How doctors-turned-entrepreneurs can achieve business success

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Christina Hernandez Sherwood, eMed Editor, MedCity News

Dr. Jordan Shlain, a full-time primary care physician, didn’t expect to become an entrepreneur. His software program, HealthLoop, was born of “innovation by irritation,” he said. After a patient with pneumonia ended up in the hospital, despite being given the doctor’s cell phone number to follow up, Shlain was inspired to find a better way to keep track of patients.

What started as Shlain’s personalized spreadsheet of patients to call for follow-ups has become a HIPAA-compliant software program. HealthLoop lets doctors send patients automated follow-up emails with questions ranging from the general (How do you feel today compared to yesterday?) to the specific (Are you able to walk up stairs?). “We’re empowering physicians to communicate directly with their patients,” Shlain said. In an interview, he shared tips for aspiring “doctorpreneurs.”

Make smart deals from the start – Shlain teamed up with a developer to transform HealthLoop from a spreadsheet into software. Instead of paying the developer, Shlain offered him a big chunk of equity in the company. “That’ll cause you all sorts of problems down the road,” he said. Later, Shlain had to renegotiate with the developer. “There are people involved and people have feelings,” he said.

Protect yourself and your company – To the extent you can, Shlain said, get non-disclosures and non-competes done upfront and out of the way. Be unapologetic, he said, and remember that if someone doesn’t sign it, you don’t have to work together. Otherwise, Shlain said, spell out your idea on paper and get an IP lawyer to run it up the flagpole.

Have skin in the game – Shlain consistently put money into HealthLoop alongside his investors. “I always put something in to show them that I’m serious about this,” he said. Even if it’s just $1,000, Shlain said other entrepreneurs should do the same. “Very few people do that,” he said. “You’re going to get respect like you never knew.”

Get to know your partners – If you’re in the process of hiring someone who is going to be important to your company, Shlain said, conduct multiple interviews and spend some time with them in a casual setting. Grab a beer or a glass of wine together, he said. “You’re going to be dealing with these people for a long time,” Shlain said. “You’re going to be married to them.”

Get your product out into the wild – While simultaneously doing business and product development, Shlain decided to get feedback on his software. First, he shared HealthLoop with doctor friends. Then, he let friends-of-friends – people who would be more likely to give brutally honest feedback – use the product. And finally, Shlain sought live feedback from patients. “Get your thing out into the wild,” he said, “the real wild.”

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