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Doctor finds success by fulfilling a need

March 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Conversation

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

Dr. Joseph Thornton, right, speaking with J. Kaufman, manufacturer of product.

Joseph Thornton, M.D. has been a practicing colorectal surgeon in Las Vegas for 40 years — and he has now added the title of entrepreneur to his résumé, by introducing a new product called TUSH M.D.
Developed as a response to the cries of patients suffering from hemorrhoids and other anorectal discomforts, Thornton set out to create an alternative to the most commonly used over-the-counter creams. The result is a product that is earning rave reviews from patients, many of whom see the all-natural supplement as a healthy alternative to surgery. In an interview, Thornton, a graduate of historically black Meharry Medical School, shared his thoughts on how to build a profitable business while helping people.

What inspired you to go into business for yourself after you had already succeeded as a doctor?
This is something I have been thinking about for years. I didn’t know initially how to go about doing it, and I had no background in marketing, retail and business development. What happened over the years is that I had so many patients complain to me about the over-the-counter medications for their hemorrhoids. The same rectal cream has been around since 1925, and … we are not still driving the same cars from 1925, so I was determined to come up with a new product.

How is the medical community responding to your natural supplement, TUSH M.D.?
Well, I know that some doctors reject all-natural products. That is why I am not marketing it to doctors. I expect them to be skeptical, and I expect (patients) to believe. Some people have told me that my product might put many (colorectal surgeons) out of business. What is ironic is that I have had doctors and surgeons calling me, because they don’t like doing rectal surgeries. My product, when taken by people suffering from hemorrhoids, reduces the swelling and pain. Therefore, when patients are no longer suffering, they cancel their rectal surgeries.

How did you find the natural ingredients to make this product?
Some years ago, someone told me about bromelain, a byproduct of pineapple. I don’t know how he knew about it, and actually, years ago in the 1980s, it was a prescription product. But in the later ’80s, the Food and Drug Administration decided that there were too many products classified as drugs, and bromelain was one of the products taken off the drug list and reclassified as a supplement. I combined the bromelain with some other natural ingredients to come up with the product.

Did your product need to be FDA approved?
This is interesting. If you have anything that you can take — even if it is apple slices — and you state that it will cure hemorrhoids, it is considered a drug. Thus, warranting FDA testing, because you designate it as a treatment for a disease or condition, and that FDA test involves a couple million dollars and a couple of years (of testing). I didn’t want the stigma on my product as being labeled as a drug. I wanted to keep it as a supplement, an all-natural supplement.

When you call your product a supplement, you don’t have to have it FDA approved?
Yes, that is correct. We use the term “anorectal health.” Even if I had FDA approval, I would still market it as a supplement to treat hemorrhoids.

How did you finance the launching of the product?
I didn’t get money from any bank or investor; I financed the initial development myself. I underestimated the cost in the beginning, and kept going and going. Once you get into something like the development of a product, it is hard to turn back. So, we are lucky to keep it going. We can’t do everything at this stage by ourselves, so I am talking to venture capitalists right now about coming into the business. My vision is to develop a whole product line that includes a soak, wipes and gel.

How much money did it take to start the product?
(Smiles) Well, being naïve, we spent money that if we did it all over again, I wouldn’t have spent. I went into a blind alley. It was like an evolution.

Did you have a business plan?
I paid somebody to do a business plan. But, actually, I am not using that one. That was one of those dead ends we went through. I was referred to people who wanted to charge us so much money, and we later found out we could have gotten it done for a fraction of the cost.

What would be your advice to someone trying to start their own business?
My advice would be to try to find someone with a background in business and bring them in early. We were doing stuff in the beginning, thinking that we were doing something so great for people. But it is still a business. I didn’t know who to go to for manufacturing the product. The chemist I used charged me $5,000 a month, and that was probably more than I should have paid. The problem was that I was juggling my career as a doctor and developing a product and business.

What has been your greatest lesson in marketing your product?
I went to a major retailer and participated in one of its new-vendor forums. It was a lot like speed dating, and we had a booth to display our product and you only have 20 minutes with a category manager. We had eight minutes to give a presentation on the product, and the manager had 12 minutes to ask you questions. They told me to never change the name of my product, because it has an excellent brand name like Xerox and Kleenex. I was asked, “How are you going to get the people to come into the store to buy your product?” My answer was, “They are already coming into your store to buy cream they have brought since 1925, and they will see something new and will buy my product.”  The manager said, “Wrong answer. They have to be walking into the store knowing about your product and ready to buy it.”
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One Response to “Doctor finds success by fulfilling a need”
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