[00:00:00] Corey Quinn: today I'm joined by Holly Miller. Welcome Holly.
[00:00:20] Holley Miller: Thank you so much for having me. There's a thrill hall of my week for sure. Oh yes.
[00:00:25] Corey Quinn: Let's have some fun. So could you introduce yourself to those folks who may not be [00:00:30] familiar with you and your background?
[00:00:31] Holley Miller: Absolutely. My name is Holly Miller. I reside in the Bay Area, but I am a southern girl, Southern Belle, through and through.
So you'll hear me say y'all a bunch of times in this, in this conversation that that's awesome. And Im the president and founder of Great Matter Marketing, which is a specialized, uh, we call ourselves a, category design firm, so we're uniquely focused on helping innovative life sciences companies really use category design thinking to help change behavior that then helps them really change the standard of healthcare, which is in need of [00:01:00] it.
So, yeah, so we're very excited to be in this space. Oh my
[00:01:03] Corey Quinn: gosh. So much to unpack there. before we do, could you, just for context, for the listeners, could you, what could you share about, the, the firm, your company, maybe the number of employees, size, revenue, clients, whatever you're comfortable
[00:01:14] Holley Miller: sharing.
Absolutely. So we are, um, just celebrator 15th anniversary, which I think is the crystal anniversary. So I expect, I expect some presents. Um, but I maybe am a, I kinda sell great matter, kind of a bit by chance, which is [00:01:30] probably not what most, you know, agency founders find themselves doing.
But I. have a very, practical degree in political science and visual arts. So my parents were like, do you wanna be a political cartoonist? Like, what, what is this? You know? And I, I realized that I had a practical desire to go to law school and then realized I don't really wanna be a lawyer at all.
It sounds terrible. So I ended up trying to pursue something more creative and worked in advertising in New York City, kind of as my first, my first gig. And I worked our, one of our clients was one of the big [00:02:00] three tobacco companies and I basically sold cigarettes and I was like, that is not very inspiring at all.
And so I kind of went on a little bit of a soul search and tried to figure out what I wanted to do and I answered and added a newspaper. Cause that's where we found jobs back then. And I thought it was for a computer software company and it was a PR kind of investor relations PR person. And I thought I can do that.
And it ended up being the world's first surgical robotic company. And when I went in for my interview, I just was so kind of [00:02:30] floored by this concept of, integrating technology into the operat ear that could take you from having an open heart surgery. You know, very invasive. They cut you from your sin, a center into your center, and very long recovery.
And they were doing it through three pencil size holes near chest. And I was like, this is fascinating. Like I must work in this space. And I kind of fell in love with, at that time, medical device. And so I was in the industry for about 10 years and then really felt like, it just seemed a little, the business strategy seemed [00:03:00] dated.
They, it seemed very, out of step with how really business is done these days. And so I decided to start Gray Matter about, like I said, 15 years ago, and I called myself kinda like the anti agency. I was really trying to create a partnership for innovative life sciences companies to help them really.
accelerate adoption of these, this innovation. And so we're quite small. We're only about 10 people. We've been, like I said, we, we go very, very deep in our, in our partner's business. And so we tend to work with them for multi-year engagements. You know, an average length [00:03:30] of probably like three years.
Um, it's kind of on the short side and we really. Again, think of ourselves more as a business strategy partner than a marketing, you know, a marketing agency. And so I would say yes, we decided to go deep into healthcare. I joke and say like, I am not a doctor, but I play one on tv cuz I feel like I know just enough about healthcare to like really, you know, kind of be dangerous.
But I think that has really helped us. I kind of, if you wanna think about, I came from a general kind of, you know, kind of medical device background in different positions, [00:04:00] but that has helped us create, the expertise and the experience to become very, very niche down. within the life sciences space and even further, you know, I would say life sciences for people that don't know is comprised of like pharmaceutical companies, medical device companies, diagnostic, digital health.
And so kind of because of my background, I'd say we even kind of skew more focused on medical device companies.
[00:04:23] Corey Quinn: Fantastic. And then just for context, what is your day-to-day role with as the sort of the founder partner? Like what do [00:04:30] you, what do you do on a daily basis?
[00:04:31] Holley Miller: I'm the least important person here, honestly, when it comes to our team.
Um, truly. So I, think of my, well, I'm, I'm the founder and, and really kind of the president. But the way we structure our partnerships with our clients is maybe a bit unique is first we come in and do category design and really kinda lay the strategy and the foundation for. You know, whether you're launching a new product or you're in market and trying to expand.
And so I kind of help lead the, the strategy and then we have, what we call a market conditioning team, which takes [00:05:00] that messaging and that foundation and the insights around the audience and really helps to then. Execute or implement, you know, a tactical plan to try to educate, the target audience and get them to realize the standard that we're currently using is terrible and we need to change our behavior and therefore adopt something new.
So I'm more on the strategy side. And then, you know, the real important work gets done by, um, the rest of the team.
[00:05:23] Corey Quinn: So you help them, in other words, you help them to define a new category, the what their POV is and, and all of those [00:05:30] strategic elements. And then, Once that's been established, then you have a team that helps to really bring that to market.
[00:05:35] Holley Miller: Yeah, and I think even in that case, like we're generalists and specialists even within our own agency, which is kind of interesting. And so, um, you know, we might have someone who's very focused on digital, who's understanding like, Hey, I recognize how the digital, you know, word of mouth is influencing the conversation.
And so we need to influence or not influence, try, educate our, our customers about, Hey, this may sound crazy. [00:06:00] But honestly, all your surgeons that you're trying to target are on LinkedIn and so you should be creating content there versus like doing page strategy on like Google, you know, keyword searching.
And that's just, you know, it's a little bit like what they think they should do versus what they really should do. Sure. And so we have teams that are really in tune with how are people learning and getting influenced, and acting on, you know, new information.
[00:06:20] Corey Quinn: So important. And here's for the listeners who may not be familiar, how would you define what category design is?
[00:06:26] Holley Miller: Yeah, it's, you know, maybe it's a hot new term, but in truth, it's been around [00:06:30] for, you know, a hundred plus years. there's category design going back to trolls, bird's Eye, who did frozen vegetables, and it's certainly alive and well today. I think a lot of people think about category design as, you know, you've heard of like ride share, that's the new category compared to, taxis.
You have, you know, Airbnb that created a new category, you know, different than hotels. So you know, you can have. adjacent kind of categories. It's not like you're eliminating things that exist. And so it's this idea of net new space in, in a way that's really solving important [00:07:00] problems and kind of changing the world in positive ways and creating differentiation.
And so I kind of think about it as like, how do you stand out? What makes you different and why do people care? And as I mentioned, a lot of companies, no matter what your industry is, I feel like you're just kind of, Doing stuff instead of like really figuring out like what's missing? You know, what, what's gonna move materially, move or advance, you know, this industry forward by solving the real discussers is what we call them.
Um, the example we always like to use is if I'm a business traveler and I'm on [00:07:30] United and you cancel my flight enough times, I will quit. You and I will go to a different airline. If you just gimme like a free upgrade, like that's lovely. It's delighting to me. Or even, you know, a text saying, Hey, your gates changed.
Like, that's great, but if you keep canceling my flight, I will, you know, I will literally, you know, go to Delta. And so we're trying to figure out what are those discussers that, you know, a specific audience has that you can solve in a unique way. And that's kind of how I think about category design. You know, in a nutshell, how
[00:07:57] Corey Quinn: cool is that?
Never heard of that concept. The
[00:07:59] Holley Miller: [00:08:00] Discussers. Yeah. Well, it's, we always start, we always like, what's the category problem? We have this grid and it's, you know, delight. You hear four quadrant grids and most people think you wanna be in the upper right. I'd like delight. Um, nice to have annoyance and discusser.
So discusser is actually an upper left and most companies think about, oh, I'm gonna design my product. Around the delighters, you know, make the customer as happy as possible, but then they never get around to the discussers cause they run outta money, run outta time, what have you. But the delighters are not the things that keep customers [00:08:30] loyal.
It's addressing the discussers. And so you, when you really think about any of these, um, you know, kind of category, uh, creators that we've mentioned, They're basically solving these discussers. So I mentioned Uber, of course, like who had to wait for a taxi in their rain and not know if they were gonna show up.
You know, that's a discusser. So I mentioned you cancel your flight enough times. That's a discusser if I'm a business traveler. Um, so there's just a, you know, a number of of examples we could go through in all, in all the different segments. But I think the idea is like you have to solve a true discusser.[00:09:00]
Otherwise you become a nice to have product and people may or may not use you or buy you. They're not that compelled. Right. So
[00:09:05] Corey Quinn: competing on, uh, different versus better.
[00:09:08] Holley Miller: Exactly. Yeah. I actually hate the word better. I, I like, it's like the curse jar and like anytime someone sell better, you have to put a dollar into the cursed, into the better jar, you know?
Yeah. And once
[00:09:18] Corey Quinn: you're exposed to this category thinking methodology and approach, it's hard to unsee it in the world too. Right.
[00:09:25] Holley Miller: It's interesting because, you know, my husband is not in this space. He's in, he's in finance, so [00:09:30] nothing like this. But the other day he was like, I think that's category design.
And I thought it's so cool that even he can see, it was a, it was a TV commercial for something called Pretty Litter, which is like cat litter. But it's designed, I guess, not to clump it's smell, but it's also designed to change colors depending on the pH balance of your cat's urine, I guess. Mm-hmm. And so I was like, That's category design.
You know, for some people they care about that. So it is cool, to your point, once you see it, you kind of can't unsee it.
[00:09:55] Corey Quinn: Yeah. So is it fair to say that, you're applying the category design [00:10:00] methodology in your business and you were doing it before it was called category design effectively, but, in today's terms, and you're applying that to life sciences specifically with a, focus in medical devices.
[00:10:09] Holley Miller: Very much. But I think even with that said, the idea is that, um, people always ask, well, why are you just doing life sciences? Like, why don't you apply the category thinking in other industries? Cuz it certainly applies as we've talked about all these other industries. But I really feel like for us, because we have so much intellectual capital [00:10:30] in this space, We're almost like re-engineering, you know, we kind of know the dirty little secrets and the insights that we can add more value, I think, to our clients.
Cause they don't have to teach us the way healthcare gets done. We already know how healthcare gets done.
[00:10:45] Corey Quinn: That's fantastic. I wanna drill into that here in a couple minutes, but, um, could you take me back? You said you're. About to, uh, celebrate your 15 year anniversary. Congratulations, by
[00:10:57] Holley Miller: the way. Thank you.
That's fantastic. Don't I? Look at day over five. Come on. [00:11:00] Yeah, you look gorgeous.
[00:11:01] Corey Quinn: So when, take me back to when you were, transitioning into starting your own agency. First off, like what, what compelled you to start your own agency? Why didn't you just go and get another job at another medical
[00:11:12] Holley Miller: device company?
Yeah, it's a great question. And so I think the first, the short answer is I had been in a position for about five years and the company was acquired, um, by a much, much larger medical device company and they were gonna have us move the commercial teams from Santa Barbara [00:11:30] to Irvine. If you've never lived in Santa Barbara or been there, it's a lovely place to live.
And so I was kinda like Santa Barbara. It's pretty great. And the second kind of reason that I started thinking about like, what is, what's the right place? Is it right for me to stay or not? Is that I felt like in some ways I had kind of done, done that job and I didn't see it materially evolving, you know, past, you know, past that five year mark.
So, And I also felt like the culture of the new agency, or sorry, the new company was [00:12:00] very, it was very much like old school, you know, old man group. Um, I just didn't see a lot of room for growth and I just could sense that like, they didn't believe what I believed in, in the sense of what's gonna really move this business.
They were definitely of the idea of like, we're the biggest, you know, kid on the block and we're just gonna either bully or outspend you, you know, and, and win that way. Mm-hmm. And I was like, that's not fun, you know? And so I. Uh, took it literally. I had a, um, I was working medical device as I mentioned, [00:12:30] and we were talking to some surgeons and he was like, Hey, like we we're looking for someone just like, like you do you know anyone?
And I was like, well, I know me, you know, so like, what about me for this job? And so it was a little bit of like a haphazard like way to say like, well, I'm just gonna start consulting. That was my first, my first baby step out of the corporate world and it's gonna start to consult. And then I realized that if it's just me, I only, you know, I can only scale my income by how many hours I wanna work in a day or a week.
And like you start to realize like, wow, that's, you know, that's hard to [00:13:00] do unless you wanna work all the time. And he wants to do that. And so then I thought, okay, well I might make a go to this boutique agency thing. And I knew, I didn't wanna know, be in a big agency because, I had, they were my partners when I was on the industry side.
On the client side, I worked at these large agencies, and I didn't have a great experience. I didn't think they were bringing insights. I didn't think they were bringing a lot of value. They were kind of waiting for us to tell them what to do. And so my first thought was, well, if I do this and create my own agency, I wanna do it differently.
You know, I feel like there's a different way [00:13:30] to, partner with medical device companies and help them navigate. How to grow their revenue, you know, accelerate product adoption and successfully launch products. And I realized that there was a, a pretty horrifying stat, which is it takes for medical devices about 90 million, with investment to bring it to market, just the r and d kind of capital, equipment cost.
And it's about five to seven years to get it through the FDA process. For a drug, it's 10 x, it's [00:14:00] about $900 million and it's about 10 years. And in either scenario, half of the products that come to the market. don't have any incremental clinical value. So they're just like an another, you know, me too.
I've got a pen here, I've got a blue pen, and I got an orange pen line that, that's it. You know, I can still write with them. The other thing was that, um, that no surprise probably led to the fact that about two thirds of all product launches did not meet the, revenue in year one. So, you know, they expected it to be a [00:14:30] blockbuster drug or blockbuster device.
It got into the market and no one used it, or very few people used it. And you know, I was like, that, that has, there's got to be, you know, a better way to do this that increases your odds of success. And I think part of it is the way medical devices are come, to market through the FDA process. Most companies, no surprise, Once you get their product to market as fast as possible.
Cause that's when you make money, right? The longer you delay your, you know, market launch, you delay your revenue. But there's different [00:15:00] classifications of devices in the medical device, sorry, in the regulatory space. And so by saying you're a me too product, you're equivalent, you get approval faster, but then you go to market and you're like, I have nothing to say.
I have nothing to say. Just that I write in orange and you write in blue. Yes. I'm just to different name. Yeah, exactly. So I was, I'm like, there's got, so I think for me it was this kind of ion, um, of. the business strategy is so flawed that let's [00:15:30] teach people how to do it. I don't wanna say it the right way, but a different way that we believe increases your odds of success and increases the odds that your great technology will make it into the market and, and meaningfully impact patient lives.
I mean, it was kind of a, a double punch here.
[00:15:46] Corey Quinn: Was there ever a point, as in those early days, as you were initially consulting, That, you, well, let me ask it, let me ask it differently. So when you were starting off, were you more of a generalist or were you clear that, Hey, I've got a, a medical [00:16:00] device client as I, me, my first client, I'm gonna stick in this medical device, area as long as I can?
Or how did you think about it at that time?
[00:16:07] Holley Miller: Yeah, it's interesting. So, Even with a medical device career, I was, I had 10 years and my first five years was in surgical robotics, so it was very technical, very, or very clinical. The next five years was when, was basically an obesity and metabolic syndrome, and so two very specific spaces even within that device.
And so when I first started consulting, the weight loss and bariatric and [00:16:30] metabolic space was very hot. Mm-hmm. And so all of a sudden we were getting all these calls from these companies that were startups and we're like, this is so easy and so great, you know? But then we realized that, you know, we were almost like two niche because they were all startups.
They were all in this space and they, you know, didn't get to their milestones they needed before they ran on money, and all of a sudden was like, we had no clients. So we're like, oh my gosh. I was like, this is a terrible mistake. You know, like I need to go. You know, to any tech company I can find in town and try to get them to work [00:17:00] with us because we know our, you know, our methodologies are good, but maybe we, we went too, we went too a niche too narrow.
And then we realized like, that's dumb. You know, like that's just, that was just learning. That was just, you know, kind of diversify, but still focus. And so then we kind of realized that, we still stayed in, in healthcare, but we kind of went into like some fringe areas. So like I said, devices is like, you know, a bread and butter for us.
But we started being like, oh, home health. Okay. [00:17:30] Or skilled nursing facilities. Okay. Like anyone who kind of called us, we felt like, oh, that's healthcare. Like we, it still fits. But the truth of the matter is we are like, None of these are like really that compelling in terms of the problem they were solving or how unique the technology was.
And so we kind of made a decision to say, look, to work with us, you need to have, a focus on trying to address an unmet clinical need. So it has to be a [00:18:00] problem that needs to be solved. You have to be well funded because we don't wanna have the situation where all of our clients are early stage startup and they fail because they can't get funding.
And, you have to kind of believe what we, what we believe. You have to understand kind of this category design thinking. Recognize how you need to really solve an urgent problem to a specific group. And, you know, try to stand on your own. Stand out, not compete. The fourth one was, you have to be nice, you have to value us.
You know, like, we have to be partners. If you treat us like crap, then we're not gonna work with you. [00:18:30] And so we viewed it very much as like almost a, a marriage to some degree, or like, you're dating, I'm gonna, I'm gonna try you out as much, or I'm gonna test you as much as you're gonna test me. And if we think it works, then that's a good partnership and we really view ourselves as partners.
And so I think if there was a little bit of learning, you know, initially of kind of what makes a good partner or what makes a good client, but I feel like there was just a little bit of, nascent knowledge when we first started of like what, you know, how do you niche down about being so niche and how do you kind of [00:19:00] protect yourself so you don't get Sure.
A little exposed,
[00:19:02] Corey Quinn: definitely art and a
[00:19:03] Holley Miller: science. Yeah, for sure. For sure.
[00:19:06] Corey Quinn: So what was happening in that time of the business? You said that you were dabbling in a couple different, Types of businesses that were technically under healthcare, but not necessarily, uh, medical device. And then eventually you got to this, point where you were really clear on, you have four criteria.
That make a great fit, on both sides. Yeah. what was happening in the business at that time that led you to get really [00:19:30] clear?
[00:19:30] Holley Miller: I think that, in some ways you have to have a little bit of faith in yourself and kind of just know your value, maybe that sounds weird.
Mm-hmm. And I think, I think when I was, I was, you know, raised a perfectionist, whether my parents realize or not. So I just always was like, I gotta make the right decision. I gotta be the best, I gotta do the right thing. And I always had this little bit of a fear of like, there's only one right decision if you, if you don't choose correctly, that next decision, like you're, that's gonna be it.
And at some point I realize that that's not true. You just make the [00:20:00] best decision you can. And then you can always make another decision, you know what I'm saying? And that, that was a bit liberating for me. So I gave myself a little bit of almost like rope, you know, to kind of give myself a little bit of flexibility to say like, Hey, like let's try this.
You know, does this seem to make sense? Let's try it. you know, don't be afraid to try things, but also have a very clear set of parameters that if it's not hitting like then it's time to pivot or try something different. And so I think with a few of these, like. You know, mistakes if you wanna call 'em that [00:20:30] kind of going too far out of our focus, it just gave me more confidence and frankly, a little bit more swagger to be like, no, like we know this is right.
We know who the right company to work with, so don't come to us if you don't fit it. if you wanna complain about price, like we're not the cheapest, you know, kid in town, we're not the most expensive, but like, you're getting enormous value. That's not about arts and craft marketing.
It's about a business growth strategy. Yep. And so the other thing, you know, as I was mentioning, is how much money these companies are investing in bringing technology to markets. So you're gonna complain about a [00:21:00] couple. Hundred grand here or there when you are trying literally make millions of dollars.
Like let's be realistic. And so I kind of felt like in some ways like we're a challenger, but it's not because we know we're right, but because we just understand so, so deeply what has worked and what hasn't worked, you know, for companies, you know, whether it was. You know, in, you know, in a medical device company or as a, as a partner.
And so I think it just gave us confidence with some of these early mistakes. And, you know, even with Covid, like almost [00:21:30] every night, you know, a lot of companies dropped their agencies because they were afraid of, you know, kind of, you know, kind cash flow, especially in healthcare. And, you know, I was a little bit distr, my husband said like, what do you mean?
He's like, you know, you're selling intellectual capital. Like that's what you're selling. You're not selling. You know, products or, you know, it's like being a great chef, a Michelin star chef. You don't have a restaurant, you're still a Michelin star chef. You know, like you still have that intellectual, you know, capital, that value.
So I think in some ways it has allowed us to kind of be more confident in saying [00:22:00] like, no, we, we know this is proven. This is kind of our requirements, and if you believe what we believe, like we're gonna be very successful. But if you say you believe or you're not ready, you know, you want overnight success or you're not willing to make the investment, like, it's just not gonna, not gonna pan, you know, turn out, pan out.
And so I think just those early days was trying to like, Scale quickly because you, you're a little bit worried, you know, you've kind of like, you're a little bit exposed, right? You don't have a whole book of business that you're inheriting. You [00:22:30] gotta go build it. And then I feel like we, you know, learned from these little bit of mistakes.
And then when we found those kind of connectors who believed what we believed and saw what we did, they were happy to then recommend us and promote us to their peers. And we found that was very important. Given our industry, because we're trying to build relationships with CEOs and chief commercial officers and you know, chief operating officers.
So we're trying to come in at the top, or even from the board level [00:23:00] and not come in, you know, a traditional maybe agency entry point, which is more like maybe marketing.
[00:23:05] Corey Quinn: So just going back to what you were just saying about your conviction, I think in some respects it makes me think that you are, drinking your own champagne or dogfooding a little bit, you know, in that you, have a strong point of view and you are different, not better, right?
Yes. And so you, you are creating your own category specifically within the life sciences slash medical device. And so I think that that is very powerful.
[00:23:29] Holley Miller: [00:23:30] And, and I appreciate that, that you acknowledge that because I think that is what we always go back and ask the CEOs after they've, you know, done category design with us.
what surprised you? And they're like, how far you pushed us? They're like, you are, you are gonna challenge us. You know, we, you could have quit, you know, many points before the end of the, you know, the end of the final output and you didn't. And I kind of think it is that conviction because we kind of know when we check the boxes.
And you gotta check all the boxes to be different. Not to just be better glut enough. You know, it's like, [00:24:00] no, you've got to have that urgent problem that someone cares about, that if you could change it for them, you know, change the outcome, they would change your behavior. And I think that can, conviction has really served us well and our, and our clients well.
[00:24:14] Corey Quinn: awesome. So in those early days as you were building momentum within this space, uh, you mentioned connectors were critical to getting more sort of exposure to the right people. Can you talk more about that? Like who, who are these connectors and how did you find them and how did you build a [00:24:30] relationship with 'em?
[00:24:30] Holley Miller: Yeah, it's a great question and I kind of, um, you know, I always, I truly believe that, you know, every. Every misstep or every failure do you wanna call it, that is really a learning opportunity. Mm. And so I just told you that hey, we, we niche down too, too much in this one, you know, therapeutic area of metabolic surgery and weight loss and obesity.
and. Ironically, we also got a reputation for being an expert in this space. And so a lot of VCs and [00:25:00] and PE firms were very keen to get in to get into this space because they just saw it as like, this is gonna be a revenue, you know, winner for us. And so they would call us or they would, you know, some of the companies that we were consulting.
We're courting these, private equity and VC firms. And so we were kind of helping them put their decks together, tell their stories, even pitch. And then the, you know, VCs were like, who, who are these people? You know, like who? And so we kind of, they started calling us and being [00:25:30] like, we're thinking about, you know, investing in this company.
Like, what do you think? And so in some ways, It was too niche, but it gave us a bridge a little bit to expand, our access and our reputation and credibility to a really powerful, you know, cohort of people that we viewed could really accelerate, you know, exposure. We thought, Hey, if they like us and see what we're doing and our value, then they'll bring us into their portfolio companies.
And [00:26:00] help. And that was kind of like, I think what in some ways like gave us a little bit of a, you know, not momentum. It gave a little bit of a, a push kind of a, an adjacent push to be like, Hey, you actually can apply this to other therapeutic areas. And then I think we realized it almost makes no different what the therapy is.
Like this works across the board. Um, but I think again, having a specialization in life sciences, we understand. The regulatory landscapes, you know, the compliance [00:26:30] issues, how you're allowed to market. And so, you know, we were never going to expose our clients to all these risks, and so they kind of had to de-risk their own,commercialization strategy and, and we were kind of their de-risk factor versus going to.
Even a more general agency, but even, you know, even a healthcare agency that maybe had more experience in diagnostics or drugs, it's a totally different ball, you know, ballgame.
[00:26:56] Corey Quinn: What has the impact of that specialization in life [00:27:00] sciences had on your ability to get and attract more life science customers?
[00:27:05] Holley Miller: People seem shocked that we only specialize in, light centers. They're like, what? What? And it's not that there aren't a lot of healthcare agencies out there, but they're big and they're not doing kind of category design thinking. They're kind of doing a more traditional marketing, even positioning.
I mean, it's not like it's wrong, it's just, it's just, you know, I think you get a different outcome and not as valuable one. And so I think that they're kind of accustomed to. a more [00:27:30] paid, you know, paid strategy for marketing. And we're all about, no, like you want it to be earned.
You want people to be talking about you organic, you know, peer to peer selling, like it's easy to outspend, but how do you outsmart? And that was kind of our philosophy. So we found that a lot of even healthcare agencies were. Trying to just do paid they, and because of that, they wanted a lot of money because they were like, Hey, if you don't have a hundred million budget, only 10, like, you're not gonna get much attention.
And I think the other area [00:28:00] was that, um, they didn't really have the clinical expertise. So, you know, our team has spent time in an operating room. You know, we understand, you know, compliance guidelines, all that stuff. We, we helped to invent surgeries, and so we just had like a leg up that you
couldn't fulfill or you couldn't copy. And so I think this model for a lot of agencies has been about paid and ours was like, it's not paid. [00:28:30] [00:29:00]
[00:29:23] Corey Quinn: How do you attract new, life sciences clients today? Yeah,
[00:29:27] Holley Miller: it's a great question. And I think, um, [00:29:30] you know, I think there's pros and cons.
Like anything. I think that we have a lot of word of mouth and referrals, which is lovely. Um, those tend to close very fast and have a very high rate of conversion, but we don't control that, right? We're waiting for those to come to us. And so how do we kind of proactively, um, you know, prime the market and get them to start thinking differently about what kind of partner do we need?
And so we spend a lot of time, um, trying to create insightful and valuable content. Um, it's really not about us, it's about our [00:30:00] clients and our clients'. Clients. So, you know, doctors, um, healthcare providers, nurses. And so we try to be as, as we try to share as much insight as we possibly can to help them basically be more successful.
And a lot of that stems on trying to get them to think differently themselves. And so we, you know, we publish blogs, we do email blasts, but we've really tried to increase our focus within LinkedIn. Because we've realized that again, like how people are learning and how they're being influenced is [00:30:30] changing, and so we're trying to really connect with them there.
CEOs of life sciences companies are. you wouldn't think that they're active. They're not posting, you know, they're not putting out their own content, but they're on it just like everyone else, and they're seeing what their peers are saying. You know, they're, they're getting messages from the board member, like, look at this company.
Like, why don't we have this? I mean, they're, you know, everyone's telling everyone to do. And so we've kind of tried to change that a little bit. And I think, you know, we put out a blog for our 15 anniversary, which our 15th year anniversary, which was called like 15 Insights to feature [00:31:00] proof your, you know, your life sciences company.
And, you know, COVID among other things has really radically changed healthcare. It stops surgeries from happening. You know, there's a massive surgeon shortage in healthcare workers shortage. Patients are getting sicker and sicker. Um, so it's more complex to treat them. Hospitals are literally going bankrupt, um, because, you know, they're having complications.
They're not having the revenue streams. And so like, it's very broken and the idea of kind of like what's worked in the past is definitely not going to work in the [00:31:30] future. And so we took that blog and you know, distributed via email. We put a bunch on LinkedIn. The most response I've ever had in my CEOs.
I didn't know CEOs. We did know VCs just personally emailing me like, like, this is, this is amazing. Can I share it with others? And it was this idea of really trying to share insights we thought would really help them. And you know, we even had a client we worked with and he said, you know, I, so they launched their product in 2019.
They started working with us in [00:32:00] 2023. And they kind of said like, I wish we had, you know, met you guys four years ago when we launched. You know, this was like so insightful and we're kind of helping them, you know, make adjustments. Yeah. But I think it's this idea of like really helping them by delivering value and, and insights.
That's, I think expertise is truly the new currency. It used to be very relationship based, but like CEOs of life science, they're not going to Google and being like, I need a life sciences agency partner. Like, that's not how they. Find stuff, it's very much peer to peer, word of [00:32:30] mouth referrals, and so we're just trying to kind of help be as helpful as possible to try to, you know, make them believe that we understand their space better than anyone else and therefore we can solve their problems better than anybody else.
[00:32:42] Corey Quinn: Do you get involved with, are there associations that, you guys participate in at the conferences, things like that?
[00:32:49] Holley Miller: Yeah, it's interesting. So we have found that, um, you know, marketing and the life sciences space is, very interesting because. Most of the marketers are actually either engineers [00:33:00] that came up as product, you know, product managers or their sales reps that don't have, and no one has marketing experience in the traditional sense.
Right. Which is like very funny to me. And so there is not a lot of, I would say kind of, industry education events and, and activities around marketing per se. It's really about traditionally, you know, exhibiting at healthcare society meetings and things of that nature. And, and there is a growing, I'd say, a growing niche of, and, and it's increasing of these types of marketing, you [00:33:30] know, summits and things that are specific to healthcare, whether it's device or pharma.
But we, and we, we did actually go and present at a bunch of, you pay, you pay a fee and sponsor, and you get, you know, a slot. And we always got the survey results of like, you know, what was your rating of your presentation? I mean, I'm not bragging, but we always had the highest rating and we thought, this is great.
All these people who attend are gonna go back to their companies and be like, we've gotta work with Gray Matter. You know, when we launched our product and they didn't because we realized they were [00:34:00] lower people in marketing and they didn't have the clout. To go to their, you know, executive leaders and say, we need to bring an agency, because it made them look bad.
They were like, well then, you know, the C-Suite be like, why, why do we need an agency? Like, we have you guys, you know, because they're not really used to working with outside partners. Yeah. And so we realized like, if we're really targeting CS and the C-suite of, of, you know, life sciences companies, where are those people?
They're not at marketing conferences. They're either at society meetings, [00:34:30] they're at JP Morgan Healthcare Conference or other investor type conferences, which are, you know, Often invite only, or you kind of gotta, you know, be, be in town. So we found those opportunities are much more fruitful than kind of paid opportunities around marketing per se.
Mm-hmm. It's like, how do we really connect with, the C-suite of these companies. Interesting.
[00:34:49] Corey Quinn: when it comes to hiring for your, for your firm, how important is it for you to hire people with a life sciences background?
[00:34:58] Holley Miller: It's a great question and we have [00:35:00] this debate frequently. Um, I'd say the, the limit, the the biggest limiting factor of Gray Matters ability to scale is resources, are people, because you have to have such a unique expertise are around healthcare and life sciences.
That even if you're an expert in category design or working or what have you, I think it's not the same. It's not plug and play. You have to really. Intimately know, you know, the space. And so we have positions that are open for, it [00:35:30] could be a year, you know, we can interview people and be like, nah. So I kind of feel like in some ways that is the hardest part.
I do think you have to have. The life sciences background. And then I think you have to have in some ways an agency background to some degree, because I feel like it's very, very different than if you kind of grow up on the industry side. So I do feel like finding the right people is very, very hard. I think it's hard to find good talent everywhere.
Yeah. The upside, we've always been remote. So we never had a brick and mortar. So before even Covid, like we were remote, we tried [00:36:00] to get most people in California. But I think, you know, we kind of gave ourselves permission, like, let's just find our best people, you know, and I don't care where they are. So we have kind of every time zone represented, um, which is lovely.
But I do feel like in general, I think for any company, finding just great talent I think is really hard. Mm.
[00:36:17] Corey Quinn: It is, especially for the, the top 1% of, of,
[00:36:20] Holley Miller: yeah. And I, and I kind of like, don't you just, I mean, I want rock stars. I only want a plus students.
[00:36:24] Corey Quinn: I've done the other route and it never works out.
[00:36:27] Holley Miller: yeah, it's true. And I, and I do feel like, you know, sometimes, like, you kind of [00:36:30] like, well, someone's better than nobody, and you're like, it's actually not true. Mm-hmm. You know, and, and same for clients. Like, we had a client who recently was like, Hey, we're, you know, we need to dramatically scale down our retainer.
And we were just like, I just had to say like, it's not worth it. Mm-hmm. Like it's, I'd rather have an empty, you know, an empty client seat. Then a client that's just not the right fit. Cause it just doesn't work, you know? Yeah. It's ends up being way more energy, way more, you know, uh, uh, use of resources that are just better served in other ways.
Whether, even, even if I have to take that [00:37:00] resource and put them on promoting gmm, that's better than, you know, a mediocre person that's billable to a client, you know? So I, I would take that any day. Yeah.
[00:37:11] Corey Quinn: Taking a step back, what would you say, having been through this journey now and, and, uh, you know, you, you built this amazing company, what would you say are the positive aspects to taking a niche or a vertical approach to growing a business?
[00:37:25] Holley Miller: It's a great question. And so I think one thing that's been, been [00:37:30] kind of milling around in my, in my mind kinda in this conversation is that clearly there's two approaches, right? There's two ways. It's skin, the cat, you know, vertical or more general. I. And I feel like if you, and it's not like, it's not like only one person's doing vertical and everyone's doing general.
There's a lot of specialization these days, right? I mean, even within the life sciences, there's companies that just do, like oncology, you know, drugs. That's all they do. And so my thought is that if you're not specializing, someone else is, and so then you're competing as a generalist against a specialist.
And [00:38:00] I think when that happens, like you're gonna lose every time, I believe. Mm-hmm. And, and maybe you say, well, we're cheaper. But like, what are you giving up? You know, by bringing in my mind, if someone's really gonna go with a cheaper option, I'm this like, have fun, good luck. See you on the flip side cause you're gonna call us back, you know?
Yeah. It must
[00:38:14] Corey Quinn: not be a real problem cuz if it pay the least amount you can. Yeah. It's not that
[00:38:18] Holley Miller: serious. And so I feel like the idea of like, even though I think you have to kind of be somewhat generalized, just you gotta be knowledgeable, I think that, mm-hmm. If a company or a client is given the option to [00:38:30] like work with a specialist or a generalist, my instinct is like, they're gonna go a specialist every time.
Yeah. Because they just know that they're not gonna have to, teach, you explain to things. And I think people take issue with like, I shouldn't have to teach you that. You know, like you should, you should already know that, and you should be only bringing net value to me. And so, so I kind of, yeah, I kind of like You got to, you got
[00:38:49] Corey Quinn: to, yeah.
Yeah. It's like a burden on the client. Like, oh, now we have to teach our agency, like the way that the world works. Yeah. And,
[00:38:54] Holley Miller: and even now, like when we do bring on new people, even come from the health care space, we probably bill [00:39:00] more than half their time to training. Cause they're kind, we're like, we can't build the client this, like, we're bringing it up to speed, you know, even if they're specialists.
So I do feel like the idea of as minimally. A burden as you can be and as maximally as you can be in value. That's a winning combination. I love that. and you know, like one of our clients, we, because we have such a deep understanding of the space and our client's business and the market landscape, we will often, Manage the CEOs of companies, their LinkedIn, profile.
We create [00:39:30] LinkedIn articles for them. So we're writing as a ghost writer for these CEOs. And you know, I love it when we just sent an article to a CEO and he came back basically with like, no. No edits. And I thought he's like, this is great. Like, looks great. So it's no burden to him you know, we're not a burden to him.
We're basically just adding value. He's like, I checked that off my list. I don't have to do any heavy work. Like it's all you. Beautiful. And I think that's the goal is like, to be able to think like them. So like, it's just basically so effortless for them and the value is so [00:40:00] high.
[00:40:00] Corey Quinn: What are the downside to the negatives to taking a vertical approach?
[00:40:04] Holley Miller: I think that, and it's a great question too. There's always, there's always a shade right? To the, to the sunshine. And so I do think that, Even though we are very niche, we say like, Hey, we do the strategy and the implementation, and most companies don't believe that. They're like, you just can't do both.
You know, you can't be a PR specialist, a social media specialist, a digital specialist, thought leader, specialist, you know, design. Like you can't. And, and we're saying like, we can because we have these [00:40:30] specialists, you know, in, in kind of our, in our umbrella. And so I think sometimes people just sometimes think you're too niche.
Like you can't, kind of, can't do it all. And so they'll even be like, well, I think you guys really do a good job with dig, you know, social media, but like we're gonna have someone else do pr. And I'm like, no, we do pr. Are you talking about, it's the same messaging. It's just a different way to push it out there.
So I do think sometimes people almost self-select. Or almost put you in a different bucket a little bit. Cause they're like, oh, you're so niche, you can't do this. And we're like, no, we can. And so I do think sometimes just the client has their own [00:41:00] perception, and I think it's the onus is on us as a company to educate the client in the market of like, here's what this means.
You may be thinking you need a peer agency or a new website, but what you really need is a market conditioning partner who can basically educate the, you know, the market about what's missing. And define the solution criteria. And then, oh, by the way, you're the only one that has that solution. And so I think we have to teach them a little bit about how they need to think about what, you know, a business growth partner is.
And it might be different than they think it looks. And so I [00:41:30] think part of that is just we haven't maybe educated the market as. Aggressively as we need to. Mm-hmm. And so maybe they just don't get it. Totally.
[00:41:38] Corey Quinn: And some people just don't wanna listen.
[00:41:40] Holley Miller: Well, I think to your point, like, you know, some people, just like anything you, you're gonna have people who, you know, um, like going back to the, the airline example.
If I'm a, you know, executive trying to get to a meeting and you cancel my flight, like, I'm gonna be pissed. I'm gonna change, you know, um, change airlines. If I'm a college student and you cancel my flight and gimme a $500 voucher, like [00:42:00] I'm happy as a peach, right? Because I'm like, oh my God, I just got, I'm a poor college student.
I just got an extra airline ticket. Like, I'm pleased. You know? And so it's a different audience. I kind of think you have to figure out like, you know, who, who believes what you believe, you know? Yeah. A hundred percent. Otherwise you just spend too much time trying to convince them, and that's just like a waste of time.
[00:42:19] Corey Quinn: Thank you. That's a hundred percent correct. That's my experience as well.
[00:42:22] Holley Miller: And, and the other funny thing in this space and um, is that, Especially in the healthcare space, people have been taught that [00:42:30] it's all about data. You know, your FDA clearances are based on data. You don't have good data, like you won't get approved.
No one's gonna, you gonna know you use your product. The truth of the matter is, you can have the best data ever, and that does not mean people are gonna use your product. And that like, it, it, it makes them crazy when we tell them that. And I just think it's this idea of like, you have to kind of understand how people work and how brains work.
Regardless of what the product is, again, drug, toothpaste, car, it's the same brain, you know? And a human being. Yeah. And so if you think you're different, you [00:43:00] know you're wrong. Yeah.
[00:43:01] Corey Quinn: Yeah. the best product doesn't always win,
[00:43:03] Holley Miller: right?
It's, oh my God, we say it all the time. It's like one of our number one mantras and we're like, and let's talk about why. And then we have these specific case studies that are specific to, you know, medical devices and drugs to show them. And they're like, That's incredible. Like they just can't believe it.
But then they still wanna hang on and we're like, oh my gosh. You know, it's like, and yeah, I think they just think, they've been kind of trained that if you're the best, everyone will use it. And you know, and you're like, not true. Yeah, not true. [00:43:30] Not true
[00:43:30] Corey Quinn: at all. So, just two more quick questions here. Yeah.
For you, Holly, what would you say to the, 15 year ago version of Holly? Maybe you were starting off, you were diversifying into these other areas, and or maybe say maybe it's a listener who is a running an agency, more of a generalist approach. Maybe they've. Been interested in this idea of specializing, but haven't really committed to it.
What advice would you have from where you sit today [00:44:00] for this person?
[00:44:00] Holley Miller: Yeah, it's a great question. I'm laughing because I remember early in, in the gray matter days, all of a sudden, as I was mentioning like. So I won like a national award as I was leaving the industry side. So like I kind of got, you know, my name out there a little bit.
So people, even other agents were calling us and being like, Hey, maybe we have a project maybe you can help us with. And all of a sudden I was like telling my business partner at the time, I was like, we're gonna be so rich. Like everyone's gonna like, you know, work with us.
Like we were just like counting, counting our pennies, our dollars. That's beautiful. And then like, they didn't [00:44:30] translate, for whatever reason and we were kind of dancing. Oh my gosh. Like this is, you know, you're gonna have to work for this. It's not just gonna like fall on your lap. And so I do think there was a little bit of, it wasn't hubris, it was just like ignorance, you know, that like, oh my gosh, like we just think this is so easy and like you have one conversation with someone and they're, it's a good, it's gonna close, right?
And that's obviously not how it happens. So I think having a good understanding, of like, you know, what is just like with categor design for our clients, what are our clients going through and like, how do we help them [00:45:00] navigate this, you know, this, this landscape so that it's. they understand why we're different and why that's valuable and, and try to get them to kind of self select us.
And so I think that we've, we have changed a lot of our process, just in terms of, first we said we're gonna go narrow, and then it was like, well, we're gonna kind of take whatever projects come our way. And that didn't serve us well. We couldn't really like staff well, because we didn't know every client was different.
There was just like random projects that we were doing from time to time and we said, We've gotta not just focus, but also kind of [00:45:30] narrow. Like, what are we gonna offer? where's our greatest value that we can offer to clients? Like who, who are we and what do we wanna kind of stand for for our clients?
And so I think understanding, again, like where you can really deliver the most value is imperative. And I think it's hard to do because you're in the beginning, a little bit desperate, I feel like. Like you just want the revenue, you want the clients, and you just kind of take whatever comes your way. And I think you have to have a little bit of confidence that you are the best, or sorry, you are different and you are, you [00:46:00] know, there's no substitute for what you offer people and have confidence in that.
And then you're gonna have to, like I said, take a little bit of a leap of faith knowing that it's notA switch, you flip it is going to be a process and a journey, but the clearer you can get about what you offer and that value and who you're for, that's going to help you immensely. And I just believe.
Anyone that wants to take this, you know, leap of faith or this, make this switch, Just kind of make sure you, see how you're moving in that direction. It doesn't have to be an [00:46:30] overnight, like, now I'm gonna fire all of our clients that aren't in this nation, you know, moving. But you have to kind of be intentional about how you're shifting in that direction and make sure that the, new decisions are in support of that.
And you don't get kind of, You know, pulled backwards into your old, you know, your old life and just know that it can be a process. But I would encourage you, like without a doubt, like you should do it. Otherwise you're gonna be a nice to have at best.
[00:46:54] Corey Quinn: That's great advice. Yeah. Last question, what is your motivation?
[00:46:58] Holley Miller: I should be able to answer that [00:47:00] really quick, uh, really easily. I think that I was, like I said, I was very high performer. I was kind of a perfectionist, but I didn't, I went to like a private liberal arts school, which I thought was a great education, very well-rounded, but I didn't really know what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I think, yeah, I mentioned like I was gonna, I thought I'll always be a lawyer because I didn't really understand the different professional options that people have. It was kinda like you could be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer, you know, a teacher. Like it just seemed like a finite, offering out there for, college graduates or you know, young people, young [00:47:30] adults.
And I think it took me a little bit of time to figure out like, where, what am I really good at? And like, what do I really want to be doing? And I think for me, I realized that I have, because I was a visual art major and a political science major, I'm like very left brained and right-brained. Right. And so you kind of put it together and I'm like a little bit of like a weird person because.
I can think very creatively, but also very, you know, technically and strategically. And so I think that has allowed me to take a very different approach. And I believe that I can [00:48:00] navigate and help these CEOs navigate a very difficult landscape in a way that will help them win. And so I just think that I have a unique skillset and to me, I am so motivated to get to work with companies that I really believe are changing the world, versus my first job where I was selling cigarettes that was so demoralizing.
I just felt like this is just like a terrible way to like make a living and get up, you know, every day to go to the office. And now I'm like, I love, I get so excited about who we're working with, working with clients who, are [00:48:30] in ai, but it's not just ai. The idea is like they're creating technology that when you look at an X-ray or a CT scan, it just takes away the bones and the vessels.
So you see only the cancer, only the, you know, uh, the nodules that are cancerous. And so it just is like changing this idea of like no longer delaying diagnoses of like diseases. And so to me, like. It's the fact that we're helping so many people. That is so motivating to me, and I think ultimately I have to feel proud.
Of what I'm doing and I feel [00:49:00] proud of being in this space and helping our clients, which I know is helping patients much more than like, oh, here, would you like to buy a cool cigarette with menthol? Yeah, yeah. You know, like that was so different. What a
[00:49:11] Corey Quinn: journey. That's so beautiful. Yeah,
[00:49:13] Holley Miller: and like I said, I kind of feel like it's okay not to know.
I think a lot of kids, you know, early in their career, and I shouldn't say kids, but people early in their career, I think sometimes you don't know what you wanna do and you're trying to explore it. And so I think people should just kind of really be open to learning and exposing themselves to new [00:49:30] ideas and new industries.
So I think there's, it's expanding. I mean, you think about how many, generate ai, you know, jobs are at, are out there now. These, you know, ai, you know, engineers. Engineers, yeah. Yeah. I mean like Trump engineer, like this things didnt even exist, right? I mean, yeah, weeks ago and like my son exist, getting ready to go to college.
Like all, even the majors you can have exist. You know, and so I think it's an incredibly exciting time. Mm-hmm. And I just think just getting exposed, you know, to new industries, new opportunities so you can really figure out like, what do you [00:50:00] like to do? Because you and I are talking like, we spent a lot of time working.
and so you might as well love what you're doing. And I feel really, excited and, and kind of empowered that I get to do that. And, you know, there's a lot of jobs I wouldn't want and I'm really grateful that I have the opportunity.
[00:50:15] Corey Quinn: That's awesome. How can people, uh, get in touch with you?
[00:50:18] Holley Miller: The easiest is probably just to go to our website, which is gray matter marketing.com.
G r e y, like gray Matter of our brains. So Grey Matter, or you can certainly find us on LinkedIn. and we'd love to share our ideas, share our [00:50:30] experiences, you know, offer, any tips we might be able to. I mean, I really believe that people were very, very generous with me, throughout my career, both, you know, on the industry side and also on the agency side.
And so I really do believe in kind of like paying it, forward, because I think people were. Very kind and generous and helpful to me. And so I would like to have that impact on others as well.
[00:50:49] Corey Quinn: That's beautiful. Well, thank you so much for joining us.
[00:50:51] Holley Miller: Thank you. Yeah, I'm happy to answer any questions if you want to send them my way, and so great to see you and um, have a chance to spend time with you and share our [00:51:00] experience.
But yes, definitely go vertical. Go vertical.