Is an MBA your golden ticket to career advancement, or is there a way to invest your time and money with better opportunities?
In this episode, Bethany is joined by Dan Koontz, MBA, former Wall Street senior equity analyst, in a conversation about the pitfalls of pursuing another advanced degree to attempt to improve your business acumen.
Dan offers deep insights into the value of an MBA for optometrists and entrepreneurs. He shares his journey from an English literature graduate at Cornell University to a successful career in finance, highlighting how an MBA from Columbia University paved his way to Wall Street where he was ultimately able to retire at the age of 40.
Together they challenge the necessity of an MBA for practice owners, discussing the mismatch between academic training and real-world business needs. He emphasizes the high costs and opportunity losses associated with pursuing an MBA, especially for entrepreneurs who might not need this credential. Dan encourages optometrists to seek targeted, practical business knowledge rather than a general MBA, suggesting alternative ways to acquire business acumen relevant to their field. This episode promises to be an eye-opener for professionals contemplating advanced business degrees, showcasing the importance of aligning education with specific career objectives.
Check out Dan’s Groundnut Stew recipe
December 13, 2023
Read the Transcription
Becca Starks: We have the ear with the students to hear what they’re looking for. They’re very, very few students that we’re working with, with the class of 2023 that will even consider an opportunity that is not private practice.
Dr. Bethany Fishbein: Hey, I am Bethany Fishbein. I am the CEO of The Power Practice and Host of The Power Hour Optometry Podcast. And I just want to first congratulate all of the new optometrists graduating this week from the optometry schools across the country. It’s such an exciting time. It doesn’t feel like that long ago since I and my classmates at New England College of Optometry in 1997 graduated. It goes fast. It’s really an exciting time. So congratulations, first of all, and this show is inspired by and dedicated to you and all of the people that you are hoping will hire you. Once you get your licenses and get out there into the world. So I’ve invited a guest, I have Becca Starks, Becca handles Enterprise Accounts and Operations for KMK Careers. And she’s here to help me sort out some of the things that today’s optometry students are looking for, and help educate some of the optometrists who are looking to hire young optometrists about misconceptions they may have or differing perceptions of this graduating class. So, Becca, thanks for doing this your second podcast ever. That’s awesome.
Becca Starks: Yes, thank you for having me. This is exciting.
Dr. Bethany Fishbein: Yeah, thank you. It’s an interesting time because we work with mostly established optometric practice owners. So most of the people that I’m speaking to day to day are employers of young optometrists, and they have this vision of what today’s graduates are like, and then I get the opportunity to speak with optometry students and recent grads and they’re not necessarily like that perception at all. So hopefully, you can help us bridge the gap a little bit.
Becca Starks: Yeah, absolutely.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So, talk about yourself for a minute here. I want you to just talk about KMK and KMK Careers because when I want to data on students, I knew you were the one to go to. And so I want all of my listeners to understand your involvement with young optometrists today.
Becca Starks: Yeah, absolutely. So KMK for those that don’t know KMK’s foundation is the KMK board review, which was started 18 years ago by Dr. Kyle Cheatham. And now fast forward 18 years we are inside of all of the 23 optometry schools nationwide. We have a team of optometrist instructors that traveled to all of the schools and we have a relationship with both third and fourth-year optometry students and 98, This is a big number to remember 98% of optometry students utilize KMK to pass their boards. So essentially we have a relationship with almost every single optometry student nationwide from the board’s perspective. And so we now have a new division of KMK specifically on careers which is just a natural extension of supporting those same students and finding their first career.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So you’re initially talking to these students when they’re students studying for boards. And then they hopefully pass boards and you know, move on and take more boards and pass those and move on. So what are the services that you’re providing for these students once they’ve graduated as doctors?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so it’s really fun. Personally, I am mostly an employee you’re facing so those that are looking for these candidates. However, we have a team of career advisors and all day long, they’re the luckiest ones in the world. They get to speak to these upcoming grads. So right now they are around the clock talking to those that are about to graduate here and a couple of weeks or maybe have graduated just recently. And uncovering what they’re looking for in a practice is really it’s a one-on-one relationship, so it’s totally free to students. They sign up to get a career advisor. They have calls with that career advisor to uncover what are they looking for what type of practice is it specific specialties, just anything that may be the true motivating factor as to why they want to go to a certain practice. And then essentially we play matchmaker so the career advisors speak to students all day long. I speak to employers all day long, and then we come together and get to build a bridge between the two and hopefully connect great candidates with a great opportunity.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Maybe it’ll be the next Netflix show after Indian matchmaking, Jewish matchmaking. It’ll be optometric career matchmaking. And be a celebrity.
Becca Starks: I think some of us would watch that, at least your listeners would probably enjoy that.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: My husband and I would watch it so
Becca Starks: same.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So I mean, you’ve got a line of sight into exactly who today’s optometrists or today’s graduating class, today’s brand new optometrists are, can you give some facts and figures of what that class looks like?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so essentially, from a demographic perspective, it’s highly female. The data is showing 70% female and 30% Male.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: 70?
Becca Starks: 70 Percent.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Wow.
Becca Starks: Yes. And there’s information I believe you are going to be able to put in the show notes. But there is a really robust report. I believe it’s lots and lots of pages. I don’t remember how many but there are highlights within that on pages nine and 10 that give a really good but really quick summary of demographics of this class, within gender within race. There’s even financial information about how many needed to have financial aid, that sort of thing, and some really detailed information even about by school breakdown.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Are you able to roll through some of the things in there that kind of stood out to you?
Becca Starks: So the biggest thing that stands out to me is female and how as you it shows kind of year over year how that transition has changed from much more female than male as it was in the past. Same thing with race, I believe I don’t remember how many years ago it was but just not too long ago. It was predominantly white for professionals graduating and now that’s shifted to highly other races, whether it’s Asian or black or other races that are included in that.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And what about the financial piece? Because I feel like that’s such a big topic for new doctors. Is this need to pay back student loans? Do you have any stats on the amount of debt that students are graduating with?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so the report itself shows 85% of students are utilizing some type of support financial aid, loans, and the average for a graduate right now graduating is about $200,000 in debt. So definitely it is.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: That’s just from optometry school or that’s including undergrad debt?
Becca Starks: That’s actually a good question. We just get the stat of 200,000 and I assumed it was just optometry school. But that’s a good question.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So young, female, and any change in like age demographic? Or is it typically right out of college a year or two out of college starting into Optometry?
Becca Starks: Yeah, So typically, it is kind of a typical route straight out of undergrad and to optometry school. There is about of the 16-1700 graduates there are about 150 of those that are considered you know, like other avenues whether that would be part-time or returning back in at a later point in time.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Okay, so out of 1500 you’re talking about? Very typically, right? 1000 young, female, probably non-white doctors.
Becca Starks: Yeah.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: If you had to say this is what’s typical. This is the majority.
Becca Starks: Yeah.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: With debt?
Becca Starks: Yes. A lot of it.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Okay. So, when you talk to this typical doctor and are getting into the field of matching into a career of their dreams, what are they telling you that they want?
Becca Starks: Yeah. So it’s been interesting to learn that so the things that I came into this thinking people would want my background was actually at LinkedIn for five years before coming on to help launch this division of KMK and I thought it would be very different. I would think pay would exceed everything else. But, interestingly, location is the top deciding factor for these new graduates in determining which practice they want. Obviously, that is the hardest answer because no one can do anything about the location of their practice. But we can touch on this later. Kind of some ideas and tips for those to try to recruit folks into harder locations but definitely the location. Again, before and above pay even this work-life balance coming into play that is much more of a topic. Then I think it has been in years past. Not necessarily meaning, Hey, I want to come in and I want to never work. But this generation is much more just passionate about having that work-life balance of the work to live not live to work mentality. And so location, work-life balance, obviously pay, and structuring pay in a way that is understood to the candidate as well too. So being very upfront about what that pay is so that they know before even applying and putting that in a way that they understand what they actually can make because sometimes it can be hard with percent of production, knowing what that means.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So let’s go into those a little bit more and I want to just go back one to work-life balance because I think that’s probably the biggest misunderstanding between a doc maybe in their 50s and a doc in their 20s. This idea of working to live instead of living to work and it’s respectable and it’s necessary and mental health is important and it’s and life has to work for you. But these older docs, that was not their world. And so when I hear it, it’s complaints. They won’t work weekends, they don’t want to put in 40 hours. They’re asking for a four-day workweek. They’re like it’s coming across as we’re lazy. We’re not dedicated to the practice. We don’t want to be here we’re not going to work as hard as you and it. It creates a disconnect from the start like somebody interviewing, who says I don’t want to work every weekend. All of a sudden has all these judgments thrown on them that they probably don’t deserve. Do you see that with the docs that you’re talking to and you’re matching?
Becca Starks: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, it’s the same thing I hear to have. You know, that’s typically the demographic of employers that I’m talking to all day long to have, you know, they came out and maybe cold started or they came out and bought a practice and they’ve been doing it for 20-30 years and like. What?
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Right and they remember, or maybe they’re still working 70 hours a week and they’re there, you know, every day in the practice and their day off there when the cleaning themselves because that’s what the owners do. How do you coach of 50-something and 60-something-year-old practice owners into understanding that it’s not laziness and it’s not to they don’t want to work?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so that is it is a big misconception of the students that it is laziness, and specifically, most students are expecting to work at least one to two Saturdays a month. So it’s not that they’re coming in and saying I only want four-day workweeks, and I’ll never work a weekend. They are expecting a true full work week and one or two Saturdays per month. To your question about how to coach an owner in that situation. I think it’s just taking a step back and looking really high level at your practice as a business and I’ve had this conversation with many owners of I don’t know why we are open Saturdays, honestly, we’ve just always done it and so determined are we doing this because it’s just always been done or when determining this because it is a true business need. And so same thing with later hours or that sort of thing. If it is a true business need 100% voicing that to a candidate that’s a friend and that’s that’s great, but there may be situations where again, it’s just we’re doing this because it’s been done forever. And actually, our patients wouldn’t mind if we didn’t have a late night or we had a late night instead of a Saturday or vice versa.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Do you think docs have like a little bit of that? It’s like that hazy mentality? Like I went through it I put in my time therefore you you need to.
Becca Starks: I think it could be a little of that. Me not being an optometrist. I have to tread lightly because I have not earned my dues. But in the conversations that I’ve had, I think it is a little bit of that at least.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Yeah, I worked weekends for 23 years. I’ve never missed it Saturday. I’ve never called out sick. And now I’m going to change my whole practice because this 24-year-old kid doesn’t want to work, like there’s that so what are the students are the new grads thinking about these practice owners, doctors who are in a different demographic from them because there’s got to be misconceptions going that way also.
Becca Starks: Yeah, I don’t get to hear a ton of the misconceptions from the student side. But I think there’s just both sides can teach each other something right like maybe that student can come in and show this business owner who’s been doing this forever, like, wow, I could totally do this differently. And, wow, I’m kind of relieved that you came in and brought up the idea of work-life balance because I as the business owner, really needed that, and wow, my life is different because of it and vice versa. There’s obviously so much that the practice owner can teach and pour into these new grad optometrists. But as far as misconceptions from them, I haven’t heard any to be honest.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: I hear that they look at a private practice. They think they’re not going to be paid as much. So they’re thinking that not necessarily that the owner is cheap, but that it’s not. It’s not as profitable, therefore there’s not as much money in it for them. You didn’t mention the mode of practice. You talked about location, work-life balance, and pay. Are students coming out looking for commercial opportunities? Are they looking for private practice or looking for MD offices? I mean, obviously, students are looking for each of those, but what are you seeing most frequently?
Becca Starks: Yeah, great question. So motor practice is very important and private practice remains. Top of the list for I’d say close to 90% of the new grads.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Serious?
Becca Starks: Yeah, because I hear the same thing. I hear a lot from private practice owners that say that almost come to the call with me very nervous, like “Becca, what’s going on? Why might all the new grads want private equity and why do they want retail? And can I really afford to hire them? Because it sounds like they’re throwing all the money in the world with them.” And then it’s interesting because we have that ear with the students to hear what they’re looking for. They’re very, very few students that we’re working with, with the class of 2023 that will even consider an opportunity that is not private practice. So there’s just a handful of folks that have said all maybe look at private equity or retail, but the vast majority say I truly, truly, truly want to private practice and there’s even a really good group that says, “Not only do I only one a private practice, but I already know that someday I want to partner slash buy this practice as well.”
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Do you think though that it’s, it’s like self-selecting a little bit because retail opportunities are so easy to come by? That they might not even consider needing to work with a company like yours? They just need to go on Ziprecruiter, Indeed, and type in optometrists job and the geography they want and they have their choice. Are you talking to them before they’re job-seeking?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so we actually start a process with them a year before they graduate. And so we have them fill out a profile with us it looks just like a LinkedIn profile, but it’s specifically for KMK, and go in and select all of the different types of practices that they’re open to. And so, we have both from the data from what they input on their profile and then they all have a one-on-one call with a career advisor as well. And so that’s where those points come from, both in the data they enter and then the conversations they have with a career advisor.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And is that when a student should be starting their job search is early in fourth year?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so we were really surprised in the timeline as well that a lot of students start having conversations about the fall before they graduate. So this class of 2023 they were starting interviews, October timeframe, and then a lot of them were during their Christmas break, timeframe holiday break, going on visits to practice owners. And then as soon as the New Year transitioned over there were many that were in contract. So definitely, Fall time is like you can feel good. About yourself being ahead of the game, wintertime is still very safe, you still have a lot of opportunity to be reaching out to candidates, and then as we enter into more of the springtime, a lot of I’d say probably half if not more of those that we’re working with are 100% in contract ready to go.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: When you start working with them. Is there any issue with students who are starting the search and still haven’t passed their boards or won’t have the credentials to work when they graduate?
Becca Starks: Yeah, Yep. There is information from ASCO also about passage rates. And it goes into detail even of school by school, but it essentially shows year over year the decrease in passage rates, and I think we’re at about 70% passage rate, right now. 73%. And so there’s a huge population of students that don’t pass typically it’s part one where the struggle is and so there are some students that will even graduate and still have not passed boards. And another misconception there is, “Oh, these students are lazy or they’re not understanding the information, and I don’t want those students because they won’t be good doctors”. And completely not true. Those are students that could either be not very good test takers. These are also the population that came into optometry school right in the heart of COVID. There are some that have just had really rough life events around the time that it is to take boards and so but they are all great people that will be great doctors, they simply just need to pass this test. Many of them have had really great GPAs some of them have other degrees that help them with the practice management side and so it’s just a matter of getting past that one test or many of them.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And how does, how did they navigate that with the job contract like, will an employer sign something with a student who hasn’t yet passed boards?
Becca Starks: Yes, we are running into that actually part one. Board scores were just released this past week. And it was a lot of that there was a lot of celebration and there was a lot of sadness around those that didn’t pass. And the good news is, I don’t know that I’ve come across a single employer partner that we work with that isn’t at least open to the idea of bringing on someone that’s graduated in kind of a super tech role. It’s kind of how we position it to practice under that optometrist owner until they graduate and we even have some that say, “Hey KMK I know that you, as an organization, do great at coaching them and helping them after they fail boards.” I will even invest in that side of the house to ensure that they can pass boards not only to show that, hey, I believe in you and the hardest time in your life student but also that gains them a really loyal employee that again, is going to be a great doctor has just had trouble taking this one test.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Coming in as a super tech though, obviously, they’re coming in at a lower pay scale and they would come in as an optometrist, and they have those student loans. So let’s talk about compensation of obviously it’s going to vary around the country and regionally and how many hours and all of that but what is it that a new OD is looking for as far as the ability to earn money?
Becca Starks: Yeah, good question. So, specifically with this new grad population, the way that I kind of coach, the employer partners that we work with private practice owners is, a lot of times they’ll come into the call and say why pay 16% of production, but with this new grad population, they aren’t able to really wrap their brains around what that is, you could have a $1.5 million, your practice and they still just don’t, they can’t really understand that. And so the recommendation that we give is to at least have some sort of salary and we have information and concrete data on specific areas of the nation. So by all means, if, if we can support you in any way with that, I’m happy to to make sure that you’re competitive, but having some type of salary listed up front is what’s going to entice these new grad population because they can wrap their brains around 140,000. They can’t necessarily wrap their brains around 16% of production. And so totally understand, then obviously the argument private practice owner, I hear you what’s going on in your head is. “Well, I need to motivate them to work hard. Like if I just give them a salary, then what’s the motivation to work hard”, and so there’s been kind of this really nice avenue that we’ve taken with a lot of partners that’s worked well in that advertising a salary a little higher than you probably would have normally, but then decreasing to a really low percent of production, so that there’s some salaries that’s there that’s enticing to a new grad, but a lower percent of production. So for the first year only, so year one higher salary and lower percent of production, and then having that shift for year two and year beyond your two to a lower salary, higher percent of production. And so what that does is again, entices this new grad to apply, and even want to learn more about your practice because there’s a salary, but that little bit of percent of production will get them to realize in their first year of working well. I’m doing the math, and if I would have went on the percent of production, I probably would have made more than my salary. This is making sense this is motivating me to work harder. And then again, you can even have it in the contract that upon year two that shifts to a lower salary that’s guaranteed and a higher percent of production. So as they’ve gotten their feet wet, they’ve learned they’ve been mentored that first year shifting then into percent of production.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So you’re coaching your doctors to do a salary plus a percent of production?
Becca Starks: Yeah, that’s pretty typical.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And what about benefits and stuff like that is that important? Yes, it is important. Is that something that a brand new grad is going to give enough importance to that it’s going to help them decide one place versus another?
Becca Starks: Yeah, such a good question. So I’ll give both sides just agree very important. I would say the majority of private practice owners that we’re working with are offering some sort of benefits, whatever that might look like. Some are very comprehensive, some are very “Hey, we will pay 50% of your medical and leave it at that.” But now that we are in this lane of there is competition from private equity and from retail. Those are just a no-brainer. In those avenues. And so to remain competitive from that regard. They will get a full package of 401K’s with matching with benefits with PTO, all of those things, if they’re considering a retailer or a private equity opportunity in comparison to your private practice opportunity. And so, again, I think most I talked to very few that say “Hey, I’m just percent of production and I don’t give any days off you just you if you’re here you make money if you’re not, you don’t but you can take whatever days you want type of thing”. I have a handful of those but for the most part, most private practices are offering the salary with percent of production, at least something towards medical, and then most do have a 401K whether there’s a match or not with that.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Are there other intangible benefits, other things that would make a practice more attractive?
Becca Starks: Yeah. So I think the thing that’s so such a great opportunity with all of the listeners that would have that are trying to hire than our private practice owners that have been doing this for years to a new grad specifically is mentorship. And so those that are willing to do that are excited about that. Well, maybe “Hey, I haven’t really even thought about that. But I’m gonna share over the last 20 years, I really have learned a lot that I could pour into this next upcoming generation”. And so being very vocal with that, even in a job description, or whatever it is that you’re creating, to entice candidates to come your way and some people put a really extensive plan behind, “Hey, we have a weekly meeting, and you get lunch hour with me every week and we will cover XYZ and some it’s kind of informal of just “Hey, I’m going to be with you I’m alongside you. You can call me when you want”, whatever that looks like, or even if you haven’t, some team members that are fairly recent grads, being able to vocalize that to have hey, we’ve got folks that I brought on board as new grads and couple years later looking them go and so the mentorship side is again that intangible free opportunity that I think a lot of people don’t even necessarily recognize they have the ability to give.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Is it mostly clinical mentorship they’re looking for? is it practice ownership? like when you say mentorship, what are they hoping to learn from you?
Becca Starks: Yeah, definitely medical at the top of that, but there are again, those those candidates that just know that they know that they want to be very involved in the practice management, the business side of the house. And so for those candidates that are interested in it, being willing to say “Hey, here’s I’ll show you all of our programs and all of our software and how I design the day and this is how I designed the business side of the house”, and so in those situations for folks that are interested in that side, I think it’s important to have just kind of an open door policy of “I’ll show you all that. I’ll show you that number. So I’ll let you in on this.”
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: So for practice in a particular geographic area, if you can get your salary and benefits close, but they don’t necessarily have to be higher. They just have to be within range and you can kind of check off all the other boxes. Is there a type of practice like heavy medical versus refractive versus specialty that people are looking for?
Becca Starks: Yeah, so definitely looking at highly medical. And then what I would also say is kind of another somewhat intangible, but if practice owners are open to new specialties that maybe you don’t have in your practice right now. But hey, if there’s somebody who comes in and is passionate about whatever it may be, and they want to bring that into my practice, that’s a really enticing thing for a candidate to really see themselves. They’re in the long haul of “Wow, I’m passionate about myopia management and this practice says, by all means bringing that on.” That’s such a great thing to be able to offer to a candidate and so definitely, medical and specialties are really where the candidates are wrapping their brains around of how do I see myself there.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And what if you’re in rural Wisconsin, where there’s just not a huge population of optometrists looking to settle? What’s the best way for a practice like that to set themselves up to find somebody to join because so many of those are great opportunities to become part of a community to ultimately partner buy a practice have a really low cost of living like it’s how do they make themselves attractive or show how attractive they are I guess I should say.
Becca Starks: Yeah, and I think that so often because I get the luxury of talking to these practice owners in some of these more rural areas. And every time I’m just like, Wow, if I could just record this and let all of these candidates see this owner care about the type of patients they get to see a lot of times it’s the smaller communities that because there’s not a nearby ophthalmology or another office like those are the most medically focused practices.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Absolutely.
Becca Starks: Yeah. And so, so often I feel better. Oh my gosh, if I could just package this up and get a candidate to truly wrap their head around it. So one of the things that we do on the candidate side is our current advisors do as soon as a student comes in and says, “I only want Miami in New York and LA”, we try to mentor as well and show your kind of cost of living and let’s truly take a look at this and let’s look at your lifestyle and look at
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Miami, LA, how about rural Wisconsin?
Becca Starks: Right? Yep.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And consider Minnesota.
Becca Starks: Exactly. We play that game all day long. Yep. And then to the practice owners, a lot of what I tell them is, they’ll tell me I say they get to brag. So give me your brag book, when they come on as a partner to me, tell me what’s so great about your practice. And then they’re typically ready to end the call and I say, “Okay, based on your area, we also want you to brag on the geographic location just as much as the opportunity and so getting a candidate to truly understand what their life is going to be like, not just when they’re at work with you all day, but once they leave work, and what does this community look like and what can I do there? Is it great for hiking, is it great for the music scene, and the art scene? Is it great to raise a family and maybe I’m not thinking about that right now. But in the next couple of years, I will be.” And so I always say “Somewhere in your job description, however, you want to do it. It’s a post that you’re putting on to kind of an Indeed or an AOA. Having information, just typed information about your geographic area and what makes it so great. And then also, the other added thing you can do is you can always create videos.” Videos are I feel like that’s kind of how we’re all digesting content at this point. And especially this generation of these new grads, and so if you can even do a quick it doesn’t have to be professionally shot but videos of you just speaking informally, almost as if you’re speaking to a candidate who wouldn’t be right in front of you talking about again, envisioning their life there, the more that a practice owner can make a job description or job post about the candidate instead of themselves. The better that that’s going to relay to the candidates have just really getting to understand “Okay, this isn’t what I thought I was thinking Miami, but now I can kind of envision how my life could be in Wisconsin.”
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: That’s a really strong and valid point. Because when I think about a job ad, it’s all about what we need and what we want. We’re looking for an optometrist to work these hours to do this and when I’m interviewing candidates for Associate optometrist, but really for any position I’m always sensitive to an applicant, who all they’re telling me is what this job is going to do for them. Right. So I’m very critical of it as an employer when they’re like, I’m looking to build my clinical confidence in myopia. I’m looking into, you know, whatever. And I think what are you going to do for me? But in the ad, maybe it should be the other way off, Here’s what I’m going to do for you so that they’re interested and intrigued by the post enough to then come in and want to tell me what they are going to do for me so
Becca Starks: Absolutely
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Cool.
Becca Starks: We even have one it’s a Power Practice member that wrote a personalized it looks just like a letter you would receive from your grandma in the mail and it was so different and so eye-catching and so engaging. It was truly just a personalized letter, Dear Candidate, and then it just spoke really informally like, Hey, I get it. Words are hard, school is hard, but here’s what it would be like living here. Imagine if you could leave work and go out and do this, this, and this and your two hours within this big city so you can go catch a basketball game and be back home at night. And so it was just very, again trying to get that candidate to envision their life not only with that practice but in that geographical location. And so that was an incredible example.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Did it work?
Becca Starks: We’ve gotten some interest. We don’t have anybody signed on yet, but it has enticed interest.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: And talked about KMK a little bit again, just before we close. So if a practice owner is looking for an associate, they can reach out to you or how do they go about tapping into this database network matching service that you guys have?
Becca Starks: Yeah, absolutely. Yep. I would be the point of contact Becca Starks. And I’m sure you can put my email in the show notes, but it’s just Becca@kmkodcareers.com. And yeah, we typically just do a really informal introductory call and learn about the practice, learn about what they’re looking for. And then go over kind of our offerings. We’ve got two different offerings to choose from, just depending on what the practice owner is looking for. And then yeah, we just go from there. It’s really simple. It’s free to be in agreement with us and having us promote a practice. And so basically, we get that agreement going and then our current adviser starts promoting any of our partners that we’re working with. And then essentially once we have a student that is a great fit, we play the matchmaking game.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: I love it. Thank you. I think this is valuable information for new grads to help them understand what they’re going out into and some of the misconceptions they might be facing. But hopefully, we did our part today to try and reduce some of those and really give today’s employers a more real picture of new grads who are looking for jobs. So thank you so much for taking the time to do this and give this service to all of the optometrists out there.
Becca Starks: Absolutely. My pleasure, Bethany. Thank you. So much.
Dr.Bethany Fishbein: Thank you
Read the Transcription
Dan Koontz: A lot of MBA programs are designed to produce sort of a signal to the graduates that they’re worthy of being hired by, say, a Wall Street firm or Procter & Gamble or something like this. And again, this is a mismatch with what an actual living business owner is currently doing with their practice anyway.
Bethany Fishbein: I am Bethany Fishbein. I am the CEO of The Power Practice and host of The Power Hour Optometry podcast. And through the podcast, I’ve always aimed to bring conversations that are interesting to me, to my listeners, and some of the most interesting conversations and meaningful conversations that I’ve had. No pressure, maybe in my life, have been with Dan Koontz, who is my guest for today.
Dan worked on Wall Street as a senior equity analyst for institutional investment funds before he retired, before the age of 40. Dan is married to an optometrist, which gives him an entire credential by marriage in our field. And Dan is the person that I go to when I need serious life advice. So I’m excited to share some of our conversation with you today. Dan, thank you for agreeing to do this, even though you’re not sure even why I asked you.
Dan Koontz: All good. I’m happy to be here, Bethany. Thank you.
Bethany Fishbein: So talk about your educational background a little bit, because, you know, you ended up in finance with an MBA, but you didn’t start out that way. Talk about your path through education.
Dan Koontz: Yeah, sure. So I went to Cornell University for my undergrad, and I got a degree in English literature, bachelor’s of English literature. And yeah, I basically had no idea that I was ultimately going to end up in Wall Street. I did like to do investing, even at a young age. But when I finished college, I didn’t really have a roadmap that I ended up having, the ultimate roadmap that I lived. So, you know, I was like, after I finished undergrad, I had a few different jobs. I worked first as a reporter for a technology company, but basically just had some diverse work experience for five years or so, and then decided I wanted to get an MBA because I wanted to have an entree into a career doing investing.
It’s the thing I love to do myself, and I wanted to do it on a professional level. And so I got accepted to Columbia and graduated with an MBA in the late 90s, and then went on to a career on Wall Street, and yeah, then retired from that. So that’s basically, you know, a quick paragraph on my career.
Bethany Fishbein: And I think because I knew this about you, when quite a few years ago, when I was considering getting an MBA, because I wanted to further my career at the time in consulting, and as a practice owner, I called you and kind of as we do, I say, Hey, Dan, want to go to lunch, and we meet up for lunch. And I pose the question that you’re kind enough to indulge me in talking about. And so I think that I had called you bringing this question up with the full expectation that you were going to be encouraging, because of who you are in your background. And I remember asking, Hey, Dan, you know, I’m thinking about going back to school, I want to get an MBA, I’m a practice owner. And at the time, you said, Why would you do that? What was your thought process that led you to think that that was a terrible idea when I was sitting in front of you thinking it was a great one?
Dan Koontz: I remember that conversation, actually, and hopefully with your listeners, I’ll be a little more diplomatic and a little less blunt than I was with you, maybe.
Bethany Fishbein: Don’t be diplomatic, because this podcast is all about blunt and
Dan Koontz: Alright.
Bethany Fishbein: It came up in my Facebook memories, like, within the last couple of days, and I, my status update was, I just saved a million, $1,070,000 for the cost of a chocolate bar. And I don’t remember what the million was that you talked me out of. But I know that the 70,000 was the cost of the MBA program at the time.
Dan Koontz: Yeah, I mean, there’s, it’s interesting. So yeah, there’s obviously your specific situation and the advice that I gave you then. And then there’s, of course, the situation of the practice owner who I don’t know face to face who we’re reaching with this podcast. And so yeah, with the caveat that this is offered with caveats, basically, because I don’t know the individual situation of any particular listener. But there’s a lot of, let’s call it, there’s a lot of surface area to attack when it comes to what’s involved in getting an MBA. And particularly, there’s a few different ways to think about it. But it doesn’t really match the purposes of an active business owner on a few different levels. And I guess maybe the biggest part of this is, if you just think through the economics, and in terms of not just the bare cost of paying tuition, especially if you want to go to a name school, but also just the opportunity cost of a diversion of all your time from running a business, and building something that pays you or that, you know, is your job that, that sort of supports your, your family and your personal economic interests.
The idea of going to, you know, a full time MBA program and cutting that off or dialing it back significantly. In other words, you’re going to be paying a lot of money for tuition, and the cost of a school of degree of a piece of paper, essentially. And you’re going to be losing the opportunity cost of the income of working full time, right, or working as much as you can on your business. So I mean, that to me is like a significant deal breaker for the economics by themselves. And we can go into other things, too. But I think I’d also add that, I mean, there are a lot of reasons people get MBAs, sometimes people find themselves between jobs, they find themselves at sort of a gap in their career, and they fill it with an MBA program, because it sort of is approved kind of, from the context of, say, a large employer, like a large corporation that would hire them in the future.
This is totally like an entrepreneur doesn’t care at all about that, right? They don’t care how they look to some corporation that might hire them. They don’t want to work for a corporation. This is why they’re starting their own business, right? So I think there’s kind of a mismatch from that standpoint. And, you know, also people go to MBA programs, for example, these are some of the more soft benefits, but like, for example, networking with other professional people or making a career change. Well, these are things that an optometrist would be much better served networking at, say, CE weekend in Miami or something like this. And, or joining their state board or something like this, this would be much better kind of networking tool than going to an MBA program and networking with people in totally unrelated industries, for example.
And then I would also say, too, there, well, you don’t have to explain like a career arc when you’re an entrepreneur. This is the whole point, right? So I think a lot of MBA programs are designed to produce sort of a signal to the graduates that they’re worthy of being hired by, say, a Wall Street firm or a consumer like Procter & Gamble or something like this. And again, this is a mismatch with what an actual living business owner is currently doing with their practice anyway. So this is sort of kind of a few different ways to think about it, but these are some of the structural problems, I would say.
Bethany Fishbein: So one of the things that I still remember you saying was that it wasn’t surprising to hear that it was something that I was thinking about because to me as an optometrist, the way of learning something has always been to go to school for it, right? So went to college, went to optometry school, the, you know, our scope expands, we have to go take a course. So when you want to learn something new, signing up for education feels natural. Talk a little bit about the education that you do get in an MBA program, because I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. Like, what’s the scope of what you learned in there? And how does that get applied to real life or doesn’t it?
Dan Koontz: It’s a great, yeah, that’s a great question. In some way, this is sort of the ludic fallacy, right? Like the idea that in order to accomplish some purpose, you need to be taught certain things. And it is true. It sounds like, of course, my first comments are indicating that I think the MBA program is a total waste, including for me, that’s not true. For me, it was a tremendous tool. But I had a path that I wanted to achieve. I wanted to go work as an investor on Wall Street. And so in a way, I was kind of passing through a filter on some level.
Yes, I received an education. And there are some excellent courses that I took. Ironically, they were not the courses I expected they were, ironically. And we’ll get to that later, because there are ways to replicate the coursework of an MBA program. So but I would say my career, almost required an MBA, this was how you would make a career change from say, working in sales to working as an investment analyst. And this would be a logical path for someone like me. And so not to be too cynical about it. But at the end of the day, it almost didn’t matter what courses you took at Columbia or whatever business school, this business school had to be a sufficient signaling device for you to be considered among the applicant pool of the people that you wanted to work for.
Bethany Fishbein: So it’s not even not even like as much what you were learning as it’s, I got accepted to this program, I got through it, I have the credential.
Dan Koontz: I mean, this sounds very cynical. And it’s not the whole picture, because I did learn a lot of valuable things at Columbia. But yes, I mean, at the end of the day, in fact, we talked about it openly, my classmates and I as well that the school itself is a signaling device to employers, it’s sort of like a reduction or a shortcut for them to seek a labor pool from this particular pool of applicants, for example.
So yeah, that is something to think about for sure. Like, if you’re not trying to join a pool of applicants with this signal, then all of a sudden, the signal itself has much less value to you, right. And so I would encourage any optometrist that was thinking about an MBA program. I mean, it’s one thing to pursue education for the love of it, or, you know, and it’s also worthwhile pursuing education, where there’s an economic incentive or an economic return, I guess I don’t see the point of lighting a significant amount of money on fire, in order to get a signal that your audience is not going to be able to receive, right, your audience is not looking for that signal.
So yeah, it’s, it is, it’s not to also dispute the idea that yes, education, getting an education for whatever subject, I mean, in optometry, you can’t be an optometrist, unless you have a degree. from an optometric school, right? Like that is the obvious, like, the only signaling device you can have to actually practice optometry. Now, I’m not sure whether employee, there may be, there’s probably a spectrum of, I don’t know the optometric education system well, but there’s probably a spectrum of quality across universities. But it’s like the old joke, like, what do you call the person who graduated last in his medical school class? Doctor, you call him doctor, right?
So like, there’s some baseline level of qualification that permits you to practice. And that’s the signal in the profession of optometry. In an MBA program, the signal has different characteristics, right? So I wouldn’t look at it like getting an education, I would look at it first in terms of does the signal match the like the reception or the or what is needed or required by the audience, which is your specific optometric practice, which you’re running, right?
Bethany Fishbein: And I think most people who, who are interested in that MBA are, are either practice owners. Obviously, there’s some who want to do that for an industry career where that would be required, right? I want to be the CFO of some company.
Dan Koontz: Yeah, lens crafters or something, right? That is, that’s a very narrow application where yeah, that would fit for sure.
Bethany Fishbein: But the people that are very often asking about it are either those who are practice owners, and want to be better business people, or those who are, are being employed by someone else, and know that they want to be practice owners. And so they want to learn about business, right? So are there classes in an MBA program that speak to that specifically, it feels like there have to be.
Dan Koontz: So there are actually that that’s, that is an interesting, another interesting question, because, so I went to Columbia in the late 1990s. And at the time, they had just, I want to say this is maybe a year before I, I had entered, I’d started my program, they had just introduced an entrepreneurialism set of coursework, like, like, you know, there’s, there’s sort of core courses you’re required to take, but then there was sort of a, like, I think of it like a minor specialization in entrepreneurialism. And I guess what I found to be kind of, and that would be the type of, that would be a lot of the coursework that maybe would be applicable for the audience that we’re talking to now, right? But I guess what I found funny about that was Columbia launched this program because of marketplace demand.
Like, it’s sort of not, it was not an inherent component of MBA programs, at least not at Columbia and many other schools before that. And then they wanted to meet the markets requirement, the market, meaning what students want, right? And also like US News and World Report and the various ranking publications that rank business schools were ranking them on this sort of spectrum as well, right? And so, maybe it’s not actually funny to think about it, but it’s sort of funny to think about a school trying to meet a market need, like they’re being entrepreneurial to produce some ersatz product to attract people who want to be entrepreneurs, when in reality, it’s sort of like teaching birds how to fly, right? Like the birds know how to fly, like they start businesses, some of them fail, some of them go through difficult periods, et cetera, but you learn by doing.
And certainly, if there are things to read or learn, you don’t need to read or learn, you don’t need to learn, you don’t need to pay the extraordinary cost of an MBA to obtain those things. You want to find this information yourself, and obviously you have to put it into practice yourself. Doing some group project about entrepreneurialism in a business school, that’s not running an optometric practice, right? And so, a lot of times, I guess what we’re really talking about, or what I’m talking about here is substituting education for the actual thing itself, right? It’s sort of like a fetish for the thing itself, when you should actually probably do the entrepreneurialism directly.
Bethany Fishbein: And I think I remember you had said, even when you finished your program, so now you’ve got your Columbia MBA in hand, and you got a job, that’s really where your learning of how to do your job started, right?
Dan Koontz: Yes, yeah. Yeah, again, I remember us talking about this. Again, this is not going to be directly sort of going to be helpful by analogy to your audience, but yeah. I took a course on portfolio management, and it was considered a well-regarded course at Columbia. And I also had a part-time job with a mutual fund downtown, and I’d finished this course on portfolio management, which involves stock picking and building portfolios and so on.
And it was also taught by an academic, by a guy with a PhD who probably didn’t do very much investing himself, like the whole process was sort of academic on some level. But then I would go down to my internship at a very large mutual fund. And in a lot of ways, I would have to unlearn everything that I learned in that classroom and learn how it was actually done in the real world, right?
This is the whole ivory tower paradox, right? Like there’s a body of knowledge that can be taught, but it’s taught in sort of a ludic or sort of a ivory tower sense, and it may or may not directly apply to the real world. And you’re not going to know until you hit the real world yourself. And I was sort of fortunate. It was the same time I was taking the class, and it was a very painful experience to get on that subway, pay whatever, two bucks to go downtown and realize that this course is actually anti-useful on some level. And so, yeah, I remember us talking about that, and that was quite striking for me. And so I would imagine the average business school or even an elite business school is not going to have specialists understanding the specific entrepreneurial challenges of an optometrist running an optometric practice, right?
That is, on some level, that’s a very narrow field. Obviously, there are entrepreneur type problems that show up in lots of different business domains, but this specific business is a narrow, it’s a narrow field. And I would, I mean, I’d really hate to be a type of person who would get a PhD in teaching entrepreneurial practices for such a narrow, that would be just an unusual place to specialize academically in the first place, right? And so I’m not even sure that there would be a match with this domain and the academic world in the first place. And when there was a, like a, an alleged match in my case, it was a mismatch. So yeah, I remember that conversation vividly.
Bethany Fishbein: It’s interesting, even as you’re talking about it now, I’m aware of the differences in learning in medical education and business education. So, you know, thinking about training as an optometrist, you’re learning best care. Here’s what you have to do here. Here are best practices. Here are the right things to do. So to hear you say, as a business owner, you learn by doing, you’re going to do some things and you’re going to do them wrong and you’re going to make mistakes and go back differently. That’s so opposite of the patient care brain. Like that’s not, that’s not how surgeons learn. Scrap a few appendectomies and I’m sure you’ll get better over time, right? It’s completely different when you’re dealing with somebody’s health or somebody’s eyeballs.
Dan Koontz: Right.
Bethany Fishbein: And when you’re dealing with business, but you’re right right now, having been in, in both worlds as an optometrist and as a practice owner, like the challenge as a practice owner is that what’s right for one practice with one set of goals can be completely different than what’s right for another. Or even what’s right for that same one, five years ago or five years from now, it changes.
Dan Koontz: That’s a spectacular paradox too. I mean, you’re right. You, you do not learn medical care the way you learn business, which is to deal with failure all the time. Like, you know, there are, there are medical errors and mistakes and so on, but it’s, it’s a completely different sphere.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah. Cause you work to avoid those at all costs.
Dan Koontz: Yeah, exactly.
Bethany Fishbein: That’s the goal is avoidance. Avoid mistakes. And in business, it’s kind of.
Dan Koontz: It’s a paradox, right? Because in business, you will make mistakes and that’s okay. And there’s going to be economic things that you’ll learn from it. And, and every, every market application of a given business is sort of unique. You have to sort of feel around what, what does the market need or want? And so there’s going to be a lot of experimentation and it’s not like medicine at all in that way. So yeah, that’s a, that is a great point in terms of that, that paradox. It’s a central paradox.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah. And it, and it, I think speaks to why we as optometrists want to be the best business owners possible. And so let’s go learn all the right ways to do that.
Dan Koontz: I get it. I get it.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah. Interesting. So you had mentioned before that there are other ways to gain business knowledge. Talk about those a little bit. Cause this is just who we are as optometrists. We want to take a class. Like give me the education, give me a class, show me how. So where do you get some of this knowledge if you’re not signing up for a comprehensive academic program?
Dan Koontz: Right. I mean, that, that’s the $64,000 question, right?
Bethany Fishbein: Or $78,000 question or whatever.
Dan Koontz: Whatever the tuition is now, it’s probably much more, right? I guess maybe let me back up just a little bit because I think also there is, there’s also kind of a lot of waste in the sense that there are, there’s a body of core knowledge that you’re required to take with an MBA and much of it does not meet your needs in the first place. It would be sort of like going to optometry school and having to learn about feet for a semester and then having to learn about, I don’t know, ACL tears or just stuff that has nothing to do with eyes. Right. And, and unfortunately I found, for example, that some of the coursework I took was a literal waste of time. It was just required because there was some core coursework that had to be taken. Right. And so I want to make sure that I brought that point up. Now, when it comes to the things that I
Bethany Fishbein: Dan, can you, sorry to interrupt you. Can you give like, like what, what do you remember as being like unuseful for you?
Dan Koontz: For example, we had a class on corporate finance, which taught stuff that CFOs would want to learn, but didn’t even address anything about equity investing. So it had nothing to do with what I ultimately was going to do. There was a major project. It was a group project that we had to do where we would choose a company and sort of do projections on this company. And this group project had all sorts of domains and aspects and sort of sub sub components that were kind of in a large way, sort of a waste of time, for example.
Now, by the, by that token, by the same token, there were a lot of classes I took that turned out to have very little to do with my profession, but they helped shape how I think. So ironically, my statistics courses that I took at business school were very helpful for me to give me certain prisms to think about reality, but it had literally nothing to do with what I was going to do. So you have certain things that are helpful in ways maybe you didn’t anticipate.
We had a class that was basically how to use spreadsheets to sort of do optimization problems. And that was kind of a very, that was a required course. Now, the stuff you can use like a web browser to do these problems. This is the late 90s when computing power was different from today. Right? So this, and I don’t blame the university, like they offered what was cutting edge at the time, right? So these are just examples. And of course, your opinion will differ depending on who you are. But yeah, there were certainly classes that were not worth taking, but yet were required, for example.
Bethany Fishbein: It’s funny, the examples that you gave are the ones that I’m like, Oh, that would be useful for a practice owner. So, you know…
Dan Koontz: Yeah, everybody’s opinion differs. Yeah, for sure.
Bethany Fishbein: To be an investment analyst, probably the class, if there was one on analyzing investments or something might not be as useful as a practice owner. But, you know, being able to spreadsheet optimization and understand and think like a CFO, I’m like in now.
Dan Koontz: I hear it. Yeah. And well, and actually, this is your original question. Like, where do you find this information? I mean, at the end of the day, this stuff is out there. It’s sort of like you could even look at the course list of a university MBA program. And there’ll be textbooks cited, there’ll be information cited. Obviously, there are going to be professional consultants like yourself that can offer this expertise. And because they’re offering it to the narrow niche of optometric practices, it’s tailor made for the audience, right. And so that’s another source that you go to, to kind of learn the specific challenges that are going to, that you’re going to meet with as an optometric practice owner.
I think also, some of the things like, there’s aspects of accounting that are valuable in the practical sense. And then there’s sort of academic ways to think about accounting, which is how it’s taught. And so there’s sort of a mismatch, even with kind of a subject matter that would be pretty important, you kind of want to think about managing your balance sheet properly and making sure you have your funding, your funding sources and uses matched up. For example, if you need to say fund a new piece of equipment or something like this.
There are ways to teach accounting that are much more sort of pointy headed and maybe less applicable, even in a domain where you’re going to need to know this is going to be part of your body of knowledge to know. So I would say, you know, you could probably get a large portion of this body of information just by cribbing the syllabus off of any business school program, seeing what directly applies to your profession, and learning that, right.
Bethany Fishbein: That’s a good litmus test I guess, like, there have been times where I’ve been interested in learning more about something or another. And like all optometrists or all academics, I guess, I start looking up programs to sign up for and finding a course list or a book list or, you know, videos like the online courses on Coursera, like there’s comprehensive information on there.
Dan Koontz: There’s a lot out there.
Bethany Fishbein: You can sign up and have that. have lectures and videos and assignments and ask questions and mostly for free unless you want a certificate at the end and then you’re paying whatever a couple hundred dollars but for me that’s been a yeah litmus test to see am I going to do it because it’s kind of like like a yoga class if I can get to the gym and get on the mat I will finish the class but that’s a $20 investment like where obviously doing that with an academic program is in the tens of thousands or beyond.
Dan Koontz: You make a good point though I think there are different kinds of people there there are some types of people who are just naturally autodidactic and and are just gravitate towards new information and this is not a criticism of any type of person it’s just people have different natures some people actually need to be given work to do literally they need to be given assignments and have deadlines and and people are motivated by that so yeah I mean part of this is sort of self-knowledge right like what what is it that’s going to get you to acquire to to seek out and then ingest the information you need so you make a good point about about kind of how you navigated this and I guess yeah your listeners too should think about what is their nature such that they go and go out and get this information and then you know finally yeah obviously if you can do it for a hundredth the cost I mean the amount of time spent may be the same I guess but if you can do it for pennies on the dollar you would do that right and if you need to figure out some mechanism to be given things to do or to sort of structure life so that you learn the thing then it’s sort of on you to do that but to create that structure. But yeah I guess it definitely pays to think about what kind of learner you are and then structure your informational world to match that as best you can.
Bethany Fishbein: So as an yeah you’re not an optometrist in law as a optometrist by proxy and optometrically related through marriage I don’t know you’re you’re familiar with the optometry world you’re familiar with private practice you’re familiar with practice owners and practice ownership. You’re familiar with what goes into working in a practice for somebody who is a practice owner and wants to be better or somebody who isn’t yet a practice owner you’re familiar with the practice owner but thinks they want to, what would your advice be for where to go to start seeking out that knowledge? Obviously, I have my opinion and I know where my advice would be.
Dan Koontz: Yeah, this is another good question. I’m not sure if I’m going to have a great answer for this. I mean, there are certain things that I’ve seen as I’ve, of course, I’ve been married to an optometrist for 26 years. And so I’ve actually watched now more than two decades of the changes in optometry over time. And actually, maybe this is sort of bleeding into a different kind of question. I think, I mean, I’m not sure I can say precisely what to learn that would be optometric based, but you do have to think about having a practice that has a certain level of scale.
I mean, I think the amount of costs that an optometry, optometric practice needs to carry a sort of baseline overhead is much higher than it was 25 years ago. And certainly more than the old sort of the legendary, what would you call like the apocryphal single optometric practice with one guy in a room and a phoropter and, you know, doesn’t even have an opticianry on site. And I mean, that was the kind of eye doctor I went to as a kid.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah, me too. He was in the basement of his house and he had a little cabinet that opened up with the glasses in it. And if you needed to go to the bathroom, you went upstairs and you waved to his wife.
Dan Koontz: Exactly. Oh, wow. So you went to an even better example than mine. I mean, you know, you could run a much more of a shoestring kind of much more low overhead practice in those days. Now, I mean, we’re in the era of electronic medical records and, you know, sort of technologized practice and the patient is going to be expecting a certain sort of scale of practice and they’re going to be expecting certain things to be staffed out there.
There’s just, it’s much more modern than it was then. Right. And that care, that means, that means overhead, that means cost structure. And so. A lot of this has to do with how to handle the scale of an optometric practice. And I, you know, I don’t know enough about optometry to say where to navigate that, but, but these are sort of some of the things that may have made it in some ways a better business because there’s more barriers to entry, but also because there’s more barriers to entry, it’s a harder business to kind of get started and get to the scale where, you know, where you have like a sustainable and very profitable enterprise.
I think, yeah. So I’m not sure how to answer the question other than that, but these are some of the things that have definitely struck me and that I would kind of want to understand if I were to start an optometric practice. Definitely the scale, the scale question is a, is a big one, at least in my mind and how to tackle that.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah. It’s definitely different times. And we talk about it in the consulting world that it’s not that long ago that an optometric practice owner used to be able to succeed. We say they succeeded in spite of themselves.
They could open their doors, hang the shingle and start accepting patients. And most likely they can make a whole lot of mistakes and succeed. And because the costs of running the practice have gotten so much higher and you’ve saw it from that side, right over 25 years, hugely different now, but hasn’t changed is reimbursements from insurance. There’s more insurance than ever, you know, that exam in the basement, we used to pay cash at the end to write a check.
Now, now it’s all different. So they’re, they don’t have the same margins. And so that combined with this, I need to do everything right. Makes it a scary endeavor for a lot of practice owners today.
Dan Koontz: Right. Right.
Bethany Fishbein: It’s an interesting change in times. If you don’t mind, would you just be willing to talk about a little bit about your other journey for financial independence? I’m sure some people caught at the beginning in the intro of, you know, somebody who retired at age 38 or 39, however old you are. And I remember even when we first met, which was 25 years ago, probably I was an intern when your wife, Laura was a resident at the VA in West Haven. That’s how I got to know her. And then you were, her fiance at the time. And you guys were engaged and we were engaged. So we had some things in common, but you’ve always had a unique financial view on the world.
So talk a little bit about that journey, just because there are some popular Facebook pages of optometrists really just working to achieve that using their optometric license as a means to that end.
Dan Koontz: Yeah. So I’ll talk about my journey. And obviously with a caveat that I’m not an optometrist, although I was married to an optometrist, but basically, you know, what, what my wife and I did is we just were very, very aggressive savers across our entire working lives. And there are certain getting to the point of resources that you can turn to. We were influenced by a few different books that kind of changed our thinking or amplified our thinking.
One of them is the book, Your Money or Your Life. There’s various editions of this book, but Joe Dominguez is one of the authors. The other author is Vicki Robin. And there was another book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad, which is by Robert Kiyosaki, which is more thematic, but contains certain nuggets that kind of gave me kind of a launching pad or a way to think about this path. And then finally, the book Early Retirement Extreme, and that’s written by a Danish guy named Jacob Lund Fisker.
So these three books actually were sort of produced a body of knowledge for me that kind of got me to think about, is there a way where I can save as aggressively as possible and do it for enough years where I can become increasingly independent of the labor market? And, you know, there’s sort of simple ways to think about this. You know, basically, there’s sort of the 4% rule is one of the concepts that if you have capital such that 4% of that you would withdraw in a given year, covers your expenses plus a margin, then you probably have some, a level of capital that would be sustainable to support you, for example.
Obviously, you know, there’s a debate about where that percentage is, for example, and these books talk about these things. It’s, this is a whole rabbit hole beyond the scope of this conversation. But I kind of wanted to just, I knew that I would have a very good income in my Wall Street career. And that Laura, as an employed optometrist, didn’t have her own practice. My wife, she worked for a practice her whole career. And that in a matter of 15 or so years, we got to a point where she could dial back her career and I could, and now she just works part time and not for economic reasons now.
So like she works for the satisfaction of helping her patients and to give her life a little bit of structure. But she only works three days a week. And she, you know, she’s each year kind of thinks about taking blocks of time off. And so she has, sort of a very nice lifestyle, but still has her hand in her profession. And in my case, I left the corporate world, I didn’t want to be beholden to an employer for 100% of my income, for example. So through investing and saving aggressively and owning different types of investments, I built my own kind of portfolio of income generating assets, mostly stocks, and to some extent bonds that would support me and support us.
So this, this is sort of my journey. And I mean, tying it maybe to optometrists specifically, and then even more specifically practice owners, there’s going to be a meaningful difference in the sense that you have an asset, which is your business, which is everything, right? Or that’s going to be a large percent of your assets. So you want to think about, okay, is there a way to either staff out the operation of that business more and more as it gets to scale, such that you work less and less or have less day to day involvement. Or is it an asset that you can actually sell for a quantity of money?
I mean, the other thing to think about is when you run your own business, you can actually sell the business, right? But you can’t sell a job. You can’t sell like a stream of W2 payments that you have, because you’re an employee of some other company. So this is the whole idea of running your own show of running your own business, right? It’s an asset that you can do with it what you wish, you can shape it up to sell, for example, or you can sell portions of it to partners, and then staff out some of the operations. And so, you know, the world of entrepreneurialism in the medical field, and specifically in optometry, it’s very, very interesting, because it opens up an avenue that I didn’t have as a simple as a W2 employee as an employee with a salary. And so you have some more options in that world.
So I’m not sure if this answers your question. But I think this is kind of what can be very interesting. If you were to pair up some of these books that I’m talking about, and also think of them through the lens of being a business owner, I think you could have a pretty formidable set of tools to kind of dictate to the extent that you need to work or dictate kind of your path towards a level of financial independence that lets you choose what what you wish to do, and maybe makes you not so beholden to optometry as taking up all your time.
Bethany Fishbein: I think ultimately, that’s, the goal of most of us is to be able to work, like you said about Laura to work because she wants to, she chooses to, it’s not a financial decision. And to build to the point where you have the capability to make that decision. For that aggressive saving, talk about just some of the things that you did along the way, that you were aware were different than what everyone else what your peers were doing at the time.
Because I remember seeing you guys, and we were talking about buying a house and doing things and, and you were feeling completely opposite about it. And I was always aware that Jonathan and I were making different decisions than you and Laura were not that there’s a right and wrong to this, but just what was right for you guys and your goals?
Dan Koontz: Yeah, I mean, it’s a great question, because both of you guys are optometrists, right? Whereas Laura and I had a different dynamic. I had, I joke that I had like a very high volatility profession. And Laura had a lower volatility profession, in the sense that she had, you know, kind of much more job security. And my, my profession is very cyclical, there are these vicious downturns. And, and so I actually, I did not think that I would have that long a career, honestly. And so yeah, the dynamic of two optometrists working as a partnership, in a marriage, the dynamic is going to be different, right?
You won’t have maybe the same contours of say, a career, that somebody that went to Wall Street, and you know, I, it’s not like I pulled down a billion dollar bonuses on Wall Street. I was actually, you know, very solidly a mid-level performer in the funds that I worked. But what we did, though, was we, well, in very simple terms, we followed the steps of the book, Your Money or Your Life. It’s a very, simple book, very simple steps. And it is sort of like going to school on some level, it is a structure, and you just have to get the book and do what it says on some level.
So that, that was actually something, and I don’t know if, if we ever talked, you and I ever talked about this in the past, the specifics of this book. I don’t, I don’t really remember, but.
Bethany Fishbein: I feel like it’s, I mean, I’m familiar with the book, and I feel like the piece that everybody always pulls out of it is that you’re supposed to cut your own hair.
Dan Koontz: Yeah.
Bethany Fishbein: That’s like what it’s known for.
Dan Koontz: Yeah. I mean, there’s, there are definitely ways to parody the book and, and kind of, but I think at the end of the day, it’s one of these books that, there’s a big difference between reading a book and actually doing a book. And so this book illustrates that difference in very stark terms on some level. Yeah. I mean, I don’t know. I’d be curious if you take another look at the book, what your take is on it now, because yeah, that was, that line about cutting your own hair, that literally was in the original edition of the book as a savings tip. And I mean, it’s, it was in a chapter of tips for saving money. Right. And, and again, you know, I think when you choose a path, like being an entrepreneur, running an optometric practice, you may not want to be going bare bones frugality.
You actually may want to be optimizing sort of an uncapped income level. You may want to think about it from that standpoint. Like, can I run this business so it throws off enough money that I don’t need to cut my own? Like, I’m not, I’m not dealing with the problem on that level. I’m dealing with the problem on like a couple levels above that, where I can run this business and I may need some patience in the early years, but in the longer run, this would be a practice that would produce a significant amount of income for me. And then I would have some options later, like I was discussing before about, you know, perhaps selling the asset or partnering it out or et cetera.
So it’s, it’s a, it’s a different type of path, but the whole point obviously is to generate enough money such that, you can save enough money such that, you can sort of deconnect yourself from the need to have this specific business or this specific asset supporting you full time. Like the whole idea is to diversify away through savings. And that’s the, that’s the real journey.
Bethany Fishbein: Yeah. I think something to take from that different than kind of the conventional conversation that’s out there is that savings and expense management or controlling what you’re spending can really be a means to that end in the optometry conversations. When we think about wanting to pay off student loans and wanting to build savings and wanting to be able to buy whatever, or save for that financial independence, the thing that everybody goes to is work more. And I think it’s because we have high income potential now in optometry, depending on the area of the country and the desperation of the practice that you’re looking at, like I could make a thousand dollars each day this weekend or $1,200 each day this weekend. If I made a phone call and made that happen. So the mindset is if I want more money, well, why would I work five days? I could work six days. I could work seven days. Right?
Dan Koontz: Right.
Bethany Fishbein: But the other side of it is that I could make the money I’m making in five days or even four days. If I’m careful with my expenses, I could have the same amount end up in my pocket. Then I could, if I worked seven days to support a much higher dollar lifestyle.
Dan Koontz: Yeah, I hear it. These are just different ways to apply scale. I mean, yeah, like on some level, you’re going to have, there’s an element of time for money exchange with any, any kind of business or any kind of professional, any kind of profession on some level. But if there are ways to scale it, if there are ways to extract more value from the business through smart expense management or running it in certain ways, obviously these are, these are meta problems to think about and they’re unique to the given business. And it’s, it’s not my field, but yeah, these, these are the types of problems that it pays to think about. And I would say, yeah, the solution is not always throwing more hours at it. They’re often, there often is a solution that actually sometimes requires even less time. But you have to find that solution for sure.
Bethany Fishbein: Dan, thank you so much for this conversation. You always get me thinking a little bit differently, always make me question my established mindset, take a step back from what I think to be true and think in another direction. And it’s something that I always appreciate. And I appreciate the time that you took to do this with me. So thank you. Any final ideas, anything you wanted to get across that I didn’t ask the right person?
Dan Koontz: No, no, you asked, these are great questions. It’s, it’s interesting to sort of put my career up against optometry. I mean, you know, I, I did this through my marriage and just to think, it does make you think that there can be things that can be taken out of totally different disciplines, right. And applied to entrepreneurship more broadly, but also to the specific form of entrepreneurship that happens in optometry. So yeah, these are always interesting conversations and yeah, I’m happy to, happy to be here. It was, it was a lot of good questions.
Bethany Fishbein: Thank you. And I will share with my audience, one of the most valuable things that you’ve added to my life. Do you know what I’m going to say?
Dan Koontz: No, actually.
Bethany Fishbein: If you’re listening and you don’t know what to make for dinner tonight, you can Google Casual Kitchen Groundnuts stew. I will try and remember to put a link into the podcast show notes, but one of the many things that Dan has done in his life is he had a cooking blog for a while of recipes that he called laughably cheap. There are some real winners in there, but one of mine and Jonathan’s favorites is Dan’s Groundnut stew. It’s easy, delicious, laughably cheap, vegan. And if you don’t know what to cook for dinner tonight, cook this, let me know what you thought. And, if you’re looking to gain business knowledge, to bridge that gap between what you know, as an optometrist and what you need to know as a practice owner, I found one of the best ways to do that is to be a practice owner with professional guidance from people who know those business concepts and are willing to teach them. And that’s certainly part of what we do at the power practice. So you can reach us at powerpractice.com. Thank you so much for listening.