Monday, March 22, 2010

So you want to be a medical device entrepreneur? Part I

Alright, so history got made! Thank you Obama! It may not be all that we want (definitely not what the Republicans want), but it is a good starting point! Of course, there is a post coming on all this, but let's wait till the Senate version passes and El Presidente signs it...

On to other things. Today, I was contacted by someone in India. He wanted to know if there was some reading material on what it takes to be a medical device entrepreneur. I told him it is highly unlikely that there is one (good) resource exclusive to this topic, but I told him to read some great blogs like meddevice and some of the others that roll on by the sidebar.

I did promise that I will try to put some resources together. I realized that trying to do so in one single post would be rather insurmountable. So, I am trying to do this one, maybe a few parts. If you guys have ideas on what I may have missed, please chime in.

The 12 (thousand) step program to becoming a medical device entrepreneur

0. The Premise: First off, an "entrepreneur" can work on any aspect of the device business - you could start with great marketing and/or sales skills cleverly packaging and reselling devices in emerging markets for instance, or a Doctor who has identified a niche, an engineer who perceives a disease condition in a specific manner and so on. It is also not important for every entrepreneur to have an innovative product with remarkable revenues and so on.

Risks and Realities: To begin, you need to be clear about your goals, your limitations and your vision. Having said that, I need to warn you, this is very tough. You also need to be flexible enough. Every vision, goal and ambition will need to go on a path of constant change. Look at a certain young 44th President and his ambitions and the adjustments he has made over the year. The two important aspects to his success are perseverance and flexibility. Yes, he has charm and vigor of speech, but that would not be enough.

Entrepreneurship is mostly about minimizing risk. Wait, what? Isn't it about taking huge risks? Yes, it is. But, these risks have a way of multiplying over time. So, you will be playing a constant game of minimizing them, or trying to do so. Over time, your goal is to catalyze gradual risk minimization with mature products, increasing revenues and market share.

1. Failing Successfully or Successfully Failing?

When you hear of a 23 year who sold a soft porn social network or some other dilettante garbage, you need to realize that they are the exception rather than anything else.

Without mincing any words, I would like to say - be prepared to fail, and be prepared to learn a few lessons from it, dust yourself off and go at it again, and again and well, you get the idea. Develop this single attitude and you pretty much have it made. If this scares you, you may want to think of other things to do.

2. Be passionate about ...

Anyone who develops medical devices has at least two customers - the doctor who uses the device on the patients and the patients themselves. Your devices should be about patients, not about markets, strategic placements, verticals, channels or, "Yeah, our device failed it's primary endpoint (rather miserably), but, look, see, we ...".

You, your device, and everything should be about a singular passion - the safety and ultimately, the health of your patients. This passion will dictate everything you do, and eventually your success!

3. Be ethical: Be ethical, because this one aspect will differentiate you from some of those intriguing device companies out there which have engaged in, among other acts of joy and wonder - price fixing, cooking up device data, ghost writing, hiding adverse events from the FDA and many, many such things.

Just be ethical. Don't be like them. You have no need to. They don't either - but they are just too big to fail, right?

4. Be political: Say what? Yes, you heard me right. What would be the fun of designing all those life saving devices, if no one can afford them? Find an appropriate stance, and stick by it - this for me, would involve not joining shady tea parties, or even shadier "non profit" organizations that double up as lobby groups.

Any industry needs to associate and fight for what it stands for. The same industry should make sure it's stance is not stolen by a vested few. You cannot deem yourself an entrepreneur - essentially an agent of change and revolution, without wanting to be participatory.

5. Find your market - volunteer at a hospital! By now you have realized that there are two primary customers you are looking at - the Doctors and the patients. To be exact, it should be "Health-care professionals and providers" to include nurses and other folks who are part of the health care matrix. It will also include patients and their care givers. Yes, broadly defined, a patient is not an island. They are the cynosure in a large system...

But wait, volunteering means just that. It should give you the opportunity to be closer to your customers. Do not abuse your position and make a nuisance of yourself. Simply observe.

6. Become an intern - unpaid or otherwise: Yes, as an intern in a new industry, especially in a start-up company, you can be a double-edged sword. You can learn a lot while being a valuable contributor to an organization. Again, be respectful. Just because you are not paid, does not mean you should not be responsible.

7. Take a class in anatomy and physiology: Actually, there are many classes available that can sharpen your skills. Your community college could provide you with a great opportunity to study anatomy and physiology. There may University extensions, such as the ones we have in the San Francisco Bay Area which may have courses and certificate programs tailored to your needs.

8. Network! Put down the facebook - well maybe not. Be sure to network both online and offline. Get to know people, attend talks and lectures, organize an event, read blogs, socialize, facebook-ize and do otherwise. Follow up with people, and go beyond collecting business cards and connections.

When someone asks for help - help! Yes, do the favor, pass it on and see the power of networking in action, started by you.

9. Take chances! - embrace opportunity Every time I see someone post an ad that says, "Join a young organization that is about to change the gold standard...must have 8 years of catheter experience designed at 14 French.." it makes me wonder. If I have done that for 8 years and I come work for you and do the same thing for the next 8, exactly what is "young" about your organization and what the heck will I learn over the next 8 years?

Be original. Take a disease by it's horns. Bring real change. Hire fresh blood, bring some new perspective. If you simply start a company because you believe some VC will fund it - what will happen when they simply don't? Or how, is that passion towards a cause?

How about a new disease? Or a new perspective to a known disease? Did you know MRSA could be more devastating than the AIDS epidemic has been? Did you know that despite decades of research, atrial fibrillation is still a holy grail of sorts in cardiovascular disease treatment?

10. Storm that brain - innovate! As an entrepreneur, your biggest asset is intellectual property. While we will discuss intellectual property in much detail later, let us focus on one thing - brainstorm. Cook up those ideas. Think of the craziest ways in which you could solve a problem, and remember the rules of brainstorming:

1. There are no rules, except the following:

2. Any idea, no matter how crazy needs to be noted. Craziness, and out-of-the-frikking-boxiness need to be encouraged...

3. Do not be judgmental while brainstorming. The judging will happen later.

Try to come up with as many different ways of to solve the problem as you can. And then,

11. Dig in, build, build, build! While it is great to come up with all kinds of ideas, it is really important that you start getting your hands dirty. Define the market, define the competition, propose a solution, create a theory, hypothesize and more importantly - make! build! prototype! Without this key step, you will have very little to convince your investors or yourself as to how things will work.

There is of course, much much more to come!

Until next time


canadian52 said...

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davidwhite214 said...

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Bob Luzzi said...

All good points. May I offer 3 of my own that were the most important and least appreciated:

1- your main job is to sell. Learn the art of sales, and deepen your understanding of people.

2- if they don't "get it" but you have all the pieces of a great business, then your communucation skills are at fault. Learn to communicate. It's harder than you think.
3-its not about you, its about the team you can put together