Hard Lessons Learned from being “Hella Disruptive”

I’ve been working in a new industry for the last year or so in two very different capacities. Both are Healthcare related. The first was exciting; the launch of a consumer service that would revolutionize simple patient care with better accessibility and transparent pricing. Two things that conceptually everyone wants. Unfortunately it was basically a total flop. No one’s fault really (certainly not mine), just a little too bleeding edge and too many market factors working against it. This last point is a common theme in those trying to break into Healthcare with technology – the technology disruption is not welcomed with open arms.

This "modern technology" is actually still in regular use of many medical practices and now services are launched making it HIPAA compliant! Illustrative of the pace at which tech adoption happens in healthcare.

This “modern technology” is actually still in regular use of many medical practices and now services are launched making it HIPAA compliant! Illustrative of the pace at which tech adoption happens in healthcare.  Photo courtesy: USCPSC

The second (and where I currently work) is also interesting, if slightly less exciting. It’s entering a new market with the repurposing of a scalable piece of software. We’re expanding from software that supports academic research to software that helps support clinical trials and hospitals with proving and improving outcomes (and all the desirable things that come with it, like reimbursements and FDA-approved drugs).  This new market entry happened mostly because our capstone customers, the research wings of influential hospitals, started using the software this way.

After college, I started an online event calendar in San Francisco, partially because there was a need, and partially because I didn’t want to work for a big company. We had no idea what we were doing or how to run a business. I learned a lot in those 7 years mostly through trial and error. The first 3/4’s of that tenure I wasn’t that methodical at testing my assumptions and our access to relevant data/analytics was way more rudimentary. This was way back in 2005.

Then I went and worked for a holding company/consumer internet conglomerate where I worked in one of their acquistions that was launching a new product line against a very entrenched market leader (monopoly). We really weren’t sure why customers would buy it, but we had some assumptions that we spent a lot of money testing.

This is the long progression in my professional career of jumping into things I know very little about. Being hella disruptive¹. I am trying hard to refrain from the military jargon that is so pervasive in the technology business, but I do really love these military cliches. Errrrg.

What I’ve learned in over a decade of these “nascent” environments are:

1) Many times, an initiative or direction is based on one anecdote from someone influential. It’s spun up from there, but a lot of times when launching something new or entering new markets, you really have absolutely no idea what you’re doing or what the customer really wants. So, if you hear from one potential customer that they want this, or that your product would be great for that, if that source is credible and eloquently describing your use case – then that’s what you do! There really isn’t an elegant alternative to this and anyone that tells you anecdotal assumptions aren’t the biggest directional driver has fooled themselves into thinking humongous data sets can tell you everything or has way too much money to waste on market research.

2) It’s really hard to keep at it and much easier to keep pivoting. This antithetical to every idea of startup, where test, iterate, and pivot is the high standard we all want to set and live by. More frequently it’s, test and when it doesn’t immediately work, try something else, then repeat. This is sometimes incorrectly called “pivoting” – it ain’t. Anyone who is working in BD, product and market development, or sales of a new product knows, it’s hard to keep testing the same assumption until you have complete proof. You want customers now, so you are trying to find the shortest path. Not to get all Frostian on you, but the shortest path isn’t always the best, or the shortest. Devs are great at patience, because generally they are shielded from the end customer, have thicker skin, and are more smarter. They have their own flawed assumptions, but when you’re building the ship, you don’t want to worry about what type of person will eventually be able to steer it. Deep, I know.

3) Your best customer is an existing customer. Only applicable to B2B startup groups within a legacy business, and really hard to remember. It’s an old adage in business that definitely holds true that it’s much less expensive to keep a customer than attract a new one. Customer acquisition cost is important and should be measured, it just seems no one is really sure how to do it.

Hope this is helpful. I’ve already moved on to some other Hella Disruptive practice that 1 very credible person told me I should.

¹ In the annals of modern business cliche-isms, disruptive is definitely the most overused, but I’m not feeling very creative and it works. LAY OFF ME!!!

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