#TYBSpotlight: Martina Skelly From YellowSchedule Discusses Product, Market, Funding & Team
YellowSchedule is a cloud based appointment management and customer relationship management (CRM) for mental health professionals. The company was co-founded by brother and sister duo Martina and Michael Skelly in 2011, for this #TYBSpotlight, I interviewed Martina to find out more about their software and success.
An interview with Martina Skelly, YellowSchedule Co-founder by Donncha Hughes, TYB Contributor.
#1. Donncha Hughes (DH) – What is YellowSchedule, who are your customers and why are you in the news?
Martina Skelly (MS). Firstly, we are in the news because YellowSchedule recently secured equity investment from UK based Sean Riddell. He is a very prominent thought leader in the Health IT space. He was formerly Chief Executive of EMIS Health and led the company to a successful floatation on the London Stock Exchange in 2010. We are delighted to have him on board as he has significant experience in the sector, and it’s a great credibility boost that, having seen many scheduling solutions in his time, he was very excited at the potential of Yellow Schedule.
Martina pictured with Minister Bruton, Ireland’s Minister for Jobs, Enterprise & Innovation
YellowSchedule is an online appointment reminder system which includes a Client CRM, specifically tailored to Mental Health therapists, so that our customers can effectively manage their schedules. This is critical for them to maintain turnover and profitability.
There are a lot of appointment reminder solutions. YellowSchedule is different in that it facilitates responses. So a therapist can login to their calendar and see all the replies with Yes’s represented by a green dot and any No’s, as in I cannot attend, represented by a red dot. This provides an early notification of cancellation so that they can arrange for another customer to attend in that slot.
The product offers significant advantages to customers:
- Reduces administration time by upwards of 40% in terms of managing appointments and reminders
- Reduces ‘No Shows’ by 80%
- Online booking facility (increases bookings) and full record of communications with clients (SMS at moment and will include email soon)
YellowSchedule is looking to be the provider of choice in a very niche vertical. It is a substantial market because there is a wide spectrum of professions covered in the mental health sector – counsellors, social workers, physiatrists, psychologists, working in schools, prisons, and clinics to name a few. The addressable market is very niche but there are lot of people working in the industry – 450,000 counsellors alone in the US.
The Affordable Care Act in the US is expected to really shake up the industry which is dominated by private sector practitioners who now will be increasing dealing with Insurance companies for payment and moving away from a cash based system. This is expected to reduce average hourly rates. With pressure on margins, the sector is increasingly looking for solutions which help businesses to be more efficient and maintain standards of living for practitioners. Something similar happened with dentists a few years ago and there are plenty of companies, like 1800 Dentists, who have developed solutions that have been very successful in that market. The dental market is no longer a focus for YellowSchedule for that reason.
#2. DH – Would you still consider Yellow Schedule a startup? [The business is moving into a new phase of development now – funding brings its own issues, what are the big challenges and opportunities that YellowSchedule faces going forward].
We are definitely still a startup as each member of our small team are still wearing a lot of hats. We have immediate plans to hire personnel in key roles starting with Sales but the offices are still empty in Limerick and Dublin. It is great to have got the funding but we realise that we are at the start of a new phase of the journey. Sales & Marketing is our key challenge to leverage the opportunity presented by our identified vertical. We now have the resources to further refine our product to perfect it to meet the needs of our vertical.
#3. DH – Yellow Schedule has availed of and leveraged the supports of Limerick County Enterprise Board, University of Limerick and Enterprise Ireland – any advice for someone starting out on the journey in relation to working with Enterprise Agencies?
MS. Yes, YellowSchedule has availed of supports at the appropriate juncture. We were assigned ‘an absolutely fantastic’ mentor [DH…the interviewer] by Limerick County Enterprise Board in the early stages. We then graduated to Enterprise Ireland and have enjoyed a genuinely positive experience. We were perhaps lucky with our Development Advisor. He was fantastic in pushing us forward for enterprise support programmes, providing a feasibility study grant, and helping us in applying for CSF (Competitive Start Fund of €50,000 in exchange for 10% equity) which provided a lifeline to our business at a critical juncture. We had early customers, a very successful beta, and were receiving extremely positive feedback on the product. But we had both given up our ‘self-employed consultancy’ incomes to concentrate on developing the business and it was becoming unsustainable to live without a salary for such a long time. The injection of funds gave us the roadway to keep going to attract further investment. I would say that Ireland’s system for supporting startups is as good as anywhere in the world – it is talked about as being the best along with New Zealand. The only downside is the time consuming nature of the engagement and maybe the ‘form filling’ needs to be looked at as there is lots of replication among different information systems.
#4. DH – A female promoter led business, with a young family, how has that worked out?
MS. Being a female promoter is certainly challenging. There is a lot of juggling but I think that a 9 to 5 job as an employee with 3 kids would also be challenging. Being your own boss gives a certain amount of flexibility in terms of working hours and maybe you end up working late in the evenings but I think working and trying to raise a family is a challenge whether you are running your own business or working as an employee. So I would not let family commitments put you off if you are passionate about your business. Starting a business can also be good for children. It is a different type of role model of a Mammy. I hope that the success of female promoters makes it more achievable for our children. I was smiling one evening when I arrived home to see my girls dressing up ‘to go to a business meeting’ rather than playing as princesses.
#5. DH – Would you recommend a tech startup with your brother?
MS. Michael and I get on very well. I probably would not recommend a startup with a sibling if you have a fractious relationship. A startup is very demanding. There are highs and lows. A strong relationship with your co-founder is very important – we often talk to each other on the phone at 11 at night which is maybe more acceptable when we are brother and sister. So it has definitely worked well for us.
[DH … Michael is a very smart software developer and Martina brings marketing, design and business development so they have complementary skills].
#6. DH – I am a big fan of Lean Startup which is essentially about finding your market by solving a problem. The literature also talks a lot about pivots with classic examples like Groupon who started out doing one thing and completely changed to be where they are today. Your story is not like that. Am I correct to say that problem your business has focused on has never really changed and the solution has not really changed either? But by the same token, the business model has undergone a lot of change over the last three years?
MS. That would be correct – we have not really pivoted to the extent of the noted examples. The software has remained the same. We have added functionality to the product – to match the complexities of the market. The target market has certainly being refined and focused so that is the biggest change. I suppose we were nervous to focus on too specific a niche, due to lack of experience, but now we know the value of a really deep focus when targeting international markets. I believe that investors are increasingly interested in SaaS products for very specific markets as new entrants can capture the market with a really good product offering.
#7. DH You attended SXSW, the annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival held in Austin,last year. How was that?
MS. Yes, we attended SXSW and it was a very positive experience. YellowSchedule would not be going again as it is no longer our target market but at that time we were positioning as a more generic scheduling product and felt that synergies might exist with web design companies. It was great to meet contacts to include serious investors and high level executives in major corporations and big startups. It is fantastic for any business that is B2C or B2 general business. To make the most of it, I would recommend that you make sure that you pitch.
#8. DH -You rebranded a year or so ago, tell us about that? (why and has it worked)
MS. The rebrand was to change our original name which was DiaryMonitor. We were never particularly enamoured with that name and the feedback from the US was that a diary was seen as a personal journal rather than a business tool for scheduling. So to be ‘monitoring’ that was eliciting negative connotations. The process we followed was to brainstorm a small number of names and share them with a small group of people that we respected as being knowledgeable in our market. We asked them to send immediate feedback by email and also instructed them to send us a follow up note at the end of the week without looking at the list of names again. The initial feedback provided a split of preferences but by the end of the week YellowSchedule was the clear winner as it was the one that everyone could recall. We were happy as yellow was our brand colour all along.
#9. DH – You were invited to participate at WASUP 2014 – which is being organised by a group of energetic upstarts (to include Shane McCarthy). This is the first year of the Limerick event. What is it about and what have the organisers asked you to talk about?
MS. The Wild Atlantic Startup WASUP 2014 is a startup investor event that aims to put Limerick on the startup map. The theme of the event, which takes place in Limerick on 9th May in the University of Limerick, is investment for startups. It is firstly bringing together startup promoters who have raised capital and are now growing. A panel of investors will also share their experiences of the process of raising money and the reasoning behind investment selection. It is going to be a great networking event and an opportunity to learn everything you need to know in one place. The format is not speakers and presentations but rather contributions and Q&A.
[DH … This is the inaugural event and tickets, which are very reasonably priced, are available via EventBrite. I will be attending.]
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