The 18 Year Journey Of Solutionreach
Let’s walk back to the olden days: 2000, when we all worried the world would collapse at the stroke of midnight, Greg Ostertag was a household name in Utah, and text messaging wasn’t a popular form of communication. How foolish we were. The 2018 version of myself scoffs at the idiocy while sending a 53-person group text message with Ostertag gifs of him dunking a basketball that is actually the world. Seriously folks, in 2000 we didn’t understand SMS and we watched Greg Ostertag play professional basketball on a regular basis. These are things that happened. Historical facts. When I needed to communicate with someone about Tag committing six fouls in six minutes of action, I called their landline. THEIR LANDLINE. How did we even accomplish anything? How were we even people?
Enough about 2000 — it was garbage, we all agree. Let’s move to present day. We’re still pretty worried about the world collapsing, so that’s no great. Buttttt, we have a million forms of communication at our disposal and the most important one is SMS messaging. It’s so easy. And fast. Our lives basically revolve around the ding of a smartphone and our preconditioned response to start typing. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and my fingers are just tapping and swiping the night air, that’s how much my body craves a little bit of SMS. In short, texting has become part of the fabric of our lives.
In 2000, Jim Higgins started Solutionreach. He had spent time building Ancestry from 30 employees to 300 and during that period, also served as a consultant for the portfolio companies of one of Ancestry’s investors (CMGI). With the taste of entrepreneurship in his mouth, Higgins decided he would like to start his own company. But what to do?
Higgins wasn’t completely sure of the subject but he was sure about the foundation: communication through text messages.
“We’re a technology company and the original thesis was, can we have people engaging with information wherever they are?” said Higgins. “That sounds simple today but it wasn’t in 2000. We were all about texts. My theory was that someday you would get a phone call on your mobile device and almost be offended that they didn’t text you first. I remember telling my wife, she didn’t even know what texts were. And I said, ‘I know, but I’m making a bet that it’s going to be a part of the fabric of society.’”
First of all, he’s right: I am offended when anyone tries to call me when a text would suffice. Stop doing that immediately.
Second, this idea formed the foundation of Solutionreach: helping people engage with information in the easiest manner possible. Higgins didn’t have any doubt that people would be adopting cell phones, but the question was murkier when it came to how those cell phones would be used.
“It wasn’t like there was a ton of data out there — there wasn’t any data to look at and think things were obviously moving in this direction,” said Higgins. “I was betting adoption would be high on the SMS side and I was right.”
With the solution defined, Higgins set out to find an industry where Solutionreach could make a difference.
“I can’t tell you we went into healthcare with this big vision,” said Higgins. “At the time, missed appointments in healthcare were about 20% and half of those were forgotten. And I thought, let’s just solve that to start. We can do an appointment reminder to a cell phone and if half are forgotten, you still have a 10% impact on any business. That’s massive and a big number in terms of ROI (return on investment).”
In 2000, starting a tech company wasn’t for the faint of heart. The dot-com bubble had burst and investors were essentially running around with outspread arms, screaming “WHY?!?!” into the empty void of the sky. The world was unsettled and raising money in these conditions amounted to a tech version of the wild west, where entrepreneurs asked for money and a bunch of tumbleweeds blew by.
Higgins started Solutionreach as a communication platform for the healthcare industry, forced by necessity to self-fund during the early days before taking on seed capital from Nick Efstratis and Wasatch Venture Fund. On a relatively meager diet of under $2 million, Solutionreach would survive the next 12 years before taking on investment money from Summit Partners in 2012.
“We had a different philosophy but I think you can be disruptive and disciplined at the same time,” said Higgins. “There are a lot of companies built in different ways. I think it’s awesome to look at all the different styles, some people can go and raise a ton and build really fast. It wasn’t that we wanted to move slowly, but we were forced to do that at the time. That’s how the market was — we had to build it up. Now, we’re patient and there aren’t a lot of SaaS healthcare companies our size that are still growing and profitable.”
Solutionreach has indeed grown. They recently moved 600 employees into a new park at Thanksgiving Point, with another 150 spread globally. Higgins can still remember the early days of Thanksgiving Point, just a couple of lonesome buildings and a JCW’s, which sounds like the pinnacle of greasy-fingered hell.
“In 2000, we were the first company in healthcare to send a text message to anyone — from there it exploded and 18 years later the product is very in-depth, broad, and solves a lot of different problems within healthcare,” said Higgins.
Originally centered on the idea of text messaging, Solutionreach has evolved to encompass every form of communication between healthcare patients and providers. The depth of their presence is staggering: 25% of the country actively connects with their providers through Solutionreach. That’s more than 80 million patients spanning a variety of practices like pediatrics, dental, primary care, and cosmetic surgery.
“I operate on three principles: can I build a great product, can I build a great sales team, and can I build a great service team?” said Higgins. “Those are the three things that matter and everything else supports them. So we always build great products, we always sell really well, and we provide really unique customer service.”
Like many others, Jim Higgins views healthcare as a broken system. As Solutionreach continues to grow and gain momentum within the industry, Higgins sees his company’s legacy as playing a small role in building a stronger, more sustainable healthcare system. That mission started 18 years ago with SMS messaging, continues in present day with a full-service communication platform, and will carry on in the future in forms we may not even be able to imagine. Change is coming and Higgins wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I believe you have to be an entrepreneur in your own area within the company — I preach that all the time at Solutionreach,” said Higgins. “In 50 years, I’m not on earth anymore. What am I leaving behind and what am I trying to do? We are big believers in thinking that healthcare is broken and it’s critical to fix. That’s a personal mission for me…We’re part of the puzzle. We’d like to be the ubiquitous solution in healthcare for collaboration and communication. We’d like every doctor in the world to use this. That’s a big, crazy goal to have but I’d like to see a future where we continue accelerating our adoption and become the de facto standard for communication.”