Today was all about partners. Partnerships are all the rave these days when it comes to start ups. Today I interacted with two potential partners.
The first partner is a start-up I met at the MMGMA winter conference about three weeks ago. They had a booth just two booths down from mine. They have about a year head start on RetraceHealth. The reason I say head start is because they are a competitor of sorts, they have a product that solves the same problem as RetraceHealth using a different method and business model. I do not want to mention who they are so as not to draw the attention of other competitors and naysayers. The founder is the same age as me, has a wife and kid both similar in age to my own. He is an entrepreneur through and through and it was refreshing to speak to him, we really hit it off.
At the same conference one of my pilot customers came to me and asked if I was willing to do a special project for him. It sounded like a great project with potential to scale and market to other customers. (The reason I was open to it was because I was already coming to the conclusion that the original product was not viable based on early pilot results) For the following reasons I decided I should do the project with my newly found competitors:
1. Their product already had most of the functionality to produce the desired output.
2. As I described in my previous post, RetraceHealth is pivoting and this special project is the basis of the pivot.
3. My newly found competitors are currently focusing their product on the output of these special projects.
Furthermore, just last week another pilot clinic asked for a similar project having no prior knowledge of the first special project.
So the last three weeks have been spent drafting legal documents, talking strategy and working with the pilot customers. One of my pilot customers told me my frenimies were in her office two days after me, pitching their product. They had set up the meeting before we knew about each other. So clearly our target market is the same and we would start competing head to head for beta customers. Why not work together?
I know we would be good together. They have the technology head start, I have the expertise and connections. What I do not know is how to structure the partnership. Should I join their firm? Or should I license their product? I hope I get more clarity on this issue soon. I believe all my pilot clinics would be interested in this product and partnering would allow the hypothesis of whether this is a viable plan to be tested faster. However, the one main difference in our two firms may be our mission. I have always wanted to focus on the small fragmented stakeholders in the healthcare industry, not the large systems. Therefore the primary object of my product development has been on the end user experience. Specifically, the tools are subscription based, light weight, and require no training or set-up. My potential partner has a different approach.
On February 17th 2012 I met with Fatima Omer. She is the daughter of one of my former co-workers at Medica Health Plans. Her younger brother Mo did some work for me last summer helping the non profit I chair with some strategy brainstorming and documentation. Mo connected me to Fatima and I am glad he did. Fatima has an incredible idea for a start-up. It is closely related to the mission of RetraceHealth, which is to help underserved stakeholders in the healthcare industry get access to tools that are typically only available to large entities. I liked her idea so much I was tempted to stop the current iteration of RetraceHealth, but I wanted to finish the pilots and told myself that if the pilots did not produce a viable product I would work with Fatima to fully test her idea. Fatima’s idea solves a real problem for a large market, the challenge is developing a business model that is scalable. I like these kind of problems. Also, Fatima’s mission is in line with my own when it comes to building solutions in the healthcare industry. Fatima works full time and is looking for someone with business experience, time, and capital to test her idea and build it out. Once it shows promise she would be willing to join the start-up full time.
If you read the last few posts you know that the first minimum viable product (MVP) for RetraceHealth did not work. Now I am trying to decide which of these partners I should focus on? I do not think I can pull off both. A better question is which one should I test first? I do not believe testing each hypothesis would take more than one month. All opinions are welcome.