In this episode of Toughest Call, Izabella Roth, CEO of Infinity Healthcare Ltd., talks about how she boldly stepped into the creation of a new company at the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
Izabella shares the many changes she embraced in her business-building journey that took her from the days of panicking about making payroll to presently expanding Infinity into new markets.
Izabella Roth: If it's scary, go and do it. You can't change unless you do things that you're scared of doing.
Chaz Thorne: Welcome back and welcome to Toughest Call, a podcast for organizational leaders, where we hear stories from your leadership colleagues about career-defining decisions. I'm your host, Chaz Thorne.
In this episode, I'm talking with Izabella Roth, the CEO of Infinity Healthcare, about how she boldly stepped into the creation of a new company at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Presently, Infinity provides in-home health care to clients in Alberta and British Columbia with plans to extend their offerings across the country. But when Izabella first launched the business as COVID was raging through our communities, Infinity’s present success was in no way a foregone conclusion.
Making the leap into entrepreneurship is difficult at the best of times, and this was definitely not the best of times. Izabella shares the many changes she embraced in her business-building journey that took her from the days of panicking about making payroll to presently expanding Infinity into new markets.
Izabella Roth: I did homecare for three years and did really wonderful at it. And then I was asked to become a transitional CEO for a Christiansen community. So they were, you know, getting out of health care. And then the pandemic hit, and, you know, didn't have a job anymore. And, you know, there was a time where I was trying to figure out, where do I go to now? And who do I work for? Not a lot of people were hiring, I didn't want to become, I didn't want to do hospital nursing, because that's something that, you know, I didn't like all that much. So I had a lot of tough conversations with my family.
And you know, it all came down to where were you happiest. And it was creating a difference in people's lives through home care. And it was through the private industry and not the public and working in the private industry, you have a lot of opportunities to be creative. And that's effectively where the conversation ended is like Izabella, you should start your own thing. And it was incredibly scary, because this was in December, and this was in the absolute heat of the pandemic. We didn't have any money saved up to start a business, we couldn't even get a meeting at the bank because of the pandemic, they weren't taking any meetings over the phone.
So we just started low and slow. December one, we had eight caregivers in Edmonton. And then by the end of December, we had over 80.
Chaz Thorne: When it came to making that, that call of go or no go into this entrepreneurial effort. Was there anyone else that you consulted with around that decision other than family?
Izabella Roth: Oh, yeah, there were a couple of individuals that, you know, I view as my mentors. Louise Hays is one of them. And she's very retired right now. And, you know, right from the very beginning, even when I worked for another company for home care, they all said, you know, start your own thing, but it was way too scary. You know, I didn't really know anything, how to start a business, despite me, you know, doing my MBA, I understand how to do it, but it was just such a daunting task. And, you know, if there's, there was so much pressure and having a job and working for someone, you have guaranteed income. And for me, it was never even a thought to start up my own business. Because I had a family, I had to put food on the table, we have child care, we have, you know, vehicles, you know, we have these monthly expenses. And for me to actually start up a new business. You know, thinking back on it, it was the best thing I could have done. But you know, it was that lump in your throat for a long time.
You're like, oh, is this gonna work? I don't think it's gonna make it. It's a pandemic, nobody's doing home care. But what we failed to realize was everybody was doing home care. They're realizing that staying at home was the safest option. And because we were an essential service, we were allowed to go into people's homes.
Chaz Thorne: What was the moment when you knew you had to take the leap? You had sort of done some due diligence. You had some conversations, and then it was time to make that go or no go decision to jump into starting this new company.
Izabella Roth: Well, it was November 29, when I got a job offer to be a Chief Operating Officer for a company and I decided to not take that job. And that was the day that we decided to go 100% into Infinity Healthcare. And I don't think I slept well. Probably a good month. But I do remember that day very vividly. And it was really hard to say no to a constant paycheck, write something that's reliable, something that I can, you know, I even considered taking a job and doing Infinity Healthcare on the side. But it was my husband that said, Izabella, if you do this, you're all in, right? And he said, you have my support, and we're going to make it work. And he even said, Well, I'm expecting you not to take a salary for two years. Let's work out our finances at home. This is how we can do it. We can do it. I support you. Let's do it.
Chaz Thorne: Well, that's amazing, too, you mentioned you had all of this support from family. But especially having support from your partner is huge in terms of making a leap like this. So after you made that tough call, you jumped in, you decided you were going full tilt at starting infinity. What happened then?
Izabella Roth: Oh, lots of pivots. Lots of additions to home care that we didn't know existed. For instance, we've been doing a lot of palliative care. And it is directly related to the pandemic, people don't want to die in the hospital. We've been providing vaccinations across the province. Something that, you know, I didn't think that encompassed in, in-home care. And just maintaining relationships, I think that's the biggest one for me as you never leave a relationship sour.
Chaz Thorne: I hope you're enjoying this episode of Toughest Call at OnePagePlans.ca. My team and I get organizations aligned in just two days with strategic plans that fit on a single page. And since strategy is all about making decisions, we created a suite of free decision-making tools for organizational leaders like you. So to get some assistance with your next tough call access these complimentary resources at ToughestCall.com.
I've found that sometimes there tends to be this sort of idealizing of the entrepreneurial path. And oftentimes, most of the time, we're presented with those that have been wildly successful, not the many, many, many more that have not been successful, or have been, you know, moderately successful. How did you find your expectations of what it would be to be an entrepreneur matched up to the reality over the first while of running your business?
Izabella Roth: Well, I feel as though I'm going to be cheating in this response. So I worked for a very large company, Bayshore Home Health, and they are based out of Toronto. So I had three years to play with corporate money to find out what works and what doesn't. And in those three years, I built the business. I grew it by 3,000%. So I knew what was going to work for Infinity to work. I don't have a doubt in my mind that Infinity is going to fail. I know it will. I've seen this growth before.
And we've entered into an industry where people are always going to need help, people are going to get sick, they're going to need help. And you know, yeah, so it's a little bit of a cheat, like, I know what's going to work because I've done it, and I saw the growth happen. And we're just kind of taking that into Infinity. And, you know, the full transparency I think is also really huge with a company. But that was my idealization. I guess with starting this business we want to bring back customer service to healthcare. And that was really what I did at Bayshore. It's funny—
Chaz Thorne: I've, I have heard that same approach from other entrepreneurs, and it's a great one where, in some ways, your previous position or positions can act as a bit of a lab, for you to learn what works, and also very importantly, what doesn't work.
Now, you have shared with me a few times about some stories of clients that you and your team have served over this time. And you also talked about palliative care, patients and their families. I'm wondering if you can tell a bit of a story about one of those patients, obviously, with maintaining confidentiality. But telling one of these stories to give listeners kind of a bit of an idea of, of a representation of how you do things differently.
Izabella Roth: So, a little while back, there's this young man. He was under 30 years old, and he got a palliative care diagnosis. So he was going to die in relatively short order. So I remember getting a frantic phone call from his mother, saying, you know, I just don't want him to die in the hospital. I want him to get them home.
So it took my team, you know, about 48 hours to get the right nurses, and work with the cancer hospital and get him home safely. So with him, but here's the kicker, we weren't able to get him home in time for Thanksgiving. We tried, but it took 48 hours. So I knew one of the owners of a local restaurant near where he lived. And I asked would you be willing to do a four-course Thanksgiving dinner for this client? I told him the story. And he said absolutely, Izabella, no, no problem. And this restaurant didn't charge us, which is really nice.
And so we delivered this beautiful Thanksgiving dinner to this client's family. And I think he had about nine people over at that point. And they shared a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner altogether. And I think he passed away two weeks after that. And that was one of the last dinners he had as a family. I'm still getting goosebumps thinking about it. And all it took for me was a simple phone call to actually create an exceptional moment.
Chaz Thorne: As you scale Infinity, how do you see maintaining the ability of Infinity and your staff to continue to be able to create stories like that for your patients?
Izabella Roth: We treat our employees as well as we treat our clients. And we find that if you enjoy doing what you do, you perform better, you're happier, your mental health is better. So it really comes down to the individual and every person that we bring on to our team. They're like many CEOs, in my mind that they live and breathe a company that they're proud to work for us. And it just trickles down that way.
At head office here, our offices are at the CN Tower. If we don't hear laughter every 20 minutes, something's wrong. So it's building that camaraderie and finding the right team. And sometimes, you know, you get it wrong. And we have the ability to either find what those individual strengths are and place them in the better seat or help them find another endeavor that is more suited to their needs.
Chaz Thorne: When you think back on the last year, and all of the different things that have happened, is there anything that you would have done differently either about how you approached making the decision, or how you handled different things that happened as a result of making this decision to go out on your own?
Izabella Roth: While I did realize that I'm a very bad recruiter, I tried in December to help our recruiting individual, hire all those people and all the people I hired, not one of them showed up for shifts. So I found out what my weaknesses are and that you know, capitalize on what I'm good at.
But in terms of either starting the business or not and what I would have done differently, probably, you know, took out a small business loan would probably have been something that would have helped a lot during stress. Because when we were asking friends and family for our first payroll where we didn't have money in the bank, that was Christmas time, right? So it's not like a lot of families have like, $40- $50,000 laying around, right? So that's what we probably would have done a little bit differently. But I mean, we're not even in business a full year, and we're fully paid off company, we have no debt. So that's pretty impressive.
Chaz Thorne: Do you have any sort of parting words of advice for any others who may be listening that are thinking about potentially making a leap like this themselves?
Izabella Roth: Yes, you can't change unless you do things that you're scared of doing. And that's been one of the best pieces of advice that I've ever had, if it's scary, go and do it. And it's like Einstein says, like, I'm gonna get it wrong. But if you keep doing the same thing, and expecting different results, that's the definition of insanity or stupidity, I can't remember. But in order for you to change and be better, you need to push yourself.
And if you realize that you love doing something, and you can make a business out of it, and impact other people, it's already the right decision, because you're helping transform people's lives. And it's, it's scary, yes, but if you have a support system around you that believes in you, then it's the best decision ever.
And, you know, I caution anybody that starting a business, if you don't really believe in the business that you're going to start, it's not going to work out. And I fiercely believe in what we provide. And I am a nurse by background, so I understand the need. And I've seen the need, and I've also seen the impact. And it's an incredibly humbling process for me to work and then come home and explain to my kids that mommy helped people today. It's pretty, it's pretty great.
Chaz Thorne: Izabella went through many of the typical ups and downs of leading a newly established enterprise or initiative in her first year after founding Infinity Healthcare. Ultimately, she stabilized within year one, which is actually a lot faster than most companies, projects or initiatives typically find their footing. And since she and I recorded this interview, Infinity has grown even further.
A leap is required whenever you start something new; you can’t possibly know everything before diving in. However, there are some simple ways to “look before you leap” to spot potential hazards with a small amount of upfront planning.
In 2010. I first discovered this concept and the value of planning on a single page through the book “Business Model Generation,” by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur. It was in this book that the authors introduced the now well-known Business Model Canvas.
Now, unlike the typical text-heavy and overly, you know, long, tedious sometimes business plans. The Business Model Canvas represents a quick, thoughtful, and visual way to get the entire vision of a business on that single page. These features also make the creation of a canvas a lot of fun to do. Whereas the same, you know, is typically not said about the creation of your usual business plan. The Canvas consists of nine elements that allow you to quickly get an overview of what a business or an initiative requires to succeed. And like all good planning models, these elements ask questions that when you answer them, they allow you to form a clear vision of how you will ultimately achieve your goals.
The nine elements that are within The Business Model Canvas are, first off, Customer Segments. This is who you are creating value for, who are the most important customers that you either are or are looking to serve value propositions. What value do you deliver to those customers? What bundles of products and services are you offering to those different segments?
Then Channels—now these are the communications distribution and sales channels that you'll use to deliver your value proposition. So how do your various customer segments even want to be reached? And then how are you integrating those channels into your customers routines?
Then there's Customer Relationships. So these are, you know, what type of relationship does each segment want to have with you and your business or your initiative? How costly will it be to start and then maintain these relationships?
You also have Revenue Streams; what value are your customers really willing to pay for? And how much does each stream of revenue contribute to your overall revenue, because this affects a lot of the decisions, obviously, that you're going to make.
You also have Key Resources. And those are the assets that are required to offer and deliver on all of those previous elements that I was talking about. So what do you need to best deliver on the promise you make to your customer? What physical, intellectual, human financial assets are required for that delivery?
Then you also have Key Activities. These are the things you'll do to aid, offer, and deliver. How will you create your products or services? How will they get in the hands of your customers? And how will you even find, and very importantly, as well hold on to those customers.
Then you also have Key Partnerships. And this is the strategic outsourcing of select activities and resources. So what key resources will you have to source outside externally? And what key activities will you not do in-house either because it's less expensive to do them outside or frankly, they're too difficult to develop that particular expertise.
And then finally, you end up with your Cost Structure, the last of the nine elements, because all elements ultimately result in this cost structure that determines your profit. So what are the most critical costs in your model, which of your key resources and activities will be the most expensive?
The Business Model Canvas is quite popular, especially in the entrepreneurial community. And I've used the Canvas many times over the years, both in my own enterprises and also in working with clients.
Whether you're using it for the launch of a new product, service or division of an existing enterprise, or for an entirely new venture, this single page planning methodology will definitely get you off on the right foot.
If you'd like to learn more about Izabella Roth and Infinity, you can check out their website and follow Izabella on LinkedIn. And if you'd like some assistance with your own tough calls, we've compiled a collection of free tools just for you. Go to ToughestCall.com to check them out. If you're not yet a subscriber to Toughest Call, please add us wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thanks for listening. I hope this conversation helps you when faced with your next tough call.
Izabella Roth is the CEO of Infinity Healthcare Ltd., a service that provides in-home health care to clients in Alberta and British Columbia. Izabella is an experienced healthcare professional with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital and healthcare industry. She is skilled in nursing education, oncology, Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), health promotion, and management. Izabella has a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) focused in Health/Health Care Administration/Management from IE Business School.
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