Our Story by CEO & Founder, Heidi
I grew up in ‘outback’ Queensland, between Bollon & Cunnamulla. We had a bush nurse about 1 hour down the road, and the closest hospital was 2 hours away. In this hospital however, you wouldn’t find any allied health professionals that provided therapy to little kids with disabilities.
My mother tells a story of once driving to Toowoomba — a 12+ hour round trip! — to visit a Speech Pathologist. This therapist was unable to fathom how “advanced” my brother Jack was. He was a cute little boy with Down Syndrome who had amazing manners and was hitting his speech and language milestones.
Unfortunately, Mum wasn’t impressed with the session and decided that the 12 hour trip wasn’t going to be worth it in the future. What a shame that this was her only experience and that a 12 hour round trip was her only choice.
Becoming a Speech Pathologist was certainly a decision that stemmed from growing up with Jack. Starting a telehealth company? Well, that was purely a copy of my childhood schooling model — via distance education! We used to have classes, recorder lessons and even choir all via the radio.
I thought, if we could go to school over the radio, surely you can do speech therapy over Skype… right?
When I was a new graduate Speechie, home was a property 80 km from Goondiwindi. I was instructing equestrian at my local pony club and the mums would ask if I would move home to be their local Speech Pathologist. I thought, I don’t need to move home — I can do this from anywhere!
SPOT Rural Is Born!
My boss at the time was generous enough to allow me to launch my ‘side gig’ whilst working full time for her. She helped me launch SPOT Rural — our original telehealth company, and my [first] baby.
After 2 years of working in Sydney and running SPOT Rural on the side, my sister had her first child, and I thought it was time to head back home. I parted ways with my business partner and boss, and took Spot Rural, with its four or five clients, back to western QLD with me. I wasn’t sure where we were going (SPOT Rural and I!), but I was glad to be heading back out west.
After working for 9 months at QLD Health as the Paediatric Speech Pathologist for Roma and surrounding towns, I decided that I’d seen enough. Enough of the lack of quality services in the bush, enough of the waiting lists, and enough of the sheer battle that families have to go through out there to access this service, let alone a GOOD or GREAT service.
After one of many very passionate, teary phone calls to my Dad, I decided to quit my well-paid, comfortable and challenging government job to go out on my own full-time, with 8 weekly clients and a breath of fresh air!
Best decision that I ever made. This was April 2018.
Our Whirlwind Growth
One of the major pitfalls of accessibility to quality healthcare in the bush is caused by health professionals not wanting to live there. Rather than trying to coax therapists to me, I decided to go to them and solve the geographical problem with telehealth service delivery.
I ran SPOT Rural from a step-ladder in my sister’s spare bedroom for a few months — rent was free in return for washing up!
The next move was to Brisbane, where the internet was superior and there were Speech Pathologists a-plenty! I was going to build this online empire and I needed to be well positioned for it. Moving to Brisbane also saw the start of my romance with Michael, who whisked me off my feet, gave me the run of his home and encouraged me to go big.
By January 2019 I employed our very first full time Speech Pathologist, Taylor. We had moved the SPOT Rural Head Quarters (HQ) to my new home with Mike — the same home that he had built his own company out of only 6 years earlier.
Throughout 2019 I continued to employ a full time Speechie every 2-3 months, and I’m out of breath just thinking about how much of a whirlwind that was!
By November of that year, our little cottage was bursting at the seams, with my team working from the kitchen table, the printer living on the kitchen counter, and teletherapy happening in all three bedrooms!
One morning walking to the bathroom in my robe and greeting my team on the way to the shower, I decided it was time to take the leap into an office. I only inspected one.
I got home from that inspection, showed Mike the photos and told him I was in love with the space. In an absurd twist of fate, that exact office space was also Mike’s first office after his business grew too large for our house! In our new space, we rebranded for the first time.
Time For A Change
The rebrand journey has been a tough one for me personally. This company was founded to support rural and remote Australian families, and that has never changed. What has changed, however, is that there are other families who need our help too; families who don’t live in remote areas. They felt like they couldn’t access our service because of our name. It’s wild, but it’s true… so we decided to simplify, and re- brand, to “Spot Family” in Jan 2020.
Throughout 2020 we continued to add new therapists to the team every few months, growing our impact and increasing the reach of our service. I employed my first admin team member that year, and ran the business with one other manager, a Speech Pathologist and country girl from central Queensland, Danielle.
Then The World Changed, Too…
Being 100% online, we were positioned well for the pandemic. I do not, however, consider this ‘luck’.
I worked incredibly hard for years to create a service delivery model that I knew was excellent, but wasn’t ‘proven’. Science can’t always keep up with innovation. I had to battle away without any online resources, creating my own way of providing telehealth and then creating systems and processes to ensure I could replicate the same service, whilst maintaining quality.
I was out there, attending conferences, brushing off nay-sayers and beating down doctor’s doors trying to create a market for a service that I KNEW was needed. A service that I knew got great outcomes. Why else would my clients pay to come back every single week and tell all of their friends how great Spot was!?
The silver lining of the pandemic, as terrible as it was for millions of people, is that it fast-tracked worldwide acceptance of ‘this telehealth thing’ as a valid and important part of the future of healthcare. Telehealth is now a household word — I no longer have to define it when I speak to people!
January 2021 saw the org structure moving in a more formal direction, with the introduction of a management team. Three team leaders — Danielle, Bonnie and Jade — moved into heavily important roles providing leadership to our therapists, and Emma stepped in as Clinic Manager to handle all things support and lead our administration team.
After a rescheduled wedding, Michael & I finally tied the knot in May 2021. Mike’s company was listed on the ASX, and he stood down as CEO. The timing could not have been more perfect for our family, as with Spot rapidly growing, and a baby on the way, Mike needed to step into supporting me with the running of Spot.
Goodbye Spot, Hello Pop!
Fast forward to 2022. We now have over 50 employees, and we’ve rebranded… again!
We changed our name to Pop. A name that is as unique as the service that we provide. Mike runs our finances, and I run the team. I have highly skilled and trustworthy employees who are passionate about what they do. They all have the same WHY as me.
Our mission is to provide excellence in speech therapy and learning services, for all families to reach their potential. We actually believe in that mission, and I have unwavering faith in my team on our mission.
Our evolution has slowed and we’re no longer growing exponentially (thank goodness!). Our daughter Minnie arrived in January 2022 and I’m not sure I could manage exponential growth alongside learning to be a Mum.
At Pop, we are ensuring that our internal systems are excellent so that our therapy continues to be excellent. We want to be ready for what’s next.
So, What IS Next, You Ask?
We’re going to give back!
I started this business to help people in the bush who needed something that they didn’t have. I wanted to solve a problem. I wanted to create competition in a market that didn’t exist. Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve been able to fast-track the competition element.
Competition is GREAT! The fact that so many providers have now taken up telehealth is amazing for the Australian community. It provides choice, control and options to people who need healthcare services.
We still have a long way to go though, especially in remote communities. That’s where we’ll be focusing our ‘give back’ energy — remote communities.
Pop will also continue to provide excellence in online speech therapy (of course!), so that you and your family can reach your potential.
Thanks for supporting us, I can’t wait to see where we go next!