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Leading young woman of influence Sam Cran's success secrets
02 May 2014
Sam Cran (above) was 23 years old when she was appointed CEO of One Disease at a Time, the not-for-profit organisation begun by Dr Sam Prince – a savvy young entrepreneur, business man and physician who is determined to make a difference.
One Disease at a Time’s simple vision is to systematically target and eliminate neglected diseases, one at a time, affecting Australians.
The first initiative is to eliminate crusted scabies and scabies as a health issue in Australia. Scabies is a highly contagious skin disease, which has reached epidemic proportions in many remote Aboriginal communities.
In fact, the ‘two Sams’ would go so far as to argue that crusted scabies is one of the most devastating medical conditions in Australia. Patients suffering from this condition become the core transmitters of scabies. The downstream medical effects of the skin parasite include infection, kidney disease and heart related illness.
Sam Cran has headed up One Diseases at a Time for three years now and has managed the organisation’s growth from three people to 13. Recently, she announced her engagement to one of Sam’s business partners and is moving overseas to be with him in the next few months. The decision has meant leaving her role at One Disease at a Time and casting herself to the universe and a well-deserved rest from the rigours of running a startup.
“None of what we do at One Disease at a Time would have been a success without the strong partnerships we’ve been able to form with government and Indigenous health organisations,” she explains of the NFP’s continuing success.
“We’ve utilised strategies that combine proven medical models with well developed community consultation and participation, and we’ve begun to have a significant impact on scabies in the communities in which we operate in East Arnhem Land.”
Sam was a Westpac Australian Financial Review 100 Women of Influence in 2012 in the young leaders category and recently took part in a TFN (The Funding Network) event in Sydney. The organisation received pledges worth more than $30,000, giving her another satisfying result.
An only child, Sam acknowledges that when she was growing up her parent’s were often very busy running their transport business, and it was often her and her granddad (her mother’s father) who “faced the world together”.
“My parents wanted me to follow my own path. They certainly didn’t want me to come into the business unless I wanted it. I did Marketing Communications at university and was one of two people chosen by L’Oreal’s luxury division for an internship and graduate placement in its marketing area,” explains Sam, who, when she thinks back on why she chose her original career path is hard pressed to find an answer.
“As a young person, I don’t think you consider having a career in the NFP sector. You think, ‘I have to work in a proper job and volunteer on the side’, or ‘I have to work hard and then when I retire I can volunteer’, or ‘I have to work really hard and become a philanthropist and donate’. You don’t think, ‘hey, I can actually work in the business’.
“I took the traditional road but came to realise it doesn’t have to be like that at all,” she continues, pointing out that uncertainty made her feel uncomfortable but now she views it as a chance to experience wider opportunities.
In fact, for all of Sam’s professed traditionalism her career to date has been full of twists and turns and uncertainty.
“My granddad had heart diseases and when he developed severe dementia my father made the decision to leave and care for him. That left my mother running the business. I could see it was too much and that maybe I could step up and help,” explains Sam of her decision to take on the family business after she left L’Oreal.
The problem was she knew nothing about business.
“I could do marketing and communications but I’d never seen an account or experienced a finance system,” she says explaining her need to up-skill fast.
“I went to as many courses, talks and networking events as possible and that’s where I met Sam [Prince]. He was a speaker at an event and was talking about his own start-ups, his Zambrero Fresh Mex Grill restaurants and his vision for One Disease at a Time.
“I approached him to see if I could help with One Disease at a Time on a volunteer basis with marketing. At the same time I also told him about my set of circumstances and asked if he had any advice on running the business,” Sam continues.
Within weeks Sam was reporting back to Sam on what was happening in marketing with One Disease at a Time, and he would mentor her on the family business.
The situation continued for a year and Sam, who found herself more and more drawn to the work with One Disease, eventually made the decision to sell the family business and throw her hat in with the NFP.
“When Sam asked me to help him run One Disease at a Time, I couldn’t say no. The past three years have been like being in an incubator. It’s been the most unique experience for me, and an honour and a privilege to be part of that journey,” says Sam, who also discovered the best recruitment strategy in her time with the organisation.
“Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and by empowering them to do what they are good at you can’t fail.
“It’s also so important that the people you serve have a voice – a true voice. It’s why we work so closely with community,” she says.
“Eric Ries’s Lean startup model is something we use. By investing time into building a service to meet the needs of early customers and by always working with our customers in mind, in this case community members, we’ve reduced the market risks and sidestepped the need for large amounts of initial project funding and expensive product launches and failures.
“By getting the most basic version, what is termed the Minimum Viable Product out to the market, and getting from customers, which in our case are community members, their feedback, we’ve been able to develop a strategy and plan that works.”
Initially, according to Sam, One Diseases at a Time had planned to focus on mass drug administration but quickly realised that wasn’t going to work. They then made the decision to shift the plan from acute care to developing a chronic-care plan for community members identified with crusted scabies and scabies.
The bold change of direction has led to the rewriting of the rule book when it comes to the treatment of scabies.
“One of the things I’ve learned over the past few years is the need to prioritise,” says Sam.
“You can have 100s of different things you need to do and 100s of different and conflicting stakeholder priorities to meet. The guiding principle – if you want to continue and continue successfully – is you must never lose sight of the needs of the end customer,” she finishes.