My Undiscovered Country

From the lips of a Danish prince to those of a Klingon ambassador, the “undiscovered country” is one of those remarkably adaptable Shakespearean phrases that never seems to go out of style. Evolving from its original reference to the afterlife, it now conjures up visions of the unknowable future in the here and now. Taking liberties, as all entrepreneurs must, I’ve started thinking of my startup as a voyage into this undiscovered country.

Along the way, I’ve decided that not being a product of corporate America or a b-school grad has certain advantages. This became apparent when I started reading one of the books that’s recommended as part of my curriculum for Top Gun.  The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steven Blank has been widely hailed as paradigm shifter in entrepreneurial circles. Blank makes a strong case for incorporating a customer-driven development model into the traditional product-centered development model used by nearly all startups and established companies. He summarizes the approach here, “… a startup should focus on a deep understanding of customers and their problems, discovering a repeatable roadmap of how they buy, and building a financial model that results in profitability.” This may sound like commonsense to the unschooled (caveman translation: “no customers, no business”) but it has turned conventional product development thinking on its head. Traditionally, customers have been viewed almost as an afterthought in the “build it and they will come” model. Blank front loads the customer in the process. This way the entrepreneur can validate the profitability of the business model early on thereby limiting risk.

Thankfully, I’m learning about this approach as I start the process of building my company. I don’t have to unlearn all those bad habits pointed out by Blank.  No doubt, I have unwittingly absorbed some product-centered tendencies due to my career as an inventor. Even so, it’s not going to be difficult to start thinking deeply about my customers as well as the product. Fortunately, the initial target market for NeuroCheck is podiatry, a country I’ve been living in for 25 years.

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About Todd O’Brien

Dr. O’Brien graduated from Bates College with a BS in biology in 1986. He then attended the Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine and graduated summa cum laude with a DPM degree in 1990. After completing a podiatric surgical residency at VAMC Palo Alto and Stanford, Dr. O’Brien was employed at Sgarlato Labs, a biomedical start-up then based in San Jose, CA. He served in a variety roles there including product developer, project manager, technical writer and sales presenter. After three years at Sgarlato Labs, he returned to the full-time practice of podiatry until founding O’Brien Medical, LLC in 1999. He has since divided his time between running a podiatry practice and developing medical products. He has successfully licensed six surgical products and holds four issued patents. Writing credits include several articles in peer-reviewed medical journals, a chapter in a surgical text and a book on entrepreneurship for inventors. He is a past-president of the medical staff at Penobscot Valley Hospital as well as the Maine Podiatric Medical Association. He is a graduate of the 2012 class of the Top Gun entrepreneurship acceleration program administered by the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development.