By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
One might say that Terry Edwards’ move to Knoxville allowed him to combine his interests in engineering, architecture and media into a single venture. It was also the move that laid the foundation for the company that he founded about six years later.
“My father had left the corporate world and was looking to buy a business,” the Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of PerfectServe Inc., says. It was the early 1990s, and a company named Voice-Tel was an early pioneer in interactive voice messaging.
“It was a technical services company with a franchise business model,” Edwards explained. “Knoxville was an open market.”
So, he joined with his father, secured the franchise, and built a good business. The younger Edwards served as Vice President of Sales.
“It was there that I discovered the problem in healthcare,” Edwards explained. What’s the problem? In a nutshell, it’s one word – communication. Initially, it involved bringing a technology option to the traditional answering service that doctors used. Over the years, Edwards learned there is a more pervasive problem. It is bringing an efficient solution to the way in which members of a patient’s healthcare team communicate so they deliver the highest quality of care.
These two distinct needs – communication between a patient and a physician versus communication between members of the care team – account for the significant growth of a company that might not have been founded if VoiceTel had bought into the opportunity that Edwards saw.
“Premier Technologies bought Voice-Tel and had no desire to keep healthcare,” he said. It required a considerable investment in R & D as well as a culture change in the corporation. Rather than forget the opportunity, Edwards pursued his vision and founded PerfectServe.
“I found a platform that I could work with,” he explained. “It was purely interactive voice response.”
Within a year, the company was cash flow positive, but Edwards saw many technological improvements that could be made. He found a newer technology platform and, with it, a value proposition to attract venture capital.
Over the years, there have been six funding rounds – three before a recapitalization in 2008 that allowed an initial key investor to exit and three since then. PerfectServe has also experienced its set highs and lows, just like any start-up.
One of the lows came with the tech bubble when venture capital dried-up and Edwards had to lay off a third of the staff. Today, the company is experiencing continual highs. It has clients in every state – 130 hospitals and 60,000 doctors in 15,000 physician practices. Compound annual growth is between 20 and 25 percent.
As he reflected on the nearly two decade evolution of PerfectServe, Edwards says candidly, “I feel like I’ve done two start-ups.” One was the answering service solution for physicians; the second was the hospital-focused product.
The company’s premier product is named PerfectServe Synchrony, billed as the “the industry’s most advanced communications and collaboration platform.”
Today, PerfectServe is continuing to evolve its technology to meet the rapidly changing requirements in the dynamic healthcare marketplace.
“With changes in the continuum of care, we are reinvesting in (products for) physician offices,” Edwards says. “We are right in the middle of all of that.”
NEXT: Some additional reflections from PerfectServe’s Founder.