“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of equivalent or greater benefit."—Napoleon Hill
In the middle of adversity, failure and heartache, it is often difficult to see the potential benefits. I learned a lot after being forced to close my business, Medicus Research. As I reflect and share the four major lessons I’ve learned from this experience, I hope this insight helps you grow and prosper in your business, especially if you are in the dietary supplement industry—an industry that I have devoted much of my life to and care about very deeply.
“When you tie your life and your income to one place, you place all your eggs in one basket. When you put your livelihood into one market, you expose yourself to the winds of circumstance."–Graham Brown
Love your product, love your company, but don’t forget that they are not your family. I built Medicus Research on pure science and treated my employees as family. We were a leading contract research organization (CRO) for dietary supplement clinical trials having run over 250 clinical studies. I not only built the company, but I built the foundation upon which successful dietary supplement clinical trials are performed today (The Udani theory of natural health product clinical trials). I loved dietary supplement clinical trials and the challenge of finding ways of objectively showing the benefits—or lack thereof–of these products under rigorous controlled studies. I am a physician and a scientist, and this was my all-consuming passion.
This also blinded me to the reality of what was happening around me. Everyone wants to find the ‘perfect partner,’ so with what I thought was sufficient and standard due diligence, I brought in a “businessman" as a full partner to run the operations and finances so I could focus solely on the science. I spent my time (averaging more than 80 hours a week) designing and running studies and building the world’s first mobile phone clinical trials system. Without the advice or guidance from my professional advisors, but rather upon the reliance of my partner, I also contributed everything that I owned to make my business succeed. This included my house, my retirement accounts, my career as a physician and my family’s well-being. Similarly, without consulting my advisors, I merely handed over the “keys" to the business entirely to my business partner. He convinced me to let him handle all business finance and operations so that I could focus on the science.
I was never focused on the money because I had what I wanted: the science. If I hadn’t loved my product and my company so much, perhaps I would have seen what was happening, or would have taken a small step back and asked my professional advisors for their guidance. This is a hard one, because we are told that successful entrepreneurs are those who have true passion for what they have created. However, at the same time, it can be all-consuming and blinding.
The lesson learned here is to not fall in love with your product and/or company at the expense of everything else. At the very least, keep enough of your financial life separated from the business to protect yourself and your family, and have your independent advisor look over your shoulder from time to time.
“Trust but verify."—Ronald Reagan
You want to do business with people that you trust, but at the same time, it is incumbent upon you to do your due diligence.
Though the lessons I’ve learned apply to many other relationships, when it comes to evaluating clinical trial vendors, this verification is specific. You must: a) confirm past performance by asking for references and publications in peer-reviewed medical journals; b) check the FDA barred investigators database; c) obtain copies of the IRB approval documents for your own records; and d) request financial due diligence documents which include questions about corporate structure, number of employees and income for the last three years. In addition, most pharmaceutical companies ask about how many ongoing and concurrent studies each CRO and investigator is managing to ensure that they have the infrastructure capacity to manage their workload. If the relationship is big enough or important enough, visit the company. Keep in mind that for clinical research, two companies are involved, the CRO and the research site. They are often in different locations, and it is important to visit both. The purpose of these visits is to look for “red flags" including: empty offices, offices that are overcrowded with people and/or have paper stacked to the ceiling and all over the floor (a sign that employees are overworked), and a lack of patients. You will also want to meet directly with the project manager at the CRO who will be handling your project and the investigator and head clinical research coordinator at the research site who will be seeing the patients for your particular study. Ask them directly how many projects they are working on at a time and how they manage to juggle all of the different studies. Also ask them if they have any concerns about your specific project, specifically the criteria for selecting patients.
While all of this can give you greater insight into a potential CRO vendor for your project, keep in mind that all companies are buffeted by the winds of business, and these parameters can change quickly. Medicus Research was solid and met all of these criteria, but in the end, this is a business. You must watch the money with your own eyes and cannot put your blind faith in someone else, even if he is your partner or preferred vendor. When I finally started to question where the money was going, all I found was that the money had disappeared. The business crumbled quickly thereafter. So quickly that even I was not aware of what was happening from the inside. This speaks to the need to re-visit this process regularly, and seek independent verification from an outside third party professional.
When it comes to evaluating business partners, most people know how to look up U.S.-based individuals. Frankly, Facebook will tell you more than you need to know about most people. On the other hand, if you are entering into a business partnership with a foreign individual, this becomes significantly more difficult. In addition to the usual cultural differences, I have learned that the legal systems in other countries treat information much differently. Information about my ex-business partner’s legal and financial past were not available online as the French legal system keeps everything confidential unless you know how to ask for it. The same is true in most countries in the world. As you enter into business partnerships with individuals from around the world, I highly recommend engaging the services of a local legal firm to evaluate your associate’s past and not just rely on the Internet or their word. Choosing the right business partner is almost as important as choosing your spouse, as you will probably spend more waking hours with him or her than your spouse. As much as I was a trusting individual who thought I was a good judge of character, trust but verify, and use a lawyer and other professionals to assist you in selecting your partners and monitoring your business.
Once you have a business partner or critical vendor partner in place, watch for “red flags" such as your partners delays in delivering reporting information to your professionals or any other excuses that prevent these professionals from conducting their oversight and due diligence. If your professionals are telling you that they cannot do their job because they can’t get the source data – that is a problem and you must stop and investigate. I regrettably heard the warning bells, but failed to stop focusing on the science to examine what was happening in my back office.
“There are a million ways to make money in the markets. The irony is that they are all very difficult to find."—Jack D. Schwager
Medicus was the first company to sell clinical trials exclusively to the dietary supplement industry. Medicus was also the first company to create mobile phone clinical trials (which allowed us to perform these studies in a fraction of the time and cost).
I spent 15 years educating the industry about what a clinical trial is, why they need to be done and how to do them. This time and effort was a labor of love, but at the same time, made it difficult to sell. Each clinical trial was “handcrafted" to meet the needs of the client and its product, and we spent thousands of man-hours designing studies that were never run because the customers were not scientists, and if they had ever purchased a “study" before, it was a marketing study, which has nothing in common with a clinical trial.
What became even more difficult was managing expectations during and after the study. A study is an objective scientific trial, which may or may not yield the results that one wants. Once a protocol is developed, and the client agrees to it, the study runs until completion, and then the results are analyzed statistically. Some clients would be mad if the results weren’t what they wanted, and we even had clients try to get us to change the results for them (we refused). This means that even if we did the project perfectly, the client would still be upset because they didn’t get the outcome they desired. Frankly, I would never go into this type of business again and wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. If you are selling a service, do it well, and sell it to people who are already looking to purchase that service. Don’t try to convince people to buy a new product or service (unless you are ready to be the next Steve Jobs).
“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows, it’s a very mean a nasty place."—Rocky Balboa, “Rocky" (written by Sylvester Stallone)
I am an idealist, and even after this gut-wrenching experience, I still believe that the world is an amazing place with much to offer. I am a physician who was trained to believe every word that every patient tells me because I was on a mission to find out what was wrong with him or her, and then I would run tests and exams to confirm what was true and what was the root cause of any symptoms. In retrospect, I have learned that I could have applied the same evidence-based approach to business dealings, but I never imagined that it was necessary. I was living in the academic ivory tower where people are focused on their academic and medical pursuits; I had never worked in the world of “business" until I met my now former business partner.
The end result of this partnership is that the company that I built over 15 years no longer exists, I was ruined financially, and a number of companies and individuals who were counting on Medicus Research to conduct their studies were let down. Though I have worked diligently to rebuild what I could for them, some work simply could not be salvaged.
I also learned that there are three categories of people in this world who emerge when you find yourself knocked down:
- Those who care and lend a hand;
- Those who ignore you and walk on by; and
- Those who want to kick you when you are already down.
I am shocked by the number of people whom I had considered friends who were actually in the third category and were the first to kick me when I was already down.
The ancient Greek philosopher, Epictetus, taught that if someone is reported to have spoken ill of you, the only acceptable answer is, “He must not be fully informed about all the other things that could be said about me; otherwise he would not have limited himself to that."
At this point, I have accepted what happened, and I learned these lessons at an extraordinarily high cost to myself, both professionally and personally. I am passing them along to you in hopes that you can benefit from them without the pain I have had and continue to endure. I end with the rest of the quote by the great philosopher, Rocky Balboa, because I truly believe that this is the greatest lesson that I have learned: “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done."
Jay Udani, M.D., was the founder and CEO of Medicus Research, formerly one of the premier contract research organizations for the natural health products industry. He was also the founder and CEO of Systemedicus Inc., a mobile health company that created technologies to serve patients, clinicians, contract research organizations (CROs) and clinical trials sponsors. Dr. Udani received one of the first patents on what has become known as social networking, in addition to being awarded multiple patents in the field of health technology. Udani designed and performed over 250 clinical trials, and published over 40 scientific articles and textbook chapters. He was the recipient of many prestigious awards including the Nutrition Business Journal Industry Achievement Award for Science, the Natural Products Association Clinician of the Year, the AMA National Achievement Award, the Harvard Medical School Pinkney Fellowship in Orthopaedic Research, and was voted Best Physician Specialist and Best Medical Speaker in Los Angeles by the Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected].
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Informa Exhibitions or Natural Products INSIDER. Information contained in our published works has been obtained from sources Informa Exhibitions believes to be reliable.