Klara is on a mission to inspire and help modern people within the modern healthcare system to reach new heights in their own lives through access to communication. One way we do this is by featuring inspirational doctors who have started entrepreneurial ventures or have grown their practice in successful way. We are focused on connecting people for a better future.
Introducing our guests, Dr Arielle Levitan & Dr. Romy Block of Vous Vitamin.
If you’re not able to tune in, check out the transcript of our conversation below:
Hello and welcome to the doctor entrepreneurship podcast series on the Klara blog. For those of you who are new to Klara, we are the central nervous system of healthcare communications. We do provide a free mobile app for doctors and patients to communicate with healthcare providers making their lives easier with technology.
That being said, **I would like to introduce Dr. Romy Block and Dr. Arielle Levitan who are our guests today [speaking] on their entrepreneurial journey.**
First doctors, could you please introduce yourselves to our audience as to what kind of practice you run, what kind of business, and for how many years?
Sure, thanks for having us. So I’m Arielle Levitan and I practice internal medicine, been in practice for about 15 years and we created Vous Vitamin, our entrepreneurial venture, a little over two years ago. Would you like us to wait before we talk about our inspiration to do that?
That actually leads into the second question which is what lead you to start this entrepreneurial venture?
Hi! I’m Romy Block and I am partners with Arielle Levitan, and an endocrinologist practicing for over 10 years. Dr. Levitan and I were good friends and would share what was going on in our offices together, and we found that the same questions kept coming up in both of our offices. People had more and more questions about vitamins. What they should be taking, what’s useful, and we were finding that we had a really hard time recommending a specific brand or a specific system because one: everybody’s different, which is kind of how we came up with the personalized aspect of the business, and the other part is that vitamins and supplements are not readily regulated, an unregulated industry. So we were finding that it was hard to recommend a brand that actually was certified-- that was on the label was really in the bottle, nothing more nothing less.
That’s then when we started a business where we could then control the ingredients without all the fillers and personalized access.
So what are the biggest challenges facing your business and practice?
Coming back to what Romy alluded to, I think that we felt this need among all of our patients in both internal medicine and endocrinology of confusion about vitamins. So we felt that people need some education, in that we were doing it as individual doctors with every patient because they all were all slightly different. We could probably bring this to a bigger group of people rather than just seeing each patient one by one, and we could do it with a technology platform through Vous Vitamin. So we decided that not only did we need to create high-quality products, as Romy mentioned, that we have some assurance about their safety and integrity in an industry that is very unregulated.
We also felt that we needed this personalized approach because everyone was not the same. We knew that there was a way to do this with technology because we have a lot of experience with website development and that kind of thing.
We really had to spend a lot of time researching not only vitamins and their manufacturing process, we had to also spend a lot of time learning about technology, about website development, about e-commerce because we are a web-based business.
That, I would say, has been both our greatest challenge and perhaps the more gratifying aspect of becoming entrepreneurs. [It] is that we have learned a ton about the industry.
I think that we’ve been able to leverage a lot of the skills that we have already, and our ability to learn new things and to apply new things.
We were probably able to pick up a lot of things more quickly than maybe some other people with different backgrounds could.
Also, an ongoing struggle is harnessing the technology and keeping up with various aspects of commerce and technical challenges that come up with the website.
What advice would you offer doctors looking to start their own small business inside their practice or grow their practice, reach new patients, find new opportunities. Any advice for those types of people?
Don’t talk yourself out of it. I think a lot of doctors are pigeon-holed into ‘this is what I do, how I think and I can’t do other aspects. I’m not trained in business, I don’t have an MBA.’
I think that the biggest thing is that if you have an idea, really ask the right questions and pursue your dreams -- as opposed to pigeon-holing yourself and saying that can’t be done, 'I can’t do it.' I think that also the way we’ve been trained is really to question a lot of things. So if you’re surrounded by a lot of helpful people and you ask the right questions, you’ll start to grow and get your ideas off the ground.
So how has technology impacted both your business and your practice and how do you use that to reach new people?
We certainly have grown accustomed to using technology in our practice. We both work for a large system where we have an EMR. We’ve both gone through many various migrations to different EMRs, in that sense that’s helped us grow our comfort with technology in general. However, our practice is very separate from our business, it has nothing to do with our current employment.
That’s something that any physician has to figure out if they’re looking to create a business venture -- if it’s of their practice or if it’s something separate. With us, we’ve decided to keep it very separate, because once again, we’re employed by somebody else. This is simply not part of our practice and it is not a form of practice. Vous Vitamin is not a substitute for your physician. It is a doctor created system for finding the right vitamins for individual needs.
That being said, [regarding] the technology we created for Vous Vitamin, we had some baseline comfort with technology from using EMRs, and other forms of technology in our lives. We were better able to learn a lot about different ways to use technology, as i’ve mentioned before, through everything from SEO to commerce with different platforms for that. Also [with]the media, digital marketing aspect of a business
What was your greatest moment in launching Vous Vitamin? Do you have any success stories? Do you ever sit back and say wow this is really amazing, [when] you felt really fulfilled in starting this new business?
I think when we see that our products are well received, that people really benefit from them -- that it really resonates with people -- the concept that there are doctors who have done the research, who have looked at the science behind vitamins and created products that are safe, appropriate and medically sound that meet their needs.
Hearing peoples’ feedback is terrific. We get enough media exposure. For example one of our first, biggest media exposures was by WGN in Chicago, with a piece on us. Our website actually crashed we had so much traffic and so many sales. [It was] sort of an “Aha”; moment for us that really the company is working here, people really like this.
The other aspect that has been so exciting is that we kind of evolved. Patients were asking us the same types of questions about what’s safe and what’s useful. We started blogging and then we turned the blog into a book last year that was released in the late Fall called the The Vitamin Solution: Two Doctors Clear the Confusion about Vitamins and Your Health. Almost as a lark, we compiled this book on the blog work we were doing from the questions of our patients over the past couple years, and the book was really well received. We launched another book this Spring, and it’s been really exciting to see another aspect of our journey
It’s also fun to hear from other physicians: their accolades for what we’re doing, that they think that we’re doing vitamins the right way, and the way that vitamins can be done for their patients. Actually a number of physicians have also told us that they’ve enjoyed reading the book. They’ve found it is very helpful to them even though it’s written for the lay public but then they feel it is a useful reference. So that feels really really good, very gratifying.
Great, well thank you both so much. Do you both have any further advice or take-aways for our audience?
I think follow your dreams. Definitely don’t let people tell you it can’t be done. [Don't think] there’s a lot of businesses that fail, [if] you don’t have a business background. I think that if you’re willing to put in the time and the effort and ask the right questions. Persevere it [sic], there is so much that you can accomplish.
Don’t talk yourself out of your dreams.
I think that physicians don’t always realize that the skills they have from being physicians, and what they do everyday, can be really applicable to other areas, and they harness those skills then apply them to business as well.
It could be a whole new way to steer your career.
Thank you both!
Vous Vitamin Website: VousVitamin.com
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