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Stanford Doctor's Business Plan Diagnosis

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Doctor business

Donald C. Harrison is no typical doctor.    

He's perhaps the most financially successful cardiologist ever.    

You may think his success is the result of his serving as the Chief of Cardiology at Stanford University for 20 years. But Harrison didn't achieve financial success by performing medical evaluations, operations or teaching.   

Rather, Harrison achieved enormous success as an entrepreneur. I'm talking about some serious success. The first company he founded, EP Technology, grew quickly had an IPO, and was later acquired by Boston Scientific. And later he founded AtriCure, which he also grew rapidly and took public (NASD: ATRC).

Founding and taking two companies public is a massive feat, which very few entrepreneurs have achieved. So, anything that Harrison says is worth listening to; and listening to closely.

Recently, Harrison was interviewed by author Robert Jordan for his book, "How They Did It."  My favorite answer from the interview is Harrison's dead-on response to the question, "What are the biggest mistakes that company founders make?"

Harrison's answer: "A poorly written business plan is a mistake, and so is a poorly organized presentation. When you're making a presentation, if you can't convince the potential investor within 10 minutes that you've got something novel or a solution to a problem and you're dedicated to doing it, you're not going to succeed. Most venture investors are looking at hundreds of opportunities, so you've got to clearly have an edge."

Now Harrison attributes his serial success not only to always having a solid business plan, but to other key points that we entrepreneurs should always keep in mind:

  • Hang out with other entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial people. Harrison trained at the National Institute of Health with what he felt was a very entrepreneurial team. Without this exposure and entrepreneurial attitude he gained from it, he probably would have just been another cardiologist.

  • Always search for a better mousetrap. Harrison says his mother used to say, "If you want to find a worm, you gotta look under many rocks." In business, that means you need to realize your first choices and/or solutions may not always work and you must be willing to try a lot of things to find the better solution.

  • Find an unmet need and a problem, and fix it. When asked what the common element was for each of his startups, Harrison replied that for each, he found an unmet need and problem, and worked with others to solve the problem. I know this sounds simple; because it is. Even if you're a great entrepreneur (e.g., you know how to manage and motivate people, you have great marketing and sales tactics, etc.), if you have a me-too product or offer a product/service that doesn't solve a real need or problem, you're going to have a really tough time achieving the success you desire.

  • Find multiple forms of funding early. One of Harrison's companies received early funding from a strategic investor (a large corporation). But when that corporation experienced an internal shake-up, it stopped funding Harrison's startup. As a result, Harrison's company nearly failed. Fortunately, he was able to scramble to find funding to keep his company afloat. That was the last time Harrison relied on only one source of funding.>

  • Get compatible partners and employees. As a successful serial entrepreneur, Harrison understands that he can only succeed if he can find, train and motivate others to do great work. In one venture he took on a partner, and in doing so realized quickly that your partner must be completely compatible with you if it's going to work. (Most of you know that I have a partner at Growthink and if we weren't highly compatible, there's no way we would have lasted the past 12 years together). Likewise, you need to find great employees that have skills that you don't.


Donald C. Harrison's success should serve as an inspiration to us all. Few cardiologists have the entrepreneurial bug, and even fewer have succeeded as an entrepreneur.

Harrison did it twice. And both times he did it big time. His words of advice are simple as outlined above. Following them is a bit harder and require perseverance and determination; which I know YOU have by the fact that you just read this!


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