By Kristian Ranta, CEO & Founder of Meru Health
Building any company is hard, but building a (mental) health care technology company comes with its own set of unique challenges. Health care is a multi-stakeholder environment, it takes a long time for things to change, and you need research to back up basically anything you are building. However, people are sicker than ever and the costs of health care are skyrocketing, so building a health care technology company is extremely important and meaningful.
I’ve been a health care and medical technology entrepreneur and founder for the past 13 years. I originally started in diabetes and medical devices in 2006. My first business was a glucose monitoring technology company that we eventually sold to a Korean diagnostics manufacturing company in 2015. I decided to build a full-stack mental health technology company as my second company for two reasons:
1. I lost my brother Peter to suicide because of his poorly treated depression. I felt very strongly that I had to do something about the current state of mental health care, which was and is a global crisis.
2. I learned a lot through my health care background and my own personal therapy and mindfulness meditation experiences that became important insights to guide my way.
A “full-stack” company is a technology company that is developing a complete solution to solve a problem in the market, and combining non-tech as part of the solution (e.g., service components). So, how do you build a full-stack health care technology company in mental health? Here are a few keys to consider:
Have insight into how to solve a major problem in mental health care.
In other words, have an idea or some kind of asset that can significantly improve a given treatment or improve processes, e.g., a technology that improves diagnoses of certain conditions. My idea was to build a full-stack digital clinic utilizing behavioral interventions to empower people and radically improve mental health treatment. I wanted to solve the whole problem (treating a disease) and not build a technology to solve part of the problem -; although that is not to say that these innovations aren’t also extremely important.
Back everything up with research.
You might be able to build your initial story and pitch deck based on existing research that's out there, but you will eventually need to conduct your own to show that what you are offering is effective and safe. In my experience, this is an area in which many digital health companies fail. However, buyers and prospective buyers today are becoming much more demanding, so be sure your claims and offerings are backed up by authoritative, unbiased research.
Build a team that demonstrates strong mental health care expertise.
This includes your founding team and your early team as you build the company. To be credible in the market, you need your team’s expertise to reflect the seriousness of what you are offering. I also strongly recommend building a scientific advisory board with specific experts from the fields in which you are operating. No one wants to buy health care services or technologies from people who are not credible. Finally, thoroughly understand your regulatory environment.
Give yourself enough time, resources and runway.
Bootstrapping a health care company is extremely difficult, if not totally impossible. Before even going to market, you need resources to build your product/service, validate it with research and make sure you are meeting all the regulatory requirements. Building your product/service and getting it validated can easily take years, so be prepared.
Evaluate your go-to-market strategy.
In my experience, getting to market is usually the most difficult thing when building a (mental) health care company. Developing products and services is far easier than getting them into use or integrated into health care workflows. There are some exceptions where you can go business to consumer in health care, but it is primarily business to business. This means the sales cycle is long (easily 9-12 months) and you should become great at enterprise sales.
As well, have a strong founding and technology team in-house in order to build a complete solution for your customers. Many times, I've seen great technology companies with great products that don't put enough effort into sales and go-to-market work. This is usually the most difficult aspect of any health care commercialization process, and thus needs strong resourcing behind it.
Building a full-stack mental health care company has so far been very rewarding for me. It is already helping to solve many existing problems in the market, such as access to care, care efficacy and care quality. But that doesn't mean the road is easy, so be sure to understand the challenges before diving in.
Kristian Ranta is the CEO & Founder of Meru Health, a digital clinic for greater mental health.