You can’t stop the wave, but you can learn to surf

How to prepare your startup to succeed and avoid wipeout

Three months ago, health startup TheSocialMedwork, a global patients’ buyers club for innovative medicines, took a day to reflect and grow a startup strategy. It was a day to step back and look forward, but no one would have foreseen the waves we made.

The key to being a successful startup

The art of being a successful startup, or success in general, is often compared to the somewhat clichéd analogy of “catching the wave.” Sounds inspiring and somewhat attainable, but if you have never graced a surfboard before, you should know right now how notoriously hard this can be. You first get suited up (hoping one resembles Patrick Swayze in Point Break), and a sheer determination to master those waves and become “one with nature” takes over. But as you begin to paddle out, that pang of anxiety and fear hit with the first slap of saltwater and fibreglass to the face, and soon all energy levels quickly dissipate as wipeout takes over.

Catching that wave

Of course, surfing is about “catching” that wave, but what they mean to say is “it’s about conditioning, preparation and timing.” You must be watchful and know when to act. It’s also a balancing act, placing yourself in the right position at the right time, working with forces like gravity and buoyancy, so if any external force comes your way, you’re grounded. You prepare, watch, and ride.

It’s like when Reed Hasting was frustrated with Blockbuster late fees back in 1997, ultimately leading to the creation of Netflix, forever transforming our Friday movie nights. Uber did it too when finding a taxi on a Saturday night was like a crystal maze challenge with perplexing fare controls, as did Amazon. These platforms were true disrupters, but it wasn’t their technology that ended how we shopped or travelled, it was knowing what customers needed, having a truly customer-centric approach, being prepared for a changing market, and taking that jump when the time was right.

It takes a good mentor and good team alignment to ensure all preparations are in place. So the early months or even years of a startup must be about preparing, listening, watching and positioning. TheSocialMedwork strategically positioned ourselves to help and inform as many patients as possible across the globe to access innovative medicines, and this technique was particularly evident following the FDA approval of edaravone in the US for the treatment of ALS.

Reaching every ocean

Earlier this year, we knew we had a challenge ahead, the pathway to access medicines can be a rocky and complex one. So in the midst of summer, it was only fitting that we spent our second strategy day of the year at the sea (TheSocialMedwork loves water). And with a great team effort, understanding the currents, and positioning ourselves in the right place at the right time, we surfed that wave without burnout. We have now supported requests from over 100 countries, successfully delivered over 600 units of medications, across six continents. We have extended our family to create a strong and proud team, full of multidisciplinary skills, languages, cultures, not to mention the cuisine fusion at lunchtimes!

So while catching a wave is a cliché, knowing what it truly means can ensure our continued efforts of our startup in helping patients around the world. We’ve successfully learned the techniques, but we will continue to learn and be prepared to ensure we can catch the next wave again and again, and that’s the real challenge.

But as they say, life’s a wave, go catch it.

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