Behind the Business
In this new Behind the Business series, we’re interviewing entrepreneurs all over the world. From copywriting freelancers to the founder of the new Facebook, we’ll talk to them all.
In this article, we spoke to Brendan McAdams, about the story of Expertscape, a bootstrapped medical startup based in the USA. The company was incorporated in 2017 and is focussed on helping patients and physicians find expert specialists when dealing with a serious or complicated medical issue.
An Introduction to Expertscape
Hey Brendan! As a start, could you tell us a little bit about Expertscape?
Sure! So Expertscape identifies and objectively ranks medical expertise by specific topic. We do this by using the NIH PubMed database; this is the standard repository for all biomedical publications worldwide. In essence, we’re a platform. On one side, our primary users are patients, consumers and referring physicians who are looking for a knowledgeable specialist for a serious medical issue.
On the other side, academic medical centers use our platform to promote their capabilities and expertise. That may sound a bit weird (especially for Europeans), but we can do this because the US healthcare system has a very different business model, and unlike the health systems across most of the rest of the world.
Cool, so do you have any competitors? And what makes you different?
There are definitely companies that rank or rate physicians and hospitals, so in that sense we have competition. But there isn’t anyone that we know of that does what we do or how we do it.
We’re unique in a few ways. First, we’re completely objective and data-driven, and have a US patent. Second, we’re granular, covering over 29,000 different topics. Third, we’re current and our data is up to date. Finally, we’re global — we can identify experts throughout the world, and they truly are everywhere.
Let’s go back to the beginning
And how did you start your business?
As is the case with a lot of startups, the idea came out of a personal need. In the process of trying to help a family member find a specialist, we began to appreciate firsthand how difficult it is to navigate the US healthcare system and find someone who was genuinely knowledgeable about a specific topic. It was out of that experience that Expertscape was developed.
Wow, so you truly had a problem you wanted to solve. And did you find that others experienced the same issue?
We did. What we created is essentially a global directory of medical experts, but a directory that also quantifies their specific subject matter knowledge. Which is pretty important, because medicine is so specialized now. When faced with a serious issue, you want to be seen by someone that is well-versed in your specific medical problem. We help people find those experts.
The Expertscape Platform
What were the most important aspects of your platform?
One of the fundamental design goals for us was to make it very granular and specific. Medicine is now incredibly precise and specialized. It’s essentially an expert economy. So as a medical startup, we also wanted to make it objective. We didn’t want it to be based on popularity or patient surveys, and the dearth of rich, reliable, available data made an outcomes-based approach impractical.
Instead, we decided to take advantage of the NIH PubMed database as a reliable, peer-reviewed data source. PubMed is essentially the world’s primary repository for any biomedical publications, giving us a rich, broad and objective source of data to work with.
There have been significant challenges with this strategy, of course. We’ve had to invest a tremendous amount of time and energy figuring out ways to parse the database, identify individuals, and then quantify their scientific and medical contributions. The result has been a rather sophisticated system of over 16,000 rules, a robust and patented algorithm, and a site that handles over 29,000 different medical topics and generates millions of pages.
Wow, that sounds intriguing. But it makes me wonder, how about doctors that haven’t published a lot of research?
That’s an excellent point, and we dutifully list that among our limitations. There are lots of doctors that are absolutely excellent that won’t appear in Expertscape because they don’t publish. For example, you wouldn’t use Expertscape to find a primary care physician. And your main selection criteria for a surgeon to perform a knee replacement is a surgeon that does a lot of them.
The Business model of Expertscape
I see. So you’ve done well in finding medical experts, but what about making money — how do you do this?
For a long time, we intentionally didn’t try. Instead, we worked to make sure the results were really solid. And that meant a lot of conversations with and scrutiny from the experts themselves. Which gave us a lot of great feedback, and now it’s the experts that are our best advocates.
But even with this support, the biggest challenge for Expertscape has been around landing on a revenue model. From the beginning, we’ve been committed to making the service free to both patients/consumers and referring physicians. This philosophy precluded us from considering a paywall. Instead, the company has focused on academic medical centers as our primary customer.
This has proved to be a rather significant challenge, and we’re only just starting to make some significant traction. The US healthcare system is unlike any other in the world. It’s much more focused on advertising and marketing, and with several well-established brands and channels. Breaking in and establishing credibility has been our biggest obstacle.
To do that, our strategy has been to work in close contact and support of the experts themselves. As I mentioned, we’ve benefited greatly from the fact that physicians really like our methodology and approach. And so we leverage that goodwill as we try to break into the marketing departments of these academic medical centers.
Do you have a specific example of this you can share?
Absolutely. Several in fact. For example, we’re working with a specific department at a large academic medical center right now that has a couple dozen world-ranked experts across lots of conditions and treatments. This medical center is significantly under-rated relative to the expertise they have on staff, and so we’re part of their effort to create greater awareness of their strengths. And as an independent entity that is entirely based on PubMed data, we’re becoming a pretty credible and trustworthy source of truth.
What we can learn from the Story of Expertscape
Super interesting Brendan. And what have you learned so far since starting to work on Expertscape?
As we start to gain traction and momentum, there are three key lessons from Expertscape and its startup story that I would start with.
First, behavior change inside large organizations is incredibly difficult and should not be underestimated. Just because you have a superior solution is no guarantee that people will immediately flock to you. There still remain significant obstacles to acceptance, adoption and implementation. It’s critically important to understand the various players, their motivations, and the existing infrastructure that may need to change in order to innovate.
The second takeaway from our experience is that it is invaluable to have a second founder. As you go through the various trials and tribulations that are inevitable with a startup, it’s incredibly advantageous to have another person to bounce ideas off of, provide encouragement and motivation, or simply look at the problem from a different angle.
And third, I would like to stress how important it is for at least one founder to be dedicated to sales. Generating revenue, understanding customer requirements, experiencing the sales cycle firsthand, and being able to recognize and deal with the various obstacles to adoption are just a few of the reasons that founders need to stay engaged with the sales process. We’re still several months away from hiring a dedicated sales professional, but when we do we’ll know exactly what to look for.
Thanks so much Brendan, that has been super insightful. If you want to read more articles like these, check out our blog!