All I Needed to Know to Disrupt Healthcare I Learned from “Seinfeld”: Part VI – A Festivus for the Rest of Us
By Bruce Brandes
Is necessity still the mother of invention? Edison with the light bulb. Bell with the telephone. Ford with the automobile. Costanza with the Mansiere (or was it Kramer with the Bro)?
Given the clear market need for all of these innovations, was there ever any question that these entrepreneurs would become wildly successful? Or were men content with candlelight, telegraphs, and horse-drawn carriages, which caused their man-boobs to jiggle as they rode along?
Today, conversely, as suggested by Jared Diamond, invention may be the mother of necessity. Did we know we needed an iPhone until Steve Jobs showed us the compelling device? Unfortunately in healthcare, too often it seems entrepreneurs and investors are introducing products believing they have invented the next iPhone-like phenomenon, to eventually realize that not only does the market not have a need, in many cases does not even have a want.
When looking to invest in an early stage venture which seeks to address a well-understood but yet-unsolved problem, how does an investor know with which one of the multitude of aspiring inventors to bet?
An important consideration is understanding the motivation and passion of the founder to launch the undertaking in the first place. An example lies in the prolific innovator, Frank Costanza, and the remarkable global embrace of the sensation that is his Festivus, whose origin is summarized in the exchange below.
FRANK: Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way!
KRAMER: What happened to the doll?
FRANK: It was destroyed. But out of that, a new holiday was born. "A Festivus for the rest of us!"
In Venture, we often meet bright entrepreneurs seeking funding motivated to build a company that will make them rich and famous. Each time we make this assessment, I am reminded of Philip Rosedale, founder of SecondLife, who once said, “If you have an idea and you know you won’t earn a dime from it but you have to pursue it anyway and solve the issue, then you’re a true entrepreneur.”
While in hindsight most investors would prefer to have backed Mark Zuckerberg ahead of Philip Rosedale, I suggest that if becoming rich and famous is your primary goal, you are very likely going to fail. Financial rewards may be the result of a more noble primary goal being achieved, but should not be your first focus.
I believe this is particularly true in healthcare. Two excellent examples (from reality rather than Seinfeld) of promising healthcare technology-enabled solutions that were founded by purpose-driven entrepreneurs and briefly their inspirations.
Wiser Together – Shub Degupta
In the fall of 2007, my wife and I went through a difficult pregnancy. In particular, the decision about whether to undergo invasive and expensive genetic tests daunted us. There were plenty of sources of information: friends, family, the Internet, helplines, genetic counselors, even academic literature.
In fact, in some ways there was too much information, often out of context. Our friends were helpful, but the information was anecdotal. Health websites had good information, but it was overwhelming, not actionable, and not personalized for our situation. It was nearly impossible to get to a decision that gave us peace of mind.
What we really wanted was the right information for us: What did other couples like us do? What tests did they have? What treatments did they seek? And, always lurking in the background, what was covered in our insurance plan?
We had to make some of the toughest decisions of our lives with insufficient information. Our experience was very stressful—and yet extremely common.
I realized this didn’t have to be the case. With new technology, extensive data, and a thorough understanding of how people make health decisions, WiserTogether was founded in early 2008, a few weeks after our eldest daughter was born. Today, WiserTogether helps millions make health decisions efficiently and intelligently, achieving better outcomes at a lower cost .. and with peace of mind.
Rallyhood – Patti Rogers
I created Rallyhood after witnessing the power of community and kindness during my long battle with breast cancer. The love and support from family, friends, and neighbors truly changed my life and made a significant impact on my ability to heal. The truth is I could not have done it alone. I needed my doctors and medicine to kill my cancer, but I needed my people to bring me back to life.
While the people were amazing, my family and I experienced the frustration of trying to organize the support effort with fragmented, difficult-to-use tools. It added unnecessary stress and burden for all of us. After getting well, I was inspired to build a platform for purpose-driven communities that made it easy to rally around a person, event or any common cause. Blending the best of social and and the best of productivity in one place.
Today, Rallyhood has helped more than 20,000 communities organize emotional, practical, and financial support in one place. By engaging the person’s trusted community, providers can now extend the continuum of care in a more holistic way—improving outcomes, enriching the patient (human) experience, and expanding their brand into the daily mobile lives of the people they serve. Everyone wins.
Ultimately, growing a viable new company and achieving valuable business outcomes takes more than just an inspired founder. There will be conflicts where your team must air grievances if there is any hope for a Festivus miracle. We all know that any success story, over time, will reflect fondly on the feats of strength required to achieve greatness.
What is the mother of your invention?
Bruce Brandes is managing director at Martin Ventures, serves on the board of advisors at AirStrip and Valence Health, and is entrepreneur in residence at the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business.