Shortly after receiving a graduate degree from the Bloch School, Scott Hansen (MBA, Entrepreneurship Scholars ’14) launched what is now ProfessionalChats, a website chat service specialized in high quality, online engagement. Shortly after, he was joined by fellow Bloch alumnus Trevor Flannigan (MBA ’14), who had a passion for growing companies. Three years later, these native Kansas Citians have done just that. ProfessionalChats now has more than 60 employees, serves five different industries and boasts more than 500 clients with up to $50 million in revenue among seven countries.
How did they do it? We set up an interview with them to find out.
What is ProfessionalChats?
Trevor Flannigan: “ProfessionalChats is a Kansas City-based website chat service that specializes in high quality, online engagement. We have multiple brands geared toward serving specific markets: OrthoChats for orthodontists, HomeServiceChats for residential service companies, HearingChats for audiologists, DentistChats for dentists and ChiroChats for chiropractors. Niching out our service lines as specific client-facing brands has helped us gain credibility within each industry better than generic marketed names. Live website chat has quickly gained traction as an essential part of any large business’s communication.”
How did ProfessionalChats start?
Scott Hansen: “I was managing my family’s orthodontic practice. We launched online chat on our website for two reasons: we wanted to convert more ‘shoppers’ into new patients, and we wanted to provide unparalleled customer service. It was a huge success.
However, being ultra-responsive with online chat while managing our normal tasks was difficult. So, we looked at outsourcing the service. All of the services we could find used overseas labor and contracted chat agents to work from home. Needless to say, the services offered relatively poor quality. So, instead of giving up, I hired a chat specialist, trained him, and started offering a premium chat service specifically for orthodontists, OrthoChats.”
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while growing ProfessionalChats?
TF: “Ultimately, growing a business 1000% in a year is not easy. That said, it’s a really fun challenge. From finding the right people, pouring into those team members’ lives, finding more space, promoting the right people, scaling the company while maintaining quality and constantly pointing back to our core values… I could go on. This is the part that most entrepreneurs miss; it’s way more about execution than anything else.”
What would you consider the key to your success?
SH: “People are the key to success. We bring on ‘A’ players at every level. Whether we are employing a Chat Specialist to care for customers or a VP of Finance to care for our business financially, we expect people to perform at 100%. We create an environment where people feel the freedom to grow, and, subsequently, our team performs at levels most people can’t imagine.”
What role has UMKC played in your entrepreneurial journey?
TF: “I joined UMKC to be around smart people, and it was a good decision. If I did not go to UMKC for my MBA, I would not have met Scott, nor many of the people that I lean on weekly for advice. The real opportunity of UMKC’s MBA program is the relationships you develop. I learned a lot in the classroom, but I learned more, and continue to learn, from my peers. Inside the classroom, my favorite professor was Doranne Hudson; I look back on her class’s materials on a monthly basis because they are game-changers.”
SH: “As a graduate of the Bloch School’s MBA and E-Scholars programs, I credit much of my success to the relationships formed within the school. Without our MBA program, I’m not sure I would have met Trevor and our business would look tremendously different.”
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
TF: “I have been at a lot of incubators and co-working spaces, and I’ve noticed there is a lot more idea creation than implementation. I think the biggest myth that entrepreneurs believe is that you need an original idea. That’s simply not true at all. I know many incredibly successful entrepreneurs and none of them invented anything or started with an original idea. Plumbing, landscaping, marketing, website chat…these businesses have been around for a very long time, but people still enter the market every day, and, after some time, they build something incredible. So, just do it. Work really hard, ask for help when you need it, fail fast with pieces that don’t work and keep moving forward.”
SH: “Do more with less. Most businesses are unintentionally wasteful with their resources because they don’t identify and maximize everything at their fingertips. Time, money, mental energy, people, buildings, stuff, etc. Figure out what resources you have and squeeze every drop out of them. Expect the same out of your team and develop a culture that supports your lean mentality.”
Scott and Trevor have used their Bloch MBAs to innovate, inspire, and reach incredible heights. Are you ready to see where your Bloch School degree can take you? After all, it’s a new year!