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What is Stakeholder Ecosystem Discovery and Why Do So Many Life Science Founders Screw It Up?

Life science founders are technical and clinical experts in their fields, but frequently fail to understand the needs of the stakeholders who will determine their path to market. This gap in knowledge sends investors running, and all but ensures immediate, or worse, eventual company failure. 

The concept of customer discovery is not new. However, its origins reside mainly in the tech and consumer product industry, where there typically are only one or two customer archetypes that drive initial adoption of a given product. The life science landscape is much more complex - the user may or may not be the prescriber; neither user or prescriber may actually be the one paying for the product; availability is often contingent on reimbursement and regulatory approval; "benefit" is defined in different ways by different stakeholders (think of the value of a drug to the patient, the physician, the insurance company...), etc. This is why I refer to stakeholders and not customers, because the stake each has in your product's performance is completely different and they may not be "customers" as traditionally defined.

Missing the mark with any one of the stakeholders relevant to your product spells doom. This is why I refer to stakeholder ecosystem discovery, not stakeholder discovery - it truly takes a web of support and adoption (har har har, no spider pun intended... ok well maybe kind of intended) to get your product to market, and thrive once there.

I like to segment the stakeholder ecosystem into 6 major categories:

  • Patients

  • Physicians

  • Regulators

  • Payers

  • Partners/Acquisition Targets

  • Investors

In addition to this core list, I encourage founders to brainstorm and engage with stakeholders relevant to their technology who are not listed above. What am I missing? Are there any that don't apply to you? Be critical!

Once the stakeholder list is assembled, founders must understand:

  • Who (specifically) their stakeholders are within each category

  • What the needs of each stakeholder group are with regards to data, milestones, or other key metrics

  • Why having support or approval from *that* stakeholder category is critical for success

Assembling (and assimilating) this knowledge is a daunting task, especially for founders busy with early experiments, fundraising, finding lab space and assembling a team, etc. Once aware of their gap in knowledge, many are:

  • Overwhelmed by the complexity of the stakeholder ecosystem;

  • Resistant to doing the work required to the close their knowledge gap;

  • Unfamiliar with the resources available to them in order to do so; 

  • Unaware of the “unknown unknowns” and therefore fail to conduct their investigation in in a comprehensive and organized way; and

  • Unable to assimilate collected information into a strategic plan.

These barriers frequently lead to paralysis, and a temptation for founders to proceed blindly as they attempt to navigate fundraising and early bench data collection. Next week, I'll discuss a healthier way to approach the Stakeholder Ecosystem Discovery process, and how the information gathered informs product development strategy, fundraising strategy, and more.

Let me know your thoughts! Please comment, share, ask questions, heckle [OK if you're really mean I'm just going to delete it - because it's my site and I am queen of my domain (no website pun intended... oh geez ok you got me... was intended)].

How many connections are in YOUR web?

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