As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Wenger. David is the Founder and CEO of Bridge Connector, a technology company changing the way healthcare communicates by delivering streamlined integration solutions. Founded in 2017, David started the company so that healthcare organizations could move data automatically between disparate systems faster and easier than ever before. David grew up around the medical field and learned that the communication structure around healthcare was broken, and the consistent lack of interoperability was costing patients, doctors, and other stakeholders an enormous amount of time and money.
David founded Marketran, a full-service marketing and advertising agency which focused on small- to medium-sized businesses in Florida, where he served as president for five years, spearheading management, sales, and client relations. It was during an integration project for a healthcare client that David was reaffirmed that healthcare needed a better solution to connect systems, which led to the creation of Bridge Connector. Its rapid growth and success since launching in 2017 has garnered David recent honors, including being named to the Forbes Technology Council, South Florida Business Journal’s 2019 Top 40 Under 40, and South Florida Business & Wealth’s 2019 Up & Comers. The company received the Salesforce Healthcare Ohana Partner Award and was named to both the Nashville Business Journal’s and Modern Healthcare’s Best Places to Work 2019 lists. Bridge Connector is now used in over 1,000 healthcare sites, and the company continues working to change the way healthcare communicates, with the recent announcement of its no-code integration platform, Destinations, and its CareService Connect app, which addresses social determinants of health by allowing care providers to connect their patients with the social services they need. David holds a B.A. in marketing and management from University of South Florida. When not at the office, he enjoys spending time with his wife and their two children, boating, watching and playing sports.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur at my core. When I see something that’s broken, I immediately start thinking about what a solution might look like. I grew up around the medical field, so it’s always been something that I’ve been interested in — and in healthcare, there’s plenty of room for innovation, as there are many business workflows and processes that are broken or highly inefficient.
My experience with healthcare began with my father, who is a doctor, a businessman, and an entrepreneur. I grew up watching him and learning about business at his surgical center, where he faced many of the data interoperability challenges that affect the industry today. About six years ago, I used what I’d learned from him to found a healthcare-focused marketing and advertising agency. Our mission was to help smaller healthcare systems, drug rehab centers, and behavioral health facilities get consumers in the door and keep them happy and engaged as patients. The idea for Bridge Connector first came about when one of our clients, a drug rehab center, asked us to perform an integration between their CRM, Salesforce, and their EHR software. The center was inundated with 150 phone calls a day and had a full team of people dedicated to manually entering data into both systems. I was astounded by the inefficiency — it was a 30- to 45-minute process per patient!
As we started to build the integration, I was even more astounded by how long it took to set that up. A data integration process that would be fairly simple in other industries took about six months. I left that experience thinking there has to be a better way — so I decided to build one.
I teamed up with some really smart developers who knew how data integrations were solved in other industries with the idea being to bring these proven solutions to healthcare. After doing some research and creating a proof of concept, I bootstrapped the whole idea out of my own pocket with the help from some friends and family.
Getting the idea off the ground wasn’t easy by any means — certainly not from a financial perspective, as there were times when my wife and I were on a tight budget trying to provide for our two kids. Founding Bridge Connector required a lot of persistence, personal sacrifice and hard work, but the result as it stands today has been worth it by far. I’ve learned through the whole process that no matter how many times you get pushed down, the most important thing is how you rebound. Today, Bridge Connecter is tackling an industry that notoriously has been slow to change, and we’re excited to keep bringing cutting-edge technology to providers and health centers of all sizes.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
Founding a company is never easy and just like other entrepreneurs before me, it took a great deal of hard work to be successful. As a young entrepreneur setting out on my own, I found the fundraising process particularly challenging. While my idea for the company was crystal clear in my mind, I found it hard to verbalize and visualize to stakeholders why my solution translated to a “billion-dollar idea.” Healthcare is a serious business and competitive market, and with patient lives at stake, the industry tends to be averse to change — rightly so in some circumstances. Differentiating myself among competitors and proving that my solution was worth hearing about required patience and persistence.
Hearing hundreds of “nos” only pushed me to be more tenacious in my efforts to find a group that supported my mission as passionately as I did. To this day, I still have the many rejection emails I received printed out as a constant reminder to never give up. I learned the true meaning of tenacity and perseverance during my fundraising efforts, and that if you truly believe you can accomplish a goal and are dedicated to doing so, you will.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
A few things come to mind. First and foremost, the support of my family. My wife and two kids are everything to me, and without their patience through this process, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. My wife has actually been by my side since high school, so it’s been a long journey in which she’s been through it all — the good and the bad! Additionally, my father planted the seeds of entrepreneurship in me from a young age, and his guidance and influence have been key to my commitment and ultimate success. My mother went to law school with three kids under the age of six and finished top 10 in her class at one of the top law schools in the nation. We weren’t wealthy growing up by any means, but my parents are both hard workers who inspired me to do the same. My father also instilled in me a desire to be my own boss and taught me to relentlessly pursue my passions, which I will forever be grateful for.
As I mentioned, my father is a businessman who owned a surgical center under the Envision Healthcare umbrella in Nashville, Tenn. While coming up with the idea for Bridge Connector, I was able to bounce ideas off of him and his staff as well as other doctors in his network and learn firsthand about the challenges they faced on a daily basis. By talking to them, I learned that data interoperability was a challenge across all of their surgical centers and doctors’ offices. For example, in order to pass patient data between facilities — something that happened dozens of times per day — they were manually entering data into dual systems. Their insights and experience have been incredibly valuable during this entire journey, and I am grateful for their feedback which helped set Bridge Connector up for success.
Bridge Connector would not be where it is today without our incredible team, and I try to make that very clear in all-company meetings, in one-on-ones, and beyond. I’m proud of our talented people, of how hard they work, and of how well they work together — this is what has allowed us to accomplish so much in a short time. We all have families and other commitments, and yet, I am constantly amazed — and humbled — by the contributions that our employees bring with a relentless pursuit of excellence, which our customers notice and tell me about. Bridge Connector’s people feel more like family to me, and I don’t ever want to take their contributions for granted.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”?
- You are going to fail — but don’t take no as an answer. Stay dedicated and persevere, and success is attainable.
- Surround yourself with a great team. To be successful, entrepreneurs can’t go it alone — at some point, you’re going to have to trust your employees to be as passionate about your mission as you are! Find a core team you can lean on as soon as possible in the journey. And as your company grows, make it a point to know every single person that works with you.
- Listen — and learn from — those around you. It’s impossible for one person to have all the answers, so do your research by talking to as many customers, prospects and employees as possible. It’s important to know your customer base in and out, and always be open to learning from them.
- Company culture starts from the top down. As CEO, your actions must be an example to everyone else at the company. Think critically about the type of leader you want to be and work every day to stay true to that person.
- Pragmatically align to your mission. Too many new startups are trying to solve all of the challenges their industry faces. While it may be tempting to branch out into new products and solutions right off the bat, I’ve found companies that stay true to their original mission are ultimately more successful. It’s better to do one thing very well and own that market than it is to do a bunch of things poorly.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Regardless of position, anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk for burnout, but feeling a part of something can help keep up employee drive. Therefore, it’s important to create a company culture that instills passion in all employees. It’s important to hire individuals who get excited about solving the same problems you do, and to keep them engaged by promoting transparency and collaboration.
At Bridge Connector, my motto is “solve problems, work collectively.” In my own employees, I strive to prevent burnout by making sure everything is delegated and allocated to the right resources and leveraging people I trust to get the job done together.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My father, Jeff, is the person who helped get me to where I am today. He is a doctor, entrepreneur and businessman, and because he has accomplished so much, he is my drive and inspiration to accomplish what he has. Growing up, he was the one to cheer me on in my triumphs and failures and pushed me to become the man I am today. He challenged me to exceed personally and educationally — as well as physically, we were both into sports! He taught me that showing up is half the battle and that once you’re there, you’ll find the strength to do what needs to be done.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
On a personal level, I hope to build a company and legacy that my family is proud of. Being a CEO can be time-consuming and demanding, but dedicating time to be present with my kids and setting a strong example for them has always been a main priority. Business aside, my wife and children are my main motivators, and also my support system. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them.
Professionally, my time is focused on creating a legacy for Bridge Connector — a solution that I believe truly changes the healthcare industry and democratizes healthcare data accessibility. My dream is to build a company and brand name that one day becomes a household name, akin to Amazon or Google. While some strive for financial success, our team is aiming to conquer challenges that will create a new standard in the industry, encompassing all aspects of healthcare.
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
Success is sweeter when you have a support system around you to relish in it with you. I hope the lasting legacy I leave is, firstly, to be remembered as a good father and husband, and secondly, as someone who truly cared, valued, and appreciated his employees and all they bring to the table. Famed entrepreneur and businessman Peter Strople once said, “Legacy is not leaving something for people. It’s leaving something in people.” My hope is to inspire those around me to search for solutions with purpose. I hope to be remembered as a key player who changed healthcare for the better by automating interoperability and democratizing access to patient data.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
First of all, if I had a magic wand, I would give any entrepreneur who gives me a solid business plan the money to move forward with implementing it. The path to securing venture capital could be made easier, and I would love to help improve these processes so more people can take the risks needed to improve certain industries, including healthcare. Most everyone acknowledges that the healthcare industry in the U.S. is a broken system. If I could start a lasting movement, it would be to help fix it. Bridge Connector tackles a piece of the puzzle by improving data accessibly while simultaneously saving practices both time and money in system integrations. Ultimately, my vision is to leverage this solution to help people around the world. My employees all joined Bridge Connector because we all have the same goals and agree that if the industry can work together, we can change healthcare for those less fortunate and improve patient satisfaction.
Beyond Bridge Connector, I contribute my time to charitable organizations such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Palm Beach Area Chapter and have helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for funding lifesaving blood cancer research.