Esther Dyson, founder of Wellville, a 10-year nonprofit project dedicated to demonstrating the value of long-term investment in health and equity. Esther has been or is a director of many companies such as 23andMe, Avanlee Care, Meetup, and WPP Group. In addition, Esther is an active angel investor and also enjoys sitting on the boards of several nonprofits, such as Charity Navigator, ExpandED Schools, Long Now and The Commons Project.
This interview starts off with her explaining the Wellville project and her impressive background (she has even trained as a backup cosmonaut). Esther emphasizes the importance of asking questions and learning from others, rather than trying to have all the answers. Esther then shares her experiences as an angel investor, highlighting the qualities she looks for in founders, such as creativity, resilience, vision and humility.
Esther goes on to express concern about society’s addiction to instant gratification of all kinds – drugs, food, VC exits and the like. She stresses the importance of providing support and resources for maternal care, doula services, and parenting education to create a stable foundation for future generations and to “train” babies to be healthy humans resistant to manipulation…by trained AIs. Esther encourages individuals to face their fears and take risks, emphasizing the value of having a support system in place. She then concludes by reminding listeners that failure is a natural part of life and should be embraced as a learning opportunity.
Entrepreneur Rx Episode 79:
Wellville is a 10-year national nonprofit project to cultivate equitable wellbeing. Esther Dyson and Rick Brush co-launched Wellville in 2014. At the center of our work are the Wellville 5: Five US communities working to improve their own health and wellbeing and inspiring other communities to do the same. Since complex challenges are bigger than any one institution, individual or government entity can solve alone, they built Wellville to support and foster collaboration.
Rebounding from setbacks and embracing risks
Taking on entrepreneurship entails experiencing failures and overcoming obstacles. Esther emphasizes how previous setbacks have armed her with resilience and made her unafraid of future failures. She values the experiences of risk-taking and surviving after being fired, shaping her perspective of viewing these as opportunities for learning and growth.
Mindful decision-making and societal perceptions
Esther underscores the pivotal role of mindful decision-making in being a successful entrepreneur. She discusses how entrepreneurs are often caught up in the pursuit of instant gratification, losing sight of long-term impacts. Dyson encourages a shift in societal perspectives, promoting long-term investments in human development as key to our future.
Connect with Esther Dyson on LinkedIn
Follow Wellville on LinkedIn
Learn more about the Wellvile 5
Podcast with Guy Kawasaki- Esther Dyson: What’s After Success
TEDxBoston: It’s PEOPLE’s brains, stupid!
TEDxBoston: Web3 – Mission meets metabolism
TEDxBoston: Always be learning: Dynamic Conversation
TEDxNavesink: The Way to Wellville and Other Places
00:00:05 – Introduction
John Shufeldt introduces the podcast and his guest, Esther Dyson, the founder of Wellville. He talks about her impressive background and the mission of Wellville to invest in equity and health.
00:00:30 – The Wellville Project
Esther explains that Wellville is a ten-year, five community nonprofit project focused on investing in health and equity. She advises the five Wellville communities across the US on their initiatives.
00:01:39 – Esther Dyson’s Background
John highlights Esther’s extensive involvement in various companies and nonprofits. He mentions her role as a board member and angel investor, as well as her experience in the tech and internet industry.
00:04:11 – Training as a Backup Cosmonaut
Esther shares her experience of training as a backup cosmonaut in Star City outside Moscow. She explains that her interest in space and Russia led her to this unique opportunity.
00:05:42 – Impact of 23andMe
John expresses his gratitude to Esther for being an early investor in 23andMe, a company that had a significant impact on his life. Esther talks about her involvement with the company and the importance of genetic testing in personalized medicine.
00:07:13 – Asking Good Questions
Esther emphasizes the importance of asking good questions and the power of curiosity. She explains that asking questions is more important than
00:13:08 – The Business Model of 23andMe
The discussion begins with the exploration of the business models of companies like 23andMe. She also discusses the unethical practices of a different company involving insurance fraud are highlighted, while the potential value of making healthcare services accessible to all is emphasized.
00:14:35 – Origins of Wellville
Esther shares the origins of Wellville. The inspiration came from a website called Real Age, which focused on social determinants of health. The goal of Wellville is to collaborate with communities and improve health outcomes through a sense of agency and community fabric.
00:18:00 – Building Trust and Making Impact
The importance of building trust within communities is discussed, with examples from Esther’s work in Muskegon, MI. Wellville aims to listen to the needs of communities and provide support without imposing solutions. The conversation also touches on the impact of historical trauma on indigenous communities and the need for long-term solutions.
00:22:11 – Addressing Root Causes and Collaboration
The focus shifts to addressing root causes of health disparities and the need for collaboration among community organizations. Short-term fixes are not effective, and philanthropy should encourage collaboration rather than competition. The conversation highlights the importance of long-term thinking and supporting communities in achieving their goals.
00:24:01 – Lessons Learned and Future Hopes
Esther reflects on her career and the lessons she has learned,
00:25:51 – Standing out and achieving success
The importance of standing out and selling great products to achieve success. The need for individuals with extreme personalities like Steve Jobs to make a significant impact in the world.
00:26:48 – Balancing brilliance and charm
The distinction between charm and brilliance and the need for successful individuals to have someone around them who can provide a level-headed perspective. Personal anecdote about the importance of being kind and listening to those around you.
00:28:19 – Qualities to look for in founders
The importance of creativity, resilience, humility, and a willingness to learn in successful founders. The need for entrepreneurs to bring in partners and share responsibility for long-term success. The discussion of addiction and its impact on society.
00:30:49 – Thinking long term
The tendency of society to prioritize short-term needs and cravings over long-term thinking. The potential consequences of this mindset, including the extinction of intelligent life. The value of learning from indigenous people’s long-term perspective.
00:35:37 – Improving maternal care
The importance of providing universal prenatal and postnatal care to improve maternal and child outcomes. The role of doulas in supporting mothers and the need for validation and respect for their role. The impact of better parenting education and support on future generations.
00:38:44 – The Importance of Having a Plan B
Esther emphasizes the importance of having a plan B to avoid being too terrified to pursue plan A. Growing up, she failed in many things and never feared failure.
00:39:01 – Embracing Contradiction and Failure
Esther discusses how she embraces contradiction and views failure as a learning opportunity. She shares a quote attributed to John’s father, “It’s more fun to be contradicted than ignored.”
00:39:13 – Overcoming Adversity
Esther shares her experience of being fired and how it can be a valuable learning experience. She acknowledges that accidentally killing someone would be the worst thing one can do.
00:39:30 – The Responsibility of a Physician
Esther reflects on the responsibility of being a physician and the importance of doing one’s best to help people survive.
00:39:52 – Wrapping Up
John thanks Esther for the conversation and mentions that links to Wellville and other organizations Esther is involved with will be provided in the show notes.