Hello, Customers. I’m Listening.
(NOTE: This post was published in 2019, when Therapy Brands was a finalist for the Birmingham Venture Club’s Jemison Award).
It’s January 2013 and Shegun Otulana is running a software development firm with one programmer: Himself. Five years later, he’s running a company — TheraNest — with 300 employees, of whom nearly 100 focus strictly on its software products. And it all started with a friend’s suggestion.
“My friend served on the board for Catholic Family Services here in Birmingham, and he asked if I could write a practice-management program for them. I liked the people there, and I connected with them and their mission. That experience really opened-up my eyes to the need in the counseling profession, and I saw an opportunity to do something for at least the next ten years.”
While he was developing that initial program, Otulana discussed it with a number of people he trusted — from fellow entrepreneurs to potential customers. Apparently, though, he never mentioned it to anyone with even a passing familiarity with Practice Management Software’s status in the healthcare-practice world — where it’s required by law, and merely mentioning those three words out loud, in the wrong place at the wrong time, might just get you punched.
Extraordinary success in a very difficult space
Otulana’s response to that last observation is, frankly, a little hard to believe: “Most of our clients like our software. A lot of them love it. And quite a few of our clients are actually physician practices.” TheraNest’s subscriber numbers tend to confirm the rosy picture he paints: Five years after landing his first client, the company’s software now serves 15,000 organizations, ranging from the aforementioned mental health & physician practices to universities & government agencies — and including, to this day, Catholic Family Services.
TheraNest’s system offers automated solutions for everything from accepting, scheduling and engaging with patients to managing treatment protocols and insurance claims. The company’s most significant recent addition to its suite of features is telehealth — enabling clients to join sessions remotely simply by clicking on a private link.
So how has he managed to keep his customer base so consistently satisfied? “My impression is that, on the whole, they’re more business-minded than traditional physician practices.” Then there’s Theranest’s obsessive approach to service. “We have an advisory group of 400 to 500 customers, who generate a lot of conversation and feedback. We also created a private Facebook group where members can also make suggestions.”
Groomed for success
A native of Lagos, Nigeria who came to Birmingham 20 years ago, Otulana points to his background as one of his business advantages. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs. One of the things I learned early in life is that nobody is an island. If you want to succeed, you need the right people executing the right plan at the right time.” Sounds like someone with a bright future in counseling.
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