Failing is the road to success when building a company

Victor cycling to Usono office at High Tech Campus Eindhoven.

For over six years now I’ve been working at Usono, the Medtech company I co-founded. Among other aspects, I’m now responsible for Business Partnerships, Strategy, Sales and Marketing. You’ll believe me when I tell you, making important strategic decisions is quite the challenge. Especially when it’s your first company and feels like your baby. 

Such a large potential…

I co-founded Usono during my Master in Industrial Design at the Univerisity of Technology Eindhoven. I’ve always had a passion for user-centred healthcare, vitality and sports. When a friend who studied Biomedical Engineering asked me to help with his research project, I didn’t doubt one second. The assignment was to attach an ultrasound probe to the body. Making it possible to measure muscles in motion for children with muscle diseases.

The concept of imaging muscles in motion (over longer periods of time) using ultrasound was new. There is a lot to learn from the dynamic ultrasound images. As well as benefits for the user: when the probe is attached to the body, specialists have their hands free. This concept of hands-off scanning has large potential with an immense target audience. The many specialists we talked to shared our enthusiasm.

Needless to say, I was extremely excited and motivated to explore and develop this concept further. Let’s go!

Our beachhead market

After the first work in biomechanical engineering, our first clinical application for this novel concept was cardiology. We developed a product called ProbeFix, to attach the ultrasound probe to the body during regular and stress echocardiography.  

Our first go-to-market strategy was establishing relations with key opinion leaders. We aimed to reach a broader audience by attending important European events such as Medica in Düsseldorf, EuroEcho in Lisbon and Milan, ESC in Munich and more local events. I remember being very proud seeing so many people visiting our stand. At times, it was more crowded than some of the very large brands…

On the road

We quickly found that the complexity of hospital organizations made it difficult to introduce our product in daily clinical practice. And hospitals differ per country too. For example in the way the decision-making unit is organized and how ultrasound is performed in clinical practice. 

Our widespread approach wasn’t working. After collaborating with distributors in multiple countries, we decided to focus on one (geographic) market: Germany. Our strategy was the same; establish relations with key customers, learn the daily practice and develop training to implement ProbeFix. But now with a clear focus on one market.

Meanwhile, I got a good understanding of the cardiology network in Germany. Confident that this was the right patch, I started visiting key (university) hospitals. I visited large hospitals like Uniklinik Köln and Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf, private clinics and ultrasound enthusiasts and there seemed to be a lot of interest and business potential here. Unfortunately, we did not succeed… again. 

Never stop learning 

Why did we fail? One major reason was that we not only introduced a product, but also a new way of working. Humans are creatures of habit and learning something new takes commitment and time. In the already overstrung cardiology departments time is a valuable asset. Another reason was the lack of clear clinical evidence for the benefits of ProbeFix. With better clinical evidence, the required commitment and time might have been easier to get from our customers. 

We decided it was time to take a step back. To reflect and learn from our efforts. Our journey started with attaching ultrasound probes for biomechanical research in msk ultrasound. This is exactly where a clear need is evident and the place where clinical evidence is generated. First, we need to learn the potential clinical benefits together with our customers. Then we know exactly how to put our solutions into daily practice. 

A successful new old proposition; let’s #rethinkultrasound

So, we went back to our roots, selling our ProbeFix portfolio products to researchers and clinicians for msk ultrasound. We focus on making the research possible by creating custom probe stabilization products. These newly developed products can eventually evolve into portfolio products. Things are going really well. Today our customers have multiple clinical papers published in well-respected journals. And besides being partners of Telemed, we’re now an official distributor. Key opinion leaders use our products and services and we have collaborations with amazing companies like GE Healthcare. We are on the road to success. 

I can’t wait to see what lies ahead!

Do you want to be involved in the future of ultrasound? Please contact me!


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