Posted on 2019-11-14
Dr. Cameron McCrodan knows about obstacles in health-related entrepreneurship. The field of vision training and vision rehabilitation is relatively new. Soon be re-branded as, “Opto-mization,” McCrodan Vision Development is gaining interest in Canada and overseas, but not without some skepticism from fellow optometrists and laymen alike. We had a chat with Dr. McCrodan in the airport, as he was on his way back from his clinic hours in Brooklyn, New York.
We asked him about how he faces naysayers, doubt and setbacks when starting a new business venture. How does a West-Coast Canadian optometrist finds himself offering vision rehabilitation services to the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York?
“The reason it happened here, in Brooklyn, was because of the orthodox Jewish population that’s here. Because, to them, reading and learning are the most important things, ever. So, the Brooklyn thing that happened was kind of a happenstance. Really, [the clinic] at home was was probably the bigger entrepreneurial venture, that way. Because it was something that nobody else was doing, there’s completely a need for it. I’ve been personally affected by family, who have had problems go untreated, which really drove my purpose.”
Growing up, McCrodan’s younger sister had unidentified learning problems. He mentions how he still feels guilt over merely telling her to “just work harder.” McCrodan feels the frustration of children who were diagnosed with learning disabilities that could have been prevented. “The amount of kids that end up going through psycho-educational assessments, who have vision problems that haven’t been addressed:
“That’s like putting a kid in a soccer skill-assessment with a broken leg. You’re getting the outcome of the skill assessment: “They did really poorly,” but nobody checked that the leg wasn’t broken.”
“To me, it almost became like this mission, where I could see that people were going for eye exams, they had no problems with their eyes related to ready and learning, but because the doctors didn’t have the education and they weren’t taught properly in university about that, they didn’t know to deal with it, they didn’t know to treat it. To me, it became this mission of like, “I need to start a place where we can start doing this for people.”
“I can remember coming out of optometry school, and having someone tell me about vision therapy or vision rehab, and I said to them, ‘that’s total quackery.’ And the reason I said that, is because that’s what my prof had taught me in school, which I then took then as gospel.” McCordan observes that many people in the medical field will take a long-standing but potentially outdated theory over tried and true field cases. In his case, the results spoke for themselves, and his business grew over the years.
“What happens is, you have so many successful cases, that eventually, people can’t ignore it. They can’t. Then, you get through the snowball part: Now, most of the people we see come to us, because they know somebody whom we’ve helped.”
McCrodan uses a combination of word-of-mouth marketing and advocacy through social media to raise awareness. His latest TedEx Talk was a platform for educating and advocating for vision rehabilitation. His self-described mission to educate the masses is not an easy one, as many doctors and visual health practitioners have doubts.
“One thing for us, is that there’s no shortage of naysayers for what we do. I read a quote the other day, “Life is Like a video game: If you’re not running into enemies, you’re going in the wrong direction.”
An avid reader, he’s fond of Machiavelli’s observation on the nature of leadership in innovation. McCrodan liked it so much, he attached a quote to the bottom of his email signature. He relates to how innovators ruffle the feathers of those who have flourished under previous establishments.
McCrodan recognizes how then, as well as now, experts may not wish to change, due to a combination of skepticism and unwillingness to try something that they had not experienced personally. McCrodan believes anyone with new take on any existing field will encounter contention, and his advice to entrepreneurs is to anticipate that resistance.
“If you’re going to go in and disrupt the way that something is being done, you have to have thick skin. You have to be prepared to battle through that.”
McCrodan speaks of the philosophy behind his choice to be an entrepreneur. His choice to advocate for vision rehabilitation as a means to fight learning disabilities, or ease headaches from those suffering from concussion or double vision is often met with skepticism.
“You have people like Simon Sinek, talking about the ‘why.’ It’s so key for a number of reasons, the why is really there with ‘you.’ When you come across those adversarial pieces, you really have to rely on the why are you doing it.
McCrodan’s “why” came as a slow revelation, instead of a thunderbolt from the blue. “First, I was an engineer. My whole life, when I grew up, I wanted to be an engineer, I wanted to invent something that would change things, help a lot of people. I didn’t want to just sit somewhere, solving code or formulas.”
It was after a year of studying engineering that McCrodan realized it was not for him. He craved a personal connection to not just his work, but required daily interaction with others to feel fulfilled. It was his father who suggested interviewing professionals in a wide variety of fields to find his calling.
“My dad, in his infinite wisdom said to me, ‘you need to interview a whole lot of people who are doing different jobs, in different careers. Find out what’s going to fit for you.’ He was like, ‘you need a skill set.”
“You need to look at your university education like it’s a business loan, you need to make sure you’re getting a skill set out of that.”
It was his fascination with the human eye that brought him to back to engineering. “I learned a bit about the area that had to do with how the two eyes work together, impacting people’s reading and learning, through a colleague of mine in Ontario. I was sitting in his waiting room one day, with a patient of his, who said, ‘I used to think I didn’t like to read because I was stupid. Now, I realize it’s a problem with my eyes.” I thought, ‘this sounds incredible, let me learn more.’
The combination of engineering with vision care was the revelation that shaped his business philosophy. “Our visual system really operates on what’s pretty much software; essentially all that comes in through your eyes is all a bunch of ones and zeroes. It’s a binary code type of thing. Your visual system has to have all the learned algorithms and processes to make sense of that information.
If a self driving car can’t sense depth and space and location properly, it doesn’t matter if it’s the best self-driver in the world: It’s going to smash into things.
“So, the same kind of thing happens when reading and learning, if your eyes don’t actually track properly. About half of the people I work with come to me after a head injury, whiplash or concussion. The dizziness, fogginess, balance problems are related more to their eyes than their inner ears, but most people think it’s their inner ear.”
McCrodan’s entrepreneurial journey emerged from seeing a gap in how people with visual tracking problems were treated. “I guess I’ve always been a little bit entrepreneurial, I often just take risks, and do things.
“I started working in my own clinics six hours a week, working at another clinic to subsidize myself. Because you know, like any venture like that, I didn’t take any loans from banks… banks had no idea what I was doing, so no banks were going to give me any money for it.” He has since bankrolled his expansion through the help of Scotia Bank’s Private Banking. “They really went to bat for me,” McCrodan adds.
“I would say, for me, one of the biggest obstacles has been public knowledge and acceptance. Because of people not knowing what we do, and most other health care professionals being unaware of it.
If, thirty years ago, you went to your GP or your doc and said, “hey, doc, somebody just told me I have a concussion, they’d say, ‘what the heck is that? I don’t think that’s real.’”
“That’s literally been one of our biggest hurdles. We walk around just taking for granted how we see things, how all that stuff works. In terms of that hurdle, it’s literally right in front of our eyes – no pun intended – but we take it for granted and we don’t think about it.
The difficulty in persuading loan officers to provide funds for McCrodan’s clinic was another obstacle he faced when starting up. His confidence in the value of his work helped him through; He thought outside the box, and re-borrowed from his student line of credit.
“I started super-bare bones. We were seeing four patients a week in the very beginning, and now, in the Victoria clinic, we see about 120, 140 people a week. I’ve got twelve staff there, it’s basically doubled in size every year, until the last year and a half when I became the pinch-point. We’re going to open another location in January in Nanaimo and on Vancouver Island, too.”
McCrodan’s success doesn’t rest on its laurels. He found his being the sole practitioner in his clinic was more of a bottleneck than an aid, and he trained another doctor to work with him. He looks at both the business and the philanthropic elements of his work.
“I’m part of an organization that’s called Entrepreneurs Organization, there’s been some good material through that. I’ve always been a huge, huge reader. I really like the Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, I’ve devoured most of Seth Godin’s material, I can’t even count the amount of books I’ve been through that way.
“A really helpful thing has been my forum through Entrepreneur’s Organization. Because the advice, and more than the advice that come out of that, the experience of learning from someone else’s experience and that’s a huge piece for me, it’s really helped a lot. Whether it was learning from my uncle, the forum at EO, or even reading.
“Lots of times when there’s been ups and downs for stuff for sure. What I found out about that quote from Machiavelli that was so helpful for me…what that quote did for me, it kind of re-framed it.
“When you’re disrupting something and you’re doing something new, you’re gonna have to face a lot of headaches and a lot of naysayers, but take them as a sign that you’re going in the right direction.”
“If you weren’t facing opposition, if you weren’t sometimes going against the opinion of some established stuff, you’re not doing anything novel. You may be a good entrepreneur in that section, but if your goal is to do something novel, you have to be prepared for that.
Look at what tech companies have faced, Tesla, among others.
“If it’s too easy, someone else would have already done it.”
Despite his clinic in the United States, McCrodan plans to stay in Canada. His upcoming plans involve a book that he’s writing, tentatively set to be published by the end of next year.
“My lifetime goal, before I die, is to ensure that I can play a role in changing our public perception of how vision problems are prevalent after a head injury, and also for reading and learning. If I can change how we address that as a society, then that’s my mission. That’s going to start in Canada.”