Making personal health hipMay 16, 2011: 5:00 AM ET
Aza Raskin, co-founder of Massive Health, wants to build an elegant and cool app for wellness.
By Jessi Hempel, senior writer
FORTUNE -- Aza Raskin wants to do for health care what Apple did for personal computing in the late 1970s. In Raskin's case, the analogy hits especially close to home. Raskin's father was Jef Raskin, the computer-interface guru who designed and named the first Macintosh. "I grew up with the mantra that it's not your fault if you can't understand an interface," says the younger Raskin.
But can a better user interface help Americans stay healthier? Raskin's company, Massive Health, aims to collect and analyze vast amounts of information and present it to consumers in easy-to-use digital applications that help them modify unhealthy habits. In some ways Raskin's vision is a more holistic version of services such as the Nike (NKE) + iPod sport kit, which records a user's runs and provides feedback on how to maximize a workout.
Massive Health's business plan is hardly radical: Dozens of giant companies, including drug distributors, insurers, and hospital chains, are mining their users' data and developing tools to keep people from getting sick. Nonetheless, a handful of savvy financiers, including Netscape founder Marc Andreessen and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, have invested $2.5 million in the five-month-old startup. Part of the appeal is Raskin's pedigree and track record as an entrepreneur. He gave his first speech on designing interfaces when he was just 10 years old, and he dropped out of middle school for a Socratic education with his father. At the University of Chicago Aza studied mathematics and physics, and his thesis focused on dark matter the outer reaches of the universe. Along the way he launched Humanized, a software company that Firefox acquired in 2005, and music-search tool Songza.
It's pretty audacious to think a 27-year-old designer with no medical experience can fix health care, but Raskin's outsider status is an advantage: He looks at health care from a consumer's perspective, not a practitioner's. The result could be a service that's as simple and intuitive to use as, well, an Apple device.