Anatomy of a Doctorpreneur ⅗ – The Startup Team

As a youngster, Saturday afternoon’s meant watching the A-Team. My favourite character was Hanibal, the ex-army colonel who always had a plan, and a cigar, to hand. The others all had some issue or another; BA’s poor people skills, Murdoch’s mental health challenges and Face’s loose morals. But, it was clear why Hannibal needed them. He couldn’t get the job done on his own. They had mission critical skills that he did not. He needed his team.

So you are a potential Health Tech founder. You have a great idea and a plan to make it a success. Now things get complicated. The next steps will involve forming a company, handling investments and accounts, developing software or physical products, marketing and dealing with staff… It will be impossible to know how, or have the time, to do all of these things effectively without help…

You need to form a team.

Welcome back for part 3 of my 5 part series about the Health Technology Startup scene. These posts are based on my notes and reflections from the Doctorpreneurs Day Conference held at St Thomas Hospital London on Saturday 5th November 2016.

Whether you are a medic thinking about developing a health innovation outside of the NHS, or simply looking for fresh ideas about how to implement change within the health service, there is a lot which can be learned from the Tech Startup scene. Please see the other posts in this series.

Today we will examine that most vital piece of the anatomy of a medical startup…

Assembling a winning startup team

Taking time and effort to form the right team is vitally important. This was the consistent message from speakers at the Doctorpreneur event.

Investors and early customers will assess the quality of your team, as well as that of the idea and the founder(s) themselves. A credible team is a key asset. Small young companies can be fragile, and one weak team member might bring down the whole company.

Tips for forming a great team

First know yourself (and your cofounders)

The aim will be to form a team that has the skills and experience required to take the company through its next phase of development. Pay attention to what skills you have and what you don’t. Your team will need to compliment the skills that you already have. It needs to be strong where you are not. Personality and temperament at this stage can also be important. Read more about this here.

Divide responsibilities and roles fairly

Be honest about what each founder has already contributed, and what they are prepared and able to contribute going forward. Contributions can come in form of time, skills or other resources. There will be discussions about division of equity and this should reflect contributions and commitment.

Founders were clear that seeking legal input and formalising agreements at an early stage were vital to avoid disagreements later on.

It is essential to have a clear structure for how the team will operate and how responsibilities will be assigned. Understand the challenges that must be overcome in order to implement your innovation. Plotting the skills and experience required against those possessed by the founders and existing team members will be useful. Missing expertise will need to be accessed.

To hire or subcontract?

Depending on the venture and the stage you are at, it might be better to outsource certain or all additional work. Purchasing in legal and financial advice is usually the sensible option. Using freelance engineers (software or physical) to develop your Minimal Viable Product (MVP) in order to test your concept and the potential market can avoid the hassle of employment or promising equity.

Getting people onboard

At some stage, you will need to employ staff. As an early stage startup, you may not have lots of cash available, so you will need to think about other ways to incentivise people to join your team. Often it will not be the money per se that people sign up for.

  • Demonstrate your personal enthusiasm for the project
  • Use the the credibility of the idea and the founders
  • Show that you value and trust them and their skills (Autonomy)
  • Communicate the value of the interesting experience and skills they will gain working with you (Mastery)
  • Talk about the mission of the enterprise and the benefit it  will bring to people (Purpose)
  • You could offer equity in the company – this can be a good motivator, but give this away carefully – more on this later…
The “C Team”…

The first “hires” into an organisation are incredibly important. The team of individuals responsible for key areas of business operations are often referred to as the “C Team”. It will often include a Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Technology Officer (CTO), Chief Operating Officers (COO). These individual will become the leaders of the company. Ensure that their values, intentions and work ethic are aligned with your vision for the company. Do they share your passion and drive?

Doctify founders talked about how having an older, more serious CFO with experience in the financial industry helped complement their own more youthful and “change the world” image and to reassure investors.

Click here to see a great video on assembling a team. 

Find a mentor or build an informal advisory board

It is often possible to access valuable insights from experienced individuals within your field without entering into a financial relationship. As medics, we know the reward that can be had from teaching and helping others develop. Many founders talk about how important it was, and is to have mentors.

Identify people who have already had success in your field, or something similar, and reach out to them. This will work better if you have already met the or have been introduced by a mutual contact. If you haven’t, then you could think creatively about how you might be able to arrange a connection. Invite them to meet with with you to discuss what you are doing and also the impressive work they have realised. Make it easy for them to meet you. Travel to them. Buy the lunch or coffee. Then ask if you can follow up in a few months. Don’t be afraid to flatter.

After a few months, follow up and ask to meet again. Very few other people will actually follow up and request a second meeting. You will probably have already benefited from some of their insight at this stage. At the end, if things feel right then, ask if you can meet a few times a year to discuss progress. If the relative weight of your achievements and ideas feel right, then you could offer to include them on your website as an informal advisor. This might also enhance their own position, so some may say yes.

The mistake many people will make is to ask people to commit to something too formal or time consuming.

A few thoughts about equity

Equity is an obvious and powerful tool to attract, motivate and also to retain vital team members. It gives them a stake in the success of the company that will be realised through their time, skills and effort. Owning equity will also make them less likely to leave and take their knowledge to a competitor, or to set up their own.

But founders advise to give away equity carefully. Importing principles include the “vested cliff”. A mechanism for protecting against employees (and co-founders) leaving after short periods of time, contributing little, but owning significant equity stakes…

  • VestingThe vesting period is the time that an employee must wait in order to be able to exercise their employee stock options (ESOs). They might be promised 10% of the company stock, but would receive this over a vesting period of 4 years, in 2.5% installments each year.
  • Cliffs – Adding a cliff to a vesting period provides additional protection. Adding a cliff period of 2 years to the above arrangement would mean that if the employee left the company within the first 2 years then they would not be entitled to any equity.

More about vesting, cliffs and other equity issues can be found here –

Let people go quickly if it is not working out

Sometimes someone’s skills are not sufficient to the task, they are not doing their job well, or they simply are just not the right fit for the organisation. If things are not working out then it is often best to let them go and replace them.

What next?

If you want to learn more about founding a medical start up, taking your idea to the next level, or getting involved in the digital health revolution, then the Doctorpreneur website is a great place to start.

If, like me you are based in the East Midlands, then a new HealthTechNottingham group has been formed by a group of local doctors and their friends in the tech industry. They can currently be found on

Please look out for the next articles in this exciting 5 post series about medical startups.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Please share with friends and colleagues, follow me on twitter and leave a comment below.

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Disclaimer… Some of today’s content felt quite technical. Remember to get proper legal, financial or business advice before doing anything.

8 thoughts on “Anatomy of a Doctorpreneur ⅗ – The Startup Team”

  1. Thanks a lot.I love how much insight you poured into this article..I understand the challenges doctorpreneurs are faced with and it can be summed into availability of funds and ideas too..If you have ideas and no funds,you can grind to a halt and vice versa.
    I think you should also write about overcoming financial challenges as a doctorpreneur.
    Thank you.

    1. Thanks for the supportive coments. I will be writing about investors and funding in the next instalment. Stay tuned 😉

  2. Loved your previous piece on “Personality Profiling in (General Practice)”. Quite an important topic for me and I totally agree with you on the importance of understanding and accommodating the different personalities that we come across in order to maintain efficient healthcare practices. I studied it quite a bit over the years and finally published a book on Simple Tips to assist us all in achieving and maintaining productive clinician-patient relationships despite conflicting attitudes and personalities. Book is available on amazon site AND on my website Thanks again for these informative articles. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks so much for you comments. Raising the general awareness of the invisible differences between how people prefer to communicate is a good way to make any interaction go better. Including patient – clinician consultations. Excellent point!

      I really love your website and the concept of your book. The cover art is great too! Good luck with it all :-).

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