Interview with Shelly Sun CEO and Co-Founder of BrightStar

Interview with Shelly Sun

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Shelly Sun is the CEO and co-founder of BrightStar, a premium healthcare staffing company that provides the full continuum of care from homecare for newborns, disabled adults and seniors, to supplemental staffing for corporate clients such as nursing homes and physicians’ offices.

At BrightStar’s inception, Shelly, along with her husband and co-founder JD, risked everything to pioneer a company that would offer more to those in need.

In 2005, BrightStar launched its franchising efforts, becoming the first and only franchising company in the country to specialize in both medical and non-medical care and healthcare staffing. In three short years, BrightStar grew from one corporate office to over 150 locations nationwide, and is now on track to open 400 locations by the end of 2011, as well as pursue their international expansion.

Below is an extract of the interview with Shelly Sun.

Tell us about yourself, how did you get started as an entrepreneur? And, what made you get started as an entrepreneur?

My husband’s grandmother became ill in late 2001 and needed assistance with a variety of home care services, ranging from companionship to skilled nursing. We called many companies, including a national franchise system and found it extremely difficult to find a company that offered all of the services she needed.

Though we found and hired a non-franchise national company that said they could offer all of the services, the customer service was not what we hoped for – they didn’t answer their phones after normal business hours and our concerns were not handled as we wanted.

Grandma passed away the day before we got married in 2002, at which point we spent time reflecting on what we were originally looking for all along – a caring and trustworthy caregiver and a company that offered 24/7 service and the full range of non-medical and medical services that grandma needed. This led to the creation of BrightStar.

Tell us about your company. What does it do and what problem does it solve for your target market?

BrightStar is a full-service healthcare staffing agency that provides medical and non-medical homecare to private clients within their homes, as well as supplemental healthcare staff to corporate clients. BrightStar’s well-qualified, attentive caregivers provide peace of mind to clients and their families. We work to understand the needs of our clients and provide customized care to match them with a qualified, pre-screened caregiver who is compatible with their needs. BrightStar is one of the few home healthcare providers that offer both medical and non-medical homecare available to all clients 24/7.

What was your startup capital?

$100,000

How did you finance your business?

We risked their entire personal savings to launch the business in 2002.

Who is your target market and what is your marketing strategy?

One of our main target markets is the “sandwich generation” – those in their mid-30s to mid-50s who are not only raising their children, but also caring for their aging parents and other loved ones; more specifically we want to target women in this age group, as they are often primary caregivers in many situations.

We can market both our LifeCare service line (care for disabled adults, veterans and seniors) and KidCare service line (care for newborns to teens) to this demographic as they very well have needs in both these areas.  Our secondary audience is medical facilities and the staff in those facilities that make the staffing and discharge decisions, as we want to sell our Staffing service line so that our caregivers can work in those facilities and also marketing our LifeCare and KidCare services for those heading home after a hospital stay.

Our marketing strategy is a mix of print and online, varying from outdoor advertisements (billboards, car wraps, bus stop signage), to print advertisements (newspapers, senior resource guides, church bulletins) and online media through our website, search engine optimization and pay-per-click campaign.

What is your business model?

I saw an opportunity to differentiate our services in the market by offering the full continuum of care which meant undertaking the complexity of licensure in each state. By understanding the needs of caregivers to continuously earn a living, the original model integrated healthcare staffing also to allow caregivers to keep their skills current working part-time in facilities while being able to do the work they love providing one-on-one care in the home the majority of the time.

Your company has revenues of over $ 10 million, how long did it take for you to reach these numbers?

Our actual system-wide run rate is $110 million and it took us just about seven years to achieve that milestone, which we’re very proud of.

What systems and procedures do you need to put in place for you to achieve robust growth?

On the personal front, I aim to pursue information and advisors to continue my own professional journey, but also to create a rich fabric of edification, insight and perspective. I’ve led my team through a series of obstacles this past autumn when feedback from our Franchisees indicated their satisfaction level had waned.

I never wavered and tasked my team to determine the critical few deliverables from the tedious many, ultimately ensuring our focus remained aligned with our stakeholders. This was no easy task and a 49 item to-do list (due within three months) was born.  My capacity for risk is high, and I invest in talent and technology development to support ambitious and aggressive plans to become the industry leader. I place a high value on people and outpace my competitors with regards to job creation and goal setting.

What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?

Our investment in technology was necessary to allow both sides of the business to be integrated and seamlessly operated with low overhead.  Using our credibility in franchising and our investment in technology, we are reinventing ourselves again to grow into additional brands using the technology platform as a jump start as well as scaling a technology company to sell the ABS system to staffing businesses and franchise businesses under a new brand that will be launched in 2011.

This allows for our 2011 split into both new franchise models as well as enabling our technology for sale on the open market in a SaaS model under a multi-tenant, ‘skinable’ platform.  We are also looking into a small-scale assisted living facility pilot program for 2011 and 2012.  We are planning to launch 7 new brands over the next 10 years, approximately 1 every 12-24 months, to allow for current owners to expand their service offerings, as well as allow for new owners to come into our system.

How often do you prepare or update a business plan?

We review our strategy quarterly with a formal review with a broader group and our board annually.

What are your future plans?

We will launch a total of 7 brands starting in 2011 and then add 1 every 18 months (approximately) through 2019 building towards a system-wide revenue potential of $2B by 2014 and $4-6B by 2019 with 12-20% year over year growth through 2030.

Do you have an exit strategy to walk away from the business someday?

Not at this time, no.  I love what I do and enjoy enabling business ownership for others that really make a difference in the lives of others and in communities every day.  Providing peace of mind for thousands of families every day, creating jobs and empowering business owners makes every day worthwhile and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else this meaningful and fun.

What advice would you give somebody who wants to start a business that grows into a large multi-million dollar enterprise?

Surround yourself with mentors, remain tenacious and never be afraid to ask for what you want. Set new personal and business goals every year that stretch you and your business.

Conquer your to do list  - reach your goals!

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