Bootstrapped unicorns do exist—and one of them is right here in North Texas.
Axxess founder John Olajide built his Dallas-based healthcare tech company from a fledgling startup in 2007 to a global company with 1,000 employees and unicorn status today. But the journey getting there wasn’t a straightforward path.
Born in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Lagos, Nigeria, Olajide’s early experience included counting the cash from the family’s business each night and making deposits in the bank the next morning. “Rebates, discounts, these types of things is what I grew up around,” he said, “and it’s all we talked about at the dinner table.” That got him interested in the business world, he says.
“Growing up, I always knew I wanted to build a company. I always knew that I knew I had the ability to do so,” Olajide said in a conversation at the annual Venture Dallas conference last week. “I imagined that if I had gotten into the corporate world, maybe all my talents wouldn’t have been recognized as I wanted them to be.”
“I wanted to create my own space and solve a problem that was big enough to be worth my while,” he said.
That problem was home healthcare.
‘The future of healthcare is in the home.’
Hospitals, as they exist today, are a fairly recent phenomenon in human evolution, the entrepreneur says. And it’s important to understand that health care has been delivered in the home for a long time: “What Axxess does is provide the technology to empower the delivery of the highest quality care at home—and wherever people call home.”
“We believe that the future of healthcare is in the home,” Olajide said. “Technology has shaped the evolution of healthcare in ways we don’t even realize.”
Olajide moved to North Texas at a relatively young age with his parents who were distributors for Unilever. It was an important leap, he says, that eventually led him to UT Dallas. As a “very broke” college student, he became the IT guy for a small company where he quickly learned the “entire home healthcare industry underserved from a technology perspective.”
Healthcare expenditure was about 20% of GDP, says Olajide, ” so I figured if I could straddle healthcare technology, there was quite an opportunity there.
In 2007, three years after graduating from UT Dallas with a degree in telecommunications engineering, Olajide launched Dallas-based Axxess.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said.
Today his company offers a suite of enterprise software solutions for health care in the home that can help companies streamline their operations and grow their organizations. As president and CEO, Olajide has grown the business to one that serves more than 3 million patients and represents 50 countries. And without taking on venture capital funding, he’s built the business into a unicorn—a term for startups valued at more than $1 billion.
Bootstrapping the business—and building ‘real value’
Olajide said the decision to bootstrap the business stemmed from a simple cause: “No one was going to give me money.”
By reaching milestones and overcoming failures, Olajide said bootstrapping has made him “keenly connected” to the market. “It’s important that the capital really matches what you’re trying to accomplish,” he said. The financial structures of investors didn’t align with his long-term vision for the company, he notes.
Instead, Olajide credits his company’s success to a strong commitment to Axxess’ people, partners, clients, and community stakeholders.
“When you’re self-funded…you can’t just burn through cash because you have easy access to it. You want to make sure you know there’s a tight product-market fit,” Olajide said. “I think about problems and solutions in terms of decades, thinking big things long-term. We’re trying to build an organization that lasts. We’re trying to build real value here.”
‘My purpose is to serve others’
Olajide continues to build Axxess, which recently received product certification from the Accredited Commission for Home Health Care, something Olajide calls“an impressive accomplishment for organizations in the care at home industry.” But he’s also now an investor himself—and is looking to fulfill his life’s purpose: serving others.
“I will let every young Black kid, every young woman, every young minority kid—or anyone for that matter—know that this society, this community, especially, will support you. They’ll believe in what you’re doing, and they will lean in and give you a hand to help you move things along.”
Olajide sees Dallas as the place to continue helping others. Part of that work is through a computer science scholarship fund his donation established at UT Dallas in 2019, helping to launch the careers of others at the university where he got his start. Olajide also said he feels it’s important to support his employees if they choose to launch their own ventures, saying that it’s a “long-game” investment in the North Texas entrepreneurial ecosystem’s pipeline.
“My purpose in life is to serve others. I get up every day thinking about how I can leverage my platform, my talent, my resources—all that I am—to make the world a better place,” Olajide said. “I’ve been blessed to have worked with incredible people that have helped move that forward.”
Now, he’s doing that around the world.
“I’m investing actively all over the world. Really, the goal is everywhere I show up or everywhere Axxess shows up, we leave the place better than when we met it,” he said.
The goal is not just for money, at least for its own sake. “I tell people all the time: more margin, more mission. The more resources we can accumulate, the more good we can have in the world,” he said.
Looking back on his journey so far, Olajide said being an entrepreneur is the “single hardest thing” he has ever done in his life. However, he says he wouldn’t do it any differently.
“Failure is a form of art. Embrace it, learn from it, but don’t make the same mistake twice,” Olajide said.
He tells his own story to inspire others and strengthen the ecosystem. Olajide wants to see other companies like Axxess grow out of North Texas.
“I want to let entrepreneurs know that you can do it. You have to be a glutton for punishment … true. But you can do it .”
And he’s confident that “we’ll be celebrating several more unicorns going forward.”
The conversation excerpts above were edited for brevity and clarity.
Updated November 9, 2022, at 8:00 p.m.: Axxess was founded in 2007, three years after John Olajide graduated from UT Dallas.
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