Dr. Farzana Rahman, a former consultant radiologist, frequently encountered the problem of: “Too many scans and not enough radiologists”, which compromised patient care.
Rahman formed part of a team of four radiologists that founded Hexarad in an effort to overcome this issue.
Hexarad is an advanced technological platform that enables radiologists to efficiently receive correct scans so patients receive a fast and accurate diagnosis.
Why did you think that the system needed to change?
I met my co-founders Sam [Dumonteil], Jay [Patel] and Amy [Davis] in 2012, when we were senior radiologists working together at St George’s Hospital in London. Even back then it was clear that there were too many scans but not enough radiologists. Without a diagnosis there is no treatment – we knew that if we could solve the problems we were seeing in radiology we would improve patient outcomes.
How did you build the tech that Hexarad is based on?
As radiologists and doctors we have a deep understanding of the pain points in radiology. We knew that an important one was streamlining efficiency. We’ve built solutions that focus on this by blending technical and clinical expertise.
What inspired the name “Hexarad”?
We were originally a team of six founders. Two of the founders left, but we’ve now actually got Tim [Baker], who’s our CTO, and Charles [Niehaus], who is our mentor and chairman. There are six core people in the business and that’s the inspiration behind the name.
Can hospitals integrate your technology within existing health systems?
Yes, it’s an important part of what we do. We’ve built our own bespoke integration engine that helps us integrate across a number of NHS hospitals around the country. It’s a unique feature of our platform and feeds into our mission of fast and accurate diagnosis for everyone, everywhere.
Did you face much resistance when you were initially trying to integrate this into hospitals?
I think the key is solving problems that will help customers and patients. When everyone is aligned on this it makes it much easier to integrate and work together.
I think the key is solving problems that will help customers and patients.
What sets Hexarad apart from its competitors?
I think probably the three things are: People, tech and community. The four founders were all consultant radiologists in the NHS. I was a consultant at UCLH [University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust] for five years before I left. The other three still do a day in the week in the NHS.
We’re the only clinically led, founded and managed radiology company. That’s very unique. It means we have real in-depth insight into the problems that hospitals face. We’ve faced them on the frontline being doctors so we’re passionate about solving them. So I’d say, you know, number one is the people.
The second thing is the tech. We very much built tech in a unique way as we have real clinical input working with our tech team. Our tech team is led by Tim who is our CTO and he works closely with Jay and Sam who lead on operations and product. That makes things really different because we understand the problem, and we designed the tech to solve it.
The third thing is we have a huge emphasis on community. We’ve seen that whilst working in healthcare, community was key. Before I started Hexarad, I thought that that conversation was missing, it was all just about talking about tech. We’re very much focused on community as well as we have a community of radiologists and encourage learning amongst our customers.
How did your experience as a consultant before Hexarad help you to build a successful business?
I always liked looking at problems from a really wide lens, and I loved clinical medicine but I realised early on that I was also interested in looking at health systems. So when I was a registrar, I did a master’s in health economics from the LSE [London School of Economics and Political Science]. I liked the granularity of getting into the detail of how you measure change across big systems in healthcare.
When I got my CCT [certificate of completion of training] I worked as a consultant at UCLH but I also did a fair bit of policy work. I was an advisor at NHS Digital and I was the head of data and digital strategy at the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges. I also worked on a few national guidelines and publications.
Having a deep understanding of healthcare and how health systems work has helped me understand how to develop solutions with impact. But the most important part of my journey so far has been meeting my co-founders and I wouldn’t have met them if I hadn’t been a radiologist!
What are three main skills that you learnt from your work with data and policy?
Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable. Looking at problems which are really complex, breaking them down but also realising that there will be parts that you don’t understand. That’s very important in business, because there are lots of different issues that come up, and you’re never going to be an expert in everything
Learning to assimilate knowledge quickly is also a skill that I’ve had to develop which has helped me a lot.
…looking at problems which are really complex, breaking them down but also realising that there will be parts that you don’t understand.
When you were a medical student, did you always think you would branch off into this entrepreneurial side of medicine?
No, I don’t think so. I enjoyed medical school but I felt really overwhelmed. In retrospect, I was always quite a creative thinker, but in medical school there isn’t that much space for creativity. You’re hit with lots of information that you have to learn really fast. I spent a lot of medical school just feeling like I wasn’t very good, or I wasn’t good enough. I don’t think I would have had the confidence then to think about doing anything else.
It was only actually when I qualified as a junior doctor, and then went through something called MTAS [Medical Training Application Service], which was the first version of run through training. I was so devastated when I didn’t get the surgical job I applied for because it was the first time I hadn’t got what I wanted or got a good mark. It was the best thing that ever happened to me because I paused and thought about what I wanted to do and I realised it wasn’t surgery.
I researched other specialities and thought radiology would be a good fit. I applied and I got a job the next year.
The best thing about this experience wasn’t that I found a specialty that suited me better. It was that I stopped being scared of rejection. I had never thought about being entrepreneurial before then, but once I lost my fear of rejection, I moved out of my comfort zone.
It was that I stopped being scared of rejection.
What would be the one thing that you would say to your medical student self?
I’d say that medical school is important, but it’s not the be all and end all. Brilliant medical students don’t always make brilliant doctors. That’s really important to remember. And also just to have confidence in yourself and in your thoughts and ideas.
To always try to stay creative and look at problems in an interesting way. I think medical school kind of beats creativity out of people. Steve Jobs gave a brilliant graduation speech at Stanford 20 years ago. At the end of it he says –‘stay hungry’. I would say, along those lines – stay creative. If you’ve got an interesting way to solve a problem, and no one understands it, it’s still important.
Brilliant medical students don’t always make brilliant doctors. That’s really important to remember.
If you’ve got an interesting way to solve a problem, and no one understands it, it’s still important.
What advice would you give to other doctors who have an initial business idea but don’t know where to go from there?
I’d say keep an open mind and know your market really well. There’s a phrase in the startup world which I really like, which is to ‘be obsessed with the problem, not the solution’. Your idea of the solution will change and evolve and that’s very important that it does, so don’t get so fixated on the idea of the solution. Make sure to know the problem really, really well because that’s how you’ll come up with solutions.
I’d also say to speak to other people and get feedback on your ideas but still have faith in your idea and your solution. Take the useful advice but don’t let things dishearten you.
Also accept that rejection is going to be part of the process, whatever that is. Whether that’s doing your first investment round, trying to sign your first customer, trying to hire your first key hires, you’re going to hear a lot of “no” and that’s okay.
Be obsessed with the problem, not the solution
Take the useful advice but don’t let things dishearten you.
Where did you get the initial funding to start your business?
We originally bootstrapped. Once we were revenue generating and had proved our concept we raised a Series A round in two parts, (£4.5m in total).
Would you recommend this funding route to other startups?
We had a slightly different way of working where we had a joint venture partnership with our first customer, which helped to get the business off the ground. That’s quite difficult to get. I would say bootstrap as much as you can, get as much evidence as you can and show that you’re really solving a problem.
There are different ways to raise money. You could get angel investors, we had some angel investors along with a VC [Venture Capitalist] in our rounds, and they’re really useful. You can raise money from friends and family, you can then look at institutions as well. There are also things that crowdfunding, I’ve not done but know other businesses who have.
There are lots of routes to investment, I would say just stay focused on showing that you’ve got traction and that your idea and product solves a problem. And not to get too distracted by having to raise money because it does take quite a lot of time.
Bootstrap as much as you can, get as much evidence as you can and show that you’re really solving a problem.
Who is one CEO who inspires you and why?
It would probably be Yvon Chouinard, the outgoing CEO of Patagonia. When he stepped down he gave all of his future brand to charity – all its future earnings. I think that’s quite inspirational. I remember at the end of last year, he put Patagonia into a trust so that all its profits would go into charitable trust for environmental sustainability.