On this week’s episode of Beyond Consulting, Ken welcomes Ryan Starks, a former Strategy& (Booz & Co) and Innosight consultant, and current Director of Marketing at Qventus. Ryan joins us to discuss how to build a successful marketing strategy.
The Beyond Consulting Podcast is hosted by Ken Kanara.
Ken Kanara: Hello, and welcome to Beyond Consulting brought to you by ECA partners. The only podcast dedicated to helping our listeners navigate the wide variety of options they have after a career in consulting. I’m Ken Kanara Host of Beyond Consulting and CEO of ECA Partners, a specialized project staffing and executive search firm focused on former management consultants and private.
Each week, I host guests that have spent time in consulting and made some sort of a pivot or a career change. And the goal is really to help our audience understand all the options they have available to them. And ideally learn from our guests, both in terms of what they did right. And things they wish they would have done.
Today, we welcome Ryan Starks to the studio. Ryan is the Director of Marketing for the leading system for care operations. Before Ryan spent time leading strategic initiatives for both Stanford Healthcare, as well as various startups, prior to that, he was a consultant for both Innosight and Booz & Co. He also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School. Ryan, thanks so much for joining us today.
Ryan Starks: Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Ken Kanara: Yes, Ryan, this is actually a long time coming. How long have we known each other?
Ryan Starks: I think we’ve known each other for over a decade, I guess it was way back at the start of our careers in Dubai when we first met.
Ken Kanara: That’s right, actually. So well, was it Dubai or Kuwait where we were?
Ryan Starks: It may have been Kuwait, actually, on some client work there.
Ken Kanara: Okay. So for those of you that don’t know, Ryan and I go actually met in the Middle East, I think at a buffet in, it was either Dubai or Kuwait. I can’t remember now, but Ryan was my first real friend in the Middle East.
Ryan Starks: It was definitely a buffet, and it was probably a sushi counter. I know you and I spent tons of time searching for the best sushi all over the Middle East. That was it. You know, you could have probably had a blog on that at some point.
Ken Kanara: Actually, I did, but I won’t reveal what that blog is, mainly to protect the guilty. But no, Ryan really appreciate you joining the podcast today. I think we’ve got a lot to laugh about, but some interesting topics for our youth are our lists.
You know, in terms of today, I was really hoping to cover first what it is the company does, what you do for them, and then venture into your past in strategy and consulting and share with our listeners what you learned and how you transitioned to get there.
And then we can wrap things up after that, but I guess starting out, what is Qventus and what do you guys do?
Ryan Starks: Absolutely. So Qventus is an enterprise automation software company that uses AI and machine learning to help hospitals automate their care operations. And so, if you’ve ever experienced a delay in waiting in the emergency department, or you or a loved one has been in the hospital and has been ready to go home, but that’s been delayed, or you’ve waited the for a surgery because there wasn’t a slot available. Those are the types of operational challenges that we help hospitals and health systems solve.
And so to do that, we provide an automation platform that integrates with hospital electronic health records, uses AI and machine learning. We have best practice solutions to help hospitals address specific problems in their inpatient settings, emergency departments, perioperative settings. And then we also provide services layer on top of that to help hospitals implement our technology and drive change over time.
Ken Kanara: So that’s a huge problem to solve. And so, you mentioned a few things there. You mentioned software. I imagine there’s a hardware component. You’re dealing with operations. These clients of yours then, these health systems. I mean, this isn’t a small undertaking when you decide a new client, I imagine.
Ryan Starks: No, it isn’t. You know, we are selling an enterprise platform, and I think we’ve seen a massive opportunity for that in the market, as health systems in our hospitals have invested in electronic health records over the past decades. Those have moved the whole industry from a very paper-based system to a digital system, but those are still systems of record.And I think as hospitals look to drive operational efficiency, in response to a number of different macro factors, but really trying to drive as much value out of the health system as possible. They’re focused on addressing their operations in a new way, and that really requires this enterprise approach.
And that’s really what we’ve set out to build. And so we’ve thoughtfully built this complete system for automating care operations, but it is a large undertaking. And we start with hospitals in different settings and some of the hospitals we work with start in the inpatient setting and are focused on patient flow. Other systems that we’re focused on have operational challenges and want to focus on the peri-operative space. And so, we do begin engagements from different angles, but it takes a lot of change management to implement the technology and really, fundamentally, we’re helping to hardware a lot of operational processes. And so it’s a fundamental shift in the way that hospitals are operating.
Ken Kanara: If you were to think about your textbook health system that you’re helping out, what are the two or three big problems you’re solving for the patient?
Ryan Starks: It’s a great question. Maybe I’ll share two examples, one of the inpatient and one of the peri-operative side.
So on the inpatient side, one of the challenges is around getting a patient out safely and on time There are numerous reasons why you don’t want to be in the hospital longer than absolutely medically necessary. There’s a hospital-acquired infections, additional costs. It’s just taking up a bed that another patient could actually use.
But actually getting a patient out safely and on time is a massive challenge. And today, what happens is, a patient gets admitted, their care progresses, but there’s not a clear date or plan from the very beginning. And through research and some widely known best practices in the industry and some additional research that Qventus has done, we’ve determined, if you actually create an early discharge plan, meaning you set the estimated date of when a patient should go. You then identify all the tasks that need to happen, and you automate those. You can more consistently get patients out safely and on time.
So again, that’s better for the hospital, better for the care team and, ultimately, better for the patient as well, as their planning out their transition out of the hospital. So that’s one massive opportunity that we help health systems dress.
And the other shares on the peri-operative space. So right now, about 30% of available OR time is often locked off and it’s really due to inefficient scheduling processes. Scheduling a surgical case, if you go to a surgeon and you need a surgery, there’ll often be a delay in actually getting into the hospital for that surgery. And a lot of that is due to the inefficiencies in that scheduling process.
And so, we’re trying to help health systems unlock more OR time. And we do that through machine learning and identify when there’s opportunity to actually free up time much further in advance than what hospitals do today. Right now, if a surgeon is not going to use dedicated time that they have, the often releasing time is at the last minute, and then the hospital has to go scramble and say, “Oh, could come in two days from now for surgery?” And that’s just not efficient for the health system. It’s not good for patient experience. And so we’ll actually free up that time in advance and then can help market that time to the best fit surgeon in advance as well. So we’re getting a patient in sooner at a time that otherwise may have gone unused or would not have been optimally used as well.
Ken Kanara: That makes sense. I like that example because that you see is obviously good for the patient that’s waiting for a surgery, but also good for the health system that’s trying to run a business, right? Cause that’s an undeniable thing that I think a lot of people forget about.
Ryan Starks: There’s a lot of consultants that actually love to go and do operating room scheduling optimization. And I can’t tell you how many PowerPoints and Excels we’ve seen trying to optimize that. And the truth is that it really does require a real time optimization. And it’s a tricky, challenging problem to solve and relying on just manual intuition and manual processes is not a winning strategy. It doesn’t translate to the results that you want. It puts a lot of burden on the actual scheduling teams. It drives a lot of dissatisfaction with surgeons.
And so that’s really the opportunity for technology to come in, create a true marketplace for OR time and it really creates value, I think, for all the different stakeholders involved.
Ken Kanara: And I get why you would need to attack it from not just a people perspective, not just a technology perspective, not just a logistics, there’s a lot of moving pieces.
I think those are two really good examples because that paints the picture for what Qventus does. Well, I guess the thing that I’m curious about is why now? Why is this available now as opposed to kind of 10 years ago?
Ryan Starks: That’s a great question. I think if you go back 10 years, health systems, many health system had electronic health records, some were transitioning or kind of upgrading. I think, there was still very nascent artificial intelligence and machine learning usage in the healthcare space.
And I think what’s evolved over the past decade is a much deeper understanding of how to apply those technologies to the space. And I think we’ve seen that in a couple of ways. I think there’s an adoption of automation first in more back-office settings. And so you have robotic process automation that’s helped with very administrative tasks and health systems have started to adopt that. And then have had many successes there. There’s also been use of AI at the bedside for clinical diagnoses or medications.
But there’s this massive space then of just how the hospital runs, where I think there’s this convergence of automation and AI to help address those challenges. And then, I think, more recently, too, hospitals have always addressed operational challenges, with different process improvement initiatives or trying to create different tools within their electronic health medical records, and really have needed to address operation operations in a different way.
So, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed these challenges in many ways. We saw hospitals at capacity and we now see these massive staffing challenges and staffing shortages. And so, at the core, hospitals are now going to very acutely aware of the shortcomings of the way they were working before. And this has put even more of a spotlight on the need to get a really world class operations.
Ken Kanara: Ryan that’s a really big problem you guys are trying to solve. And if you think about Qventus from two lenses, one is like the technology side, and then the other is the people side or the integration side or the customer success side, how big of an undertaking is it for you as you’re onboarding a new healthcare system?
Ryan Starks: That’s a great question. Ultimately, we believe the technology is driving the underlying efficiency, but that comes with adoption of new processes and of hard-wearing the workflows with that technology. And so, the bulk of the lift is certainly more in the deployment.
So, during the deployment, after some of the technical integration, we’ll then work with teams to actually coach them to use the technology. And then, we’ll have a go live, and a pretty high touch experience after going live. And then over time, the health system becomes more self-sustaining, but we work with the health system to fine tune that implementation, where there are some additional opportunities to drive engagement with the technology. Because we know engagement will drive the outcomes they want. And then we also are working with the health systems really from a partnership standpoint to understand where are there further opportunities to unlock value through your operations.
We think of our work as a partnership, and from the start, and that does come through the people side of the deployment, but then just the ongoing relationship and really establishing that trust and coming to the table with shared interests of helping the health system and drive as much value as possible for the system and teams and patients.
Ken Kanara: So that’s really interesting, Ryan. I guess the thing that I’d be interested, too, is if you think about the people component, right? How are you picking that up, as you onboard a new client or a new health system?
Ryan Starks: Definitely.
We think of this as a partnership from the start. And I think that operates at all levels of our interactions when we first work through the technical integration. And so, teams that partner on the technical side and then we have a customer success team and clinical operations team that work with the health system end users to actually implement the technology. And so, our coaching teams to use the technology, help them build it into their workflows. Our teams stay with them over time really to fine tune the way that they’re engaging with the technology to drive outcomes. And we’re also working with the teams and leadership to identify new opportunities for value creation over time. And so, there is the initial deployment phase, but then we think of it as value enhancement over time.
Ken Kanara: I think that makes a lot of sense, and something that I continue to hear as I talk to folks in tech, is that okay, we obviously lead with technology, but there is like this really important initial upfront work that needs to be done. Getting on the same side of the table as the client and working together to really, truly make it a success, both to drive outcomes for them as well as, in your case for patients, as well.
Some of those things I actually saw on your guys’ website which gets to a little bit of what you do for Qventus. You lead marketing, so I can only imagine what that’s like, but I guess I would love to hear a little but more.
Ryan Starks: Absolutely. So, I lead our enterprise marketing. I report to our Chief Marketing Officer, and my focus is on helping to tell our message and our narrative out in the market. And that manifests through your thought leadership content through PR and communications and also through customer marketing, helping our customers actually talk about their successes and lessons learned in the market, as well.
I work really closely with product marketing on our team. Our head of demand gen, and previously, I was more focused on the product marketing side. And so that was actually my entry point into marketing at Qventus, as well. And given that we’re a growing startup, I have had the opportunity to wear many different hats. And so my role has evolved over time, and that’s part of what’s been really exciting to me at the company.
Ken Kanara: Ryan, that’s really interesting. So, I guess strategically, I mean, how do you think about marketing for Qventus?
Ryan Starks: I think it really comes out of having a fully integrated marketing strategy and motion, and that starts with your go-to market strategy and the company overall strategy and positioning.
And then I think that translates to how you think about your category and your overall messaging for each of your products. And it translates down to the full marketing funnel. So, driving awareness upstream through different concepts and events, helping the actual valuation process forward for new customers in different pitch decks and sales enablement.
And then also for existing customers, helping to capture those stories and build champions out in the market to talk about their successes. And then it’s also building the foundational infrastructure that then supports all of that.
So, I think it’s really an integrated approach. And it starts, again, with the company overall strategy and has a lot of ties into all the different functions within the company, as well.
Ken Kanara: And some of the most interesting stuff that I’ve seen you guys do is actually having real customers or clients of yours talk about Qventus and what it’s done. It was really neat to hear. How did you all put that together? Or where did you think of that approach?
Ryan Starks: That’s a great question. And I think that’s actually probably one of my favorite parts of my job because I feel like we’re helping one of our customers tell their own story to the market. Really, I think is proof point of impact. And it’s an exciting moment.
And what I think about the opportunity, it’s not so much about Qventus, but it’s about the actual customer’s success. What have they been able to achieve through their work, with using our technology? What is the impact that they’ve actually been able to make? And how have we helped them be successful? And I think that’s both in an organizational level, but it’s also to very human person to person level, as well.
Coming back to your question, just how we’ve made that work, I think, first of all, you actually have to make them successful. And that depends on the whole company. Everything had a working and setting them up for that success, then we just get to help tell the story. I think helping champions find venues that are relevant to them, whether it’s different events or forums or publications. I think finding the right channels is important, but then also, what is the right message that they want to share with the market that also aligns with what we want to share, as well. And that’s another aspect of it. So, this is manifested through the different speaking engagements, webinars, thought leadership case study videos and a variety of different formats. But again, I think it all comes back to thinking about the messaging you both want to bring to the market and then what’s the right channel and form to do that.
Ken Kanara: And I love that approach because those stories and like the human element really comes through in the material that you guys are putting out. And I don’t know how I know, but it’s pretty clear that it’s genuine, and I think that’s something that people pick up on. And it’s like, you only know it when you see something that is not genuine. And I love all the stuff that you got, all the content that you guys have put out there because it is all very real. It doesn’t feel contrived. It genuinely resonates with me, who knows basically nothing about healthcare and hospital systems.
Ryan Starks: No, I appreciate that. And I think it’s true in any industry, authenticity matters. I think it’s especially true in healthcare. There’s a lot at stake. You’re thinking about patient’s lives and, as you think about technology, there’s a lot of nuances in how it’s adopted and it’s important for us that the authentic perspectives come through. And so, I think the piece that I would add is that, helping someone tell their story is also a bit of an art though, a lot of times, if an individual hasn’t had an opportunity to do so, there’s that coaching aspect up front of helping them take a step back, understand what were they trying to solve. How did they do that? And then what were their outcomes? And so, there’s certainly that activation that I think you could help support in the market, as well, from marketing perspective.
Ken Kanara: That’s really cool. One of the reasons I was really excited about having you on here, too, is because I thought our listeners would find your career path, to get to the thing that you’re doing now, pretty interesting.
So, if I’m leaving management consulting, the things that you just walked us through, it’s not something that I go, “Oh yeah, I could do that.” How the heck did you get to where you’re at, and how did you get interested in healthcare? How did you get interested in marketing? What took you here?
Ryan Starks: It’s a funny story, actually. So, as you were alluding to, I spent a lot of the first part of my career at Booz & Co. and then Innosight. I mean, consulting. I think, looking back, my favorite classes in undergrad and grad school are marketing, but I wasn’t jumping at marketing jobs right off the bat because I was very, very interested in consulting. I think consulting gave me a really good foundational toolkit, from an analytics, as well as a storytelling perspective. And I guess, I’ll take the healthcare, and maybe the marketing pieces separately. I think, from a healthcare industry-focused perspective, I’ve always been very interested in the medical space know from an early age. That’s always just growing around, my mom’s a nurse and had a lot of elderly folks in my family who were always in the hospital. So I was just always very fascinated by that space. And I think I’d explored different ways to come to the healthcare space.
But as I was thinking about leaving consulting, it was important for me to, that was kind of my jumping off point, to have that industry focus. And I really saw, when I was leaving consulting, I saw, again, this emergence of healthcare technology and found that to be a really compelling, interesting place to get into.
So the first startup I joined, it was more in a wear all hats product strategy, turning that into product marketing type role. And then, when I was actually exploring joining Qventus, first of all, I was very, very interested in our mission and really felt connected with the team as well. And it actually was a happenstance that I got connected with the Chief Marketing Officer at that time. And her and I had some conversations around my interests and my experience. And I said, “I hadn’t actually thought about joining on the marketing side, but from what you were describing, this feels like a really exciting fit.”
And so, I took a bit of a, I guess, leap of faith on that. And it’s funny because it feels like such a natural place for me. I think, the marketing side, you’re placed both into the left-brain analytics, and then combines that with the right-brain creative storytelling side.
That, I think is just a core part of who I am. And so, it’s been a very natural fit for me from a functional perspective but wasn’t super obvious to me right off the bat. I think a lot of consultants go into the tech space will go into direct client facing roles, either on a customer success team or partnerships, or even on the sales side. And I think there’s massive opportunities in marketing or even product functions that consultants don’t think of off the bat. Perhaps it’s due to exposure, but I think it could be a super interesting place to place entry point after consulting.
Ken Kanara: Especially the part you just mentioned about storytelling. I think that’s something that we probably don’t realize that we’re learning when we’re doing consulting. But it is the whole job. In consulting, you’re usually doing it with data or analytics. But you are telling a story.
And then I also get what you mean about the left brain, right brain part of the job. Like I said, I’ve always been scared of marketing because I feel like it’s, again, a lot more art than science, but the way that you’ve broken it down to me, both in this chat, as well as offline, makes so much sense to me. And I get that there’s a real structure behind it, but then there’s also a softer human element. And to me, it seems obvious that it’s a natural fit for you, having known you.
Ryan Starks: And I think the storytelling part, in consulting, you’re going into a new engagement, framing up the challenge, doing some analysis to help solve that and proposing solutions back and trying to get buy in. I think it’s really similar from the marketing standpoint. I think the piece that’s different is you’re helping a client to actually think about a problem space that they may have addressed in the past, but in a new way and helping to drive awareness that they may have had this massive challenge. There’s going to be winners or losers, addressing that challenge, and here’s the path that they could take and a new approach they can take to make them successful.
So certainly, a lot of analogies, but I think being in the marketing role versus the consultant role is, I think that’s where the results matter even more because you don’t get to step away as a client but are actually responsible for delivering a sale or a renewal or helping to drive greater share of voice in the market. The end results matter more.
Ken Kanara: I was just about to ask what’s the missing ingredient from consulting. Where did you have to, I guess, take your medicine a little bit?
Ryan Starks: That’s another great question. I think consulting provided me with a fantastic foundational toolkit for analytics, for the storytelling aspect, as well. And there’s also a rigor in the way of working, as well, that I think is really, you get that discipline through consulting.
I think the piece that I’ve appreciated a lot more, being on the other side is that strategy is one thing, but execution is another. And to execute on a strategy, you need to be so considered about what are your available resources that you have to work with and what constraints are you working with? And what’s the time boundary that you need to execute on? And understanding the art and science of how to bring all those together. Execute and deliver something, I think can be, you don’t get as much exposure to on the consulting side. It’s more than just a PowerPoint and slides, but it’s actually landing a new customer or pushing out a new campaign. I think it’s that execution art that I think is really a valuable skill to take to the next level.
Ken Kanara: And it’s funny too, and I’m guilty of this, too, but in consulting, implementation or execution is almost like a bad word. And we were a bit snobbish about, “Oh, I only do strategy.” And you get into the real world and what the hell does that do for you?
It’s a good place to start, but it’s not a good strategy. It’s not going to get you anywhere if you can’t do anything with it. That’s a point well taken and, I guess Ryan, what advice would you give to someone that is thinking about leaving consulting and either wanting to go into a role like you have, not necessarily focused on healthcare, but a marketing, kind of a strategic marketing role.
Ryan Starks: I think if you’re in consulting and looking at new opportunities in the marketing space, I mean there’s a couple of different dimensions that you can think about. Is there an industry vertical that you’re very interested in, that you have experience in? Is there a type of company that you want to work for as well? Something more established or a large company versus early stage and growth? And I think you need to be deliberate about what your preference and in where you have appetite for, first of all.
I think, though, even more importantly is to think about it as you’re making that type of transition. Think about who is the leader and team that you can work with. And ultimately, if you’re making that transition from consulting into marketing, surrounding yourself with others that you can learn from, and that will enable you to be successful and contribute. I think will be a huge determinant of success in the long-term.
And so that would be the lens that I would recommend for anyone, regardless of where you fall in industry or stage of company. Think about who you can learn from and surround yourself with, to set you up for success. And then, whether it’s an entry point into product marketing, which can be a really natural fit for consultants, or sports or something else, I think team matters.
Ken Kanara: That’s such a great point. I talk to folks literally every day and it’s not their fault, but when candidates are considering different options, it’s the number one thing that they want to talk about is base salary and bonus. And yes, that matters. Don’t get me wrong. That is the thing that probably matters the most, but there’s just a total lack of, I would say focus on vetting the other side.
So you’re about to take a job with someone you’re going to spend a ton of time with, you should think through what that means. You’re going to be spending most of your working hours with that person. And it matters, not just in the short term, but it can have ripple long-term effects.
So last question. And we ask all of our guests this, what book recommendations you have, and it doesn’t have to be related to anything we talk about today. We get a lot of oddballs suggestions.
Ryan Starks: I guess one book that I was going to recommend is Building a StoryBrand by Donald Miller. This has been a book that I’ve kept back pocket in my marketing career, and just how to actually frame a story in the market. And clarifying that your message for customers. So that’s one.
The other book that I really like is Atomic Habits. And just the art of habit buildings, more from a self-development perspective. I found that super valuable and tried to implement some of those practices in my own life.
Ken Kanara: At the risk of sounding cliche., I love the book Atomic Habits, too. It explains why a lot of my faults and shortcomings, things that I do wrong on a daily basis. I like that book.
Ryan, thanks so much for joining us today.
If listeners want to learn more about Qventus or learn more about what you guys are doing, how should they find you? What should they look up?
Ryan Starks: Absolutely. I would certainly direct folks to go to our website, learn more about what we do. We have a lot of a lot of materials about the health system impact, as well, and read some of the stories and videos and watch some of the videos that we have. That’s probably the best place to learn about the true impact of what we’re doing.
Ken Kanara: Awesome. Cool. And that’s www.qventus.com.
Ryan Starks: That’s right.
Ken Kanara: Okay. All right. Good stuff. Well, thank you so much for joining us today.
And for our listeners, first time listeners, if you want to subscribe to get alerted of future podcasts, go ahead and do so. And then if you want to look up past episodes, check out www.beyondconsulting.info. And if you want to get in touch with ECA Partners, that’s eca-partners.com.
But until next week. Ryan, thanks so much. And we’ll talk to you then.
Ryan Starks: Thanks so much Ken.