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graphicstock hipster businessman with idea light bulb above his head isolated on black background BRlnPu4n b
graphicstock hipster businessman with idea light bulb above his head isolated on black background BRlnPu4n b

Why ideas are overrated

Why ideas are overrated

By Jonathan Patrick, CEO of Consultant Connect

Everyone has come up with a business idea at some point. It’s hard not to – thinking of the idea that will buy you your retirement on a yacht in the Maldives can be a fun pastime. 

However, you need far more than an idea to build a successful business. Whether it’s geopolitical pressures, a challenging economic outlook or constant innovation from competitors, there’s a new challenge at every corner – an idea alone is nowhere near enough to cut it.


Fortunately, ideas are overrated. I’ve sold 5 successful businesses, and I’ve never had a decent idea in my entire life. Every business I have run has been somebody else’s idea. What’s been important has been knowing a good idea when I’ve seen it, knowing what it takes to get other people to recognise it as a good idea, and having the flexibility to make the idea practical to go along with.

Consultant Connect, the business I founded over nine years ago, is a great example of this. I stumbled across the idea for this business when chatting to one of the speakers at a conference I was at years ago, who ended up being my co-founder, Roger Tweedale. 

He’d been part of an experiment that connected GPs with cardiologists to give them advice when a GP wasn’t exactly sure how to diagnose a patient. The results of this experiment were staggering – approximately 70% of the occasions a GP spoke with a consultant the patient would avoid a trip to hospital. 

My first thought was “is the NHS not already doing this?”. It turns out they weren’t – the only way a GP could get in touch with a specialist was to call up the hospital. They only had a 10% chance of getting through to someone, and even if they did they’d have to wait 15 minutes to do this. GPs were, and still are, horrendously busy – they don’t have time to sit on the phone listening to hold music for 15 minutes. 

This is a key bit of advice I’d give to founders. Most ideas are useful, but great ideas solve painful problems. In our case, GPs being unable to get advice from specialists and sending patients to hospital unnecessarily was, and still is, a huge problem for the NHS. So, when we built our system that allowed GPs and paramedics to find available consultants and connect with them in under 30 seconds, we knew we were onto a winner.

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So, a strong product tackling a big problem must be successful, right? Not if you don’t market it well. Telling the right people what you’re doing is as fundamental as the product itself.

In the NHS, the key to effective communications is brevity. Identify the job titles of your target audience, understand why your product is going to help them make a difference, develop your messages and keep them brief. If it’s an Estate Manager, tell them how you cut utility costs. If it’s a Staffing Manager, tell them how you can help them fill their rotas. You get the picture.

For us and our audience, the key was data: simple numbers that communicated a big impact in few words. In 2023 our technology kept over 400,000 patients out of hospital. For hospital managers dealing with increasing patient demand, this statistic is enough for them to want to know more. Telling them that we could be up and running in under a month makes it worth them calling us today. Effectively, we tell our idea, we say it works in practice and we say it’s a “jam today” initiative rather than the usual “jam in 2 years”. It’s been unbelievably effective.

You also need to be flexible with how you present your ideas – what works for one customer won’t necessarily work for another. Sometimes you need to find out exactly what a customer’s needs are and position your idea so that it meets those needs, rather than pitching one-size-fits-all and expecting your customer to fit in with you. By accommodating all potential customers, no matter how weird and wonderful, you increase the size of your market.

This certainly worked for us in the NHS. Every NHS area is different, but in some characteristics they are all the same. Our approach comes down to what we call “configurability”: we fit our service like a coat around different sizes and shapes of NHS areas, but the material we make the coat from is always the same.

For example, in the early days of Consultant Connect, we thought everyone would be most interested in preventing referrals to hospital from GPs. But then we started encountering areas where urgent care and A&E were more important to them. We ended up looking at what was common between urgent and non-urgent care and developed the spine of our service, which could then be configured to the different types of use. Now our users can do either seamlessly whilst our clever technology sits underneath everything, helping clinicians to make the right decisions for urgent and non-urgent patients. 


So: finding good ideas is a good idea. But turning a good idea into a good business, well, that’s my idea of a fun career.


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