Technology Adoption Requires Humans

Uber is currently the unicorn darling of Silicon Valley.  The company started in a single city in California and has gone on to serve hundreds of millions from Shanghai, to Paris, to Columbus, Ohio.  Uber’s secret to user adoption was remembering that technology is a tool imagined, designed, developed, and ultimately used by humans.  It is not organic in nature, and as a result requires humans to engage with it.

The company that inspires thousands of entrepreneurs to be the Uber of healthcare and countless other industries penetrated the Shanghai, Paris, and Columbus markets by engaging with people.  Uber rolled out new cities leveraging local staff to recruit drivers, identified organizers of local events to offer up discounts and free first rides to attendees.  One driver I spoke with told me that Uber helped him secure financing for his vehicle, and worked with him to understand the payback periods under each financing option.  A personal finance tutorial is not what immediately comes to mind when you mention Uber to someone.  Every few months I attend an event where Uber is offering first time riders free rides. Drivers and riders were integrated to the Uber platform not by technology alone but through human outreach and interactions.  Uber’s rapid adoption depended on employees cultivating new localized networks.  Networks ultimately consist of people no matter how they are organized.

Despite Uber’s market entry strategy being well documented, many post revenue healthcare entrepreneurs ignore this lesson. The following are three statements from healthcare IT and technology enabled service executives: 

  • “I mean we have this application and the addressable market is practically endless.  You tell me. Should we call up Under Armor or Nike and sell it to them?” –Founder of a fitness app that had a small user base and no sales staff
  • “We have two ambassadors on the street right now to help with user adoption.  I am not sure this is the model for growth because of the added expense.” –Executive of an on-demand healthcare application
  • “Our system is the best around for hospitals.  The administrators and doctors just don’t understand how the product can save them buckets of money.” –Founder of a hospital inventory management software system 

So many companies suffer from the If you build; it they will come fallacy, forgetting that humans sit at the center of the adoption equation.  This rings most true in healthcare because we are fundamentally talking about the maintenance and repair of the human body.  For example, most Fitbit users I know go through fits and starts with wearing their devices because they are ultimately left to wonder how to leverage the incremental insights the data provides.  Imagine the utilization rates and grassroots marketing if Fitbit connected users with local or remote coaches based on the user’s sleep or exercise data.

Thanks to Moore’s law, the internet, and advancements in coding, many technology applications have become rather cheap to build.  Without humans to sell, install, train others, and ultimately use these products many are bound to suffer the same fate as the treadmill in my neighbor’s basement.

I believe in the market viability of the software based solutions built by the companies listed above. I do not share the executives’ world view that it is sufficient to simply build a technology application.  Adoption ultimately is the decider as to what companies stay in business.  Many executives are prone to suffering  cold feet when it comes to front running the investment.  This is a signal management sends to the market.  One that says, "Generating sales is hard and more expensive than I planned[1]." 

A HCIT company that a Splash 4 Partners principal  worked with, went from the red to the black in under a year by focusing on not just the existence of the software but what the software meant to the individual constituents. They built an ROI calculator that required the sales staff to receive key inputs from the CFO during the sales process.  Allowing for increased contact with value added information for the principal decision maker. The sales staff spent more time with the nursing staff pre and post product sale to explain how the product features would improve work flow processes, patient care, and most of all reduce the stress of the nursing staff.  These simple sales tricks were less about the product and more about the individual they were speaking with about adoption.  The resulting growth ultimately lead to the company accepting an offer to sell the company to a channel partner[2].

Even in the face of technology, humans have to come together to solve problems. If you are building a healthcare IT business or a healthcare technology enabled service, you would be wise to learn from Uber that technology has its limits and that adoption is still fundamentally a human to human issue.  




[1] In more than one instance, I have met with founders and managers in HCIT who vocalized a distain for managing people.  Wanting to grow and not wanting to manage people can be an inhibitor to growth. 

[2] Customers do not buy the object you are selling.  They sell what the relationship to the object will do for them.  Put differently, they do not want a shovel.  They want a hole in the ground.  Sell them the hole.  

Jacob Grosshandler