Not too long ago, I found myself spearheading a revolution in a slow-to-change pillar of society – education. While a student at Cornell, I realized the archaic method of "learning" with pen and paper and professors who talk at you, was completely outdated. I considered it a moral imperative to determine how professors and students alike could – and truly need to - utilize technology to improve the quality of education.
It was evident there was both a dire need for change and a business opportunity, so with determination, sweat and even some tears, I co-founded what evolved into Blackboard: an education-based technology company. Blackboard reinvented how resources in higher education are distributed and consumed and quickly became a ubiquitous tool in American education. We raised $100 million in capital, took the company public in 2004 and later sold it for $1.6 billion.
Having played a part in helping transform the global education system, riding through bubbles (and bursts), I did what most of us would do: I moved home to Florida with my family and attempted to "retire." This move unwittingly led to my next entrepreneurial endeavor…
After some time in the Florida sun (and after requests by my wife), I visited dermatologist Dr. Michael Sherling for a routine skin exam. With technology always on my mind, I couldn't help but notice he still documented on paper charts. I realized healthcare, similar to education, was a pillar of American industry that had somehow been bypassed by our country's technological revolution. A clear problem that needs solving is a key ingredient of entrepreneurial success, and this particular problem found me when I least expected it.
"To be a successful entrepreneur, you really have to pinpoint the fuel that feeds your fire. Passion is a powerful asset."
Dr. Sherling and I agreed an Electronic Health Record (EHR) system should be built specifically for a particular medical specialty to increase day-to-day efficiencies and ultimately enable doctors to spend quality time with those who need it most: patients. Together, Dr. Sherling and I created Modernizing Medicine's flagship product, a specialty-specific EHR system, the Electronic Medical Assistant™ (EMA™), now used by approximately 35 percent of US dermatologists and more than 10,000 providers across eight other healthcare specialties.
The company, launched in part with a $3.1 million investment from beta clients, has transformed from a small startup to a powerhouse in the highly competitive healthcare IT industry, recognizing more than $52 million in revenue in 2015. We're honored and truly grateful that our 500+ team of employees come to work every day, passionate about redefining how healthcare information is created, consumed and utilized to increase efficiency and improve outcomes.
There's no question, problems and inefficiencies serve as catalysts to ignite my entrepreneurial spirit. And generally speaking, to be a successful entrepreneur, you really have to pinpoint the fuel that feeds your fire. Passion is a powerful asset. It has the ability to bypass fears of failure and risk-taking, and ultimately spearhead success.
It's obligatory to take your passion and pair it with a plan. Sure, your plan may change once or twice, or even more frequently than you could have ever predicted at the on-set of your big idea, but don't let that deter you from your end goal. To be completely honest, and to put this more into perspective, I think my Blackboard plan might have had 500 iterations, but that's not a number we need to dwell on. The major point I'd like get across is: you have to move forward despite rocks in the road.
And surround yourself with good people. Consciously choose to listen to the motivators who believe in you and tune out the naysayers who want to bring you down, yet know when to take constructive criticism. And if you fail, fail quickly and move on.
The most important thought I'll leave you with: make certain, despite your big passionate ideas and thoughts of changing pillars of American society, you take a step back to ensure your plans help make this world a better place.
Commentary by Dan Cane, co-founder of Blackboard and Modernizing Medicine. Follow him on Twitter @dancane.