Overcoming the buyer’s market: A guide to hiring a digital health CEO

Digital health innovation and adoption were accelerated by the pandemic, and that has led to more competition for CEOs who can navigate the inflection points of growth and steer their companies to success.

Organizations across every industry require an effective leader to set the vision and pilot the course. But for companies in digital health, an industry that is transforming healthcare and experiencing record growth as a result, qualified leaders are in high-demand – and in short supply.

Finding the right individual for this make-or-break role is one thing, but vying for their attention and ultimately getting a commitment are different challenges. Here are some basics that will help you beat the competition and land a leader with the “right stuff” to take your digital health company to the next level:

Be prepared: It’s a “buyer’s” market.
Funding in the digital health sector is at an all-time high. From start-ups to those ready to scale their growth, there is an abundance of opportunity – and choice – for experienced individuals to be at the helm of a rapidly growing organization.

Whether leaders are on the sidelines or actively looking to make a move, it’s a small pool of qualified candidates, and you aren’t the only one approaching them. You have to move fast, because there are likely a handful of other organizations trying to land them.

Think outside the box for the best fit.
In an industry that’s still in an early and aggressive growth phase, finding a deeply experienced leader that has been “through the journey” won’t be easy.

We’ve placed plenty of CEOs in high-growth organizations, and have noticed regional trends in which a tried-and-true, domain-experienced candidate is preferred (East Coast) over a willingness to consider a “best athlete” with great potential (West Coast).

What we’ve witnessed, though, is that “number of years in the seat” or specific domain expertise can be less important than an individual with vision, self-awareness, and the ability to navigate and motivate a team through the toughest of times. An added plus: these leaders usually have a dedicated following of world-class talent that are willing to jump into the fire with them, making additional hires for that organization easier and more effective.

Make your story compelling.
In our recruiting experience, getting the best of the best to even take your call starts with telling the company’s story in a compelling way that also connects with the individual on a personal or career level.

In one instance, we were placing a C-level executive and found the perfect fit: not only was he hooked by the energy and passion they demonstrated, but he also kindled a personal connection because he had lost his mom to cancer – and he felt the job would be a way for him to give back to the patients and community.

His experience, which took place in the middle of the pandemic, is a testament to the fact that successful executive hires – even challenging ones such as a digital health CEO – can happen virtually. It took six months of conversations, presentations, and discussion over Zoom plus one or two socially distanced meetings to get to the point that everyone felt ready to make the leap.

Pandemic or not, working with a partner who specializes in hiring digital health executives makes the process easier, keeps the trains running on schedule, and helps both the candidate and the company navigate the nuances of building trust, credibility, and a relationship.

Stick the landing.
In the frenetic environment of a market that is growing very fast, finding – and hiring – the right digital health CEO for your organization can be a make-or-break move.

It’s important to recognize that while there is risk for you, there also is risk for the candidate, particularly if s/he is in an existing role. Ninety percent of digital health startups fail within the first five years, so your mission, credibility, and viability are critical factors.

Ultimately, an individual’s ability to motivate and lead a team through the often-turbulent waters of fast growth are qualities that are inherent in a successful digital health CEO. But these leaders don’t always “check” all the traditional boxes.

Be open to the unconventional in terms of experience and potential. And create and continue to refine a compelling story. Your ability to attract an individual to your opportunity is your challenge – and your advantage – amid the noise of the competitive digital health ecosystem.