Like most entrepreneurs, my journey began with a seed of discontent. Entrepreneurship is, after all, about problem-solving. When my elderly grandfather needed long-term care, I quickly learned that existing nursing homes — struggling nonprofits with limited services — couldn’t provide the level of care I’d imagined. They were too often non-responsive, culturally insensitive, and lacked the staff, expertise and amenities necessary to improve the health and lifestyle of senior residents.
It wasn’t all terrible: there were some extraordinary (and extraordinarily overworked) staff that worked miracles with the little they had, and approached us in a very personalized and caring manner that made a world of difference. But as wonderful as those superstars proved to be, they couldn’t overcome the fact that their facilities were resource-strapped and, as a result, caused residents undo suffering.
I learned many lessons in the process of addressing this problem, lessons which I’ve applied repeatedly with each new entrepreneurial endeavor. In fact, I’ve applied this instruction in so many varied scenarios with such humbling results that in my mind they’ve become universal truths, capable of guiding any entrepreneur through the tricky business of creating change.
That said, here are the top five lessons nursing homes have taught me that are applicable to all types of entrepreneurship:
It’s All About Win-Win Business Models
Never approach a new venture with the intention of making things marginally better for your customers. Or, worse, by doing the same exact same thing as the competition, only slightly more efficiently. Starting a new business is so hard and so engrossing that what you’re proposing should be nothing short of revolutionary for customers and employees alike. If it isn’t, go back to the drawing board until you’ve concocted an idea that changes lives.
You see, the people you’re serving need to feel the difference of your value proposition. Your staff should be thrilled that you’re approaching industry challenges in a smarter way than their previous three employers. And you should be so sold on your vision that you’ll happily sing its refrain from the rooftops until everyone knows who you are and what you’re doing. In other words, everyone must win.
In my case, I knew that enormous improvements could be made to the quality of senior care. If I could hire more medical specialists, residents could take a swim or a fitness class rather than taxiing from one offsite doctor’s appointment to another. If I upgraded therapeutic equipment in rehab centers, patients would improve faster. If I connected with local health systems, we could share pertinent medical records that might save lives. Providing culturally-sensitive, hotel-grade amenities for residents and visitors would result in our centers becoming destinations that a patient would happily choose, rather than fall back on a last resort. And adding the in-house resources necessary for employees to succeed in their roles would produce an overjoyed workforce more eager to meet resident needs. Groundbreaking improvements could be made internally and externally.
Always Consider Accessibility
Of course, customers demand affordability, meaning that these win-win solutions should only be pursued if they can be done so cost-effectively. Resources can’t be added unless other aspects of the business are handled more efficiently. This is crucial, especially in healthcare, where great care should be accessible to all patients. And for any business, the more customers and market share we capture, the better off we are. Just look at the tech industry: companies like Amazon and Uber weathered losses for years, yet still managed to pull in tons of venture capital based solely on market share, sales and growth.
There are plenty of places to search for cost savings. One of my personal favorites is streamlining operations. Most businesses’ back office operations aren’t efficient. Whether it’s due to cumbersome or manual business processes, outdated systems, or other redundancies, there’s usually a lot that can be either improved or outsourced. Find out how the competition operates, where costs tend to puddle into a black hole, and do it better.
Technology is Usually the Key
Whether you’re streamlining operations or enhancing your service offerings, technology is usually pivotal to offering a better product at a better price. I’ll make capital investments all day every day if it lowers long-term operating costs. At The Allure Group, we’ve successfully turned around countless nursing and rehab facilities by modernizing operations and going digital, as well as using cutting-edge patient technologies that staff can leverage to improve the quality and efficiency of care.
By making smart, technology-driven investments and being ruthless about removing unnecessary costs, we took businesses that were struggling to maintain ineffective and inadequate service levels and revolutionized them. Now, we provide everything a resident could want and make a profit, too. All entrepreneurs should keep technology top-of-mind when innovating for this reason.
Engage Your Value Chain
In healthcare, my value chain is pretty extensive. I’ve got residents, families and friends, medical providers, payers, even medical device and pharmaceutical manufacturers and suppliers. I think it’s important to engage with all of these groups. Armed with a holistic industry understanding, I can better address issues, whether through a current or future business endeavor. And the better I understand my role within the greater ecosystem. It may seem fluffy, but it’s critical.
Client feedback is obviously vital too. But the rest is just as important. I relish expressing my customers’ concerns to other industry leaders, and hearing them do the same. In many cases, our customer base overlaps, meaning we all want the same things. This exchange excavates opportunities for collaboration, for ways to offer an all-around better healthcare experience, end-to-end. If it’s important to me, a doctor and an insurance company that a patient recovers from surgery quickly and without complications, we might find ways to partner to meet this shared goal. When everyone is talking the opportunities become endless.
Don’t Forget Your Community
To achieve this idea exchange, I volunteer with several industry groups. But I’m also very serious about community engagement from a local perspective. That’s why I participate in the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and why I encourage our centers to partner with local communities through volunteerism or other events. Success is symbiotic. We strengthen our neighborhoods and they strengthen us, too. Each time we extend a helping hand, we increase the value of our business. Maybe we’re beautifying our area, making it more desirable to future customers. Maybe we’re impressing a future employee. Anything is possible.
Staying community-minded also helps us to keep one of my strongest beliefs top of mind: business is always personal. Just as the rockstar employees operating on a shoestring made all the difference in my grandfather’s final days, so too will our employees brighten the lives of our residents when their own homes and personal lives are better cared for.
These five suggestions will help any entrepreneur, in any industry succeed, and do so repeatedly in multiple scenarios. Thankfully, we’ve still got a lot of problems to solve.