Columbus-based health care software startup Olive is valued at $4 billion. So what exactly does the company do?

Sarah Donaldson
The Columbus Dispatch
Sean Lane, CEO of Olive

Sean Lane, the CEO of health care artificial intelligence firm Olive AI, believes the future of the U.S. workforce is a combination of human labor and artificial intelligence — people and technology working side-by-side. Lane wants to see Olive have a role in that force. 

The Columbus-based software company, which grew exponentially during the pandemic, tripling to 600 employees, continues to expand, and it closed a $400 million funding round July 1 and was valued at $4 billion.

In an interview with the Dispatch, Lane broke down the firm's somewhat complex business, talked about the meaning behind the name "Olive," and described the bright future he sees in Columbus tech.

Dispatch: What Olive does is pretty high-tech, and it’s a little complicated. In layman’s terms, could you break down what Olive does, and what problems the company is working to solve?

Lane: First and foremost, health care doesn’t have the internet. That’s the biggest problem. You see that every time you go to a doctor’s office — you have to fill out the same form, every single time. It’s like health care doesn’t know who you are. That’s because the systems aren’t connected and they don’t talk to each other and the software doesn’t talk to each other. Olive is really automation that connects all of those things together. We use artificial intelligence to do it, to create this workforce of AI (artificial intelligence) workers, that provide automation to connect everything together, to take on a lot of the administrative burdens, to work on these workflows inside health care, so that ultimately, the experience of health care is much more like what you get in other areas that have the internet, from shopping to hotels or anything else.

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Could you describe Olive’s customer base for me? Our customer base today is about 80% health systems around the country. We have about 900 hospitals as our customers, and then also insurance companies, health plans. That constitutes the other portion of our customer base.

What’s the meaning behind the name Olive? We decided that, to do this, we wanted to create an artificial intelligence, which means we wanted it to be difficult to distinguish from a human as it is working. Olive, herself, takes on the persona, so we picked a person’s name. The cool thing about Olive is it’s a thing and it’s a person’s name, but it also has the word ‘live’ in it. You say it 'all of' the time without realizing it: Because ‘all of’ is the same as ‘Olive.’ The ‘O’ is a pretty iconic symbol, and really, these workflows are like circuits, they’re these circles and loops. You’ll see the circular kind of name in a lot of things we do.

I’ve noticed it in just reading about the company: Olive is kind of her own person. Yeah, that’s right. We wanted Olive to take on a persona, like part of your team. Olive is a part of your team. It’s hospitals and at these insurance companies providing automation. We think that there’s a new workforce, for the future, and that workforce contains humans and AI workers. Olive is one of those AI workers. The way we think about that is, health systems in the future are going to have AI workers, an AI workforce. Olive is just one of those employees.

The Dispatch has previously covered this, but could you tell me a little bit, in your own words, about The Grid and your workforce model at Olive as we sort of emerge from the pandemic? We had always believed that the greatest companies in the world were built in one building, and that that was kind of the way to do it. Once the pandemic happened, and we were out of the building, a lot of those assumptions basically didn’t hold any water. They weren’t true, and we kind of invalidated assumption after assumption about being in one building. We decided that the best approach for us, moving forward, was to get rid of the word remote, get rid of the word work from home, and allow people to work from wherever they’d like. We’d only have two statuses: On the grid and off the grid. So you’re either working or you’re not working — working from home is not less of a status than working in an office. We adopted this new model, we then started recruiting around the country. And you know, it worked. The great thing about it is, it allowed us to scale super, super fast. We needed to hire a ton of people, and really the only way we could have done it was with adopting The Grid.

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Big news came at the start of the month when Olive’s most recent valuation had it at $4 billion. Could you describe what this means for the company? It’s another milestone in our growth. The reality is, our company is just getting started. We’re close to 1,000 customers, close to 1,000 employees. We’ve raised close to $1 billion dollars. But the reality is, it’s still the very, very early stages of this company. We have so much to do, so many products to build, so many new customers to expand to. It’s a great milestone because it just proves that what we’re doing is important to the world, and specifically, to the health care industry.

Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about? I would just say that we are trying to build a technology company for health care that can invest significant resources into R&D (research and development) the same way that tech companies do for other industries. Health care is not going to be the laggard anymore, health care is not going to take the seconds of technology from other industries. This is the moment for health care to be the leader in technology, the same way the defense industry led the creation of Silicon Valley, the same way the space race led to a lot of the creation, again, of Silicon Valley. Health care innovation can lead to the creation of something really special. Columbus is one of the best places in the country to grow a startup, as we’ve shown. It’s not that Silicon Valley is going away. It’s just getting bigger, and the idea of Silicon Valley now exists in Columbus, Ohio.