Headliner: MDLinx's Serial Startup Wizard
Chief Strategist, MDLinx
2006 - present
Chief Marketing Officer, M3 USA
2003 - 2006
VP, product marketing, MedSite
1994 - 2001
VP content, design and development, MedScape
Oh, you know the type—the serial startup exec. They could sell ice in Antarctica. They make ‘em, sell ‘em and move on, addicted to the rush of building empires from the ground up, and to the art of the deal. That's not Stephen Smith, who has helped build some remarkable businesses in the digital-medical space—starting with MedScape—but with the wits of a tinkerer, not the smarm of a salesman.
Smith got into medicine when he joined the National Guard to help pay his college tuition. More interested in healing than killing, he trained as a medic, taking Guard-sponsored courses culminating in a two-year PA training. He settled into a stint working for a vascular-surgery practice, where he used his computer programming skills to design a program to plot the relationship between imaging studies and observational findings in patients with corroded arteries. To his colleagues' surprise, there wasn't one, though it would be more than a decade before the medical literature caught up with his findings. Smith also tried gaming design with Basilisk, a 3D dungeon crawler for the Commodore 64 (stay with me, Millenials).
Medical training was brutal, and Smith saw his colleagues getting burned out, so he headed to medical publisher SCP Communications, where his innovations included publishing journals on floppy disks and early interactive education modules. He also fell in with the “skunkworks team” that cooked up MedScape, an out-of-the-gate success that made some poor business choices and sold dirt cheap to WebMD amid the doldrums of the dotcom meltdown.
After a hiking trip through the Alps with one of his four daughters, Smith moved on to a company called MedSite, where he was put in charge of marketing and product development.
At MedSite, he tried out “Test & Teach,” which flipped the traditional pedagogy by asking doctors to navigate hypotheticals and then teaching. Completion rates rocketed from the standard 25% to 90%. Smith expanded the method into the promotional side of the company's med ed business. MedSite sold to WebMD for $41 million in 2006.
Smith moved on to M3, a subsidiary of Sony that operates the Japanese equivalent of WebMD, which had recently acquired MDLinx. The site, which offers a tailored digest of journal articles with a strong global market research capability, has gone from 15% market penetration to claiming bragging rights as the top portal for oncologists. The firm is taking some tentative steps outside the US, recently making a few UK acquisitions, including that of Doctors.net.uk.
“Pharma marketing is in the process of burning out every channel of communications it has with physicians,” says Smith. “The response rate in every channel is very low and falling. And it's not that doctors don't want the knowledge about the drug, it's just that they want it on their terms. Can you step into that and create a dialogue and remodel that engagement in a way that serves the needs of the doctor and the company and improves patient outcomes?”
MDLinx isn't the first MedScape competitor to claim it's built a better mousetrap—one that better engages physicians and saves time. But it helps to have one of the original MedScape crew plotting strategy.