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Doctors at Work Podcast.

Episode #95

How to have a portfolio career. With Tommy Perkins

Mat Daniel


Tommy is a GP and the co-founder of Medics’ Money. In this episode, we talk about portfolio careers. He tells me where the initial ideas for his business came from, and how even a weakness can become translated into a unique advantage. We discuss how to progress an idea, and what happens as the business grows. And we talk about how to balance the time and energy to work towards enjoying both the clinical career and the side venture.

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Podcast Transcript

Mat: [00:00:00] Welcome to Doctors at Work. My name is Mat Daniel and this podcast is about doctors careers. It’s part of my mission to help other doctors create successful and meaningful careers for themselves. Today’s topic is about portfolio careers and I’m having a discussion with Tommy Perkins. He’s a GP and also the co founder of MedicsMoney.

In this episode, we talk about how his initial ideas came about and how even turning a weakness can be translated into a unique selling point. We discuss how an idea progresses and what happens as the business grows. And we talk about how to balance the time and energy needed to enjoy both a clinical career as well as your side business.

Welcome, Tommy. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Tommy: Yeah. Hi, thanks. Thanks so much for the invitation. Yeah. My name’s Tommy. I am a GP partner based on the South coast of England, uh, just outside Chichester, uh, as well as being a GP [00:01:00] partner. I have a special interest in dermatology and I co founded Medics Money as well.

Mat: Um, today’s podcast is about portfolio careers and I wonder if I could take you back to the beginning of your career. Um, when did you first, when did you first get an inkling that you wanted to do something other than clinical work?

Tommy: Yeah, I think like, um, quite early on, I realized that I just liked too many different things and that kind of, I resisted that path for a while, but ultimately I didn’t, I ended up not resisting it.

And I just followed things which interested me. So, I mean, I guess like going all the way back, I, I was the first person in my, uh, family to go to university and I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do, but I was really good at science. So I went to UCL and studied biochemistry for three years. I loved biochemistry.

I loved being a scientist, but in my final year, I did a [00:02:00] project which was kind of had a clinical orientation to it about a genetic disease. And I was looking at the molecular basis of that disease. And I suddenly thought, Oh, this is super interesting, like in the lab, but wow, there’s like human beings out there who actually like making people better directly, like, and that’s what medicine is.

And then I was in my final year and, uh, I’ve been trying to date this girl. I mean, I should tell some like really, uh, long story about how I’d always wanted to be a doctor, et cetera, but unfortunately, that’s just not the case for me. Um, I was in my final year. I’ve been trying to get a date with this girl for the entire of my undergraduate degree.

Finally, she said yes, uh, but then at the last minute she canceled because she was going to a talk about how to become a doctor after doing biochemistry. And that failing to take the hint, I went along, but I sat there listening to the talk. Uh, I never saw the girl again, but I listened to the talk. I thought, wow, this sounds super interesting.

So I applied, uh, I got in. I did a fast track undergraduate course at that time. All you needed to do was get a first class degree. So I had that. And [00:03:00] once I graduated again, I just couldn’t decide. I just love doing everything. And I thought about lots of different things. And ultimately I took an F3 year and an F4 year, uh, where I worked in New Zealand a bit.

I traveled a lot. I went, I followed my passion of surfing and windsurfing F4 year. I came back from the F4 year and started anaesthetics training and I really loved anaesthetics. Uh, but after a few years of training, I was just rotating around lots of different hospitals with absolutely no control over where I was living.

And I’m, I had, um, my wife was kind of like, where are we going to live? And I was like, I don’t know where I’m going to live for the next eight years. And I was just like, oh, this is ridiculous. So that and a few other things led me to stop anesthetics. and start GP did GP training. And then I was really bad at dermatology.

So I was like, right, I’ve got to get better. So I did a dermatology deployment. And then I was like, actually, I’m actually a writer dermatology now. So that’s how that special interest developed. And [00:04:00] then I did some salaried work as a GP. I did some local work as a GP, and then somebody offered me a partnership.

And I thought, yeah, so I do that. So I’ve been a partner now for Five years. And yeah, I really love it.

Mat: I’m interested in how you made decisions because lots of conversations that I have, people say, well, I don’t know what to do or how do I find out, um, what I want to do, but, but it sounds like it sounds much more organic in how you’ve done that sort of that stuff happens.

You go with it and you enjoy it or some things you enjoy, some things you don’t enjoy, and you just kind of follow one, one step. Is that, is that a fair description of how your career has evolved.

Tommy: Yeah, it sounds like wonderfully organic, doesn’t it? But in reality, there’s a huge amount of procrastination going on.

And I weigh up all the pros and all the cons, massively overthink it. And then after a long, long time of that, I get back to square one where I’m like, Well, they’re all good options. Like all of these options are great options. And then I just think, well, what do you enjoy? And I guess [00:05:00] it’s really fortunate that you can follow something that you really enjoy.

So ultimately it’s very rare that I’ll do something that I don’t enjoy because I know that historically, if I’ve tried to do that, I’ve never followed it through. So yeah, it sounds wonderfully organic, but it’s not. I’m a huge procrastinator and I’ve overthought every single decision, including the decision to start medics money and become an entrepreneur.

But ultimately I think if you have one, like a North star that guides you and it’s different for everybody, but my kind of North star is. That I’m only here once and we’re not sure how long that’s gonna last, so you might as well enjoy it as you go. Do I enjoy everything I do every single day? No. Uh, but do I enjoy what I do every single day as an overall package?

Yeah, definitely. I love it.

Mat: Um, so how, when people are so interested in all of these different things, I, I guess a challenge that I can see there is that, that there’s only a limited amount of time and energy than everybody has. So I mean, how do you, how do you [00:06:00] decide how you apportion that?

Tommy: Historically, badly.

Um, and I just tried to do everything and that’s, that’s not good, you know? Um, so I think in the last few years, I’ve become much more, uh, realistic and much more precious with my time that I give. But I think, yeah, you know, I just kind of think about what do I enjoy and what, what do I, Not enjoying. I do try to base it off of that, plus or minus huge amounts of procrastination.

Mat: What, what was the cost of the busyness that you were in before?

Tommy: Yeah, good question. I think like, when we started MedicsMoney, I was still working almost full time as a doctor. Uh, we were running a startup and anyone who’s ever done a startup knows that at the start we bootstrapped it, right? So we had, we used our own money.

We went to the bank, got our own money. And if you do that at one point, I was the marketing director, uh, the, you know, the, uh, the [00:07:00] actual director I was handling, you know, customer service, just doing everything. Uh, and that was quite intense and I did enjoy it, but. I recognize that I couldn’t sustain that forever.

And I guess like what you’re saying is like burnout, isn’t it? And I think like everybody, maybe not everybody, but a lot of people, I think, skirt with burnout at some point in their career. And one of my mentors is, is really wise. And what they say is when the patient becomes the enemy. You know, that’s when you’re starting to approach burnout.

And I think that’s for me, it’s like when somebody comes to see me as a GP and I’m just like, Oh, why did you come with this? Like, this is so trivial. It’s like, okay, stop, Tommy. Uh, that this is a problem. This is a you problem, not a patient problem. Um, so that’s my kind of thing where I realized that I’m pushing it a bit hard and signs are different for everybody, but I think most people at some point would experience that feeling.

Mat: I actually, I really love that as, as a, as a tip, um, something that all of us can check and if that’s how we’re thinking, then that’s a sign. that something’s wrong [00:08:00] with us, as you say, not the patient, but, but with us, how, how did the idea of Medics Money come about?

Tommy: Yeah. I mean, basically I said, like, I was from a normal working class background, first person in my family to go to university as a result, uh, and, and I did two degrees, right.

Cause I did undergrad and medicine. So when I left university, I had huge debts and I just had no idea. about finances at all. I’d never been taught anything about finances, despite going to two amazing universities. And even worse than that, I didn’t really know how much doctors got paid, which sounds wonderfully naive.

But I just kind of assumed that they were well paid because I went to a normal state school. And then we moved to another state school, and it was really a rough school. And one of my friends, her dad was a doctor. And when we moved to the rough school, she just got parachuted out of there, straight off to private school.

And I was like, wow, doctors must be really rich, because they can just transport their children out to private school. Uh, and so when I got my first [00:09:00] payslip, and then I looked at the amount of debts that I had to repay, I was just like, Wow, that leaves me like 100 a month spending money. And that was like a panic moment for me because, you know, I’d never really envisaged that situation.

So I just started learning about how to be smart with my money. I started claiming tax rebates on all the super expensive costs that we have to pay as doctors, like exam fees, etc. And I just started to learn about investing. And over time, I got quite good at it. And then You know, when I got like a couple of grand tax rebate, checking the post, some of my friends were like, Oh, could you show me how to do that?

And I was like, yeah, sure. And they’re like, why has no one ever shown us how to do this before? We’d had plenty of lectures from financial salespeople at medical school, but no one’s ever taught us the basics. And I was like, I don’t know why no one’s taught us the basics. And then I was helping more and more people until it got really, you know, too much.

And I tried to shut it down, but it just wouldn’t die. And then I was doing an A& E look at one time, and I bumped into Ed, my co founder and Ed’s a doctor like me, but he’s also a chartered accountant and chartered [00:10:00] tax advisor. And he’d had a similar path of helping his friends and was kind of overwhelmed with the number of people.

And we were like, well, why don’t we kind of join up and see how many of our doctor colleagues we can help. And that is literally how it started super small. Um, and it’s just grown quite big from there.

Mat: If somebody is listening and thinking, okay, I need the partner also to set up something as a parallel career in part of my portfolio, what would be your, what would be your tips for people looking for a business partner?

Tommy: Yeah, definitely. So I think you need Almost the opposite of what your skill set is, right? Because if there’s only going to be one or two of you, and you’ve both got exactly the same thoughts and about exactly the same skills, you’re going to have huge gaps in what your company offers, especially in the early days.

So I think a good business partner is somebody that is actually quite different to you. They bring different skills. They bring different perspective. But we both have the [00:11:00] same goal. So me and Ed are really, really different. Like Ed’s got all the technical skills and all the financial qualifications. I have zero financial qualifications, but I know how to get from a very minus in debt number as the first year doctor to a place where, yeah, I’m financially comfortable now and I know how to manage my money.

So we have opposite skill sets. So I think that that’s probably one thing that I would look for. Now you can take that too far. If there’s conflict, um, but that hasn’t been a problem for us. And yeah, I think opposite skill sets, especially if you’re a small team, because at the start there’s one or two of you going to have to do everything.

So, yeah.

Mat: And how do you balance that conflict with a different skill set? Because, you know, because I now have a vision of two completely different people fighting over everything, pulling in two different directions.

Tommy: Yeah, I mean, like, fortunately for me and Ed, that’s never been the case. Um, I think like we’re both quite strong personalities, but we’re both pretty [00:12:00] reasonable.

And we both have the same North Star of what we want from MedicsMoney. So, which is to just help as many of our colleagues as possible to make better financial decisions. So, With that, I think, fortunately, we’ve not had much conflict. So, yeah.

Mat: And how, how did you go from, you know, that small environment where you were helping people, um, to, you know, where you are now.

And for me, this is interesting because, you know, cause I’ve, I’ve watched your company grow. I’m trying to think sort of how many years I’ve known about the company and you know, you’re massive now, aren’t you? Yeah. You know, how, how did you grow?

Tommy: Yeah, I think like everybody looks at how big it is today and it is big and they think there’s some kind of shortcut, but how we grew was very slowly with tons of hard work and making tons of mistakes along the way, but we didn’t give up.

Um, which is part of it. We learn from any mistakes that we make. And I think like, yeah, I think I try to think about if [00:13:00] you’ve got a business idea, uh, like you’re sat here, they’re listening to this and thinking, right, I’ve got a business idea. Is it a good one? There’s only really one way to know, and that is to try it, but you could slim it down a lot by using like a simple framework.

So I just think about is your idea. Solving a problem that people have. Uh, and, and in terms of the problem, if you’re solving a high value problem for someone, your product is almost certainly going to be high value. Okay. And if you’re solving a low value problem for someone, your product is going to be low value because someone’s not going to spend a thousand pounds to save 10 pounds.

They’re just not, but they might spend a thousand pounds to save a hundred thousand pounds. So that’s that. Uh, if you are going to go for a low value product, then you probably need to hit What they call a big TAM or total addressable market, which just means like do lots of people need it. Okay. So MedicsMoney is pretty niche.

We’re literally just focusing on doctors or healthcare professionals. So our TAM is pretty small, um, versus something like, uh, Uber, [00:14:00] who has a massive TAM. Anyone who needs a taxi is effectively a potential customer for Uber. So Uber’s TAM is huge, uh, but the value of their service per customer is probably a lot lower than MedicsMoney, but they’ve got a lot of customers.

So. That’s the kind of like, are you solving a problem? Um, you gotta have a passion for it, I think. And sometimes serious business people kind of challenge me on this and say, look, you don’t need a passion. You just need to know how to operate a business. But I think doctors do need a passion because you’re going to be effectively trading one passion, which is medicine, for another passion, which is your side hustle.

And for me, this is the most difficult part of it because me and Ed still work as doctors. And probably if we wanted to grow MedicsMoney, we would. Even bigger and faster. We should probably not be doctors anymore, but we like it. We’re passionate about both. So you got to be passionate about your idea.

Otherwise it’s, it’s not gonna work. And the final part is you got to have a plan of like, you know, how are you going to launch this? You know, how are you going to [00:15:00] monetize your idea? And if you don’t have a plan at the start, I think that’s okay. Um, ultimately. You know, if you’re going to quit, the problem with being a doctor is, and it’s a great problem to have, but it’s a reasonably well paid job.

So if I’m going to spend one day a week less being a doctor on my side hustle, my side hustle needs to bring in at least as much as being a doctor. And that was one target that me and Ed set, uh, after two years of medic’s money, we wanted to be able to drop one day of doctoring. And therefore medics money had to make enough in one day that we would uh, uh, uh, doctoring.

Uh, so, so I think that’s important to kind of thing. And then just use that as a filter for your ideas. And ultimately you’ll come up with quite a few and I come up with so many ideas every day, most of them useless. And then you just got to get started. And getting started is a cliche, but you just got to get started.

Like just throw up a landing page, see if you can collect someone’s email. And I remember we started with emails and I remember when we got to a [00:16:00] hundred emails, we had a hundred email subscribers and I was just like, wow, a hundred people are reading our stuff. Like this is insane. And then someone unsubscribed and it took us four weeks to get back.

So it went down to 99. It took us four weeks to get back to a hundred, but I was like, no, we’re still going. And now today, I think we have about five. 55 or 60, 000 email subscribers, but those initial days when we, I literally remember when we got to a hundred, I was so happy. Then I checked it a day later and someone unsubscribed.

Mat: I was like, Oh, damn. I hope you’re enjoying the show. Please click subscribe. So you’ll be notified when new episodes become available. This podcast is part of my mission to help doctors create successful and meaningful careers. You can be part of that mission too. by forwarding this show to one person who you think might benefit from listening.

Thank you. Now on with the show.

You, you, you mentioned that, um, you’ve made a number of mistakes. Are there any mistakes that you’re able to share?

Tommy: Yeah, plenty. Um, [00:17:00] I think like we’ve been, me and Ed are both different in lots of ways, but we’re also similar and we’re pretty perfectionist. And. You’re like, we won’t release anything until it’s absolutely perfect.

And in many ways that is a mistake because it’s a mindset shift, isn’t it? In medicine, you train for absolutely years, uh, before you even touch a patient and absolutely that is the way it should be like, you cannot afford to make mistakes. You need to know what you’re doing. Whereas if you’re in a startup, it’s like the opposite.

You just got to think of something, launch it out there and see what happens. And I think in the early days. And even still today, we focus too much on getting something perfect. We launched a course for GP partners and we spent about two years preparing it. And it just came out of the box. Perfect. Which in many ways was great, but actually we missed out on two whole years where we could have launched it two years earlier.

And again, we’re just launching a course for consultants right now. Uh, and I think we’ve done the same. [00:18:00] I think it’s going to come out of the box. Absolutely. Perfect. But we’ve been working on this course for at least 18 months. So, and then I think the other thing is. Maybe we stuck to channels that we were comfortable with, uh, and we should have broadened it out earlier.

So at the start, we literally just ran a website and an email list, no social media, no podcast, no YouTube. And that’s because we are both comfortable writing, uh, but we’re not that comfortable on screen or, YouTube, certainly. And that kind of, in retrospect, that was probably a mistake. And now we’ve got.

YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, like the whole lot. Um, but at the start for a long, long time, we just did what, what we liked and where we were comfortable. And as a result, the content, the emails are really high quality. And you could say that helped to build our brand, but probably it was a mistake.

Mat: Um, what are the benefits of having a portfolio career?

Tommy: Well, you [00:19:00] know, you tell me it’s like 10am. We’ve both got a coffee on the go. I’ve had a pretty chilled morning. I’ve done a few stretches, taken the kids to school, got back from the school run. After this, I’m going to meet my brother and go to the gym. And then I’ll go back and pick the kids up. So, um, but it’s not always like that, as you and I both well know, there are times when it’s really hard.

And you know, I’ve literally come home from a long day on call 12 hours on call as a doctor and fired straight into six hours of medics money. Gone to sleep for six hours and gone straight up again the next day and do the same. But I think for me, I find it really rewarding to help our colleagues. Like we’re always getting emails from people who just say like, Oh, I never knew that I could do this.

And I did this and now my finances changed and that allowed me to do this. And, and we just find that insanely rewarding. And I think for me, that is probably the most rewarding thing. Like recently, uh, I, I chopped most of my left hand off with a saw [00:20:00] and I was laying in A& E trauma call and, uh, one of the A& E consultants, you know, all the, all the team were amazing.

And then one of the A& E consultants were like, by the way, I love your podcast. And I was just like, wow, like you’ve just helped me and thousands of other patients like me every day in your job as an A& E consultant. And you derive some kind of benefit from a podcast that I do. So. Yeah, I just find that part of it so rewarding.

Uh, and it’s flexible as well. So, yeah.

Mat: One of the challenges that, that I have, and I don’t know if this affects you, I’m probably, I’m probably the opposite way because I probably work harder because the portfolio career in the sense that I say, well, I can do that and I can do it on Saturday afternoon.

And if I have to have a meeting, if somebody wants to have a meeting on Sunday afternoon, I’ll say, well, you know, I can, because it’s my own time or, you know, I’m saying I’m going to travel somewhere instead of, you know, travel much further than just to the local hospital where my clinical work is. And, um, and I find it difficult to say no to all of those opportunities that come up, because you think [00:21:00] it’s a great opportunity.

It’s really interesting. You know, it really aligns with what I’m wanting to do. I mean, maybe what, what tips would you have for, for somebody like myself, where the portfolio career, it’s just all consuming.

Tommy: Well, what I would say is you’re asking the worst person because I also just say yes to anything. Um, but I have gotten a lot better about that.

In the last few years, I guess like when you’re in the startup phase, I think of it like a plane, like when you’re on the runway and taking off, you’re working flat out and you could crash or you could take off after a while. Hopefully you get to level flight maybe. Um, once you’re in level flight. I think things are easier, but it took us so long to get to level flight for, and if you don’t say yes to things at the start, this is a controversial take, but I think you gotta, you gotta hustle hard at the start, you gotta say yes to things, because that’s how new opportunities open up, and you just never know which one of those things you say yes to is gonna [00:22:00] help, um, but I think, For us, one thing that we’ve been focusing on recently is we’re scaling up the business and we’ve recognized that in order to scale, you know, we can no longer be the main players.

So you’ve got to filter out what, what am I good at? What’s my unique? Sort of strengths in this business. And what can I delegate? And over the last two years, we’ve built an amazing team at medics money. We’ve delegated a lot of stuff. So yeah, I do say no to more things now, maybe, or I don’t say no. I just say contact our manager.

They will help you out and we’ll go from there. Um, but I think delegation is key if, if you’re gonna. You know, get into stable flight using the airplane analogy.

Mat: So I’m going back to a doctor listening to this and thinking, or, you know, this sounds good. I fancy doing, um, something else. And I know that, you know, you’ve outlined that you’ve had some ideas.

You went with, um, with, um, you know, with, with whatever landed and you procrastinated, but [00:23:00] how, what tips would you give to somebody who’s thinking, okay, I want to do something alongside my medical career, but they don’t know where to start.

Tommy: Yeah. I think alongside there, the word you use the word alongside, if, if you are going to go alongside, then you really need to have a serious think about what you choose because some things work well alongside medicine and some things, uh, don’t work well.

So. You know, you’ve used the framework of, you know, does it solve a problem? Have you got a plan, et cetera, that I mentioned earlier. Uh, another thing that I like to lean into is what is your unfair advantage? And there’s a great book about this by Ash Ali and Hassan Kuba called The Unfair Advantage. And essentially what you’re saying here is, can you get into a category of one?

Right? Because, uh, I don’t want to start a business which 50 other doctors could do, right? Because I do not want to compete against 50 other doctors. Doctors are smart. They’ll definitely work harder than me. They’ll [00:24:00] definitely be smarter than me. But if I can get in a category of one, then my odds of succeeding are instantly better.

So, uh, And everybody will have an unfair advantage and it doesn’t always have to come from a position of strength in a way, like my unfair advantage came from, you know, growing up working class being absolutely like in financial dire straits, literally, and I’ve turned that into an unfair advantage. So it doesn’t have to come from a position of strength, but I just think try to get in a category of one because I don’t want to compete against too many other people.

And then in terms of the idea I think the idea that you have, if you’re going to run it alongside your medical career, if you’re the product, I think that’s a problem. And you’re probably sat there thinking, well, look, Ed and Tommy are like the face of MedicsMoney. You are the product, but actually we’re not like we don’t offer accounting advice ourselves.

And, you know, it’s flattering to be asked, but loads of people ask us that, but we haven’t done that because that doesn’t [00:25:00] scale. And that would not allow us to still be doctors. You know, being an accountant is a full time job. So just think about. If you’re the product, that is a problem because you’re going to struggle to balance that against your other medical career.

And I think there’s so many ways that you can not be the product and or scale. And you mentioned like you get loads of speaking invites yourself, which is amazing. At the start, we said yes to all of those and we would go and speak to 20 or 30 doctors, but very soon we realized there was just consuming an insane amount of our time.

And then we’re like, okay, how can we speak to more doctors, but not consume more of our time? And then we were like, ah, podcast. And now, you know, we get between 40 doctors a month listening to our podcast. And I could never go and speak to 45, 40 doctors in person. So just think about that if you’re the product.

I think you’re, it could be difficult.

Mat: I wonder if perhaps if I could bring [00:26:00] us to a close and maybe I could ask you to summarize what we’ve talked about. What would be your top tips for doctors at work?

Tommy: Well, yeah, I mean, I think like there are no rules here and you, you know, I’ve never run a business before.

I didn’t know anything about entrepreneurship, but as a doctor, you already have an amazing amount of transferable skills, which you can easily transfer. to other domains, if you wish. So, you know, we analyze data all day long as doctors and adjust treatment plans. But based on that, and that is just the same as doing your website, SEO, you know, SEO is just trying something.

And by that, I mean, search engine optimization, which is basically how people find you on Google. Um, you know, you put something up, Google looks at it, and then it works. So it doesn’t you iterate. And you just keep iterating. That is exactly the same process as you go through as a doctor every day. So you have an insane amount of transferable skills.

I think you should really think about the business model that you choose. I think that’s really important because if it doesn’t fit your overall [00:27:00] life goals and objectives, and my life goals and objectives were not to work more, they were to work less. And it took a while to get there, but ultimately that’s how it’s panned out.

So think about what I just said about, If you’re the product, I think that’s a, that’s a problem and ultimately just go for it and just try it. And I feel bad saying that because me and Ed procrastinated for so long about trying it, you know, it won’t work. We’ve got no skills. Uh, we’re just, we’re just doctors.

We have no training in business. Um, but just try it. And if you do try it, you’ll find that there’s a whole massive supportive community out there of other clinicians doing the same as you. Uh, and it’s really great to be able to hopefully contribute something to that community today via your excellent podcast.

Mat: Wonderful. Thank you very much for your time. Awesome. [00:28:00] Cheers.

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