Anytime you’re solving a business problem or anytime you’re offering a service, one of the best ways to figure out what you should be offering is to find out what the market wants and figure out what problems the buyer is having and focusing on that. Open innovation catalyst Scott Wagers has been trying to address that question over the course of his career.
Scott helps put together and deliver projects that are with multiple disciplines and multiple stakeholders in the life sciences, focusing and emphasizing on projects that will be disruptive in medicine or change the future of medicine. Scott talks about how he got into consulting and shares that he’s had to evolve and learn how to make that fit back to what was his main original mission in career and life which was trying to do something to improve the health of patients.
Listen to the podcast here:
Open Innovation Consulting Best Practices with Scott Wagers
I’m very excited to have Scott Wagers joining us. Scott, welcome. How’s it going?
Very good. Yourself?
Doing very well. I’m really excited to have you on and to explore your journey and what you’ve been doing because lots of exciting stuff has been happening in your world and building your business. Let’s just start off and then have you share what it is that you do.
In fact, that’s been a question I’ve had to ask myself quite a lot in the course of my career. I’ve come to call myself an open innovation catalyst in the life sciences. In practice what that means is that I helped to put together and deliver projects that are with multiple disciplines and multiple stakeholders in the life sciences. I really try to focus and emphasize on projects that will be disruptive in medicine or changed the future of medicine. I have a particular focus on trying to get smaller, really innovative companies into these kinds of projects because that’s often a big gap. That’s what I do.
One thing you just mentioned there is the gap. Anytime you’re solving a business problem or anytime you’re offering a service, one of the best ways to figure out what you should be offering is to find the gap, to find the problem with the market or the buyer is having and focused on that. That’s what you’re doing so well. Let’s go further back. You started your career in internal medicine, right?
That is correct, yes.
How did you end up going from internal medicine to growing a consulting business?
I was based in the US and then at that point I met my wife who was working who is also a researcher and I was a researcher and a clinician in the US. Seeing patients that had lung disease and working in the intensive care unit. She wanted to move back to Europe. I had made plans to start a career in medicine here in Europe, in Belgium where I now live. For various cross border work permitting issues, I was not able to take the job I had lined up in the Netherlands.
I ended up looking around trying to find a way. I had a new house, a baby on the way, trying to learn a new language and I had no job. I ended up really which thought at the time was a temporary measure helping to support people put together these types of projects, mostly for grant proposals at the EU. I did a couple of those. They weren’t successful in getting funding. Then investigators from one of those came to me and said, “We’re putting together a new program.”
It has happened to be in the field that I used to do research in and I said, “I don’t know if this is what I want to do for my living.” The coordinator was this professor that was one of those people you really know in the field. I have to get involved in this and that was successful. Then I found myself running a 39-partner organization collaborative research project, which really absorbed all of my time.
Since then, I become very interested in that dynamic and I began to grow and build my consulting business off of that. Really in a way, I got into consulting via serendipity but I’ve had to evolve and learn how to make that a really fit back to what was my main original mission in my career and my life, which was trying to do something to improve the health of patients. Mostly you’re trying to change the field in research. It took me a while but now I’m really back.
Let’s talk a little bit more about that because you’ve been consulting now for almost twelve years. As you were presented with this unexpected roadblock of you moved to Europe from the US. You thought you had a job lined up that ended up not working out. You were in career mode, not necessarily consulting mode and now you have to go off and figure out some other way to generate income and revenue to support your family and so forth. Going into consulting initially, did you have a lot of fears or a lot of concerns about actually becoming a consultant?
I had lots of fears and it continued for some time in terms of is it going to be secure? I would say, it was more than fear. It’s more a long struggle with, “What am I doing? What value am I bringing to these projects?” It was really often that thinking that the process I went through. I think the early days, lots of errors and mistakes in positioning myself in the wrong way or thinking about what I was doing in the wrong way and really underestimating what I was capable of to be honest.
What is the main problem that you’re solving for your clients? You touched on that at the beginning, but how did you really arrive at where you are today in terms of identifying a big problem the market has and then building your offerings and your consulting business around that?
I’ve got involved in one of these grand projects that was successful. That started it off. That got me in there but it was a question of what is my role in this? It’s really a matter of first of all thinking, “I’m going to just try to do whatever what everybody needs.” That meant that I ended up sometimes trying to struggle with the diets and a big meeting. It really wasn’t something that I wanted to do. I had moments of going, “What is this? What am I doing?”
Then it came down to, I actually realized one day that what was really interesting was that the way we ran this project was we had multiple conference calls with multiple different people on the call. I realized one day that that dynamic was a really interesting way to solve problems. I was really paying attention to it. I became very interested in that dynamic, that creativity that happens in the group.
Then I started to realize that one of the big problems in these projects is that it’s hard enough to do a project within your own organization. Trying to do it across 39 organizations is really quite a challenge. Yet, in medicine as we’re able to approach more and more complex aspects of disease, it becomes more and more important that you have multiple people working together.
For example, all of the old tech fields are now actually interested in medicine. You’ve got people who have no background trying to come in and understand and deliver new applications to solve medical problems. They’ve all got to come together and that’s not so easy to do. Really by observation and understanding and trying to really question myself, what am I doing? I started to realize where the real need was in that moderating, shepherding role of these dynamic interactions of people talking.
To make sure that what happens is a project start off, there are lots of enthusiasm. As soon as you walk away from the first meeting, the enthusiasm wanes. There needed to be somebody to bring that back up and get that interaction and make sure that people are not just avoiding conflict and that actually people were talking and making concrete progress in implementable solutions. Otherwise, you just end up talking about the project and never doing it.
What you mentioned about identifying what the market is looking for, the pain points that they have and then figuring out how you can best connect your expertise to that is such an important insight and advice and lesson that you’re sharing here, Scott. As you know, for many consultants you default to just projecting what you want to do in the marketplace or what you think is right and the way that things should be done.
Often that leads to a lot of problems for consultants because that’s not necessarily what the market wants. Even if it is in some way connected to what the market wants, often you’re using the wrong language or the wrong messaging to describe the actual same thing and you’ve done a really nice job of having a lot of conversations with people and really honing in on what they are thinking and wanting most and then embedding that into all of your messaging.
The thing that probably surprised me the most about the whole processes is the time it takes in the iterations it just. Even it continues, you’re still learning, but I think that’s also very interesting. It’s mostly about the conversations. At first, I didn’t do that, at least not specifically to what I was doing. Some of my people I’ve worked with the most, because I had different staff, what they would say and the people that they were referring to would say, “Make sure that that I, myself, Scott, is working on the project.”
At first you’re like, “That’s nice,” but what it really meant is that the value was really that some knowledge, the sum total of my knowledge and experience, and being someone that’s crossed over from academia, research and medicine into the business world and into the how you set up in a run projects, that’s a pretty unique combination. It took me some time to really listen to what people were saying. That’s what I need to focus on. That’s how I got there and it’s really a matter of listening.
I was reading recently and I think this is something that’s really interesting, is that everyone has a tendency when they start out with things that they don’t really know what to do on. They think they’re better than they than they are and because they don’t really know what they’re doing and they think they’re better. That’s a problem.
Then there’s the opposite, which is when you start to get better at something, you start to understand all the potential and the things you could improve upon. People have a tendency to underestimate how good they are doing something. I think I was often in that kind of a situation. In a way it was the fact that you’re understanding how to improve different things is actually highlighting that that’s something that’s unique.
What I’ve found is that as you go through time, some of the things that I think are just so straightforward and simple to the people I’m working with, are very difficult. They don’t make sense to them. Just realizing that and that’s where the real value is because if it’s easy for you, but difficult for your clients, that’s a good thing to be working on.
Scott, I just want to jump in and share that as I’ve watched you, you’ve been in our coaching program now for a little while, and really one of the things that I admire about you and that I’ve seen is that you take action. You get things done.
You go from an idea or if we talk about a strategy and then the next time you, I talk with you, it’s like, “I’ve already implemented this and here’s what’s happening and all this good stuff has come of it.” Has that always been how you approach business and in life in terms of just getting things done and taking action on them quite rapidly? Or is that something that you developed overtime?
It’s probably something I’ve developed over time. I think into a degree I’ve done it for some time because when you’re in the hospital, you’re running in the ICU, you have to get things done.
You can’t say, “I’m going to put it off and procrastinate it for a little while there while Tony sits on the bed bleeding out.
The problem is, that’s all reactionary. It’s clear what you have to do. When you just step out of that situation and now you’ve got to be more proactive, that’s where procrastination becomes a big, big issue. I’m always trying to learn and improve on that front and have just learned that it will never be perfect and that by actually starting and doing something, you actually learn a lot about it.
That you can learn things about doing it that you cannot learn by thinking about it or planning for it. That’s actually a very scientific standpoint. Science advances from the unexpected finding, not from the experiments you planned. I think I’ve always had that fascination of let’s get in there and see what happens and then iterate and change it. It’s not to say that it’s easy to just keep taking action.
Scott, one thing and talking about your approach to this, the model that you’re using today is a little different than what you had before. You previously had a lot more stuff at a point in time in your consulting business, you decided to create a much leaner business model. What are the things look like now compared to or what do things look like before compared to now? Just give us some of the contrast between those two and why you decided to make that shift?
At one point, I had six or seven employees besides myself and we had three or four or five grant projects that we were actually partners in getting funding. I think the thing that I tried to do quite often is take some of my employees and say, “I want you to do the things I do.” Exactly the things that I do and that actually created more problems because then I would spend a lot of my day actually managing their challenges and trying to do what I do and actually that makes me being frustrated.
For various reasons, the grant program project were funded and shifted. Then people that we’re working with were getting less grants funded so there were less opportunities to be partners. There was a pressure and a need to change. I really had to struggle because I had some projects that weren’t grant funded. I really had to say, “How can I move forward with this?”
There was really a moment where I was trying to decide, “Do I go into what’s called a contract research organization.” You manage research projects using staff to do that. Like a clinical study. That’s a very process-oriented type work or do I focus on being a consultant. I had an advisory panel that was really good at setting up CROs.
I really thought about it, but then I realized that I really liked this idea of integrating and moderating and getting that creativity out of a group of diverse experts and stakeholders as a method, as an approach. I just realized that that’s more of a consulting aspect. Also, just the realization that if I really focused on what I did, less staff, the business could run a lot easier and be much more comfortable. The other key was focusing and not having staff do what I do but focus on doing things that I’m not good at. That seems to have worked extremely well.
One of the things that we’ve been working on, in addition to getting a process in place to generate more leads and create more conversations with your ideal clients consistently is really creating more scale and more leverage, productization with your new leaner business model. Why is that so important to you and how has that helped in terms of shifting from all this that you had before to really getting much leaner and creating more leverage and scale with productization?
It’s been really important mostly from the fact that it makes it simpler. It makes it easier to emphasize and focus on the value that I can bring. Whereas before, we would say, “We’ll do everything that you need.” Now, we have a process and I can say, “We have this. If someone wants us to develop this project, then we set up and we have now a number of structured set of calls that we arrange.
Then we can actually now scheduled, put into my time, hard scheduled in my calendar just what I need to do before and after the calls, which then makes it all quite automatic. That’s been great. It’s also more focusing on that job satisfaction for me, that’s one of the biggest impact to us.
When I started, I was struggling with arranging the diets for the people at the meeting. It’s sometimes more draining but it’s more what I want to do. It’s about helping people think through different projects and develop new and creative solutions to problems. It is hard to tell yourself what you do, what you focus on and then try to try to say no to other stuff or have other people do the other things, but it’s everything
A lot of people face that shiny object syndrome and just being bombarded. All of us these days, whether it’s through social media. Scott, as you think about the growth of your consulting business, what is one mistake that stands out that you made a great learning experience now, but maybe just looking back that you didn’t see coming or the just appeared, but maybe now you can see it very clearly and it was a great learning experience.
But back then it just was something that hit you, aside from building the business where you have six full-time employees and everything that you just shared, what other big mistake, learning experience can you offer?
The biggest one to offer is that when you’re a consultant, you’re not there just to say yes for whatever they think and/or want. Sometimes, you have to be confrontational and/or stand your ground on certain issues. That not every client is the best client for you. That’s all the same thing. It’s the difference between being outsource/resource versus a consultant.
A consultant mixed recommendations and advice and then outsource is there to be supervised by the people who are paying for you. I think that’s the biggest thing. Sometimes, it’s a bit weird because you think, “I’m confronting these people,” but actually if they’re the right client, they’ll thank you for it and that’s actually what they’re paying for is to challenge them.
People are coming to you for a reason. You have something that they don’t have, otherwise, they wouldn’t be spending their time having a conversation with you, never mind actually paying money to you. They’re looking to be challenged. Most people sit with challenges and problems and plateaus in their business or in their lives for way too long.
Sometimes thinking about what they could do and exploring all kinds of different directions in their mind or possible solutions, but they hold off taking action because there’s some fear within them, the unknown, whatever it might be that’s holding them back from ultimately getting the result that they want.
Your job as the consultant, the advisor, the guide is to help them to overcome that and sometimes you do have to challenge them. You have to push back a little bit at times to help them to see things a little bit differently and done in a way that really encourages them, supports them, helps them to take that leap of faith or to take that action that they’ve been holding off on by themselves or in their current situation.
I can’t stress how important that is and I’m really glad that you brought that up. You’ve been having a lot of success, Scott, in creating conversations with ideal clients, winning new business, putting proposals out there that get accepted, creating a really big pipeline of opportunities. You shared with me some before we jumped onto the podcast here, some just really big good stuff that’s going on. What makes your approach so successful?
The first instance is really having iterated and reflecting back the idea of client’s language and understanding the problem. Also, being able to get on and demonstrate that specialized knowledge that I have. I’m not saying that even if you’re starting out, I think everybody has important knowledge or skills than they realize they have. When you have the conversation, be focused on just having the conversation really asking questions and the first part.
Through asking questions, actually getting them to realize that you have value you can add. It’s also some good deal about referrals and reputation as well, but it’s also about and I think the biggest thing that’s been a transformation for me is not worrying about the people that don’t respond or the people that respond negatively and that it’s really a numbers game. There are ideal clients out there, you’ve just got to find them and resonate with them. Sitting and doing nothing is not going to get you there.
You definitely have a good process in place right now. You’re constantly creating conversations and continue to feed your pipeline with opportunities. I’m very excited to continue watching your progress and growth and the success to come here. Scott, I want to thank you so much for coming on. For those that want to learn more about your work and to connect with you, what’s the best place for them to go to?
Probably the best place is LinkedIn. My profile is Scott Wagers. I also have a webpage which is BioSciConsulting.com. Reach out on LinkedIn or through our contact form on the website and I’m happy to connect and interact with anybody.
Scott, I want to thank you so much for coming on here.
Thanks for having me, Michael.