We are very thankful to Heidi Jannenga, Co-founder of WebPT, to make the time for this interview. She provides great insight to all aspiring PTs that want to be entrepreneurs. Enjoy….
FitPT: To all PTs who are aspiring entrepreneurs, what is the greatest piece of advice that you either received yourself or learned over the years that you can share?
Heidi: Over the years, I’ve learned to constantly challenge the status quo––to keep iterating and changing based on the needs of your primary customer. The success of an entrepreneur hinges on the ability to solve a problem in a way that resonates with others having the same problem so much that they are willing to pay for it. If you think you have a great idea, get out of your own way and go for it but stay laser focused on solving one problem at a time. When we were building WebPT, we had a lot of opportunity to expand into other medical markets, but we stuck with our niche –– our core competency –– and it’s truly paid off.
That said, I do want to caution that building a business is hard. From the outside looking in, it may not always appear that way, especially when you follow a company like ours, WebPT, which has enjoyed amazing growth and success in a very short period of time. It is a grind ––especially in the early years. You have to possess a deep-rooted love and passion for what you are doing, because certain days will test you.
FitPT: In finance we joke that it’s easy to say ‘I would do this or I would do that’ but the hardest thing to do is actually “pull the trigger” and do it. What was the deciding factor that made you pull the trigger and leave your PT career to start WebPT?
Heidi: I didn’t completely leave my career as a practicing PT until 2011 ––nearly five years into building and three years after the launch of WebPT, so the transition was gradual, but challenging nonetheless. The impetus for WebPT came about in 2006 when I was a clinic director for a large, multi-location sports medicine practice in Arizona. Revenues were declining, so naturally, I began looking for ways to increase the bottom line. I realized that two of our biggest costs were transcription and dictation. Serendipitously I was dating a seasoned technologist and asked him to search for an affordable EMR that would fit my clinic’s needs—and be easy to use and implement—but he kept coming up short. Nothing even came close. Everything was bulky, built for other healthcare providers, and not web-based—which meant I’d have to hire at least one extra IT person just to handle the upkeep of a server-based system. Basically, we either had to make compromises, or figure out a new way to solve this costly problem.
Working together with my then-boyfriend (now husband) Brad Jannenga, we went about building something that was originally supposed to be just for my clinic. After completing market research, however, we found that 80% of physical therapists were still using pen and paper for documentation. That’s when we knew we had stumbled onto something that would benefit the industry at large, and we spent the next two years building and testing it.
But I am not the risk taker, my husband is. So with his influence and drive, I took the leap of faith in building WebPT. The market research discovery, the immediate traction and positive feedback we received, as well as my husband’s experience in large-scale, enterprise software development were the main deciding factors to move forward and bootstrap a software company –– something completely out of my comfort zone.
FitPT: Many successful entrepreneurs are asked what is one skill or quality needed to be successful. There are many out there and it takes a combination of skills, but if you had to narrow it down to one what would it be and why?
Heidi: Problem solving. Entrepreneurship, at it’s core, is about being able to identify a problem, develop a creative solution to that problem, and develop a business model around that solution. Your product must resonate with your potential customers, so much so that they want to pay money for it. If they aren’t willing to buy it, all you have is an idea, not a business. As your company starts to grow, that problem solving mindset is critical to all aspects of business.
FitPT: The entrepreneur lifestyle is different than most people expect and is much different than the lifestyle of a practicing PT. What is one thing you miss from the lifestyle you had as a practicing PT?
Heidi: The entrepreneurial lifestyle is very different in many regards, but I’ve also seen many similarities. The biggest difference for me—and what required the most adjustment—was the transition into a completely foreign industry: technology. I had to learn a whole new language while educating our team on medical terminology and all things PT. The empathetic nature of PT, however, has translated to—and greatly impacted—my work at WebPT in hiring, and retaining and developing our talented, passionate, hard-working employees.
One thing I miss most about the practicing PT lifestyle is being done with my work at the end of each day. I would see my patients, complete my documentation and be done for the day. Now, things carry over to days or weeks at a time. I have had to shift my attitude toward productiveness and longer-term projects vs daily completion of tasks.
I got into physical therapy to be a therapist, not to run a software company. I missed that I was no longer helping patients, so I shifted my need to help people into being passionate about delivering this mission-critical piece of technology known as WebPT to the PT community and changing the rehab profession at-large.
FitPT: What reading materials would you recommend someone read if they want to become an entrepreneur or significant other is an entrepreneur and why?
Heidi: Two of my personal favorite books are “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown, and “Firms of Endearment” by Rajendra Sisodia and Jagdish N. Sheth.
“Daring Greatly” is all about being bold, and challenging those fears and inner (and external) voices that stifle possibility. It has helped me to become a better leader in understanding that vulnerability is not weakness.
“Firms of Endearment” is about creating a company rooted in the tenets of conscious leadership. For anyone starting a business, regardless of whether you plan to have employees or not, it gets you thinking about how to incorporate all stakeholders––customers, investors, employees, etc.—into your business model and the importance of building a company with vision and purpose beyond just your product. The book shines a light on the research validating that a great company culture is critical to business success.