What I have learned from bootstrapping 3 startups (2 failures, 1 success)

25years What I have learned from bootstrapping 3 startups (2 failures, 1 success)I (Jonathan Govette) often get questions about “How did you start” or “How did you come up with your current company” and it seems that most people believe that I instantly knew what I wanted and it all came together perfectly.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

It was a long road, filled with many potholes, detours, and all out wrecks.  I have been getting asked these questions a lot more lately and wished to not only share with you my successes, but more even more so, my failures, and what not to do when starting or running your company.

To my readers, I want to say thank you for following us and I appreciate you taking your time out to comment on our blogs and helping us build such a great community.


The Beginning:

The story I am about to tell is a completely candid recap of my experiences throughout my business life and hope they offer you some insight on how to better your own.

A little background to my life, I was adopted at an early age of 4 months to a very loving family that wanted nothing more than to have children. I have always had a drive to want to prove to my biological and adopted family that I would be someone someday that would change the world. When I turned 4 my family had a conversation about where I came from, why I was special, and how I would make a big difference, I never really knew what that meant at the age of 4, but I knew I wanted to do something big.

I grew up on a farm outside of Fresno California, in a small town of Firebaugh where my father farmed cotton at the time.  I still remember waking up in the morning and running out to play with the chickens in our barn before my father told me to put them back.  These fond memories are always with me and make me smile.

Early on, throughout my teen years, I worked alongside him and pulled celery by hand and packed them to be shipped out to market.  My hands were permanently green for a few years until he trusted me enough to drive a tractor.  My father taught me the true meaning of hard work and I thank him for that every day.


First Venture

I wouldn’t call your first paper route at the age of 11 your own company, (Getting up at 4:30 every morning before school to deliver papers was still hard though) But it was my start in life as a working man and taught me a lot about persistence and going after a goal.

Starting out with your first business of any kind is daunting; you normally have few contacts in the industry, no trusted advisors and nothing to teach people.  What do I mean by teaching people?  You probably have heard of this age old adage, Give and you shall receive.


Share First and Often

In order to receive something from someone you have to have some amazing knowledge to share that is not readily available from anywhere else (your experiences, your best practices, etc.) and always lead the conversation with “How can I help you”, before even considering asking for their help.  Goal with this type of interaction is to choose the top people in your industry that you need help from and introduce yourself and offer assistance to them.

You might think to yourself, “I am the one needing help and I do not have much to give to them.”  Well you better have a skill set that is unique or you will not get far in this world.  People are very interesting, while we do love to help others, we also enjoy when someone takes the time out of their busy schedule to offer support as well.

I always tell people I meet that the relationship should be mutually beneficial to both parties in order for it to be a true partnership and have any longevity.


Most People Network Wrong

I do not fault people; no one teaches you how to network with others.  There is no class in school that offers students a proper way to build strategic partnerships or helps you develop interpersonal skills that help you form key relationships.

I went to a California Polytechnic University (Cal Poly SLO) and while I loved atmosphere, the nightlife, etc. The classes and curriculum were not exciting to me.  Not one class taught you the true business skill sets that are needed in running your own business such as networking, marketing, employee retention, etc. (More on those later) – These skills are best taught through real world experience, mentorship and trial and error.

Networking is a unique skillset. Most hone their skills by going to Chamber of Commerce Mixers or joining leads groups like BNI.  But I feel that these skills should be taught far earlier in high school or before and prep students to become self-sufficient and successful sooner in life.

For those that have attended a mixer in the past, most people stand around a table with other’s that the already have met in the past, exchange pleasantries, a business card and that’s it.  For most this is the extent of their networking prowess.

If you attend a mixer you should form a team of 2 to 5 people that share the same mentality and scout the room for prospects that would meet your needs and bring them back to a central semi-quiet corner to have a strategic discussion about each other’s business.

The reason why you have 2 or more people is that you can introduce each to your network of people faster than one can do by themselves.  Try it sometime, it works very well.  They key though is to discuss an outcome of what you and your new potential partner want to happen after this initial meeting.

Example. We both want to grow our practices by 20 new patients a month, let’s set up a meeting tomorrow and talk more about what we can both do to help each other. – The key is to be very specific with what your ideas are and write them down so both parties have a copy.


Build a Network of Trusted Advisors

We recently wrote an article that walks you through the common mistakes doctors and liaisons make when creating a referral network. Considering how critical referrals are for most businesses we find it hard to believe that most healthcare organizations do not place a larger value on these relationships.

Read the full article: Guide to Building a Successful Referral Network for Doctors


My First Startup

I  have always had the passion since 4 years old to do something that would change the world and make life better for people.  As with any entrepreneur filled with ideas the key was not the idea itself but the execution and planning that would make all the difference.  Unfortunately I learned first hand how difficult and expensive a startup could be if you were inexperienced like I was in the past.  Mistakes taught me success and helped me understand my true path.

The goal is to shoot for the stars. This is because the work needed to make 10 million is just as much as trying to make 1 Billion. It’s all about scaling at that point.

The biggest issue I have had is choosing the correct co-founders that share the vision and the drive necessary to continue past all the BS, the headaches, and will continue to work along side you no matter what. I did not have this type of partnership during my first startup, one of the other founders refused to do their part and the company crashed in less then 2 short years.

I learned to evaluate their time commitment, fired quickly when things were going wrong, and try to have honest open conversations often so that any issues could be addressed ASAP.


Continued Education

Believe it or not, most doctors do not upgrade their skill-sets regularly.  And no we are not just talking about their medical talents.  I am talking about updating their practice with the newest technologies for both the staff and patients sake.

Every healthcare practice has operation costs (payroll, insurance, marketing, etc.), but very few providers actively invest a percentage of their profits back into the business.   This is unfortunate.

During the last 25 years I have seen countless businesses fail due to many reasons, but the most common is that they get lazy with success early on and fail to innovate or change.   If you do not, your practice will slowly die and be replaced by those that understand it is critical to always have the best tech and marketing strategies in place to be able to complete for the long haul.

Do you know that I normally spend 3 to 4 hours a day studying new subjects, reading articles, blogs and how-to guides?  I actually study more now than I did in my college days.  And this is usually done before 8am or after 9pm so that I can concentrate on working with my team or clients during normal work hours. If you truly want to be successful, you need to continue honing your skills and learning every day. When people ask what I do for fun, I tell them work (learning). I enjoy spending my time gaining new incites on life and helping my friends and co-workers with their work.

We recently wrote two great guides that you can use to help your business.


Time to Grow Up

Fast forward a few years and several smaller businesses later and I decided to expand my knowledge base to marketing, infrastructure, servers, and software; not that farming was bad, but it’s a business that takes a lot physical and mental prowess and is very hard to scale into a billion dollar company.

To play with the big boys, you need to take your business seriously, know that you can’t get lucky forever and control a market space.  You need to develop a strong network, work hard, and most of all, be very persistent.


Importance of a Referral

I always knew how valuable referrals were when I was working, both for my own company and for others that I worked for.   I also know it is so hard to run your own company, you have so many questions (actually problems) that need to be solved but no good place to get them answered.  I decided to form a Think Tank, a group of top level CEO’s, and owners from different industries (Finance, Insurance, Medical, Software, HR, Payroll, etc), to solve my problems.   With the mix of 55 great minds in one room we could help everyone with anything.

The basic structure of the group was that we would meet every 2 weeks and help each other solve the toughest problems that we all faced.  Topics could range from how to market one’s company to HR issues to insurance problems.   We would sit around a string of tables and talk for a few hours over a nice lunch.

In order to make sure everyone participated fully, not only did you have to talk during our meetings but you had to send referrals to other members. At the time I had to track the referrals manually on paper forms and excel spreadsheets.  After a few months of doing it this way, I got fed up and decided to build an application to manage this interaction.

Shortly after this, other groups in the area started finding out about this software and ask if they could use it too, and a little light bulb went off and I decided to start a new company.


Failure 101

This is where S$*T hit the fan. 

I formed the first company SRE Software and closed the doors in a few  short months because I had chosen the wrong partners and the wrong time to start.   The second company (same premise, different co-founders) started out strong, I really enjoyed what we learned from everyone on the team in the beginning  but it became apparent after a year and a half that the goals of the founders were not aligned and I decided to part ways and start out on my own.

After many years of research and help from my great friends that are doctors,  I created the foundation to what was to become referralMD. If you are interested in coming on board and providing feedback let me personally know by contacting me here.


From Idea to Customers

Anyone that has every thought about a startup knows the word traction, the time between the idea stage to when customers actually start using the product.  It is an exciting time, but oohh so tiring.

Not only do you have to spend your time managing the product development, but also the time acquiring more customers to help give you feedback and soon after, money.

Most businesses are normally content with where they are at, some would like to grow a little, but do not have the time or skills necessary to scale their current business nationally or internationally.  Average business owners just want to make a great living, have a good family, and enjoy their 7pm to 2am without thinking of work.

For a startup, there is hardly any time to manage both, and thus is very hard to have interpersonal relationships (girlfriend, families, “best” friends).  This is where I find myself today, my focus is extreme and unwavering, but the hope is always there that once the company past a few key milestones that I will be able to enjoy the other half of life.

To find customers quickly, I wrote this guide, 8 Quick Steps You Can Do Today to Setup your Healthcare Practice Up for Gigantic Success.

Please check it out I think it will help you drive more customers to your practice while allowing you to enjoy your personal life even more.


The Future

My short term goals are many, but my master goal after it said and done is to help my family and my community by providing education to those that wish to master the healthcare and tech world.

If you have found this story of my life insightful, please reach out to me personally I would enjoy chatting with you and sharing my knowledge and learning from you as well.


Thanks for reading.

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0 What I have learned from bootstrapping 3 startups (2 failures, 1 success)
Rick has over 20 years of experience in delivering the right products, partnerships and services that lead to the success of healthcare technology companies. Rick has an extensive track record of designing and executing product, market and customer success strategies with a variety of organizations including SigmaCare, HealthRamp, NaviNet and WebMD.

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