Building something? Here’s how to get those priorities right

By Praveen Suthrum

Recently, I was speaking with a company building a healthcare analytics platform. That same week, I also met a hospital wanting to re-imagine patient engagement. In a lot of ways, those conversations were similar – Future focused. Enthusiastic. Yet, both dealt with the same challenge.

There were too many good ideas, with each fighting for focus.

You might wonder why too many good ideas isn’t a good thing. Doesn’t
James Altucher ask people to make lists of ideas every day?

Well, coming up with ideas is great. Trying to run after all of them is not.

Digging a well in many places never yields water.
You’ll only end up with a hole here and a hole there.
Never going deep enough.

When you begin to execute ideas, they consume you. And your two precious resources: time and money. Sooner or later, entrepreneurs learn that the market doesn’t take very well to less differentiated ideas. When you spread your resources thin, it’s difficult to make any one idea standout in a cluttered world.

Driverless cars for healthcare – good idea?

Say, you have an idea for driverless cars in healthcare. It has many applications – from picking up patients to carrying medical equipment. However, the idea is still too broad, which makes it difficult to find your first set of customers.

The way to sharpen your idea is to begin with problems.

In your worldview, who has the most need for driverless cars in healthcare? Let’s say, the answer is patients.

Now, what kind of patients? May be those that can’t drive. Or, shouldn’t drive. Or, who find it difficult to hire a cab. Or, who don’t like bothering friends and family for visit to the doctor.

Or for senior citizens, perhaps, which may be better than driverless cars in healthcare. And when we attempt to sharpen it further, it can lead to driverless cars for independent senior patients during day surgeries, and so on.

But is it too narrow?

How will I conquer the market and be like Facebook or Google? (I’m sure people have now stopped saying
Uberization of…).

There’s lots of time for world domination – at the idea stage, it’s time to focus on one clear idea with one strong use-case. You have to learn to serve somebody well. Well enough for them to say “thank you for doing this”.

Who decides which idea to focus on?

Is it the technical founder? Or, the business guy? Or, your angel investor? Who decides what you must build? Which features are important? No one from your company.

Many a startup have eaten dust feeding a founder’s ego. Burning billions of dollars. And blood and sweat of countless hardworking people. So who decides? You allow your customer to decide.

This might be counter-intuitive to worshippers of Steve Jobs‘ gospel. He often said that
customers don’t know what they want. You simply need to build and show it to them. May be true for Apple. But allowing your customers to decide doesn’t mean running a market survey and asking them to pick the features from a
SurveyMonkey questionnaire.

It means having the patience to understand your customers deeply. So well that you can grasp their biggest pains and desires. Even those that they may not be able to articulate. This will develop intuition to second guess what your customers want.

Getting priorities right

Once you know what your core customers wants, list their problems in the order of their priority. What can you develop that will make their life better? Devote all your energies in developing your product in that direction.

What if they don’t like what you’ve built?

The answer to that is actually simple. Scrap it and do it over. Or, pick another problem to solve. You may be thinking – but I’ve spent so much money and time on this!

Know that you’ll spend a lot more by going down that rabbit hole.

(Praveen Suthrum is the president and
of NextServices.
is the company’s Health IT platform. He writes at redo/healthcare.)