Heidi Jannenga was a rising collegiate basketball star at UC Davis, coming off the highest-scoring game of her career, when a bad landing on a routine layup blew out her knee. Intensive rehab got her back on the court in time for the playoffs and inspired her to pursue a career in the field--first as a sports therapist, then as a director of three physical therapy clinics. Then she founded Phoenix, Arizona-based WebPT--a software company that serves 15,000 physical therapy practices and has landed on the Inc. 5000 six times. --As told to Burt Helm
I was a physical therapist for a little more than 15 years. Along the way I worked with golfers on the LPGA tour, Phoenix Suns players, a member of the U.S. women's soccer team--even a WWE wrestler, who was the largest human I have ever seen. It was rewarding. People come in feeling defeated and vulnerable, and through their hard work and your guidance and expertise, you help them reclaim their confidence and their identity. I loved that.
When I was promoted from a staff therapist to a manager, it was a big change. But my boss had groomed me for two years, and though I was setting up new physical therapy practices, I was following a playbook.
When I had P&L responsibilities for several practices, I saw that one of our largest expenses was transcription and dictation. Therapists have to document everything, from subjective observations to defining treatment plans to logging sets and reps. Back in the day, we kept all these paper pages in manila folders and dictated a lot of notes to referring physicians.
I was dating a software engineer at the time. We put our heads together to build software that my clinics could use to help with documentation. It didn't come naturally to me at first -- it was difficult to find a way to translate my physical therapy brain into a code-able series of steps. We started with a drop-down menu where you 1) selected the relevant body part, then 2) pulled up the battery of tests, and then 3) could enter the measurements you were taking. We built this program in nine months, refining it as we got feedback from therapists.
We didn't know it then but the stars were about to align: In 2009, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Congress passed the HITECH Act, which mandated physicians had to use a digital software platform for patient records by 2014. This was our rising tide: any health care provider that needed to communicate with physicians needed to go digital, and they had to get on this train fast, because it was moving pretty quickly.
Before I knew it, colleagues at other clinics were asking me about our platform, and within the next six months we had ten other practices paying to use it. In February 2008, we launched WebPT.
The software engineer became my co-founder, and three months later, my husband. But leading this company was much more difficult than running clinics. So I went inward. I did a ton of reading (which was helpful.) I studied and became a certified product manager, which helped me learn tech nomenclature.
For the first five years, I tried to do everything, even while still working full-time as a physical therapist and clinic director, because I felt like I needed to be financially stable while WebPT was in startup mode. After the birth of my daughter in 2011, I finally decided to leave that job. I realized that three full-time jobs was not possible,
In 2010, we made a tough decision that turned out to be the right one: we took a round of funding and brought in a CEO, Paul Winandy. I give Paul a lot of credit; sitting between a husband and wife is never easy.
But the business continued to cause tension in our marriage. Eventually my husband said, "Listen, I love the startup phase. We're getting into this operational efficiency phase, and that's not what I like." We decided he should be a shareholder within the organization, but nothing operational. He left the company in 2015. We were married until July of 2017.
At WebPT our values include "f-ck up, own up," and "possess true grit." Whether in rehab or in business, it's all about grinding and improving every day. In part, we were lucky -- the requirements of the Affordable Care Act led the entire medical industry to digitize around the same time we started -- but we still continued to build the platform and add new features.
In 2014, we got additional investment from Battery Ventures in Silicon Valley and started acquiring competitors. Today, we have 40 percent share of the software physical therapists use in their clinics: About 15,000 practices use our software, and 85,000 users hit the software every day.
We'll close 2019 just shy of $100 million.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the city in which WebPT is based. It is Phoenix, Arizona, not Tempe.
The article also incorrectly stated that the HITECH Act was part of the Affordable Care Act. It was part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.