Russ flashes back to Episode 163 and his interview with Bruce Blausen, a talented illustrator who founded and built a global medical services operation. Blausen started Blausen Medical Communications in 1991, producing medical and scientific animation and illustration. As demand grew and media technology became more sophisticated, additional services and divisions were launched. Over time, as websites became more common, downloads happened faster and consumer desire for medical information became more prevalent, Blausen Medical’s library grew to be the largest in the world with more than 7,000 animations and 12,000 illustrations. In this segment, Blausen remembers the early days of his company, the education he pursued in order to become a medical illustrator, the passion of growing his company and being able to “give back.”
Russ: This is the BusinessMakers Show heard here and online at thebusinessmakers.com. And now its time for the Aflac BusinessMakers Flashback, brought to you by Aflac, ask about it at work. And this morning we are going to roll back to last summer, episode 163, when we had a guest who is very talented, he is an artist, and he was focused on seizing the opportunity of the new digital world by launching Blausen Media Company mainly focused on Blausen Medical which is medical animation. We enter the discussion with Bruce with him telling us about his company.
Bruce: We started in 1991 with Blausen Medical, primarily producing mechanism-of-action animations for the large pharmaceutical companies. As that grew, what we found was that there were a lot of emerging markets as the internet was continuing to grow, and all of a sudden we recognized that we had this large resource of medical animations with which we then started to create vignettes of common medical treatments and conditions. From there we kind of grew into Blausen Media, which is our ad agency, which also helps with web sites and interactive design and ancillary materials, and then we also recognized a need in the medicolegal field, and we created Blausen Legal to license the animations for individuals who are looking at some level of litigation, but they don't want to pay a fortune for custom medical animation.
Russ: Okay, we're talking about expertise, almost artistic expertise, in graphical representation and animation of medical parts and procedures. Would that be right?
Bruce: Yeah, exactly. You see nowadays Plavix animation on TV and showing platelets clotting and things of that nature.
Russ: Oh, yeah.
Bruce: And there is a bigger need to educate consumers. So, if you go in and somebody wants to know what is cervical dysplasia, or what is atrial fibrillation, or what are the treatment options, like tomotherapy, if I have cancer? Well, the consumer can turn to these animations that are about a minute to a minute and a half and get a 3D visualization of what's occurring. We like to think we're the 1st step in an ongoing educational process. If you went to a library and you looked up a health section, you would see our content. If you watched CNN with Dr Sanjay Gupta, all of that is our material. If you went to discoveryhealth.com or iVillage in the consumer market, you would see it. If you were with Blue Cross Blue Shield in Hawaii, we're on the Time-Warner digital network. So it's the medicolegal...
Russ: That is so cool. So you started this back in 1991. Did you ever have any idea that it would develop into what it is today?
Bruce: Yeah. I had the dream to build and develop the animations and be the largest distributor of medical animations around the world. It just didn't go that smoothly, though.
Russ: It hardly ever does in startups.
Bruce: Well, in 1995 we were trying to convince news stations to run these vignettes, and then their viewers could log on to the news station web site for more information, and the news station is saying, "Why do we need a web site?" So you knew right away there was going to be a battle.
Bruce: The other part of the struggle was that animations, when you compressed them for internet delivery back then, a 1-minute video would take 1 hour to download.
Bruce: And so we did see on prostatecancer.com that 1 minute of radical prostate removal was downloaded 125,000 times in a 2-month period.
Bruce: So we knew that there was a market out there, and we just needed to wait for technology to kind of catch up.
Russ: So later on in the discussion I really wanted to know how Bruce developed the expertise to get into this business. So I asked him to tell us about himself.
Bruce: Originally I was on my way to being an architect, and in one of my art classes I ran across a guy from South Philadelphia, and I said, "What are you going to do with an art degree? I mean, how are you going to make money?" And he said, "I'm going to be a medical illustrator." And I said, "I've never heard of such a thing." And he handed me a pamphlet from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, and I saw the prerequisites, and I thought, okay, I'll be a medical illustrator.
Bruce: My parents were a little bit confused, but they had never heard of the field of medical illustration. There are 30 students graduating every year, and there are only maybe 600 practicing medical illustrators in the United States.
Russ: Okay. This guy that introduced you to medical illustration: do you stay in touch with him these days?
Bruce: I have no idea what happened to him. I don't think he ever became a medical illustrator, but I did.
Russ: So where exactly was that in your education, your college career, and tell us about what sort of degree or degrees you got along the way?
Bruce: I have an art degree and a biology degree, and then I did research in diabetes for a year, and then I went on to Hopkins and got the master's degree through the School of Medicine. And it was during the development of my thesis, which was to trace embryo heart development and look at wall thickness and pressure-generating capabilities in 3D, after I graduated I looked around the country, and the only place willing to offer me a job was Houston, Texas, with Dr Red Duke.
Russ: Yeah, Dr Red Duke. Well, that's cool. So, you actually got a master's in medical illustration.
Russ: And that's the degree that you said there are only about 30 of those produced every year.
Russ: Okay. So there wouldn't be a whole lot of competitors, but you do have competitors, right?
Bruce: Oh, absolutely. There are some really talented people out there. What differentiates our company from others is that most of them operate as a mom and pop shop. And I was one of the 1st who said I really want to commercialize this and build a series of products that we can then license and have an ongoing annuity every year. At this point, the atlas has 275 topics. We have 5 different languages. We will probably have 10 languages by this time next year. We'll have well over 300 topics, and we're distributed all over the world.
Russ: So, do you develop new topics just knowing that they're going to be in demand? Or do you only develop them as you see the demand and you actually have clients?
Bruce: Well, there's always a demand. I mean, the technology is always changing. But if we have certain requests from clients, we put that in the queue. But with CNN, we always have the latest topics being built and developed, and we just add those to our library.
Russ: Later on in the discussion I tell Bruce that I sense passion, I sense this passion in his voice when he's talking about what he's doing. So I ask him, "do I sense that correctly?"
Bruce: It has to be a passion. I mean, I feel it's like sort of a calling, actually. It's good when you're introduced to other people, and they say, what do you do for a living? And you say, "Well, you know, we create these animations to help alleviate fears and concerns of patients around the world." And it's a good feeling to be able to give back.
Russ: What is the long-term strategy for your companies?
Bruce: Just continuing global distribution. I think that with Blausen Medical, if we can reach out to more people and have more languages, I think that is the ultimate goal.
Russ: Ok and that concludes our discussion with Bruce Blausen of Blausen Media Company. And that wraps up this morning's Aflac BusinessMakers Flashback, brought to you by Aflac, ask about it at work. And now its time for another Advantage Point, so lets welcome Katie Laird.
Russ: Your listening to The BusinessMakers show heard here and online at thebusinessmakers.com. And stay tuned for John Whiteside's interview with Brenden Macaluso, industrial designer, and my discussion with Steve Latham, the founder and CEO of Spur interactive.