The problem with “list and leave”​inventors

The real estate industry has a term for a certain type of realtor behavior-list and leave. Maybe you have experienced it the last time you hired a realtor to sell your property. What happens is after signing a listing agreement, the realtor puts a big, attractive sign in your front lawn and lists your property on the multilist service. Then, they drop out of sight. Ghosted. Dark side of the moon. After waiting for potential buyers to do most of the work on the internet, the next time you see your realtor is at the closing table where your friendly agent collect their commission check. Maybe that’s why some realtors will go the way of bank tellers, replaced by algorithms.

The list and leave “innovation” model is familiar too. The person who comes up with the idea is neither willing nor able to do something with it. So, he or she turfs making it into a revenue generating something to an organization or a “business person” or consultant that promises to do all the hard stuff. The person who swears by the idea has little more to do with it until it’s time to collect the royalty checks. Not a bad gig.

This happens when doctors “don’t have time for all that business stuff” or when non-sick care entrepreneurs don’t really want to get their hands dirty with doctors “who are lousy business people anyway”. I mean, what can be so hard about sickcare innovation anyway?

Unfortunately, in my experience, this list and leave strategy doesn’t usually work because:

  1. The failure rate of new ideas is high enough when all hands are on deck, let alone when the idea person or inventor is AWOL
  2. Most of the time someone else has the same or similar idea and, quite possibly, has already failed trying to do something with it
  3. It’s hard to pivot when you don’t have possession of the ball
  4. Those that don’t have skin in the game, by definition, are not significantly invested in the outcome
  5. Everyone thinks they have a great idea. The problem is what they think is irrelevant until you demonstrate product market fit.
  6. Most don’t understand the difference between an idea, an invention, an improvement and an innovation.
  7. Most don’t understand the difference between a technology, a product and a business.
  8. Because of the above, there are unrealistic expectations about the likelihood of success and the time and costs involved.
  9. Raising seed stage money is generally about an investor having some kind or relationship with the founder or a friend of the founder or a friend who invested in the founder
  10. Savvy members of the innovation food chain can tell a hood ornament when they see one
  11. Physician inventors often think they can raise seed stage money from other doctors in their specialty. Doing that, however, means moving from awareness to education to engagement to conversion, and that often takes face to face and online interaction over several months. That gets harder if someone who is not in the tribe does all the work.
  12. Since many doctors are Linkedout, they don’t have the social media knowledge, skills, attitudes or competencies to engage potential partners, developers, clinical developers or investors. Do you know how to build a Linkedin profile to attract investors?

Think of the list and leave model as the flip side of founder’s syndrome.

Sure, there are commercial technology transfer models that license something and then create a team to do the heavy lifting to get it to market.. But, in most of those instances, the PI or inventor is expected to contribute know how or continue IP or product development in some role. At the least, they show up for an open house or two before depositing the check.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs on Twitter@ArlenMD and Co-editor of Digital Health Entrepreneurship