The 4 Essential Dos and Don’ts for Launching Healthtech Products

For healthcare companies, the road to launching a successful digital product is a challenging one. Here are some guidelines to start you off on the right foot.

The time is ripe for healthcare providers looking to launch digital products. In fact, the relationship between technology and healthcare has rarely been as exciting or fruitful as it is now. Valued at $182 billion in 2020, the global digital health market is projected to surpass $550 billion by 2027—an impressive 16.5% compound annual growth rate.1 The driving factors behind these developments include shifting consumer preferences, improvements in smartphone penetration and digital adoption, and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced providers and consumers alike to seek out remote-first healthcare solutions.

The rapid expansion of the healthtech market means there’s a big opportunity for healthcare organisations to capture value by launching a digital product of their own. ​​However, with an estimated 350,000 health apps currently available to consumers worldwide, the space is becoming increasingly crowded.2 The next big winners will be the companies who outmanoeuvre their many competitors at every stage of the product lifecycle, from idea generation and validation to launch, iteration, and beyond.

This is not an easy task. The story behind most successful health products is all about groundwork, planning, and iteration; conversely, products that fail to live up to their potential usually do so because of poor strategy. Common strategic pitfalls include failing to properly convey your value proposition, misinterpreting early user behaviour, and bad timing. Ultimately, the best way to navigate these complex challenges is to adopt a rigorous, time-tested method based on industry best practices.

To give you a taste of what this involves, let’s take a look at some of the biggest “dos and don’ts” when it comes to defining, developing, launching, and scaling your digital health product.

Do this:

1. Do define the problem you’re trying to solve

In the initial stage of product building, your healthcare organization should adopt a “problem first” approach. Problem identification is only step one—the real work lies in articulating and understanding a problem in its fullest possible context, including how it arose in the first place, why it hasn’t been solved yet, and whether it matters enough to justify the investment. Other critical questions to consider at this stage include:

  • Who exactly is experiencing the problem? Do they have a burning desire for a solution, or is it more of a “nice-to-have”?
  • Are you certain you’re dealing with one single problem, or could it be a series of smaller, interconnected issues?
  • Are there any solutions currently available on the market, either in whole or in part? If so, how would you meaningfully improve on them?
  • Is this problem universal or local in nature? Do other regions or industries face similar problems? If so, can you learn from them?

Wealthfront CEO Andy Rachleff has said, “First to market seldom matters. Rather, first to product-market fit is almost always the long-term winner.”3 But before you establish your product-market fit, it pays to figure out your problem-solution fit first.

2. Do embrace stage-relevant teams

Successful product-building requires a culture of agility and innovation that many large healthcare organizations struggle to foster. Regulatory obstacles, bureaucratic challenges, and status quo bias can lead to glacially slow decision-making cycles—hardly ideal conditions for launching something new into the market.

Healthcare organizations can overcome these hurdles by embracing stage-relevant teams. A stage-relevant team is one that brings startup principles and experience into a larger organization, often operating in a space independent from the rest of the company. A powerful way to maximize innovation while minimizing disruption, stage-relevance ensures that your product is in the right hands at every step of its lifecycle.

3. Do know your market inside-out before launch

Defining your problem first is a great way to make sure no false assumptions are built into your product from the get-go. Subsequent market research will bring you further, not only in helping validate your surviving assumptions but also in making sure you don’t pick up any more false ones along the way. You can think of market research as a kind of anchor tethering you to reality, ensuring your ideas are grounded in data rather than speculation, fact rather than fantasy.

Competitor research will also be crucial at this stage. Ideally, this will extend beyond the core product to include naming, pricing plans, brand elements like images and colours, and even social media strategies. The deeper you can go, the better.

Throughout the research process, stakeholders should be open to all kinds of information, from competitor analysis reports to consumer surveys. The goal is to have a complete data-driven picture of your target market combined with a robust understanding of your product’s value proposition.

4. Do launch an MVP and iterate

Once you have a minimum viable product (MVP), your next step is to establish an initial user base. The behaviour, positive and negative, of these early adopters will give you an invaluable insight into where your product stands—and an MVP is only as good as the insights it gathers.

At this early stage in your product’s lifecycle, user testing can be an invaluable tactic as it enables you to determine how real people interact with your product. You can carry this out with a live moderator remotely or in-person; alternatively, you can employ digital usability tools like eye tracking software.

Telehealth startup Hims & Hers offers an excellent case study here. The initial core product focused on treating highly specific men’s health issues like hair loss and erectile dysfunction. After soliciting user feedback, and going through several iterations, the company not only hugely improved its original offering but marshalled the resources to launch a corresponding product for women. Now the company treats over 100 different healthcare issues, and has even developed its own electronic medical record.4

Uber’s MVP is an interesting example outside the healthcare space. Founder Travis Kalanick launched a basic, iPhone-only version of his now-famous ride-sharing app in a single city, San Francisco. The service was a huge success and the Uber team were able to iterate and scale based on customer feedback almost immediately.

Hims and Hers - simple process, convenient care

Don’t do this:

1. Don't get stuck on inessential features

In healthcare, as in other sectors, your customers will rarely think of your product as a checklist of features. They are more likely to conceive it as a single, coherent tool that either solves or does not solve their problem. It can be all too easy to convince yourself otherwise, especially in the early stages of the product development process; therefore, comprehensive market validation is vital to your product’s success.

A classic example of a product that launched with too many features was the Sony Walkman, which originally had a recording function as well as a listening one. When Sony realized that potential customers were unsure how to use the new device, they scrapped the recording part and sold it purely as a portable audio player. As we all now know, the final product was a fantastic global success.5

A similar issue plagued HealthSpot, the Ohio-based telemedicine startup. On top of providing digital-first health services, HealthSpot invested in dozens of costly physical telemedicine kiosks across the state. The resulting combination of both remote and semi-remote healthcare offerings appeared to confuse customers, who eventually abandoned it for more coherent and convenient offerings. The company shut down suddenly in 2016.6

To avoid “feature glut”, you can simply reframe the way you approach your value proposition. Instead of asking, “What are some cool things my product can do?”, try to focus on this question: “What is the one thing my product does brilliantly?”

Healthspot Station telemedicine booth

2. Don't scale prematurely

A common mistake innovators make during the early, exploratory phase of product building is getting bogged down by the problem of scale. Too often, healthcare organizations neglect the boldest ideas because they fear they won’t scale quickly enough. However, when it comes to building and launching digital products, there are about as many dangers in scaling too quickly as there are in leaving it too late.

According to research firm Startup Genome, 74% of high-growth internet startups fail due to premature scaling – i.e. before they have comprehensively validated their market7. An informative example here is the startup RewardMe, which offered loyalty programmes for retailers before it closed shop in 2012. RewardMe invested huge amounts of capital in acquiring customers and scaling up its operations before it had a solid product-market fit, a move which proved fatal for the business. A subsequent analysis of the RewardMe debacle came to the following conclusion: “Don’t scale until you’re ready for it. Cash is king, and you need to extend your runway as long as possible until you’ve found product market fit.”8

3. Don't neglect the marketing element

As an industry, healthcare marketing is distinctly challenging. Professionals in the space must first and foremost build trust with potential patients, a process which doesn’t lend itself well to empty bluster or generic content. At the same time, they have to remain compliant with a set of complex and ever-changing regulations. In response to these issues, asset management firm MerlinOne convened several marketing executives to assess the healthcare space.9 Some of the problems raised include:

  • Marketing imagery not aligning with the customer base (such as failing to include certain demographic groups)
  • Poor content marketing tactics, including insufficient attention paid to SEO
  • Lack of overall brand building and maintenance
  • Too much focus on price, to the detriment of communicating other sources of value

Taken together, these observations remind us that for a product to thrive in the healthcare space, it needs the support of a robust, thoughtful marketing strategy rooted in consumer needs and behavior patterns. For healthcare providers, content marketing is a particularly powerful element to incorporate into this strategy. By addressing the issues your leads and customers care about in an authoritative way, you can position yourself as a source of trust and expertise in the community and the market.

4. Don't ignore regulatory hurdles

While every industry has to deal with some level of regulation, healthcare providers must pay special attention to where they stand in the eyes of the law. It’s critical to understand the legal landscape you’re launching your product into, as demonstrated by the lawsuit surrounding Autonomous Medical Devices.10

In the US, for example, healthcare organizations have to ensure that all their operations are compliant with a suite of laws relating to data protection, malpractice, referral processes, payment models, the insurance market, and pricing transparency, among many others. The best way forward is to know your regulatory environment well before launch—or at least to hire someone who does.11 We have recently written an article about capitalizing on pricing transparency in the US – you can read more about it here.

How can U+ help your company become a leader in innovation?

The above list of best practices and common pitfalls for healthcare providers is by no means exhaustive. Building healthcare products is a challenge that few can meet successfully. At U+, we have a track record of doing just that. The U+ Method is a powerful, effective tool for launching your healthcare product the right way.

To date, we have brought 90+ successful businesses to market, creating over $1 billion in new value for Fortune 1000 companies, including many businesses in the Healthcare industry. The success stories of U+ in this space include creating an Online Fertility Wiki for an IVF Clinic and a Supplier Credentialing System for Hospitals for FloorPass.

Footnotes

  1. Precedence Research, Digital Health Market Size to Garner Around US$ 551.1 Bn by 2027

  2. MobiHealth News, Digital health apps balloon to more than 350,000

  3. Andreesen Horowitz, 12 Things about Product-Market Fit Future

  4. Syscreations, Hims and Hers Business Strategies Analysis | Start Similar Startup

  5. Entrepreneurs Circle, Less really can be more…

  6. MedCity News, Why did HealthSpot fail?

  7. Startup Genome, Premature Scaling Report

  8. CB Insights, Startup Failure Postmortems

  9. Devathon, 10 Best Examples of Minimum Viable Products (MVPs)

  10. Mike Leonard, Bloomberg Law, Larry Ellison Sued Over Diagnostic Startup's Series B Financing

  11. Deloitte, 2020 Health Care Regulatory Outlook

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