“Did you create a business plan?” asked a colleague, who was kind enough to meet me for a chat.
“I tried, but the examples I’ve seen are so long and complicated. I doubt whatever I could put together would be of any value,” I admitted.
“Well, they are important,” he cautioned. “If you can’t write one, that might tell you something about your idea.”
I had tremendously appreciated our chat, but we parted with me feeling more anxious coming out than I had going in. That meeting took place almost five years ago, as I contemplated launching the publication you are now reading. I was scared. I had read all the statistics about the percentage of new businesses that fail. If you are not opening a franchise, the numbers are just frightening, intimidating enough to keep anyone with a mind for odds from even trying.
But as the old saying goes, if you try, you might fail, but if you don’t try, you already have. And so, while I tried to think things out and do my homework, I was ok with the fact that I didn’t have a buttoned-up business plan.
As we’ve progressed as a business, we’ve worked to bring some new products to market, and as we go through that process, I harken back to the beginnings described above — the fact that, while you can never know, never be assured that you’ve got everything about a product right before launch, you simply can’t use that as a measuring stick of readiness, because you never will. And no product worth its salt has ever launched in a state of perfection. Like evolution by means of natural selection, products only reach a sublime state after continuous contact with the environment, with the customers.
Now, I am not saying that products should be continually and forever defined by the customer — that they should be eternally customizable — as that is a recipe for disaster. But in its first iterations, when the fawn has yet to get its legs, you must retain your flexibility, because what you had surmised the market would want may even be 90 percent accurate, but if the remainder is a deal-breaker, you will make no deals, you will earn no revenue, and then you will simply have a shiny new toy that nobody wants.
When I started, I had a vision of a Webinar program in which sponsors would sign up to be part of the entire program; sign up, for example, to sponsor any and all webinars we would produce in the upcoming year — with no input on topics and no role in the actual event. This was the editorial, pre-businessman in me reigning supreme. The funny thing is I know I sounded good when I was selling the program to potential customers, and I tried many times. I was passionate, I was convincing, I was earnest. I would always be standing when selling, waking back and forth, gesticulating, believing (and I did). There was one problem — nobody wanted it.
I remember one day during the first year of business, my wife sneaked a look at “the books” and commented, ever so gently, that the tank was running out of gas, and I might want to do something about it. My first reaction was anger at her for making me anxious — the last thing I needed, I thought, was to worry about money. How dare she?
Well, of course, she dare.
And as I laid in bed that night, I began to realize if I didn’t start listening to my potential customers, I would never be able to strike the adjective from the noun. And so, I adjusted, I was flexible, I listened and I changed the Webinar program.
And that program, while morphing ever so slightly over time, is now rock solid, now it is not open to customization on a grand scale because it had stood the test of time, of the market. It has evolved.
As we slowly and thoughtfully develop new products (at our snail-like pace of about one per year, which I am very comfortable with), we will continue with this methodology:
- Do market research, run the idea by existing customers
- Create a program
- Incorporate lessons learned from launch
- Partner with initial customer, listen to suggestions
- Incorporate lessons learned from initial customers
- Sales = solidification; Weak/no sales = adjustment
The new CIO — one working for a healthcare organization which is at-risk for its patients — the CIO you either are or must become, will be of an entrepreneurial mindset, and that mindset requires the approach above. Think like a businessperson, think not only about getting customers and keeping them, but doing so at a profit. Think about developing products and services for both your clinicians and patients.
The future in healthcare is no longer about having the captive customer, but about captivating them with the quality of your services and care. You can, you must, be a large part of that. And you will only get there if you embrace the fear of product failures, of temporary setbacks, and keep learning, growing, and evolving.