Matt Clements and Shayan Manzar of Sage Infusion in Tampa, FL join us to share how they they took their business idea and grew it into a successful infusion center. To learn more about Sage Infusion, visit their website at https://www.sageinfusion.com/.

WeInfuse podcast

Transcript: Episode 26 – How to Start, Build, and Grow an Infusion Center with Sage Infusion

Dylan: WeInfuse podcast episode number 26. Welcome to WeInfused podcast. My

name is Dylan McCabe, and in every single episode, we give you a behind the scenes

look at the infusion center, both from a business owner perspective and just a team

perspective to help you understand tips, tactics and a roadmap so that you can grow

and scale a successful infusion practice. And I’m really excited about this episode

because we have Matt and Shayan. These guys came in from outside.

They were in the business world with CVS Health, both in different areas of expertise,

and they got that entrepreneurial itch and wanted to start something on their own. And

they did their due diligence. They looked at it from every angle. They decided to look in

the Florida market and they made the move. They went from a stable situation with

steady paying jobs to start something brand new from the ground up. And they engaged

WeInfused from a consulting standpoint. So they were consulting clients and they also

used WeInfuse software. But these guys are just an amazing case study of what it takes

to just move forward, burn your ships and go and start an infusion center in a very

competitive market like Tampa, Florida. But these guys have done it and you can hear

their story in this episode. So let’s jump right into it. All right. As I said, we have two

special guests today, Shayan and Matt. They are the leaders of Sage Infusion in

Florida. And guys, we just really appreciate you being on the show.

Matt: Thank you for having us, we’re excited.

Dylan: Absolutely. And you guys have such an interesting story because a lot of our

listeners are thinking about opening infusion centers. And you guys are just a great

case study because you’ve done this. You came from the business world. You guys

both have MBA degrees. You got into a kind of like cruising altitude in your careers and

started looking at entrepreneurial endeavors and you decided to open an infusion

center.

So I am really excited to give our listeners a behind the scenes look at what that journey

looks like. But before we dive into that, please share a little bit about yourselves and

your background. And then I want to follow up just kind of tell us a little bit about sage

infusion and then we’ll get into the journey of all that and how easy it’s been to open and

run an infusion center.

Shayan: Sounds great. I can start. So I’m an engineer by training. I did my bachelor’s in

mechanical engineering from McGill University in Montreal, and then I worked in an

engineering and manufacturing company in operations and then business development

for many years. I wanted to switch out my company and industry and business school is

a good place to do that. So I did my MBA from the Wharton School in Philadelphia and

then I worked in management consulting for a couple of years, which helped expose me

to the healthcare industry, which seemed like a very exciting and still is a very exciting

space in the country. And so I found an opportunity to transition from consulting to the

Pharmacy Innovation Group at CVS Health, where I worked for six years before taking

the plunge with Matt to start our own venture.

Matt: Hey, Dylan, it’s good to connect with you again. We go. It’s been a while since

we’ve chatted, but great to be on this show. Definitely listen to it for a long time as we

were getting this thing underway. So excited to be a guest here. Yeah, like Shayan, my

background has kind of been a little all over the place. But about ten years ago, I got

started at CVS and took a few different roles there, but was in both real estate and

finance for the latter part of it and really got to understand the financial aspects of

pharmacy and the healthcare space. Also got to meet Shayan there. And then kind of

the rest. The rest is history at this point.

Dylan: Yeah, right. And you guys are all in I mean, I remember when you were

engaged, WeInfuse for consulting and I got to sit in on every single one of those calls

and loved it. Just watching you guys go from ideation to a clear vision to realizing that

vision to moving to Florida, all these things, it’s just an awesome story. And it’s a great

case study. So we’re going to get into Sage infusion because you guys definitely have a

thriving infusion center there in Florida. But let me ask you this. You guys both have

business degrees. You’re both really sharp guys. You’re both in CVS, kind of in different

areas at CVS Health. How did you come to the conclusion that, you know what, we’re

going to open an infusion center? I mean, there’s so many different avenues inside

health care. What made you focus on the infusion center delivery channel?

Shayan: So the word that is a great question, doing the work that I was focused on at

CVS, it was around the delivery of patient care and that’s the area and space that I

developed a lot of expertise around. And I became very passionate about it in my role at

CVS. However, what I did feel was there was always that hunger to do and to start

something on my own. And Matt and I had been talking for years about and we had at

that point not talked about doing something together, just doing something on our own.

And Matt came across an opportunity which I will let him speak to as part of his work

where he talked about this space and we started looking at it together. And then we

went through the process that you talked about. We developed a business case. We did

our due diligence. We talked to all different types of stakeholders. We looked at getting

sources of funding for our pilot location. We engaged the WeInfused team, which has

been and continues to be a great experience. And we took the plunge.

Matt: And Dylan it really came to me almost through a personal experience. My wife

and I were going through the whole pregnancy lifecycle that some people go through

and through the course of that, she had to get infusions and different things. And I could

just remember this as we were up in Boston at the time and driving into the hospital,

trying to find parking in these big hospitals, you know, going through the gauntlet of

processes that you have to go through at these big hospitals as far as check ins and

waiting in these waiting areas, not knowing when you’re going to get called, and then

even when the infusions were happening.

It’s like everybody comes with a caregiver, but yet you go into these little kind of

cordoned off spaces and there’s no seat for anybody. And so as I’m going through this, I

just was like, this doesn’t seem to be the model that is best for these patients. And my

wife was having to go quite a bit. So it wasn’t like this was just kind of one off thing. So I

think that’s probably for me when the light bulb started to go off about what opportunities

are there around this. And then of course, being at CVS and in the pharmacy space

you’re pretty clued into the drug pipelines where the where the space is growing, those

kind of things. So it was kind of just a combination of those things that started to put this

together in my mind.

Dylan: Well, it’s really neat because you guys both clearly had that entrepreneurial itch

to do something on your own to start, build and grow something. And then, you Mathew

speak to having that experience where you guys had to go for treatment. And, you start

thinking to yourself, there’s got to be a better way to do this. I mean, how many

businesses or services have been started because of that? And you guys did that, you

jumped on it. And it’s so cool. I can’t stop thinking about how cool it is that we’re talking,

because I remember when you guys first engaged, WeInfused for consulting and we

started going through that process. And even in the early, early part of that, of doing due

diligence, figuring out the cost analysis, figuring about profitability, what kind of key

team members you need to have on board, what your sales strategy is and all that. And

it’s just so cool to be talking now, because we fast forward it fast forward that whole

timeline ahead by a year or so. And so you guys decided to go ahead and get into an

infusion center. And then, Matt, you clearly have expertise in the real estate space that

a lot of our listeners don’t have. How big of a role did that play in you guys picking

Matt: Yeah, I think from a state perspective that was after we had kind of settled on

Florida, I mean, we kind of looked at a macro level of where opportunity was for

standard level centers and so on in Florida. And I think once we kind of made that

decision, I think that’s where the real estate component started to get more kind of

leveraged, because at that point, we now knew the kind of market we wanted to start in.

And then you really have to get into the nitty gritty pieces of how to set up a lease or

where you were looking for your location. So thankfully, I had a lot of background in that

space. So I think that’s when we really started to be able to utilize some of that.

Dylan: That’s good, and then when you did decide on Florida and you started looking

for a space with a lot of people listening to this, I think you guys can speak to both

aspects of it, growing it and streamlining it, but especially starting it when people think

about starting an infusion center. What would you say was one of the biggest

challenges just getting into it was the biggest challenge. Trying to solidify the idea was

the biggest challenge, getting into it and growing it. Maybe it was a challenge that you

didn’t see coming, because obviously you guys are running a successful practice. But

it’s good to talk about the struggles, too, because this is not an easy business to start,

build or grow. So let’s speak to that. What’s been one of the biggest challenges you

guys have faced in this journey?

Matt: I can start off on that from my perspective. There’s been multiple fractures and

you don’t really know until you kind of step it into a lot of times. But I think early on, there

was certainly the challenge of getting funding and kind of proving out to you, whether its

banks or investors, even down to landlords, that what you’re doing has validity.

It is a new space within health care, relatively speaking, and especially for two non

doctors, clinicians to kind of say they want to start a healthcare company. There is a lot

of disbelief. And, you just got to kind of believe in what you’re doing and you get a lot of

no’s. But then we were fortunate to find a few yeses in there that got us our site, got us

our funding, got us our physician that oversees our clinicians. So those to me were

some of the things that just the big things that jump out as far as challenges that we

faced.

Dylan: Shayan, anything you want to add to that?

Shayan: No, I think Matt covered the key elements of it for and so besides the items

that Matt touched upon, I would say for me the process it takes to get in and network

with commercial payers. We had obviously through feedback with stakeholders,

including WeInfused with her that takes a while. But when we finally got into it. I’m going

through that process and the types of twists and turns and the time it takes, so that’s

definitely been a learning as well. And that’s been also, I would say, critical and us being

able to service patients who need these medications.

Dylan: Ok, so stepping away from that, coming in, like you said, is as business guys,

you know, neither one of you are doctors. So stepping away from that story of those

challenging seasons early on. What’s one key piece of advice that you would offer to

our listeners who are thinking about going through this, through what you went through

or going through it now?

Shayan: So I can start mad and feel free to add more. I would say from my perspective,

people have asked me about this that you left your job and you’re starting this on your

own. I think key things for us, or at least from my perspective, it’s been very helpful to

have a strong talk partner. And so doing this with somebody doing this with Matt as a

source who brings a good complementary skill set to starting this venture and not being

doing this by myself.

So I never felt that I had to figure it out alone. We would always bounce things off each

other, have hypotheses on approaching the end and be data driven and then having

stakeholders engaged in the right kind of stakeholders who would help inform, validate

or disprove the hypotheses or our plan from my perspective, that that’s been really key

in taking this just from a discussion item to a live operating business. So now Matt gets

to go and tell his wife that he was bragged about on a podcast about our great asset

use for the company.

Matt: Yeah, no, I totally agree with saying 100 percent. I mean, you’ve got to have a

partner that you can. I mean, for me, I know I have some things that I’m decent at, but

there’s definitely things that you get into operating things. There’s a list of things that I

would be way, way over my head if I had done this. And you gotta have that

commitment. And so, yeah, I totally think that I’m on the same page with saying that in

that partnership is really key. It’s been huge for us.

Dylan: Well, it’s good that you speak to that because so many people hear about

teamwork or you know, you read leadership books by people like John Maxwell and he

talks about the different laws of leadership or laws of teamwork. And you hear about

having a winning team around you and surrounding yourself with people that are smart

yourself. But a lot of us learn that if the really positive experiences are really negative

experiences and you guys just prove it again, that having an idea and jumping into this

journey is one thing, but making sure that you surround yourselves with key people that

you can work with long term is so critical.

And then you guys, like you mentioned Shayan people saying, you’re going to quit,

you’re going to leave stability and go into instability. But you guys are thinking like

entrepreneurs. I mean, people that are not thinking that way only see obstacles. But

entrepreneurs see opportunities and. But it doesn’t. I know you guys well enough to

know that you did an incredible amount of due diligence and you were very analytical in

this process. And so that I think being a guy that’s looking on the outside, looking in at

what you did, I know that that gives you confidence when you really look at the situation

from as many angles as possible.

And then you can move forward with confidence and knowing, hey, we’ve looked at the

upside, we’ve looked at the downside, and we’ve looked at the opportunities, the risks.

We’ve analyzed every way possible. Now it’s time to move forward. And you guys did

that so well. Let’s switch gears here and move into what you have now. Tell us a little bit

about sage infusion. You know what kind of operation you have, where you’re located,

what kind of team you’ve built, what kind of patient you’re seeing and all that. Just tell us

about sage infusion today.

Shayan: Sure, we are in central Tampa, very closely located to one of the major

hospitals, St. Joseph’s Hospital, and so that thanks to Matt and his real estate eye, we

found a really good location. In fact, many patients come in there in different parts of

Tampa. They’re able to get to us within 15 to 20 minutes at most, which is a key part.

We are focused solely on patients with autoimmune diseases, so we don’t do any

oncology patients. Folks have that choice when they’re thinking about opening up an

infusion center.

But we decided to focus on patients with autoimmune diseases such as MSRA, Crohn’s,

you see osteoporosis and asthma. And we also do not service any infectious disease

patients. So not no antibiotics. And it’s now if you think about the current context, right,

you have the covid-19 pandemic and our patients, we are open. We’re going to

incorporate all the necessary screening protocols recommended by the CDC. And, you

know, everybody’s wearing masks and taking temperatures.

We’re limiting the number of people. We’re staggering the appointments and all of that.

But our patients are so and we hear this from them often. They’re so grateful that we’re

open because this is the kind of setting they’re already immune compromised. This is

where they want to be. They do not want to go to a hospital. And especially with this

situation and our side of service is geared around the patient’s comfort and

convenience. We’re open extended hours and we’re open on weekends and even

Sundays by appointment. And we’re able to accommodate their needs, whether they

are with covid-19. Obviously, we’re keeping them separate, but our normal setup

includes a patient lounge as well as semi-private rooms. Matt, anything to add from your

perspective?

Matt: I would say that the only thing I can add to that is we’ve got a great team. There’s

a lot of other people that are still working with us, are people that started with us on the

office side that, you know, had the same kind of spirit of pioneering this. And quickly

pivoting is as things worked that didn’t work. So that’s been great to have consistency

there. And that’s been a nice and asset for us. The other thing that we’ve done as well

as we’re independent, so we don’t have any physician that is part that’s referring to us,

that’s part of the ownership structure or anything like that.

And that’s something you have to make a decision on because there’s pros and cons on

both sides of it. But I think taking that approach and doubling down on it has been to our

success so far. And we kind of see as the market continues to evolve. But that’s another

aspect of our business that we continue to maintain that independence from a referring

physician.

Dylan: Ok, so let’s think about that for a minute and talk a little bit more about that, you

guys came into the Florida market, which is a huge market. You have a beautiful facility

and you’ve got a great team there. I looked over your website and you’ve got a great

website, too, and you look very accommodating. And you’re doing all these things from

opening in the evenings and weekends and providing separate rooms and stuff like that.

I mean, you’re doing pretty much everything you can, but we all know that this is not the

field of dreams. If we build it, they will come. And we talked about that as well many

months ago, talking about sales strategy. So just kind of if you would, give our listeners

some of the ways that you’ve been successful at getting sales, getting referrals and how

you’ve kind of navigated a competitive area like Tampa.

Shayan: That’s a great question. When we started, obviously, we were new and we had

to prove ourselves. And so as part of our sales strategy, we would be reaching out to

the targeted specialists. And what we asked was to give us one patient so that we can.

Everything we were saying at that point is a promise. And we wanted to demonstrate

that we can deliver on the promise. And it definitely took some time and it took a lot of

effort. But by being able to, once a physician, send us a patient, sometimes we would

get a patient because another place has not provided a quality service.

So the physician was looking for an alternate site of service. And that is our opportunity.

We want to demonstrate to the patient, as well as to the referring specialists, that

whether it’s clinical excellence, whether it’s the comfort and convenience of the patient,

we will handle everything from benefits and investigations through the authorizations to

providing a high quality service, sending treatment notes back through. Now, hopefully

we can do that to infuse and provide our service around the patient’s schedule.

And so having a repeatable process around focused on these processes, focus on

these elements. We’ve been able to demonstrate to our physician partners that once

they send us a referral, we will keep them in the loop, that when they receive the

referral, the patient has been scheduled for their first appointment on receiving ongoing

treatment notes. If there are any labs missing, we’ll follow up depending on the

medication and then the patients. When they’re coming in and then they’re checking out

and the feedback we’ve been receiving has been tremendous and we know that our

patients are also going back and talking to their doctors about us. And we’ve heard

positive feedback from our physician partners as well on this.

Dylan: Well, it’s so good, I mean, you guys, clearly that’s where your heart is, is the

patient experience and making sure they get quality care. But in addition to that, I think

something you guys have done really well and it’s something we talked about early on

as well as is your sales strategy and also just making sure that when people find you

online, I mean I’m looking at your website right now, and the user experience on your

site is a very clean it’s very simple.

It’s very helpful whether you’re a patient or a referring provider and you even have a tab,

a menu there for payers. And then you have a team of eight people that you show and

everybody has a picture. It looks warm. You’ve got it. I love that you guys have a great

quote and then kind of a bio on each person. I think you’ve made it real easy as far as

online, your online presence goes to grow your business. The reason I speak to that is

because now, you know, at the time of the recording of this podcast with the covid-19

crisis, a lot of places have had to halt their sales strategies to everything’s online.

You know, it’s digital door knocking at this point. And if you don’t have a really good

online presence, you’re going to be hindered from progressing your practice at a time

like this. And obviously, everybody’s dealing with the different challenges that come with

that. But I think you guys have done such a great job at that. And so getting to where

you are now going from the vision and making that vision a reality to now you’ve got

several months under your belt as being infusion center operators. What’s a key piece

of advice that you would share to anybody from what you’ve learned getting to where

you are now?

Matt: I think for Shayan and I were [inaudible 29:45] constantly during the weekends

and always looking at what’s working, what’s not working and trying to make sense of

everything that’s happening around the world right now. But for us, I would say that as

we at least especially for me, as I stepped into this as a numbers guy, I definitely didn’t

appreciate as much how the level of clinical care that goes into this into these centers.

And I think that’s been something that has really opened my eyes as far as how these

decisions are really providing a service to patients that are in absolute critical need of it.

And you gotta put that patient first. You’ve got to create a center that accommodates

them well, accommodates their caregivers as well. And if you do those things and the

rest start to take care of itself. And I think we should be focused on that. And it’s so far

worked out for us. And hopefully we can continue to kind of put that patient first and see

the fruits of that as we continue to operate.

Dylan: That’s so good. And I like how you guys share just part of your strategies as far

as picking your space, your sales and your operations. And, of course, shameless plug

you guys use. WeInfuse to manage the workflow of the practice and make sure that you

have a streamlined process there. I’ll make more of a plug after the podcast. But you

guys are just such a great case study. I keep saying that. And for anybody listening to

this, I just love how Shayan and Matt came in as business guys from the outside looking

in, you evaluated everything.

You align yourself with the right people. And now people can go to your website and

see and I’ll put the URL to the website in the show notes. But people can check out your

website. They can see what you’ve built. They can see the team you’ve surrounded

yourselves with. And you are not in a market that’s just wide open. You are definitely in

a competitive area. But you guys are clearly offering a level of service and a facility. I

think that’s a cut above the rest. And you are getting referred, you’re getting physicians

to refer patients to you. And it’s one of the things that we used to hear a lot or I used to

hear a lot when I was fielding consulting calls. Why would a physician refer their

patients to my infusion center?

And there’s so many ways and you just spoke to even one, that the physician, one of

the patients has a better experience. Maybe the patient complained to the physician or

who knows why, but they got a better experience at your place. So, guys, this has been

a great interview. I know there’s a lot more we could talk about, but is there any parting

piece of advice for current infusion center operators before we in this interview?

Shayan: I would say always, as Matt mentioned in his parting advice, always put the

patient first. Our goal has always been that. These patients have a lot going on in their

lives. They’re usually comorbidities that other things that just try to manage their

condition and whatever we can do to take the friction out of their ability to stay on their

medications, to receive their treatment and stay healthy, everything else will follow.

Dylan: That’s so good. Matt anything to add to that?

Matt: I would say the only last thing I would say is to really know to your competitive

strengths are and I think for Shayan and I, we’ve come in to a space that has a lot of

opportunity to innovate, to bring different nonclinical, that the infusion space has been

done through the hospital and provider offices for a long time. And there’s been a lot of

good things that have come of that. But there’s a lot of opportunity to do things better.

And so we try to kind of balance that with our approach. And I think that there’s

continually opportunity to do that with more and more business people getting involved

and looking to try to make that experience better than what it’s been. And hopefully we’ll

continue to do that into the future.

Dylan: So good. Keep the patient first and focus on your strengths and your competitive

edge. And Shayan, thank you so much for being on the show. We really appreciate it.

Shayan: Thank you for having us.

Dylan: Yes and thanks so much. All right, some great key takeaways there. I love how

they really focus on keeping the patient first. But on the other side of it, these guys have

business acumen that is top notch. They are both very intellectual when it comes to

thinking things through from a business standpoint and also just the marketing aspect of

it, their sales approach. We had a lot of discussions about sales strategy that we talked

about when they were engaging. WeInfuse for consulting and they have done it.

They have put legs to every single idea that’s been solidified. And again, they’re just

such a great case study. So if any of you listening to this podcast want to learn more

about Matt and Shayan, you can definitely check out the show notes. You can look at

their website for Sage Infusion in Tampa, Florida, and you can reach both of them on

LinkedIn as well. And of course, if you have any questions in your thinking we’ve been

kicking this idea around and we want to talk seriously about starting an infusion center.

You can contact the team at weInfuse and do a discovery call and learn about our

consulting process and why we do or do not take certain clients for consulting

engagements. And you can also talk about the software as well. If you currently run an

infusion practice and you want to learn about how to simplify and streamline the entire

process and go from using a constellation of systems and paper and different things,

flying all over the place to one software system tailor designed for infusion centers

contact WeInfuse today you can talk with one of our account executives and you can do

a discovery call and learn about how we infuse can make your life a lot easier, which in

the end results in better patient care. And that’s the vision and goal of every successful

infusion practice anyway. All right guys thank you for joining us. This is Dylan McKay

with another episode of the WeInfuse podcast and I will catch you in the next episode.

Guest Speakers: Matt Clements and Shayan Manzar co-founded Sage Infusion to provide upfront pricing and financial assistance to their patients. As CFO, Matt has years of experience and education in business management, and strives to put the patient first. Shayan, CEO, has a background in mechanical engineering, which he brings to the development of healthcare programs that improve the patient experience.