My friend Phil owns a mobile imaging company. His employees criss-cross the major cities in South Texas in dozens of trucks outfitted with portable X-Ray and ultrasound machines, responding to calls from nursing homes and home health providers.
In th beginning, like so many of us, Phil was a one-man show. An Army veteran, he was making a good living as a salesman of portable X-Ray machines when Hillarycare, or the threat of it, dried up new equipment sales. Phil bought a used machine from a customer, and began peddling his service from nursing home to nursing home.
For facilities that take care of seniors who are by definition frail, having a procedure come to you is a huge benefit. Aged patients aren’t all that mobile to start with, and a doctor’s order for an X-Ray probably means that there has been a fall or some other injury, complicating the process of getting the patient dressed and transporting him or her to an imaging center. Phil’s business grew quickly, and he soon had 5 trucks on the road.
But Phil was a licensed X-Ray tech himself (a benefit, along with an MBA, from his military service) and still often had to deliver services personally. It was while doing this that he experienced a moment that I’ve always thought defines the difference between an entrepreneur and the rest of the crowd.
One night in the middle of the week, the tech who was responsible for taking after-hours call phoned in sick. Knowing that the chance of getting one of his other employees to volunteer was minimal, Phil decided (as he often did) to just take the calls himself. It was a weeknight, and there was a decent probability that there would be no activity at all.
Of course, that’s not how things worked out. At about 2:00 in the morning (my favorite time!) there was a call for an emergency X-Ray. In this case, it wasn’t from a nursing home, but rather from a small, rural hospital that didn’t staff its imaging department at night. There had been an automobile accident, and they needed X-Rays of a victim before transferring him to a larger facility.
Phil dutifully packed up the truck and drove 35 miles to the hospital. He unloaded the portable X-Ray, and wheeled it in through the front door.
Few places are much quieter than a rural hospital at 3:00 AM. The only sign of life was an elderly fellow pushing the ubiquitous floor polisher around the hallways. Phil asked for and received directions to the emergency room. As he walked away, the maintenance man stopped him.
“What’s that you’ve got there?” he asked. “It that a portable X-Ray machine?” Phil said that it was. “And you take it from place to place when people need X-Rays?” Phil again confirmed that was what he was doing.
“Phew,” the man said, waving his hand dismissively, “I had that idea twenty years ago.”
Phil moved on, suddenly feeling a bit better about having to be out at 3:00 AM delivering services for his own business. After all, if he wasn’t, he might have been polishing floors.
Lot’s of people have good ideas. Only a few believe in them enough to act.