Start-up Success Series: Listen to Your KOL’s to Uncover Unmet Needs

I recently blogged about the top reasons that start-ups fail. Today, and for the next several posts, we’ll follow a more positive note, as I highlight some of the top reasons start-ups succeed.


Let me start with a Jeff Bezos quote from 2018:

“…experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen. 

I’ll paraphrase that quote to make it clear: An unmet need-obsessed culture creates the foundation for Medtech start-up success.

A start-up culture, obsessed with customer-centric thinking and many key opinion leader (KOL) relationships, is much more likely to create product concepts and strategies that will lead to sustainable and adoptable technology solutions that address unmet needs in a given industry.

When Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, and before he started his second great company, NeXT, he spent over a year travelling throughout the USA talking to IT thought leaders (KOL’s) understanding their unmet needs.

He used this deep understanding to create a transformational computer hardware and software company for advanced users. Within three years of starting NeXT (1995-1997), Jobs sold the company for over $1 billion in cash and stock, and resumed control of Apple (which he went on to save)!

In 2010, when I took over a struggling Medtech company called CardioInsight, I travelled the globe talking to my electrophysiology (EP) network of contacts that I had built at my previous EP Company, CryoCath. 

Through these conversations, I developed a clear understanding of their unmet needs. Consequently, I repositioned the company and its technology for AF mapping (as opposed to biventricular pacing and mapping), resulting in the value of the company growing from $2 million to over $100 million. CardioInsight was sold to Medtronic in under five years. How was this possible? I listened to my visionary KOL customers!

But this is not the end of the process involving KOLs. The trick lies in translating that deep insight of an unmet clinical need into a unique and sustainable value proposition. My next blog will discuss the thinking process behind this strategically important translation.