Virtual reality is not just a game-changer for medical sales, but a life-changer for all of us. It’s a tool that allows us to practice, learn, and grow in ways we never thought possible. And the potential for its impact on our world is limitless. In this episode, Samuel Adeyinka interviews David Howe to explore the world of virtual reality training for medical device sales reps. David talks about the latest innovations in VR technology and how it’s changing the game for sales reps in the medical field and beyond. With VR simulations, sales reps can now hone their skills in lifelike scenarios, giving them a competitive edge in the field. But VR’s potential doesn’t stop there; it’s poised to revolutionize everything from healthcare to education. Tune in and discover the many ways VR and AR are transforming our world.
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In this episode, we have with us another special guest and he goes by the name of David Howe. If you have ever wondered how virtual reality fits in the medical sales space, this is the episode you want to read. As always, we do our best to bring you guests that are doing things differently and doing amazing innovative things in the medical sales space. I do hope you enjoy this interview.
Dave, how are we doing?
Samuel, I’m doing great. How about you?
Fantastic. No complaints. Why don’t you tell the audience who you are and what you do?
Before I do, thank you so much for having me. I love talking about medical devices, software, sales and business. I’m excited about the conversation and I appreciate you having me on the show. To tell you some high-level background about myself, I’m from Upstate, New York originally. I went to college in Upstate, New York. I eventually moved to Washington DC. I lived there for twelve years. I’m a newly minted Texan. I moved to Austin, Texas. I’m living in a new city, a new state and a new part of the country. It’s an exciting time. I’m happy with where I landed here.
I have a few responsibilities at Osso VR. I oversee our net new business team. This is the team that’s responsible for landing contracts with new customers so like the pre-sales team and then also the post-sales team on account management, which is the team responsible for expanding those relationships and growing the relationships, as well as our sales operations and sales development teams. I have been here for a few years. I started as a twelfth employee. We are over 200. It’s been a fun and fast-growing journey. It’s been wild for us but also maybe my background might be helpful in how I landed where I am.
Tell us what Osso VR does.
We are a virtual reality surgical training and assessment platform. I would describe it first by beginning with the problems that we are trying to solve, where we are and how we got here. I like to describe this in terms of the state of medical education and medical device sales training. The best way to think about this is I was originally a medical device. I left in 2010 and I went into software and technology. I came back eight years later to Osso.
From the time that I left the industry to when I came back, I was blown away by the innovation that’s taken place from the product, medical device technology and surgical technique standpoints like robotics, navigation, software-assisted surgery, AI and patient-specific implants. There are mountains of data points, clinical studies and validation that’s been done to show that these products and techniques have a significant impact on patient outcomes.
There’s also a similar amount of data that shows that the learning curve associated with these techniques is similarly high and difficult to overcome. The challenge is that we haven’t innovated in medical education in the same way that we have from a technology and technique standpoint. We are still training surgeons the same way that we train them decades ago.
This is primarily two buckets. You have passive learning, which are techniques, videos, animations and webinars. The problem with these approaches is that skill transfer doesn’t take place. These are technical skills. You have to learn by getting hands-on practice. The majority of skill transfer takes place in that hands-on setting.
We have done it historically. This is mostly old-school simulators, bone models and cadavers. These are challenging in large part because you typically have to have a trainee travel to the lab or bring the lab to the trainee. This is expensive to deliver. As it’s expensive, they are short periods of training offered for the trainee so you are trying to cram all the training and education into one session and not incorporating adult learning concepts like spaced repetition.
There’s minimal assessment that takes place with these types of hands-on training and they also simulate a limited number of procedures. The challenges are there’s too much to learn. There’s not enough time to learn it. There’s limited assessment. In the case of medical device sales reps, there is limited support. Reps are expected to do more with less support from the company and then it’s expensive and inefficient.
With Osso VR, what we do is provide virtual reality surgical training and assessment. In that VR environment, you have an interactive and immersive 3D technology that allows the trainee to incorporate adult learning concepts like space repetition. This is a $300 headset that you could buy from Amazon or Best Buy.
It was less than 5 pounds. It fits in a shoebox. You can ship it out and keep it with people. They can practice 20 to 30 minutes at a time and space out their training over several days or weeks. It allows for objective assessment. We can simulate an unlimited number of procedures. It’s bringing medical education and medical device sales training up to speed with the need for medical device technologies and techniques.
You guys go to medical technology companies and offer these services for them to then sell to their customers.
They don’t sell it. They provide it as a component of the surgeon’s training journey. We work primarily with medical device companies like Johnson & Johnson, Stryker, Zimmer Biomet, Smith & Nephew and Medtronic. What we do is build out their products and their surgical techniques in our virtual environment and then they have a fleet of their headsets that they deploy in the field, primarily for surgeon training and medical education, medical sales training, as well as medical device sales rep enablement. It’s a great tool for reps to have in the field to provide on-demand product demos and put a surgeon or procedural physician into a 3D environment to allow them to experience the technology at the moment where they are expressing interest.
How new is this space? Has it been around for quite a while and it’s growing so much more? Is it relatively brand new? Talk to us a little bit about that.
It’s a great question. The idea of virtual reality as a concept has been around for decades. Around 2014 and 2015, Oculus launched a kick-starter campaign and created the first mass-market VR headset. They were eventually acquired by Facebook, now known as Meta and Meta has put major investments into virtual reality technology to grow and deploy this product all around the globe. Osso was founded in 2016. We landed our first customer in and around 2018. In 2022, we are training around 4,000 to 5,000 surgeons as well as medical sales trainees every month.
Where do you see this all headed? Answer this first. Did you guys experience more growth as an organization during COVID?
Yes. It was a scary time for us as it was for everyone. The state of the world was difficult and the economy was uncertain. We had two theories on what would happen. On the one hand, we knew that our customers were going to struggle and that it was going to be a difficult time for them. At the time, we were very focused on orthopedics, which primarily consists of elective procedures.
No one has to get a joint replacement procedure done. It’s not like cardiovascular wear. If you have to have a stent, you have to have a stent. As hospitals filled up with COVID patients, elective procedures disappeared. Our customers’ businesses were impacted. We knew that was going to happen from the moment everything started shutting down. However, simultaneously, what this provided in terms of an opportunity for us is the reality that people no longer wanted to get together in person.
It forced medical device companies to rethink how they were providing training and education for their customers and their employees. One of the killer features of virtual reality in Osso VR is the ability to provide what we call collaborative training experiences. Let’s say I sent you a headset with our technology on it and you are in California West Coast. You could put that headset on and I could put my headset on here in Austin. We could meet in a virtual operating room and train together.
The need that was created as a result of COVID was a perfect setting for Osso to grow. At the time, we were concerned because anytime your customers are negatively impacted, there’s often a downstream impact on your business and we certainly felt that to an extent. The interest, awareness and inbound inquiries relating to Osso VR went through the roof. It ended up being a real accelerant for our company and technology.
After COVID, people in some cases are looking forward to getting back to meeting in person. How is Osso VR adjusting to all of this?
You can’t replace an in-person experience. There is something to being with people in the real world and being face-to-face that you can’t simulate, at least with any type of technology, whether it’s a Zoom session or a collaborative training session like Osso VR. What I would say is that we aren’t looking to replace all of the traditional modalities of surgical training. We are looking to augment and enhance the overall pathway.
A lot of the issues with the in-person training are a fewfold. One is that it’s hard to assess when a trainee is ready for that next step. People are coming back together and they are meeting in person. There are certain aspects of the in-person experience that virtual reality does not provide. How do you know that they have enough of a baseline background on the technique to take the most advantage of that in-person experience?
Having that hands-on experience, space repetition and assessment allows us to confirm a trainee’s preparedness so that when we invest all that time and money to bring them in person, we are delivering the experience and the confidence that we need to deliver to hopefully have that individual next step, which is ideally taking that product and technique into an operating room or working with a patient without having to come for several in-person sessions because they didn’t get it the first time. It doesn’t do much in terms of any negative impact on Osso. If anything, we are becoming more integrated into that traditional pathway that we have seen historically.
You guys see every advantage of this model and why it can be a better experience for the surgeons than in person. What are the surgeons saying that are used to the old model after the experience with Osso VR? What are they saying to their customers that you guys get to hear?
They are excited about it. A lot of surgeons have felt frustrated for a long time with the lack of opportunity to adopt these technologies that they want to use because it helps their patients and differentiates their practice. To see a technology company like Osso VR provide these types of experiences, for most surgeons is refreshing.
For the residents, fellows and early career surgeons, this is the type of training and education that they are expecting. This is like we are delivering on expectations. They are not expecting that they have to go travel for three days for a half-day course. They are expecting you to bring the training to them in a digital and efficient manner.
What’s remarkable is the more mature and experienced surgeons and how they react to it. The feedback from them is consistently positive as well. The technology is easy and simple to use. They have been around and seen it all but they have never seen anything quite like this. Across the board, there is a lot of excitement around what we are doing at Osso.
What you focus on is training, getting these providers trained to do these procedures that they are relatively unfamiliar with or that are new to them. Is there an application with using something like Osso VR in a live case? Are there intentions to take it into action case?
The future of technology in healthcare is exciting, exciting also within this extended reality, virtual reality or augmented reality category. To describe what virtual reality is, it’s putting a headset on and finding yourself in a virtual world where you don’t see anything of the real world around you. Virtual reality is best suited for surgical training.
I don’t see any opportunity or moment where VR is going to be used in an operating room or a case but I for sure see that coming right around the corner with augmented reality. The difference with augmented reality is I would describe it as placing a digital layer over the real world. The best example of this, it’s comical, is probably Pokemon Go where you could hold your phone up and see Pokemons as you are walking on the street.
There are companies and technologies out there that are pursuing this where you could put a product like Microsoft HoloLens. You could have direction and intraoperative guidance on a surgical technique while in the operating room. There are different flavors of this. There are companies pursuing it with the glasses perspective like Microsoft HoloLens.
There are other companies like Proximie and Avail that are doing this remote telementoring that is providing intraoperative support using augmented reality. I for sure see a lot of innovation coming intraoperatively. The context for why it’s lagging is the technology from the augmented reality category isn’t as mature or advanced as virtual reality. There’s still developing that but it’s right around the corner. It’s going to be huge in surgery and our day-to-day lives.The technology from the augmented reality category isn't as mature or advanced as virtual reality today. But it's right around the corner, and it's going to be huge in surgery. It's going to be huge in our day-to-day lives. Click To Tweet
Are there any other applications you guys are considering outside of training surgeons?
There are three categories. It’s training surgeons, training medical device sales reps and then sales enablement for medical device reps like product demos, product awareness and so forth. Those are the key categories. We continue to invest in the product and technology via enhancing different platform features like collaborative training, assessment and analytics, as well as the user experience and user interface and different ways that we can deliver the technology more at scale and with less friction. For the foreseeable future, we will stay focused on those categories and continue to enhance the existing product that we have.
With individual sales reps, is there any opportunity for them to learn about the Osso VR technology and what it does for their surgeons? Are you guys exclusively working with established organizations and that’s pretty much the only way a sales rep can know more about Osso VR?
Unfortunately, aside from googling Osso and checking out our website, our podcast and our YouTube channel, go through one of our existing customers or find us at a conference or trade show and try the technology there. We do hope to in the future find ways to provide the technology more direct-to-consumer. For the time being, it’s B2B or B2C. We are providing the technology, our business and the medical device companies and then they are providing the technology to their customers and consumers. Hopefully, we can change that in the future.
As an organization, you guys have a sales team. Do they come from medical sales? If someone is reading this and thinking, “It’d be so cool to work for a company like this,” what is the opportunity there for someone to work as a sales rep for Osso VR?
It’s the million-dollar question you asked. It’s something that I have had to think a lot about over the years. The way I would describe this is it was a huge challenge for us from a sales standpoint because there are two components of being successful at sales at Osso. One is having some clinical or surgical background. Being comfortable with the vernacular of surgery, medical devices and being in an operating room. Also, understanding the way that these large Fortune 1000 organizations operate and do business.
It’s very much almost borderline technical skill that you need a technical sale. You need to be like an engineer. The experience and training you get in a medical device are unique. When I went into software and worked for my first tech company, I sold public relations software to businesses. I could sell that using plain English. You can’t do that in Osso. You need to know the industry, the background, surgical techniques and trends. You have to have that for credibility. On the other hand, from a B2B SaaS and tech sales perspective, we are selling primarily to large medical device companies.
It is an investment. It’s not a cheap product. The sales process is pretty nuanced and involves a lot of different stakeholders. It’s a true enterprise B2B SaaS motion, which is something that is unique and difficult to teach and get someone up to speed quickly. Interestingly, there aren’t many people that have done medical device sales and on B2B SaaS so the question was, “Which is more important? In which direction do we go?”
The conclusion that I came to was that I wanted to build a team with both types of expertise and build a strong culture that includes a lot of collaboration, teamwork and comradery so that these individuals will work together, help one another, teach one another and through our shared knowledge work together to be successful as a sales organization.
We have people on the team that have never sold B2B SaaS. Their career came directly from medical devices and working for Osso VR. We have people on the team that have never sold medical devices and have only sold B2B SaaS. We have both types on the team and still looking at and recruiting from the medical device industry as well as B2B SaaS.
Who performs better?
What I like to say is whoever works the hardest is the most likely to succeed and that still rings true at Osso.
Let’s walk back to understand a little bit about your history. Take us back to college. Was it like, “One day, I’m going to be working at a company that’s going to revolutionize training for surgeons,” or were you going in a different direction?
It’s such a funny story and winding journey. I listened to a few other episodes of your show before we spoke. It’s interesting how many other folks have a similar like, “I was over here and then over there.” All of a sudden, it all came together and I never could have seen how it would happen. That’s true for me as well. My initial focus was I wanted to be a physician.
I was a pre-med undergrad. I landed this competitive scholarship at the National Cancer Institute at school. I was super excited about it but when I got into the experience, I wasn’t super engaged. I didn’t love it. I spent a lot of time trying to think about why I wasn’t as engaged as I was in the classroom. I started to realize that I loved education and learning. I was getting that in the lab but there was an aspect of being in the classroom where the idea that my performance could be quantified and compared against my peers, I found to be engaging.
There’s a little bit of a competitive streak in me and a lot of us in sales. I started thinking about this. Looking into what different types of career paths are out there, I learned about sales. It interested me from that perspective as far as the competitive nature, the quantifiable reality of your performance, as well as other aspects of a career in sales.
I started to think that it might be something that I would be interested in. I went to the chief of our branch at the National Cancer Institute. His name’s Dr. Grass at the Experimental Transplantation and Immunology Branch of the National Cancer Institute. I remember sheepishly explaining to him that I was doubting a career in medicine, which was a little bit terrifying for me, knowing that he was an MD PhD.
Most of our mentors were MD PhDs. All my peers minimally have their MD as well as MPH, PhD and so forth. He gave me this amazing advice, which was when you are 23, you think that you have an eternity to do all the things you want to do in your career but in reality, you don’t. Facts. If you are doubting that you want to be a physician at 23, I can tell you for sure when you are in year 3 of medical school, you are going to know that you don’t want to be a physician.
He said, “My advice to you would be you follow your passion, go do what you think you want to do, try to make that work and spend your twenties figuring it out in terms of exactly where you want to be.” I took his advice to heart. I went out and looked for how can I get into sales. What does a career in sales look like? I was still a little afraid of closing the door on medical school and that’s where I learned about med device sales. I thought this is a perfect opportunity. I could try sales and also strengthen my resume if I did ultimately want to go to medical school.Follow your passion and go do what you think you want to do. Spend your twenties figuring it out exactly where you want to be. Click To Tweet
The problem was I didn’t know how to sell anything. It was challenging getting an opportunity and med device. I had hundreds of applications, maybe a handful of interviews and one offer that I took immediately. I got into the industry. I did sales for several years. I loved sales and med devices but for a few different reasons, I thought I might want to continue in sales but in a different space.
Back in 2010, a company reached out to me about tech sales and B2B SaaS. At that point, tech wasn’t what it is in 2023. I didn’t know what it meant to sell software. I thought, “Am I going to be selling Microsoft Office at Best Buy? What do you mean selling software?” I went to their office. I interviewed. I had a fun culture and office and was very Google-ish.
I took an opportunity there and I fell in love with working in technology. They were a big publicly traded company. From there, I moved to progressively smaller and earlier-stage companies and then ultimately landed at Osso where I was able to combine my background in clinical medicine and research as well as medical device and surgery, as well as technology and B2B SaaS and lead the sales organization at Osso.
It was all these colorful experiences that came together to give you the opportunity to be where you are. Give us a little bit about the home dynamic and then we are going to wrap this up by jumping into the lightning round. Tell us how are you able to make all this happen and spend so much time growing Osso VR. Family and kids, what makes it all work?
That’s the trick. I have no family, no wife, no kids and no girlfriend. I am staying very focused on Osso and my relationship with my immediate family, my friends and traveling, trying to live a balanced life. I have hobbies. I have gotten to rock climbing. I love playing golf. I love to travel. I’m a big foodie. I have a lot of close friendships. Osso is a big part of my life. I’m fortunate that I’m passionate about what I’m able to do with the company, the people that I work with and what we are providing for the world. I do spend a lot of time working but a pretty balanced life as well, not with a wife and kids.
Remember, we have people that are trying to get into any kind of medical sales like pharmaceutical, medical device, biotech and dental. We have people that are in medical sales and we have people that are leading the way. What piece of advice would you leave them?
Find great mentors and be a great mentee. The people that I have connected with, stayed in touch with and been able to call up when I have difficult situations and questions that I haven’t encountered or challenges that I’m trying to overcome, the tailored advice that comes from someone with experience is invaluable. You should read a lot. You can listen to podcasts. You should listen to podcasts. You can work hard and invest in yourself. You should do all of that as well. For me, if I didn’t have great mentors and relationships with people that have done it before, there’s no way I would be where I am.Find great mentors and be a great mentee. Click To Tweet
Spoken like someone that’s been blessed with great people to lead the way so that’s great. Thank you for that. Are you ready for the lightning round?
I am ready for the lightning round.
First question, best book you have read in the last six months since this interview?
It is Snowflake by Frank Slootman. He’s the CEO of Snowflake, which is a big B2B SaaS company. It’s a great read for anybody looking to understand B2B SaaS.
Best movie in the last six months since this interview.
I will go with movies because I did love Top Gun. In terms of it being like a blockbuster hit, not even the type of genre I’d normally get into as far as a film but I loved the original Top Gun. I saw the new one in theaters and I hadn’t been to a theater for years so for sure it’d be Top Gun.
You are the 3rd or 4th person that’s told me about this movie. I have never seen it but it’s a must-see so I’m going to have to make it happen. Best meal in the last six months since this interview.
This one I could talk about on a whole other episode. For me, this meal at Pujol. It’s a restaurant in Mexico City. It was ranked number 9 on the world’s top 50 restaurants list. It was incredible. They have this aged mole dish that comes at the end of this amazing tasting menu. This mole has been aged for years and it is something that’s life-changing.
You officially sold me on that one. Mexico City here I come.
Everybody goes to Mexico City.
The last question, what is the best experience you have had in the last six months since this interview?
Aside from Pujol, it would probably be about the Mexico City trip. I’m tight with my immediate family. My brother and I do an annual brothers trip so our trip in 2023 was to Mexico City. It was my first time to see the MX. I loved it. I encourage everybody to go there as soon as you can.
Those sibling trips are critically important. I do the same thing with my sisters. That is fantastic. Dave, we loved learning from you and we learned so much about Osso VR and the amazing technology in the med sale space with what you guys are doing with surgeons. We look forward to seeing more from you. Thank you for being on the show.
Thank you for having me.
That was David Howe. Fascinating stuff. If you have read any episodes of the show, then you already know what I’m going to say. I’m going to keep it very simple. If you want to get into medical sales and you want a position in this industry, you have to understand where you want to be and why your skills are transferrable. You have to have a team and a strong network that backs you and refers you to a position. You got to know what you are doing as you go through the process. If you want to get a position relatively soon and not take years, then visit EvolveYourSuccess.com and learn about a program that can potentially get you into a position within 3 to 4 months. Thank you as always for reading the show. Make sure you tune in for another episode.
Dave Howe is an experienced commercial leader, culture creator, and taco aficionado, that is serving as VP of Sales at Osso VR. His expertise is in scaling revenue teams for high growth tech startups. He is a unique commercial executive that leverages his genuine compassion for others to build deep relationships with his team and peers. Affectionately known as the “shout out king”, he also loves to celebrate the team with public praise that typically comes in the form of over the top “stories from the field”. You can follow Dave on LinkedIn where he enjoys writing about culture, relationships, and startup life.
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