There is no lack in startup advice and entrepreneur resources, however much of the advice has been watered-down so that it can be applied across industries. This kind of general advice tends to break down and become ineffective across certain industries, and at worst, destructive for healthcare startups.
Healthcare is a hyperlocal, risk-averse, thin margin industry that lacks uniformity across the market. Hospitals have varying workflows, and priorities of healthcare administrators vary from system to system.
Tim Dybvig, CEO of Calibrater Health, was told when starting his company,
“‘You know one health system, you know one health system’ ...health systems all have their own hierarchy, priorities, challenges, and operational complexities”.
These market dynamics even led Jorge Conde, General Partner at Andreeson Horowitz to proclaim in a recent podcast that product market fit does not exist in healthcare. While the Jumpstart team mostly disagrees with Conde, it is undoubtedly hard to navigate the healthcare system and scale a software driven company.
In order to cut through the noise of general entrepreneur advice out there, we asked our Jumpstart portfolio to share their top advice on how to start and scale a healthcare startup.
Our tailored picks of the top startup advice FROM healthcare founders for healthcare startups:
Build the Right Team
Many of the most successful healthcare startups are formed by founding teams where at least one founder has healthcare experience and is highly familiar with the problem that the company is working to solve. Pharmacy giant PillPack was started by TJ Parker who grew up in his father’s pharmacy and became very familiar with its operations and complications at an early age. This intense familiarity with a problem is where a lot of startups get tripped up in healthcare. There is a difference between TJ growing up working in the pharmacy with his parents and someone growing up watching their parents struggle to manage their medications. Only one knows how the pharmacy actually functions in detail.
Knowledge of how the traditional players in the space function is more important in healthcare than in other industries.
Bill Dunne, CRO at UpTimeHealth says that,
“For startup companies within the healthcare industry, I strongly recommend having a key person on the leadership team with extensive healthcare experience. It’s not nice to have, it’s a must-have in my opinion… The bottom line is that having a person with healthcare experience on your team will help save you money, develop better solutions, and get you in front of the right people”.
Find A Champion
Many startups are able to build a product, but struggle to test and gather customer feedback. At the earliest stages, a company is going to need someone to take a gamble on what their solution could be instead of what it can currently do. In order to get this first chance, healthcare startups need to find a “champion”. A champion is someone on the inside of an organization that can vouch for a project and push the vision through the resistance of risk-averse administrators.
Ana Gomez del Campo, CEO of surefhir says,
“The way you know you have a good champion— one who believes in the importance of what you are doing— they act like you are doing them a favor, not the other way around. If you’re afraid of asking them for things, you haven’t found someone who is engaged enough”.
Shorten the Sales Cycle
Once a startup has a few early customers and pilots, they are then faced with tremendously long sales cycles.
In order to get through this sales cycle, Nate Pagel, CEO of Medifies, says,
“The pricing of a solution can drastically change the sales cycle as very often hospitals have a threshold under which approval is not needed ($15-30k or so). Ask what that is and use that strategically to get deals”.
Not only can the pricing affect the speed of a deal, but founders should also be strategic in the language of the contract, with Pagel saying,
“Structure the deal as a paid pilot (that covers your costs), and that rolls automatically into a real contract. Large organizations rarely cancel small contracts”.
Create the Right Ecosystem of Support
Dybvig, the CEO at Calibrater, also gives a more general piece of advice but one that cannot be overlooked when he says that,
“The healthcare industry is very different from consumer markets and what most VCs want to invest in. The challenges are different, the expectations are different, and in some cases even the definition of success can be different than something like a consumer facing product. Find partners, advisors and investors who understand that -- and stay far away from those who don't''.
Starting and scaling a healthcare venture is always tough. A founder cannot afford to make the journey harder than the market already makes it by surrounding themselves with people who do not understand how the traditional healthcare system works. Founders are often figuring things out as they go. Advisers of the company who may be brilliant in areas outside of healthcare, may offer advice counter to what a healthcare startup needs to hear. Founders need to make sure they surround themselves with people that understand the market.