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4 key lessons I learned from healthcare entrepreneurs

Health and Benefits

By Steve Blumenfield | October 28, 2019

The leaders I spoke to as part of our The Cure for the Common Co. podcast series are clearly extraordinary, but we can all learn from their experiences.

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About The Cure for the Common Co. podcast series

The Cure for the Common Co. podcast series explores innovations in the world of employee health. We talk to entrepreneurs and CEOs who are leveraging technology to address the needs and priorities of a new generation, delivering benefits that can separate employers from the pack.

This week we launched the first four episodes of our The Cure for the Common Co. podcast series on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher (etc.) In this series, a colleague and I interview leaders of amazing young companies that are attempting to innovate with purpose for employers and their employees and families. Their willingness to challenge old assumptions, passion for making a difference and pure grit to get the job done are inspirational to me and I hope their stories will be to you as well.

We talked with a behavioral health digital therapeutic, a symptom checker/member care navigator, a solution to help employees who are caregivers and a treatment solution for autoimmune-related conditions that may help reduce the burden of specialty medications. The leaders of all of these amazing disruptors appeared at this year's Willis Towers Watson/ Conference Board Employee Health Care Conference during one of our "Meet the Innovator" plenary sessions.

Here are four lessons I took away from the first four pods with these amazing visionaries:

Lesson 1: Always be learning. Many early-stage companies spend years figuring out first how to make their solution work. Then comes the harder part: figuring out how to make it valuable enough for someone to pay for it!

That may mean changing the target buyer or changing the economic model or even changing the solution itself. And given how many start-ups fail, this is no small task. The savviest of the entrepreneurs we work with know exactly what they want to accomplish, but learn from every interaction about the best ways to get to that point. They welcome feedback and assume it is they who have something to learn.

Lesson 2: Solve a problem for your buyer and user. Selling to the employer market is tough. Many of the solutions in what is referred to broadly as "digital health" are targeted at member activation and engagement, and also require an employer to pay for them. That means the best solutions not only need an outstanding user experience and to solve a problem for the user, but also must deliver value for the company.

Whether that value is a financial return, care outcomes, talent retention or something else particularly meaningful, the employer will only pay for solutions that deliver that value relative to the price. Threading those two needles of value – to the member and to the employer – is what separates the nice-to-have solutions from the game changers.

Lesson 3: Respect the game you are disrupting. In watching many start-ups succeed and fail, one commonality is that the successful ones are not only willing to challenge industry assumptions, but also have a deep respect for how entrenched the current solutions are. The current solutions became the status quo because they solved problems that were critical for the user and the buyer, and they were so good that they became default options! Times have changed and new needs require new solutions, but unless the innovator can understand how they fit within the larger context, they may find it difficult to attain footing or to maintain momentum.

Lesson 4: Tell a great story. This isn't a "sizzle is more important than steak" type of comment but rather an acknowledgement that the health and benefits innovation space is extremely crowded and noisy. With over $8 billion in digital health deals reported by Rock Health in 2018, employers and their consultants are bombarded by "innovation" literally every day. In order to break through, a solution has to deliver excellent value and experience AND be memorable. Great founders, like those we were lucky enough to interview, have terrific stories that move us and stay with us.

So have a listen to The Cure for the Common Co. If you like it, subscribe and share your comments below. In the spirit of learning from our own advice, feel free to help us to always be learning with those comments too! And if you really like it, share it with your friends and colleagues.


Senior Director, Health and Benefits

Steve Blumenfield hosts the Cure for the Common Co. podcast and is Head of Strategy & Innovation in Willis Towers Watson’s Health & Benefits group.

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