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Your Expertise Is Not Free

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It is very common for physicians to get approached by connections seeking insight into some healthcare related technological innovation (perhaps in an early start-up mode). Here are my 7 tips in dealing with the tech entrepreneurs who approach you for ‘coffee’:

1. Don’t let anyone waste your time

You are a busy professional. Unlike many other occupations, you make money by volume of patients you see. Your personal time is also highly valuable. When approached for ‘coffee’, you will likely meet the tech entrepreneur after-hours or on weekend. Without getting too excited that you are suddenly going to be part of a start-up, have the person write you an introductory email. Have them describe what advice they are looking for. There is a chance that the idea is so impractical that it may not be worth your time at all.

2. There are no favors

Unless you are playing a mentor role, there are no favors. You are smart and a problem solver. You are a domain expert. The person asking you out for coffee is interested in your thinking process. They are not doing you a favor. They are baking an idea for profit. Ask for something in return. Ask in your email response, ‘”What kind of arrangement do you envision if we were to work together?”

3. Listen more, talk less

If you do decide to meet, listen to what they have to say. Listen in depth. Do not provide your input or challenge their idea. Ask questions, get clarifications, but still do not speak your mind until you have all the information. Rely on “that is very intriguing”, “let me think about it”, “let us discuss after I have digested this information”.

4. Do not sign a non disclosure agreement (NDA)

The person has approached you; do not let them have you sign a paper to not disclose something. Just say, ‘No, I do not sign NDAs’.

5. Ask for your share

If you do decide for a follow-up meeting, your email response should have a specific question about arrangement of compensation for continued engagement with your time. Your time is equity.

6. Do not be intimidated, speak your mind

If someone is respecting your time with adequate compensation, do him or her a favor. Be honest and do not try to go along with their hypothesis. Provide your truthful feedback even if that means saying, “In my opinion, this will never work”.

7. Do not undersell yourself

If you decide to get involved, negotiate your role and compensation. What percent of the company will make your time commitment worth your sacrifice of personal time? Since you are serious about the involvement, consult an attorney to review the terms of the contract.

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