In this continuing series based on a recent hsDNA episode with Global VP/GM Design, Development, and Human Factors Tor Alden, “5 Traps Startups Need to Watch Out for When Engaging with a Product Design Firm,”  we’re exploring his top 5 traps one by one for deeper understanding.


Previously discussed traps included Trap 1 – Not Planning & Understanding the Medical Product Development Process, Trap 2 – Not Building & Scaling the Right Team, and Trap 3 – Underestimating Monetary Resources.


Trap 4 highlights The Emotional Element.


Leading a medical device startup can be a daunting task. Not only do you need to navigate complex regulations and secure funding, but you also need to develop a product that meets the needs of both healthcare providers and patients. One aspect often overlooked is the emotional element.


Developing a medical device is often a labor of love; it requires a significant investment of time, resources, and energy. It can be difficult to separate yourself from your product and navigate the ups and downs of the process. It is essential, though, to manage the emotional elements of the startup journey to avoid burnout and ensure success.


In the beginning, it’s as personal as it gets: your idea, your risk, and your reputation are on the line.


As you come out of research, you have a strong perception of what your product should be.


This is a typical startup mentality, but it is also a dilemma. Having looked at the problem and your solution for so long, a startup may begin to form a myopic vision.


The reality is that when most people approach a complex problem, they choose to see what they want to see.

Tim Harford, in a Ted Talk, “Trial, Error, and the God Complex”, points out that the more complex the problem, the more risk you have, leading to what he refers to as “the God Complex”. He explains that “no matter how complicated the problem, you have an absolute overwhelming belief that you are infallibly right in your solution.” Adding, “When looking at a complex problem, we need to understand that there are multiple solutions, and in all likelihood, there is more than one solution to solve any given problem.”


Solving complex problems is hard. We tend to develop “tunnel vision” and fail to recognize important factors in the context of the product that will determine its success in the market. Startups often find themselves looking for information that will most likely support their ideas while conveniently avoiding information that challenges it.

Working with someone who can function as a devil’s advocate—someone you respect to challenge your thoughts—is a terrific tool to manage their emotional connection to their vision. Someone who can assist you in viewing the problem from several viewpoints so that you are not restricted to a single point of view, someone who can assist you in seeing and understanding what all user demands are and how you satisfy or fail to meet them. Someone who can assist you in seeing the larger picture.


Build an overall vision that allows you to translate your technology with user needs to eventually build out your product requirements.

The right design firm can assist you in seeing through your emotional connection, thinking outside the box, and visualizing your product in real life, resulting in a successful design. Key to this success is understanding the User Experience (UX) process, ensuring the final product works in harmony with the environment and adapts to changing user needs.


“Once you understand that landscape,” Tor explains, “you can utilize the lean startup methodology to pivot or modify your product slightly to make sure that it fits within the environment. It’s key to not just think that ‘because it’s my baby, everyone will think it’s perfect. It’s not going to be perfect for everyone or every environment.”

Alongside that point is the importance of staying true to your goal. You arrived at a certain point because you were bullish. Be open to some ideas about what the initial end users may need or what technical limitations exist, but stay true to your value proposition.


When do you pack up and when do you pivot?

It’s okay to pivot, but not too many times.


“Stick to your instincts,” Tor explains, “don’t add features just because someone suggested they would be “nice to have”. For example, if you go through customer segments, you will find that people always want to add additional features. Before you add them, you need to test those features on customers early and often. Pivot when needed, but keep true to your vision. Ideally, keep your product simple and resist designing for a perfect world.”


It’s been said that success is based more on what you say “no” to than what you say “yes” to.


Avoid becoming a “Swiss Army Knife”. One of the most common mistakes that befall entrepreneurs is trying to squeeze too many product features or services into an offering to the point where it loses potency and elegance.

As startups launch, it’s easy to get lured off course. There will be an endless stream of temptations, flavors of the week, distractions, and opinions. Startups that drift away from their purpose can quickly lose competitive ground and diffuse their energy and resources.


A successful medical device startup journey requires careful planning, a strong team, and sufficient resources. It is also important to recognize and navigate the emotional elements associated with developing a novel medical device and leading a startup. A medical device design firm can aid you in this. The right firm can help you successfully navigate emotional traps by helping you see multiple perspectives, focus on user experience, and ensure you meet the needs of all user groups, all while staying true to your value proposition.


To hear more on avoiding the emotional traps associated with medical device development and how the right design firm can help you navigate them, listen to Tor’s entire talk, “5 Traps Startups Need to Watch Out for When Engaging with a Product Design Firm“.


Click here for Trap 5: Not Staying True to Your Value Proposition”.