How to build your own digital health application in 2020
We tend to get our best ideas when we are free from the pressures of the daily grind - during holidays or simply when taking a shower for example - but very often we don’t act on them. Some of us can entertain an idea for years without ever finding the time or energy to act on it. I wanted to describe my experience with building a medical education app: SimplyCPD. In the paragraphs below, I list my own top ten tips for building a digital health application. It’s by no means the definitive guide or especially evidenced - it’s simply what I have learned from my own journey, shared in the hope it might help any of you who are starting out on a similar path.
Scratch your own itch!
Find a problem that you’re passionate about and would like to solve. Passion is an essential ingredient. You’ll be more likely to start and progress if the problem is within a field you know well and is one that you have encountered personally. Notice that I said start and progress, not succeed. Many start-ups fail so you need passion and to know your subject to give you the best chance of succeeding.
Enjoy the ride
You need to ensure you enjoy the ride that is entrepreneurship because there will be tougher times. It can be very consuming, and in many ways needs to be if you’re going to make a success of it, but success should be a by-product. Your passion and enjoyment will carry you through the tougher times, so enjoy the ups and downs, keep it fresh, and enjoy the ride.
Perseverance is key!
You need perseverance to make a success of your idea. Almost straight away you’ll make mistakes, and failures along the way are likely and should be celebrated - they’re when some of the most valuable lessons are learned. Rather than be disheartened by them, learn to embrace failures or mistakes, adapt, move on.. and persevere!
Test your market
Do quick market research at the outset. Don’t try to do costly professional market research at this stage, just figure out whether there is a reasonable demand for your solution. You can easily create a survey (eg with Survey Monkey) to send to contacts for example. When I first started working on my project, I spent months reviewing company annual reports and sending Freedom of Information requests. With hindsight other than learning some new technical skills, it was neither very productive nor effective. Do beware of your own bias. Your enthusiasm for an idea can skew your perception of its value, so ask trusted contacts for a critique of your idea.
Find the right partner
Some people can manage entrepreneurship solo but it’s double the fun if there are two of you. Find a partner who shares your values but ideally not your mode of thinking. It’s best to have complementary skills. Divergent views and opinions make for richer discussions and better and wiser decisions. And remember - good fences make good neighbours. All partnerships can go wrong, so protect yourselves as necessary with formal partnership agreements.
Find someone who can code!
When we started developing SimplyCPD, we sourced a lot of quotes but they ended up largely irrelevant as the end product differed significantly from our original plan. .It’s better to have in mind a minimal viable product (the bare bones of your idea) and see how you interact with the developer(s) while discussing it. Can they deliver? Do they communicate well? Are they flexible? Do they know what they’re doing? A good tell here is if they expand on your idea with a vision for future developments that would enhance the project. Before you engage with a developer, if possible get their proposal checked by a trusted techie (if you know one) too to ensure what they’ve proposed covers the essentials.
Choose a structure for your business. It’s not recommended to do things as a sole trader, and incorporating will protect you from personal liability in your business. Things can go wrong and if they do you don’t want anyone coming after your house! A social enterprise or a limited company are often best suited. Finding a good accountant is key as well as this will hopefully be a long journey with them.
Things can quickly get really complicated and you can easily lose track of ideas, files, recall of meetings, etc.. Minute your meetings,write down your objectives and milestones and choose software that allows you to keep things organised in the way that best works for you. You’ll need at a minimum a project organiser/collaboration tool (we used Trello in the early stages) and a filing and online storage system. We use Google Drive for its collaborative working functionality.
Do not over plan.
You need some planning but sometimes too much can prevent you from ever actually developing something. I know something about that! We spent two years developing a concept and planning at length for it while looking for investment. Ultimately we used a spin-off of our initial project and when we finally committed to creating a tangible product rather than creating fancy plans and documents about it, things moved very quickly.
Have skin in the game.
You will most certainly need to put your money where your mouth is. There are a lot of grants around, including Innovate UK and, at the moment, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) that we benefited from. Make sure you sign up for newsletters and familiarise yourself with these grant opportunities. You’ll need to spend first with many (including the ERDF) then claim back a percentage from the grant provider.
So where are we with SimplyCPD today? It has been an amazing experience since we started. We launched the app in March 2019 and signed up doctors all over the UK as well as CPD courses, from all the big-name providers. Wherever you are in the UK, we have a course near you, and we were recently likened to the Booking.com of CPD! High praise indeed. We’ve got an exciting development plan for 2020 and will soon be raising money via crowdfunding to fund much of that development. And most of all - we’ve learned from the mistakes to-date, have persevered and are thoroughly enjoying the ride!
If you have had similar experiences or developed a health-related project, please share your tips below and add comments about the tips above. The more of us share our experiences, the better for those who are starting out on this journey.
SimplyCPD is a free app. Download it on the app store here: https://itunes.apple.com/app/id1448711237
Or on Google Play here: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.atomengine.simplycpd&gl=GB
You may also be interested in...
The Booking.com for CPD events
This is how SimplyCPD was recently described by a respected clinical update organisation