Part II: They “should” doesn’t mean they “will.”

I cringe, but curl up eagerly and read Neil Patel’s straight-shooting tough love as he writes “Nine out of ten startups will fail. This is a hard and bleak truth…Entrepreneurs may even want to write their failure post-mortem before they launch their business.”  Now, I don’t want this blog to be a downer.  It’s August, everyone’s scrambling for strong Q3 numbers, so we all need a little bit of sunshine – and not the kind that’s singeing our skin on our leather car seats.

Mr. Patel quickly injects optimism in his commentary with “Cold statistics like these are not intended to discourage entrepreneurs, but to encourage them to work smarter and harder.”  He goes on to list that successful startups build products that the market really wants, have CEOs that don’t ignore or overlook red flags, and are comprised of nimble, versatile team members with an ability to bounce back.

Too often, I see young, tech savvy healthcare entrepreneurs whose pragmatic brains cannot grasp that “they should” doesn’t equal “they will.”  Their logical thinking drives relentless, circular arguments that begin with “But, they ought to do it like this.  It’s the best use of the product…so, they ought to do it like this.”  The problem is, the argument is usually with themselves – and any wearied team members that are still listening.  What’s lost on these uber-brilliant innovators is that, even with a truly amazing product, stomping ones feet and arguing that the health system should understand why their product is necessary, isn’t a good value proposition.

What would make a health system consider a product?  Let’s start at the top and work our way down.  The CFO and CEO are going to be interested in a product that has a proven ROI to reduce costs or increase revenue.  The CMO and COO are going to pay attention when a product improves care quality, drives ROI, and doesn’t require a disruptive restructuring of their people and process.  The CMIO and CIO want a product that doesn’t drain IT resources and plays “nice” with the hospital technologies that it integrates with (Epic, anyone?).  The clinician end-users are going to sit up straight when slide #3 in your demo shows a product that improves their existing workflow to enable top-of-license work.

Easy enough? Well, most healthcare startups don’t have clinical founders or early employees with clinical backgrounds.  Their brilliant, analytical minds struggle with integrating variables beyond their control into the equation.  Yes, it may be true that the optimal workflow for your product requires physicians to batch vaccine visits into certain segments of the week, for example – but they won’t do that.  So, your product must provide immediate ROI when introduced into the health system’s workflow, without requiring cultural, political, and regulatory acrobatics.  

Healthcare moves at a snail’s pace.  A brilliant entrepreneur invents a product before the market is ready, but the successful entrepreneur sees the red flags of resistance and immediately changes course with his or her nimble team to ensure market traction today, while he or she waits for the healthcare industry to catch up.