Flatiron Health Product VP on Building Trust (Part 2)
Every startup faces the same challenge when it comes to building trust – you start with absolutely none of it! Simply put, it’s hard to build trust when you don’t have money to make products or sign up customers. That said, it’s not impossible to overcome these challenges. You just need to be prepared to check them off one at a time. Over time, the combination of starting to combine these individual components with ultimately produce a viable business.
Speaking from experience, my startup career began after realizing that life at Goldman Sachs wasn’t for me. Instead, I wanted to create my own venture and build something from scratch. As a result, I attended business school at Cornell and started to think through product ideas. One of my early concepts involved making retail transactions more efficient by creating digital receipts. To my pleasant surprise, the idea was well received by my colleagues. Most importantly, I received a (somewhat) encouraging comment from a professor.
“I don’t think you’re completely crazy.”
From there, the virtues of building trust started to go further. I was fortunate to utilize the services and expertise of a group of undergraduate students. Instead of asking investors for cash, my fellow students helped me create the first prototype for my not-so-crazy idea. Back to the idea of checking off one item at a time, this represented my first win in proving that I had a viable product.
The next step was to hunt for some startup cash to take this idea to the next level. Back then, incubators like Y Combinator hadn’t come along yet. So, I submitted the product in business plan competitions. Fortunately, I won a competition in New York City that netted $250,000. Again, in the absence of a “formal fundraising” strategy, I used the platforms and forums available to me to take my product one step further.
Finally, you need to have customers in order to get off the ground – both to help your business survive and to start building trust with others. Fortunately, one of my colleagues at business school had contacts at a private equity firm who owned part of a 23-store retail chain. Clearly, this was the perfect opportunity for my digital receipts product and continued to build on our success with a multi-location customer.
As illustrated by these examples, building trust is all about being resourceful. Simply put, you need to make the most of what you have by cleverly leveraging your contacts – while maintaining a gritty commitment to going all-in for your big idea.
About the speaker
Keith Cowing is the VP of Product Management at Flatiron Health, where he builds products to help cancer patients live longer and healthier lives. He is also a career advisor at keithoncareers.com. Prior to joining Flatiron, Keith was the founder and CEO of Seamless Receipts (acquired by Sailthru) and a product manager at Twitter and LinkedIn. He received an MBA in entrepreneurship and a bachelor of science in electrical and computer engineering from Cornell University.