When my father suffered a traumatic brain injury, I was devastated — and motivated to help him heal. However, I quickly realized there was a huge gap in his treatment. The feeding tube formula he was receiving was low in nutrition and high in sugar. I searched the world for what I felt was a nutritionally dense product. To my surprise, I could find nothing. After consulting with his doctor, I researched specific foods that could support the healing of his brain trauma and a myriad of other conditions he was experiencing after weeks in a coma. I then locked myself in my kitchen, experimenting for weeks to create a whole-foods formula that could offer my father at least a fighting chance.
After a rapid transition in my father’s heath, word spread quickly about what I had created. I began receiving numerous requests for the formula and realized the need for a product such as this in the clinical nutrition space. After eight years of research and development, I founded Functional Formularies and began the process of manufacturing the world’s first-to-market certified organic, whole foods, nutritionally complete feeding tube formula, Liquid Hope.
I learned the hard way that the field of new health products is not necessarily an easy one to break into: Laws governing product safety and language can be both confusing and demanding. Establishing quality product sourcing and manufacturing along with innovative product delivery was difficult for my company. We needed numerous trials to achieve the texture, experience, and ease of use we were determined to deliver to our customers.
But based on my own experience as a health industry entrepreneur, I believe there are multiple opportunities for innovation as well as consumer desire for new approaches and products that better support healthy lives for themselves and loved ones. Here are a few tips to make the journey easier.
1. Connect with a purpose that brings you energy.
If you’re creating a new health product, create something from your heart and one that you would personally use or consume. Deep personal motivation can help you overcome barriers blocking the way to developing your new solution. The stronger your connection to what you’re doing — beyond numbers on a spreadsheet — the easier it is continue down what might be a very challenging path.
2. Know your customer experience.
Because of my own personal experience, I understand my customer’s grief, hunger for hope, and daily, practical challenges. Although Functional Formularies now has a customer service team, I still hop on the phone with customers myself from time to time. Their feedback continues to motivate and guide our efforts to improve products and product delivery in every aspect. Our Facebook page allows us to stay in constant contact and answer the difficult questions that come up regularly for families who are often in highly stressful circumstances. People are always surprised when they get a response from the CEO in the middle of the night or weekends when my team is off. Why do I do this? Because I know the urgency you feel if you have a loved one in the situation my father was in.
Paying careful and compassionate attention to your customers’ needs genuinely helps families, builds brand loyalty, and provides input for product improvement.
3. Work within institutional health care.
Innovators want to shake things up. That’s good — but there are benefits to getting along with existing institutions as well.
It takes significant effort to make inroads. After mailing samples to early adopters for some time beginning in 2006, years of hard work led to our products being approved for most major insurance plans. We also began working with regional distribution networks, one by one. In spring 2017, we partnered with Coram CVS Specialty Infusion Services, a leading national provider of home infusion and specialty distribution services, making our products available to many thousands more customers.
Rather than fighting the system, you can encourage it to work with you. You might be surprised at the doors that can open.
4. Build trust with distributors and health professionals.
Health products flow to institutions and consumers via individual distributors and networks who already have relationships with other products and companies. You will need to build new relationships, and focus on quality education about what sets your products apart for others in the marketplace. This takes time.
Health conferences played an important role in our establishing trust with health professionals. Forming a medical advisory board with top experts in the field of integrative medicine; offering webinars for health providers; and publishing frequent science-based blog posts have assisted us in elevating our products.
In conclusion, I will say this: People marvel at the accelerated growth of Functional Formularies. We continue to break our own sales records month over month and with no marketing other than social media and a few trade-publication ads. Why? I believe that the love and mission this company was founded on shines through daily. It shows in the quality of our ingredients and the compassion each and every one of our employees bring to the table. Can you imagine what healthcare as a whole might look like if every company or institution followed suit? If consideration for patients, the planet, and future generations were at the forefront of business decisions and strategies for all heath care companies? What If “people before profit” was the norm? Hopefully one day it will be. I am so proud to be an early disruptor in this space!
Robin Gentry McGee
Robin Gentry McGee is founder and CEO of Nutritional Medicinals, LLC. She set out to find a whole-foods feeding tube formula for her father after he suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2005. Her search led to the creation of what is now Liquid Hope — launched under the Functional Formularies brand in 2012 — and Nourish, the company’s pediatric formula.