Overcoming the Three Curses of the HealthTech Technical Founder

Article by | June 17, 2021 Marketing Strategy

Marketing to the healthcare market can be like a 60-mile bike ride. You must remain vigilant to protect yourself from all manner of distractions and dangers.

Recently a friend and business associate joined me for an early morning ride. His primary focus in organizations is sales while I, of course, am a marketer. Throughout our careers, we have shared the experience of witnessing the trajectories of a number of early-stage tech companies with a variety of DNA. As we rolled through the countryside south of Nashville, we started swapping stories.

Our conversation soon focused on the plight of companies with “technical” founders/CEOs. In the course of our discussion, I unearthed a few gems for marketing professionals to consider as they try to mitigate the challenges that can come from technical founder-led organizations.

To level set, a technical founder is typically a brilliant technologist who, through their work often in a parallel or complementary field, develops or otherwise happens upon a capability they recognize could be applied to solve a problem in a different vertical. Armed with that vision they go raise some preliminary funds, set up shop, and away they go.

So let’s assume for a minute that our brave NewCo has a potentially viable product-market fit (not at all a safe assumption but product-market fit is a whole separate discussion).

Despite their brilliance, capabilities, and capital, the technical founder is still prone to three distinct “curses” that too often lead to unsuccessful products and a good deal of wasted time and effort.

The Curse of Feature Love

We have said it before and will say it again: The best HealthTech products rarely win.

It’s not about being the first product to market. It’s about being the first to own mindshare. Buyers first have to know that you understand the world they live in, care about them, and are passionately committed to solving the real problems they have. Buying decisions are, after all, largely emotional.

Too many HealthTech companies rely on what their product/service does, but not on what it does for the customer. Too many times, I meet a company representative and have to sit through overly long explanations or demonstrations of their features, protocols, APIs, and descriptions of patents. When the rep takes a breath, I still don’t know what the product/service actually does for the end-user or what problem it solves.

Features don’t garner attention.

Neither does a press release or a webinar that talks about how a customer has transformed their technical capability. Your audience wants and needs to hear about outcomes, results, and problems solved, not the technical whizzbang that makes it possible.

The Cure: Lead by passionately telling colorful stories about solving real problems. Leave product specs for later conversations.

The Curse of Focus

I have watched too many companies work diligently to tweak and perfect a certain technology while the market that inspired it in the first place changes direction and leaves them behind.

You must stay engaged with the market, listen to your customers, monitor your competition, and be willing to pivot in a way that responds to the needs. The market is moving faster than a bullet train. Focus is important, but holding on to a feature set that the market just deleted will leave you looking like a fool.

The Cure: Cultivate your listening channels, value their input, and be ready to adapt to meet real market demands now.

The Curse of Ego

This curse echoes the ridiculous fallacy, “If you build it, he will come.”

When you skim an industry journal or walk down the aisles at HIMSS, how many solutions do you pass by on the way to something else? HealthTech exploded and nearly doubled in size in 2020 following a record year of HealthTech companies releasing IPOs in 2019. Nasdaq has observed that HealthTech companies are popping up by the day.

But just because you have a “solution” does not mean the market will find you.

US Healthcare is one of the loudest markets in the world right now and the people you are trying to attract are being courted from every direction by people working to gain a share of this year’s budget. Getting their attention will require an intentional and sincere effort.

The Cure: Down a slice of humble pie and engage the market with sincerity and passion. Then, lead with an empathetic understanding of your buyer’s problems.

Once You’ve Broken the Curses

If You’re a Technical Founder

In my experience, tech founders rarely fall under the spell of only one curse. They get wrapped up in all three. If you are a technical founder and are reading this, it’s time to check your biases. Make sure you have surrounded yourself with a team who are tuned in to what is happening in the market. Empower them and seek their input. If you do so, you will avoid not just some, but all of these curses. A strong team to balance your genius and cultivate the perspective your company needs to realize wild success in the market.

If You Work for a Technical Founder

If you’re downstream from a technical founder and dealing with the effects of these curses, you need to speak with candor. If the curses are tearing your company apart or hindering your growth, you won’t be alone in recognizing them. Assemble your case with multiple examples and proof points and then speak the truth. If it is received well by your technical founder, everyone will benefit. If it goes poorly and your report is disparaged, it may be time to align yourself with an organization that understands the critical nature of leading with a truly market-focused message.

You Can Make a Difference in HealthTech

The healthcare market is a steep and muddy downhill mountain bike ride. HealthTech companies with real problem-solving solutions that can overcome the roots, duck the branches, and avoid the cliffs are set up for remarkable opportunities. Wise and winsome marketing leaders can blaze the trail for your customers in ways that generate demand. Your ability to marry a solid technology solution surrounded by passionate people determined to build a great product with a smart, well-tuned narrative designed to empathize with your buyers, have the chance make a real difference in our world.

Take courage! Overcome the curses and connect with your market.