Breaking into the wearables market
Dominic Pride, Founder and Chief Instigator of The Sound Horizon, shares his advice for companies looking to make waves in the wearables market.
Imagine you’ve developed a wearable or other piece of technology, which can deliver significant medical benefits. Chances are you’re now looking to get this in the hands of users as quickly as possible.
Standing before you in the UK are two potential routes to market. You have the choice of spending your limited time and energy trying to get to procured by the NHS, or choosing to go ‘direct’ to consumer.
Access to public sector trials, funding, acceleration and decision-makers is improving thanks to programmes such as ‘NHS Testbeds’, the ‘NHS Innovation Accelerator’ and initiatives such as the ‘Digital Health London.’ Access is becoming more transparent but still remains challenging for small companies.
Going direct to consumer is something of a misnomer, as you will need commercial distribution channels. If you’re looking to speak to insurers, retailers and private health companies, a quick search of Linkedin can easily provide you with a first point of contact and even a picture of your contact. These companies are also increasingly engaging with UK startups through accelerators and innovation programmes.
The challenge we’ve identified for most companies at this stage is not securing the first meeting. It’s what to say in that first meeting that will guarantee that you’re invited back for the second.
A breakthrough in the wearables market will undoubtedly rely heavily on the team’s knowledge of medicine, engineering and industrial product design. Getting to a prototype or a commercially viable product will have required the team to develop a high degree of definition in these areas.
No surprise then, that when it comes to discussing strategic partnerships or commercial collaboration, there is a knowledge gap around how to move conversations with these companies forward.
It’s tempting at this point to ‘hand everything over to a suit’ and hire a business development exec. While such a hire will be a natural consequence of commercial success, it is also a time-consuming and high-risk approach before you bag your first deal.
Instead, you can also equip yourself and your team with the necessary skill sets to succeed. To do this you can borrow some tools from scientific research and product development. Here are some low-cost and no-cost tools, which you can employ to increase your chance of success.
- Build an evidence base. Understand and know the company you are talking to. Find out what motivates them and what their current priorities are, especially around digital initiatives. Research the person you are speaking to, what they have previously written about and what motivates them on a personal and professional level.
- Have a value hypothesis. Be prepared to talk about how your product can create value in financial terms for one part of the organisation you are talking to. Will it ultimately result in lower claims premiums, fewer re-admissions for a hospital trust or store traffic for a retailer? Use free tools such as Dr. Paul Marsden’s Client Empathy Map to imagine your arguments.
- Plan for an outcome. A successful meeting will have an outcome, either in terms of a decision to progress, to refer to another part of the business, or to evaluate the suitability (or not) of your product. Use tools such as Andrew Abela’s Think / Do Matrix to plan for what how want your potential partner to act after meeting you.
We have found that equipping teams with the skills and self-belief to approach commercial conversations can deliver significant advantages in the short-term. The process of finding, hiring and briefing an effective commercial exec takes valuable time, mental effort and emotional investment, and is more appropriate for a well-funded operation which is scaling.
At seed stage, empowering the team that developed the product to speak with authenticity and confidence in a commercial context is more likely to deliver an effective meeting, which will lead to your technology ending up in the hands of (or on the wrists of) your target users.
Dominic Pride is Founder and Chief Instigator of The Sound Horizon, a market and service development consultancy working with pharmaceutical companies, digital services and wearables providers. You can follow them on Twitter @thesoundhorizon and @HelloUpstart. Don’t forget to follow us too @DigiCatapult.