STRATA7 is thrilled to share stories of customer success in a new series called The Success Spotlight.
Each month, we highlight the origins, motivations, and perspectives of small businesses and the entrepreneurial leaders who created them. This month, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Academic Platforms CEO and Founder, John Reinhart.
What was the core problem or challenge you identified and set out to solve – thus prompting the start of Academic Platforms?
JR: “There are two sides of caregiving. There is professional caregiving as a discipline, and unpaid caregiving – caring for family, friends, etc. On the professional side of caregiving, especially when you address the ‘round the clock 24/7 care, the entry level career is a CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant). From there, the next clinical level is a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), then a Registered Practical Nurse, then a Nurse Practitioner, then a Physician.
The problem we were trying to solve is how do we increase the competencies and the interests of folks to be Certified Nurse Assistants and thus start a Health Care clinical career.
To do that, we studied the avenues of training, since it does require a professional license. It’s a little complicated because each state has a set of licensing rules and governing bodies that are slightly different, but it is overall governed by the Federal Government because the caregiving situations are paid for by Medicare and Medicade primarily. Thus, as a payer, the Federal government has a say in the licensing.
Our goal was to look at technology enhancing the throughput of people who want to be healthcare-minded people; clinical career minded people and fulfill that desire using technology.”
S7: How has your business changed / evolved since it’s creation? JR: “There is an adage in business that if you think and focus on one thing and do one thing well that it will serve you well. The issue is the market has changed on us more than our focus. Our focus was to do one thing well.
For us, we had two different divisions of the company. We started with an education division and worked with Bethel University and a Seminary on developing our technical platform, course conversion, course support work for them. Then we had this bourgeoning, single course for healthcare. Due to circumstances – not necessarily pandemic related – the educational business transitioned away from us. The significant part of the company, Academic Platforms, became a healthcare focused company with CNA online. We are called Academic Platforms, as a corporation. Now, the academic part is one client, a seminary – and healthcare is 95% of our business.
The other thing that has transitioned us is the pandemic. If you can imagine, there is not a lot of state regulation testing going on, there are very few courses where you have nurses in a conference room with students during the pandemic. We ended up addressing the need by creating a free course to quickly train what is called a temporary nurse aide (CMS – Center of Medicare and Medicaid) . The Federal Government stated basically that, during the crisis, this free course and some-on-the-job training, will allow an influx of workers during the COVID pandemic. So many people were rolling out because – if you had COVID – you were immediately quarantined.
We participated, doing the right thing, and created a free version of our course. On the front end, we asked ourselves why anyone want to stop revenue, but our revenue was stopping anyway. And so, we have trained over 160,000 people with this fee course since March 15th, 2020. We have supported the process that led these people into the healthcare field based on the extraordinary circumstances. With the Pandemic, they gave healthcare a shot. Healthcare needed this staffing ‘shot in the arm’ both during the pandemic and moving forward. We did the right thing and hopefully a good percentage of those will go on to become a licensed CNA. The pandemic order is ending, so those with a temporary nurse role will be required to get a full license, or cease working in healthcare. Regulated industries are interesting.
Another facet to Academic Platforms that has changed is our ability to offer multiple courses. We looked at becoming a continuing education company (CEUs), which is a very competitive part of our space. We have since identified a second licensing course that is very similar to CNA. It’s a “betweener” certification before Nursing called a MedAide. This is someone with a paramedic, military, or CNA background that wants to distribute medications as part of the caregiving role. You can’t do that as a CNA. You can’t do it as a paramedic. But with this additional training as a MedAide, the states are adding that between an LPN and a CNA as a contributor on the medication side. This will take us from a “one trick pony” in healthcare to two solid licensing courses – both administered online and in a hybrid fashion.”
S7: What keeps you up at night?
JR: In business, if you are thinking that you’re the only one out there and you won’t have competition, that is a mistake, right? What keeps me up at night is keeping our aggressiveness towards understanding the market, understanding our customers, following up on our service level, and building relationships with our partners. I think to the extent that we’re “skating where the puck is going, not where it is”. I’m a strategic stay-up-at-night guy, I’m not a cash flow worrier. My fundamentals in business operations are solid. I know where we are. I know how we do things. I know what we are good at, and I know where we struggle.
I don’t know the tectonic shifts of the market, industry, regulation, Federal Government, pandemic, so I am always thinking proactively about what’s around the corner. That will occasionally keep me up at night. That says “we should blankety-blank-blank – and do it right now”. And that will take people by surprise when things are going well.
When things are going well is the time when you have capital and synergies in the team to take risk. To me, I never get totally comfortable without moving us forward…that is what will keep me up at night. What’s the next thing…what’s the next thing…”
What are other common struggles of entrepreneurs?
JR: I have seen two kinds of entrepreneurs:
Ugly-Baby Syndrome Entrepreneurs – Ones that love their solution. If you look at entrepreneurship as an economic engine, is there room for an “ugly baby”?
The “ugly baby syndrome” goes like this…If you came to me and I was sympathetic or an encourager to you, or supporter of yours, and you show me your widget, or your service model, or your solution, my inclination would be to be an encourager. But if you are a certain kind of owner, you are sooo in love with your baby. They can do no wrong, there is nothing that could possibly take your baby from you and that’s part of the resiliency of entrepreneurship.
This is part narcissistic, and this mindset is not intended to be overly arrogant, but it is more about being resilient enough to take rejection over and over and over. There is a fine balance between reasonableness and finding insightful people which you can really listen to. Some people become so disillusioned and so focused, that they will not adjust the business model. That’s the ‘solution looking for a problem entrepreneur’. They build something and figure that it is going to become a good business somehow and somebody is going to care about it. And that is a struggle.
Volume Player – This entrepreneur finds a customer, finds a problem, and finds a solution – and it works! But replicability and scalability are a problem. They don’t think about it in volume. Without volume, it becomes financially unsustainable. So that’s a niche player. You find the right niche, it works for the niche. What is the market share, market size, and market challenge – and is your solution balanced enough to be big enough to become a viable economic entity. It’s about scalability and what will the market pay. That is the curse of the free pilot. Everybody wants to do a free pilot to validate that it works. And how they get validation is to give it to somebody free and they come back and say that it works and it is great. Well the person that said that it was great didn’t know that it was $100,000.00. It was great and it worked, but they didn’t say to them “would you pay $100,000.00 for it?”. The curse of the pilot is that it works, but it doesn’t work once you add in the cost.”
S7: What advice can you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?
“Create an advisor’s circle with coaches. Coaches that will be honest and shoot straight with them. Good advisors that tell the truth with the right experience.”
“Be respectful enough to listen. A good entrepreneur that listens? That’s the magic.”
S7: What motivates you to wake up and go to work?
JR: “My mind understands relaxation is part of it, integrated, but I think, going back to my father’s motto, “much has been given, much is expected”, my toolbox is rich. I feel like it would be a waste of talents. It’s like the old parable of burying talents…you know, like money, bury it, then dig it back up. What I get excited about is when I see employees, spouses and kids, houses and schools, cars and parties. I think the ability with my gifts to be in some way with a team that is built to enrich people in terms of their opportunity professionally, personally, morally and mentally. I think that keeps me going.
Then, I’m probably as competitive as you get, I don’t veil it even…I straight up love the sport. I think of entrepreneurship as a sport. People will tell you that I don’t like to lose in golf, I don’t like to lose in basketball, I don’t like to lose in throwing darts…there is nothing I like to lose in. The good news is, in golf, it’s a lot better for me to beat a competitor or a friend than to blame myself for a terrible swing. It’s easier to look outward, it keeps me going. The market is always up for a battle or a challenge and this allows me to exert my competitiveness. I try to never be onerous or ugly about it.”
S7: How does your company celebrate success?
JR: “I used to take the team out to lunch. We would have our weekly meeting, then I’d take everybody out to lunch. We would always keep the lunch personal because we would make sure to finish business before we went. We would also celebrate birthdays, new baby’s, etc. We also do a holiday bonus for everybody around Christmas.
I believe we celebrate not the success, but the journey. The journey of people that are quality and good people. So that gets back to when I see our employees, teammates and partners…I see them as achievers. I see their kids and grandkids. I am able to separate the fact that we have duties, but most of all – we are friends. I honestly like the people, and that’s about our culture. If you build a culture where people feel cared for, respected, appreciated, and they know that you’ve got their back…that’s a great place to be.”
S7: What would you do for a career if you were not leading Academic Platforms?
JR: “I get the pleasure of now dabbling with NIA (The National Institute on Aging) as an advisor. A scientist that gets a grant from the National Institute of Health to develop whatever the grant is, they realize that these scientists don’t have on their team someone that has business acumen. So they schedule time with me and I do coaching sessions with them. It’s kinda cool. I have always done that for them informally and now, for a certain number of hours a week I get to work with some of the brightest minds in the country. If our companies transitioned in some way, I would explore doing that on a broader, more uniform basis. I love to get together, chat, diagnose, game plan, then come back…It’s kind of a coaching thing. Not a personal coach, more of a business model coach.”
S7: Who inspires you? If you could choose a mentor, who would it be?
JR: “I was lucky early in life to think about a Faith driven life. If you can look at some of the characters from the Bible and you could pick, who wouldn’t want to be one of the twelve apostles, right? Hanging out with Jesus and using His guidance as a sort of a mentorship. That would be, if any could be, my mentor.
Also, I was able to have 55 years with my father. He passed away January 11th, at (the age of) 87. He had an unbelievable acumen for finance, accounting and business mindedness. He also had an unbelievable sense of “much has been given, much is expected”.
Here is a guy, who is CFO of a health system, who was a Licensed Nursing Administrator, that taught at Bellarmine’s Master’s program, who would for 30-something years go down to St. John’s Homeless Center and spend time engaging the people there in terms of both friendship, service and volunteerism.
That combination of acumen and resources; it is the traditional time, talent, treasure, with the deeply-imparted sense of stewardship. That these resources are not ours – we are merely stewards, and in God’s mind, there’s the responsibility through the body of Christ, the larger connectedness. I think that mentorship was very powerful to me and I think it has remained with me and continues on with who I impart it to, whether it be my kids or business partners. I try to live that value system.”
S7: How do you define success?
JR: “I am a legacy minded guy, so I look backwards. There is a great Christian organization called “Halftime”, and a great book by the same name – written by Bob Buford. The book poses the question – if God is really at the center of your life – and if he was – and your life progressed to where resources were not the same stressor as they used to be, there is still time to call a half-time…
It’s how do you live with The Kingdom in mind, the betterment of others in mind, and of what God put us here to do. With that in mind, Buford (he was a cable business mogul) sold all his cable business and began coaching pastors of all the mega-churches. The ‘halftime’ idea is whatever you do in the first half, accumulate, accumulate, accumulate, gather, beat against the opposition – there is a halftime where you can live the latter part of your life first and you can win in the second half by doing the right things. So his epitaph was that he wanted to plant seeds that would touch lives – which would then touch other lives.
My view is that I want to be much the same. By integrating with those I engage with (and them integrating with me) the richness of the stew is so much better, the richness of the marrow of life and its core is better. But I want to pass on more than just my money. Values, morality, “Johnnyisms”, learnings, experiences. I think a lot of people forget…it’s not the destination, it’s the journey, and the journey is rich.
To me, the legacy of leaving it on the field, giving it all you got and then not live in fear of dying. A lot of people fear dying without significance, I think the halftime message is going from success to being significant. I’d like to be impacting enough lives that people thought that I enriched them, they are better from meeting me, it was significant to them that they knew me. And it wasn’t money, fear or competitiveness.”
S7: Which product or service is your favorite?
JR: “We offer, simply, the best hybrid online model to train CNAs (Certified Nursing Assistants). It is a 60-80 hour course. It requires a state license test. It has two pieces.
Book Knowledge – Multiple choice test on a state level Skills Knowledge – Demonstration of a skill on the state level
We have the primer partner, ACAH (American Health Care Association) whose membership is almost 95% of all senior care facilities in the country. We utilize the book from the primer association and converted it into an online deliverable that is accessible on demand 24/7. It allows people to train at their own time, pace and skill. We are approved in nine states and rigorously working on others.
S7: Anything new in the pipeline of offerings?
JR: “We are currently working on a brother/sister course, MedAide. This would be another step of the license, similar manner, content and skills. This is for people that are working on medication distribution in nursing homes, which typically you need to a RN (Registered Nurse) for. It is a ‘betweener’ license you can obtain as a stepping stone to becoming a fully certified RN.”
“You are only one yes away if you ask the right question.”
So many people try to “get somewhere”. They have the meeting. They get the people in the room. But they don’t ask for what they want, or they ask it wrong or they didn’t figure out what the right question was. If you had the right question, but you ask it the wrong way, you’re gonna get “NO”. If you don’t ask the question, you’ve already implicitly got a “NO”. But if you ask the right question the right way, that is your moment!
My point is – in business dealings – nobody takes a meeting that they really don’t want, unless it is just courtesy. For example, today I am looking at a presentation, and I’m thinking “there is no ASK”. Why do a presentation and there is no ASK unless you are just informing people. It goes hand in hand with the second Johnnyism…
“There are two scarcities in life, time and money, and money is replaceable”.
The idea here is that I value and cherish time and money. If I see people wasting it either of these, I try to do everything I can to redirect them to that understanding of scarcity. With money, you can always find another pot. With time, you can’t replace it.”