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As CEO and leader of multiple early-stage, high-growth healthcare and technology businesses, here are 5 key lessons that have made the difference in scaling profitably and successfully.  As CEO of CRF Inc., a mobile patient/clinician platform for clinical trials, and now at Health Helm, Inc., a mobile patient/clinician platform for self reporting and communications, my toughest lessons have involved balancing:  achieve milestones, demonstrate clinical evidence and impact while stretching resources to achieve results.

1. Listen to, learn from our customers – in our case, our patients and their clinicians

Our mobile software platforms over the last 15 years are designed to enable and motivate patient-reported-outcomes (PRO) or self-reporting.  The Food and Drug Administration has prioritized PRO in healthcare because of better outcomes and health, in large part because patients know themselves best and they pay attention to what they track.  In any business, the “voice of the customer” is key: seeking it, being open-minded to learn from it, even when the feedback is negative or contrary. We constantly strive to gain insights from our patients and clinicians.  What can we learn from their stories? What impact are these things making in their lives? And how can we make a difference? Every team member every day is driven by our patients and clinicians, gathering and analyzing their data and clinical evidence, and applying that to making that difference.  This is basic fuel to scaling our business engine!

2. Build a shared vision

Our company’s vision is to make a measurable improvement in the quality of our patients’ health.  We are a data-and-results-driven team with a platform that produces the evidence demonstrating better outcomes, lower costs and more satisfied patients and clinicians.  The data and continuing analytics, in turn, enable our patients and clinicians – and our company – to learn, adjust and improve. I had the privilege of working with and learning from Bryan Smith, a co-author of “The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook,” about creating a core purpose or destiny for our businesses.  With my teams, we shape our core purpose into a shared vision, and continually evolve it as we learn and gain insight from our customers. Successful scaling requires continual evolution of our shared vision, tracking our progress against the vision, and transparently reporting meaningful results (good, bad and ugly) while growing profitable revenues.

3. Grow a high-performance team

In my last blog, I talked about high-performance teams.  Critical to any successful team is a combination of bright, curious minds, shared passion about the business’ or team’s core purpose, and the right mix of skills and expertise to get the job done.  Our team members share common values, have mutual respect for one another, while demonstrating both conviction and being open-minded to new points of view or data. Especially in rapidly scaling business, we have intentionally mixed a combination of “been-there-done-that,” more seasoned team members and “fresh” perspectives (new to this domain or earlier in their careers) – this combination enables us to move smarter, faster.

4. Deliver operational excellence

Operational excellence is obvious, a “no brainer,” but is a challenge for rapidly scaling businesses.  Clearly mapping each step of the operations, clear roles, accountabilities for us, our customers and any third parties, setting clear expectations and metrics at each step – all are critical to success. Setting clear expectations with our customers – and not overpromising – and managing and communicating continually are keys.  Bumps will occur; we must be prepared for them, own up to our part in those, and fix them quickly. This is where our team of “seasoned” and “fresh” experiences can make a difference: we define what quality and success look like, how to measure and report them, what potential risks and failures lie ahead, and how to prevent or mitigate bumps when they occur.

5. Cash is “king” (or “queen”)!

In all businesses, and especially in rapidly scaling businesses, cash is king. Managing cash smartly, spending where it makes real impact to build value, conserving it for uncertainties – these are the ways to achieve pivotal milestones: with customers, in the market, building assets and value for shareholders.  How many earlier stage companies raise a round of financing only to blow through their cash too rapidly, falling short of value milestones? I have been very fortunate with CFOs, investors and financially attuned team members aligned around making the smartest use of cash.

In conclusion, my balancing these five critical success factors to achieve forward momentum and results is key.

Article was originally shared on INC Blog by Springboard Enterprises.


This article was originally posted on Springboard Enterprise’s Inc Blog

If I could only offer one piece of advice to other entrepreneurs from my 30+ years of experience in business, it would be that the key to success is teamwork. While that may seem like an obvious statement, or even a cliche, the bottom line is that without a great team, a great idea will either underperform or fail.

It is easy to get caught up in the excitement and stress of growing a new business. “The customer comes first”, “ensure your investors are happy,”, “capture revenues and achieve a high profit margin as quickly as possible” are valid priorities and reasonable thoughts to have as you grow your idea into a business. But an idea simply doesn’t become a business without an incredible team. So my advice to entrepreneurs is to search for these vital ingredients in potential team members:

1. Find bright, curious, and challenging individuals who are smarter than you.

You want to surround yourself with teammates who challenge you, albeit, in a positive way. If you’re the smartest one on your team, your ideas won’t be tested until they reach the market. However, if the individuals have the courage to challenge your ideas using critical thinking and curiosity, your product will only be enhanced. At CRF Health, I was surrounded by extremely bright, inquisitive team members. At times it was difficult to be challenged by these individuals on the path I wanted to take our product, or the way that I was doing something. But it was an incredible and humbling experience to work with such a team, and their pushback ultimately resulted in a better product for our customers.

2. Find individuals who have courage, conviction and integrity.

You want team members who will do the right thing for customers, other team members, investors and all stakeholders — not just “the boss.””. An example was when I worked on a deliverable for a strategically significant, important customer with unrealistic deadlines. My head of operations came to me and told me the deadlines the customer demanded weren’t feasible unless he was going to work his team “beyond the bone,” sacrificing quality, putting at risk the solution, the customers and the company in the short and long run. We chose to be honest with the customer about the challenge and realities, adjusted the plan to be more realistic and proactively managed their expectations. We delivered a better product while ensuring that we kept our own employees engaged and productive. The customer ended up giving us more business for our honesty — which wouldn’t have happened if my team members didn’t have the courage or conviction to speak their mind and to find more practical solutions.

3. Find individuals who share a passion for your company’s vision.

While my companies and jobs have been challenging and have brought me away from my family for long stints, I have always loved what I do. I enjoy getting up in the morning and working on something that I am passionate about. Among the most important ingredients in recruiting team members is to learn about their passions and to discover if or how those overlap with our company’s vision. If a team member turns up to the job, views it as a “clock in, clock out” position, that won’t benefit the fast-moving business — like we are — nor that team member. At Health Helm, Inc., all of my teammates are passionate about health care and patient success. Whether it’s because we’ve had a family member that’s undergone surgery and has felt lost post-discharge, or because we’re passionate about improving health care system, we all find some connection with our core purpose to make a difference with a patient and their caregivers.  We enjoy working together. This makes a huge difference — we are intrinsically motivated and more determined to produce the best possible product for our patients, their clinical and family caregivers, and our customers. The key is to find individuals who can articulate why they want to join your team, and why they are passionate about and share some meaningful purpose with your company’s vision.

I have been extremely fortunate to lead teams that have encompassed these ingredients. My past and current team members have navigated through times of challenge and chaos, and to celebrate in times of success. Our “power team” at CRF Inc. — great gals and guys with diverse talents, experiences and ideas — were key to achieving quality, results and to scaling profitably.