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Consulting for a Health Startup

I am contracted with these health startup guys to consult for 10 days. It’s a company that I have some history with and they changed directions not too long ago. They hired their first full-time medical director recently but there have been some hiccups – which is where I come in.

I got an email from one of the members asking if I could consult on this project which needed to get completed ASAP. I was excited to do it because it fell right inside the 30-day medical license suspension window. What better way to give the medical board the middle finger than to earn money without practicing medicine?

They flew me out to Barcelona and their main data dude met me here at an AirBnb and we have been pulling 15-hour days since I landed. He is one of the founders of the startup and he’s 23 – I’m 40. He has more energy, attention, and drive than I do but I have been itching for something that’s this engaging for a long time.

But I miss the shit out of my regular retired life.

Over the past several days we finished building a strong foundation for the database which we’ll be using. He is writing the artificial intelligence software, I’m providing them with the data, and his partner will be writing the software which will be marketed to the end-consumer.

I’ll write more about the details of what we’re doing after these guys close their first few deals which should be worth 8-figures.

As a startup, they recently got another round of funding and have done incredibly well. This is tough in the healthcare space so it says something about how effective they are as a company with less than 10 members.

Where they have hit roadblocks is with the physician whom they decided to use as their medical director/chief medical officer. Interestingly, this person asked to be the CMO and that’s a bold request to make unless you know what it takes to be the CMO; it might sounds glorious but it’s not a job most people should want.


Work Opportunity

After I completed my last consulting gig with these guys, I remained in touch. They would update me on how things are going and run things by me from time to time. I never charged for my advice and was always excited to hear from them.

The work opportunity arose because they weren’t able to get anywhere with their current physician. They had good luck working with me in the past and decided to hit me up. For this service they offered me a $5,000 contract with all expenses paid to meet them in Barcelona. It’s exactly what I was looking for in August.


Their Medical Officer

Apparently, in the health startup world, the game is to assume a C-level position, ASAP. Many want to be CEO’s, CFO’s, and CMO’s so that when the company gets bought out, there is guaranteed money in your pocket.

This is fine and will work for quite a few people but won’t be a long-term, sustainable strategy. Let’s say you cash out a couple hundred thousand dollars or even a couple of million – what will you do next?

This startup hired their chief medical officer to be the face of medicine for their company – can you imagine the responsibility? That’s undesirable on so many levels.

They have several million dollars invested in their company with a valuation nearing 8 figures and, as a health startup, the physician on the team would have to carry quite a bit of the burden.

From what I gather, this doctor wanted too much, too early, without offering enough in return. In the beginning her pedigree of having an MD and MPH and a degree in informatics, all from very prestigious institutions, carried her quite far. But when it came down to execution, she couldn’t deliver – she couldn’t adapt and she feigned understanding when, in fact, she couldn’t keep up.


Consulting for a Health Startup

There are 2 types of health startups, the kind that wants to be bought out ASAP to cash out and the kind that is committed to their mission.

For the former, you just need to cross your t’s and dot your i’s and deposit some money in the bank for the investors. The problem is that if you can’t repeat this feat for your next venture, you won’t get future backers.

For those health startups who want to fulfill a specific mission, such as improving healthcare, not only is the task much harder but they will also have to go without much income for a while. This startup is such an example.

Physician Role

These guys are all under 25 years of age. They are far smarter than any medical professional I know. They even have more medical knowledge than quite a few medical students. So with this much talent and skill, what is the role of the physician that they so desperately need?

Health startups need physicians who know how to communicate on various levels – they need doctors who can take their information and explain it to a machine. Not a machine, per se, but the person programming that machine.

The role of the physician is to not focus on being a doctor but the knowledge and how it relates to the software, the medical system, the customer buying the eventual service, the patient, and other physicians.

Consulting Successfully

From what I understand, you have to be flexible. You have to readily admit what you don’t know, be willing to seek out the gaps of knowledge, ask for help when necessary, and demonstrate independent learning.

The first 2 days I spent learning statistics and some machine learning algorithms from their data engineer. This shit was foreign as fuck to me.

Complaining and making excuses won’t get you anywhere on a 5-person team. There is no HR department. There is no nurse manager. There is no medical director who can kiss your boo-boo’s.

I ran into a few such issues just over the past couple of days – it’s humbling. It’s very uncomfortable. And it’s incredibly exhausting.

I’m writing this post at 3:50 AM and I want to go to bed. I’ve been looking at data all day long and my eyeballs burn from the dryness. But I know what’s to come over the next 5 days – this will be the only foreseeable time I’ll have to write a post.


Looking for Accolades

The interesting thing about health startups is that they have a low chance of succeeding. They might be around now and a couple of months/years from now, the entire team might be break up and you won’t have a job.

But it’s important to understand how startups work and how investors invest in these endeavors.

They don’t invest in an idea, they invest in people. The more brilliant the individual and the more cohesive the team, the more likely they will be backed for several rounds of venture capital.

Coming on-board as a physician or any other medical professional and looking for accolades is futile. There is very little patting on the back. Maybe in the beginning – someone might say that you are doing a great job and you are theĀ perfect doctor to help this team succeed.

All that means is that you’re going to have a whole ton of work ahead of you. You’ll have to wade your way through all that work. Figure out the obstacles yourself. Then you’ll have to create a product which you, nor your team, will be 100% happy with but something that’ll get the job done. And if sometime in the future this venture succeeds then you might be able to pat yourself on the back – or maybe the success was mostly attributable to the CEO and not you – who the fuck knows.


Finding Health Startups

I asked my buddy here what he would recommend to a physician looking to consult for medical startups.

His main advice was to learn to communicate to data scientists. To learn how to take your knowledge and translate it to a layperson who will need to program a computer.

As for medical informatics degrees, apparently those are a joke. In fact, they are negative predictor values for success in the field.

Stats and machine learning is where you want to be. If you are interested in this stuff then send me an email and I’ll share with you whatever sources that he’s shared with me. I’ll be studying these over the next few months.

There are a ton of health startups and just because they have a medical director or a chief medical officer it doesn’t mean that their needs are being met.

It’s less of a resume game – you would want to get on the phone with the right people in the company and offer them whatever skills you might have. Any unpaid position will easily turn into something paid.

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