Monessen native begins new journey with startup software company
Dan Godla doesn't fear living without a steady paycheck. He basks in it.
The 34-year-old Monessen native has been riding out the past three months in a small apartment in Spartanburg, S.C., hoping his fledgling software company, ThoroughCare, takes flight. That way, Godla can finally be his own boss.
“I did the corporate life for years. The best part of working for yourself is you can work your own ideas,” Godla said Thursday. “You're roughing it a little bit. It's hard not to get a paycheck and not know what the next day brings, but I believe in the product and know it's going to do well once the industry sees what it can do.”
Godla is in the midst of participating in an accelerator program – which takes 10 startup companies like his, builds a network, and attempts to reel in investors and customers.
Godla touts ThoroughCare as “Turbo Tax for healthcare” and a new-age assessment tool for nurses. The software allows increasingly overwhelmed nurses to engage more patients and manage their conditions by processing a guided interview for each one.
“What it does is allow nurses to be more efficient so they can see more patients,” Godla said. “It's software to help manage the patients and make the right health care decisions.
“It's not about making millions of dollars … it helps people be more involved in their own health care.”
Godla said he may have caught the entrepreneurial bug while growing up on Willow Drive near City Park, where he delivered The Valley Independent seven years after admittedly running less-than-successful lemonade stands. His parents, Ron and Pat Godla, still reside in the city.
“You've got to start your entrepreneurship young, that's how you learn to be responsible,” Godla said with a laugh.
“I liked the fact that you come home from school, work for a half hour and have some spending money.”
Godla graduated from Geibel High School in 1997 and earned a bachelor of science degree in management information systems from Penn State-Erie four years later.
After a short stint working in Washington, D.C., Godla returned home and ventured into his first startup company with a friend, designing a website directory for colleges. The attempt quickly fizzled and Godla enrolled at California University of Pennsylvania for a master's program in management technology.
“We gave it a shot and it didn't make any money,” Golda said. “I didn't give up on startups, but you've got to pay the bills.”
He landed a position with Management Science Associates in downtown Pittsburgh, and for the next three years, performed analysis of purchasing data to help customers find trends and increase revenues.
“At the time, it was my first great business experience. I got to build servers and work on databases and I was doing my master's project on weekends,” Godla said.
“MSA would buy all the parts and I'd have to install all the software, so you learn how the software works and I got my first taste on how a big technological company works.”
Earning his master's degree in 2003, Godla found himself “a little more marketable” and landed a three-month contract in spring of 2005 with MEDecision in the Philadelphia area. That temporary gig turned into a seven-year stint with the software company.
Godla bought a house and worked his way up from business analyst to director of medical service technology, working with nurses to write clinical data.
Then, in February, the bottom fell out. Godla was informed he was among 75 layoffs. Although shocked, he offered no ill feelings toward the company.
“I understood it's a business decision,” he said, matter-of-factly. “It's part of life, you move on and that's what I did. Things happen for a reason and maybe this startup is the reason.”
At the advice of a mentor, Godla sought out – and found – IronYard Digital Healthcare Accelerator program in Spartanburg, a place he had never known existed. He packed up and moved south, beginning his new life in mid-July.
“These are private organizations that invest in startups. They give you startup money, legal help and business advisors … free office space, all the things that are hard to do on your own as a new business owner,” Godla explained about accelerator companies. “If you make it, they get 6 percent of equity in the company.”
Godla said the feedback he received on this risky move from family and friends was “50-50.”
“Some told me, ‘with a master's, you could still get a good job, a real job,'” he said.
“Then other people said, ‘Go for it! Take a risk!' I'm single and have no kids. This would be difficult if you have a family, so with my current life situation, this is the time to do it.”
Godla is currently working with two contractors, a nurse who helps write clinical data and two programmers. The pilot software is due out in December for real-world testing.
“At that point we'll have real nurses using the system and that gives you a lot of feedback,” he said.
“You look back and say, ‘How did I get to this point?' but it's really cool we got this far and we're nearing a product ready for the market and a dream becoming a reality. Will it make their lives easier? We think it will.”
He hopes to land “angel investors” – venture capitalists who invest in small companies – willing to pay in advance and test his software in the field.
“My goal is to hire five people when we get funding and get a customer. Once we do, we get revenue and get the business going,” he said. “I would love to have partners and really get ideas. My goal is to build a team and really collaborate on what great software can do.”
Godla just finished pitching his product to investors Wednesday in California's Silicon Valley. He has a similar presentation in Spartanburg next week. He compared the experience to a reality TV series.
“The way it feels is like “Shark Tank” – you get five minutes to go onstage and get people interested,” he said. “It's exciting to hear (potential) customers say afterward, ‘Hey I'm excited to see what you're doing.' That's what keeps me going.”
Godla said if his dream takes off he could see coming “full circle” and returning to the Pittsburgh area with his company in tow.
“I have family there and it's such a hub of health care and hospitals and a lot of technical resources,” he said. “There are a lot of unknowns you face every day you wake up, but you keep faith and hope you find someone willing to invest.”
“It's been a journey to say the least,” he added. “We'll see where it ends, but I'm enjoying the ride.”
Godla's company website can be accessed at www.thoroughcare.net.
Rick Bruni Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-684-2635.
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