After forming a company that designed software for applications such as FedEx Ship, QuickTime for Apple and Palm computing, Doug Engfer found an unlikely application for computer software.
His partnership with Palm led him to his co-founders, Saul Shiffman and Jean Paty, who had been doing diary-based research with clinical patients. Together they formed Invivodata Inc., a $25 million, 150-employee software solutions organization with a focus on patient reported outcomes for biopharmaceutical companies.
“What we’ve been dealing with lately is the outcome of 10 long years of work to not only build a company, but build a market,” says Engfer, president and CEO. “What we’re seeing right now is the positive outcome, the benefit of that longer-term focus.”
The company’s innovation of electronic diaries and ability to build a market and utilize the resources available in it, have allowed the company to grow at 40 percent a year.
Smart Business spoke to Engfer about how to grow your company with a long-term vision.
Build a market. You have to clearly identify all the stakeholders in your entire ecosystem and understand where you can make a difference and how you can make a difference with each of them. For us, it all starts and ends with the patient. Our mission is to amplify the voice of the patient in clinical research.
There are lots of other players out here who contribute and we’ve done a good job over the years of understanding the needs of each of those constituent groups. You have to really understand all the stakeholders and think broadly and orthogonally about that. Who are some of the strong outside influencers that might make a difference within your market and whose toes are you going to be stepping on? You have to understand who is going to be reacting negatively to what you do and figure out ways to be able to co-op those folks and maybe involve them in those solutions in a way that helps you advance your cause.
Keep up with change. In order to understand what’s going on in your market and optimize and maximize your chance to be able to respond to it and help your organization change, you need to listen well to all concerns. You have to listen to your market both positively and negatively.
We regularly poll our customers on their satisfaction with what we do and it’s tracked as a key dashboard metric. We talk to our customers about our products and services and our product road map to help them understand where we’re going and to get their insight. We engage intimately with our key partners. Given that we have a special relationship with many of those partners, we’ll divulge to them where we think we’re going in order to hear how we can better fit in with what they do. We listen very carefully to our competitors and how they’re talking about themselves and how they’re talking about us. We pay attention to where we think they’re going so we can identify potential threats to our continuing progress and at the same time understand when they have good ideas whether those good ideas apply to what we should do.
In this day and age, you cannot survive as an innovative growing company if you have a centralized idea factory. That model just doesn’t work. You’d never know where the good ideas are going to come from. It’s the people who are closest to your customers and closest to your delivery who often have the best ideas and the most innovative and impactful ideas.
Form an innovative culture. The culture has to be one that builds on mutual relationships of trust and accountability. People need to feel that they’re not going to get punished for bringing up an issue. The organization has to be able to distinguish between good mistakes and bad mistakes and see those good mistakes as opportunities to improve and see those bad mistakes as opportunities to solidify improvement and make sure that you avoid them.
Folks need to feel free to innovate in order for that innovation to happen and for an organization to prosper. You have to trust each other to be engaged in what you do, to care about what you do, trust people to listen to your ideas and help you build them and support you in exploring how to deploy those things.
The lines of communication need to be bi-directional and need to be open. It’s something you’ve got to reinforce every day. You’ve got to reinforce by your actions not just your words. Model those behaviors and demonstrate that you’re going to be able to listen well to what people are saying and help them articulate what it is they need in a constructive way so the organization can absorb those ideas and move forward.
HOW TO REACH: Invivodata Inc., (412) 390-3000 or www.invivodata.com