Don’t Let Somebody Else Tell You What You Want

15th April 2024
5 min read

They're actually telling you what they want.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

When you're building a medical device, especially in the early days, knowing what you want is hard. As a founder you know what you know, but there's so much more that you don't know.

There's nothing wrong with that.

That's why we have accelerators, incubators, and collaborators; to contribute to the mountain of knowledge required to actualise an idea.

I've been doing some mentoring with the Australian Clinical Entrepreneur Program over the last six months or so. I often get to listen in on the Q&A with whichever guest speakers they might have on that day. I'm constantly in awe of what some people do for a job. There's a lot of passionate people with deep wells of experience who are only too happy to share their knowledge.

But accelerators, incubators and collaborators, usually funded through grants, venture capital, or universities, can only take you so far. Medical device design and development requires more expertise than can fit inside a single human mind (or two).

Eventually, rather than absorbing and executing the knowledge yourself, it becomes necessary to pay people to execute their knowledge for you.

To pay people you need money. Money; the solution and problem.

Money; Solution

I've experienced first hand the need for capital to get anything done in medical device design.

Working with startups, and being one, I see firsthand how the availability of capital is critical to the success of an idea.

Even if you replace money with time, doing as much of the work you can yourself, there is still much that needs to be done that requires cash. You can't build a proof of concept with time alone. You need materials and equipment.

I've written before about how there is a funding gap that exists between ideation (even an accelerated one) and a startup company ready for grants or investment. In short, I believe there needs to be a small amount of capital made available to allow founders to bridge that gap. With no expectation of making it to the other side. Currently I know many great ideas fall into this valley of death.

A little bit of money can unlock gates that you previously saw no way over.

Money; Problem

The problem with having money is others want you to give it to them.

Someone who I used to work alongside years ago, who I hold in high regard, said to me that in her experience 95% of consultants only do their work just sufficiently enough to ensure they keep doing the work.

I was surprised at the percentage.

It is true that there is a dichotomy to consulting in that you're doing a job which simultaneously puts you out of the job. However I was surprised how certain she was that most consultants are just out there to take your money.

I was never sure if we at the time were being included in that 95%.

How then, do you know if you're paying someone for what you want?

There are some tools you can use.

Listening To Your Gut

In Industrial Design, really in all design, we do a lot of gut-listening.

When juggling a lot of different subjective inputs, oftentimes it's necessary just to see what feels right. Of course we don't just pick a direction and run headlong that way. The design choices are always verified and validated against what we already know.

When it comes to paying consultants to achieve certain outcomes, it can be especially tricky just to see what feels right. The correct answer may not be obvious, especially if the answer lies outside your wheelhouse.

The first and most important thing is to continually test the outcomes, or proposed outcomes, with your vision.

Every founder has one.

If you haven't already, write it down. Turning your vision into a mission and/or intended use statement will serve as as a litmus test to verify that the roads you're being advised to go down will help you reach that destination.

Having that vision written down will make it robust against doubt and uncertainty.


I was having a conversation with a fellow Industrial Designer last week about the role trust plays in building a design consultancy. The challenge with design is that it is heavily R&D based, and as with all R&D activities, the outcome is largely unknown.

When choosing a designer, there is an enormous reliance on trust that any designer you choose will get you there, whatever there looks like.

As a designer, it cuts both ways. I have several mates who are regulatory experts. Despite my long exposure to the medical device regulatory landscape, I still must trust what they tell me because it's not my area of expertise.

Trust them I do.

My relationship with them extends back many years, and I've seen the fruits of their labour. I know their backgrounds, their experience, and current working situations. I use all that context to, by proxy, assign trust to what they tell me.

When you have no way of verifying what an expert is telling you is in your interest or theirs, you have to take a look at the context instead. You have to do your due diligence. You have to look at all the surrounding circumstances:

  • Do they work for themselves or an agency?
  • What kind of overheads do they have?
  • What do others say about them?
  • Are they new or old hands?
  • Is their personal reputation on the line?
  • What does their previous work look like?
  • How much risk are they accepting?
  • Is this a one-and-done project, or is there more to follow?
  • Are they listening to me, or just waiting for me to finish speaking?
  • Do I like this person?

By applying some critical thinking to the answers to these questions and others, you can start to build a picture of whether their motivations are in your interests. To test if the advice they're giving you is what you want, or what they want.

Your trust should be hard-earned.

Who Wants What

The onus falls on you to ensure that your money is spent wisely in order to bring your medical device to market timely and cost-effectively.

Unfortunately, there's no concrete way of doing that with complete certainty.

But as a foundation to a good partnership, they shouldn't be telling you what you want, they should be asking.

Tagged: business · consulting · design · design thinking · startup

ⓒ Lincoln Black 2024

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