SEPTEMBER 21, 2022 (25-MINUTE READ)

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Andrew Bennett:

If you talk about a company and its culture and business success, there are things you have to have. You have to have a great product and talented people. You have to have some insights around product and customer acquisition. And without those, no amount of good culture is going to create a successful business. Right? But if you do have that, then I think culture is the thing that takes that great foundation and makes it into something really special.

Corey Brown:

I'm Corey Brown and this is Provide's The Path to Owning It podcast, where I sit down with trusted industry experts and provide network to give you the tools and advice you need to take your practice ownership dreams into your own hands. From owning your own practice to expanding or improving in existing practice, we'll help pave the way for you to achieve your dental or veterinary career dreams and guide you through all the nuances of the practice ownership journey. Please make sure to follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever else you listen.

Corey Brown:

On this week's show, we're discussing entrepreneurship and how to turn a dream into a business. Whether you're an aspiring owner, wondering where to start, or an established owner looking to grow your practice or business, you'll find advice you can act on in today's show. We're joined by Andrew Bennett, Chief Business Officer at Provide. Andrew is a growth and product leader who draws his inspiration largely from the power of great teams and collaborative environments. Andrew was Provide's third hire and he's worked beside the company's co-founders from its inception to its acquisition by Fifth Third and to today. His passion lies in helping teams come together and use clear, simple systems to help them perform at their peak and he's going to share some of his secrets for success with us today.

Corey Brown:

Andrew, thanks for coming on the show today. We appreciate you taking the time.

Andrew Bennett:

Thanks so much for having me, Corey. Really appreciate it.

Corey Brown:

Absolutely. You began your career as a teacher and a coach. Tell us a little more about your progression that led you to where you are today.

Andrew Bennett:

Yeah, definitely. It's a, I like to say, sort of a circuitous path that I took to provide. So had the opportunity to play a few years of minor league baseball after I graduated from college. And I like to say it was a brief and unspectacular stint, but led me into coaching and teaching, which for most of my twenties were really my passion, my calling, the things that I was really excited about pursuing. And had the good fortune of growing up in Minnesota with Dan Titcomb and James Bachmeier, two friends of mine who were the co-founders of Provide. So in about 2015 was the end of the 2015 college baseball season, my last season coaching, sort of hit a point where I was ready for a change. Coaching, like I said, was a calling but it can be a career that is challenging financially and lots of moving around as well.

Andrew Bennett:

So had eagerly followed Dan and James in sort of their first year and a half of their startup journey, which was a very typical startup journey of moving to Silicon Valley, San Francisco to start a company and really admired what they were doing. And called James actually and said, "Hey, I'm considering making a change here, would you guys be able to bring me on board?" And at that point they had a third co-founder, two employees, so I was employee number three, person number six. Still very, very, very small company. And they gave me an opportunity, fortunately, to join them. So I think I'm probably one of the few people to go from college baseball coaching to FinTech. But it was one of those things where I found that more of my experience as a coach and a teacher actually translated than I expected to building a company and developing a product and growing a team and all those great things. So it was certainly an interesting transition, but one that has gone really well.

Corey Brown:

Andrew, that's quite the progression. Can you tell us a little bit more about the story of how Provide started with you as employee three and into where it is today?

Andrew Bennett:

Sure. It's a great story and I think it starts again with Dan and James and this realization they had when they founded the company that technology was going to change financial services. That was something that was becoming clear I think to lots of folks at that time. And so their idea was to use technology to simplify finance for small businesses. And so at that point it was really about trying to serve the entire small business ecosystem, sort of helping a small business find their best lending options online from at the time hundreds of online lenders that had sort of merged coming out of the financial crisis. And I think the central learning when you hear the guys tell the story is that we realize that it's very hard to be all things to all people, meaning within small business businesses and customers look very different. A dental practice looks very different from a construction company, from a software consultancy, from a bookstore.

Andrew Bennett:

And so the decision to really narrow the focus to healthcare I think was a pivotal moment. And that was happening right around the time I joined in 2015, I think. It had not been decided yet, but was becoming clear that that was a really promising path to focus on just healthcare. And then it really became about, okay, what do we do for these customers? And I think the idea of connecting a borrower to a lender was challenging as a business. And we realized that to really deliver something amazing, you have to of control the whole experience and be the direct lender and manage the entire experience from pre-qualification all the way through funding. So that was of the second pivotal moment I think, was that, okay, focusing on healthcare is great but also we need to be a lender and so that meant going to raise lending capital, which is a huge part of the business and also very challenging. So that was sort of the path.

Andrew Bennett:

And then once we found that product market fit, which they often talk about that's by far the biggest challenge right in the early years of any startup is making sure that you're building something that the market actually wants. And we certainly spent a good amount of time fishing around for that and not finding it before we did. But then once you have that, it becomes just about scaling the company and bringing on amazing people. So that was 2019 was sort of the year of scale for us when we went from I think 30 to 85 or 90 that year. We had raised the Series A led by QED investors the end of 2018 into early '19. So that becomes fun then when you're like, Okay, we've found something people want and now we get to build a company and not just a product.

Corey Brown:

Yeah, that's an amazing story. It seems like you've kind of always had that entrepreneurial spirit. Is that true or is that something you've kind of gained over time?

Andrew Bennett:

I think to some extent, yeah. I think joining a startup as early as I did certainly requires a certain amount of risk tolerance, although nothing at the level of what it takes to actually found a company as Dan and James did. So I think I have that spirit in me, if not to the extent those guys do. But I look back on my years of coaching and teaching, and I think those professions do have a certain degree of that entrepreneurial element to them. Right? Particular in coaching when you're trying to build a team and a program, there's some element of that. And so I see some parallels there, but I don't know that I always knew that I had that instinct, but it's certainly I think served us well in this journey.

Corey Brown:

I would say so, yes. Whether it's teaching or coaching, seems like you've always kind of been in that leadership type role. I'd really like to dive into some leadership questions that I'm sure our listeners would really like to learn and know more about. What are your daily habits for connecting with your team?

Andrew Bennett:

Yeah, it's funny. For a while I thought this had to be something that was more structured. And so I think I've learned that connection really can't be forced. So we have a weekly Monday meeting with many of our leaders and we generally try never to miss that. But I think it's more about when you do have the interactions with your team based on what the business needs and whatever you're doing on a given day, do you take the opportunity to connect personally within those interactions? Rather than saying, "Okay, I'm going to check in every single day with every member of my team." That can get to feel kind of forced and burdensome and just not really organic.

Andrew Bennett:

And so the thing that I've tried to challenge myself over the years is to, again, take those interactions and find a way to make them more personal. Check in on how somebody's doing and not just have it be about, Okay, I need this in this moment or I'm answering this question or getting this piece of information. It's easy to slip into that sort of transactional nature of interacting and so I do try to combat that to the extent that I can.

Corey Brown:

Yeah. As an employee, I think it's awesome to feel like you have that personal connection with your leader or another coworker or just it really makes you feel good to come into work and feel like that. How would you say you build trust with your employees? You have some tips on that?

Andrew Bennett:

I think it depends on the individual. But there's a saying in teaching and coaching really that they don't care how much until they know how much you care. And I think even if it is a bit of a cliche, there's a lot of truth in that. If folks know that you really care about them first and foremost as a person, I think it makes it much easier to have candid conversations about say a work product or give direct feedback and have them know that that feedback or criticism is about the work and not about them as a person. But I think if you haven't built a foundation of trust where they know that that's how you think about it, then it is easy for folks to assume that any criticism is really of them as a person, because that's a human instinct. I do it too. We all sort of have that tendency. But if the foundation's there that they know that you care about them, I think it goes a long way.

Corey Brown:

Yeah, I totally agree. Let's talk a little bit about motivation. How do you keep your team motivated every day?

Andrew Bennett:

I've always kind of felt like if you have great people, you don't need to motivate them. I like to think of it more as inspiration. So if you're constantly reiterating your mission, your vision, the why you're doing things, great people are going to be inspired by that and they're not going to need to be motivated to do a job or to get things done. So to me, it comes down to that and I certainly strive to reiterate those things more day to day with our team. And I know I certainly could do better at that. But I think also by celebrating wins, right? If you really take that time to celebrate things that go well and somebody does something great that you really acknowledge it, even if you're busy and you have a lot going on, that goes so far in keeping that inspiration really fresh and really strong.

Corey Brown:

How would you say you boost productivity without causing burnout?

Andrew Bennett:

It's a great question. I think certainly it starts with really encouraging people to take time off and to actually be off when they're off, which can be challenging. The connectivity we have today makes that tough and just there's sort of this muscle memory that people have. And I'm guilty of it too, of just checking Slack or email when you should be on vacation. It's hard to sort of turn that off sometimes. I think also certainly work from home flexibility. Flexibility in how people structure their workday is really important. But I think we also approach it as when you're on and when you're here, we are going to work really enthusiastically. We're going to embody our values. We're going to challenge each other to meet a high standard and deliver something really exceptional for our customers. So it's sort of having that balance between being on and working really hard and doing a great job and then taking really meaningful, genuine time off to recharge.

Corey Brown:

Yeah, that's super important. And all of that builds up to become the culture of a company. And I know that's something that you're really passionate about. A recent builtin.com article states, 88% of employees believe that a strong company culture is key to business success and 94% of executives would agree. With an incredibly low turnover rate at Provide of six and a half percent, it's natural to assume that our culture contributes to our employee retention. What are your thoughts on the importance of company culture and its impact on overall business performance?

Andrew Bennett:

So I think certainly there's no question our culture is a huge part of that retention number that you mentioned. There's an interesting debate in the coaching world. Does good team chemistry come from winning or does winning come from good team chemistry? Sort of a chicken or egg thing, right? And I think interestingly there are compelling arguments on either side, right? Because I do think if you talk about a company and it's culture and business success, there are things you have to have. You have to have a great product and talented people. You have to have some insights around product and customer acquisitions that are really meaningful and correct. And without those, no amount of good culture is going to create a successful business. Right?

Andrew Bennett:

But if you do have that, which we're very fortunate to have built over the years, then I think culture is the thing that takes that great foundation and makes it into something really special and attracts even more amazing people to the team. So I do think given a great business foundation, culture is the thing that really elevates a company from being frankly just a business to a company that's an amazing group of people working as an incredible team.

Corey Brown:

Yeah, absolutely. And for our established practice or business owners who may not know if their culture is strong, what are some signs of a subpar culture and what can they do about it?

Andrew Bennett:

Yeah, I think there are certainly obvious ones. If you see a lot of interpersonal politics, what factors are people using when they make decisions? Are they sort of optimizing for getting credit for something good or avoiding getting blamed for something bad? Or are they showing you that something outside their responsibilities isn't their problem? But those are easy to spot.

Andrew Bennett:

I think it's an interesting question, what is the sign of a truly great culture that may not be obvious? And I was talking to one of our managers the other day about a candidate that we're talking to. And they had mentioned that they had met with four or five different Provide folks on the interview panel and all of those people had described Provide's culture in the same way. And it had really struck that candidate as pretty unique that that would happen. And we were obviously quick to point out that we don't tell people to describe our culture in a certain way to interviewees. It's not something that we explicitly go out there and ask of our folks. It just happened organically. And so I think that's an interesting test to apply to any business or company is given the opportunity, are people describing the culture and what's really at the heart of the organization in the same way?

Corey Brown:

And for our listeners who are considering practice ownership or starting a business, how does a leader or leadership team begin to form a culture or company values that's really strong?

Andrew Bennett:

And I think there are so many theories on this, right? A lot of people would say, Oh, it should be the very first thing you do when you start any business is to sit down and codify your mission, vision, core values before you do anything else. There's another school of thought that's like those things sort of decide themselves and then you sort of let that happen. And then at a certain point, a few years into your journey, you articulate those based on what you're observing about how your culture operates. I think it depends on the organization. I don't think one way is necessarily right for every company or practice. It'll be clear what makes sense to you. But I think ultimately it starts with hiring great people. And if you hire great people, I think whether it sit them down the beginning and articulate all your values on day one or you sort of wait for those things to evolve, if you have great people who work hard and care about each other, I think you can't go wrong.

Corey Brown:

That's great advice, Andrew. After hearing your tips on what it means to be a leader and how to establish a strong company culture, I'm now curious on what you can share with our listeners on how to grow and scale their own businesses? We'll be right back with more from Andrew after this quick break.

Corey Brown:

I'm Corey Brown and this Provide's The Path To Owning It podcast. We're back with Andrew Bennett, Chief Business Officer at Provide.

Corey Brown:

Andrew, now I'd like to dive into what advice you have for our listeners who are focused on growing and scaling their own businesses? Provide has grown leaps and bounds since 2015 as you've described. Can you share with our listeners how you handled periods of rapid growth and how you were able to scale the business in a relatively short amount of time?

Andrew Bennett:

I think we're always quick to admit that we made many mistakes during that process. We certainly didn't get it all right. I think as you're scaling quickly, really anchoring to that mission, vision and values becomes even more important. Because you want to make sure you're bringing people on who do embody your values, but also that the existing team knows where you're headed and why and how you want to get there. And so to us, that was always the biggest challenges.

Andrew Bennett:

The direction can change quickly when you're growing fast and sometimes the needs of the market or any number of external factors can cause you to change course quickly. And you don't always have time to explain to everyone at the company, especially as you get bigger, why you're making every decision. But it is important that people don't lose track of that path and keep that inspiration for the really hard work that they're doing. So I think that was the main takeaway for me, is reiterate that why, keep the team focused on where you're headed to the extent that you can communicate that and just consistently hammer that message home.

Andrew Bennett:

And then again, just hire folks who embody your values and don't compromise on that because it does get easy to feel like, Oh gosh, we have to fill this spot. We have to have somebody in this role. And maybe this person isn't a perfect culture fit, but maybe they're close enough and we'll get them there. We found that that can be tough, and in most cases you're better off waiting a little bit longer and toughing it out to find that person who is the right fit and the culture sort of takes care of itself from there.

Corey Brown:

You've talked about finding the right person a couple times. How do you know when you've got that right person in front of you? What are you looking for?

Andrew Bennett:

I mean, it's hard. I do not think interviewing is an exact science. I think there's definitely, you spend a few hours with somebody a day, maybe you have a good guess as to whether they're a fit, but it is still just that. You really don't know until you've worked for a few months at least with somebody. So we try not to be too hard on ourselves. And I tell our managers this, If you don't get it right, that's okay, right? We're going for a high level of success here, but not necessarily a hundred percent.

Andrew Bennett:

And I think it comes down to at least one thing we've talked a lot about is can you ask questions and get at situations and examples from somebody's experience that would indicate embodiment of your values, but do it in of an indirect way? Because if you ask anybody, are you empathetic and humble and collaborative, of course they're going to say yes, but can they tell you stories and give you anecdotes that demonstrate that in a more indirect way? And that's a very nuanced thing to get at and we're by no means perfect at it. But I think we take that approach and it has been fairly successful for us.

Corey Brown:

And you've mentioned first to admit you've made some mistakes as you've learned to grow and scale. Let's talk about those challenges. What challenges did you face and how did you work to overcome them?

Andrew Bennett:

I mean, I think certainly to go back to the period of finding product market fit, that was certainly the hardest part. So much credit to Dan and James because they were at it for a year and a half plus before I joined. So that was a long time of trying to build a product that people actually wanted and that brought value to the world. And that is very tough. And then I think as we grew the business, the other huge challenge was just securing lending capital from bank partners. Being a lending business, you are sort of building two businesses at once. Keeping those in relative lockstep as you grow is challenging.

Andrew Bennett:

And then you have equity fundraising for any startup, FinTech or otherwise, is never easy. Going through the early months of COVID with the uncertainty there were challenging for every company. I think we were very fortunate, our bank partners, including Fifth Third who now owns Provide, stood by us during that period and allowed us to keep originating loans in a time of incredible uncertainty. And so we were able to be there for practice owners during that time when many others in our market had sort of pulled back.

Andrew Bennett:

So those to me are sort of the three core challenges we faced, certainly many other smaller ones along the way. But there's no playbook, you just kind of figure it out and pull together and rely on your great teamwork and your great culture to say, "Hey, we're going to figure this out."

Corey Brown:

And keeping those highs and lows in mind as you and other leaders at Provide plan for the future of the business, how do you do that? Do you take those highs and lows into account when you look as to what's next?

Andrew Bennett:

Yeah. I don't know that we do consciously, but I think certainly it's in our DNA, right? Those scrappy roots and the fact that we've been through adversity and weathered a number of storms as a company is certainly there. Being a part of the Fifth Third family now, it brings a stability and a durability to our business. We never had that as an independent company, so it's been enormous. And Fifth Third has a wonderful culture too that we found meshes really well with ours.

Andrew Bennett:

But we're on a quest to be the leader of our market. And even though we think we're well on our way and we're really excited about our progress, certainly never want to take that goal lightly, particularly when you're in a market like we are with a number of great competitors that we really admire. So I think just never getting complacent and thinking that because we've been successful and because we have endured obstacles and weathered those storms that it's going to just automatically keep happening. And we have to continue to work hard, continue to double down on our culture is always top of mind for us.

Corey Brown:

That's great. And let's talk about our listener base here. What advice would you offer an aspiring practice owner who's on that path to practice ownership?

Andrew Bennett:

I think number one is believe in yourself, right? You can do it. I think any entrepreneurial journey, and we certainly admire very much the practice owners that we're fortunate enough to serve and partner with, we admire their journeys. We see a lot of our journey in the journeys that they're making. Certainly Dan and James both raised by small business owners. And that was kind of, I think, at the core of why they founded a company originally back in 2013. It's going to be daunting from time to time, right? That's unavoidable. You're going to have setbacks. You're not going to be winning every single day. But if you've committed to a clear plan that you're really excited about, it's going to happen. You're going to get there.

Andrew Bennett:

And then I think advice that many of the guests so far on the podcast have shared that a spot on is surround yourself with a great team. You're in an industry with so many great advisors, whether it's CPAs, attorneys, consultants, architects, contractors, all these folks who work exclusively with practice owners. A good lender of course is a big piece of that. But these folks can help you understand the path and they've seen so many doctors do it. So if you have a great team around you, you're so much better set up for success.

Corey Brown:

Yeah, it's absolutely vital. We've seen that time and time again, for sure. Now, on the flip side, let's talk about an established business owner who has a growth mindset. What advice would you give them?

Andrew Bennett:

Yeah, it sort of makes me think about our shift from finding product market fit stage to the scaling and hyper growth stage. I think growth is generally uncomfortable. There's never a 100% perfect time for it. So it's almost like you have to kind of get comfortable being uncomfortable because there's this sense that, okay, if we just get through one more crazy period of growth and chaos, we'll have this period of peace and calm and we can catch our breath. But that generally doesn't happen, right? You're sort of onto the next growth opportunity, the next product you want to build, the next round of hiring you want to do or fundraising or whatever. So it's becoming comfortable with that sort of feeling of growth.

Andrew Bennett:

But I think also being clear about why you want to grow, what are you trying to achieve? There are as many different motivations and reasons for growth as there are practices probably, right? But I think you have to understand why you're doing it because it is going to be hard. And you're probably going to question like, "This is so hard and stressful. Should I have done this?" Because we certainly had those moments, right? We're like, "Gosh, are we trying to grow too fast? Are we trying to do too many things?" But if you come back to what you're trying to achieve and how this fits into the plan to get there, that can sort of take that stress down a bit and keep you focused on just the next step and then the next step, and then eventually you will get there. But you have to know where you're going.

Corey Brown:

That's great advice, Andrew. Thank you so much for taking the time and giving us this masterclass in taking your healthcare practice or business to the next level. We look forward to having you on the show again in the future. And we appreciate you again taking the time. Thank you.

Andrew Bennett:

Thanks so much, Corey. Appreciate it.

Corey Brown:

Thank you for joining us for this episode of The Path to Owning It. If you're ready to take your practice ownership dreams into your own hands, be sure to visit getprovide.com to pre-qualify and browse our practice marketplace or check out our news page for more helpful resources.

Corey Brown:

The Path To Owning It is brought to you by the team at Provide, with production assistance from Sarah Parkey, Cody Changet and Liv Connaughton. And it's produced by Podcamp Media, branded podcast production for businesses. Podcampmedia.com. Producer Dusty Weiss, Editor Larry Kilgore III. For Provide, I'm Corey Brown. Thanks for being on the journey with us.

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