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Two books to help you start your startup!!! 

In my interactions with hundreds of clinical entrepreneurs over the past 9 years I have found the same questions and conversations coming up time after time, to name a few:

I’ve got an idea but where on earth do I start?

How do I know if the problem I want to solve is worth solving? Is my idea viable?

There is so much to do, how do I know what is most important? 

Should I build an App? How do I get funding to do that?

I’ll be coming back to explore some of these questions in more detail in later blog posts, but for now I wanted to share two books which I think hold a lot of the answers, and that I have found invaluable throughout my own entrepreneurial journey. The Lean Startup and Running Lean. 

This is a book that every entrepreneur and innovator should read, regardless of sector. It is especially important and useful for those transitioning from a clinical background as it gives clear principles which are transferable to a variety of settings including software and medical device development. It also details a semi-scientific approach to building business which really chimes with analytical and academic skills you develop through a career in medicine. 

Graphical representation of the lean startup relating to digital health

5 key takeaways from the lean startup

  1. Fall in love with the PROBLEM you are solving

One of the most common issues that I see in new clinical entrepreneurs (and some more experienced ones!!) is that they don’t truly understand the problem(s) they are solving or who they are solving them for. Throughout the book Eric Ries underscores the critical importance of thoroughly understanding the problem you are solving. This sets the stage for the entire entrepreneurial journey, guiding decisions and actions to ensure you are consistently adding value and not wasting your effort. 

By defining the problem clearly and comprehensively, you can align your efforts with genuine customer and user needs, increasing the likelihood of success and meaningful impact. As an innovator in digital health and medtech you should make problem definition the cornerstone of your startup's mission, guiding subsequent actions and iterations towards creating solutions that truly make a difference in the lives of their users and stakeholders.

2. BUILD… A Minimum Viable Product (MVP):

Instead of getting stuck in ‘analysis paralysis’, and doing endless research (something I commonly see in clinical entrepreneurs!), build a MVP. My slightly loose definition of this is ‘the simplest thing you can build to test your most critical assumption’  . This isn’t a crappy version of your final product, but rather something specifically designed to enable you to run an experiment and learn. 

In the early stages of your journey this could be as simple as a slide deck, a clickable prototype or even a landing page where you try to capture interest from early adopters. Another option is a ‘concierge MVP’ approach where you replace the role of technology by putting yourself in the process.  

3. MEASURE… Test assumptions through experimentation:

Once you have something built ‘get out of the house’ and run experiments by testing it with real world customers and users. I often speak to early stage founders who have concerns about this, for example being worried that people will judge them poorly if their product isn’t perfect.

Real world feedback, particularly from changes in key metrics such as adoption, engagement and retention is the only way to truly validate, or invalidate the assumptions you have made in your business model. So get out there, engage and experiment! 

4. LEARN… Embrace continuous iteration and pivot when necessary

Once you have run your experiments analyse the feedback. Did you get a positive result? Did your key metrics change? Have you confirmed your assumptions? 

Use what you have learnt to update your business model and work out what to try next. Think about what is your next biggest assumption, how are you going to test it? Have you reached problem to solution fit? Solution to market fit? 

5. REPEAT…. And then repeat again!

A startup is all about continuous improvement and iteration, you have a finite amount of time and resources, the more times you can cycle through the ‘build/measure/learn’ loop the more likely you are to reach solution to market fit, with a product that people want, because it solves their problems, and a business and commercial model which allows you to sustainably grow. 

Whilst the Lean Startup is a must read and hugely useful to clinical entrepreneurs as described above, one limitation I found was difficulty taking the high level principles and applying them to the situations that I found myself in. The tagline of this book is ‘iterate from plan A to a plan that works’, and it guides you through that process step by step. It is absolutely jam-packed with useful techniques, advice on common pitfalls and provides you with a toolkit which you can apply to almost any company. 

Graphical representation of the book running lean relating to digital health

5 key takeaways from Running Lean 

1. Define, Analyse and Iterate Your Business Model with Lean Canvas:

The Lean Canvas is a simple one page business model, and my opinion one of the most useful tools any entrepreneur can use as it lets you think holistically about your whole business, spot weaknesses and plan what to do next. 

Get your ideas out of your head and onto paper, identify your biggest assumptions, and then figure out how to test them! 

2. Focus on Problem-Solution Fit:

I’m always amazed at the number of entrepreneurs I speak to who haven’t fully understood the problem they are trying to solve and who they are solving it for. This includes many people who are years into their startup and have invested significant time and resource without properly exploring this critical part of their business. 

 Prioritise understanding the problem your startup aims to solve before developing solutions. Conduct thorough problem interviews with stakeholders to validate the need for your digital health or medtech solution and ensure alignment with market demands.

3. Leverage Unfair Advantages:

Think about what makes you different and better than the competition, and use it. This could be your clinical experience, your network, your team or new insights you have developed. How can you use what is at your disposal to get a competitive edge?

4. Measure Key Metrics for Success:

Identifying your key metrics at each stage of business and then systematically and rigorously monitoring them is absolutely critical. It allows you to identify whether or not you experiments are having an impact and whether you are heading in the right direction or need to pivot. Thankfully Running Lean has a lot of great advice on how to identify, and implement these metrics and then react to changes. 

5. Optimise Costs, Operations and Development for Efficiency:

At the most basic level the success or failure of your startup is likely to be determined by how quickly you can spin through the build-measure-learn loop and reach problem/solution fit and then product/market fit. You need to do this before you run out of money! 

Optimising all your activities to get the most learning from the lowest cost and effort is a critical part of this and something that is emphasised time and again throughout the book. 

What Next?

I hope you enjoyed these thoughts on two amazing books, and you find them as useful as I have. I recommend starting by reading the Lean Startup to give you a high level picture and principles to follow, and then Running Lean to put it into practice. Use the links below if you want to get yourself a copy, and do check out the lean startup and lean foundry websites which have loads of useful resources. 

If you enjoyed this content subscribe to my blog and I’ll keep you updated with more thoughts and resources designed specifically for clinical entrepreneurs. 

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