Healthcare is one of the most varied and dynamic industries, spanning everything from consumer products, to novel medical technologies that are revolutionizing patient care. There is no limit to the different types of businesses and products a healthcare entrepreneur can pursue. So I’m always surprised by how siloed life sciences companies operate.
I have seen so many talented, creative business leaders assume they have to hyper-specialize into one healthcare niche or sub-industry to be successful. But I believe the opposite is true: to bootstrap a business and bring a product to market, healthcare entrepreneurs should borrow ideas and approaches from other sectors in order to take better-calculated risks.
Good Ideas Are Always a Competitive Advantage
I started my career with major medical device companies like Boston Scientific, Covidien, and Medtronic. The medical device space is often seen as a more old-fashioned field than biotech, digital health, SaaS, and other disruptive healthcare tech categories. But medtech entrepreneurs aren’t doing their companies any favors by limiting themselves to traditional marketing and product development strategies. The borders between BTB medtech and DTC health are blurrier now. Entrepreneurs who are willing to leverage proven strategies from one sector can gain a competitive advantage in another. It all starts with curiosity, keeping an open mind, and staying current with the latest trends across the broader healthcare ecosystem.
Stay Curious and Keep Current Across Various Medtech Categories
With a million things to do every day, I understand how medical device and health technology entrepreneurs can become siloed and hyperfocused on their specific business and therapeutic arena. But I think an under-discussed key to success in this industry is being curious and knowledgeable about everything else that’s happening in the wide world of medtech. This is why I decided to start a dedicated medtech entrepreneurship podcast called Medsider back in 2010. For over a decade, I’ve been sharing the insights, tactics, and secrets behind the most successful medtech and healthtech founders and CEOs.
Medsider has allowed me to connect and network with hundreds of industry leaders and help many up-and-coming entrepreneurs find their footing. The conversations I’ve had have made me an infinitely more knowledgeable founder and thinker. In fact, I believe the best medtech leaders never stop learning and always stay curious about how to do new things. Time is a precious resource for any business leader, but carving out specific blocks every week to stay connected to developments in the industry is an investment in yourself. You won’t know what other companies are doing to succeed unless you’re always looking and learning. Never be afraid to steal an idea from one industry and apply it to your own business. Don’t limit or silo yourself; I’ve experienced success because of a willingness to move back and forth between traditional physician-centric medical devices and newer, patient-focused health technologies.
Leveraging Medtech Best Practices to Bootstrap a DTC Startup
When I co-founded Joovv, a DTC light therapy brand, I relied on my medtech expertise to launch the business. This was 2015, several years before light therapy became a leading tool for skincare and sports recovery. There wasn’t much consumer awareness of the technology, so we had to build it. With my medtech background, I was able to navigate the development and regulatory waters in order to get our first product to market quickly. I think many medtech professionals would be pleasantly surprised at how transferable their
skills are to the consumer sector. If you can bring a product to market in the highly regulated medical technology space, you likely have what it takes to make an impact with consumers.
We bootstrapped Joovv from zero to $20 million in profitable revenue within just four years. To get there, we took a page from the medical device industry and focused our marketing campaigns and educational content on the strong clinical research around red light therapy. I see other DTC health entrepreneurs shying away from hard science, but I think it’s a mistake. We highlighted peer-reviewed research showing a range of health benefits rather than trying to oversell our technology. This became a major differentiator; we showed we were legitimate in a space filled with consumer skepticism.
We designed our products with the end user in focus; how a light therapy device would conveniently fit into someone’s home and routine. We combined scientific data with lifestyle marketing to create a unique brand identity, and then crafted a wide range of educational content to inform consumers about the benefits of red light therapy. Taking it a step further, we leveraged social media influencers and customer testimonials to build awareness and trust across our various digital channels.
After years of building Joovv into a leading consumer wellness brand, I realized I missed making an impact with patients. So I pivoted back to medical devices, taking insights from Joovv and DTC ecommerce with me.
Consumer Strategies Can Help Level Up a Medtech Business
In 2021. I co-founded FastWave Medical to develop improved, cost-effective intravascular lithotripsy (IVL) systems for calcific artery disease. That might seem like a strange jump from ecommerce and light therapy, but actually my experience with Joovv has helped me establish a new bar for FastWave. Using Joovv’s playbook, we’ve prioritized speed – a value that’s often lost in the years-long medical technology development process.
To prevent delays and limit costs, we’ve focused on solving for the highest-priority user needs that don’t negatively impact the regulatory and reimbursement pathways. I recommend thinking about how you’ll clear these hurdles from the very beginning when you’re prototyping and raising your early rounds of capital. Being able to hit your milestones rapidly means less capital will be required. This leads to a potential exit valuation that is more appealing for potential acquirers.
Steal Like an Artist, Explore Like an Entrepreneur
It’s easy to become specialized in the worlds of medical devices and health technology, but there’s so much to gain by exploring innovative approaches from other industries and sectors. There are no firm boundaries, so you should explore and try new strategies. Here are a few more best practices healthcare entrepreneurs should consider, regardless of the type of company you run.
- Storytelling: Ecommerce founders know you have to build a compelling narrative around your products, but medtech entrepreneurs tend to lose the plot and focus too heavily on communicating with a handful of specialized HCPs. That matters, but you also have to tell a story to patients and the public. How will you elevate the standard of care and make a patient’s life better? Hone a simple story about the unmet need and the potential impact at the consumer level.
- Simplify: Medical technologies are incredibly complex, but your pitch should be simple enough that a high school student can understand the appeal. Lose the jargon!
- Ecommerce Marketing Works in Medtech: I urge medtech founders to leverage DTC-style marketing approaches like affiliate content partnerships, influencer campaigns, and digitally-native performance brand plays. Be sure to also use DTC-style data metrics around conversions and attribution to analyze success.
- Conduct Cost-Effective Research: Life science companies aren’t usually afraid of clinical data. But if you’re overwhelmed by the cost, look for alternative approaches? At Joovv, we partnered with a decentralized trial partner and leveraged our own email list to recruit and manage our own research studies. This helped us improve our products while validating our approach with customers. It also opened doors with HCPs. I’ll close with a quote from Austin Kleon in his book, Steal Like an Artist. This is the ethos healthcare entrepreneurs need to cultivate: “Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.”
Scott Nelson spends most of his time working on early-stage companies inbthe medical device and health technology arenas. He’s had the pleasure of working at the intersection of these two worlds for most of his professional career.
He’s a Founding Partner and Managing Director of Big Sky Biomedical, a leading medtech accelerator. He serves as the President and CEO of FastWave Medical, a company founded by Big Sky Biomedical partners, which closed on a milestone-based investment plus acquisition within 6 months of formation.
He’s also a Co-Founder and Advisor to Crossfire Medical, a Big Sky Biomedical portfolio company. In 2010, He founded Medsider, a digitally native media company focused on disseminating key insights from medtech and healthtech thought leaders. And in 2015, he co-founded Joovv, and led the company from zero to $20M in topline revenue within 4 years of launching its first product.
Previously, Scott spent his entire professional career in various life science leadership positions at CR Bard, Boston Scientific, Covidien, Medtronic, and Touch Surgery.