In my last 20 plus years involved in health and technology innovation, I’ve experienced many successes and failures commercialising new, innovative products and services into health markets. Even the failures were huge learnings and eventually became my biggest successes as they formed the foundational building blocks of my future business growth.
Failures are indeed a founder’s launchpad upon which new health technologies can be adopted into the marketplace.
It is a true privilege to be able to create something that is ultimately used by a patient or consumer of health products and services where the benefit enables them to ease their pain and suffering or improve social and health outcomes. Sometimes this pain and suffering can be experienced by the clinician or management executive, and solving that problem for them enables an exponential benefit for their organisation’s impact on health and social outcomes.
Having worked with some of the largest innovative health organisations in this country including BUPA Health Insurance, CSIRO Health and Biosecurity (Federal Government agency), Pfizer, Westmead Hospital as well as creating startup health innovation companies such as Energesse, I’ve seen many of these mistakes inadvertently replicated and helped implement strategies to avoid such costly mistakes.
Here are some of the top 5 commonest mistakes we’ve seen:
1. Wrong identification of the customer
A lot of health tech companies don’t really understand who their real customer is. For example a health tech company develops a software that helps with diagnosing Type 2 diabetes and assumes that the software is something that can be used by the patient (end-consumer). Very often the software team have not done specific enough research into the various stakeholders along the patient journey, who are critical to the software getting into the hands of the consumer.
Tech CEO’s can often miss that the true customers may either be the GP, the diabetes nurse, a pharmaceutical company, or a family member of the diabetic patient.
The different customer vs end-user ‘avatars’ mean that the product has to be very significantly adapted, taking into account requirements of all relevant stakeholders. Without this clarity of customer understanding, this results in a large amount of resources (time, funding, effort) wasted developing, marketing and selling a platform that isn’t actually user friendly or acceptable to the true end-customer.
The way to overcome this is to actually have deep research (observational, focus groups, surveys, subject matter expert feedback), not just theoretical research on the end-customer. The extra time it takes to conduct this research can save months and even years of an expensive product development cycle, yet it is often undervalued time by product developers. Some of whom who occasionally lack research capabilities, communication skills, or confidence in communicating with real people, having grown up in a digitally-connected world.
2. Incorrectly identifying customer need
Founders of health tech companies are also often not truly get specific enough on the customer need. They can often determine what the customer need is today but founders should bear in mind that the customer need evolves very quickly as customer expectations rise all the time.
The development team has to build your product in anticipation of what the consumer will need in the next 6, 12, to 24, to 48 months, depending on the length of the product sales cycle.
In the case of the diabetic patient for example, the tech founder may build a product that solves the problem for the end consumer today but it may become obsolete in 12 months, right at the point of commercialization into the marketplace.
Health tech founders therefore need to be forward-thinking in anticipating what customers/buyyers/consumers will need in the future rather than today. They also have to be very specific about exactly how the product is going to be used i.e. how it will be used in the hands of the consumer or user themselves, be it a health professional or patient.
3. Poorly communicating the value proposition
I find it challenging to sit through another pitch from a health tech founder who cannot clearly articulate to his or her audience the value of their product to each specific customer. While their hearts are often in the right place and they want to help people with their product, some health tech entrepreneurs struggle to clearly communicate what the benefit of the product is to each customer, stakeholder or investor in clear, specific and terms.
The health industry can be very complex, with corresponding medical jargon in equal proportion! Removing the medical terminology as much as possible and keeping it simple for end consumers, investors, and other industry stakeholders is critical to successful uptake and sales.
It is imperative that health tech founders clearly articulate the “what’s in it for me (WIIFM)” for each stakeholder. Every stakeholder is motivated by self-interest to some degree and the health tech founder needs to understand what these interests are. You can then be very clear and specific about how the product can either aid the health, financial, social, or community interest of that stakeholder, or all of the above in the pitch.
4. Giving up too soon
There is a fine line between persistence and knowing when to call it quits. That hunger for success can often be lacking amongst founders, especially in their daily behavior, which ultimately results in their failure.
It is therefore important to have the necessary networks of family, friends, colleagues, and mentors to provide this strategic advisory support as well as the emotional backing required to endure the journey of numerous daily problems and failures in order to produce successful results long term.
Entrepreneurship is a long-term game. It requires passion, determination, and resourcefulness, more so than resources. Health tech founders can often give up well before their products time in the market has come and can be set back by the repeated failures.
It is important that founders dig deep into their own emotional resourcefulness as well as financial resources in order to make their product successful. I personally have had to sell my entire real estate portfolio in order to make my company successful and I barely thought twice about those decisions. My mission to help patients and the health of the planet is unstoppable and I was always going to use everything at my disposal to make it a success (within moral and legal grounds, of course!).
5. Unclear on purpose
I therefore highly recommend that health tech founders get clear on their vision and purpose of their company. In particular, I would recommend the Ikigai tool as a starting point to [workout] what their personal purpose is, which is often the driver of the purpose of the business and product. I hope these tips prove useful to fellow health tech founders, CEOs, and team members who wish to make a difference in the world with their technology.
I have found that successful people in general are often able to endure the long, arduous journey of bringing their product to commercialisation if they’re not truly and deeply connected with a clear purpose.
The Founder or CEO who gains fulfilment and understands the larger meaning of the product that they are bringing to market is far more likely to be authentic in their communication, particularly in communicating the vision of their offering to investors and customers. This authenticity in human connection can help compensate for any lack of strategic insight or communication skills to influencing the sales process. Authenticity on purpose can ultimately help bring people on board with your product especially in the early days of your commercialization journey.
If you are commercializing an innovative healthcare technology, let’s have a conversation today about truly understanding what your customers need from you before you try selling them a product they don’t really want.
It could prevent you on wasting tens of thousands of dollars that could be spent on actually helping your customers & patients – it happens far too often in this industry!