How to Succeed as a Physician Entrepreneur

December 5, 2013

There are always winners and losers in game changing legislation like Obamacare, and physicians are uniquely positioned to do either in a big way.

I am not a physician. I am an entrepreneur, well-trained in the business of medicine, and, with 40 years of experience, most of it at the president and CEO level, reasonably well-seasoned.

This column is going to be candid, direct, and, will make the most promising physician entrepreneurs uneasy. If that is not you, nice tie, how's tricks? Let's do lunch soon.

The impetus for this column is my visiting an old friend on important business - to get his clearance for surgery. I have picked up a lot of clinical tidbits over the years, and am experienced enough to know that is no replacement for a professional.

I was surprised to learn that he had just emerged from personal bankruptcy. A lesson well learned, he said, that business is not as easy as it looks.

The more cynical, and predatory, among healthcare business types use a shorthand for physician entrepreneurial investments and attempts - DDD.

Dumb Doctor Deals.

I have far too many physician friends, clients, acquaintances - specialists making ten times the average family wage - who have filed bankruptcy because they didn't listen to sound advice - "Do the clinical and hire or partner with a qualified business professional to do the business."

They had great ideas, the clinical training to understand the science or business opportunity, and the unique perspective of a practitioner to understand the value.

They made only one serious miscalculation - thinking that because their training equipped them to identify, conceive, and engineer the concept, they could build and run the business, too. After all, how hard could it be? It's not like you need a license or anything. Running a practice is running a business. And, doing spine surgery is being a doctor.

Succeeding in business is a lot like horse racing. The jockey is the management and the horse is the business concept.

 A great jockey makes a mediocre horse a contender.

• A poor jockey makes a great horse a bad bet.

• A good jockey on a good horse is the one you bet on in moderation.

 A great jockey on a great horse is the one you put real money on.

Building a business with national or international potential is far more complex and involved than most can even conceive. That's why only one in 10,000 succeeds. It takes experience - not managing someone else's ongoing business, but having done it from the napkin in the coffee shop.

It takes nerves of steel, years of relevant experience, and the vision to see and avoid or manage problems proactively. It takes existing relationships, again in relevant areas. It takes real expertise to focus time and resources on what propels the business forward, and the discipline to recognize and to pick the low-hanging fruit.

It takes the skills of a corporate patent and tax attorney, accountant, and executive, and the gift of strategic vision and tactical execution all wrapped in one. It takes perspective in the form of having climbed to the top, appreciated the view, and fallen to the bottom. It takes tenacity and fortitude to get up and do it again.

People like this are rare, and they are not cheap. They will want you to invest in them, not always because they need the money, but because they need to know that you are committed and willing to invest in yourself, and that you understand that value has a price.

They will plan the race, run it and, if everything goes right, get you in the money.

How do you find such a person? Today, the best place to look is LinkedIn. Understanding the value of social media is a must in today’s world, as is the ability to use it. Look at their written endorsements, reach out to their endorsers, do your due diligence.

Then, explain your business idea. Pay close attention to the quality of the questions, and the depth of the responses. If they do not see danger areas, and suggest alternate approaches, they are of no value now, or later.

If a pro signs on, he or she believes that you have a concept that they can win with.

The odds are always long. Get the best jockey for your horse, and be a good owner.