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From Doctor to Startup Founder: Six Tips for Making the Leap into Entrepreneurship

Today, there seems to be more opportunities and systems available to help people without an entrepreneurial background or formal training to start a company. From crowdfunding, social media and even Shark Tank to online higher education business programs and local startup meet ups, these tools and support groups make it a little easier for “every day” people to pursue their small business dreams and even find success.

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A little over a decade ago, before a lot of these resources were widely available, I decided to transition from working in medicine to becoming an entrepreneur. An orthopedic and sports physical therapist of 10 years at the time, I was inspired by my patients to create practical products people could use at home to continue their recovery, improve mobility, manage pain and enhance performance abilities.

Although it was a major leap to move from Dr. Rocklin to CEO Rocklin, I was able to establish MedRock, a health and wellness company that has created three mobility products so far. I did so by utilizing the skills I had learned working in my practice, tapping into my network and even making mistakes.

Below are six lessons I learned when I made the switch from physical therapist to startup owner.

When Starting A Company Surround Yourself with the Right People

When I started MedRock, I quickly realized there was so much about turning an idea into a manufactured product that I didn’t know. I found though that I knew many people in my network that did have the skills and connections I needed to get my initial product idea – HIPTRAC – off the ground.

Making connections and taking the advice from people that have knowledge in the areas you are lacking is key when starting a company. Then once you have your network and mentors in place, never stop listening. Always be ready to hear from those that have the experience you need and soak up what they say like a sponge. You will certainly make mistakes as a new entrepreneur, but you might be able to avoid some mishaps by listening to those in your network, gathering the facts needed and making decisions from there. Nothing will beat getting expert advice, when getting a company off the ground, especially if the advice is free! People love to give free advice and share their successes and failures!

Be Prepared to Adjust Your Approach

As a provider, you learn that although your school training and textbooks provide guidelines and base knowledge for treating and working with patients, every case you encounter is different and you have to customize your approach for each patient.  Quite simply, as a Doctor of Physical Therapy, you often learn by doing. That translates over to entrepreneurship. When starting and running a company, it is important to keep in mind that there will always be situations where there is not a simple answer that can be looked up. It takes creative thinking and learning on the job to make decisions and find solutions to problems like how to market your product on a shoestring budget or entice a partner to work for equity or experience.

Starting a Company Is a Long and Expensive Road

I heard before that starting a company, creating a team and building a product or service takes longer and more money than expected.  It wasn’t until I was actually in this process of my own that I fully understood what this meant. No matter how much you plan and research, there will always be unexpected costs and road bumps that occur when starting a company. I don’t share this to discourage anyone from creating a company of their own. I just want those taking the plunge to expect this to occur and be ready to navigate higher price tags and moved deadlines as they arise.

If you are prepared to experience financial hiccups and extended timelines, you’ll be in a better position to think through solutions and thoughtfully make adjustments to your plans.

Try to Do What You Can Yourself

One way you can maximize budgets and make a dollar go further is finding tasks that you can do yourself instead of outsourcing. There were many times when I first got started that I would immediately ask the lawyers I was working with any questions I had instead of taking a few moments to see if I could answer the questions myself or ask a peer for their advice. It became apparent quickly, when I received large legal bills, that although it is important to have these paid experts onboard, there are times when you can find answers or take on some of the grunt work yourself.

Have Space for Balance

This next piece of advice probably won’t come as a surprise, coming from a medical professional, but entrepreneurs need to prioritize making time for their personal health and life balance. It is easy when focused on deadlines, budgets and succeeding to forget to make time for your own wellbeing. As I mentioned before, though, the process of starting and running a company is a long journey. If you don’t take care of yourself and your family, you will find yourself rundown and burnt out before you can even get your idea off the ground.  It is critical to have the support of your family as they experience sacrifices just as much as you do. Make sure you think about your loved ones when making any business decision.

I found that even taking a few moments each day to meditate, go for a quick run or even build Legos with the kids helped me stay healthy and sharp no matter how stressful things became in the first few years of starting MedRock. Whether it is reading a chapter of a book a day, going on a walk or having dinner with the family, find something you can do that helps you unwind and keep some balance in your routine.

Be Ready for Rejection

My physical therapy background allowed me to gain valuable experience working with a variety of personalities and different clients, some of whom came to me unsure and, frankly skeptical if they could improve and get back to their previous level of function. In order to be successful in physical therapy, you have to learn how to communicate with many different personalities making sure the information is received in a way that helps them better understand the care plan. When I transitioned to entrepreneurship, there were a lot of similarities in this, however it was an adjustment to learn to deal with more intense skeptics and rejection.

As an entrepreneur, having thick skin is a must as daily you are going to encounter people who don’t believe in you or say no to helping you. I have been told ‘no’ too many times to count, laughed at more than a few times and lectured that my ideas were a waste of time. Just remember to stay focused and maintain your drive and belief for what you are working towards. When you get rejection don’t let it get you down, but rather use it as an opportunity to grow and adjust as needed.

About the Author

Dr. Tony Rocklin and is an orthopedic and sports physical therapist with 22 years of experience and the founder of MedRock Inc. He graduated from Oregon State with a B.S. degree in Exercise and Sport Science and then earned his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Pacific University.

As the founder of MedRock, he has launched three products, his latest product, HotRock, the world’s most advanced heated foam roller is currently on presale on Indiegogo.