Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Kyle Golding, I am a co-founder and CMO of VORTTX Training and Testing SaaS virtual emergency response training system for long-term healthcare facilities. I co-founded VORTTX Training and Testing in 2016.
VORTTX is a yearly subscription service currently generating 1% of the market potential of one hundred million dollars a year in our second year of full-time operation.
After nearly a year in development, the adoption rate of VORTTX from the public launch to the end of the first 12 months was over 500% and still growing.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My co-founder Tadd Weese is an operations manager for a long-term medical facility. Part of his job is doing emergency response training for the entire staff of the facility and then proving this training had been done whenever the facility was inspected by state or federal regulators.
A huge part of our journey has been our decision to go slow with a technology product. We could have taken loans, shopped for VC money or even raised “friends and family” funding to go faster but we really didn’t want to be constrained in that way.
This is required by law, but there is no official tool, document, process etc. to execute the training and document. This would be like filing your taxes without the IRS forms.
A second problem was staff members not being interested in reading employee handbooks or watching a powerpoint presentation about emergency response. Weese had a hard time keeping their attention.
To solve this problem, he developed a game of asking random questions about emergency response situations to better engage his staff. That lead to a binder full of potential options (fire, weather, crime, medical, etc.) selected by rolling dice to keep the training unpredictable and potentially more engaging. This also included sign-in sheets for documenting who did the training and when.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
When Weese pitched this to me, he wanted to develop a physical “training in a box” with the binder and dice with instructions on how to execute the training and document the process. He assumed anyone in his role in the 6,000+ U.S. long-term health care facilities would want to have his better way to lead a training session.
I hated that idea. Why not create an online “virtual” system to accomplish the same thing but with automated technology. This would reduce the cost of producing and distributing physical items, updating the training and controlling the overall process. Even though I’m not a programmer, I knew this could be done. I had developed a very basic online form for a client that has some similarities to the functions needed for VORTTX.
The initial version of the product was custom developed in concert with a local programmer and coder. This was limited to a very, very basic version of what we have now. This came from a disconnect in communication between us and the developers. This cost us almost $5,000 to learn a hard lesson. From there, we began utilizing a third-party piece of tech designed for complicated forms or surveys.
We sort of broke it and reconfigured to initially use as a proof of concept and example “logic engine" for the next time we hired a development team. This eventually became our MVP and launch product.
To keep our initial cost low, we did not take on investors or spend all our bootstrap money on a “full final version” right out of the gate, we took longer to develop an MVP and launch version 1.0 (now on version 2.0). But, we own 100% of the company with no debt. We operate VORTTX virtually out of the office of my “day job” The Golding Group business development firm.
We only pay $100 a month for the tech, hosting, etc. for over 30 months now. We do all the programming using this product, which saves us development cost (only costing us sleep at night) to make changes and upgrades.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Both Weese and I believed so much in business potential, doing a side hustle seemed the best route so we could both fund VORTTX with our day jobs plus tap into my resources and expertise as business/product development/marketing specialist. Not having to hire for that allowed us to keep budget down and the need for cash infusion low. After the first year as a side hustle, VORTTX took off on its own and started producing profit.
We started by utilizing a marketing website, explainer video and social media, email marketing, trade shows and old-fashioned sales techniques: phone calls, personal emails and in-person visits.
I work full time in marketing, so this aspect of the business comes second nature to me. We utilize scheduling software for email, social media, website updates and other marketing promotions to stay focused and consistent.
The thrust of our marketing effort the first year was establishing the brand and explaining the value because VORRTX was first to offer training and documentation in this way.
Our website, social media, video and print material are effective but attending industry specific trade events and speaking directly to decision makers was by far the most effective marketing and sales tactic.
Email campaigns and paid LinkedIn ads directed at specific job titles has also been very beneficial. In our second year on the market, but made several changes to the marketing approach based on measuring response to specific email or social media campaigns and feedback from end-users and industry experts.
The name VORTTX is based on the acronym used by emergency response professionals and FEMA for virtual tabletop exercises (situational training): VTTX. The acronym is well known to the target audience for VORTTX, thus an instant connection to existing training systems. In nature, a vortex is a region within fluid that tends to organize the flow into larger scale flows. VORTTX helps training professionals organize staff preparation in small groups and shifts. A vortex also conveys energy and motion, both positive traits in business.
Since VORTTX is a side hustle for both of us, there have been highs, lows and different challenges than we expected. It has been harder than we thought not would be, but we are still trying and starting to see success.
All the initial reactions from people in the long-term care industry was extremely positive. They all confirmed we had something new, different and worth paying for. That was very motivating for us. But, when it was time to pay for the service, that happened much slower than we thought it would. Everyone loved the idea, but were hesitant to spend money on it.
We also heard a lot of people needing to add the cost to their overall budget for the year and would have to wait until that was approved late in the current calendar year early in the next year before they would be able to make the purchase. This made our sales cycle very long with great uncertainty on our part.
We had to stay front of mind for a long time, without being annoying and hope someone else didn't knock us off while we waited fro budgets to be approved.
Our service is first in this space, which is an advantage, but we have a huge education curve because we do not have existing systems for comparison.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Too many people view SaaS and e-commerce as easy, but that’s just not true. There are advantages to running a “virtual” business but there are also an equal number of challenges as well. We had the additional challenge of being first in our business space and having full-time jobs at the same time.
We went with a virtual approach for VORTTX to reduce cost and liability of physical items and shipping. But, we're selling a "product" that can't be touched or held in your hand. It's harder to close a sale when the potential buyer has to go back to their office and sign up online.
That lack of immediacy makes closing sales harder.
Medical industry HR is very conservative when applying new technology. Even though there were no existing tools or options like VORTTX and training was a guessing game, that was "free" as far as budgeting goes.
We thought having the best solution to a problem would make sales easy. It didn't. It's still a ton of work, with a longer than expected sales cycle. That requires patience on our part.
Also, Federal mandates enforcing this type of training are in place, but enforced in different ways all over the country and have not been very punitive yet. When that happens, VORTTX will be much more attractive than fed. fines for noncompliance.
Top promote VORTTX, we attended several Leading Age (senior health care professional org.) trade shows and conferences. We have had direct meetings with leadership in the Oklahoma and Texas Departments of Health about VORTX as well.
The more direct approaches such as in-person meetings, referrals from our beta testers and the Leading Age trade show were the most beneficial. Word-of-mouth and direct referral are the most likely ways we find and convert new leads.
We utilized testimonials from our beta testers and early adopters to provide context and legitimacy to VORTTX:
We capitalized on industry-specific magazine / website PR and trade shows to get our message in front of the best, most likely to purchase customers.
Our customer is a very specific person with a very specific job at a very specific type of medical facility. Our approach is not wide, but very narrow and very deep. The sales cycle has proved to be 12-18 months and depends on yearly budgeting and approval from upper management or a board of directors. We factor all this into our sales and marketing efforts.
We also utilize a robust social media campaign with organic and paid placement messaging. We have found very specific hashtags for the emergency response and medical industry that draw a lot of attention to our post.
We developed a very specific campaign for LinkedIn based on certain job titles in the medical industry. This campaign started slow, but has developed into a viable lead generation tool. We follow up with customized emails and eventually phone calls as needed.
LinkedIn campaign was a targeted in-box message sent to people with certain job titles such as Safety, Training or Operations within the medical industry. WE A/B tested messages, headlines and job title targets. We did limited LinkedIn feed advertising, but found it highly non-effective.
We update the website photography on a regular basis to not only keep the site fresh but provide new visuals for sharing pages from the site on social media. As a technology company, we need our website and social media presence to look and feel leading edge. Old photography and graphics do the exact opposite. Our SaaS supports healthcare facilities, so our imagery needs to connect specifically to that audience.
New images make the site feel new, progressive and thriving. Consistency in message and image via all marketing channels creates an impression of professionalism and value. A positive brand image and professional website experience attracts attention, leads the target audience through the information about our SaaS and has a higher potential for conversion.
VORTTX is a yearly subscription to the service. Before the year runs out, we begin a drip campaign of reminders, survey questions and eventual “click here to renew” convenient renewal options to create repeat business. So far, our renewal rate is high, mostly due to the service operating as expected and providing the value promised.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
The idea behind VORTTX was to create the premier provider of virtual staff training programs for long-term health care providers and other regulated industries. We feel like we are right where we need to be to reach that goal. Because we bootstrapped VORTTX, we moved into profit mode almost immediately after launching. With no debt or investor residuals, we have the freedom to constantly reinvest in VORTTX.
As a virtual product, the margins are extremely high, but so are the customer acquisition cost due to the long sales cycle. Our ad cost are kept moderate by mixing paid campaigns on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn with organic posts. The key to success for us is getting the message to the right medical facility professional. That person deals daily with the state and federal requirements for safety training and reporting compliance. They know the potential fines they face for not doing it as well. Regulators make random in-person inspections twice a year, with compliance checks. These factors reduce the education cycle and need for continuous education.
These factors all lead to high conversion rates from our online portal with little actual time spent on the site or need for high pressure sales tactics. Our consumer is very busy, wears many hats in their organizations (facility maintenance, safety, training, compliance, HR, etc.) and just need a highly functional tool that is easy to purchase, operate and support. Providing that is our focus to attract, convert and retain customers. So far, we’re doing a great job providing that convience. In the future, we would like to make VORTTX training and testing a bigger part of new employee on-boarding and the overall HR process for medical care facilities. Eventually, we can see VORTTX becoming a full on-boarding and compliance suite.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
A huge part of the VORTTX journey has been our decision to go slow with a technology product. We are first to offer these services in this way, and we could have taken loans, shopped for Venture Capital or even raised “friends and family” funding to go faster but we really didn’t want to be constrained in that way. This was both a good and bad decision.
When you start having success, realize that doesn’t mean everything will be this easy (or hard). Pay closer attention to the “How” and “Why” of that early success.
The best aspect is we own 100% of a company with a one hundred million dollar per year market potential with very little cash out of pocket or risk. The worst part is that we quadrupled our work needed to launch and run the company and reduced the speed of growth tremendously. We made things very hard on ourselves by keeping complete control. In the future, we might be more open to more aggressive funding in exchange for rapid growth.
Our product is based on demands made in federal regulations for long-term health care facilities. When these regulations were introduced, they were presented as aggressive and punitive but have not been implemented in that way. The largest part of our sales pitch is being a more cost effective option than government fines and red tape that so far have not become burdensome on our clients. Without that, sales are less than hoped in the first year. We have no control on how or when these regulations begin to become more of an issue for facilities.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our SaaS is based on the WordPress platform utilizing Restrict Content Pro for controlled access. Our purchase processing is done via Stripe. This combination has been very efficient, effective and safe to use. We manage email via MailChimp and produce and schedule all social media via Buffer App.
Our sales process, productivity management and financial forecasting is managed by a custom CRM developed by my other business The Golding Group. Being a full-time business development specialist makes venture partnerships like my participation in VORTTX much easier than for most people.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The development of VORTTX hasn’t been influenced too much by books or podcasts but all of my entrepreneurial and business strategy ideas and process is highly influenced by a few specific thought leaders.
Gary Vaynerchuk, also known as “GaryVee” on social media offers tons of practical and strategic advice for launching and running a business. The book and TED Talk “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek is full of amazing advice for focusing on what’s important to create lasting business models and relationship building. I’ve been a fan of Shark Tank from day one. Mostly because I knew Mark Cuban from having clients and connections to him in Dallas. I think the show has been good for business but has also created a subset of entrepreneur who thinks pitching for VC money is “just like on TV” because it’s not. The discussion that are created are good for industry as a whole. In my hometown, Piyush Patel is an amazing business person who built a successful company Digital-Tutors from $50 to a $45 Million exit. I’m reading his book “Lead your Tribe, Love Your Work” right now.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
When you start having success, realize that doesn’t mean everything will be this easy (or hard). Pay closer attention to the “How” and “Why” of that early success. Don’t assume you will always understand what worked and what didn’t, so write it down. That will serve you better than your memory.
Don’t get a big head, but do keep your confidence. It’s OK to ignore anyone telling you that you can’t do something, but you can’t ignore reality. You need both. Find ways to move forward, but with logic and experience because talent only gets you so far.
Success comes from change, so be ready to change with the times to keep being successful. Don’t be afraid of others having success around you. Their wins don’t take away from yours. Jealousy is a waste of time and effort. Let them hate on you, but don’t return it. Keep focused on your goals.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Our next hire will be a technical position. The next evolution of VORTTX will be leaving our third party tech platform for our own system. This will be a developer looking to really make their mark in SaaS and online solutions. We don’t know when this will happen yet, but we do know this type of employee will be what we need to move forward.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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