Bleeding edge: Healthtech founders share their insights from the forefront of the industry

Lisa Enckell, Partner at Antler

Welcome to Antler’s circles series, where we bring industry leaders, founders, and experts working in the same sector together to problem solve, share emerging trends and technologies. Through this series, Antler will provide unparalleled access to closed room discussions around the challenges and opportunities experienced by those innovating at the forefront of the industry. 

There are many startup advisors and investors (yes, I’m one of them) who often give advice to founders. The best advice is often not from advisors, but from other founders who are going through similar journeys. That’s why at Antler, we have initiated founder circles, where founders in the same industry meet to discuss challenges and find solutions together.

We recently invited the founders of the healthtech companies in our portfolio to come together with a few, external operators. While everything that was said during our founder circle stays among the founders, we got the permission to publish a few great pieces of advice that were shared.

‘Find the doctors who wear an Apple watch’ 

Building personal relationships with customers and partners is key in the health tech industry. Many shared how personal relationships and warm introductions make all the difference when it comes to setting up partnerships and landing big customers. Identify the right individuals at the big organizations. During our discussion, Sabina Wizander, CSO at KRY/Livi said, “Find the doctors who wear an Apple Watch,” suggesting those who do are forward-looking and innovative individuals in an otherwise conservative industry.

The feel-good story dominates the financial story 

Focus on your story when pitching investors, said Adam Kirell, founder and CEO of Antler portfolio company Within Health. Sell the dream where you want to be in a few years from now. Don’t limit yourself to the product and technology you have today. Sell the vision, avoid buzzwords and try to get to a yes or a no as quickly as possible. If an investor is not the right fit for you, move on to the next one. Avoid spending time with investors who are just there to learn about the industry and don’t have the right experience to do health tech investments.

Separate your founder ‘hat’ and your marketing ‘hat’

Lisa Kenelly, CMO at Fishbrain and former VP marketing at the period tracking app Clue shared that as a founder, it’s easy to focus on your big, bold vision and where you will be in the future. However, when creating copy for your ads, writing blog posts to describe your product and more, it’s important to put your marketing hat on. Focus on how you’re solving the pain points for your customers and write it down in simple words. Be very concrete in your communications to potential customers and sell the big dream to investors.

Get to know your early ‘super users’ 

Find ways to connect with your early users. Tanveer Singh, founder of Antler portfolio company Sova Health shared how they’ve set-up WhatsApp groups where they have 80% daily active users, 26 exchanged messages per day and almost no churn. “We’re in an app our audience already uses multiple times a day”, said Tanveer Singh. Other great channels to build a community among your early users could be launching a Facebook group or on Discord. In the early days, meet the users where they exist already instead of trying to get them to use yet another app. Once you have your early users, get to know them really well. What media do they consume, how do they solve their problems today, what competitors are they using? It will help you in selecting the right channels and communications for your digital marketing and to find more, similar user profiles as you scale.

Borrow brand equity from a partner to grow faster 

Building trust and credibility in the healthcare industry is hard, especially for early-stage startups. Building partnerships with organizations that your potential customers already know and trust is a great way to give your startups credibility. One of the founders shared how they successfully ran webinars with a trusted supplier and how the supplier invited their existing customers. It was a great way to gain credibility and get sales leads at the same time. Offer to host events with others (and do the necessary background work for it) and co-create content with others. Once you have your first customers onboard, get them to introduce you to their friends in the industry.

Use your personal story and motivation in your marketing 

Many founders have a very personal story on what sparked them to start a company. Was it something you or your family experienced? Use that story in your own marketing and let your audience know what drives and motivates you. Jenny-Ann Ax:son-Johnsson is the founder and CEO of Antler portfolio company Tilly. Tilly provides personalised fertility support and empowers people to own their fertility journey. The two founders of Tilly have both been through long journeys with their own fertility and are now openly sharing their stories. “People can identify with you and it builds trust”, said Jenny-Ann Ax:son-Johnsson. While people may not trust a super early startup, they will trust you as founders.

Let advisors pay to become your advisor 

Invest time to find relevant medical and digital health advisors for your startup. The health industry is very dependent on relationships and networks. Your advisors will help you get in front of the right people, and they can add credibility to your young brand. Adam Kirell, founder and CEO of Within Health recommends founders to convince the advisors to invest in your company with a smaller angel ticket. When your advisors are onboard as shareholders, your incentives are aligned and they have a big potential upside in supporting you.

Let your investors work for you

Finally, an advice from me: Make the most out of your investors. Ensure they introduce you to the right people. To make it easy for your investors to help you, include concrete asks in your monthly investor updates. Brianne Kimmel summarized well how to activate your investors and specifically how to write an ideal customer profile to share with investors.

This article is based on the Antler circles industry discussions led by the founders of Antler’s portfolio companies, external industry leaders and investors. 

If you’ve been inspired to build a company that addresses one of the challenges or opportunities listed above, apply to join Antler. Antler enables and invests in exceptional people building the defining companies of tomorrow. Learn more here.

Build your startup with Antler