4 Best Practices for Expanding Your Expertise Into a New Market
Everyone says that following your passion is the key to happiness and prosperity. But, what if you’re passionate about two different areas of expertise?
That was the question I started asking myself at a young age, when my burgeoning curiosity about how things work prompted me to pursue an undergraduate degree in bioengineering, followed by medical school. Yet, while mastering the mechanisms of the human body allowed me to practice medicine, I always had a lingering love of technology -- computers, gadgetry and software coding -- that I was forced to put on the back burner.
Eventually, my big opportunity to merge my dual passions of medicine and technology came several months into my medical residency in the early 1990s. At that time, we were told we’d have to carry around dozens of notecards during the day to keep track of patient information -- and be ready to present them to our attending physicians, on demand. That system was inefficient and prone to errors. I knew there had to be a better way to track patient data.
In fact, it occurred to me that doctors could save hours of time with a patient-tracking tool that allowed them to store practice notes, X-ray scans and other pertinent data. Back then we didn’t have the iPad -- just the clunky Apple Newton personal data assistant. Still, young doctors were excited about the device’s potential. Leveraging my medical experience and my passion for technology, I conceived a new business venture: pre-EHR software that allowed doctors to store and retrieve patient information.
As my story proves, there are always opportunities to seek new ventures -- no matter what market you’re in -- by using your experience and knowledge to your entrepreneurial advantage. If you do intend to enter a different market, consider these best practices when embarking on your new, ancillary venture:
1. Stay within your areas of expertise.
If you’re a technology expert with a degree in computer science who happens to be an endocrinologist, launching a new mobile app to serve providers in your specialty is a valid prospect. You’re likely familiar with the technical requirements, as well as the real-world need.
In contrast, your love of good food doesn’t mean you should launch a restaurant (unless, of course, you have a culinary or hospitality-management background). The bottom line: Use your unique expertise, rather than starting from scratch, to increase your odds for success.
2. Understand your market.
Do your homework. Research your prospective competition, potential mechanisms for product distribution and the potential skill set you’ll need to bring your idea to market. Also, consider timing (as much as possible): If the stock market is crashing and home prices are dwindling, that could make all the difference in market adoption.
3. Don’t undersell yourself.
A lot of entrepreneurs are so excited when a potential client is interested in their offering that they impulsively quote the lowest price. In my case, after I’d developed my practice-notes software -- and already had a prospective client base of individual physicians -- I was called into a meeting with the CEO, CIO and consultants of the Houston hospital where I worked.
When they asked how much it would cost to license my software to 300 physicians, I immediately told them $100 each ($30,000). Later, I learned that companies whose technology didn’t do half of what mine did were licensing to physicians for $1,000 each! Had I done my research I would have exuded confidence when asking for a higher number.
4: Consider your financial partnerships carefully.
Working with venture capitalists has its ups and downs, and most lending terms are built to benefit investors. So, before you offer up a piece of your latest project to one of them, make sure you’re familiar with what you’re giving up, in exchange for startup funds.
Remember that even if you do everything right, timing and luck can derail you. It may take five swings of the bat before you hit something. And when you do, you might not hit a home run. But I’ve never seen a hard-working entrepreneur who has persistence and passion for his or her ideas not hit the ball.