How did you and Brian get started?
Brian and I met in graduate school. We were both going to Boston University pursuing masters in journalism, and we became friends. After we got out of that program, our careers briefly took us in different directions, but then we wound up working together at a daily newspaper. After that ended in a few years, Brian ended up working for his dad, who back in the day was the VP of sales for U.S. Surgical, and when Brian was working for him, had a medical device sales consulting business. One day, Brian was at a medical device innovation conference and thought, “there was a lot of neat stuff here; I’ll be interested to read more about it tomorrow in the newspaper,” and there was literally no coverage anywhere.
So, that was probably the light bulb moment, because of his unique position as someone with a family history in the medical device business, and also pretty extensive journalism experience. It took him quite a while to convince me that it was a good idea, but he did and he was right.
We spent the summer of 2008 trying to raise money for our new media startup, which did not go well, given our timing and what was happening in the media market. So, we scaled back our vision and did it on a shoestring budget with friends and family money, sort of on an as-needed basis. The original idea was that nobody was really covering anything below the huge multi-national players in device, and the industry is really driven by the constellation of small, innovative companies and the even greater constellation of suppliers that cater to them. So we decided to provide that coverage.
Over the course of a couple of years, we managed to get the word out there that there was an independent, professional journalism source for news on the medical device industry. We founded the company and went live March 30 of 2009, and in 2011, we started what became the DeviceTalks events that have sort have grown into their own portion of the business that’s quite healthy and rewarding. The DeviceTalks started as the Big 100.
What led to the acquisition of MassDevice?
We got to the point that the MassDevice brand had enough critical mass within the medical device sphere that we started getting interest from acquirers. Over the years, we went down that road to varying degrees with several different suitors. Over the winter of 2014 and the early days of 2015, we started talking to this interesting company in Cleveland called WTWH Media, and it was intriguing because up until us, they had been a straight B2B publication business with many titles under the design and engineering category. They had many customers saying to them over the years, “When are you going to get into medical?” So they knew they wanted to get into medical, they laid the ground work to start a new magazine title aimed at that of sort engineering and design stratum of the medical device sphere and through the course of negotiations, they wound up acquiring us.
For us, it was a chance to get some bandwidth and resources that we’ve never had, to enact some of those things that were part of our original business idea way back in the day. So almost 6 years to the day after we founded it, we sold to them, paid off all our investors with a pretty handsome premium and they hired us on to manage and grow the medical business. In addition to the MassDevice website and the DeviceTalks events, we now have Medical Design & Outsourcing, which is both print and online and newsletters, and just recently we launched Drug Delivery Business News to cover the intersection of pharma, biotech and device. That’s online only.
How many people do you have now on staff?
We went from a shop of about four or five full-time people, to joining an organization that at the time was about 40 people and now I think is approaching 50.
A lot of companies that are acquired end up losing the things that make them so valuable in the first place. How have you managed to retain your brand and identity and uniqueness?
I think it’s a combination of sort of our own gut instincts and a lot of luck in waiting until the right suitor came along. The old saw is that you don’t build a company to be bought, you build a company. By hook or by crook, with no sort of formal business management training, that’s how it ended up for us. We waited until we had an exit with a proper partner.
What do you like most about covering this industry?
I have to be honest that I came to it with a great deal of skepticism just with corporate America and the business world, in general.
One of the things over the years that I have really come to realize and appreciate compared with other industries is that, with almost no exception, almost everyone who works in the medical device or the medical field is really looking to help people improve their lives and – in some cases – save their lives. Of course, it’s a business, and businesses are there to make money, but you can live that perspective of “doing well by doing good” in the medical space. And I think everyone in the industry has that spirit. They’ve kind of won me over over the years.
What makes an interesting story?
That has changed, especially over the last year with the acquisition. When it was just MassDevice, there were several broad areas that I knew would be right for our audience and necessary for us to have as a complete news source:
We’re not big on product press releases. We don’t consider that news unless it’s a real regulatory event.
With Medical Design and Outsourcing, the audience is very different. We’re aiming at engineers and the folks who work with them who design and test these products. So, we will do product press releases for MDO, especially for the kinds of products that engineers need to do their work. We sort of cross-pollinate as much as we can by writing a story on one of the original sites, be it MDO or Drug Delivery, and then putting a brief link-out from MassDevice, which has a much higher readership, to try to drive interest.
What are your biggest pet peeves when dealing with companies or PR people?
Because we live in the journalism world we live in and so much of it is driven by PR, I value and respect that. There are a few agencies that I will always look at – yours being honored near the top of that list for sure – just because I know they know what MassDevice does. My No. 1 pet peeve is a pitch from someone who clearly has never read one word on the site and has no idea what they are pitching is so far out of our coverage universe that it’s ridiculous. I get that a lot.
My other pet peeve is that I’m not sure folks appreciate the sheer amount of pitches that come in in an hour, let alone a day or a week. I probably get three or four an hour easy. Some are just spammed out and I don’t open them. But I see a lot of the names over and over and over again to the point where I consider just blocking them.
My next thing is please don’t ever send me an email pitch that doesn’t have a link to the press release. Links are the currency of our business these days, and you’ve got to have it in your email. The top, not the bottom, preferably. That’s something that makes me more inclined to open the email is knowing that it comes from someone who knows to include the link in it.
My No. 3 thing is if I’m interested, I’ll get back to you. Don’t ask me two, three, five times if I saw the email and if I want to talk to anyone about it or do anything on it. If I am going to do it, I am going to do it and you’ll see it on the site. There are folks out there who are relentless, and if I don’t have time to respond to one email, who thinks I have time to respond to five? That said, I do recognize that PR reps are working for their clients and it’s their job to be persistent and place as many items as they can and get as much recognition as they can. I also realize I can’t do my job without their contributions, but it does get frustrating sometimes when there is just a sea of emails and only a small fraction of them are relevant.