Dave Concannon

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In Pure Water, No Fish

Tuesday Push – Revahealth.com

Health Club Sign

Two weeks ago I wrote a Tuesday push about loopthing.com. Despite having a nicely designed site,  Loopthing isn’t something that resonates with me in terms of a business model. Until the service matures I believe that they’re sitting in the category of web business which I describe as “Me too! (dot zero)”. The Me2.0 businesses are missing one or more of these essential ingredients:

  • At least ten percent innovation on their competitors to make them stand out (Satisfying the criteria of “value to customer” versus “uniqueness”).
  • A niche that’s small enough that they can dominate without significant competition before branching out into new markets or niches.
  • A superstar web or entrepreneur personality who can drive traffic immediately just by having their name attached to the project (E.g. Jason Calacanis, Guy Kawasaki, Gary Vaynerchuk, Kevin Rose, et al) – It’s possible to succeed as a “Me too!” if you have a “celebrity” name attached.

Revahealth

This week’s Tuesday Push is for yet another business listings portal, in the guise of Revahealth.com. So what’s different here? For a start, Revahealth have been around for a few years, giving them time to solidify their business model and  giving them a head-start on any recent competitors. Secondly, and most importantly by far, they’ve picked a small but extremely profitable niche that isn’t going to go away any time soon – Healthcare.

Business Model

The business model is straightforward. Business for healthcare services like Dentistry, Cosmetic surgery, and Laser eye surgery  practices are competitive. Your average small-to-medium sized clinic isn’t likely to have a web page, and even if they did it’s probably unlikely that they have much time to update it regularly. Revahealth fill this gap by funnelling clients to grateful clinics who reward them with a referral fee. In addition, Revahealth offer the “freemium” model where clinics can list their business for free, but there’s a much nicer upgraded profile available for a fee. The model is proven – Internet marketing “superstars” such as Jeremy Schoemaker have commented on it before. The difference between Revahealth and the countless other “business portal / connect users to business” sites is in the niche.

The healthcare niche is by no means small, but certainly not as big as “a list of all businesses”. This means that it’s possible for one player in the field to make a name as the go-to place for healthcare information and dominate, with the added benefit that there’s revenue immediately. Once they are a recognised brand in the  healthcare sector, there’s nothing stopping them from moving into another area using the same basic technology and business model.

Management Team

In Micheal Cusumano’s eight-point lens for business evaluation, the management team is the primary criteria. Revahealth benefits from Caelan King’s experience in marketing and as a product manager, and the experience of Ray Nolan as a board member, who has built Web Reservations International into the (very profitable) market leader in hostel bookings. Tapping into Ray’s experience of the problems faced in building a niche service like hostel bookings is a very useful skill to have on board when moving into another area.

Social Marketing

Calelan puts a lot of effort into the Revahealth blog (well worth a read), is active on twitter, and regularly presents at conferences such as Bizcamp. While this isn’t marketing to the specific audience of their product, it ensures brand awareness of revahealth within the technical and entrepreneurial community, and at the very least indicates that there’s no plan to let their technology stagnate.

Summary

From a business perspective, Revahealth ticks a lot of boxes – a solid management team with a compelling offering in an attractive market. The site itself has lots of content, the design is clean, spacious and easy to use, and the layout seems entirely geared towards the company’s organic SEO efforts. I can see Revahealth doing very well – Healthcare services are an necessity, and they have a great targetted service which I think will continue to grow profitably.

Here’s a presentation that Caelan King gave on monetising web applications at Barcamp Belfast, which goes into more details about Revahealth’s revenue model. (Via Ken McGuire’s excellent Tuesday Push for RevaHealth).

Book Review: The Business of Software

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Techies like gadgets. For people primarially involved in developing back-end computer systems or networks this usually means the gadget which has the most features, and is technically superior to the competition. If the item in question requires a manual which would rend an industrial-strength paper shredder to sheets of twisted metal, or has an interface which loses to an Altair 8800 in a game of Gadget Top Trumps, then all the better.

This worldview is perfectly acceptable; techies like learning, and there’s a certain sense of achievement in getting your toaster to pick up satelite channels from Kyrgyzstan. This perception can sometimes lead to synapic connections which unfortunately don’t make sense. If I want something which has the most features, surely other people want the best technical solution too? So if I set up a business writing software that’s “better” then the competitions offering – has more features, is more flexible in terms of the install platform and system requirements, then surely I just have to present this idea to a large company and they’ll give me millions of dollars to spend on more gadgets?

Michael Cusumano’s excellent book “The business of software” comes with the tagline “What Every Manager, Programmer, and Entrepreneur Must Know to Thrive and Survive in Good Times and Bad”. If you can identify with any of the gross generalizations presented in the previous paragraphs, this is the tonic to shake out any lingering preconceptions.

Cusumano divides his time between advising various companies on their strategic direction, and lecturing in Strategic Management, product development, and entrepreneurship in MIT’s Sloan School of Management. His experience in the area is evident in a book which lives up to it’s tagline – If you are pursuing a career in technology, this should be compulsary reading.

The underlying theme of a company evaluation is Cusumano’s “8-point lens”. A company should have an equally strong showing in each of the areas identified in order to build a sustainable, profitable, long term business. The author then evaluates a half dozen companies under these criteria and points out critical events in the company history which lead to success or failure.

  • A Strong Management Team – Investors typically provide money for people, not groundbreaking ideas. Without an experienced management team, most companies are sunk before they begin.
  • An Attractive Market – The potential for a companies main product has to be large enough, growing fast enough, or be potentially profitable enough to warrant investment.
  • A Compelling product offering – The product or service should aimed at a particular type of customer. On the typical “MBA” chart of X = Value to customer and Y = uniqueness, you want to be at a point in the top right hand corner. (A famous animal trainer once spent 15 years training a camel to walk backwards – It had never been done! The first audience who were shown this amazing feat barely blinked. Who wants to see a camel walk backwards?!)
  • Customer interest – If need evidence that someone’s going to buy the product. Many startups develop a business plan which involves grabbing a tiny percentage of an enormous market; the usual outcome is that they grab nothing. You need letters of intent from actual interested customers that aren’t just a nebulous projection on a powerpoint presentation.
  • Credibility – Don’t leave me high, don’t leave me dry. Customers want assurances that your company isn’t going to explode, leaving them with an unsupported product that they can’t use. You need a list of customers who are using your product, a chain of partners and suppliers who can support your product if the worst should happen to your company. You may even have to give the thing away to get customers on your list. Cusumano intially recommends companies to focus on a niche market which doesn’t require longevity, and then gradually persue more long term strategies.
  • A sensible Business model – The dot com days are long gone. Investors have a stronger grip on their wallets. As above.
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