Venture Capitalist Fred Wilson had a great post a while back titled, “Bootstrap Your Network With A High Value Use Case.” He points out that the initial value proposition for Waze (the community-based traffic and navigation app acquired by Google) was simply to help drivers that like to drive too fast identify speed traps. But it of course quickly expanded way beyond that and now provides a lot more value to a lot more drivers. Waze has become mainstream.
The same thing is true with Snapchat (the ultra-popular photo sharing app). Snapchat started out as a “sexting” app and has now expanded to a larger segment of users that use it for many, many more applications. It’s now a mainstream app.
This is sometimes called the “bowling ball strategy” in new product development where you focus on knocking down the first pin by being very focused on one segment of customers and one product application. Once you’ve won over that piece of the market, then you gradually knock down more pins (segments and applications) over time until your product works for the mainstream. The idea is to find a narrow niche that loves what you’re doing, refine the product and expand from there.
Related to health care, many have written about the notion of centralizing patient data in an app on the patient’s phone or tablet, as opposed to housing it in multiple medical records across multiple health care providers across multiple software tools. Most would agree that we need to get to this place, but the path to getting there isn’t very clear. Patients aren’t clamoring for it yet. And there continues to be fairly significant resistance from software vendors and health care providers as it flies in the face of the strategy of owning the data and owning the patient relationship.
My guess is the way that we’re going to get there is similar to the way that Waze built a massive mapping and navigation business, and Snapchat built a massive photo sharing business: It’s going to start with a small niche.
I can envision the day that an app that serves a network of highly engaged users who have a very specific and highly sensitive medical condition becoming the app that drives the shift towards consumers owning the data. Patients will be highly engaged with the app because their affliction is such an important part of their lives. They’ll push their providers hard to transmit their data so it can be shared with other providers and the patient community. Providers won’t mind, and big software companies won’t get in the way because it’s serving such a small niche.
But after this tool nails one narrow segment and one narrow application, it will quickly expand out to more patients with more afflictions and the network will grow from there.
It’s going to start with a niche.
As venture investors like to say, “The next big thing will start out looking like a toy.” In this case, the next big thing in health care technology will start out looking really small: a simple tool that serves a very small, but highly engaged set of patients.
Brian Manning helps early stage technology companies with business development, product development and marketing. He blogs at his self-titled site, Brian Manning.
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