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A Decade of Failures and Successes

Lessons from a 10-year learning curve


We often chuckle with people who don’t know our history that it took 10 years to become an overnight success. The data shows that most businesses fail – but the good ones survive and thrive. It’s a testament to the American dream and work ethic of the entrepreneur.

When we launched American Vein & Vascular Institute 10 years ago, the recipe for business success seemed simple:

  • Deliver a service or product people need, want and will pay for
  • Differentiate our services and products from the competition
  • Attract and retain top employees
  • Provide great leadership.

But it wasn’t simple – in reality, it was complicated. We learned the hard way to shutter lines of business that failed, to sniff out real talent and to act swiftly when poor management reared its ugly head. Unfortunately, we scaled up like only beginners do and for a while, our finances were a mess – typical of a small business startup.

Even if we had had a business mentor to lead the way, I’m not sure we would have listened. We were headstrong and doing it ”our way,” which occasionally took us off track. If you own a budding business, perhaps this advice can help you avoid the barriers we encountered.

Hiring failures – In our early years, we hired four successive company leaders, who came (and went) with great resumes and magnetic personalities. We trusted them, and all four failed us. It took too long to recognize that we kept hiring the same personality. Now, we recognize that pattern and we “hire slow and fire fast.”

Poor management – Because of those leaders, our mid-level managers were not well mentored. It took years to develop the talent we have today. At one time, we suffered from an inability to listen, secretive behavior, micro-management, trust issues, lack of clear policies, processes and systems, poor (or no) communication and lack of feedback. We addressed it all and today we run a tight ship with great managers.

Premature scaling – Our company exploded into an underserved marketplace, and we quickly saw the opportunity for growth. We opened multiple new locations before our processes were nailed down. At the time, we didn’t even have a website—we  just used Facebook. It was too much, too soon, and it created a cultural and financial burden. We now test new markets carefully and involve our staff with growth initiatives.

Financial management – We started with a part-time finance staff. When we grew, we did not expand the finance team fast enough, and money couldn’t keep up with growth. This led to cash flow hurdles and mismanagement of our tax burden. We learned that cash flow is not synonymous with profit. To survive, we needed positive cash flow with more coming in than going out. According to the Small Business Administration, 40 percent of small businesses are profitable, 30 percent break even and 30 percent lose money. Today, our finance team is our biggest department, and we watch cash at all times.

Failures can only turn into successes if you learn a lesson from them and change the way your business is doing things to stopmaking the same mistakes. We made errors that we corrected to get on track; however, we did a lot of things right, too.

Mission/Vision/Values – From the beginning, we’ve lived by our core values. There is accountability and culture creation with our mission, vision and values – and our team thrives on it. We have each other’s' backs, and fundamentally, we are good people. Our business partners and customers trust us.

We learn from failure and move forward Learning from failure is difficult, but it’s the only way to improve. We don’t repeat failures, and we don’t wallow in it. We move on.

Planning – We are planners and love policies and processes – we write them, bind them, teach them and share them. We are in constant conversation of short-term and long-term plans. They are dynamic so we know where to adjust. We vision-board and create goals with measurable results. You know what they say: “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”

We are unique In a crowded health care marketplace, we stand out. We work on our brand and celebrate what sets us apart. Strangely enough, we constantly see the competition copying us. This pushes us to keep raising our standards, which keeps us different and better.

The patient comes first We were trained with the mantra, “The patient comes first,” at the Mayo Clinic. The patient is our customer, and we keep that front-of-mind. Our patients are deeply loyal and wonderful referrers of friends and family. But we also keep an eye on what’s trending in health care so we can stay ahead and offer service lines and products that people want – and are sometimes surprised that a doctor’s office provides. We are also keenly aware of reviews and grateful for the many positive comments they share. In the rare case of complaint, we are open to improvement and address things immediately.

Take the high road. We’ve encountered plenty of haters and doubters along the way. But we stick to our principles, stay focused on our work and take the high road. It is the right path for our business principles, and in the long run, we let karma do its job.

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Erin Gibbs
Erin Reilly Gibbs is CEO, founder and owner of American Vein & Vascular Institute Practice Management . The company oversees American Vein & Vascular Institute — a network of vein and vascular clinics owned and founded by her husband, Dr. Gordon Gibbs.  The companies have more than 50 employees, operating in Pueblo, Parker, Canon City, Vail Valley, Littleton and Colorado Springs in Colorado and in Arlington, Texas. The management headquarters are located in the heart of downtown Colorado Springs. Recently, Erin’s team was selected for ColoradoBiz Magazine’s Top 100 Women-Owned Companies and the entire organization was a 2014 winner for Colorado Companies to Watch. She can be reached at eringibbs@americanvein.com or 719.242.8650.

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