Lessons from @IntuitiveSurg – Don’t sell your device, sell your program

1024x1024As hospital systems consolidate, and as more physicians become hospital employees, the business side of the hospital has taken control over the acquisition of new procedures and technologies. For medical device companies, the days of driving sales via physician champions is over.

Each time I seen an announcement like the new Bridge Clinic at MGH or the new bladder-cancer detection system at Intermountain Medical Center, I am reminded that providers are fundamentally regional service businesses.

For providers, acquiring an innovative new medical device means offering a new service to patients. For a provider, the decision to acquire a new medical device is a business decision to grow the hospital’s service share. The more novel the service, the more business risk faced by the hospital, and the more complicated the purchasing decision. Philip Kotler’s book “Strategic Marketing For Health Care Organizations”  gives an example of the new reality:

A hospital is considering adding a sports medicine program to its portfolio of services. Before deciding whether to launch such a program, it plans to do market research to gauge the size of the community need, discover which competitors already offer such a program, consider how it will organize and deliver the program, understand how to price its various services, and determine how profitable the program is likely to be.

Medical device sales and marketing needs to adapt. Intuitive Surgical shows us how.

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Lessons From @TeslaMotors – Rethinking the Role of the Dealer

Medical device companies and auto manufacturers depend on a network of dealers or distributors, to market, sell and service manufacturers’ products around the world. It’s the accepted way of doing business, and it’s expensive. I’ve had great relationships with distributors, in the US and around the world. They perform an important set of services, but they are also expensive. Distributors can cost 25% of revenues (or more depending on local pricing). Compare that percentage to the percentage of revenues you spend on R&D.

So I’ve been pretty impressed that Tesla has gone dealer-free. They’ve up-ended the traditional model, and I think it’s time for medical device companies to rethink the role of the medical device distributor. If you’re a medical device distributor, it’s time you rethink your business model too.

To understand why Tesla went dealer-free, let’s look at the reasons auto manufacturers needed dealers in the first place, and what has changed.

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Lessons From Tesla – Service Is Not a Profit Center

In almost every business, customers weigh the downside of poor product reliability more than the upside of new product features. Consumer demand for reliability has driven automotive industry design improvements for the last few decades.

Achieving reliability for innovative products is pretty hard. Tesla has delayed new models to hit performance, cost and reliability objectives. My guess is that they have some pretty sophisticated product testing. Nevertheless, real world experience is never the same as bench testing, and even for Tesla the need for after-sales service is a fact-of-life.

Most vehicle manufacturers and medical equipment manufacturers manage after-sales service as a profit center. Tesla has taken a different approach to its real world reliability issues. Innovative medical equipment companies can learn a few things from Tesla’s approach.

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Lessons From Tesla – Brand Identity for Consumers, Clinical Value for Healthcare

In my last post, I mentioned Tesla’s brand identity – technology, performance, design.  Tesla consumers pay up for the brand and its design. In brand strategy, I (and others) see a lot of parallels between Tesla and Apple. Both are status brands, and both use their brand identity to maintain premium pricing. Tesla has clearly been paying attention.

Take a look at Apple’s brand – design, performance, and reliability. People pay significantly more for Apple products than for similarly performing products from other companies. When the iPhone first appeared, its performance blew away other then-existing smartphones. Over time, it’s hard to say that Android phone performance hasn’t caught up with the iPhone. All the same apps. Great processing, camera and screen technologies. Sharp-looking industrial design. Most reviewers rate Google Now as better than Siri. Yet Apple is the smartphone company making the profits.

Apple leveraged their early technology lead to build their brand, and now the brand delivers the economic rents. Apple Music is a late entrant to the streaming music market, but its brand enabled it to quickly become a top player.

Now let’s look at Tesla and its electric vehicles. Nothing else on the road performs like Tesla’s current lineup, and Tesla can charge a premium for their products. Like Apple, Tesla’s product design, manufacturing quality and subsequent product reliability are outstanding. Tesla is using its early technology lead to build its brand identity for technology, performance, design and reliability. If/when competitor technologies eventually catch up to Tesla, Tesla will still be able to earn economic rents on their brand.

So what’s this got to do with medical devices?

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Lessons From Tesla – Segment Sequencing To Build A Brand

tesla-product-roadmapI’ve had a series of Tesla posts on my mind for a while, but finding the time to write them has been elusive until now. I’ll post them over the next few weeks.

Tesla is today’s “It Car” – the cool, sexy, electric performance vehicle of choice. Who wouldn’t want to take a Model S for a spin? While there is a lot to admire about Tesla’s vehicles, Tesla Motors has also been masterfully executing its business strategy. For those paying attention, Tesla’s business activities can teach important lessons about bringing innovative products to market. Medical device companies could learn a thing or two. Today I’d like to talk about segmentation strategy and building a brand.

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New England Venture Funded Medical Device Startup List 2015 Q4

strongbarrett-moneyI’ve been tracking first-time venture financing of medical device companies in New England since 2005. Whew!

Startups are where innovation really happens. It takes the dedicated focus of a startup to drive real change to our healthcare system. A first venture funding is a validation of technology, market and business model. A key metric of the health of our local medical device innovation economy is the rate of new startup funding.

I also track startups because I want to provide a list of funded startups to the local community – job seekers, venture investors, and service providers. Startups have a hard time finding the right connections in the community, and vice versa. Maybe I can make it a little easier.

I’ve counted nine venture-funded medtech startups in 2015, of which one is a restart, one has no medical device products (but may), and one is a Ukrainian company with a Boston-area office. Given the venture funding environment, 2015 was a respectable, thought not stellar, year for venture funded medical device startups in New England.

Read on to access the list.

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New England Venture Funded Medical Device Startup List 2014 Q4


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The New England medical device startup community is an amazing innovation ecosystem, producing great products and great companies over several decades. New startups are the lifeblood of that ecosystem, so I’ve been tracking first-time venture financing of medical device companies in New England since 2005.

I’m way overdue for an update. You’ll find my 2014 Q4 New England Venture Funded Medical Device Startup List linked below.

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List of Active Healthcare Venture Capital Investors – 2014 Q4

Baby You're a Rich ManAnother year has gone by since I last updated my list of healthcare venture capital funds with money to invest. Better late than never, I guess.

Today, I’m happy to post an updated list, complete through November 2014. Good news: lots of new funds have been (or are being) raised!

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Big Data Is Coming To Medical Device Marketing and Sales

big-data-infographWhile you might be sick of Amazon telling you that customers who bought product X also often bought product Y, Amazon knows what sells more products. I’ve used the same technique in medical device markets. Last year I wrote about medical device market segmentation using procedure data – finding prospects for your procedure X based on customers who perform procedure Y. Why target interventional cardiology as a whole, or so-called “early adopter interventional cardiologists,” or community hospitals versus academic medical centers, when you can specifically target sub-segments based on actual device use, e.g. IVUS users, chronic total occlusion specialists, or high volume stenters?

In 2014, big data powers marketing in consumer and tech, and it’s coming to medical device marketing and sales. Applied well, big data can focus sales efforts on the likeliest adopters, identify prospects that you never knew existed, and uncover market segments with unique product needs. If you don’t already know the power of big-data-driven marketing in the consumer world, read the recent (chilling) US Federal Trade Commission report on data brokers.

Medical device customers are consumers too. Here’s how I used big data at Candela in 2009 to re-imagine our marketing and sales approach.

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