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When the Dog Won't Eat the Food


Entrepreneurship is an experiment that attempts to identify the right product-market mix, the right business model and the right team. When you fail, follow this advice.

My dog, Charlotte, is a tricolor sheltie and she is very particular about what she will eat. If you are a fellow dog owner or a (physician) entrepreneur, you know what I mean. After all, entrepreneurship is an experiment that attempts to identify the right product-market mix, the right business model and the right team. You do your best to understand the customer or patient pain, how to offer a compelling value proposition to solve their problem or do the job they want done, and offer it at a price they are willing to pay that will generate a profit. Whether you seek to extend your clinical offerings, get a medical device to market, or design a new care delivery model, like urgent care centers, telemedicine companies, or doc-in-a-van, you need to get the dog to eat the food.

But, we all know that you will fail. Not just sometimes, but often. Like a surgeon who does not have complications, if you don't fail, you simply are not doing enough cases.

But what should you do when you fail?

1. Learn from your mistakes and take personal responsibility for them.

2. Be sensitive to unintended failure and success as clues to what might be future opportunities

3. Rethink the elements of your business model and do more experiments to validate them.

4. Don't just try, try again. Accept failure as a sunk cost and do it again, but in a different way.

5. Acknowledge that maybe you, not your dog, are barking up the wrong tree.

6. You don't have to throw out all that dog food you bought at Costco. Maybe you just need to add a little grated cheese or gravy to the mix.

7. Sometimes you just need to serve the food in a different bowl.

8. Sometimes the timing is wrong. Too much breakfast or too many snacks. She's just not hungry.

9. Chalk it up to experience and revel in the fact you have developed more clinical judgment when you see the next case.

10. Don't kick the dog.

Finding the right match is the challenge of entrepreneurship. The trick is to offer the right product or service to the right patient the right way at the right price. When you find the right key to the lock, which changes on an almost daily basis, it will open the door to opportunity, as well as the door to let Charlotte out to do her business after she's had enough to eat.

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Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice
Victor J. Dzau, MD, gives expert advice