Hi Caelen and welcome to InspiredStartups.com! Firstly, please tell us a bit about yourself. What experience did you bring to the table as an entrepreneur?
"Hi! And thanks. I started out in product marketing, first for Baltimore and then with NewBay Software where I eventually became VP of Product. That period was hugely exciting as social mobile web applications completely revolutionised the mobile operator market. We launched five product lines, built the user base to over 10 million and deployed in four continents. Product marketing is an iterative environment, where you’re always trying to achieve some sort of product market fit. It’s certainly fast paced, and it suits those who are comfortable with change. It was a breeding ground for a start-up mentality."
Now, tell us about your project called WhatClinic.com. How did you come up with the idea? What inspired you to pursue this project, to give up the 9-5?
"I don’t remember making a conscious decision to become an entrepreneur. There was more a desire to do things differently. It was apparent to anyone that online would disrupt the world of healthcare. Then while travelling in South East Asia I had a minor mishap and needed surgery. When trying to research my options there really was nothing out there. That’s when I had the idea for WhatClinic.com. If you can recognise a common problem and if your solution can make a real difference, it’s almost impossible not to pursue it."
You began working on WhatClinic.com back in 2006. Could you describe your entrepreneurial journey since then? What obstacles did you encounter throughout this and how did you overcome them?
"Suffice to say the obstacles were many, varied and unpredictable. But we started out with a small number of highly committed people who always rose to the challenge. Certainly a sense of humour helped! Today our problems are more commercial. Now our obstacles are around finding the right people and keeping that start up mentality as we move into the next stage of growth."
I suppose there were times when you wanted to quit? How did you manage to pass over crises?
"Actually no, I haven’t wanted to quit yet. There’s still time! There have been tough days, sure. When we rebranded from RevaHealth to WhatClinic.com
a few years ago traffic went through the floor. But then last year 15 million people visited WhatClinic.com to help find and compare clinics, our busiest year yet. Crises don’t really faze me anymore because I have learned that they are simply moments of accelerated change."
Did your product require many course corrections or pivots to find a successful formula?
"Luckily for us, our initial offering and our timing were very much aligned. There have been a few adaptations of course. Initially we were a marketplace for medical tourism patients and clinics. Then we grew to meet the needs of patients everywhere, whether they needed a dentist down the road or further afield. Now the bulk of our growth is for consumers who are local – albeit local in over 200 countries and territories.
We’re also changing and adapting in the day to day. We run in engineering cycles of two weeks, and there are hundreds of small iterations to the live site every cycle based on analytics and user feedback."
What was the moment when you realised your business could be successful? How did you make it scalable?
"I always believed the business would be successful. I wouldn't have started it if there was any doubt. In fact, we raised 600K before the company was even set up. That was with no product, no employees and no customers, in part because of the clear scalability of the product"
What was your experience with raising capital? Can you share some tips with other entrepreneurs?
"My experience raising seed and angel funding came at such a radically different economic period for Ireland that any lessons learned are fundamentally useless in today's economic reality. Today's founders must prove their value from the outset. There are three things that can make a difference: The first is a track record that demonstrates capability. The second is proof of product. The third? Superhuman networking skills."
You have built a team of 55 people. Could you describe your company culture and share some of your company culture tips with other entrepreneurs? What do you look for when recruiting new team members?
"We believe people can do extraordinary things. We hire for potential as well as skill. We work smarter, not longer. We encourage people to show up on time with a great attitude. We want them to work incredibly hard but get out on time. You can’t have a work life balance if you don’t have time to do the things you love. We also practice a family friendly working environment, with the senior team and their families paving the way for better work and life choices."
What did you achieve with WhatClinic.com to date and how do you picture your business in the next 3 years?
"Our mission is to help patients find the right clinic for the treatment they want, by giving them access to all the information they need to make an informed decision. Today we have over 1.2 million unique monthly visitors to site. We have over a thousand paying customers in more than 100 countries. More than 100,000 businesses are listed on WhatClinic.com with more joining every single day. Over the next three years, our goal is simple - to be the largest, most comprehensive source of clinic information in the world, with accurate, up to date information on pricing, quality and availability. "
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur?
"This question makes the assumption that I enjoy being an entrepreneur! What does it even mean? I don’t think my mindset has changed all that much. When I sit down at my desk I’m the CEO of a company. When the company is going well, then it’s great. When it’s not great – then it’s a pretty shit job. On a day to day level it comes down to the weight of responsibility you carry."
And what do you enjoy least?
"Having to constantly say no. Everyone has great ideas and when you've got 55 employees that's a lot of great ideas - however as CEO you are in charge of the strategy and strategy is being clear on what you don't do so that you have enough resources to focus on what you do want to do."
What are your key learnings from your entrepreneurial journey so far?
"A key learning for me, and it’s a value we now communicate internally all the time, is to embrace failure. Many people find this strange at first. Really, failure is just a step on the path to success, and we are not afraid of it. We fail until we get it right. Fail up."
Any big mistakes you did and could advice other early-stage entrepreneurs on how to avoid them?
"For a tech start up - it can be very easy to get buried in the technology. Know your customer. If you want to understand your product and realise its true market potential – talk to the people who actually use it. Don’t let the people developing your product get cut off from the day to day users. Get under the skin of the user."
If you were to give top 5 tips to young entrepreneurs, what would they be?
1) Don’t be afraid of failure.
2) Know your customer.
3) Stay lean.
4) Hire people better than you.
5) Find a great accountant.
Based on your past experience setting up your business, could you provide recommendations on "startup launch checklist" for entrepreneurs looking to start their own business in Ireland?
I would ask the following:
1) Have you got product market fit?
2) Can you prove your business model?
3) Do you have a customer base that is willing and capable of paying?
4) Is your business scalable?
5) Is your market big enough? (Seriously do the maths here, it’s not difficult - if you win 10% of the potential market does that give you company you want?)
6) And lastly, have you got the right people behind you – at home and at work?
You are also a keen practitioner of lean startup methodology and growth hacking. Do you have any tips you would like to share with our startup community?
"I'm deeply cynical of all methodologies and regard many of them as little more than dogma. Everything is so highly contextual that it can be very difficult to take specific learnings from one area and expect them to hold true elsewhere. Having said that, we have found elements of the lean startup framework to be very useful. With huge demands on our engineering resources, we must be judicious with the projects we commit to. Sometimes it’s too easy to fall into the trap of doing every good idea. What it boils down to is ‘will it move the needle?’"
Three words to describe yourself?
Finally, where can our startup community find you online? (i.e. Twitter or personal website, etc.)
Thanks for sharing your startup story Caelen. We wish you and your WhatClinic.Com team continued success!