Starting a tech company is one thing. Starting a tech company that actually fulfills a consumer need is entirely another.
This is always the differentiator between companies that succeed and those that don’t—do they fulfill an existing consumer need, or, as is often the case in tech, do they create a consumer need that they are then able to fill?
I recently spoke with Hamad Shahbazi, founder and CEO of the telehealth company WELL Health Technologies, about how tech companies can ensure they’re meeting a real customer need, and why it’s so important to do so. Shahbazi founded WELL in 2017, after a successful CAD $304 million exit from his startup TIO Networks that year, so he’s no stranger to creating, running, and selling successful tech companies.
He offered three points that every tech entrepreneur should consider.
Don’t get distracted by all the technological possibilities out there especially if they are just designed to pursue monetization. Instead, focus on tech solutions that deliver value to your audience
With the rapid advancement of technology across all industries, it’s easy to get distracted by what looks like the next big thing.
But as with any industry, being shiny and new doesn’t always translate to being valuable.
“As an entrepreneur focused on technology, too often I’ve seen lots of very interesting new technologies, but it seems to miss the mark in terms of tangible benefits,” says Shahbazi. “Innovators and entrepreneurs should ask themselves, ‘OK, we’ve designed new technology to help solve problems, but does it actually move the needle for our customers? Too often, we see technology companies focused on solutions they believe they can monetize as opposed to driving value and viewing monetization opportunities as a by-product of the value that they drive their intended audiences.”
Define the needs your tech product or service is designed to fill
As you’re developing your product or even just starting to explore ideas, it’s critical to closely define the customer need you’re trying to fill, and how your product is doing that.
This is where you need to get detailed. It’s not enough to say that your product is addressing a need for improved efficiency, or helping to streamline workflows.
How specifically is your tech product benefiting your customers? Remember that chances are, there are at least a dozen other companies that offer some version of what your product does. That’s ok—it just means that you have to be crystal clear about your value proposition. Shahbazi and his company measure success by how well they are doing the following three things:
Improving access to care. Are you improving the efficiency with which practitioners can do their work? If practitioners are amplified and their work becomes more efficient, they can see more patients more quickly. This increases net accessibility.
Reducing costs. We are in the midst of a crisis of rising costs in healthcare. Many new technologies are actually increasing, not decreasing costs. Rising costs put a strain on all the ecosystem participants, creating a vicious cycle. That’s why Shahbazi focuses from the beginning on creating a cost-effective, less expensive alternative to the traditional doctors office model.
Improving outcomes. Does the new technology improve the accuracy with which practitioners carry out their work? Does it provide improved insights? Improved insights for care providers generally translate into better diagnosis and treatment protocols which lead to better health outcomes.
At the end of the day, improved health outcomes are the most important part of healthcare. We are slowly seeing a necessary shift in the industry to value-based care models, which put more of an emphasis on the quality of care instead of “fee for service” models which focus entirely on quantity. As this shift takes place, we must ask ourselves how our technology is improving quality?
Go all in on customer service
When potential clients can find 10 of your closest competitors with a simple Google search, customer service takes on a whole new importance.
So, how does having excellent customer service help you determine whether you’re meeting customer needs? Quite directly: they’ll tell you what’s working and what’s not. Your job is to listen.
This means you’ve got to be where your customers are, and give them multiple ways to reach you. Then you have to get back to them quickly—according to the latest data, 80% of customers expect a response within 24 hours, which means that if your team is taking longer than that, you’ve got some work to do.
While customer service on its own is huge, it really should be part of a larger, customer-centric viewpoint. Being customer-centric means not only that you offer excellent service, but that you also are building, growing, and evolving your company with the customer’s best interests—not your company’s—at the heart. If you do this right, you’ll find that your customer’s best interests actually are your company’s.
“ Being customer-centric or patient-centric in our case in your thinking is incredibly important,” says Shahbazi. “For us, for example, we know that people seek healthcare solutions when they are scared and vulnerable. Their health is at stake. So it’s incredibly important to us to always see problems through the lens of the patient, and how they are impacted by the care they are receiving.” It’s this kind of thinking that has led WELL Health Technologies to raise $305 million in funding in their most recent round, with an expected revenue of more than $400 million in 2022.
Developing a tech product or service that truly meets your customers’ needs requires ongoing evaluation and adaptation. By focusing on the value you provide, defining the needs you’re meeting, and staying customer-centric, your tech company stands a much better chance of creating long-term, sustainable success.