Doctorpreneurs of Doctology is pleased this week to interview Dr Dan Pronk.
I first spoke to Dan when he wrote one of our highest-read blogs ever for my mental health charity Mr. Perfect.
Dan completed his medical schooling on an Army scholarship and spent the majority of his military career with Special Forces, deploying on multiple occasions including four rotations of Afghanistan.
Upon leaving the Army Dr Pronk completed a Master of Business Administration and has held roles including Deputy Medical Superintendent of a regional hospital, and Medical Director of a State Prison Health Service.
He is a currently a director and co-founder of TacMed Australia, as well as the founder of Delta Automotive Industries. What organisation / startup did you found? I’m involved in a couple; firstly I co-own and am Medical Director for TacMed Australia, as well as our RTO TMA Training. As the name suggests, TacMed is a supplier of medical supplies, training and services predominantly to the tactical community, being groups such as Police and Police Tactical Groups, military, and other government agencies who operate in high-threat environments.
The company was initially founded by a good friend of mine, who served as an Army Special Operations medic, and was initially established as a medical equipment company. When I left the full-time Army in 2014 I started a small niche Tactical Medical training company to train a couple of groups, and at around the same time TacMed was developing a training capability of its own.
Given that I knew the initial founder well, and that the market at the time for Tactical Medical training in Australia was very small, it was either join forces or go into direct competition. We ended up brokering a deal whereby I bought into TacMed and brought my client base with me. We haven’t looked back.
My other pursuit is a little more self-indulgent and is a startup called Delta Automotive Industries, which has the goal of building a road-legal high-performance prototype sports car with a view to limited production.
What are their noble purposes?
TacMed has always been about delivering the right equipment and the training to empower people to save lives in high-threat environments. Over the past few decades a movement known as Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC) has evolved which recognises that the priorities for lifesaving interventions in a high-threat environment differ to those in an environment where the situation can be controlled and there is no threat to the first-responder or additional threat to the casualty.
TCCC was born on the battlefield and redefines the primary survey with an emphasis on haemorrhage control using interventions such as arterial tourniquets and haemostatic dressings, whilst maintaining situational awareness of threats, controlling the tactical situation, and considering the next steps in rapid stabilisation and evacuation.
More recently the TCCC principles have been adapted to the civilian environment in the form of Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (TECC), which is basically TCCC for the civilian first-responder, and is becoming more and more relevant with the rise of the transnational terror threat and the use of military-style weapons on the streets of first-world countries.
The core TacMed community is made up of ex and current Army Special Operations medics and doctors, all of which with recent operational experience in war zones applying the TCCC principles. TacMed aims to impart a little of this practical experience to other operators who may be called upon in the future to save lives at the point of injury in high-threat environments. Our RTO, TMA Training, allows us to provide internationally recognised formal qualifications to back our courses.
Delta Automotive Industries was initially born out of a failed restoration of another car, which required so much modification that we ended up realising that we were pretty much making a whole new car, and it wouldn’t take much extra effort to put the infrastructure in place to make multiples.
At the same time as this failed restoration was underway I was completing my Master of Business Administration (MBA), and as the development of the car progressed I started developing Delta’s business plan in parallel. For my final MBA subject, entrepreneurship, I ended up using Delta as my case study and had a great opportunity to refine the plan and really drill down into the company’s purpose and target market.
I’ve identified what I believe to be a gap in the car market for a car that looks and sounds like, and has the aura of a Supercar, however does not have all the technology that drives the price of contemporary Supercars into the hundreds of thousands, and hence can be sold at a price point significantly lower than modern-day Supercars.
This theory stems from the statistics that suggest most Supercars are purchased for their hedonistic features rather than their utilitarian functions. Basically the majority of people buy them more as a status symbol, rather than because they ever intend to go 400 kph in the car around a racetrack.
Delta aims to deliver a car with Supercar looks and enough performance to beat most cars on the road within the confines of the legal speed limits, whilst limiting the tech to keep costs reasonable for a buyer looking at the bottom end of the contemporary Supercar market.
A little more detail behind Delta’s value proposition and niche target market can be found in the following article:
Tell me about the first 10 years of your life?
I grew up in a typical Australian middle-class family environment. Dad flew helicopters with the Army and mum was a speech therapist. I have one brother a couple of years older than me. One unique aspect of being from an Army family was the requirement to move every 2-3 years, which meant starting new schools and the need to make new friends.
Looking back now I realise how disruptive that could possibly be to a young kid, however at the time it was just normal for us so we got on with it. With hindsight I suspect that that lifestyle as a kid has made me very comfortable with big life changes and adaptable to new environments.
We never went hungry or without things we needed, but were never flush with money either. At the time I didn’t appreciate it but I can see now that my parents worked hard and sacrificed to put my brother and I through the best schools they could afford to try and give us the best chance in life. Whilst it was never openly discussed, there was always an expectation in our household that we would complete schooling and go on to higher education.
What age were you when you had your first paying job? What was it?
As a kid my brother and I would do a few odd jobs here and there for friends of my parents, mostly pulling weeds and tidying up lawns. My first real paying job was working in a news agency at 15 years old.
What made you want to be a Doctor and what speciality did you choose?
Throughout my late teens and early twenties I was hell-bent on being a professional triathlete, so becoming a doctor was never something I had considered prior to that. My triathlon dream started coming apart in my early twenties and it was becoming apparent that I was going to need to get a real job.
I had been doing part-time university whilst I was pursuing my triathlon and had graduated with a Bachelor of Exercise Science, but didn’t really want to work in that field. At around the same time I was looking into joining the Army as a potential career. My girlfriend at the time convinced me to sit the GAMSAT, and it all came together in the end with an Army scholarship to study medicine.
It wasn’t so much that I chose General Practice as a specialty, it was more dictated to me by circumstance! With a full-time Army commitment there were very few specialty training programs with the flexibility to accommodate for part-time training. The RACGP also allowed parts of my military experience, such as deployments, to be counted as special skills post. I didn’t love the training program at the time when I was doing it but looking back now it has been a fantastic qualification to have and has provided a great platform to further my career.
What made you want to be an Entrepreneur? When exactly did you decide?
On reflection, I probably had a bit of an entrepreneurial streak since my early childhood, and certainly had some ventures on the go in my teens. I won’t mention them here as they may not have been completely aligned with the law! I think the risk taking aspect of my personality was what drew me towards Army Special Operations and is the part of me that entrepreneurship appeals to.
When I left the Army I knew that I was going to get bored quickly, so I enrolled in my MBA to have a focus for my energy. Throughout the course of studying for the MBA my mind began to expand to the possibilities of achieving entrepreneurial goals. Through the process of reading case study after case study of successful and failed entrepreneurial ventures the process began to become demystified to me, and I began to realise that ordinary people can achieve remarkable things in the business world with a good idea backed by relentless determination and persistence. My tiny brain began spinning in overdrive about what might be possible for me!
Furthermore, I think my desire to engage in entrepreneurial ventures has also been fuelled by the need to fill a bit of a void in my life for excitement and stimulation that I haven’t found since leaving my Army job. I find great inspiration in the concept of actually building a company from scratch and nurturing it to potentially grow into something big. I guess the potential to make money is always a motivator, but not the primary one for me.
Right now my main satisfaction from TacMed comes in knowing that we’re providing equipment and training that may ultimately save lives. With Delta, the thought of building and selling cars, and maybe one day seeing one of our cars drive past me down the street is the thought that motivates me there. We’re a long way off at this point but it’s nice to dream!
Are you still practicing as a Doctor now? If yes do you intend to stop if your organisation takes off?
I’m currently in a Medical Director role primarily focused on running a capability, with only a small clinical workload these days. The job provides some unique challenges and is a great application of some of the skills I learned in the MBA.
Prior to this job I was working as an ED SMO and whilst I loved the work it was relatively high stress and long hours, including blocks of nights. I had left the Army primarily to spend more time with my family and ironically some weeks I was seeing less of them in that job! My current role allows me to have a healthy balance between work, family, and my side projects.
As to whether I intend to stop if my other ventures take off – that’s a nice dream to have and one that is always in the back of my mind! I think I could happily fill my week between building cars and working in TacMed, however that’s a bit of a pipe-dream for the foreseeable future. Right now it’s a matter of staying focused on my job and continuing to day by day build my businesses as best as I can and see how it all plays out.
Why do you think traditionally many Doctors struggle with entrepreneurship?
This is something I hadn’t really stopped to think about before now but I guess, as a generalisation, practicing medicine is about minimising risk and using treatments and procedures that are safe, well proven, and evidence-based.
Naturally when you’re playing with someone’s health you don’t want to be taking unnecessary risks and for that reason I suspect that a large percentage of doctors have a personality type that is relatively risk averse. On the other hand entrepreneurship is inherently risky and oftentimes involves concepts that are new, untested, and with a high chance of failure.
Thinking about it now, ego may play a role in why anyone might struggle with entrepreneurship. In my experience I’ve found many doctors to be relatively ego driven and perhaps the risk of failure of an entrepreneurial venture is more of a deterrent than the appeal of any success.
Finally, practicing medicine can be a fairly all-consuming vocation, which may not leave a lot of time for the average doctor to establish and grow and entrepreneurial venture.
What is your favourite quote?
That’s a tough one as I love quotes and would find it impossible to single out one as my favourite. I’m strongly motivated by Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena”, as well as “If” by Kipling and Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata”, which my parents had on the toilet wall growing up (and still do!).
A slightly less known quote that resonates with me is an untitled one by John Stuart Mill that starts, “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things…”
In the spirit of this article, and highly relevant to entrepreneurship, I think the last one that I’ll put out there is the motto of my last Army unit “Who Dares Wins”.
What would you do in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse?
I’ve never considered myself much of a "prepper", however I have ended up with a few trunks worth of kit from my time in the military that would come in handy in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse. Having spent a few years of my life with army Special Forces units and having deployed multiple times on combat operations, I have learned a skill or two along the way that might come in handy.
My daily driver at the moment is a 100 series Land Cruiser that’s well decked out for four wheel driving and camping, so I guess I’d probably pack the family and a bunch of kit into the car and head for a place of relative safety initially to plan the next move.