To test your business plan at its earliest stages, you have to find early adopters. Early adopters are the potential customers who have the problem you intend to solve, have tried to solve it on their own, and are willing and able to purchase a solution if one can be built. For medical device startups, true early adopters also have experience shepherding new products through the provider process (e.g. hospital purchasing and CFO) and payor process (e.g specialty coding committee and Medicare). Consequently, only early adopters are able to provide value-added feedback to the lean medical device startup. How do you find them?
For some startups, finding early adopters is a no-brainer. For example, when experienced cardiology device executives start a new cardiology device company, they likely already know the early adopting physicians. For other startups its more complicated. Here are a few ways to track them down.
- Find industry colleagues (device industry execs, VC’s, consultants) who have previously sold to this customer segment, and ask them to help identify early adopters. The VP of New Business Development of a potential acquirer might even make some introductions for you.
- Identify an earlier innovative product or procedure in the same segment, and track down the early buyers. Identify the podium speakers who spoke most passionately on behalf of the new technology. Similarly, identify a niche product in the segment (that never made it past early adopters), and track down the users.
- Check the scientific advisory board of previous or other existing startups in your segment. Some, but not all of these advisors could be early adopters.
- Ask your clinical collaborators for recommendations, but screen these potential “early adopters” carefully.
Luminaries and highly published clinicians are often early users but not early adopters. While they always interested in running clinical studies and publishing results, their visibility often makes them conservative. Academic luminaries often delay real adoption until new technologies are well proven. Publications, clinical trial leadership, and scientific advisory board membership therefore do not always indicate an early adopter.
When early adopters tell you that your solution resolves an important problem, you’ll know you’re on the right track. It’s not always easy to identify early adopters, but it’s worth the effort. Leave me a comment and tell me what works for you.
- Perfection By Subtraction – The Minimum Feature Set (steveblank.com)