Just over three years ago, husband and wife team Bob Purcell and Rebecca Wheeling answered a calling to turn a bright idea into a business.
As independent insurance adjusters, the couple knew having someone work the phones and maps to schedule and route their appointments made their work more efficient. More importantly, those services enabled them to help people in crises get their lives back faster.
Consider that during the first three weeks after Hurricane Sandy, Wheeling and Purcell received 484 claims, each requiring an average 23 minutes for scheduling and routing. That totals 185 hours on the phone.
They were working those claims from a rental on Long Island - and reflecting on interest from other independent adjusters in scheduling and routing services - when they decided to start their business, Schedule It.
Now, three years later, Schedule It employs eight people at its Elizabethtown headquarters and an additional 32 schedulers across the country. Last fall, the company completed an exceptional first round of financing – securing verbal commitments for $1 million in investments in just two weeks.
But as Wheeling attests, entrepreneurs will learn many new lessons, regardless of the depth of their expertise in a given industry. She shared some of her best.
A local mentor makes all the difference.
“This is someone who wants you to succeed and can take away the anxiety that’s not warranted because they know what’s normal,” Wheeling said. “As a startup, I don’t know what normal is.”
Wheeling became a client of the Lincoln Trail office of the Kentucky Innovation Network, which paired her with a local mentor. She also connected with the Lincoln Trail Venture Group, a group of about 40 local investors.
One of many services the Kentucky Innovation Network offers is to help startups tap into the region’s entrepreneurial community and connect with helpful resources in the area including the University of Kentucky Small Business Development Center and the Kentucky Career Center – Lincoln Trail.
Be open and honest with yourself and others.
It’s critical to be honest about strengths and weaknesses, Wheeling said. Though equipped with an MBA, Wheeling and Purcell initially knew nothing about running a startup. That’s why the couple completed a business-accelerator training program and hired employees with particular knowledge and skills the couple didn’t already possess.
Create partners, not investors.
When Wheeling advocates for creating partners over investors, she refers to people not only financially vested in the company, but who also believe in its mission, will appropriately challenge decisions and share a commitment to providing the best possible product or service to customers.
“And that’s a two-way street,” Wheeling added. “As the entrepreneur, you have to demonstrate a commitment to your ‘partners’ that you will deliver on the terms. That’s not only financially but also in how you regularly communicate and engage with them.”
You will make mistakes, but perseverance wins.
It didn’t take Wheeling and Purcell long to realize they needed software to manage scheduling and routing. Scheduling for independent insurance adjusters is complicated, with different types of claims and seemingly no end to the individual adjusters’ preferences.
Software for their exact needs didn’t exist, so they took a risk on software they thought would work. It fell short, and they lost $10,000. Today, Wheeling and Purcell display two software CDs in their home as a reminder mistakes will happen.
With help from the right people, they wrote a custom program that met the needs of their business and customers.
“We have scheduled over 20,000 claims so far in this software,” Wheeling said.
In that first year, when technology was the central priority, Wheeling said, she and Purcell developed one of their most important skills – perseverance.
“You have to be willing to make mistakes, to be embarrassed, but to keep going,” Wheeling said. “Complications are a byproduct of a blessing.”
Lisa Williams is director of the Lincoln Trail office of the Kentucky Innovation Network and a member of the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board. She can be reached at 270-307-4214.