When you're the leader of a start-up looking to disrupt an industry, you need a clear, focused strategy. Like judo, you need to take advantage of your strengths to compete--but only when you can put up a fight.
Here's how you can prepare:
1. Train by yourself to avoid head-on collisions with established industry leaders
Healthcare, on a global scale, is certainly one of the oldest industries with various incumbent players. However, healthcare systems are inefficient and unable to fulfill increasing patient demand. Despite big players tackling these challenges, they have not been resolved. There were many markets that my company, ClickMedix, could have attacked first while we were exploring the market. We decided to first fulfill our potential customer's request to establish teledermatology in Africa where they are expanding their global health efforts. We eventually secured our first customer and developed the first mobile teledermatology application and service, where we could confirm the capability of mobile phones to capture patient symptoms, transmit them to remote doctors and get immediate treatment advice. A technology-enabled solution was a far-fetched concept for an under-served area of the world. Nevertheless, we were able to show the simplicity of our system and its robustness in withstanding environments with poor connectivity to all users, especially those who have never been exposed to technology.
By positioning yourself in a green field with no known competition you can gain initial validation and build out products that are truly valuable, while avoiding a head-on collision with an incumbent competitor.
2. Strengthen features that can be transferred into other markets
While most solutions in telemedicine or telehealth are based on video consultations, we needed to develop a product that did not require high-speed connectivity and that would be easy to use with minimal training. In regions where resources are scarce, this kind of cost is not viable nor is it affordable. We left behind the conventional wisdom and created a solution that would collect patient symptom information entirely offline. Although the transmission is not high-speed, it is affordable and still much more efficient than old systems based on a patient's inability to travel to seek treatment. We knew that a solution built in a resource-constrained environment would create something that would work regardless of the environment, connectivity, and user level of education. As we evolved our business, the offline and robust transmission capability proved to be particularly useful in serving senior patients and chronic disease markets that are connected online.
By focusing on features that can be transferred into other markets, you do not limit your scalability.
3. Attack your big target market once you adapt to the new arena
Our approach worked and we deployed our solution in more than ten countries across Africa, South Asia, and rural areas in the US. In the meantime, we understood that to achieve scale, we needed to take it into prime time with first-world, full-scale commercial deployments. So we rebuilt the solution to be first-world secure and compliant, and even more robust than what we had in pilot-mode. We also re-positioned the company as an eHealth software as a service, like eCommerce for doctors, based on the learnings from our original field implementations. Now we stand on strong ground among big company competitors because our perspective started on a smaller scale, yet had the flexibility to withstand high-growth. We can move faster, deploy custom-made eHealth solutions in as little as 5 days, which allows health organizations to serve 4-10 times more patients.
By building your capabilities outside the scope of your competition, and demonstrating flexibility in the new market, you will be better positioned to leverage your strengths and start mastering the art of start-up judo.
Ting Shih founded ClickMedix, an award-winning healthcare technology enterprise born out of MIT Media Lab to enable health organizations to serve more patients through its eHealth platform. Her areas of expertise include mHealth solution design, competitive strategy, lean/Six Sigma process improvement and operations management. She spent five years implementing mobile health programs across 15 countries in North America, South America, Africa, and Asia to develop financially sustainable health programs through ClickMedix. The programs equipped health workers, nurses, pharmacists, and physicians with smartphones to capture patient symptoms information, images, and other related health data to be transmitted to remote specialists who can provide diagnosis and treatment advice. Ting is the Cartier Women's Initiative Laureate 2012 for North America. She holds an MBA and MS in Systems Engineering from MIT. In addition, she holds a BS in Computer Science and MS in Software Design and Management from Carnegie Mellon University.