Silent opportunities

Preventing something from happening is without any doubt one of the biggest opportunities in healthcare – and perhaps especially digital healthcare. Trying to keep people from developing a medical condition that requires cost medical care is a really good idea for everybody concerned. And given the nature of prevention – and thus lack of physical intervention on the body – it is an area that is really suited for everything digital.

But there is an opportunity that might be even bigger; helping look after those who have developed a condition to enable them to have an improved quality of life. I think there are at least two major arguments for why this is so:

One of the problems with being diagnosed with a condition that may last for life is what happens after the diagnosis has been given. It’s all very good that in Denmark there is a 30 day or so guarantee to get a diagnosis, but to many who are then diagnosed, getting the message might actually be the last time they have a truly meaningful conversation with someone who specializes in their condition.

Yes, it can be that hard to get the attention and follow-up, you would like to have, post-diagnosis. There may be a lot of reasons for why this is so, but I think two of them are a lack of specialists in general combined with a lot of conditions being considered relatively banal by any other than those who are actually suffering from them.

In those terms this is what I would call a silent opportunity.

Here digital tools for follow-up and disease management can be a real benefit, as they can supply the kind of ongoing help and advice that is otherwise inaccessible. Done right digital tools have an opportunity to take the place of a specialist and provide the person with the condition with all the tools needed to ensure a better quality of life.

In this also lies the second major argument for why I believe this is a huge opportunity: The value the tools can potentially bring to the patient.

If a digital tool provides significant value to a person with a condition – perhaps for life – I can’t think of any reason why it wouldn’t be a major business opportunity to strike a working relationship between provider and patient perhaps even for life. If the tool becomes an important port of ensuring the users quality of life, it is worth paying something for. Likely not a whole lot per month, but over time it all adds up. And, best case, with extremely little churn.

For startups looking to cater to this market it is an opportunity to build a really interesting business for the long run with a solid purpose to boot. Of course the requirement beyond being able to build something that truly adds value is that entrepreneurs are in it for the long run, as exit opportunities may be few and far between. But for the right people with the right incentives and motivation to make a difference, the opportunities are definitely there.

(Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash)

Unleashing impact

A couple of weeks ago I ventured a bit into unknown territory, when I attended the Green Impact Summit in Copenhagen. I wanted to get a firsthand view of what’s going on within the world of impact startups and get a sense of how it’s progressing from being a lot of great and interesting ideas into real companies that actually have a fighting chance both to create impact but also become great businesses.

I don’t know what I expected before getting there. But a couple of things surprised me.

First of all the sparse attendance at the event. There probably was a couple of hundred people in total, and many of them were from the startups themselves or from the supporting ecosystem. For all the hype surrounding the space it still seems like we have some distance to go, before it really draws the big crowds.

Second, I noticed that the creativity and skill in the solutions being showcased are not necessarily matched with business experience yet. It still seems like there is an abundance of idealism – which is fine – and not so much emphasis on actually making it a sustainable – viable – business.

Tommy Ahlers, the super angel (yes, I will call him that) said it well, when he noted that the impact investment community reminds him a lot of where the tech investment community was 20 years ago; a lot of great ideas, visionaries and willingness to share. But not at all the same kind of focus on the business side of things.

I fully realize that there may be some out there who would now suggest that thats all part of the plan. That the great and all important cause of fighting climate change in all its incarnations takes priority ahead of talking about business. But I think that is totally misguided; there is no distinction between impact startups coming up with brilliant solutions to our sustainability challenges and the ability to make a profit. Rather, I think they go very well hand in hand.

There is an obvious opportunity in this space IMHO for experienced business savvy people with an interest in pursuing something more meaningful than a corporate career to look at startups in this space and look for ways to collaborate and even engage directly in one of them, helping them succeed all the way.

In fact, I don’t think you can overestimate the potential of this sector to become a real Danish or Nordic growth industry, if we just show the ambition on wanting to make it about more than the idea and invention itself but actually put a laserlike focus on what it means and takes to succeed. In a big way.

It’s ‘just’ a matter of the missing people engaging directly with everything they have in the good cause.

(Photo by kazuend on Unsplash)

Helping university research count

It is always a pleasure when you have the opportunity to go out and share some of the experiences and learnings, you have had, to an audience who need the insights in order to improve their odds of turning ideas into successful startups.

I had such an opportunity the other day, when I visited the Panum Institute at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at University of Copenhagen to talk about how to de-risk your business idea to a group of 60 Nordic researchers and ph.d.-students.

I thoroughly enjoy hanging out with researchers. One of the reasons is that I am deeply fascinated by what they do, how they work and how brilliant they are at coming up with novel discoveries. Part of my fascination is probably also that I know that I will never be in their league, and what is beyond reach somehow fascinates me.

But then there are – luckily – other things I think I am quite knowledgable about. One of those crucial areas is how to bridge the gap from the lab to the market, i.e. how to bring great research to life in the form of products and services that meet a real demand and can thus form the basis for a great business.

Getting in front of researchers to share that knowledge is key, I believe, because there is so much potential in ensuring that top class research gets a real life after the lab.

Today a lot of great research ends up in big corporations, and as such that is fine, because it ensures that the technology gets out there and gets used. But you have to ask yourself, what could happen if more of that research became spinouts in their own right creating new opportunities, new jobs and contributing to economic growth in society? That, to me, is the really exciting part.

For this to happen researchers need help. And a lot of it. When I meet young spinouts as part of the Danish Open Entrepreneurship programme, the spinouts fall into a couple of different buckets.

There are those that are really specialized, deeply techie and so niche, you just know it’s never going to be a company in itself but will most likely be acquired by some bigger corporate as a tech/IP acquisition.

And then there are those, where you immediately get a sense of how it could become a company in its own right with a product speaking clearly to a significant future customer base and with that the opportunity to actually create an impact and solving a problem.

Those are the interesting ones to me. And thus this is where I start to look deeper into the team. And what I see here is most often:

Deeply brilliant and experienced researchers with a big wish to see their research reach the market but with very little realistic idea about how to actually make that happen. Simply because they have never done it before, it’s not what they feel, they should be spending their time on, and – basically – it’s not what they should spend their time on.

This actually produces an interesting paradox. Because I would argue that when we talk about de-risking an idea for a startup, the process and structure you apply to that is actually very akin to the process you use, when you do research: You define a hypothesis, you test it using experiments, and you capture your learnings. And then you repeat, repeat and repeat until you have – hopefully – reached the intended outcome.

So you would argue that of all people, researchers are actually very well equipped to do de-risking for their own startups. Yet, a lot of the researchers struggle with this process. The reasons may wary, but I believe it has a lot to do with the fear of getting a ‘No’; the fear that what you have worked so hard on and been so committed to, will not get the anticipated reaction when you go outside the lab.

For the very same reason this is exactly where its great to get help from someone, who is not only more experienced about doing market research and de-risking but who is also not so personally attached to the research and technology in question. By admitting your own limitations and partnering up with someone to drive the external facing side of the emerging spinout, you may actually get very far with very little.

Why is that? Because the researcher already understands the mechanisms in de-risking, and you thus don’t have to spend time talking through the process and explain the mechanics. You can focus on getting the most critical hypothesis defined, design the experiments and capture the learnings. It can actually become quite an efficient process, and you could argue that only a little more than sheer mentoring for the researcher(s) could get you a long way.

However, mentoring is not enough. An equal commercial partner is needed for the researcher to increase the chances of ultimate startup success. And while getting help on the market de-risking in itself is a huge plus, the right people also bring a few other benefits that are equally important to the chances of success:

First of all, researchers need someone outside their research circle to help determine, when research and technology is ‘good enough’ to start testing. I seldom meet researchers who have a pragmatic view on this – the tendency is always to stay a bit longer in the lab, run yet another experiment, optimize the technology even further etc. In a worst case scenario what that essentially means is you can stay in the lab forever and never get the technology out to use.

Second – and a bit connected to the point above – researchers need someone to help them establish and secure a sense of urgency. While this is not the same thing as wanting to rush things through, it is about helping researchers figuring out how to get to market as quick as possible in order to both gather feedback and learnings from the market but also show investors that the case is on track to be viable.

Of course there are limitations as to what you can launch early, if you fx operate within a regulated industry, but the point is that there are always things you can do to start putting the spinout on the map, and researchers generally need help doing that.

Finally, a partner can help researchers deal with the very real issue that the envisioned outcome is by no means the same as the journey to get there. Too many researchers have the notion that the complex part of turning their research into a product that can be marketed is the actual research.

In fact, it often turns out that getting the product to market and commercializing it is every bit as complex, rocky and bumpy a journey as the research. Partners with experience in taking things to market know this because they have the battle scars themselves to prove it. Researchers don’t – by and large – have this and would thus be well advised to add this experience and expertise to their team early on. If for nothing else then at least for sparring them the pain of experiencing these hardships themselves. And potentially see their startup become an unnecessary casualty in the process.

So in summary, there is a lot of things, ‘business people’ can do to help researchers realize the full potential of their research. The right commercial people are just as important and valuable as materials needed in the lab to perform the actual research. They are each others yin and yang, and together they can achieve the outcome great researchers with a passion for affecting change have:

Making the research count where it’s needed.

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It takes a full team

One of the great misconceptions in working to build a startup from scratch is that you need only be great at one thing – typically product development – and then you can wing and learn the rest.

Why do I think it’s a wrong approach?

First of all, you’re essentially working on a wrong assumption about what’s needed to become really successful. Because just as innovation, product development and delivery takes skill and experience, so do the ‘boring’ business parts.

In essence it may actually be more difficult to build a business than develop a product; when you’re developing a product you can get very far with your own skills (provided they’re good enough), but when you move out into the market, the whole world goes into flux, the interdependencies are huge and the risk as well. And it just takes a pretty steady set of hands to work that infinite space.

Second, you risk spending your time, energy and ressources on the wrong things. If you’re a stellar developer, you should be focusing on development. Full stop. You should now water down and defocus your unfair advantage by taking on tasks, you don’t feel confident in and – lets face it – basically care very little about.

You should leave all those things to people who have the same qualities as yourself – but within the business/market facing aspects of your startup.

In summary, the key message here is that it ALWAYS takes a full team to succeed. And since you cannot by everywhere and bring your A game to every aspect of getting a successful business up and running, make sure that you get A players in all positions and show them faith and trust that they’re capable people who knows what’s needed to be successful.

That’s the best way for you to maximize your chances of success.

(Photo by Guille Álvarez on Unsplash)

A new kind of rockstars

Until now it has been somewhat of an established truth that if you’re a software engineer, and you know your programming languages of choice really, really well, you can do pretty much anything;

You can bring new ideas to life, build new products, build new business even, if you’re an engineer with a keen interest in business as well.

On the flip side, business people have had a more rough time. Yes, they can get ideas, and yes they can sell products and run a business. But they have a hard, hard time building the actual products. For those they need the engineers.

It is all good. But maybe times are changing. Especially for the software engineers.

Because as Moores Law is nearing its end, chances are that the big advances in computing and innovation going forward is going to come from other places; from good old scientists working in labs on more material things that have little to do with what software can do in itself.

Thus a new dependency is created. Where business people used to be dependent on great software engineers to get anything done, software engineers will likely be growing a dependency on hard core scientists in order to make radical advancements that goes above and beyond what they can do themselves.

This will require a whole new level of collaboration across sectors and a mutual respect for what each skillset brings to the table. We will most likely see the ‘rockstar’ mantra vane and give place to a more collaborative and perhaps even humble approach, as we are to a certain extend moving into territory where no-one has been before, and where it would probably just be foolish to steam full ahead without taking the context and environment into account.

There is little doubt that these new collaborations will be able to do great things – and that they will need to in order to help us solve some of the massive challenges, we all have in front of us. And that those who can’t or won’t see this change coming is going to add new challenges to the ones, they already have.

(Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash)

What’s the right price?

There are a number of fundamental questions in business, and one of the most fundamental ones to any business is the one of what to charge for your product?

Clearly there is not one 100% correct answer for that question as it always depends on a lot of different things. And yes, pricing is a science in itself and super hard to get right. But there are a few simple considerations to at least get you started.

They are: Cheap But Expensive, Optimum and Expensive For Good Reason.

The Cheap But Expensive option is the starter option. Yes, it will cost the customer less than the other ones, but in reality it is priced in a way to ensure, (1) you get your starting costs covered and (2) there is every incentive to upgrade to a more expensive solution.

Think of this as the small but overpriced ice cream cone that really just screams you were too cheap to get a bigger one.

The Optimum price point is where the offer makes financial sense compared to the value you’re getting as a customer. Yes, you pay, but you also have a pretty good understanding of why you are being asked to pay what you’re being asked. It can be a super hard point to reach and get right, but this is where you want to be also for the sake of customer retention.

Going back to the ice cream cone example from above this is where the ratio between price and the scoops of ice, you get makes sense, and where you think the value is good enough that you also with a happy heart buy for your friends and family.

The final price point – the Expensive For Good Reason – is the where customers demands more of you, and you basically say “Ok, but it’s going to cost you then”.

This is a scary point for startups because it’s usually here where pilot customers, who haven’t really paid that much (if anything), and which the startup needs to prove its case to investors, reside; putting huge demands on the team for promised service, support and updates for very little if any return.

This is the price point where it’s ok to be greedy as a startup and consider that if a customer is asking too much, you can do the same in terms of asking for more money. Yes, you risk losing the customer, but if it was essentially making a loss, you’re in 99,5 % of all cases better off without it anyway.

At the ice cream vendor this is where you as a customer just want an obscene amount of ice cream in your cone, and you’re just billed accordingly. A totally fair exchange of value.

So in summary: Getting pricing right is super, super hard, but if you have more price points than one, you will want 3 price points:

A low price point that covers as much of your cost as possible and provides a clear upgrade incentive,

A middle one that scales well (“Most Popular Option”, as it’s often called),

And one for special requirements, where you basically ensure you get very well compensated for going out of your way to satisfy a very needy customer with their special needs – without getting distracted from your strategy and roadmap to support it.

(Photo by Angèle Kamp on Unsplash)

Beware changing models

Can you start out with one type of business model and then transition to a new one without facing huge challenges?

The question is a valid one. And the answer is probably “No” in most cases. And it is worth exploring a bit further, as it’s often a topic that comes up when I meet with founders.

The issue with wanting to change the business model is that what I need and want as a founder and business owner is not necessarily the same as my customer needs and wants.

Let me a simple example from my own life as a customer:

When I order a case of wine from my preferred ‘wine pusher’, I expect it to be an interesting wine from a wine maker, I would otherwise never have heard of and at a reasonable price. Like I am used to.

I do not expect to get an offer for a wine they have produced themselves together with a chef, I have never heard of (even though it probably says something bad about me that I don’t). As I got the other day. And immediately decided to decline.

Why?

Because it broke the fundamental ‘contract’ I have with my regular supplier: You find regular wines from little known places that I can then get a good offer on. That’s the model, I have signed up for. You DON’T try to introduce your own brands into the mix, because that deviates from our ‘contract’.

Could I be more forgiving here and just try it out? Absolutely. And I fully expect that many of their customers do so. Otherwise they probably wouldn’t do it. But I think it goes to show how challenging it can be to make changes to your fundamental value proposition and business model.

I think you need to be very aware of this. Because while it may be tempting to try to change your business model to introduce new revenue streams, cut costs, increase sales, boost your bottom line or whatever, you won’t succeed in it if you’re out of sync with what your customers are expecting.

Don’t ever take even your loyal customers for granted.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)

Rest In Peace, IE

It’s been in the cards for ages, but now it’s official: Internet Explorer (IE) will be retired in June 2022.

Most people have long since moved on. And for good reason(s). But many businesses still have some legacy tools that for some silly reason loves IE more than anything else. They will now need to find a new object of their affection.

The reason why I wanted to briefly touch on it here is not for what is happening now but for what IE has meant to the world, to Microsoft – and to me.

For the world, IE was the first way many people got on the internet. Yes, you could argue there were always better, more sexy options. But the inclusion of IE in the Windows operating system effectively made it a no-brainer for consumers to use the browser. Which could again be seen by it’s market dominance for years.

Love it or hate it. There are many ways to make your mark. And IE certainly did that with millions and millions of people.

For Microsoft it also had tremendous importance – if for all the wrong reasons. It allowed the company to steam (late) into the digital era, and it was also the most important source of the anti-trust case filed by DOJ that out then CEO Bill Gates through his most excruciating interview ever (and no, he did not do well in that), and almost broke the company up.

How’s that for impact, huh?

For me personally, IE also played a pivotal role in my professional life. When I started out at MSN.dk in the autumn of 2000, our homepage was the standard homepage in IE and as such, we got a lot of traffic from it.

I honestly can’t count the number of times, I have received abuse and pointed remarks from competitors about the unfair advantage, they thought we had, and how we – in their eyes – ‘cheated’.

Of course we didn’t, and the only effect the criticism had on us was to motivate us to do even better and go and create some of the most popular content verticals on the Danish part of the internet, IRRESPECTIVE of the IE homepage.

We managed to build leading verticals within entertainment and lifestyle for both men and women with great local partners. And with that and more most certainly the most profitable display driven advertising business in the Danish media market with margins, our competitors couldn’t even dream of.

It was good times.

So for me, IE was a net positive. It helped me discover the internet, it provided an opportunity to join one of the coolest companies on the planet (which I am eternally grateful for), and it allowed our team to build a digital media business that was second-to-none in it’s time.

Rest In Peace, IE.

(Photo: Pixabay.com)