Digital Health

Validating the ‘Product – Market Fit’ of Health Apps

Waracle
8th February 2022

The average smartphone user downloads zero new mobile apps per month.

This unusual stat has not changed for the best part of a decade. But why? Well, the reason appears to be that most people just… don’t see the value.

As we become ever more comfortable with digital devices, data, apps and platforms, and as those tools become a part of our everyday health & wellbeing routines, we (as users, consumers and patients) have become more discerning about who we let into our most private of devices.

For companies and organisations that want to create new consumer or operational applications, whether on mobile or web, it is imperative to address their ‘product market fit’ as quickly as possible.

Let’s take a deep dive into the characteristics of good ‘product-market fit’.

Defining Product-Market Fit

Product-Market fit is a concept that was defined by Don Valentine, the American venture capitalist who founded Sequoia Capital (although Marc Andreesen is much more often cited as the inventor of the concept).

The term looks to establish whether there is satisfactory demand for a product in the market, based on end users wants or needs and subsequent actions.

For many businesses (especially start ups), the idea of launching a minimum viable product (MVP) to a select group of interested individuals can be used to initially validate good ‘product-market fit’. But in reality, this is merely where the hard work begins…

Shipping something quickly and validating that it functions as expected is great, but ‘product-market fit’ is about robustly detailing, iterating, testing and proving a product’s value proposition by ensuring that the target audience, feature set, functionality, distribution channels, available resources and budgets can be activated and utilised to drive growth.

This isn’t something that you plan with a new 3 month discovery, this is an iterative process of hypothesising, testing, learning and improving.

A good example of establishing ‘product-market fit’ was recounted by Kevin Systrom of Instagram in a recent interview.

When Instagram was in its infancy, smartphone cameras weren’t particularly good.

The founders decided that if they could use filters to imitate or mimic the growing trend in which people were using old film cameras and/or lomography to deliberately create ‘imperfect’ images, they might find that there was a market for a social media app, in which you merely shared images, not text.

The validation came, as users seemed much more willing to share a ‘deliberately imperfect’ image that they had adjusted and filtered to ‘look cool’ and their initial value proposition was locked in, then they started to iterate and innovate to grow and further carve out their niche… and by doing so address their ‘product-market fit’.

In the healthcare & wellbeing sector, every organisation is looking to build the ‘killer app’, regardless of the therapeutic area, the app’s purpose or the patient/customer value proposition… but just because other businesses have a mobile application doesn’t mean it is always the right decision for you.

You just need to take a look at the app store graveyard to see how many apps launch and live in no-man’s-land with never a smartphone to call home.

Product-Market Fit for Health Apps

To ensure that your digital health aspirations are going to find a niche and thrive, you have to start by speaking directly to a cohort of your intended users.

In healthcare, this could mean that you need to evaluate the needs of healthcare professionals, physicians, students, patients, insurers, healthcare providers and the general public, to name but a few.

Once a want or need has been established, it is then the job of a product owner alongside a service designer and product designer to establish what the foundational functionality of an MVP might look like and articulate that to the talented developers who can engineer it.

Many digital health organisations and innovators understand (and are well-versed) in the silicon valley-established strategy of rapidly developing a MVP to test product-market fit and then using quant and qual feedback loops to rapidly decide whether a market exists and pivot of it doesn’t.

However, in healthcare and wellbeing, this approach can bump up against some challenges:

  • Heightened regulations
  • Data security & quality
  • Pseudonymous users
  • Device connectivity
  • Low usage
  • More questions than answers

Let’s look at the last bullet point…

Many people will get an MVP up and working, only to go back to the drawing board and complete a large-scale discovery to reaffirm or reevaluate what has been established as the product specification, design focus, IT architecture and more, so that they can build a ‘big business case’ and request for the full budget. We would caution against this.

Ultimately, most digital health applications will have an outcome orientation around a value proposition that delivers measurable health outcomes, which can be hard to establish, however the simplest path to establishing product market fit may be to spend multiple iterative cycles creating incremental sprint value, whilst engaging all the relevant stakeholders in the proof of value as it develops.

The #1 App killer is a lack of Market

It is possible to have the best idea, being realised by the best team with the slickest interface and the most valuable set of features and functionality, but if there is no scale in the market, then you just have a lovely mobile app with some beta users.

To establish market size and potential market penetration, research can support the ‘size of the prize’ and illustrate the opportunity, but again, the proof will be in the doing.

Once you have your MVP, it is about comms, marketing, advertising externally alongside feature refinement, gamification, prompts and notifications within your digital application. Developing your market is a moving target.

Again, being fleet of foot is key. There are probably 100 PR, marketing & advertising opportunities available to you as a health organisation. Think about their subjective likelihood to work, order them and then objectively test them to either scale or fail them.
And use the same product-growth mindset that is creating new connectivity, features, journeys and functionality within the app to explore and exploit the available market out in the wilds of the app store.

Is a Health Application Right for Your Business?

Ultimately, what we are saying is. It could well be.

But the best thing is to start small, explore the idea space, build something and move from there. By mapping together ongoing research with ongoing product strategy to empower the best iterative development functions you can mitigate risk, reduce time to market, justify investment and have data to prove your application’s efficacy…

And if you don’t, you can fail fast…

Or pivot and succeed.

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Waracle are industry leaders in developing digital health solutions that make lives better. We work with healthcare clients to design, develop and deliver mobile and emerging tech applications that impact diagnostics, treatments, research and development, and more.

Find out more about how we are supporting health organisations on their digital innovation journeys or get in touch with our digital health team today.

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