I’m Leavin’ Las Vegas Trusting My Gut and Our Customers’ Feedback

I spent the past five days immersed in my market at the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) Annual Scientific Meeting in Las Vegas, where 5,000 gastroenterologists, nurses, registered dietitians, patient advocates and industry organizations like pharmaceutical companies, medical device makers, and technology companies who do everything from streamline office operations to engage patients to comply with procedures such as colonoscopy — came together for the year’s premier GI clinical meeting.

Gastro Girl is a start-up that provides virtual care and coaching between office visits to patients who suffer from digestive health issues so they can follow their doctors’ treatment plans and feel better.

Our presence at the ACG meeting this week in Las Vegas is a milestone. After last year’s annual meeting in October, which was my last as an ACG employee, I began the five-month Relevant Health Accelerator with a big vision and endless drive. This year, Gastro Girl is an official education partner of the ACG and exhibitor with a fully-functioning platform, some revenues and market credibility.

I came to Las Vegas somewhat rattled after meeting with a potential angel investor who said he didn’t “give a fuck” (exact words) about our coveted partnership with the ACG or our stellar medical advisory team that includes world-renowned physicians, or the fact that after officially launching the Gastro Girl platform in May 2016 (after completing the Relevant Health accelerator) we have a major global brand partnering with us as well, Nestlé Health Science. He told me I had a great idea, loved the niche but I was “doing it all wrong.” I should be a “media company” and focused on content and building an email list of thousands as every 10,000 people on the list is worth a million dollars. At that moment I felt crushed.

Instead of going on the defensive, I listened. Even when what he said at times was hard to hear, I listened. I nodded my head in places and told him I appreciated his candid feedback. And I genuinely did. He got that the market was huge and saw the potential. But either he didn’t grasp (or I didn’t do an effective enough job of explaining) that we are dealing with serious GI health conditions, like IBS and IBD, which are often life debilitating for the 1 in 4 people who are living with one. These individuals are human beings — not email addresses.

Our patient-centric platform gives patients access to registered dietitians, psychologists and health coaches with specialized GI expertise and the ability to schedule appoints with then over a secure telehealth platform.

Many GI issues, such as IBS, are not easily managed or treated because there is often more than component that could be causing symptoms — diet, stress, anxiety and other lifestyle or other health factors may all contribute — treatment is also multifaceted, requiring a biopsychosocial approach. That’s why it’s challenging for patients to manage their treatment on their own — especially when it comes to dietary intervention, which can be difficult without the guidance of a GI nutrition expert.

We are building a full-ecosystem of support based on a biopsychosocial approach so patients not only have access to GI experts who they do not have access to today, but also to expert insights and evidence-based health information via an online community. This takes time and care — and it makes no sense for Gastro Girl to focus on building an email list of thousands at the expense of our core business model — which is to help GI patients. The market is that big — but it’s a market that needs more than email content.

I get why the angel investor I met with was so focused on increasing the numbers on our email list. Sure from a pure business perspective it makes total sense. But he missed the mark by dismissing the value of our partnership with ACG and the leading GI clinicians who are on our advisory team — all key to reaching the patients — ultimately the people we want to reach via our email list.

But when I shared this man’s feedback with many of the physicians I spoke with this week, all agreed the investor was short-sighted and dismissive and that Gastro Girl focusing on adding thousands for the sake of showing numbers instead of developing the support network that is desperately needed by their patients will be detrimental to Gastro Girl’s long-term vision and credibility in the eyes of our core customers — physicians and their patients.

My gut has always driven us to stay focused on building credibility, trust and validating the platform’s approach within the GI community and building a virtual support network that puts the patient — as an individual — at the center.

We do not take lightly (or for granted) that a referral from GI physicians and other health care practitioners is key to reaching GI patients. Just as important is the endorsement from and partnership with the leading association for gastroenterologists who care for patients every day. I worked with the ACG for six years and I know first-hand how much ACG members respect and trust this organization. Doctors will not refer their patients without validation from leading GI experts and organizations. Gastro Girl’s team of clinical advisors and our designation as an official patient-education partner of the ACG is worth more to Gastro Girl and our mission — and to the thousands of GI physicians and patients — than an inflated email list.

So I’m going with my gut on this one — and listening to the GI physicians and patients I have talked with during my time at ACG, over the course of our start-up journey and most recently in Las Vegas where there was an overwhelming consensus that Gastro Girl’s vision and patient-first approach is “spot on.” It may take us a little longer to get there, but we will get there the right and authentic way.

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