Dr Krishan Ramdoo is CEO and Founder of Tympa Health, a London-based start-up that has created the world’s first all-in-one hearing health assessment system — a smartphone-enabled tool capable of aural micro-suction, screening audiometry and otoscopy.
Dr Ramdoo is also a GP trainee and a PhD candidate. Previously he trained as an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) registrar before switching to General Practice for the past three years.
You were quite advanced in your clinical journey (ST6 ENT Surgeon) before starting entrepreneurship, what do you think are the benefits of pursuing a surgical or medical career before jumping into entrepreneurship?
For me, a lot of the successes from Tympa Health are because I’m drawing on years of experience of things working well as well as badly.
I’ve also evolved as an individual — learning how to manage teams, how to be involved in multi-disciplinary discussions, and so on.
I think Tympa is growing because it’s underpinned by clinical knowledge and clinical experiences. The product has evolved from that.
If you asked me when I was a Foundation Year 2 doctor to write down a product idea, I wouldn’t have had the skills for it to evolve at that point.
I think having more clinical experience gives you credibility, from my perspective. I think that you can talk on a different level.
You were two years away from becoming a consultant surgeon when you founded Tympa. What were the challenges of moving from a career that was very safe and guaranteed?
I was doing a lot of work in the background (to ENT training) and won a few prizes and some funding. A large commercial organisation also told me that if I developed the product, they’d be interested.
That’s when I went to make that decision — I’d already validated what I was going to do.
At this point I could have pursued it completely but being a bit more calculated I thought, actually I’ll switch to General Practice. This way, I could to stay within medical training.
What flipped it for me was that I could see this [Tympa] making an impact on patients.
So it wasn’t like I could see all the dollar signs. Instead it was: “This is going to make an impact on patients and the rest is going to follow.” And I think that’s what made it an easier journey.
You said that you spoke with a lot of people and I imagine there were a lot of people involved with your idea at the beginning. But you’ve come out as the solo entrepreneur with a great team around you. Was it a bit murkier in terms of who was involved? How did you get clarity around that?
I think the key thing, which you learn as the first thing in medical school, is good communication. I think that I was just very open and upfront with everyone to say: “Look this is what I think we should do. This is the mechanism for how I’m going to do it.”
And actually the colleagues who I was working with at the time are now really big supporters and always have been big supporters of the process.
I think it was the right moment in time to say: “In order for it to fly, we need to let it go.” I think that getting people to think like that took a bit of time and it was really challenging, but I think now they would also look back and say, you know, that was the right decision.
I think it was the right moment in time to say: “In order for it to fly, we need to let it go.”
Going from doctor to entrepreneur, what did you use as your resources to learn? Were there any key resources (books, podcasts, people) that you particularly recommend to people who might find themselves in your situation?
I think I focused on the product and so I didn’t really think about the sales strategy at that point because I was like: ” Well, if we haven’t got the product to sell…?!”
So that was the first thing I’d say is focus on your proposition. Make sure there’s intrinsic value that you think you’re going to create with this product, because that’s going to stand you in good stead going forward.
Learning about the legal matters just came from speaking to lawyers and we had a great legal team who basically just helped me understand it, and I just had to do a lot of reading around it.
There were podcasts and lots of books and things that you can consume but I was one of the first few to be appointed to the NHS England Clinical Entrepreneur Program.
I think that appointment gave me an idea of the ways in which I could commercialise Tympa. I learnt a lot from that program — it helped in ways I wouldn’t have got otherwise.
Make sure there’s intrinsic value that you think you’re going to create with this product, because that’s going to stand you in good stead going forward.
You’re now a mentor on the scheme. What advice do you give to aspiring clinical entrepreneurs?
Hospitals are always going to be overstretched and something has got to give. If you don’t have an idea, consider that trend. Think about how you can make hospital processes more efficient out in the community — this worked well for us.
Focus on: Product, product, product. Make sure there’s someone at the end of it who you think will buy it and seek some validation on that. Then all the rest of the stuff will come — that’s my philosophy,
But I think the main advice that I try to give and one thing I have learned on this journey is to build resilience. You have to have it because you’ve got to believe in your product. And that’s why I always say: “Well make sure your product is right!”
Use your learning from medicine. When you do a research paper or writing up a new study, you’re taking the literature that’s out there — what’s currently in the market, you could say — testing it, evaluating it, and then when you get your result then that’s when you want to go and publish it. Which is kind of, I guess, what we’ve done here at Tympa. We’re now publishing that we’re here.
Looking back at the journey, I’ve definitely changed and grown into this role. I didn’t turn up from being an ENT surgeon, GP to a CEO. I’ve grown into this. And I think that that happens, it’s easy for me to say now but it happens with experience doesn’t it?
Looking back at the journey, I’ve definitely changed and grown into this role. I didn’t turn up from being an ENT surgeon, GP to a CEO
You’ve talked about resilience as being one of your key pieces of advice. It’s a topical point at the moment with a pandemic stretching everyone. I wondered whether you had any key bits of advice to stay balanced? How do you keep yourself level with Tympa and a family life?
It’s probably one of the things you mentioned, I think. People get their resilience and let’s say strength from different sources.
I’m a (semi) creature of habit and I think a routine is ideal for me. But I’ve got two young kids, and that routine sometimes just goes out the window. So I try to have a little bit of time every day to do a little bit of exercise, when that’s possible.
And if it’s not that, I think the thing that has helped me in terms of switching my brain off, is that bit when you’re doing a bit of bath time and bedtime stories. Because I’m focused on that, it’s not making me think about all the other things that I’ve got going on my brain. For people who don’t have children, it’s taking that hour to say: “what can I do for myself?”
I also have a close-knit support network that I speak to.
People get their resilience and let’s say strength from different sources.
I just want to give you a chance to talk about the future of hearing health and how you see Tympa’s place within it?
Hearing loss is going to become a bigger issue, not only now, but in the future. There’s half a billion people currently living with hearing loss and it’s just going to get worse. I think there’s the age of people who are listening to loud music and we don’t really know what’s going to happen to their hearing.
Hearing loss is also linked to falls and is the biggest modifiable risk factor for dementia. For me, I think how we can democratise it to make looking after your ear and hearing health, just like it is for the optical sector. Everyone is used to going to the optician to go and get an eye test. Why are we not doing that with hearing?
Tympa is a simple one-stop solution where you can look in the ear and capture it. If there’s wax, you can just remove it there and then, and train people appropriately to do that.
The system can then screen people for their hearing loss then it can get someone on the road to a hearing aid. Also if at any point in that journey there’s something that’s unusual, our machine learning algorithms can point them to a specialist at the right moment in time.
And I think that’s where I feel we fit in the pathway, right at the beginning. We’re not trying to take over anything at the end of the pathway. We’re just trying to get people to meet the right specialists or right healthcare provider in a more streamlined way.
Everyone is used to going to the optician to go and get an eye test. Why are we not doing that with hearing?
Ok, and finally, if you were invited to your old medical school to give a speech to all of the graduates on graduation day, what would you say?
I would probably say that the path that you’re thinking of now may not be the path that you end up on. I’d tell them that is completely fine. It’s becoming easier in medicine to try different things so don’t worry if you don’t know what you want to do now, that will work itself out.
And if you do know, and you’re really set on a certain career path, if that changes down the line, then that’s fine as well. I think that’s the beauty of medicine, it opens so many doors for you.
My old self would not have thought I would be doing what I do now. I’ve kind of found my way here, having gone through a varied clinical path.
So, I would be saying: “It’s okay to find your feet before settling on what you want to do.”
I would probably say that the path that you’re thinking of now may not be the path that you end up on