STARTUP: Schedule It
PROPRIETORS: Rebecca Wheeling Purcell and Robert Purcell
Who doesn’t love a great success story? It’s companies like this that inspired me to begin this column in the first place. Entrepreneurship can be defined in many ways, but for me, it encompasses a fairly short list of qualities which include a strong work ethic, risk aversion, and courage. Entrepreneurs find opportunities, evaluate them as viable, and then decide to exploit them. When I arranged an interview with Rebecca Wheeling, CEO of Schedule It, I was excited because I’d been following her story for quite some time. I’ve seen her speak several times and each time, I was more inspired than the time before. She has evolved into a confident powerhouse that seems to have no bounds.
I knew she was on to something fascinating and after getting to know her better, it’s clear that her passion, tenacity, and confidence combined with a terrific idea is why their trajectory is on fire in an obscure, but essential line of business And like all of our stories here at Hardin Local Startups, Schedule It’s home is right here in our back yard
In 2012, Rebecca and her husband Bob were independent insurance adjusters who discovered a niche in their line of work that would soon lead them to achieving their dreams of owning and operating their own successful business. Sounds boring doesn’t it? What if I told you they’ve gone from $4,000 in annual revenue to a projected $500,000 in less than three years. Not so boring after all, is it? And it all started with a hurricane.
When hurricane Sandy hit the northeast coast of the U.S., they set off for New York to help people with the massive devastation in property damage caused by the hurricane. They spent the better part of four months there calling and meeting people who had filed insurance claims for damage to their homes and businesses. Working out of a rented empty house and sleeping on an air mattress (no hotel rooms were available), they soon realized that making contact with the property owners and setting up appointments to evaluate their damage was not only difficult, but extremely inefficient. They eventually handled nearly five hundred claims during that period working for seven different insurance companies
There are three layers of business in claims adjustment: Insurance companies, adjusting firms, and adjusters. Most insurance companies do not directly employ enough adjusters to accommodate a high volume of claims which is why they rely on independent adjusters. When a natural disaster occurs, the insurance companies call on adjusting firms who specialize in finding and organizing independent adjusters to meet the demand. The adjustment firms hand off the claims to independent adjusters who in turn are responsible for scheduling meetings with the property owners and inspecting the damage. The task of scheduling those appointments is where the Purcell’s found their niche.
Calling property owners and arranging the meetings was a virtual nightmare. It usually involved several exchanges of calls, leaving messages, arranging times and rescheduling when schedules changed. When a large natural disaster happens, it becomes practically unmanageable. The average claim involves twenty three minutes just to route, call and schedule the inspection. That represented over one fourth of their time just scheduling their inspections during hurricane Sandy. Isn’t it interesting how a little arithmetic can reveal an amazing opportunity? When viewed like that, it’s hard not to see it. It was a classic eureka moment when they realized there was a tremendous opportunity and no one else has attempted to exploit it.
“Let’s see if people will pay for this.”
In the world of venture capital investment, this is often referred to as a disruptive process or product. Anything disruptive which creates an opportunity is exactly what investors are looking for. In 2013 they decided to start a company and named it Schedule It. With their idea for a business in place they began a process to find out if it was a viable business process using a simple but time tested method: “Let’s see if people will pay for this.”
The initial business idea was to do the scheduling as a call center, but they soon realized a good software platform would serve the needs of them and their customers. Rebecca began her search for a software product that would help them manage the scheduling tasks. She would use this product and with the addition of a call center, offer to take the scheduling tasks away from the adjusters to allow them to go about doing what they do best.
While there were several products on the market, none of them were fully capable of handling the unique needs of claims adjusters. She did however find a product she thought would make the job easier. She acquired a product from Intuit (of QuickBooks fame) which was designed to schedule appointments for plumbers, electricians, and home repair services. It cost them $10,000, but it wasn’t long before they realized it lacked the flexibility to fully meet their needs. In the insurance industry, property damage claims involve multiple types of claims. Fire claims require different types of information to prepare for an inspection than a water claim or a hurricane or hail claim. The software wasn’t capable of managing that.
Intuit claimed their product was adaptable, but failed to mention it was at a cost of $300 per hour. They estimated the customization would cost them nearly $150,000. For a small company with modest financial resources, the $10,000 was a stretch. Coming up with $150,000 more was not only risky, but simply not possible for them at the time. They worked with the Intuit software for most of 2013. At the end of that year, they had generated $4,000 in revenue. It was enough to prove the concept was viable.
By then, Rebecca knew they needed their own customized product and she set about searching for a software company to build it for them. The estimates ranged from $250,000 to $500,000, well outside their financial resources. She then searched for independent programmers and found some programmers in India to write it for them. The coding began on February 27th 2014 and on April 19th they launched the initial version of their software. When she told me this during our interview, I had to ask her to repeat that claim. As a software engineer, I knew that building a product with that kind of complexity in less than two months was what I would have described as impossible. It turns out I did not misunderstand her – it actually happened. And surprisingly, they’re still using and building on that same product today. The initial product cost them $5,000. NOTE TO FUTURE ENTREPRENEURS: It pays to do your homework when evaluating software development services.
During this time, Rebecca and Bob were still working as adjusters. As she was describing the process, she reflected on the experience. “I would do inspections for six hours beginning early in the morning, then come back and sleep until 11:00 at night, then I would stay up all night working on specifications and communicating with the programmers. I would literally draw pictures, scan them, and send them to the programmers in India. I had no idea at the time that I was building something called wireframes.”
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But looking back on it, I really had no choice if I wanted this company to be successful.”
Nothing says you’re all in like quitting your day job. On Oct 2014, Rebecca quit her job as an adjuster and she assumed the role of CEO. “It was no small step for me,” said Rebecca. “It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But looking back on it, I really had no choice if I wanted this company to be successful.”
Rebecca attributes much of her success to mentors who helped her along the way. First was Lisa Williams, the Director of the Kentucky Innovation Network, Lincoln Trail Region. Lisa advised her, linked her up with other mentors, and arranged for her to pitch to the Lincoln Trail Venture Club where she received a $50,000 investment. She was further advised by Mike Bowers, a local businessman and advocate for business startups. Mike introduced her to attorneys and guided her through her other investment pitches which resulted in her raising $1 million in just nineteen days, an unprecedented event locally and a rare accomplishment nearly anywhere. “I still meet with my mentors routinely,” said Rebecca. “I use them as accountability partners. I wouldn’t be where I am without them and I value their continued support and advice.”
Schedule It has secured several exclusive arrangements with other vendors in the industry, including XactWare, a company that serves 68% of insurance companies. They are XactWare’s exclusive provider of scheduling services. This partnership enabled their ability to automate several of the steps in scheduling inspections and notifying the insurance carriers of their progress. Strategic partnerships can often help propel a company to new heights and Rebecca is always keeping her options open to using those in the most effective way possible.
Rebecca exemplifies the qualities of successful entrepreneurs. While one of the most pleasant and friendly people you would ever meet, when she’s wearing her business hat, it’s all business. She’s very supportive of her employees, but I get the feeling she has high expectations from them all. But a good leader inspires others to want to do well and it’s clear, Rebecca has those inspirational qualities. As an old military retiree, I was reminded of a common saying among subordinates working for inspirational leaders: “I’d follow her into battle anytime.” She’s that kind of leader. She’s also had and continues to have trouble hiring people capable of doing the necessary work to keep Schedule It going. Interestingly, just finding people with basic typing skills with a pleasant customer service personality isn’t as easy as one might think.
Schedule It uses and belongs to the Entre Leadership program, a Dave Ramsey company. One of the tools they use from that program is called a DiSC Profile Assessment. It’s a short and simple personality and skills measurement tool that identifies the qualities for which people are best qualified. It’s proven to be quite helpful in their human resources initiatives. Rebecca told me “Sometimes, people aren’t suited for the specific job for which they’re applying, but the test will reveal another place where they might excel.”
There is little doubt in my mind that Schedule It is a company destined for further success thanks to the natural leadership and business acumen of Rebecca. I’m confident they’re destined for great things in the future.