Dr Christopher Jeffery is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of RER Labs and was named Young Business Person of the Year in the 2017 Lord Mayor’s Business Awards.
The former engineer, army officer and Queensland Health doctor combines a bespoke mix of expertise in orthopaedics and robotics to create innovative products, with profits helping to fund medical research.
Underpinned by such diverse fields of knowledge, it is unsurprising that his Brisbane-based firm counts some ground-breaking innovations among those to have emerged from its production line, with sound-customising headphones, 360-degree immersive cameras and medical devices to treat wrist arthritis all among its inventions.
“We support and develop companies which use technology and passion to improve people’s lives,” he reflects, with the firm now entering its third year of trading.
“I became interested in medicine after observing the work of army surgeons when I was serving in the Middle East, but I think I can do more good and make a bigger impact now than I could in medicine.
“There are 18 of us in the office at RER Labs and more than 30 people contributed to our work last year. This means we can draw on a lot of know-how to help identify a problem, create a commercial consumer product that offers an innovative solution, and then invest in research that looks at stopping the problem from occurring in the first place.”
What is your greatest business learning?
It’s absolutely essential to have a plan, both to stay across where you’re at right now and where you’re going in the future. In the military, we call it ‘current and future opps’ – they are your two horizons and it’s important you can see both clearly.
What is your greatest business success?
You always want your business to be sustainable, so seeing employees who have been with us from the start being able to work without my direct involvement is very rewarding.
What three things should someone consider before starting a business?
- Be clear what the problem is that you’re trying to solve. This will inform the research and development that you do.
- Focus on your core values. These are your ‘essence statements’ and will help you make your design decisions.
- Ensure you’re ready to follow through on your idea. That means be ready for some long nights and a lot of work!
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I think we would have started our approach and commitment to training earlier. Everyone at RER Labs does the same training, whether you’re the intern or the CEO.
What have you found to be the most effective way to promote your business?
Seek out the people to whom your products matter. We work alongside surgeons from within the Australian Orthopaedic Association, for example, because that is where we can gain valuable expertise to help our organisation provide extra value.
How do you stay up to date with the latest business information?
Listen! Our organisation’s DNA is that of a start-up so we are always listening to anyone, with any kind of medical problem.
Where have you sought business advice?
One of the good things about being a social-impact organisation is that people are not so protective of information. You’re in the business of collaborating with the aim of helping people. That helps you to immerse yourself in lots of different businesses and source all kinds of advice.
What financial factors should be considered when wanting to grow a business?
Never just throw money at a problem - you’ve got to balance your aspirations with practicality. Make sure you can establish a degree of traction for an idea before you commit to it financially.
How do you manage risk?
Planning prevents poor performance. Risks are what occur when you’re unaware and unprepared. It’s important to always operate in the best interests of your product users – if you’re doing that you should help to mitigate risk.
What value do you place in business plans and why?
They are important but not in the way that a lot of people think they are. They’re a starting point for keeping all the balls you’re trying to juggle up in the air at the same time. Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. I think that’s a good illustration of the fact that, while you should always have a plan to start with, it’s just as important to be able to adjust it!