Hello! We’re Ally & Amanda— your go-to blogging duo for all things Knoxville business. Every month, we brunch with a local boss who’s killin’ it in our community. They share their unique insight with us, and we share it with whoever wants to know! Whether you’re looking for some mid-week motivation or just a quick, insightful read, we’ve got the tales of trials and triumphs you’re looking for.
This time around the brunch… I mean, block… we met up with Marty Altshuler, co-founder of ChoiceSpine, to discuss what it’s like to be his own boss in the healthcare industry and how he got there.
For those who don’t know, ChoiceSpine is a medical equipment supplier that delivers innovative solutions for spinal surgery to surgeons and patients all over. When we say ChoiceSpine “has your back,” it’s not just for the clever pun. After working with Marty and his team on multiple projects at Asen, we’ve personally learned firsthand just how important the work they do is. And if that wasn’t enough to convince you to learn more, we also got Marty to spill the beans on a passion project he’s been heavily involved with on the side.
To start, tell us a little bit about Choice Spine.
“It’s a medical device company that designs, manufactures, and distributes spinal fusion products. I co-founded the company with my partner, Rick Henson, back in 2006. Rick and I were spinal implant distributors earlier on and came across an opportunity to buy one of the companies we were distributing for, so we did. Then, we completely rebranded it. It was a great springboard for what ChoiceSpine is today.”
Did you always know you wanted to be in healthcare?
“Not always, but I thought about being in the medical field from a young age. My dad was a Hospital Administrator, so he would always bring medical sales reps home for dinner and I just really liked them. They were fun and they all really seemed to love what they did, so when I was about a sophomore in college I thought to myself, ‘I think I’d like to be in medical sales.’ And that was that,” Marty laughs.
What made you decide to start your own business?
“I started selling medical products for a local company right out of college. I loved it from the beginning, but eventually decided I wanted to do something on my own. So, I partnered up with Rick Henson, who I’d always wanted to go into business with, and we started our distributorship in 2002. Four years later, we bought ChoiceSpine and twelve years later, it’s doing even better than we thought it would. We’re very fortunate.”
What’s it like having a business partner?
“It can be difficult having a partner sometimes. As we get older, Rick and I start to differ on things. Usually, we can come to an agreement, but when we’re really stuck on our own sides, we have a method for making decisions that’s proved to be full-proof. We pull out a quarter and flip it. We’ve been doing it for years now. It’s probably not the best way to make decisions, but it works for us and gives us a good chuckle.”
Do you have any patient success stories you can share with us?
“I don’t really have any specifics when it comes to success stories, because they don’t share that information with us. But I can tell you this… One of our surgeons in Kentucky texts us a couple of times a week with before and after scans of patients and short narratives about their pain levels prior to surgery and after. For example, he recently told us about a 60-something year old female with a pain score of 9/10 beforehand that described it as low as a 1/10 after surgery. It felt great to hear that our product helped make a difference for her. We don’t hear from a lot of surgeons like that, so when we do it makes it that much more rewarding.”
What are some pros and cons of owning your own business?
“Well, I like being my own decision-maker, but the biggest pro for me is being able to hire talented people that know nothing about the business yet and watch them grow. I love getting to be a part of that process. As for cons, there’s not really a lot aside from always having to put yourself last. There were a lot of times during those first couple of years when I didn’t get a paycheck because I had to put my employees and the business ahead of myself. It can be extremely stressful.”
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome so far?
“Just convincing people to come work with us in the beginning was hard. We were just starting to grow so we needed positions filled in engineering, regulatory, finance… all sorts of departments. The biggest obstacle was when we had to convince people to move to Knoxville to work with a new company. There’s only so much talent in one place, so we went to recruiters and had to convince people from Chicago and Atlanta and all over that once they got to Knoxville, they’d love it. And we’re proud to say that, over the last twelve years, probably 95% of our out-of-state hires have stayed.”
Describe the Knoxville business community in three words.
“Full of opportunity.”
Describe your involvement with the local organization CareCuts.
“The founder, Marti, has been cutting my hair for the last 10 years, so I’ve spent a lot of time in her chair just talking and getting to know each other. She’s become like family. One day, she was telling me how passionate she was about the homeless situation in Knoxville and that she didn’t have the means to do anything about it. So, I told her to keep pursuing her dreams and to tell more people like me about her idea. Half a dozen entrepreneurs and a few months later, we had CareCuts up and running. All because I saw her passion for the cause and I became passionate, too.”