Picture this: Guy meets girl on Match.com using a picture of his yellow lab puppy; pursues her to no end; ends up walking down the aisle with this gal and together they produce a baby girl to fawn over. So what, right? We’ve heard this story before.
But wait — this story is different. Together, working side by side; these two launch a company on target to generate $9 million in revenue this year.
Sounds like a match made in heaven.
A perfect love story wrapped around an entrepreneurial drive to build a company which makes a difference.
Yes; Brad and Heidi Jannenga have this love and drive. They are the co-founding team of an Arizona based company called WebPT. On target to generate $9 million in revenue this year; and workplace to just under 100 employees; WebPT is a web-based Electronic Medical Records (EMR) solution targeting physical therapists. Currently hosting over 15,000 users in the U.S. and adding more every month.
But where did this all start and how did these two build such a great business for themselves in only 7 short years since that miracle match-up on a computer dating service?
I just had to find out. So I sat down with Brad and Heidi one day on Skype and got the lowdown. But not only on their amazing fairy-tale love story — but also the key tips on how they built their business together from scratch.
Tip #1: Have a Passion
Yes, Brad and Heidi have passion. I mean they’re married and have a baby girl for goodness sake. But that’s not the kind of passion we’re talking about here. It’s the driving passion for a field of interest and the people who occupy it. Yes — a passion to truly want to help solve a problem for customers.
Brad, who we determined right away wears the entrepreneurial pants in the family, put it this way: “I think it’s vitally important to have absolute passion for who you’re serving both as co-founder and subject matter expert. When you are living and breathing the space; and have a vested passion and interest in making the company successful, it turns the odds significantly in your favor.”
Tip #2: Own the Space — Be a Domain Expert
Heidi has been a physical therapist for over 15 years. She knows the space. Brad has been in technology and software development with a previous successful company he helped build and exit. He knows his space.
It’s an amazing thing to have to repeat — but I see so many entrepreneurs trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat with their million dollar business idea, and then wonder why they struggle. With zero experience or understanding about the industry they’re targeting — it’s a tough road to hoe.
As Heidi put it; “It’s completely imperative for an entrepreneur to know their space. I have been a practicing physical therapist for over 15 years. I live and breathe it every day. And I told Brad when we started if I was going to put my name on this; our solution would have to be extremely functional for me to use in my own facility. So we built the product and this company on that foundation.”
Tip #3: Define Roles for Stakeholders Early
Everyone has a job to do and a different role to play in this world. I have mine, you have yours. And the same rule applies inside a business. Especially a start-up. As Heidi and Brad can attest; the sooner you define roles for each co-founder, partner, investor or early hire on the team — the better chance you have of success.
Heidi explains it this way; “Brad and I bring two completely different skill sets to the business. He’s the web; and I am the PT — literally. He is the visionary and I am on the back-end making sure everything gets done. So our paths really only cross to build the application — which makes our roles clearly defined and easier to work together as husband, wife and co-founders. Having complementary balance had a lot to do with our early success.”
Tip #4: Commitment to Making it Happen
My friend Jeff Walker pointed out last month; stealing verbiage from the British SAS; “He who dares — wins.” As an entrepreneur you have to commit to starting. You have to commit to making it happen. There is no other way to do it.
Brad stated bluntly; “Every single person you walk by on the street has an idea for a business. But 99% of them never do anything about it. So get to the point where you’re committed to doing something about it. Don’t kind of dance around it and try to make it happen. Make it happen. Flesh out the idea to the point where you actually get someone to pay you for it; and then prove it’s viable and scalable. It all starts with the commitment to doing whatever it takes to make it happen.”
Tip #5: Get Outside Help
You’re not an island as an entrepreneur. Maybe one day you’ll own an island, like Richard Branson or Larry Ellison — but as you sit there reading this right now; you’re not one. You need help. I need help. And at this time in our history there is no reason not to have it. The amazing reach of the Internet and our connected world gives us no excuse for not searching for outside help. Articles, books, expert how-to videos, mentors, e-learning courses and more. It’s vital to your chances of success.
Brad told me this; “Heidi and I are both very practical and logical people. But we knew we would have to swallow our pride a little bit and ask for help in different areas. We became part of the Skysong program with Arizona State University early and now have a great mentor in Dan O’Neill (director of entrepreneurship and research initiatives at ASU). The books we’ve read have shaped and changed our thinking. If you aren’t willing to look for help when you need; it becomes a very differentiating factor between success and failure.”
Tip #6: How to Raise Capital? Viable Business First
You want to know the biggest hurdle entrepreneurs believe they face when starting their business? Yes — the 100 foot wall called “lack of capital”. But the reality is every entrepreneur in the world has to bootstrap first. Trust me — no one is going to write you a check out of the gate based on an idea written on the back of a napkin, unless you’re a serial entrepreneur with a proven track record. So how do you get from the napkin to the million dollar round?
Since Brad and Heidi bootstrapped before raising a million dollar round of financing in 2010 led by Jim Armstrong of Canal Partners; I’ll let them tell you how they did it; “We bootstrapped using savings and full-time work. Very hand to mouth — working nights and weekends on the company. Doing whatever it took. And once we decided to get some funding, the number one reason we received so many offers is we had a viable product that was making money. If there is one piece of advice I can give to entrepreneurs; this is it: Bootstrap and prove your concept first. It shows the investors you’re serious enough to put your own net worth on the line and are all-in to make it happen.”
Tip #7: “Crown the Company”
Who is the king? You? Maybe. But maybe you should rethink this. As entrepreneurs and leaders of our company; we want to crown ourselves from the start and keep our crowns until the day we die. I know I do. But this is the wrong way to look at things. If you truly are trying to build a forever company; here for the long-term and scalable; you need to stick that fancy crown somewhere else. Try placing it on top of your company.
Brad explains how he had to humbly discover this himself; “When reading a book called “The Breakthrough Company” one of the key points that stuck was a concept called “crowning the company”. Basically you can’t be the king. You need to let the company be the king. And so with the rate we were growing; I realized we needed a new CEO to replace me. It was hard for me to swallow, but did I want to be co-owner and CEO of a $10 million dollar company; or co-owner of a $100 million dollar company without the CEO title? Easy choice. You simply can’t be the one person sitting on the throne calling all the shots. It doesn’t scale.”
Tip #8: Become Ninja-Like and Focus
So as the playground song goes; “…first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby in a baby carriage…” Yes — Heidi and Brad now have a little baby girl. So how does family life affect an entrepreneur who is driven to working 25 hours in a 24 hour day? It actually helps you focus. Listen — entrepreneurs who have families should not be neglecting them. But at the same time; we Type-A humans are driven to entrepreneurial pursuits in the highest. So how do you pull it off?
Brad put it this way; “Having a little girl puts things in perspective. Wanting more balance between your professional and personal life. So you have to become ninja-like in a sense. You become super focused because you know you only have a limited period of time to work. It ups your ante on how precise you have to be in the time you have here during the day. You have to have laser focus and only work on stuff to grow your business and move it forward.”
So are you ready to run off and sign up at match.com or any other number of matchmaking sites? Find your soulmate; get married, start a company together and have a baby. Who knows — you may be the next co-founder we read about in Forbes with a fairy-tale love story and million dollar company to boot.
NOTE:If you don’t know me, I’m Eric. Husband, father & life-long entrepreneur…
If you’re an entrepreneur, let’s hook up. Seriously. Here’s a killer formula:
Your Wisdom + My Wisdom = More Success
My email is: eric at mightywisemedia dot com.