The following interview was published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle. You can read the original article here.
Patientco CEO Bird Blitch Aims to Make Company a ‘Best Place to Work in Atlanta’
Welcome to Atlanta Business Chronicle’s “Meet the C-Suite,” where each week we will feature one of the city’s most high profile c-level executives. This week, meet Atlanta-based Patientco CEO Bird Blitch.
Name: Bird Blitch
Background: Joshua Silver and I started Patientco together in 2009 after we each saw firsthand how hard it is for patients to understand, manage, and pay for their healthcare expenses. It became even more personal for me when my wife had our first baby. While the clinical experience was great, afterwards we were bombarded with a barrage of paper bills, both expected and unexpected, all at once. As Joshua and I researched the problem further, we saw very interesting data pointing to the inevitable rise of high deductible health insurance plans and rising healthcare costs. This meant the patient responsibility portion would also increase dramatically over the next few years and we knew we were onto a real but fixable problem.
First job: I was a dishwasher at Minnie Cole’s restaurant in Cashiers, NC for the summer. I was only 15, but they paid me in cash so I was happy. Also, I couldn’t drive at that age, so my brother would pick me up at 11pm nightly, and we would always drive back to watch CNN Sports Tonight with Nick Charles and Fred Hickman do the Play of the Day. Those were good times.
Education: Athens Academy HS (Athens, Ga.), Georgia Institute of Technology, BS in IE ‘97
How’s business: Our plate is full. We’re sandwiched between two of the fastest growing sectors of the economy; Healthcare and Financial Technology. Did you know healthcare accounts for 18% of the nation’s GDP? We see lots of opportunities to leverage consumer data to maximize patient payments for health systems and make a positive impact on patients’ payment experience. More than that, we believe we can help make healthcare more affordable for everyone and that’s real-life exciting stuff there.
Biggest challenge for your business: We have big goals of creating positive change in the healthcare industry and to do that, it takes great people. I would say our biggest challenge is attracting and retaining great talent in such a competitive environment. We’ve set the bar high but our people are the greatest contributor to our growth.
What’s going to change at your company in the next year: We are accelerating the pace of innovation here at Patientco. Consumers are increasingly bringing their expectations from retail or service industries and questioning why healthcare is still so complicated and expensive. Patientco is developing an exciting slate of new products and services scheduled to launch over the next 12 months aimed at taking the consumer billing and payment experience in healthcare to the next level and making it more affordable for everyone. When we achieve that goal, it will yield more payment dollars for healthcare providers.
Company goal yet to be achieved: It is our strong desire to be a Best Place to Work in Atlanta. We work very hard to be a destination for building people’s careers by investing in their personal growth, professional growth, the friends they make in the trenches, and the impact they can make to the healthcare industry. We believe it takes passionate, happy people to solve complicated problems. It’s a challenge but it’s also very rewarding to create an smart, exciting, engaging, meaningful place to go to work every day.
Guiding principles for good management: I have a few core principles that I adhere to: 1) Put people in areas of strength and let them run. 2) Be authentic. Authenticity matters, people have a strong “BS meter” and can smell it a mile away. 3) Life and work are not always fair or easy, but they are rewarding. Once you recognize that, then the hard work that’s involved with climbing the mountain gets a lot more fun because your expectations are properly aligned.
Best way to keep competitive edge: One of our core values at Patientco is to improve each and every day. We encourage our team to make sure they are improving in areas of impact for both themselves and the people around them. As they say in Shawshank Redemption, “either get busy living or get busy dying” – to me this means keep moving, try new ideas, break things, dare to be great, fall and get back up – all the clichés you hear in business – but we live them at Patientco.
Why people like working for you: Patientco to me has always been an experiment about discovering how to build a successful company and not have to be an asshole to accomplish that.
Most inspiring entrepreneur: Ken Manning and my dad. I like to get to know people locally who have built something from nothing. Ken co-founded Curaspan (now naviHealth), and I’m a big fan of the playbook he developed there. Now Ken is a board member to Patientco. My dad was an apparel manufacturing entrepreneur in Georgia and I learned so much about leadership and business sitting around the dinner table and listening. I still seek his advice to this day.
Best business decision: First, I’d say getting into healthcare – there is so much opportunity for innovation. Second would be saying no to opportunities that looked fruitful on multiple occasions, but would have ended up diluting our core mission at Patientco. What makes me confident those were the best decisions are the hard lessons I learned the times I did say yes and it didn’t work.
Hardest lesson learned and how you learned it: That trust once broken is a hard thing to repair, whether it is a personal or professional. I once read that trust is lost in buckets, built back up in raindrops.
Toughest business decision: Purposefully letting unprofitable and hard to satisfy customers leave the organization. In other words, firing customers who were not aligned with what’s best for Patientco.
Biggest missed opportunity: Not focusing on company culture sooner. It wasn’t until I read several of David Cummings’ blogs, that I really bought into and believed that culture can be a company’s biggest competitive edge. In the beginning, I was so focused on getting new customers, which is important. However, there really is no path to a great customer-centric company that doesn’t first go through great employees. – David’s words there, not mine.
Like best about job: The opportunity to develop leaders. Like least about job: Emails and scheduling. I get so many emails and I hate calendaring meetings.
Pet peeve: When people call me back about a topic before listening to my voicemail that I just left them.
First choice for a new career: College basketball coach or astronaut. Two very different choices.
Most influential book: The Bible. As far as business books go, I’m a big fan of The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
Favorite cause: Educating people about the intersection of entrepreneurship and technology.
Favorite restaurant: Carver’s Country Kitchen down on West Marietta Street. (Please bring it back!)
Favorite way to spend free time: Experiencing the outdoors with my family and friends. Favorite music: Old school country, jam bands, and classic R&B