If you need help, find people that compliment you. One of the key things that I learned is to check your ego at the door. You need to understand and respect that you do not know everything and that there are other people that can do things better.
As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Phil Atteberry, Co-Founder/CEO, BRIGHTSIDE.
As the Chief Executive Officer of BRIGHTSIDE, Phil is helping to change the way individuals are treated for heroin and prescription pain medicine addiction by implementing a culture that eliminates shame from treatment. In addition, he is the board chairman for Live4Lali, an organization focused on getting needed legislation, treatment, and resources to those suffering from opioid substance use disorder. Phil received his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University and is a graduate of The University of Chicago’s Booth School of Management.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career has not been a straight path by any means. I received my bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and mathematics and went on to pursue my MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Management. Before founding my own business, my career was in corporate America. Throughout my career, I held several positions but found success in sales, marketing, and business management. My biggest challenge, and ironic success, was that I acted like an entrepreneur in every job I held. I never chased the money, rather sought out opportunities that were either start-ups, high-risk, or had very little structure. A year before leaving my last corporate job, I decided to start my own company. Initially, I had researched buying various businesses but was lucky enough to find an opportunity to start an addiction treatment clinic. Up until then, my focus was solely on meeting the financial demands of the business, opening an addiction treatment clinic allowed me to control the demands while helping people at the same time.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
I think with everyone, it is finances. My partners and I started the company with our own money, we did not have outside funding. The benefit was we learned to be creative and made do with what we had. We discovered cost-effective ways that produced successful results. It gave us great respect for every dollar that came into the clinic.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
The patients. They are the main reason why we do anything. Any time I felt down about the business side of things, I would visit one of our clinics and speak with patients. It would renew my drive to continue and find a way to make things happen. It went from being, “I hope we succeed,” to, “We will succeed,” because we could not let our patients down. I think also, I just felt that we would get through any problem. I would talk with people about the issues I was facing, and they would say, “That sucks.” I would just respond with, “We are okay. We will find a way and overcome. All is good.” I think it also comes from the fact that no matter how bad the business was going, we were helping people overcome the challenge of addiction, which was so much harder than anything I was facing.
So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Things are going great. We have been able to get through the pandemic, even expanding our presence in Northern Illinois with clinics now in Rockford and Ottawa. We have opened BRIGHTSIDE Recovery, a new facet that provides treatment for all addictions with therapy. I think because of the challenges we faced early on, there is nothing we cannot overcome. Sure, I still get stressed when I get blindsided by an issue, but I understand that I can get through it and move on.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It is hard to think of any mistake as “funny.” One of the mistakes I learned at an early stage was to protect myself from things that happen in business. I minimized our insurance protection, and by doing that, it did not properly insulate me from issues that could happen at the clinic. I, unfortunately, got into some legal and financial challenges and had to pay for those mistakes. I now understand and recommend to anyone that is going into business to keep an eye on protecting yourself, and finances as soon as you start. Also, make sure everything is in writing when you work with anyone.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes us different is that we built a company based on the patient and not on the business. That sounds cheesy, but it is true. When you want treatment, you want it now. So, we pride ourselves on how fast we pick up the phone and get people into treatment. You want to feel like you are going into a friendly environment, not a cold medical office. We hire staff members that have a comfortable demeanor, dress casually, and create meaningful relationships with our patients. Many patients state they enjoy coming to our clinic because they get to speak to our staff. Also, once you start treatment you want to make sure you talk to people when you want to. We give every patient a phone number that will go straight to the doctor so they can text or call them anytime, and we have multiple offices so, if they are out and about, and need to go to another office, that is totally fine and acceptable. Finally, if you relapse you should not be penalized or kicked out. We practice, “harm reduction,” at our clinic. That means that we understand that recovery is not easy and know that sometimes the world throws you a curveball and you may need help. We have never kicked anyone out of the clinic for relapsing. We promote honesty and help patients understand honesty goes a lot farther than not.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Stay engaged with the business. We so often lose our focus because our jobs take us out of the day-to-day activities that made us want to do this in the first place. Talking to patients, meeting with doctors, counselors, and being a part of the process again helps people understand why they are doing it, and what a tremendous impact we are doing to help people.
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 wife, by far. When you go on a journey to start your own business, you need to have a co-pilot to help you along the way. She has always been there for me, encouraging me when I am down, being honest with me when I need it, and just listening to my issues. She also gives me a perspective that is totally different since she is not in the business.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Absolutely, first of all, the business I am in has helped so many people overcome opioid addiction, over 2,000 currently. In addition, I serve as board chair for a non-profit called, Live4Lali, that has totally rewritten how people look at and treat people for addiction. Finally, I talk to patients on a regular basis about my success, challenges, and help them start their own business either through advice or by connecting them to resources that have helped me in my own career.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Be confident in your gut. So many times, I questioned my gut because I was going into something that I had never done before. I would rather rely on someone to decide or take an action because I was not confident in my choice.
- If you need help, find people that compliment you. One of the key things that I learned is to check your ego at the door. You need to understand and respect that you do not know everything and that there are other people that can do things better. As you can imagine, I am a Type A personality, but I forced myself to get advice and be open to suggestions. I started to realize that I just needed to start the direction of a project and others would not only take it and run but would greatly enhance the final result.
- Watch your costs. It is so true that costs creep up when you least expect it. In corporate America, sometimes you take this for granted or you complain that you do not get enough money to do what you want. Realizing constrained finances is a positive thing, and it spurs ingenuity. I now do things at such a low cost that others in the industry do not believe me.
- Hire people that believe in the cause. There are some very talented people out there, but if they do not believe in what you are doing, they will cause more harm than good. Some people I hired early on did not believe in my patients and looked down on them. They were good candidates, but their presence in the clinics was incredibly detrimental.
- There is no one person to point to when things go wrong. In corporate America, there is always a scapegoat, and it is sometimes encouraged to shift the blame for something to be successful. On the other hand, not admitting fault is deadly. I have found that my staff respects me more because I always take responsibility for everything that goes on in the business, and it has made it possible for them to state their mistakes too. In the end, we have a very transparent organization that allows a free-flowing environment for ideas and personal growth.
Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
For me, it really comes back to the patients. Our mission at BRIGHTSIDE is helping those who have reached bottom find their way back. We are their support, but they are just as much mine. When you know you are doing something greater than yourself, you find great joy in “going to work.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I hate to say it, but I am doing it. Addiction is a disease, not a flaw. Spreading the word about addiction and transforming how people see those who are suffering from this disease allows our patients to grow in the community and not feel like they are a failure in others’ eyes. I thank the Lord every day that I get to do what I do. Before getting into this business, I felt so good when I could give monetarily. Now, if I can get someone into treatment and see them succeed, it is a much greater reward.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can find us online at brightsideclinic.com and brighsiderecovery.org or on social media platforms.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!