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Why the first customer matters most: advice from a tech entrepreneur

Christina Hernandez Sherwood, eMed Editor, MedCity News

A technology entrepreneur and health researcher, Ian Eslick considered how to tap unusual revenue sources to build and sustain projects that would have value in the healthcare system. He came up with a solution in Vital Reactor, which keeps track of profit shares for people who contributed to a startup.

Eslick is also co-founder of Compass Labs, which connects advertisers to online users exhibiting real-time and long-term purchase interest. And he worked with the C3N project (described in a recent eMed report) as a systems architect investigating the impact of single-subject research. He shared tips for entrepreneurs on deploying and integrating their health interventions.

The first customer matters most – In healthcare more than any other business, Eslick said, the first customer matters most. “There’s usually custom work that has to be done to integrate [the product or service] into the hospital workflow,” he said. Until you’ve worked through that with your first customer, Eslick said, you’re fooling yourself about how long the process will take.

Make sure your intervention can be integrated – No medical center will adopt your product or service if it can’t be integrated into the hospital workflow, Eslick said. Harried physicians who can barely keep up with their current workload will push back against yet another piece of technology that demands their time, he said. “The social costs are much higher from the standpoint of an individual physician,” Eslick said.

Partner with research to deploy your intervention – Remember that doctors, especially in higher-end hospitals, are researchers too, Eslick said. Their promotion in the business is contingent upon showing research results. One way to secure a physician partner with is to find out who is doing research in your area, Eslick said, and propose that your product be part of their research. Look at the research world as an avenue to get the attention of the operating side of the hospital, he said.

Hedge your bet with an open-source strategy – Healthcare technology tends to be deployed for a very long time, Eslick said. Taking an open-source strategy can help entrepreneurs attract customers who worry about their long-term future being controlled by a single product or service, he said. Examples include “open source eventually,” in which code becomes open source after a certain time period, and “open core,” in which only the core platform is open source.

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