Brett Belchetz is the co-founder and CEO of virtual health-care company Maple.
“Keep dreaming – nobody will ever pay for this.”
With these words from a physician colleague, my first pitch for a digital health platform came to a sudden, disappointing end. Over the course of the following year, I was told that online health care wasn’t safe, would never be embraced by patients or doctors, wasn’t fair to those without connectivity, and shouldn’t happen without government funding. If we were “faint of heart” entrepreneurs, this might have been the end of our journey. Instead we embraced the pushback, and it was only the beginning.
As an emergency room physician in Toronto for over 15 years, I’ve witnessed Canada’s outdated health-care delivery firsthand: thousands of patients unable to find family doctors, the longest wait times in the developed world, and patients using the ER as their only way to access treatment. It was clear to me that delivery online could improve health care, but that vision would mean challenging the status quo.
Now, four years after that initial failed pitch, Maple, the company I pitched, has raised over $20-million and built a platform used by nearly half a million patients and hundreds of physicians across Canada. And this happened in an industry known for resisting change – look at photos of a doctor’s office from the 1950s and you’ll see very little difference from the examining room of today. So how did we overcome the resistance we faced from within a particularly stubborn industry?
Here are some of the important lessons that we learned along the way:
Take what’s useful, leave what’s not
Comments and criticisms can be invaluable for young companies – but you need to become a master at differentiating between feedback that matters and feedback that doesn’t. For example, many of our toughest critics have never used our service. While their perspectives still matter, we try not to get lost in appeasing every single naysayer – that’s a losing battle. Instead, we’ve learned it’s critical to pay attention to actual customers, zeroing in on their feedback (both good and bad) and continuously improving our offering. It’s important not to dilute the quality of the user experience in an effort to jump over hurdles raised by non-customers.
Focus on the “persuadables”
It’s essential that your company identify those who are persuadable from those who are not. This is especially true for young companies working with a finite amount of bandwidth and energy. You’ll need to focus your efforts on winning over the “persuadables,” whether they be certain groups of consumers, influential industry stakeholders, or potential business allies. Pick your targets carefully and convert them strategically. You can circle back to the “unpersuadables” at a later point – once you’ve grown and gained momentum. But remember, there are certain people you’ll never win over, and that’s okay. There aren’t many companies with 100-per-cent market share.
View challenges as compliments
Be ready for a fight from established stakeholders – your innovation threatens their livelihood. And those who stand to lose the most will fight the hardest. Recognize this for what it is: a sign that you’re onto something big. If your vision didn’t have a chance of succeeding or wasn’t ambitious enough, nobody important would care enough to challenge you. The reality is that many industries are in need of evolution, and those pushing for change are rarely celebrated or welcomed by their peers. To succeed as a leader with a transformative vision, it’s necessary to celebrate resistance.
Never forget your mission
Focus on your original mission – the problem you set out to solve in the first place. That’s your North Star. And surround yourself with people who believe in it too. Everything you do from day one onward has to tie back to your mission in a clear and compelling way. Resistance is inevitable, but it can never – not even for a second – throw you off course. The leaders and companies that succeed are the ones who remain dead focused on their reason for existing. It’s much easier to deal with resistance when you know, without a doubt, the value you will bring by overcoming it.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
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