By Becky Holladay, California Business Journal.
Marc Pierce, the CEO of the SaaS company Stonegate, was born with a hole in his heart. It was a small gap, a few millimeters wide, but it allowed de-oxygenated blood to be pumped out to his body. The heart then had to work overtime to correct this inefficiency. As a five-year-old-boy trying to run and play, Pierce’s body never got all the oxygenated blood it needed, leaving him exhausted and in danger of passing out anytime he exerted too much energy.
“We used to have this big hill – I lived in Ohio at the time – where I would sled down to the bottom of the hill. But I couldn’t make it back up the hill. So my brother would literally hoist me over his shoulder and carry me back,” Pierce says.
He had open-heart surgery at the age of five, the hole was fixed, and suddenly he could run and play again, like a normal child.
That — before and after — made him realize how much he could do.
“There was this time in my life where I couldn’t do everything and suddenly I could, so I was not going to squander that opportunity. I was going to take every advantage to do everything I could,” he says. “And that kind of set the path of my life.”
Almost 45 years later, Pierce is still taking advantage of opportunities, even the risky ones, as an entrepreneur. He always knew that he would be an entrepreneur. He had watched his father, Michael Pierce, who had grown up in the scrap yards of Pittsburgh, establish a successful business importing specialized steel products from China and Brazil.
“He taught me what entrepreneurship was all about. I’ve just always been exposed to it,” he says.
Pierce began his career in brand management at Proctor & Gamble, and then moved on to consulting leadership roles at Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and finally Bridge Strategy Group. It was at Bridge Strategy Group in 2001 that he honed his skills in strategy and consulting in the healthcare industry. After nearly five years at Bridge Strategy Group, he left to start Stonegate, a strategic consulting and market research firm that would focus on the healthcare sector.
“When I first launched it, it was really just me in my basement,” he says. “I saw what was happening and I really felt like the health sector was going to be the next big wave of opportunity, which is exactly what played out given the age of baby boomers and changing regulations. I started with my first client, Anthem and then it just grew.”
After four years, Stonegate began its pivot to become a software company, as he and the team developed tools to help their healthcare clients navigate the Affordable Care Act with their clients. They built an online mock-up of the health exchange to study consumers habits, and later a subsidy calculator tool that within a short time was being used by 25 of the nation’s largest health insurance carriers.
“That pushed us into technology, because that was the first piece of real technology that we built and it was a more project-based piece of technology,” Pierce says.
There were some problems with hinging so much of the business on the Affordable Care Act, or any business influenced by politics and government regulations, however. “One change can blow up your business,” he says.
So they went back to the drawing board, even examining past projects to find ways they could be developed for the future. One of their past projects had been creating a solution for a particular healthcare company who was losing clients.
“We devised an approach that systematically went out to their customers, and then built a dashboard on each visualizing how well they were delivering on the needs of each client,” Pierce says. Using surveys and customer outreach, they could “identify the gaps and basically inform the healthcare company that they were going to lose the account.”
The team at Stonegate decided to take that concept and turn it into an end-to-end software service. “There are all kinds of sales and marketing automation solutions out there,” explains Pierce, “but you don’t see anyone automating retention.” By 2017, STAMP was launched as a Customer Retention Automation solution and available for license.
“Every company has an issue with keeping the pulse of their customers,” Pierce says. “Ninety-five percent of companies do very little to nothing and they just kind of assume retention is going to happen. So we wanted to build a solution that allowed them to do this more proactively.”
STAMP in its current iteration is a B2B customer service software platform, and while 80% of its clients are in the healthcare industry, the company is branching out into other industries like universities and entertainment media companies.
The inventive software platform allows companies to continually assess how they are performing at the client-by-client level. The data is then aggregated in real time so that companies can pinpoint shortcomings and successes by date, employee, product, and many other ways. Playbooks with actionable steps have also been created that advise the companies on the best way to respond to problems. The data and dashboard are highly customizable depending on the client’s needs and are constantly evolving.
“We even have some clients now using it on individual consumers,” Pierce says. “The other interesting thing is they’re actually using it internally now. They’ll use it with employees to see what’s most important to the employee and how well the company is delivering on their needs, and then identify the gaps so they don’t lose employees.”
Although Pierce had some experience in software development as the CEO of Stonegate, he’s had to learn a new business model with STAMP, as he’s essentially switched from a professional services firm to a software firm. And that has been challenging. There’s also the risk involved in any start-up, but especially one in the tech sector.
“One minute you think you’ve landed the largest contract and the next day they call you up and are like, ‘Hey, we’ve lost our budget.’ And then the next day something else will happen. So it is a constant cycle of up and down,” Pierce says.
Now at nearly 50, a husband and father of three children, Pierce has been able to get through the challenging times by relying on his family and one very influential mentor. And despite the challenges, he’s never been more energized.
“I am probably more excited now than I’ve been in my entire career with this product,” he says. “When you do consulting – and I did it for so many years – you tend to see the same problems. This is the first time, I would say in years, that I feel like I’m constantly learning every day. I feel like we’ve got a real shot with STAMP. So I’d say this is probably the most exciting part – and I’ve done a lot of cool stuff in my career – of my entire career, where we are right now.”
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