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Health IT Startup Needs Experienced CEO

Posted Aug 11 2011 12:00am
Emergency room after the treatement of a trauma

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In an emergency room, time is of the essence. A friend of mine had an aortic aneurysm over July 4th weekend. He was air-evaced to the Arizona Heart Hospital in Phoenix from a vacation home, and a cardiac team (probably six or seven people) had to be assembled to perform what turned out to be a seven-hour emergency surgery.

The Emergency Room staff’s job is to track down members of a team with the right capabilities and get the ones closest to the hospital and available there stat. How has that traditionally been done? A staff member goes down a list of physicians with privileges at that hospital and starts calling one after the other.

And how long does that take? It could take what seems like a lifetime for someone as sick as my friend. WebConnectMD automates that process. It creates schedules, alerts and notifications online. It can save lives.

But WebConnectMD is now in the hands of someone who never intended to be the CEO of a health IT company a friend of mine whose areas of expertise extend from homebuilding to land acquisition to oil and gas investments, but not to healthcare or technology. Over the past year, Steve Robson has been on one of the steepest learning curves I could ever imagine learning not only how software is developed, but also how broken the health care delivery system has become. As he says, he has paid “the idiot tax” for investing in something he knew nothing about. But he has stepped up to the plate rather than just writing everything off.

The fault for this situation lies largely with the company’s founders, geeks who took dumb money. As for Steve, he made a loan to a software development company, and when it couldn’t get its product to market, he got the assets. Once he acquired them,, he began a year-long journey to find out what he had and what he could do with it.

What he acquired:

Code. Written in Flex and Java, difficult languages to work with. But very robust.

Customers. Two hospitals already use the product. They like it.

Competition: There are many other solutions in this area already, some of them descended from call centers, others kludged together from Excel spreadsheets.

A large market: Hospitals need to do everything they can to raise revenues and cut costs in the current environment, which will only get worse for them as health care reform rolls out slowly between now and 2014.

What he didn’t acquire:

Documentation. The code first had to be carefully gone through and documented. Fortunately, my network found me the right guy to do that someone who literally wrote the book on Flex.

A team. The founders and their epigone fled. They quickly found out that Steve does not understand managing technical teams, and they dispersed slowly over the last year.

Marketing materials, a pipeline, or a strategy for selling the product. This was an “if you build it they will come” situation.

What he built over the past year:

A network of people willing to become involved and help.

A product that is now stable and live with customers.

A new team that knows how to support those customers.

Some preliminary partnerships to take the company forward.

Much competitive intelligence.

A pipeline of sorts.

Knowledge about the industry and where the product/market fit is

A revenue model

SWOT analyses, marketing strategies, and processes

Amazingly, few of the people who work for WebConnectMD now have ever worked on a startup. But they have caught the vision, which Steve also has, of how this product could be a way to make emergency rooms more efficient at finding physicians who take call, and available physician groups more discoverable.

My “job?” To replace Steve as CEO with someone knowledgeable so he can go back to being an investor, which is something he does well. Creating change in the habit-ridden world of health care is slow going, but it has rich rewards. Health care is probably the industry with the most potential in America right now.

Any takers?

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