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Examining the Usefulness of the Lean Startup Method in Building Health Tech Products

How health tech startups can successfully adapt the principles to their business ideas

Market research statistics indicate that more than 300 million startups are launched globally each year. Of that amount, only about 10% manage to become successful businesses.

Startups in the digital health tech industry are not spared this reality. It is even more challenging for health startups to get off the ground since rigorous research and testing are often required when creating healthcare products. As many as 35% of startups fail due to misunderstanding the needs of the market, so the last thing a healthcare company wants is to spend countless hours building a platform that people are not interested in.

The lean startup methodology was created to help alleviate some of the fears in building a startup from scratch. Useful for both small and large operations, several well-known brands have adopted lean startup principles to build hugely successful products. The list includes Qualcomm, Dropbox and Toyota.

Let’s take a look at this unique system and how health tech startups can successfully adapt the principles to their business ideas.

What Is the Lean Startup Model?

The lean startup methodology is a set of principles that are used to launch and build out new ideas based on the explored desires of the target customer. It strategically allows startups to eliminate uncertainty in the market while laying the path to product development. The founding principles of the concept have mainly been credited to Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur whose works have led to groundbreaking articles on the topic, such as “Why the Lean Startup Changes Everything,” published by Harvard Business Review in 2013.

The difference between lean startup and the usual startup process

The lean startup method guides founders to use a scientific approach in turning ideas into businesses. In the traditional method, aspiring founders will draft complex business plans that they will use to entice investors in addition to hoping that their idea will be favorable to target users upon launch. This approach hides the product from customers for as long as possible, so there is nothing to indicate whether the product will satisfy their needs.

With lean startup, the emphasis is placed on ascertaining from the customer the pain points or unmet need without introducing a product. Once the burning need has been identified, a value proposition is generated that requires validation with potential customers. The response is measured, and the results are used to determine what features and characteristics the product should have that will drive customers to use it.

Using the lean startup methodology to build your own startup

Moving from concept to a full-fledged startup can pose many challenges, which may include finding resources, building a network, and acquiring the necessary skills to kick-start ideas. Navigating the hurdles call for careful consideration, and this is where I found value in employing the principles of Steve Blank’s lean startup method.

Breaking down the lean startup method

Success or failure in launching any kind of business typically depends on how well your product can find favor with the target market. It is more than having a great idea and proceeding to craft an enticing business plan. Lean startups consider this fact and set out on a continuous process of trial and error, all while constantly revising and discarding ideas as needed.

Here is a breakdown of the steps:

  • Ideation
  • Hypothesis testing
  • Building a minimum viable product (MVP) for gathering customer feedback
  • Revising the hypothesis accordingly
  • Building a product
  • Continuous testing for product improvement or expansion

The first step in the process after understanding the pain points and unmet need is to validate the value proposition. Having established a hypothesis, the next step in the lean startup system is to create a minimum viable product. The MVP is a bare-bones version of the product you want to build.

What it does is allow you to test out the main features of the product on real customers in your target audience, collect data, and be able to measure customer interest accordingly. If the feedback is favorable, that is a signal to proceed. If it is negative, the startup can choose to scrap the idea or use the feedback to pivot accordingly.

I leveraged Steve Blank’s lean startup principles toward developing an MVP, which was introduced to hundreds of potential customers. The target audience is pediatricians and child neurologists.

In addition, we wanted to determine what kind of product would be most convenient and comfortable to use for patients. The MVP we built enabled doctors to find out exactly what kind of data they wanted from the product, precisely when it would be necessary to capture that data, and how the product would need to work so that the whole interaction between doctor and patient would be seamless.

After some amount of back and forth, we were able to craft a product that matched up with the discerned pain points of the doctors. However, when the solution was introduced, it was revealed that the doctors did not need the level of detail or amount of data the tool was able to deliver. Fortunately, the use of the lean startup principles meant that we could use the feedback from doctors to further tweak the product. We went on to build a smartphone app, which sees patients recording selfie videos that allow doctors to extract the precise data they need.

Continuous development of lean startups

Overall, the lean startup method is more concerned with conducting tests that lead to fulfilling a broader vision instead of following step-by-step business plans. Lean startups continue to use the system to ask questions that can lead to perfecting the product, developing additional products, and pivoting when necessary.

Photo credit: elenabs, Getty Images

Rachel Kuperman, M.D., a participant in the 2022 CharmHealth Innovation Challenge, is a pediatric epileptologist who directed the pediatric epilepsy program at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in Oakland, California, for 10 years. While trained in physics and neurophysiology, she grew frustrated by the lack of data used to make critical decisions about the diagnosis and management of epilepsy, leading to no significant improvement in outcomes in 30 years. The cardiologists had Holter monitors and the endocrinologists had remote glucose monitoring, but the neurologist, at best, had a patient-generated seizure diary that was less than 50% accurate. While she could use powerful data generated in the hospital through complex brain mapping surgeries to understand where a child’s seizures were coming from, on a day-to-day basis in the clinic, she grew frustrated and disillusioned because her patient’s lives were a black box. She founded Eysz with the goal of using patient-generated data to transform the outcomes of people with neurological disease, starting with epilepsy.

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