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Humanizing Tech

"How to: 8-Figure Acquisition in 4 Years" in Humanizing Tech

Univ of Iowa alumn builds the future of telemedicine

I. Overview

A great bit of news was announced this week via Iowa’s second largest newspaper, the Gazette. Telepharm, an Iowa startup, was acquired by the $103 billion Cardinal Health.

In 4 short years, my friend Roby S Miller (twitter) had an idea, worked with the state government on new legislation, built a real business, and sold it.

The concept was simple: give people in rural midwest towns access to a pharmacist. The angle is that the pharmacist doesn’t have to physically be in that town to give patients prescription medicine.

What you might notice that’s different than most modern-day startups is there’s no mention of technology in that description.

II. The Problem

About 6 years ago, Roby’s family business had a problem. They owned a small chain of retail pharmacies across the state of Iowa, but they weren’t doing enough business to stay open. The issue wasn’t just limited to their own stores, but also to others in the midwest.

There just wasn’t enough business to go around, but there were still people who needed medication for their health. A seemingly unsolveable problem. Below is a slide from one of Roby’s initial decks, outlining the magnitude of the issue from the state’s perspective:

Business owners were struggling. Jobs were lost. People had to drive hundreds of miles just to get their prescriptions. But the problem wasn’t just limited to Iowa. It was systemic across the entire United States.

This was three and a half years ago. The problem likely would have been even worse today without the enterprising nature of Roby and the Telepharm team.

If you focus on, and solve, a problem that has multiple constituents in a novel way, you will not only be the market leader, but people will beat a path to your door.

Social networks have been solved. Providing an aging population access to prescriptions while keeping small business owners in business has not. Too many people in the tech industry are focused on technology first, and humans second. Focus on humans first, and then let the tech fill in the gaps.

You might find that you don’t even need traditional “tech”. Maybe all you need is a phone number somebody with an issue can text to get help. And that phone number can be yours. You do all the manual work up front using technology and systems already in place. If it’s successful and your phone won’t stop blowing up, then and only then, do you build something custom to make your own life a little easier.

Duplicate the process you continue to do over and over in code, and let the software handle the monotonous parts. That’s what software is for.

III. The Telepharm Product

Below is an old school prototype (circa 2013) of the kiosk that patients could use in a rural drug store to connect in real-time with a doctor in a larger city.

In essence the product has a few simple features:

  1. A live video stream connecting the patient to the doctor or pharmacist.
  2. A kiosk using off-the-shelf components like an iPad, stand, and telephone handset. Remember the user, who is likely more senior and less comfortable with Millennial tech.
  3. An app that lets the Pharmacist fill the prescription (shows the label, the pill, the doctor’s prescription). This part is also connected to pharmacy databases, like McKesson.

It’s that last piece that is the true innovation. Because the pharmacy business is manual, there is ample room for human error. People are just people, and we make mistakes. Sometimes wrong prescriptions get filled, pill counts are off, and need to know information can be left off (e.g., do not take with alcohol).

Below are a few really old mockups of the app’s UI to help you get a sense of the product. Note that it even includes analytics.

IV. How We Helped

About three and a half years ago Roby and I connected during the Adam & Luna / StoryApp days. He needed help designing and building a website to explain the value of his product to the market. We didn’t just build AI and video apps for ourselves, we also had a creative agency where we did it for others.

Below are a few snaps of my notebook where I wrote out some ideas of what the Telepharm website might want to contain, in terms of layout and structure. Obviously it includes some strategy and thoughts from Roby.

You can still see some of the remnants of our work on Telepharm’s website today.

V. How Roby Did It

As mentioned above, the 4-year journey was filled with risk, but less so than most might imagine. He had history in the business and a trusted resource in his father who had run multiple pharmacy businesses over the years. That domain expertise allowed him to “alpha test” his product concept with a real store owner, as well as others he knew in the community.

That is likely the single biggest indicator of success before you ever start doing anything. Does the team have the domain expertise and the “secret” understood deep enough that it will matter.

Because this was such a novel approach to a problem that the state of Iowa was experiencing, he was able to quickly work his way to the state government and actually set laws into place with the legislators. Roby was the expert in this new area of telemedicine because he invented it. As he went to raise a small bit of capital, having pharmacy owners as advisors, and legislators in the state government vouching for him made the process a no brainer.

Who wouldn’t see the problem, see the team and network, and want to help? The return wold come eventually.

Don’t underestimate the midwestern work ethic and the values of Iowans. I should know, I was born, raised, and educated there. The midwest is unlike anywhere else in the country. Even Venture Capitalists from the biggest and baddest firms are beginning to see why it makes more sense to invest in startups in the Midwest than in the Valley, so says Chris Olsen of Drive Capital.

Telepharm is just another example of a successful real business that started as a startup in the midwest. Iowa and the midwest doesn’t get covered by the mainstream tech press because they (and I) are outsiders.

But I think they forget that the first automatic electronic digital computer was created in, where else, Iowa. And by, who else, a mathematician.

Go Hawkeyes.

And go Big Ten. Building the most advanced technology in the middle of a corn field since the early 20th century. Up next?

AI in Space.

— Sean

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How to: 8-Figure Acquisition in 4 Years was originally published in Humanizing Tech on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Read the responses to this story on Medium.

from Stories by Sean Everett on Medium http://ift.tt/2coypaw