If Doctors Were Internet Startups

My father-in-law is a doctor, an anesthesiologist. He’s not only an extremely experienced professional, but also very entrepreneurial.

That’s why he’s currently starting his own company in the medical field. I can’t tell you what it is about because he’s in “stealth mode“, a deplorable, old-fashioned way of starting a company quietly. Nobody should do this. As we know from all successful Internet companies, you should always immediately tell as many people as possible about your plans in order to build your “ecosystem”. Don’t worry about competition, let people give you feedback. So what if somebody steals your idea, there’s enough room for everybody, right? That’s something that non-Internet people don’t seem to understand. Just look at the guys Mark Zuckerberg stole his idea for Facebook from, they still did pretty well. I think.

Anyway, I was thinking about what kind of advice I could give him for his new medical company. I’m an entrepreneur in the Internet industry, so I’m very familiar with the latest and greatest thinking in how to start a company in our digital age.

This is what I would tell him:

First and most importantly, you need to get traction. People have to get to know you and use your service. The best way to do this is to give away your stuff for free for a couple of years. So just do anesthesia for free. You will be surprised how many people will want to use you as their anesthesiologist for their surgery. They will tell their friends, and that’s great free advertising for you.

Of course, since you do everything for free, you need to spend as little money as possible. As we say in the Internet business, you need to be capital-efficient. The best way to do this is to cut unnecessary expenses. Rent, don’t buy your equipment, and just get the cheapest type of medication. That’s good enough for a free service. Also, save on personnel costs. Don’t hire trained nurses, you don’t need that initially. Just get somebody who recently read a book about medicine or likes to watch “Grey’s Anatomy”. Most Internet startups don’t hire experienced engineers either, and that works just fine.

Due to these savings, it’s of course possible that things go wrong during a surgery (what we call a “Fail Whale”), but don’t worry. It’s a free service, so nobody will complain. Right?

At some point, you need to think about making money, or monetization. Don’t just start charging money, because that would break your momentum. You can either use the Freemium concept (“The basic anesthesia is free, but you also want pain killers later? That’ll be $$$$”). Or just use advertising. Show people ads while they’re preparing for surgery. Wake them up occasionally during the surgery to show some more ads, because that’s when they will pay attention, and this will give you high CPMs. You can also use “affiliate marketing” and have them sign up for freecreditreport.com while they’re still groggy. That’s a great way to get juicy affiliate fees.

It’s really important to leverage your service through your own ecosystem. Your patients are a valuable audience, so you should give partners access to these people. For instance, let insurance salespeople come to your OR. People will feel a need for security when they’re in bad health, so providing insurance offers adds value for everybody. And you will get a cut. Plus, the insurance guys will recommend you to their own customers. It’s a win-win-win proposition!

Any type of service today has to be social. People always make a fuss about privacy, but isn’t it much more fun when your patients’ friends can come to the OR and watch their surgery? There might be an increased risk of infection, but that’s a small price to pay for the feeling of community and friendship. Plus, you as the service provider might get somebody interested in having their own surgery. Great sales opportunity! Oh, and people will be interested in how the patient is doing afterwards. So make sure that any change is immediately published to their Twitter and Facebook accounts. Particularly the really personal, slightly embarrassing things (Incontinence? Like!) are fun for everybody.

Finally, the latest and greatest trend are “virtual goods“, which is basically money for made-up premium stuff that people irrationally put a value on. You can use this wonderful concept, too. For instance, why always use these boring old syringes? If your patient is a rap fan, just charge him $20 extra to get his injection with a limited edition Jay-Z syringe. He can’t keep it, obviously, for hygienic reasons, but it will still make him feel great! And your little patients will pester their parents to no end to rent this really cute Hannah Montana bed pan. Just imagine the profit opportunities!

You see, every type of startup can be made better and more dynamic with the latest strategic thinking from the Internet industry. Even boring, trivial stuff like medicine.

(Picture: OakleyOriginals, CC license)