Every quarter Punakaiki Fund principal Chris Humphreys does a deep dive into the backstory of one of their founders. Last quarter, it was our very own Founder and CEO, Stephen Pool‘s turn. The following article was published to the Punakaiki Fund website late last year:
It’s not a job that I could ever do – I have a thing about needles. Apparently, you also need some type of qualification and apparently a finance degree just won’t cut it.
But let me take you back to the start of the Core Schedule story. To do that we need to go back to the late nineties in New York, a place of crime, grime, and bulletproof glass in taxis. It was in this setting that a fresh-faced Stephen had just come out of New York University and started his emergency medicine residency at Bellevue Hospital.
Sleep is Optional
We’ve all seen the TV shows – residency is gruelling work. Long shifts, 100+ hour weeks and being at the bottom of the pecking order are all part of the job. Most people in that situation would usually just put their heads down, focus on the job at hand and get on with it. But not Stephen. With an interest in computers and programming that can be traced back to his childhood in Mobile, Alabama, Stephen continued to tinker and learn new programming languages and was continuously on the lookout for ways to apply his knowledge. In the end, he decided that it would be a good idea to set up an internet start-up partway through his residency.
It sounds like sleep was obviously an optional nice-to-have for Stephen back then! Medical Web Solutions specialised in developing websites for GP offices. Back then the World Wide Web was still in its infancy, so there was plenty of opportunities to grow and Stephen made the most of it. It started with basic websites for friends and colleagues who were willing to pay for it, and then got more sophisticated and attracted new customers. The company’s software got better too, and Stephen started looking to build in billing functionality, where he saw a lot of potential. The business was growing really well, even to the point where Stephen was having advanced discussions with US venture capital funds about raising money to expand the business. Then it happened.
Bubbles Always Burst
For those of you that are old enough, you will remember the terms like “dot-com bubble” and “tech wreck” that were in common usage at the turn of the millennium. They refer to a period when there was a lot of speculation in internet-related businesses and those companies’ valuations were sky-high. In 2000, those valuations crashed and sent those businesses out of business. For Stephen it meant a double whammy of no venture capital funding and sales drying up. Medical Web Solutions was dead in the water. That hurt. Stephen had been funding the business up to that point out of his own pocket and found himself in a serious hole. Stephen took stock and decided that it was time to refocus purely on medicine. He completed his residency and then worked in a number of hospitals around New York.
Things We Love to Hate
It was at one of these earlier jobs that the painfulness of hospital rostering was made clear to Stephen. He wanted to take leave and when he asked how to go about it, he was handed a transparency (that’s a clear plastic piece of paper used for overhead projectors, for those born more recently than Lance) that had a bunch of red lines on it and then another form which had some sort of calendar on it, along with a two-page list of instructions. It worked by holding the calendar up to a window and moving the transparency across it in a certain way until you find a spot on the calendar that lines up with a certain line on the transparency. This represented the days when you could actually take leave. So Stephen took it home and it took him and his husband 30 minutes to figure out how it was supposed to work. Not much later at work there was a discussion about their leave system and Stephen mentioned that the current system was really embarrassing. Their response was “well, if you think you can do better, have at it…”
Oh… It’s On!
That single comment made eleven years ago was a red rag to a bull. The system was about to be computerised and Stephen had the right programming skills and the medical experience to do the job. This overhaul started as an online system to request leave, which was followed (after requests) with work scheduling outputs so staff could see more easily when they were rostered on to work. Over the next two years, Stephen built the first iteration of what would become the Core Schedule software. Stephen treated this as a hobby project in the early days. Initially the software was only used in his department, but pretty soon the doctors that were using it at his hospital would ask Stephen about building a system for other hospitals where they also worked.