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The first time I created a business plan and presented it to an investor, he laughed. He gave it back to me covered in red ink. “What am I thinking?” I asked myself. “What do I know about starting an ABA technology business? I’m not an MBA or an engineer. I should go back to what I know: autism, behavior assessments and report writing. How can I even think that I have the expertise to bring a technology to market– and then get people to buy it?” I’m glad I didn’t listen to my deflated self that day. I could have let the inked-up business plan discourage me, given up then and there, and returned to the safety of my ABA clinical practice.
But it’s amazing what time and contemplation can to do perspective. After some clarity finally settled in, I took that marked up business plan and used it to inspire me to do better.
Despite my fears, and inability to write a good business plan at the time, I believed my partners and I had a product idea that was needed and had the potential to change people’s lives. So, even with our rookie status in business and technology, we moved forward, day-by-day, creating and building a tech product. After 2 ½ uncomfortable years of having a full-time job and building a product on the side, we at last had something to bring to market. We believed it was impactful and would fill a glaring need. But how were we going to get the word out? I thought, “Once we do a few marketing splashes, people will come flocking, right? It’s just like the movie Field of Dreams says: ‘If you build it, they will come.’”
Come to find out, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
It was time to get business expertise from someone other than Kevin Costner. We decided to hire a “New York start-up MBA” who’d recently moved to town. This new addition to our team would package the product with a red bow and convert the world! However, I was surprised where she started. She didn’t come in and create this amazing market launch and growth strategy. What did she do? She started cold calling. She talked to people in the target market to learn more about their problems. I joined in this exercise as well (if you were on the receiving end of one of my cold calls, I deeply apologize.) After a while, it came more naturally and we spoke with ABA business owners, went to industry conferences, and spoke face-to-face with industry leaders to learn more about the pains of their world.
During the process, my MBA colleague learned about behavior analysis and its applications to solve problems, and I learned about business and marketing and its applications to solve problems. After years of working together in the ABA world with the business lens, my MBA colleague and I learned that behavior analysis makes a good framework for product development and marketing.
There are essentially 4 steps to product development that are directly related to the 4 steps of creating and implementing a behavior change program that we know so well. They can be remembered with the acronym A-B-C-D (because both business people and Behavior Analysts love acronyms):
In summary (and to make a long story short), I still have that marked-up Business Plan. I keep it to remind me of how much I’ve learned. Although behavior analysis can help you on your journey to be an entrepreneur, I could have never done it without my MBA colleague and her mentorship. That business we started (Autism Training Solutions) went on to train over 200,000 individuals in applications of Applied Behavior Analysis with individuals with autism and was acquired by a large health care training company—Relias Learning. My training and education in behavior analysis continues to help me in business and in life.
How has being a behavior analyst helped you in your business endeavors?