Ultimate triumph: How a start-up founder came back from failure

Ultimate triumph: How a start-up founder came back from failure

It was in early 2015 that start-up founder Vidya Nallamad had to pull the plug on the central idea that established her start-up business NetHealth. The online medical appointment booking software was no longer new and innovative, it was draining resources and the market was full of competitors. She and her team had to remove it from medical practices across Australia. It was a devastating blow. For the past three years she’d poured her heart and soul into the business all while holding down a full-time job and raising a baby.

The grim reality is that one out of 20 start-ups won’t make it. More often than not it is the lack of technical expertise that led to a start-up closing its doors.

Like so many other technology founders, Vidya had to make the tough choice to change the business’ core direction to keep the start-up alive. She turned the odds around and in 2016 NetHealth won CeBIT PitchFest. This post will look at the mistakes she made and what she’s learnt over the past few years to bring success to NetHealth in the market today.

The original idea

Vidya grew up in India. She left university with a Bachelor of Engineering and got a job straight away with GE Medical Systems. She held several positions with leading ultrasound manufacturers. It was here that her love for the health industry began to blossom. However, it wasn't until a number of years later when she relocated to Australia and started a family, that she had the big idea. It was the personal experience and frustration of not being able to find a doctor for her sick child online that sparked the start of her business. After almost 3.5 years of development with a friend NetHealth’s My Booking Appointment code was brought to the market. It was 2013.

The mistake

My Booking Appointment struggled to take off at the start. ‘Initially it was really tough,’ says Vidya. ‘I went to doctors and many medical practices. I discovered that technology uptake in the health industry is very slow compared to other sectors.’ Despite making it clear the technology met all privacy and security requirements and that it would streamline their bookings, doctors were still reluctant to take it on.

The digital health space began to boom in 2014 and all of a sudden Vidya’s business was up against big names and major players in the market. It was only when medical practices saw the big names coming into the space that adoption levels started to increase. Less than a year later My Booking Appointment had a number of solid clients. But at the same time the number of competitors increased, and as clinic management software opened up their API to many integrations, the competition became too much and Vidya had to make the call to pull the software.

‘It was painful,’ she says. ‘I had to make that tough decision. The first baby is always the closest one and it was hard initially for me to let go. But I had to toughen up and look at the best path for NetHealth and keep the bigger picture in mind.’ The final medical practice turned off My Booking Appointment less than a year after things had started to look up.

The next big start-up idea

While My Booking System was still active in some practices Vidya was dealing with personal issues at home. She would regularly worry about her father’s health - he lived in India and had diabetes. Every time they would chat on the phone he would tell her he was fine, but she was sceptical. She wanted more information about her dad. It was during one of her regular phone conversations with her father that she had her ‘eureka moment’. ‘I remember thinking it would be a good idea if I could see his readings,’ Vidya recalls. ‘That’s when I made the decision to pivot the focus of NetHealth.’ NetHealthData was born.

By this time Vidya also had a co-founder, David Hirst, a former co-worker, who could see how passionate Vidya was. Together they created the first version of NetHealthData, a real-time data monitoring web app and website that sends at-home test results to a medical practitioner or carer. It works anywhere there’s an internet connection. The idea is the data can be monitored by a health professional and if something goes wrong, say in the case of diabetes and a patient's glucose levels start to go awry, they can spot it much earlier than during an in-person check up that usually only happens every 3-4 months. The product integrates directly with the glucose testing hardware so there’s no need for manual data entry. A patient just pricks her finger and the reading will be sent to their physician and the doctor is alerted when there’s an unusual reading. ‘We developed it to monitor a patient’s health issues so they can live longer with a better quality of life, and so the doctors and carers can have a holistic view of the patient’s health condition,’ Vidya says.

The pair took the product to the market as quickly as they could. ‘We just wanted to get it out there,’ Vidya says. ‘We took the lean methodology approach and it was in the marketplace in less than 6 months. We had a medical centre come onboard as a beta tester with 30 patients.’

It worked. They had proven NetHealthData as their minimum viable product and it was a success. Two large hospitals, two aged care centres and three medical centres began using the product in Queensland and New South Wales.

Earlier this year Vidya left her full-time role to work solely on NetHealth. The business now has 3 co-founders. David Hirst, Peter Nemere and herself. They also have Charles Cornish - an advisor who Vidya met through CeBIT 2016. He helps the team to scale the software and sits on NetHealth’s advisory board.  

The learnings

Founders learn a lot in a short amount of time when at the helm of a start-up. Vidya shares her biggest takeaways from her experience:

  • Understand your market
    You can assume a lot of things, but you don’t know anything until you go and validate it. This is especially the case in healthcare and technology. It can be slow, frustrating and time consuming.
  • Validate your product in more ways than one
    Go to tradeshows, speak to professionals, speak to everyone! Don’t just get validation from one source.
  • Take your product to market at soon as possible
    Don’t waste time. You’ll end up with too many competitors.
  • You can’t give 100% to everything in your life.
    You get out of a business what you put into it. You can only go so far working another full time job while growing you start-up. Leave the moment you know you can and focus on your product.
  • Know when to move on
    Closing My Booking Appointment was hard. But it was a choice I had to make to keep the bigger NetHealth picture alive.
  • Get a partner/co-founder
    It helps in many ways such as motivation and getting things done.
  • Don’t stop believing
    At certain points on this journey you’ll ask yourself why am I doing this. You need to keep holding on and above all, believe in your product. If you lose that belief for even a second there’s no point continuing.
  • Keep learning
    Meet people and grow your skill set. You will learn so much as a founder and for me, that’s been the most incredible and exciting part. Shifting hats constantly has taught me so much.

Final thoughts

NetHealth is ready for a massive 2017. The start-up’s eyes are set on expanding into blood pressure, pulse and heart rate monitoring. They plan to get some big-name clients onboard and then pitch to investors to enable them to move into overseas markets. But all of this wouldn’t have happened without Vidya making the tough call to change the entire focus of her business.

Vidya was the 2016 CeBIT PitchFest winner. She says she wouldn’t be where she is today if it wasn’t for winning the competition!‘ After my pitch I was approached by a very intelligent business man that had a background in health, he is now my advisor,’ she says.‘ If it wasn’t for CeBIT we never would have met. He helps me fine tune the business and he’s been amazing.’ But that’s not all that’s happened. As soon as she mentions the win investors take her more seriously! NetHealthData also then went on to win the iAwards Queensland Start-up of the Year award.

If you want the opportunity to take your start-up to the next level do not miss out on the 2017 CeBIT PitchFest or exhibiting in the showroom. You’ll get your product in front of thousands of technology focused minds.

CeBIT Australia Start-up Summary Report