I recently had the fortunate opportunity to be part of the inaugural UCSF Lean Launchpad course, formed by Erik Lium and Stephanie Marrus at UCSF, founded by Steve Blank, and taught by Steve and our digital health cohort instructor, Abhas Gupta. This was a very intense and demanding ten week class that was not about reading and memorizing and taking tests, but about going out and talking to people; “getting out of the building,” as Steve famously says. The fundamental insight that led to the offering of this course was that scientific and clinical innovation in healthcare does not happen in a vacuum. While everyone knows how important it is to test and validate scientific hypotheses, it turns out that it is just as important to test and validate your business hypotheses. Moreover, these should happen in parallel. This business model hypothesis testing cannot be outsourced after your scientific validation is completed. This business hypothesis testing cannot be done by sitting in your office and bouncing ideas off colleagues. Just as we demand data to prove scientific hypotheses, we need data to prove business hypotheses. Otherwise we’re just guessing.
The Business Model Canvas and Lean Launchpad provide the framework for innovators to literally get out of the building and talk to dozens of customers, partners, and others to help validate, or more often, invalidate, their hypotheses. Without doing this, talented people will often waste literally years of effort pursuing a product that nobody really wants to use and that nobody will pay for.
This is not news to the world of entrepreneurs at large, who have heard these ideas from Steve, Eric Ries, and others for years. However, I think this is still a novel concept in the life sciences and healthcare. Without validating product-market fit, revenue strategy, channels, and the other parts of the business model canvas, healthcare innovators are hurting their chances at disseminating their products to reach broad audiences. To fully realize the efficiencies of translational medicine, healthcare has to buck the belief that science and commercialization happen sequentially rather than in parallel. One caveat: There’s obviously something still to be said for early basic science, where one can explore basic mechanisms without having the constraints of having to worry about commercialization. But for anybody who is working on the more translational end of the innovation spectrum (i.e. the entire digital health industry), doing this is mandatory.
It was amazing to see the changes in strategy among the teams in our class as the weeks went by. Making Friends started out planning to build a game to help socialize children with autism, but realized along the way that parents and special needs schools were much more interested in having a dashboard to communicate and track the childrens’ progress. Tidepool, for whom I’m a medical advisor, started out thinking that our early customers would be tech-savvy 20-somethings with type 1 diabetes, but quickly learned that the most interested customers would be parents of children with type 1 diabetes (see the video about our process here). The Lean Launchpad class was filled with similar stories — we all found that most of our initial guesses were flat out wrong once we went out and talked to people. As Steve always notes, one smart person is not as smart as the collective wisdom of hundreds of customers.
Following these lessons will be crucial to future successful innovations in healthcare and I sincerely hope that this curriculum spreads throughout the healthcare community. We in healthcare have to have the courage to get out of the building and test our assumptions early instead of blindly plowing forward. We should apply the same rigor to our business plans and dissemination strategy as we do to our science. We should shed the attitude that, “if we build it, they will come.”
A hearty thank you goes out to all of those who designed this curriculum and ran this class.