Dr James Somauroo is founder and CEO of SomX, a healthtech-specific communications agency.
Somauroo produces the Healthtech Podcast, a podcast with 12,000 downloads per month and listeners in 120 countries. He also writes the Healthtech Pigeon, a newsletter with about 2,000 weekly readers.
Prior to SomX James ran two healthtech accelerators: DigitalHealth.London and HS.
James studied medicine at Nottingham Medical School and undertook anaesthetics training in North Wales.
Can you tell us a bit about what your company, SomX, does?
We do two main things: PR and multimedia content, for healthtech companies. Those healthtech companies can be anything, from seed-stage startups all the way to multinational corporates, and we have clients all the way across that space. But where we verticalise is healthtech, so everybody in our company understands and knows healthcare and technology.
If you’re a company in the healthtech space, or indeed any space, you really need to be thinking about content. That is super important.
PR is great because it gets other people talking about you, it helps with credibility, and it will gain you followers on your social media platforms.
You’ll end up with more people coming to you, so then you have an opportunity to feed that audience with content. And the best way to do that is multimedia.
We set companies up so that they do two main things with their content. They add value to their audience — that can be educational, entertaining, or both. And we help that company sell to that audience, by communicating the key messages of that company.
How did you start SomX, and where does your understanding of tech come from?
It starts way back in medical school, really — and I was a distracted medical student. Medicine is interesting to a point, but every individual has other interests too, and where those interests can be explored within the space (technology being one of them — it pairs very nicely to healthcare), you can end up being very fulfilled.
I was distracted by business and learning about how businesses are made and run, I found that stuff very interesting. I was always interested in design and I enjoyed social media, and I was one of the early adopters in medicine of LinkedIn.
When I qualified as a doctor, I got dragged into solving problems on wards, in systems, and I enjoyed that. The first thing I did was fix a printer, which seems very innocuous, but, in my hospital as an F1, everybody used to queue outside the doctors’ mess until a ridiculous time. I ended up ringing IT, trying to get a few printers fixed. If you can open up a bottle-neck through something as simple as fixing a printer, the knock-on effects to a healthcare system are enormous. That feeling of impact for something so simple really stuck with me, and that became addictive. It was like, “What other problems can I solve like this”?
That feeling of impact for something so simple really stuck with me, and that became addictive
In my F2 year, there was something at the time called the KSS School of Clinical Leadership and as part of that I paired up with an NHS management graduate in finance. I learnt a lot about the management side of the NHS by shadowing someone there, and advice for medical students here: do not stand for the conversations you will hear about “them and us” with clinicians and managers. The more you empathise with them, the more that you can make amazing things happen in a hospital.
I got myself on the FMLM leadership scheme, worked at HEE for a year in policy, as part of that got exposed to NHS England and did a bit of work for Tony Young, who’s the national lead for innovation. Then, with my skillset, I joined the digitalhealth.london accelerator. I was helping 10 startups get into the NHS, and then I got promoted to run the programme with someone called Hannah.
I then set up my own accelerator, helping pre-seed entrepreneurs find co-founders, develop an early idea, get their first capital. That was called HS, and it became HS Ventures when we started partnering with charities to invest their money into early stage companies to grow that sector at the earliest stage. At the same time, I started writing for Forbes on healthtech, I started The Healthtech podcast, and I’ve since started the Healthtech Pigeon as well — so I ended up the other side of my life being more media stuff.
Combining the two is where I got to SomX. I knew how to manage a cohort of startups from my accelerator days, and I knew how to solve a lot of problems with media. I met my co-founder Jessica, who has a press and PR background, specifically in healthcare and technology companies. For a year Jess and I had what you’d call alpha and beta clients while we figured out the value propositions and the business model, and those early clients helped us do that. Then in the summer last year we launched fully, and opened to everybody, and now we’ve got around 15 clients on retainer. That’s kind of the journey!
Advice for medical students here: do not stand for the conversations you will hear about “them and us” with clinicians and managers.
What is your clinical background?
I did five years clinically. I did my F1 and F2 in South Thames. I then took an F3 year where I did a postgraduate diploma in clinical education, which was awesome, and I learnt educational theory, which still benefits me to this day. I locummed in a lot of different A&E departments — again, still so useful for me now, having the experience of lots of different hospitals, of all those different systems.
Then I went and did anaesthetics training, and I enjoyed it. I just couldn’t see myself doing it forever without other things. When I leant into those other things, it became less of a, “Shall I leave or shall I not?” I just ended up following my nose to a point where I just sort of realised: “Oh, I have left.” Doing fellowships allowed me to put a foot in and a foot out of medicine, still be paid by the NHS, still be contributing to NHS pension. But yes, I did anaesthestics training and I got my 10,000 hours.
People often ask me, “Do you recommend leaving medicine?” I think it’s always just about doing what’s right for you. Personally, I didn’t love clinical medicine, but it was good in so many ways. I loved how practical it was — that you’re actually out there delivering value to another human being. There are obviously negatives to medicine that most of your readers will know, but I don’t think it’s a negative choice. You should be framing it as a positive one: think about the pull factors out, rather than push factors out, because you’re going to need to be pulled into something. For me, that was the impact I could make, the fact that what I would be doing was more enjoyable for me, as well — I don’t want to get away from that either. It’s not purely a ‘thinking about others’ decision, it’s also thinking about yourself, and what’s going to give you longevity.
If medics are interested in healthtech but they don’t have a bright idea to start a company, what advice would you have for them in order to get involved in healthtech?
So many people think that in order to get involved in healthtech you need to start a company and become an entrepreneur. That is absolutely incorrect. Yes, you can be an entrepreneur and try to start a company, raise money and all those different things. But you could be a first hire, a thousandth hire, a product manager, you could offer your clinical expertise to the way people build products, you could be a communicator and help with marketing, there’s lots of content writing you can do as well to be exposed to lots of different healthtech startups.
So many people think that in order to get involved in healthtech you need to start a company and become an entrepreneur. That is absolutely incorrect.
And if someone then has an idea they’d like to pursue themselves, they’ve built the tools through that exposure.
Exactly, kind of what I did at the accelerators. I’d always been in that layer above, the accelerator layer, the support layer, the client services layer, which is where you support many, and therefore you have a broader view of the sector. That’s the layer that I’d always been in. And two of our content creators have gone off and started their own startup, as well. So yeah, definitely available.
What were some of the challenges you faced in forming SomX and how did you approach the funding side of things?
I think the two [challenges and funding] are inextricably linked. For me, there was very little barrier to entry, because there was so much pull from the market. The way we started was Jessica and I alone, Jess doing press and PR, me doing multimedia content. As co-founders, Jessica and I have complementary skills that, together, mean we can get clients. That for me is how to run a business, because you have clients that pay you money, which, if it’s more than your outgoings means you have profit. With your profit you can re-invest to bring on hires which allow you to get more clients and more capacity, and that is organic growth.
Even if you gave me a million quid now, I’m not sure I could grow SomX any quicker, because a lot of it is us building track record with our client base. We want to retain all of our clients, so it’s still early-ish days, we’re still iterating things that we do, our business model, our proposals.
To turbo-charge that with a load of VC investment, a couple of things might happen which I wouldn’t want: we grow too quickly, lose the quality of the product, and I have to give away 20% of my company and do board meetings. I’d rather try to build something organically with profit, and it also goes to show again that if you do have a good idea you might not need to raise money, you could just do it yourself, be your own boss.
If you do have a good idea, you might not need to raise money, you could just do it yourself, be your own boss.
You have mentioned your co-founder, Jessica — what other partnerships have been instrumental in the success of SomX?
Yes, so obviously my co-founder, Jessica. The interesting plot twist here is that Jessica is also my partner in love and life and now business, and so that naturally comes with its own positives and challenges. However, I think that has been incredible for the success of SomX. We can get things done quicker than any other type of cofounder relationship, I believe. We’ve learnt a lot about how to separate the two, as well, it’s been super interesting that journey. I think that’s been obviously instrumental for us.
The other one, I would say, is my relationship with the market. Since the age of 23 I have been speaking to technology companies. I feel like part of the furniture when it comes to health tech. I’ve got a communications and media company, I’ve got a podcast, I’ve got a newsletter, but I’m the healthtech guy without ever building a healthtech company. I’ve been the accelerator guy I suppose. I know so much about the space, the market, the challenges, I’ve got a view of what needs to be done centrally, what needs to be done by individual startups and companies. I don’t know everybody’s individual space as well as they know it, however I do understand their challenges, and I think there’s no quick way of learning that. I think that is what allows us, as SomX, to communicate on behalf of startups so well through their channels.
What would you say are your goals personally, and for Somx, in the near future?
Goals are a really interesting one. I don’t tend to set metric targets to reach. So far, we have done awesome stuff with SomX. We’ve started a company, we haven’t needed funding, we’ve been profitable since day one, we’ve built out a team, and we continue to add value to startups in a brand new interesting way. The goal is to stay ahead and keep doing that. We’ve started doing TikTok for our clients now, for example, and it’s working and we’re adding value. Our clients are first on the new platforms, they’re going to capture as much value from health tech as exists.
I guess the goal is keep doing what we’re doing and if we do that it will be more clients, growth, and more impact helping the best healthtech companies in the world communicate their messages in the best way, to make the most impact.
I’m also ramping up and transitioning Healthtech Pigeon into a fully-fledged online publication, alongside the established newsletter. I don’t think there’s anything else quite like it in the sector, so i’m really excited to build a team around it, bring it to life and see where it ends up.
Are there any other healthtech-related companies that inspire you right now?
There are companies that are super cool and interesting like Havas Lynx, for example. But I personally get more inspired by what’s happening in the consumer communications space and bringing that to healthtech. You would never expect anyone in healthtech to know what Cannes Lions is, or even Social Media Week. We know our space, and we’re by healthtech for healthtech, but we’re going to extend an appendage into those worlds, gather the best ideas and bring them back.
The obvious one is Gary Vaynerchuk and VaynerMedia. You look at what VaynerMedia are doing with the power of content, and their belief in content and how it works, and you look at how we’ve actually implemented that and seen what it’s done for clients. We’re creating VaynerMedia for healthtech almost — and I’m not ashamed to say that. I think a lot of your readers will probably know Gary Vaynerchuk or follow him, and agree or disagree with what he says. I can tell you, when you do VaynerMedia for healthtech, it’s kind of working.
We’re going to extend an appendage into those worlds, gather the best ideas and bring them back