I regularly meet doctors who have ideas for the next big thing in tech. Arising mostly from their own needs and leaving out common business sense, those people strongly believe that their web application or mobile app is going to be the next Facebook (in fact, “the next Facebook” is probably not going to be a social network, just like the next Windows is not an operating system). With a naive entrepreneurial optimism, those ideas never come to life. Especially physicians have ideas for apps that result from their daily clinical practice. But there is a long way between identifying them and starting a business. Let’s not even start about making the business successful. However, most think they know better. They don’t.
The above is not necessarily the way it should turn out. Talking to physicians who want to start businesses usually boils down to pretty much the same problems encounter being an M.D. and entrepreneur. Obviously, building a successfully tech company requires a lot of effort. I don’t want to go into detail, since there is a vast amount of literature out there on how to be successful as a tech entrepreneur. In this post I want to specifically point out what physicians should keep in mind when they want to start a business.
Get a non-medical co-founder
Don’t do it yourself. If you are a physician who can code, get a co-founder. If you are a physician who did an MBA, get a co-founder, If you are physician who has 2 million Twitter followers, get a co-founder. Whatever your expertise is, apart from your medical specialty, the likelihood of success strongly increases if you have a partner. It decreases with the amount of founders from that point on. This is vital, not only because you need somebody with a complimentary skillset, but also, because if you really want to build a company then it will be a roller coaster ride, or as Derrick Fung put it: “It feels like you’re jumping off a cliff and building an airplane on the way down”.
A startup is not a side project
If you want to succeed, you have to quit your job. It’s the truth. You don’t want to hear it, but it’s the truth. Any investor, big or small, requires you to work on the project full time. You can start as a side project, but at one point you have to take the leap of faith and quit your day job. It’s going to be hard, but it’s a prerequisite if you really mean it. Not doing so is the second most important reason why projects initiated by doctors fail.
You are not someone special because your name ends with M.D. You are used to make decisions and be at the top of the food chain, but in a startup you have to be humble. The many years of med school, residency and all the papers you wrote will not help you. They won’t help at all. When you enter the world of tech it is much more important to understand how Google works rather than understanding how the human body works. If you ever felt the need to know how Google works, that might already be a good sign that a tech entrepreneur is slumbering inside you.
Listen and learn
Similar to being humble, you ought to listen others. Don’t listen to your peers at the hospital (= “Do you really want to do this?” “What if you fail and you end up in a Ghetto?” “Are you nuts?”), but rather listen to other entrepreneurs who made it. Reach out to them, don’t be afraid – most entrepreneurs are also good teachers and love to share their experiences and help. Listening to other founders and learning from them is invaluable for your success.
No matter if it’s Wikipedia or plain-old business literature. The information is out there and ready to be swallowed. You might want to start with the essays of Paul Graham.
An idea is worth (almost) nothing
Usually, founders without a business background think that their idea is worth a ton. They believe that the idea is what makes the entire thing special. Even though it has been written over and over, many still do not recognize the fact that it’s all about the execution. Actually, there is a very high chance that your initial idea will transform itself over the course of time. Really, an idea is nice, but there are millions of ideas out there.
If you do decide to take the leap, quit your job and decide to start a business, you are already ahead of 99% of your fellow colleagues who just think of doing it but never take that essential first step.
P.s.: This post does not imply that the author is a successful tech entrpreneur 🙂