Don't Talk to Friends and Family
The Inventive Journey
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Don't Talk to Friends and Family
Podcast episode "You might think it's a good idea, but the MARKET is going to tell you whether or not it's a good idea. Don't talk to friends and family, talk to people you don't know." Listen to Bill Lear, a physician & entrepreneur, that revolutionized the medical/suture industry.
The Inventive Journey
Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.
AI GENERATED TRANSCRIPTION
yeah like you might think it's a good idea but the markets gonna tell you whether it's a good idea and so you know like you had mentioned earlier don't talk to friends and family talk to talk to people you don't know [Music] hey everybody this is Devin miller here at the inventive journey welcome back to another great episode for those who are new to the podcast I'm a patent and trademark attorney here at Miller I peel off out of my own law firm as well as the perpetual serial entrepreneur here to help the startups and small businesses with their inventive journey and so today on on the episode we have bill on here bill will introduce himself a bit more he's a physician that also came up with a great new way to to do sutures and so an interesting conversation I'm looking forward to it so welcome bill yeah thanks Devon thanks for having me Sam I always really jump in is there a difference between physicians and doctors I said physicians and I thought well maybe is a doctor and I don't know if there's a difference so well you know I mean a doctor I guess like you could have a doctor of medicine or Doctor of Philosophy but yeah that's the same question I have for you is there a difference in a lawyer and an attorney there's absolutely zero difference between a lawyer you can say a lawyer attorney I don't know I'm sure there are other words that are less they're less flattering to people that know the exact same yeah so yeah so I'm happy to be on Devon thanks for for having me on the door off there just talking I had that that was a question go ahead with the introduction say I'm an I'm a dermatologist I've been in private practice now for about 12 years and but I also do something called Mohs surgery which is skin cancer surgery so if you had a skin cancer on your face we would remove it and within 20 to 30 minutes we would take that piece we process it in the lab to make sure it's clear of cancer but after that process is done you've got a whole leg or your arm or wherever that cancer happens and so I do a lot of reconstruction work as well those blooms and so the products you know that that we came up with that I came up with the suture Garrett products they're they're all born out of problems that I had as a surgeon closing my own wounds okay and you can for those that may not know as well what a dermatologist is because there's a whole bunch of ologists out there that I always get confused where there's the people to work out feet or the people who work that skid or the people that work out things I don't even know so what's the dermatologist or give that a quick explanation a dermatologist is an expert in the hair the skin and the nails okay so if you have a problem with your hair your skin or your nails a dermatologist is is who you would see and so for me I've I've specialized in in skin cancer and so most skin cancers dealt with in America by by most surgeons MOH s it's named after a guy it's not an acronym his name is Frederick Mohs and there's there's also the Mohs hardness scale and in geology but that's that's a different thing and so it's a guy's name Frederick Mohs em OHS okay and so in jumping to the the the quick rabbit hole so you are along with a lot of people and I guess skin cancer skin cancer surgery is a not as an elective surgery or a dot essential surgery is that right right and so yeah in most states would be considered non urgent and so there's there's there's large organizations expert organizations that look at cancer and the big one is the NCCN and so the NCCN came out with kovat recommendations for many cancers and for skin cancer for most skin cancers including most melanomas you can delay treatment by up to three months so I haven't been doing any skin cancer surgery for the past six six weeks the plan is that we would like to have some testing so that we test people point-of-care before we do their surgery but you know it's it's difficult to buy toilet paper let alone cope with testing equipment right now but anyway that's that's our plan for the plant board is that we we want to get back to doing skin cancer surgery but we want to do it in a way that's safe for the patient and also for our staff okay this is an interesting point everybody's having a little bit with different issues with kovetz so just one that I'm like I see oh I see you always hear the word cancer and you're like well that seems like it's kind of a do or die or more critical thing so this is one that was interesting that that kind of gets in the state a lot of the other categories of ones that holding off for now until they can figure out how to adequately deal with that and make sure it's safe so and a lot of our patients are in the risk are in the risk category a lot of our patients are elderly and have comorbidities and so we really need to be mindful and a lot of skin cancer is not acutely lethal it's not like you're gonna get a basal cell cancer and die of it in a month time a lot of these things are more it's not that you don't want to deal with it but you've got weeks to months to deal with it okay I was always just hear the word cancer and if a doctor ever told me I had cancer no matter what the cancer is I'm sure I'd be freaking out a little right yeah there is that so all that is the rabbit hole which is fun to go down but we'll get to the a bit of more of your journey as far as so you obviously are continuing to be in a practicing surgeon and be a dermatologist and but you also got going on a startup that's more on the medical device side so maybe tell a little bit about that how you got into it how you kind of these way maybe to jump from just being a surgeon to also wanting to be part of a startup or a business yeah you know I've always been kind of like a tinkerer at heart and like even when I was in high school I got into I got myself into the Ottawa Heart Institute doing molecular biology and I continued that all the way through Medical School and and I really enjoyed tinkering with that and and even though I'm not an academic direct Paulo gist I still enjoy publishing and read book chapters and so I've always kind of had a tinkerer remind and then when I was a fellow in most surgery at University Washington I worked with or worked with somebody who had come up with a medical device and I thought oh you know it's really cool to publish things in journal articles and the text books but I thought wow like to come up with something in my mind and have a tangible product that people are buying and it's helping people hmm I thought that'd be a real kind of like cool legacy almost if that's the right word and and so that was kind of always a fascination for me if you will and so I had just written a book chapter in which I had learned a lot and learned a lot about things we know about wound closure and don't things that you think we know but larger we don't really know the and kind of like unveiled some of the dogma that I no longer necessarily believe it and after writing this chapter I was holding my three-month-old daughter I have two daughters and so she was three months at the time and all this was like her plating in my mind like some of the things that I thought I knew but wound closure and some of the problems I have and kind of this fascination I had had from this mentor and I was sketching a night table at the time and I start instead sketching out some designs that would help me solve some of the problems I had in closing wounds that I put on people every day and so this was in the middle of the day so I go down and tell my wife like oh you know I think I have some ideas and that's how and that was 2815 that was May of 2015 so pretty much five years ago and it's that's how my inventive journey started so another aside so what happened to the Knights dead did you ever do anything with it the sketch is still not completed I have the sketch book that I was getting that in and it kind of trailed off and I didn't stay to have all these diary luminite dad you said hey I could do a nightstand or I could do a suture I'll go to this instead yeah well you'll probably enjoy that your kids maybe not quite so much cool so you came up with the idea to do it there you know kind of started to sketch or said hey maybe a suture I think that maybe you I'm on to something can do this a little bit better or different than what others are out there so then what was the next step so you kind of have what is a rough sketch or an idea and then where did you take it well you know I had watched enough shirt thing to know like patents or a thing and that's about all I really knew at the time but so I painted myself with a local patent firm and you know we started with a patent with a prior art search I didn't I didn't do any customer discovery I kind of thought well I'm the customer so I started with patent prior art search which which looked pretty clean and I submitted a provisional patent and the next thing I did in order to kind of Dearest the idea is I found a physician pitch competition in it was in Arizona and it was a couple of really great guys that had a company called synapse at the time and so they would work with physician inventors and they ran this like weekend course if you will like a boot camp almost in an IP and manufacturing and fundraising and regulatory and everything kind of like everything you need in med tech albeit out of the deep level but no to kind of get the landscape and so I went to this and at the end of this thing was a pitch competition and there were eight teams that were presenting and I was my team and at a loved one all right and I and I and I won and and and that was kind of a little bit of a validation for me so I won $5,000 but more importantly I want to validation that you know I pitched to like I don't know maybe 80 or 100 people and maybe something to this so that was kind of that was in that was kind of a reassurance if you will and then from there I decided to go deeper and so we did a the next the next step I did is I thought you know so my device is a class 1 device so the FDA has three classes class one is a band-aid something that's more risk to the patient class 2 would be something like a traditional surgical suture which goes into the patient because mine is not a suture so it's a class its class 1 class 3 would be a pacemaker or something that's life-sustaining and if it fails or has any problems the patient would be at great risk so class 1 devices are low barrier to entry and also mine doesn't need what's called a 510 K 510 K exam and so basically a class 1 5 10 Kings and medical devices the way you want to start in many ways because the average cost to market of a class 2 device is about twenty to thirty million dollars of a class three device is about a hundred million dollars the average costs to market for a class one device in about a million dollars and so which is still time to change but that but you know for a solo physician it's a nice way to start is if you can think of a class one device I didn't necessarily start out thinking of a classroom device but it just was lucky for me that what I had thought of was a class one device and so early on I kind of acted after this competition I connected with the regulatory person who's still my regulatory person and I connected with a designer an engineer who still does all my CAD work and design work I connected with an IP law firm which is no longer my advocate law firm but but I I can't be oh god you'll see the bright side and you'll come over to Miller IQ for another day and so you know it helped me network and the network is the network is important it was really important in in this so after I had set up a network and realized yeah I'm class 1 and I've got some IP going then I had to set up some manufacturing because I wanted to do an animal study because even though this is a classroom device I wanted to make sure that it did something and that it was safe I don't need animal studies it's just I kind of guess I have a high ethical bar and I want to know that what I was I wanted to put it not on an animal before I put it on stir construction and by the way everything I'm describing his bootstraps right now so this was me in my life right in text and so so we did an animal study or in-state and we were really happy with that and then after the animal study that would have that would have finished and kind of like early 2016 my my wife Jen she got involved in an accelerator and an accelerator incubator kind of thing and for for listeners who don't know what that is that's basically like you'll have mentors who work with you in your business and regardless of what business you're in there are certain good practices that that you should take on and what we really learned in the accelerator program is lean methodology so lean methodology is something that was developed by a Steve Blank down in in Stanford and it's a really great method to quickly figure out if your idea has merit before burning a whole ton of cash on it and the gist of it is that you get out of the building the number one phrase that Steve Blank would be used would be get out of the building you get out of the building and you start talking to people about your idea and so for us that's getting out of the building getting out of her own head and saying this is what I think is important a D&C and going out and and actually not even pitching your product just going out and saying hey you know tell me about wound closure tell me of our problems that you have with Clojure and then only at the end of the process maybe not even necessarily saying well hey I've got this what are you kind of think about and so Jen did an incredibly useful thing that I would have actually done sooner if I had known more about it where she went out and interviewed about fifty or hundred surgeons and in the process of doing that and we did what you might call a our first pivot if everything is a good thing you know pivoting is you're going in one direction and then you pivot and go in another direction and we did a bit of a pivot on the product we 30 feet without getting too much in the weeds we thought the product would be useful for for one application the initial iteration of the search regard device which is which is this device had a locking mechanism so it locked the suture so you didn't even need to tie a knot the problem of doing that is it made manufacturing or difficult and having a secure knot was difficult and as we talk to surgeons most surgeons said well we don't care that it ties the knot we can tie the knot but we want it to be softer and so that diving it because that's always an interest because a lot of time to get through pivot but you always have the problem of sometimes you get so invested in the idea you've been so far along the or hey I don't want to switch gears I I think this is a grand you almost kind of you know talked yourself into it even though it may be a good idea so was it an easy to pivot or did it take you a little while to kind of come to an acceptance if that's what you should do or have you know what was that idea a process of hey we need to adjust things yeah I guess I'm like I'm a little bit lucky cuz I was never married to the I I was never married to my original ideas and I thought you know I I always had the vision that I want to success I want a successful product I don't want my product to be successful and I do think there's a difference there and so I was very open and I wanted I wanted her critical feedback early and often and I and that's why I wish I had discovered lean method sooner because that's what you get is you know when you're going at especially it's a doctor's into the surgeons they're gonna give you a harsh critical feedback and that's what you want you want the harsh critical feedback early you know rather than later like you know you want it to be ready aim fire not fire aim aim aim aim aim at potential markets and so yeah when surgeons said hey we don't like this original design and we wanted to be softer did it uh immediately I thought well okay I'm getting great feedback here they're not saying they don't like the idea they're just saying like they're saying they're validating the problem which is very it's just that they're questioning the solution so that was fantastic they're validating the problem I just need to come up with a solution that meets their needs and so I did I worked with her does not with the designer and I would come up with ideas and basically it was it was advantageous in many ways because the the prior art didn't really have the solution that people wanted and the solution basically without getting too much going on here what people wanted was they want to the suture bridge and this is what and there was the receipt reviews in the past that they were very rigid what we did is we took it and made it very flexible so it's much softer on the skin but if Jen had never done the customer discovery we would have never gotten to a better suture bridge I know it's very interesting you add it so almost kind of a couple points and there's one is to get out and to and it's usually better when you do and sure you already know that you do the customer's discovery to not go to all your friends and family and say what do you think is they're all gonna be too nice you're gonna tell you that's a great idea even if they would never buy it be with these horrible idea or a great idea they'll never tell you that and so you never get that good feedback but just go away that hit the streets or hit people that are indifferent or impartial that it'll tell you they I would buy that or no I would never buy that but at least you get that feedback so that's interesting so then jumping on just a little bit ahead and kind of based on when we talked so made the first pivot which was to go over to more of the flexible suture and then do the bridge that address that need and then he got to a point you know you've been as you already mentioned been self funding for a bit or for the whole process up until that point and then decided you maybe needed to do it a bit of a race and maybe needed to restructuring things a little bit bring out maybe a CEO move the CTO all that so how did that kind of go or what what brought about that and how did you make that transition yeah so we did a lot of we had a lot of customer discovery and then after the customer discovery there was getting the product to the point where we felt that it was ready for human use so so we in the summer of 2017 we're now in 2017 and we had we had prototypes or we felt we wanted to do some biomechanical testing and so we were still self funding everything but what we because we had worked with Oregon State for our animal study and also for the accelerator we were able Jan was able to get some grant money to get a couple of engineering summer students and so we took the prototypes and we did some biomechanical testing with the prototypes because we really wanted to be risk everything before we put it in a human and so that summer we worked with them and so we got a little grant money from them and then Jen and I reached at the OSU for a small amount of seed money just to say hey let's not keep burning all of our own money on this let's get other people involved and not only because we want to not use our own money but because those people have a network and so there's you know there's concept of like smart money these are bringing out money from OSU is those a number of things number one it cuts my own personal burn rate that we have to put into the company but number two it makes it invested in it and number three they're an investor in the company that has benefit you know you can put that on your website and say you know whether OSU is now investing in us and that that's a that's a mark of something that we thought was valuable so we had we reached up to OSU they gave us small amount of money but enough that we could do our first manufacturing run in biocompatible materials that we could make a bridge for human use and so the first the first human use was in 2017 in December and it was under investigation use only and it went well but again we had to pivot because initially we hoped that we could retain the bridge for up to a couple of weeks but it quickly became apparent that there was fluid that would happen under the bridge so we pivoted then to say hey this is not a device that lets you close wounds and leave the device in rather you stretch the wound and so skin has an amazing ability to stretch and a wrap in a period of time so this bridge like you take a suture put it under a very large amounts of strain or stress I should say and stretch the wound closed and so that helps you avoid flaps and grass but again it was a pivot we didn't pivot in the actual product we pivoted and how it worked so by now we're into 2018 and we've been Gemini basically the two of us not basically the two of us had been churning on this for a long time and we still didn't have any patents when we had some publications we knew it worked we knew there was a market but we needed we needed some help so we had an advisor Dan Lana's in skiing who's plastic surgeon and he was retiring from plastic surgery he's relatively young because he's retiring still and so we said to him you know we're getting real tired here you know about full time surgeon gentle full-time mom you know we need some help and so he said well you know I've always wanted to be the CEO of a company and he really believed in it so we said okay you're CEO so we gave him a chunk of equity and which was the best thing we ever did real and so he came on he was very good with the patents he helped you work the patent attorneys and was really good helping us get our first path we now have five patents back there but but you know the plaques that they sell you after you get and so and so so he was very instrumental in that and then we realized too like you know we don't want to keep churning our own money into this and so Jen managed to get us like another hundred K of not other money but we knew we needed more money than that for regulatory and manufacturing and IP and everything else so so so anyway Dan came on and then he did a raise and yeah so that was in 2018 to be a soft sale like we did the soft sales launch in in gosh when was that November what do we do our soft sales launch November 2018 okay so one or one more question to the dropper to dive into just a bit deeper so you bring the CEO on did you bed em did you know him before did you just get a nice how did you know how did you make the decision hey this is the guy that won we want to give more control over to and give equity to and we think this is the person that would make a good you know good team member he had been an advisor with us for a few months we didn't know him deeply it was basically a leap of faith hmm you know like he again he had been an advisor with us for maybe six to nine months and he was I guess the thing is is he was passionate about the idea you know number one is I want people who are into it and he has a lot of credibility and we just had a feeling that we could work well with him and and we have cool we're reaching up kind of towards the end of the the time of the podcast always always feel like whenever I get to the end of these and there's about 20 more things I'd loved talk about and never have all the time to talk about it so it's always a good sign that it's a fun conversation but so I always end the podcast with a couple couple questions and so I'll throw match first question is always so if you - what do you think is the biggest business mistake that you made you know this is kind of with the idea that you know really you're you're looking at it is you always gonna hear the highlight reels right so you get to hear how everybody they worked really hard they stayed up nice and weekends and it was an overnight success type of a thing but that a very very rarely the case and there's always things that you wish you could go back and change your mistakes you made so what would you be your biggest business mistake oh it would have been nice to start lean methods earlier I think and you know pivoting pivoting sooner like I mean this this bridge while it's still you know a good product for us the the newer product that we have which is the hammy guard which is an adhesive kind of urgent you know it has a lot broader applicability and I think if at an early stage we have started with customer discovery because we didn't launch the heavy guard until January of this year and I think if we had started more aggressively doing customer discovery and really listening even more customers we would have come because I had this idea years ago we would have come to this idea earlier so again customers gotra need methods is where that all right so iterate quickly pivot when you need to and discover talk with the customers earlier yeah okay yeah second question that I always throw out is so let's say you had somebody who wanted to get into maybe the MIT was maybe a doctor or wanted to get into the medical device I Brown had maybe an idea they sketched as they were sketch of the nightstand or whatever they were sketching on but they wanted to get into that kind of a realm in that industry what advice would you give to him yeah duly Methos yeah like you might think it's a good idea but the market is going to tell you whether it's a good idea and so you know like you had mentioned earlier don't talk to friends and family talk to talk to people you don't know talk to harsh critics like you might think it's one of the best the money comes to know I was we applied for SBIR and so you know and I mention the SBIR and they Tommy got some pretty people you devoted all talk to her heard feedback from the NIH people who reviewed the application and we didn't have chose to go and apply for an SBIR again but actually some of the feedback we got in that SBIR was really helpful you know they told us to do a finite element analysis and finite element analysis now one of our key pictures that we had on our website for the handi yard because we started doing finite element analysis we started doing more biomechanics and they were the ones that told us to do that so you know I almost feel like writing a thank-you letter to the NIH Harris Piro is the best customers go with it and so that kind of harsh early criticism is what helps lead to you know what will be you know kind of the the success and getting to that as soon as you can you'll burn less money getting there alright so lean methods make sure to be here you're an evangelist of that and yeah ready or promoter of that so that's cool well those are you said both I think great things both to learn with as far as mistakes made as well as the advice given so well thank you for coming on it's been a fun time and I always enjoy hearing everybody's inventive journey before we are kind of wrap things up what is a way that if people are interested whether they're a doctor and want to use your product or they want to get involved or they're looking for someone to give them feedback on their idea what's a way to to get there get in touch with you oh yes intercom su tu r e and then G ard calm and then I'm bill at sutured are calm perfect we will also put those on the show notes so anybody that's interested or wants to reach out to you can do that as well well thanks again for coming on and been a pleasure for those of the listening audience if you're having an inventive journey that you want to share you can always go to the inventive journey or just inventive journey and apply to be a guest and if you if you're in need of any help along your journey with patents and trademarks certainly feel free to reach out and we're happy to help with any patents or trademark needs and otherwise good luck with your journey and may your journey be smooth so thanks again for coming on and hope to hear from you and your about your journey again in the future thanks dad Thanks you English (auto-generated) All Recently uploaded Watched