In January, I made the decision to close the Boston Expert Witness Group after over two years since I had my initial vision for the business.
Though I was making money and helping my clients with a genuine need, I ultimately realized that I was not creating the kind of business that I wanted to create.
Along the way, I learned (at least) six hugely important lessons about entrepreneurship, which I want to share with anyone who cares to read them. For each, I will explain how learning this lesson directly impacted my business and my decision to move on.
But before I get there, let me back up just a few meters in case you don’t know what I have been doing in this business.
About the Boston Expert Witness Group
The Boston Expert Witness Group offered the expertise of a premium group of high-integrity medical expert witnesses. We went to work on a variety of cases that all had a common thread of requiring medical expertise to explain material facts that were the subject of litigation.
We worked on personal injury cases, insurance defense cases, medical malpractice cases, and even some patent litigation. We gave expertise from both plaintiff and defendant standpoints. We worked on cases throughout the United States.
By the end of my running the business, we were revenue positive, and even a little profitable. We contributed essential expertise to our clients’ cases and in some situations were able to do so early enough to prevent litigation from happening in the first instance.
The Group worked with some of the leading boutique firms in Boston, as well as a handful of solo practitioners. We handled some very interesting cases and also some pretty typical ones.
Ultimately, we struggled with finding a product-market fit that could stand on the business’s core values: integrity, efficiency, and legal innovation. The lessons I learned explain why.
Lesson I: Put Markets First, not Ideas
I come up with a lot of interesting ideas. None but maybe two of them have ever been marketable… maybe. These are not good odds.
Contrast the process of starting with ideas to find markets with the process of starting with a market need to develop a business idea. When you start with market need, you know that as long as you can build a product or service that addresses it and connect with enough customers, you will have a business.
The Boston Expert Witness Group started as an idea in search of a market. Though I found the market late in the life of the business, it didn’t look anything like a market that would support a business built on our core values.
Most attorneys I worked with were not in the interest of using my business to find a vetted expert. Rather, they simply wanted a list of people who they could show to the firm’s partner handling the litigation.
The chance that a prospect was going to return to the business to hire our expert was minimal, yet we did not get paid until that happened.
Because our business put a lot of work into vetting experts before adding them to our database, we ended up doing a lot of work for free. That turned out not to be a good business model (obviously).
Catering to the market of attorneys who wanted lists to bring to their partners, we would have had to:
- lower our cost to build and maintain a database of expert witnesses;
- lower the quality of our referrals;
- charge for our lists; and/or
- support the business with another source of revenue.
These turned out to be approaches that were unmarketable, lacked innovative character, did not lead to improvements in the efficiency of law practice, and put our database at risk of containing experts who lacked integrity. These were not acceptable options.
Lesson II: Have a Sales Plan from the Beginning
Prior to starting the Boston Expert Witness Group, I had no sales experience. About a month after turning my idea into a full-time job, I began to realize I would have to learn to sell the services of medical experts or perish.
I embarked on a year of the best sales training I believe money can buy, which is Sandler Training. I got good at setting expectations, digging for pain, and talking about money and decision-making processes. But when I began to calculate just how much time I would have to spend selling our particular products to the prospects we were encountering, I realized I would have to spend most of my waking moments engaged in sales.
It left very little time for me to plan how my business was going to operate and to do what I had to do to support myself while the business still lacked sufficient revenue to pay me a decent salary.
Perhaps I could have hired others to fill either the sales or other functions, but when I thought of doing that, I ran into my next problem…