How Dr. Michelle Macrorie Diagnosed Her Business Issues to Better Help Kids with AutismDavid Cawthon
Child psychologist Dr. Michelle Macrorie saw that kids with autism often didn’t get the help they needed, so she set out to change that.
So often, the seed of a Kansas City-area business begins to sprout when someone in the community has that eureka moment, when they realize their expertise can meet a vital need in the community. KCSourceLink helps those dreams bloom by connecting entrepreneurs to the right resource, at the right time.
But after a business is established, how do you grow it without losing it? That’s where those resources like ScaleUP! Kansas City can guide you. Each four-month program shows an elite group of entrepreneurs how to scale their business by focusing what services and products they offer, creating a careful plan for growth and scaling in a way that’s best for them.
Michelle completed the program in 2018, and she’ll attest it wasn’t easy. But she says it paid off huge for her business and the kids and parents who depend on it every day. Without her services, some children might not get the therapy they need early on that sets them up for success later in life.
But before all that, before Michelle had her first client, she noticed a big problem: Georgia, Vermont, Kansas, Missouri—no matter where Michelle worked, she says parents often waited up to a year to hear if their child was diagnosed with autism—precious time in kids’ early lives, she says, that’s vital in shaping behavioral development. And after parents finally got the news, she says they were often unsure of where to go or what to do.
“The stories I got from the parents all sounded the same,” she says.
After she moved back to the Kansas City area in 2008, she was armed with dozens of those stories, a huge body of research and a longing to work with kids face-to-face in a business she could call her own.
“I’ve always loved kids,” she says. “At homecoming, they asked me what I was going to be. I said, ‘Child psychologist.’ And throughout college, I always loved learning how the brain works. It just fascinated me.”
She also saw the misconceptions people had about autism, partially thanks to Hollywood. She says a lot of people equated a typical autism diagnosis to Dustin Hoffman’s character in “Rainman”—but that’s not so, as it’s a complex condition with many levels of severity. Plus, she says, many kids spend a lot of their lives escaping a label.
So a few years later, with her passion and knowledge, she took her first entrepreneurial leap.
A Business for the Brain
Starting out with just a small team of contractors and a handful of clients, she offered behavior development services for kids with autism up to 5 years old. With no central location, she and her contractors visited families at their homes.
“What we’re literally doing with the early intervention, we’re rewiring the brain,” she says. “So with the science behind what we’re doing, we’re changing how the brain is working, which results in the skills the kids acquire.”
But even though she offered an important service, in 2015, after just two years of operation, her business almost unraveled.
“I didn’t have a plan,” she says. “I thought the business was running itself. And because we were growing, I was blissfully unaware, and I started to take my eye off the prize.”
Michelle wrote a few books about parenting and started a scholarship fund—two items she says drifted away from the main focus of her operation. She also offered an array of services; looking back, she says there were too many.
Some contractors left and took her clients with them. Revenue plummeted.
It was time for a drastic change.
Location, Location, Location
On a rainy day in March 2016, she visited a 114-year-old two-story house in Lenexa, Kansas. The contractors looked skeptically at the old abode and didn’t see what Michelle saw: the potential for a warm, welcoming space with individual rooms for kids to play in, a big backyard with a tapestry of flowers woven around jungle-gym castles and big patches of open grass — a single place where therapists, kids and parents could come together.
So in June that year, the 1904 historic property became the official headquarters for Autism from the Start. Michelle, acquaintances and family got to work. She rolled up her sleeves, and volunteers helped her renovate the home.
But the worry hadn’t subsided. Her business wasn’t thriving like it had before, and there was more risk, not only for her business, but also her family, especially with a lien on her own home.
“I felt like I was starting again,” she says.
But as time passed at the new location, she saw that upward momentum again. She grew the number of her clients to 20 and hired 22 employees instead of contractors. The wait list grew, as more parents wanted their children in Michelle’s hands. But things got chaotic, and some employees were stressed. Plus, she realized she couldn’t do everything. More changes were ahead.
Lessons in Scaling Up
That’s when Michelle applied for and was accepted into the ScaleUP! Kansas City program, an intense four months of real-world coaching for a select group of entrepreneurs who are ready to scale their businesses.
Michelle didn’t know what a legacy business was, but when a coach explained the goal of that business type was to grow beyond the life of the entrepreneur, it reawakened something inside her.
“When I heard that explained to me, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! I used to say that.’” she says. “I was so shocked I had forgotten that goal. It brought back to life an old pie-in-the-sky dream I had.”
The class also showed Michelle she needed to elevate herself to the title of CEO. Was her time best spent painting, cleaning and ordering materials? Or could those duties be delegated so she could focus on the organization and higher-level tasks?
Michelle also says ScaleUP! KC made her realize she didn’t know her clients as well as she thought and that she was missing out on potential clients at hospitals, schools or even those who came to her autism center every day.
ScaleUP! KC focus groups also let her share her struggles and showed her that those difficulties weren’t unique to her business but also affected her peers across different industries.
She also realized she couldn’t offer every service, so she cut those she felt were ancillary and chose to focus on one type of therapy she knows her center can offer that’s far above any other: applied behavior analysis, a comprehensive and intensive approach to teaching skills. Michelle says it’s considered the gold standard for treating kids with autism. Another benefit to that approach is insurance companies will pay for more of that kind of care. Plus, Michelle says it lets her and her staff spend more time with the kids throughout the week.
Process Triage—a company in Shawnee, Kansas—even rethought her workflow to help her operation run more efficiently. (If you ask her about it, she’ll unfurl a 7-foot chart to prove it.)
“ScaleUP! KC was the best CEO class you could get into without having an MBA,” she says.
Preparing for the Future
As ScaleUP! KC reshaped her business, Michelle reshaped her dreams.
In 2019, she says she plans to move the operation out of the big, old home and into a new center that she can build and shape from the ground up with an emphasis on green design that’s not only energy-efficient, but also kid-friendly. In three years, she wants two centers in the KC area. In five years, she’s aiming for five. She’s also thought about going corporate or franchising. But for now, she says, she’s learned to let the numbers and research guide her next steps.
“ScaleUP! KC is just a gift,” she says. “Because of them, they changed me, and I get to change what I do, and we get to help kids with autism.”
Not ready for ScaleUP! KC or need something a little different? KCSourceLink an help. Get your free personalized action plan today and find out which high-growth program in KC’s entrepreneurial ecosystem (Pipeline, Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program (HEMP), Kansas Small Business Development Center, GAME, FastTrac Growth Venture) is right for you.