Lately, I have been getting a lot of questions about Healthcare.gov. People want to know why it cost between two and four times as much money to create a broken website than to build the original iPhone. It’s an excellent question. However, in my experience, understanding why a project went wrong tends to be far less valuable than understanding why a project went right. So, rather than explaining why paying anywhere between $300 million and $600 million to build the first iteration of Healthcare.gov was a bad idea, I would like to focus attention on a model for software-enabled government that works and could serve as a template for a more effective U.S. government.
Early in my career as a venture capitalist, we invested in Skype and I went on the board. One of the many interesting aspects of Skype was that it was based in Estonia, a small country with a difficult history. Over the centuries, Estonia has been invaded by many countries including Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and, most recently, the Soviet Union. Now independent but well aware of their past, the Estonian people are humble, pragmatic, and proud of their freedom, but dubious of overly optimistic forecasts. In some ways, they have the ideal culture for technology adoption: hopeful, yet appropriately skeptical.