Starting to scale your health technology startup? Get a Gopher, a Cleaner, and an Enforcer. Jonathan Wang explains how all three get the job done.
Last year, advertising agency AKQA’s Rei Inamoto proclaimed the startup tri-force to be the hipster, hacker, and hustler. I’m sure Inamato didn’t intend to promote unethical or illicit practices (given the negative connotations of his nicknames), but I think we all need to cut through the PC crap and just focus on getting things done and getting them done right—especially when it comes to scaling and managing growth within our transforming healthcare ecosystem.
If your business is in this position, then I’m sure you’ll agree with me that you have less room to make mistakes and minimal time to fix and learn from those mistakes. The same approach that got you through your early pilots is just not going to cut it with enterprise customers like Sutter and McKesson. The CIOs and CMOs of these companies don’t have time for you to learn on the job and will probably continue on just fine, without ever knowing you or your product. So the first order of early stage scaling is to prepare for a run at the “big dogs” by hiring the following three people:
The Gopher – Simply put, this character knows how to make himself useful as a quick-thinking broker. The Gopher has the connections to people and resources (think the Aetnas and Kaisers of the healthcare world), and more importantly, he knows how to work his social capital to get the information you need. If he doesn’t have the particular connection you are looking for, he’ll find a way to get one. He is excellent at seeking opportunities, recruiting, deal-making, and negotiating. The Gopher adds a unique perspective to solving problems in that he relies mainly on who he knows versus what he knows, tinkering with his network to achieve a goal indirectly. Don’t make the mistake of pigeonholing this person as just a marketing or sales expert as his role resembles both sales and business development with social and deal-making creativity an essential part of his skillset.
The Cleaner – Perhaps the most famous embodiment of The Cleaner is none other than Winston Wolfe from Pulp Fiction, whose signature introduction ,“I’m Winston Wolf, I solve problems,” lets everyone know that he intends to get the job done, to specification and before a deadline. A trademark of an effective Cleaner is his ability to keep cool and deliver in a crisis situation. The Cleaner not only has an understanding of what to do, but also is methodical with strong attention to detail, which makes this person a very efficient and organized manager. Whether it be a lead-gen activity for prospective practices, a new marketing campaign to physicians, or fixing an unintentional data breach, this person owns up to the task and indicates his or her reliability by reporting nothing more than, “I’ll take care of it.” In my view, you should always try to staff a Cleaner at the head of any project dealing with major unknowns because in those situations there is always more mess to sort out first than actual, real business.
The Enforcer – Health Technology startups are used to a culture without restraint, because that’s what purportedly allows innovation and creativity to thrive. Recall that when it comes to scaling, these providers and payers (or whoever your big-time customers are) aren’t paying you to provide a product or service to them with the same “willy-nilly” approach you slapped together for your early adopters and beta users. The Enforcer is that team member brought in to maintain order and make sure there are procedures that cannot only be designed, but more importantly, followed with discipline for consistent quality.
At first, you might think you’re bringing in a bureaucratic jerk, but you’ll thank him later when you look up a hot hospital network lead in your CRM database and find all of the fields, notes, and entries dutifully filled in. Truth be told, The Enforcer is not a role most entrepreneurs even think about. But when it comes to scaling, the quality and the efficiency in which you deliver will matter, and that’s what will keep you in business for the long haul. A tell-tale sign of a good Enforcer is one that has spent time in quality assurance, operations supervision, and/or project management.
Scaling a health technology company is different than building a product from scratch, because quite simply, the game has changed. Customers at this stage are looking to buy the complete package of you, your staff, your mission, and the product. By building your workforce to include three key employees that have the qualities of the Gopher, Cleaner, and Enforcer, you’ll be well prepared to craft an organization that can be fine-tuned to take on any problems of scale.
Are you a growing health technology startup? Reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Bio: Jonathan is a partner at The ScaleUp Group, a consulting business aiding health technology startups expand through direct sales and channel development. Within healthcare, Jonathan has opened doors and managed deals for a variety of companies, including software, publishing, service, and retail.