Today, we’re chatting with Suzana Vuković who is the Co-Founder and CEO of IntelliMED Solutions. This is a Canadian based start-up centered around developing intelligent ER and Medical Clinic waiting rooms to assist in ‘smart triage’ while working to eliminate preventable deaths due to overburdened staff and subsequent inattention.
Thanks so much for chatting with us. How did the idea of IntelliMED come about?
It came about overnight- quite literally. Most of the co-founders met during the same night, at an event called “Startup Weekend” which is an event held at universities across the world. I remember I arrived on the Friday night with a friend of mine, who has worked on other startups with me, and we were told to circulate the room and ask each team to pitch their ideas to us for 30 seconds prior to joining a team. After every team had finished pitching to us, the last work room we had entered had a team who were passionate about working on the current situation in Emergency Department waiting rooms. They all had personal horror stories that affected them or their loved ones, all happening within an ED waiting area. After stepping foot in that room, my friend and I decided this was the project we felt most passionate about: it was a problem that us as well as many others could easily relate to. That night intelliMED was born, we stayed in that room for the following 48 hours prior to pitching at the finale of the competition where we had won: best overall startup company and best healthcare startup company.
How did meet your co-founders?
One of my co-founders was a friend of mine as well as business partner that had worked on other startup ideas with me, while I met the other co-founders during the first night of Startup Weekend.
Validation is such a key in building a startup. How did you validate the idea?
During Startup Weekend, that Friday at 8pm when we realized that this problem we were trying to solve was one that we were all extremely passionate about- we began validating. For us, because it is a health technology startup, that meant reaching out to as many healthcare professionals that we could. I began validating within my immediate network, conducting various interviews, phone calls and I was sending as many emails as I could in that 48 hour span that I had for the competition. In the 48 hour span, I was able to reach out to physicians and other healthcare professionals across the coasts of Canada, United States and even in Europe. As I continued to get an overwhelmingly positive response from the professionals, we decided to reach out to those who have recently been hospitalized and/or gone to the hospital for a friend and/or family member, in order to get their thoughts. Validation is never-ending, the way that I continue to validate is quite literally at any given moment I will collect people’s opinions in a non-biased way. This includes starting conversations everywhere, without informing those you are speaking with about your startup and/or project, and yes this includes asking your Uber driver about their last experience in the hospital. It really does boil down to how badly you want more validation and/or information in order to continue to solve the problem that you are working on. If there is one piece of advice I would give to others trying to validate their idea, it is to allow the user/consumer to state the problem or gap that they find. Try to remain as unbiased as possible and do not readily provide information that may shape your user/consumers thoughts and/or comments. You may find that the user/consumer ends up discussing the problem that you are directly trying to solve, and in that case, you know that the problem you are trying to solve is one worth solving!
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs when it comes to building an MVP?
Focus less on the bells and whistles and more on validation. It has got to be the most devastating experience when you work tirelessly trying to perfect your MVP, only to release it to the public and then realizing that maybe your product does not solve the problem as well as you once thought. The MVP does not need to be polished however it does have a requirement: to meet the needs of your market (in other words, solve the problem that you set out to solve in the first place).
Finding those early customers is always challenging. How do you go about finding those users or customers for your product?
Finding users and/or customers comes with conducting the appropriate validation in the first place. If we are talking about early customers after the creation of your very first product, this goes hand in hand with those that you may be approaching to validate your ideas. You always need to start with looking at your target market and finding their ways of doing things. If you are targeting a certain demographic or a certain industry for example, it helps to delve into their habits and better understand their patterns of thinking and even go as far as analyzing how they are using certain tools or services or products. Delving into the patterns of habit and/or purchasing behaviours, will help you find a way to essentially “cross paths” and catch the attention of that consumer. In the case of intelliMED, the ways we found our early customers consisted of coming face-to-face with healthcare institutions, along with those that are indirectly healthcare institutions such as retirement/long term care facilities, in order to better understand their habits and systems. This meant taking several years of simply volunteering at a variety of facilities, in order to get a better understanding of these facilities. Bettering our understanding of their procedures, their habits and their systems helped us better understand how we would market our products and services and ultimately how we could really be of value in these facilities.
What tips do you have for startups when it comes to feedback?
There are two types of feedback, your customer feedback and investor/expert/specialist feedback. In terms of investor/expert/specialist feedback, once you’ve finished up that meeting and head over to your car, keep a small journal in your backpack and write out all the feedback you received that day. This is key as writing this feedback allows you to analyze it at a later point, and a lot of investor feedback could be very useful for the future roadmap for your startup. Having this journal also allows you to analyze which feedback is directly employable at this given moment and which feedback is not feasible at the given moment. Weighing what you believe is the right step and what the investor(s) may believe is the right step is always a difficult task, this can be most effectively done by ensuring you have asked plenty of questions to clarify the investor’s feedback and then later on discussing the feedback with your startup team members. However, customer feedback is the most important and useful type of feedback you could ever receive. Customer feedback is what shapes your product roadmap.
What’s next for IntelliMED?
This is a loaded question. There is quite a bit in the pipeline, as there have been a variety of investors that are interested in working alongside intelliMED, either toward bettering triaging in waiting rooms or toward bettering medical database systems. IntelliMED is a company that is not wholeheartedly focussed on bringing one single product or service to fruition, it is rather a company that is working to better the delivery and quality of healthcare, in any capacity. The next year will be focussed primarily on continuing to conduct research inside of medical facilities and better understanding our landscape as we continue to develop our product. To add, we will working out of Communitech in Waterloo, ON within the next 2 years, in order to continue receiving feedback from others in the medical-technology startup space. We are very excited with the direction of intelliMED thus’ for and for all that is yet to come!
How do you manage to stay relax and take time off work?
The answer to this is quite simply: developing a routine and sticking to it. Having a daily routine always allows me to find the time and space to relax and take time off of work. I love to start my days with meditation and yoga as it allows me to ground myself and recognize what I am prioritizing in a given day, this also allows me to kick-off my day in a relaxing way. I remember when I first started my very first company, a web-design company, at 14 I grew up believing that taking time off of work was unproductive and unnecessary. The busier I got and the more my current medical-technology company grew, the more I realized how untrue this was. As a startup founder, you are always walking a fine line toward burning-out. The more I relax and take time off of work, the better I function when it is really GO time. I find working hard in small sprints is the best way to do it, taking a few weeks and working as hard as you can and then having a small weekend getaway or even simply a weekend off is something worthwhile to look forward to. This question is fairly difficult in that everyone has their own ways of taking breaks and there really is no right or wrong way of doing it. Simply keep this in mind: taking breaks and relaxing only makes you more sharp and more productive throughout your career, prevent burn out any way that you can!
Startups have lots of ups and downs. How do you stay motivated?
For me, staying motivated has always been quite easy, especially when it comes to my startup. One of the biggest reasons I ever began feeling passionate about my ideas for bettering healthcare, was directly related to the patients that I have met. I continue to do what I do, and this startup will continue to work hard because we are all so passionate about solving the issues at hand. The biggest piece of motivation in this healthcare- technology space is knowing that even if our product isn’t the solution, we know we have a problem to solve and we will stop at nothing to solve it, because we are serving a vulnerable population that we can all relate to. The way that this startup team met was based off of each of us having negative experiences with triaging in emergency waiting rooms, whether it was us directly or somebody we cared for. Having this direct tie to the problem we are solving, is exactly what continues to fuel and motivate us every single day. If our product is not the solution, we will move onto other idea because after all we do not care as much for the product as we do for solving the problems at hand.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
I remember sitting in a small boardroom and meeting with Bruce Linton and his team. A lot of what he talked about in terms of being a startup founder and day-to-day thoughts, are words that resonate with me. At one point, that day, he said “don’t worry about people stealing your design work, worry about the day they stop.” Every single startup founder and/or cofounder that I have met, across various industries, is passionate and motivated about what they are trying to achieve, but they are also all very fearful. The fear is always surrounding having another company steal their work and get to the solution faster. After seeing founder after founder hand over NDA’s in meetings and even getting to the point where they do not want to disclose any of their work, I realized that this was an example of how founders close doors and even avoid opportunities. If other founders want to use your ideas, and would like to solve the same problem you are solving, that simply means that: 1) your problem was worth solving and 2) you now have competition which means you will work harder to create a worthwhile solution and/or new solutions. Competition is healthy and should even be celebrated, as it oftentimes simply confirms that you are solving a problem that is significant enough. Sharing your ideas is the only way you are able to gain valuable feedback on your product, service and even on the way you approach solving the problem at-hand.
To Learn more about IntelliMED Solutions
Visit here: https://intellimed.ca/