The medical device and healthtech products market is growing faster than any other segment of the healthcare industry. In fact, it’s expected to double in size by 2025, accounting for 10% of all healthcare spending that year. We also see more and more healthcare startups launching new medical products every day. They’re a sign of an emerging industry hungry for change but to launch a healthtech product — especially as a startup — is harder than it looks. The competition is stiff, regulations are never-ending, capital is always tight and demand from clinical customers isn’t always predictable. All in all, there’s a big learning curve, especially with the commercialization of healthcare products (think: communication, marketing, positioning), even if you’ve already launched a product (in another industry segment) before. That said, there are many ways to boost your chances of success when launching a medical product as a startup:
To Launch your Healthtech Product: Build a world-class team
It all starts with the people — the team that will bring your product to life. If you can build a team with the right mix of skills, passion, experience, and commitment, you’ll be able to get more done with your limited resources, increase your chances of success and make the most of your investment. If you can’t, then you’ll spend your limited resources on the wrong people and risk losing focus on what really matters. A well-rounded medical development team needs people with experience in product development, regulatory affairs, quality assurance and many other critical fields. You’ll also need people with marketing, communication, and sales experience to help perform the necessary market conditioning and get your product into customers’ hands.
The development team, however, is never complete without the right advisory board, which is critical when it comes to pre-clinical, clinical development and dissemination of any kind. Whether you’re developing a digital health product, a medical device, a diagnostic test or any other healthcare product – you need to have the right advisors backing you up. These are usually a mix of scientists, clinicians and of course patients, as well as healthcare business experts. You must make sure you have sound science and usability for both the prescribing clinician and the end user: the patient without losing sight of the payors who will be the ones enabling access to your product.
To ensure good product-market fit and a successful launch, mapping and reaching out to clinicians, researchers (sometime) and patient association are your first steps, and they should be done as early as possible, so you have all your systems in place when it’s time to launch.
Run an effective beta/usability test and a clinical trial
Most medical product startups have a beta test and clinical development on their roadmap to commercialization. This is often the first-time potential customers get their hands on the product and give feedback on its design and performance, so it’s a critical step toward commercial success. The challenge is to find the right beta test candidates (or trial participants) who will provide meaningful feedback. You don’t want to test your product on people who don’t represent your target customers, and you want to find them as soon as possible to shorten the feedback process. Most medical device and digital health startups find beta testers through their networks and word-of-mouth referrals, but you can also rely on beta test platforms to find the right candidates. Platforms like BetaBrand and BetaHealth make it easy to post your beta test invitation and find the right candidates based on a wide range of criteria. Living Labs are also a good way to not only test your product ahead of launch but also to develop an initial user community.
When you reach the clinical development phase, you may also require a clinical trial. The assistance of the right Contract Research Organization (CRO) will be crucial to make sure the trial design (methodologist)and cohort size (biostatistician) are correct and that the right patients are recruited by the right centers and investigators.
Find the right customers for your healthtech product!
This is not as straightforward as it seems. Once you have a working prototype, you can already start bringing it to market as a research use only (RUO), for example. The challenge here is to find the right customers to sell to and/or to collaborate with. You may be tempted to sell to the largest customers in your sector and the ones that have the highest buying power, but this is often a mistake. Find smaller customers that are willing to work with you, who will be committed to the innovation you want to bring to the patients, maybe pay for your product on a payment plan and who will provide honest feedback on their experience. These smaller customers will help you iron out the kinks in your sales, ease the learning curve and support process and give you insights into the problems your larger customers will face once you scale up.
In other words, build your commercialization plan (go-to-market strategy and plan including product definition and positioning, pricing etc.) as early as possible. It is never too early to start! Also find the lower hanging fruit to help you ease into the market.
Establish a sound marketing strategy to properly launch your healthtech product
You have a working product and customers willing to try it and/or pay for it. Now, it’s time to start telling the world about it. When do you validate your key targets and their weight in your product ecosystem? When do you launch your marketing campaign? What message do you use? What channels do you focus on? These are the questions every healthtech startup must ask themselves when designing their marketing strategy and plan, and they should be addressed right from the start!
It is never too early to think about marketing because these decisions will have a huge impact not only on your initial sales figures (and thereby on your ultimate success as a company), but also on your actual development process.
This is to say that developing a very good product that in the end will not be adopted by your destined buyers and users will result in failure. You will then need to either adapt your product – a lengthy and costly process – or change your market – which could have a negative effect on any investment and fundraising efforts.
The best marketing strategy is therefore one that’s flexible enough to adapt to changing customer needs, but also consistent enough to build brand recognition and stand out from the crowd. It is, in fact, a collaborative process with your buyers, partners and entire ecosystem.
Determining the right path for your healthtech product
Now that your product is on the market, you need to decide how quickly you should scale up your business. You can take one of two paths: You can focus on short-term revenue and build a low-cost operation focused on profit, or you can focus on long-term growth and build a high-cost operation with high profit margins. In the short term, you can use VC funding to scale your operations and boost your revenues, but in the long term, scaling on equity alone is practically impossible.
This is also where you want to start thinking about additional or alternative funding channels and schemes such as non-dilutive grants and/or strategic partnerships, capital development investors and/or loans.
Your product may be innovative and solve a real problem faced by many, but if you don’t know how to launch it, it’s unlikely to succeed. What’s the point of having an amazing product if nobody knows about it?
The good news is that the healthtech industry is growing and there’s more funding available than ever before, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic. The other good news is that you don’t have to do this alone! Finding the right partners to help you from the beginning with a solid plan that includes high-level strategy as well as tactical operations, can be the make or break of your healthtech product and set you on the right path to success. You will then be able to focus your expertise on development, while your trusted partners make sure to guide you on the regulatory, commercial, and financial path.