Russ: This is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com. It's guest time on the show and I'm very pleased to have with me today Bruce Blausen, the creator of a company whose product I'm sure you've seen on television, the Web, maybe in a courtroom; because Bruce is the Founder of Blausen Medical Communications. Bruce, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.
Bruce: Thank you for having me, Russ.
Russ: You bet. Well, let's start by you giving us an overview of your company.
Bruce: Sure. The company has been in business for 21 years. We now have the largest 3D medical animation library in the world. We originally worked for the publishing companies, the pharmaceutical companies. But what we recognized were the consumers and the students really weren't getting access to high-quality medical animation. And so over the years, we have been shifting our priority and we have been trying to stay with the digital demand and the digital content and how that's been evolving.
Russ: Okay. Well, obviously, I'm familiar with your company for full disclosure. Bruce has been on the show, but it was at least three years ago. My God, the way the digital world moves forward, I'm sure Blausen Communications is moving forward too. I remember distinctly the discussion we had about what motivated you to launch this company. Take us back to the very beginning.
Bruce: Sure. I was originally going to be an architect. I did really well in math and thought that the creative art side and the math, that was all going to work out well. And I was in a cow pasture, painting watercolor landscape.
Russ: That artist part of you.
Bruce: And a friend of mine, Larry Brownsie, said to me, "What are you gonna do with an art degree?" And I said, "Oh, well I'm going to be an architect." And I said, "What are you gonna do?" And he said, "I'm gonna be a medical illustrator." I said, "I never heard of it." And he said, "Oh, yeah, like Leonardo da Vinci. You draw the body and stuff for textbooks." And I thought, "Really? Okay, I'll do that." So I got an art degree and a science degree out of Penn State.
Russ: Wow. And so at the time though, I mean were there many medical illustrators?
Bruce: No. And in fact, I ended up going to Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. I graduated in 1987, came here to Houston, worked for Dr. Red Duke.
Russ: Oh, yeah.
Bruce: And there are only maybe 600 to 700 practicing medical illustrators in the United States right now; and the program at Johns Hopkins has only graduated 200 students. And we recently celebrated. Last summer, they invited certain alumni back to talk and I was honored to be one of those people.
Russ: Wow, cool. Well, I also remember - it certainly seemed like to me that you were on the leading edge of medical illustrators who got into animation.
Bruce: Exactly. I mean my thesis was reconstructing embryo heart development using 3D software that, back in 1987, I mean almost didn't even exist.
Bruce: And as we worked for the pharmaceutical companies, the biomanufacturing companies, the publishing companies; we built a bigger and bigger library. And as such, this library now has taken on a life of its own. The Human Atlas product that we built - we talked about the last time I was here - has now won 25 awards in the last nine years, and it has 307 topics of common medical treatments and conditions, and has been translated into 16 languages.
Russ: Oh, my God.
Bruce: So you're talking about millions and millions of people around the world are seeing this content and being educated on things like, "Prostate Cancer. What is tomotherapy? What is an ACL tear?" things of that nature.
Russ: Wow. So describe The Human Atlas Project. I mean where would we see that? I mean do you sell that to somebody like WebMD? How does the business work in that category?
Bruce: I'm a better artist than I am a business man, okay. [Laughter]
Russ: [Laughter] Okay.
Bruce: I can make great animations, just not great piles of money. But The Human Atlas, you'll see it on a lot of different hospital website. You can go to About.com. If you look up "Medical Topics" you'll see it there. New York Presbyterian Hospital, they have it right on their main page.
Bruce: Everyday Health is another company that we just signed up from the consumer portal. But also what we recognized was that the animations were originally built - I don't know if you remember - as my mother was getting older.
Russ: I remember the story, [Laughter] but tell them, it's cool.
Bruce: And she says to me, you know, "They want me to have an angiogram. They want me to get angioplasty. You know, what is that?" And she was afraid, so I looked at all of the animations. And we get about $15,000.00 to $20,000.00 to create a single minute.
Bruce: So I looked at the animations that we had on the hard. I put a few of these pieces together, I put a voiceover on it, and I sent it to her on a VHS tape. Well, she made more requests - depression, diabetes, glaucoma - and I'm thinking, "By the time I see my mom again, you know, what's left of her?" But in reality, she was taking these VHS tapes and she was giving them to all of the other women in her retirement home, because they all wanted to know this information, but nobody was ever going to build something for the consumer or for the patient. So I took it upon myself and that's how The Human Atlas started.
Russ: Okay. So you said, "Wow, you know, there's a lot of interest in what I do. Maybe I should expand it."
Bruce: Yeah. I mean the interest is definitely high.
Bruce: The dollars aren't.
Russ: [Laughter] Right, okay.
Bruce: So when you go to a hospital and you say, "Oh, well, we can build you an animation on angioplasty, but it's gonna cost you $25,000.00."
Bruce: Well, they can't afford that.
Bruce: And we recognize that they couldn't, but we thought, "Well, there are so many hospitals and there are so many people that want this information." What happened was, my second son was born and we were at a hospital that had our content on their website, but none of them knew that the content was on the website.
Russ: None of the doctors and nurses and -
Bruce: None of them, no.
Russ: - yeah.
Bruce: And so there was this miscommunication -
Bruce: - and then I thought, "Whoa." A friend showed me an iPhone. I looked at the iPhone, I said, "Can you pull up our website?" He pulled up the website. Immediately I said, "We're in the app business."
Russ: Okay. [Laughter]
Bruce: We're switching, because we now have The Human Atlas on the iPhone -
Bruce: - on the iPad, on the Android products as well; and it has won 25 awards in the last nine years as the best point-of-care patient education app in the market.
Russ: Okay. And that's all so interesting and appealing. But what about people like WebMD? Are they like a customer of yours?
Bruce: I want them to be. I've been talking to them for ten years.
Russ: [Laughter] Right.
Bruce: Perseverance, you know, woo. But they're in a catch-22.
Bruce: And what they've said to me is that we don't really have a great demand or request from our consumers for animation.
Bruce: And I said, "Well, unless you show them animations, how are they gonna make that request?"
Bruce: What I've done is - I'm gonna back up a little bit. The last time we talked, I said we were going to create a product called Anatomy and Physiology.
Bruce: There are 600,000 new science students every single year, and the top leading anatomy and physiology textbooks all have 29 chapters. They all have the same pedagogy. So I said, "What we can do is, let's bring every illustration in that book to life. Let's animate it." So we have an anatomy and physiology app that is out there that we hope it's gonna hit the fall market and really, really do well for us at $30.00 a pop. And what we're seeing is that if you open up a book, Chapter 20, and it's the heart; well, they have a picture of the heart. Well, our heart spins and rotates. Well, you turn the page and it's the interior. Well, our heart beats. The valves open and close.
Bruce: You turn the page; they have a picture of the SA node and the AV node. Well, we actually show the electrical conduction, we show how that all works, we tie that with the EKG. And we don't do it just for the heart, we do it for hearing, we do it for vision, respiratory system, the digestive system. We took all of our animations and made the largest collection of anatomy and physiology available right now to go, not just with the top-selling textbooks, but with all the A&P that are out there.
Russ: Wow. So this means your customer, your prospect, are all the med students at this point.
Bruce: Med students, nursing students, Allied Health, phlebotomists, x-ray technicians - anybody that has to pick up an A&P book -
Bruce: - is going to love this product. To give you an idea - this thing has a 1,000 animations, it has 3D models that can rotate, it has quizzes, drag-and-drop features; but it's 5 gigs. Do you know how big 5 gigs - I mean there are people that are selling apps and they may have one or two animations in them and then people are disappointed.
Bruce: We give you 5 gigs. People complain it's too big.
Bruce: "For $29.99, it's too big for us." But that's not the exciting thing that's happening and why we're here now.
Russ: Okay, [Laughter] all right. But before you leave this one to the next exciting one, this A&P collection is an app. So it's an iPhone app or an iPad app?
Bruce: It's iPad for the iPad and for Android Tablets.
Russ: Wow. But you can also look at it on the computer on a website. Right?
Bruce: Not yet.
Bruce: But that's where we're going to.
Russ: [Laughter] All right, all right.
Bruce: So, I was driving down the road, and actually, it was a feeder road -
Bruce: - and I was thinking to myself about electronic medical records -
Bruce: - and how can we our content and help educate the patient when they are reading these words like ‘myocardial infarction' or they're looking at ‘tomotherapy' or ‘CyberKnife therapy'?
Russ: They're reading their own medical records.
Bruce: They're reading their own records and they can't comprehend it.
Bruce: So I thought, "Let's link some of our animations to these words." And so if it says ‘CyberKnife' -
Bruce: - click it and it'll show you an animation on CyberKnife.
Bruce: So I thought, "Well, let's do one thing - take it one step further."
Bruce: Now that we have The Human Atlas, which has 307 conditions of medical treatments and conditions, and you have then all of the normal anatomy from anatomy and physiology -
Bruce: - this gives you such a huge range in terms of content.
Russ: Right. [Laughter]
Bruce: So now, we've got about 1,000 to maybe - close to maybe 1,500, and soon to be maybe 3,000 terms that are a part of our glossary. And what you'll be able to do - and this is exciting - is that you'll be able to put in the word ‘Blausen' - B-L-A-U-S-E-N - and it'll take you to our website, and you can click a Google Chrome app, a Web browser app -
Bruce: - and this will put a little tiny B up in the right-hand corner of your browser.
Bruce: Now if you're reading the Wall Street Journal, you're reading Sports Illustrated, you're reading the Houston Business Journal -
Russ: On the Web.
Bruce: - anything on the Web in the browser -
Bruce: - you can click the little Blausen icon. It will scan through that document and it will put a little icon next to the keywords.
Russ: Any word that you have in your -
Bruce: In our glossary.
Russ: Yeah. Whoa.
Bruce: And it's free.
Bruce: So if you have prostate cancer, you could type in ‘prostate cancer' and it'll bring up 250,000 pages of stuff.
Bruce: All you have to do is click the Blausen icon and it will highlight keywords. So if it says ‘prostate cancer' you click it and you'll have an option. You'll have an animation with narration, you'll have an animation alone; there may be a 3D model that you can spin and rotate, and then there's an illustration that also has labels and leader lines. But the cool thing is, just like with Amazon where it says, "If you've watched prostate cancer, you may also wanna watch chemotherapy, radiation sickness, tomotherapy, da Vinci Surgical - any of these other options for you. And you can also go through our glossary and select topics to see.
Russ: Bruce, this sounds huge. I can't imagine that it won't be extremely popular. But once again, this is The BusinessMakers Show. So how are you gonna monetize that in your business? [Laughter]
Bruce: Yeah. Why the hard questions? [Laughter]
Russ: [Laughter] I love -
Bruce: You know, can't we just be excited.
Russ: I love your passion about what you do and I think that's real cool and stuff, so.
Bruce: What we're hoping is that as more and more users tap into the Blausen icon and the Blausen it - you know, Google it, FedEx it -
Bruce: - what we are going to see is that it's not just for the consumer, it's also for students. So if you have a chemistry textbook, a biology textbook; if you've got an anatomy and physiology textbook and you haven't purchased our app, you can just hit the Blausen icon and it is going to revolutionize - it's a paradigm shift in terms of publishing.
Bruce: And so what we're hoping -
Russ: So you're gonna be selling your app off of this.
Bruce: We're selling the app.
Russ: It's like an advertisement for your app.
Bruce: Yeah, a little bit.
Bruce: But also, as we reach 100,000, 2-million, 5-million users, then we're gonna start to convert to an advertising model.
Bruce: But initially, we just wanna really get the content out there. As you know - I mean I've been here before - I'm an artist, I'm a scientist, I'm a creative person, you know, I don't have an MBA from Stanford -
Bruce: - and, you know, we are always looking for investors. We've got all of our product completed, it's in the stores. And now what we're looking for is someone in the Houston area, hopefully, who has a sales and marketing and business acumen that wants to look at what we're doing, see the potential, and say, "Hey, this thing could be as big as, you know, Facebook. This could be as big as Google. This could be really a shift in the way that people access medical and scientific content for their initial understanding of a particular disease.
Russ: So you're actually seeking investors at this point in time.
Bruce: My hands are always open. [Laughter]
Russ: Right, right. [Laughter] Cool. Well, Bruce, I have to tell you, the passion that you demonstrate for what you do is pretty cool. And doing what you do is pretty cool. I mean exposing, you know, an understandable rendering of what these very complex procedures are. Do you have medical doctors on your staff?
Bruce: We actually - we have an advisory board of physicians that review the content.
Bruce: Our senior medical editor used to work for the American Medical Review Board.
Bruce: But what we do is we stay focused on really what is well-known.
Russ: Right, okay.
Bruce: You know, you forget that 70 percent of the United States does not have a college degree.
Bruce: Thirty-five percent are operating at or below literacy levels.
Bruce: So if you have a child that's diagnosed with cancer or if you have a mother who's been diagnosed, you know, with breast cancer and they're talking about lumpectomy, mastectomy, they're talking about tomotherapy, CyberKnife - there is so much confusion, and you just want someone to say, "Hey, just give me an animation, a picture. Just help me understand the basics. I don't wanna get a degree in it."
Bruce: "I just wanna like be able to explain something to my mother, to my father, to my wife, to my son." And that's where I think Blausen makes the difference; is that we can give you that foundation of understanding, and we're gonna give it to you for free.
Russ: Really cool. Bruce, I really appreciate you coming in once again and sharing your story with us.
Bruce: Oh, thank you.
Russ: You bet. That's Bruce Blausen, the Founder of Blausen Medical Communications. And this is The BusinessMakers Show, heard on the radio and seen online at TheBusinessMakers.com.