By Ryan Shelton, CEO and co-founder
Some of you may have seen the press release last week that PhotoniCare has entered a distribution agreement to bring our middle ear imaging device to the Japanese market. I’ve since had some questions about this, given that we are still an early stage company that has yet to launch our product in the U.S. market. There are a couple of reasons we chose to enter into a partnership in Japan at this stage. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts here.
First, Japan is a strong medical device market. Although potentially more difficult to navigate than many EU markets, if you have the right partners it is a pro-technology market that highly values improved patient care. Furthermore, with regard to ear infections, the front-line defense is often the ENT specialist, not primary care. This changes the care pathway and market dynamics a bit, resulting in a large patient volume with acute diagnostic needs on the doorstep of specialist physicians. As a result, a technology like ours can be a very attractive solution to a call point that is more concentrated and approachable than other front-line care markets.
Second, we simply found a great partner. I have been very protective of our resources (both human and financial), and very careful not to spread us too thin. I think diluting focus during initial market launch is a cardinal sin in the world of startups, and especially in healthcare. As we all know, it is difficult to successfully market products or services in the healthcare space, and if you want to succeed, I believe you have to have a laser focus on an approachable market segment. This makes any early OUS (outside U.S.) strategy difficult for healthcare startups. However, in Adachi, we found an opportunity to enter the Japanese market with a partner that believes strongly enough in our product and our team to dedicate significant resources to a pre-market opportunity. Furthermore, when Adachi hosted us on a road show across Japan to meet with the top KOLs (key opinion leaders) in the ENT space, they demonstrated that: (1) they have excellent market access in the territory, and (2) the market pull for our product is very strong. There was so much value to us in this one road show. I encourage every startup team looking at a potential distribution partner to be hands on and adamant in vetting their potential partner’s market access and KOL relationships. We believe the work we did up front in this area will pay dividends down the road.
I would be remiss if I did not take a minute to opine on what beautiful culture and country exists in Japan. Everything from their relationship-driven business culture, to their incredible food, or their breathtaking historical sites is an absolute pleasure to experience. If I may make a few recommendations from the highlight reel of the trips Ryan Nolan (my co-founder) and I took last fall:
Kyoto (shown below) is beautiful. It is packed full of rich history with its shrines, gates, and temples. Definitely worth a visit.
Find a local and eat whatever they recommend. Our partners were kind enough to make several recommendations.
We had the best sushi one can imagine. Amazing skewered and grilled chicken parts of all kinds (yakitori), sea urchin, cabbage pizza (okonomiyaki), and even a few pieces of medium rare chicken that were touted as a special preparation (still wondering if that one was a joke on the gullible Americans…:)). It was quite delicious (and we never got sick)! Try ALL the food. It’s amazing.
If you find yourself in Tokyo, give Oedo Ayatori a try. This was our favorite restaurant experience of the entire trip! It offered excellent food with a mind-blowing presentation, and a super fun atmosphere including a 360-degree rotating grill…
We certainly recognize that in addition to all the hard work we have put in to build this relationship and close a deal, the real work (and fun!) is just beginning. We are excited for what the future holds for PhotoniCare and we look forward to improving the health and hearing outcomes for many children and adults across Japan…and eating well while doing so!