It is a good thing that a 19 year old college sophomore didn’t believe that the grown-ups had it covered. If you ever watched your blood fill up multiple vials in the doctor’s office and wonder if you’ll pass out, you’ll be thanking Elizabeth Holmes soon.
Elizabeth believed the problem was people dying prematurely because diseases weren’t detected early enough. Elizabeth’s big idea was to develop a way to fix this. “When I thought about having the greatest impact with my life, I thought about all the times that people lose loved ones because diseases weren’t detected early enough. I thought, ‘I can play a role there.’”
She was also motivated by her fear of needles stating “It’s the only thing that actually scares me.”
The young chemical engineering major dropped out of Stanford University to start a company called Theranos. She used the money her parents saved for college to begin developing a convenient, low cost way to test for disease biomarkers. Her mission sounded very familiar to what she wrote to her dad as a 9 year old, “What I really want out of life is to discover something new, something mankind didn’t know was possible to do.“
Do the grown-ups have it covered? Is it a good idea?
To answer these questions, it begins with insight into the three-legged stool of “Mission”, “Problem/Unmet Needs” and “Solution”. While there are many components which can impact whether it is a good idea, most can be overcome if the first three are solid. Eleven years later (now age 30), Elizabeth’s solution is still evolving. Yet her original mission and the problem/unmet needs she was addressing have not changed.
The company she dropped out of college to start is now valued at $9B. That makes Elizabeth worth $4.5B. She is the youngest self-made female billionaire ever, passing Sara Blakely. You can now walk into 39 Walgreens and get 30 different blood tests performed on a single drop of blood. If you have your finger pricked at 8am, your lab test results will be emailed to you and your doctor by 12 noon. The cost of each test is published on their web site which is helpful to diabetics (Hemoglobin A1c = $6.67) or if you have high cholesterol (Low-Density Lipoprotein = $6.56). The prices are often 50% lower than what Medicare and Medicaid reimburse, which could save the United States $100B in the next 10 years.
While the money Elizabeth’s parent saved for her college may have been well spent, Elizabeth is still pursuing the Mission, Problem/Unmet Need and Solution of her big idea.
Mission – While the solution is in 39 Walgreens, Elizabeth wants the pin-prick blood test available at every drug store or in homes. With easy access and low cost, certain people may be having blood tests annually, monthly, weekly or even daily. This would help achieve Elizabeth’s mission of not losing loved ones because their disease were not detected early enough.
Problem/Unmet Needs – as many 38% of lab tests prescribed by physicians are not carried out by patients. It could be because of cost, convenience or they may have a fear of needles like Elizabeth. By ensuring the solution is focused on addressing the beneficiaries’ problem or unmet need, the solution has a chance of being widely adopted.
Solution – Elizabeth initial conceptual solution was to develop a DNA type blood tests similar to what she observed during her summer internship. It was at the Genome Institute in Singapore before her sophomore year. Conventional lab tests grow bacteria in petri dishes for days, so Theranos had to develop new DNA profiling methods to find answers in hours. Elizabeth also had to ensure the solution was going to achieve her mission and address the beneficiaries’ problem/unmet needs.
If you have a dream or big idea and you are not sure if the grown-ups have it covered, you may want to write down the mission, problem/unmet needs and solution. Take the time to get insight into whether this three legged stool will stand. If you think it will, it may provide the sustaining guidance to help make almost anything happen.