How Aaron LeBauer Went From Sleeping on a Porch in the Rain to Changing the Healthcare Industry
"Perfection is the killer of business," says the physical therapist coach.
In this series called Member Showcase, we publish interviews with members of The Oracles. This interview is with Aaron LeBauer, PT, DPT, and owner and CEO of LeBauer Consulting, LLC, business education for physical therapists. It was condensed by The Oracles.
What was a defining moment early in your life?
Aaron LeBauer: I attended Duke University to go to medical school like my father, grandfather, and uncles. But when I sat down with my first night of chemistry homework, I was paralyzed. I stared at the first question, fighting the urge to quit for hours.
Finally, I broke down into tears, realizing that I didn’t have the desire or commitment to become a physician. I didn’t want to spend four hours on homework each night for the foreseeable future — I wanted a life too. From that day forward, I knew that I was on a different path to help people. There’s more to life than studying in the library all day.
Share an interesting fact about yourself that not many people would know.
Aaron LeBauer: I lived in Israel for a year after college before moving across the country to San Francisco with my best friend. For six weeks, I slept on the porch couch that belonged to a friend of a friend until we found an apartment. It was during an El Niño, so it rained on me almost every night.
For about a year, I barely got by working as a temp and in restaurants, until I started dreaming about racing bicycles as I had in college. So, I became a bike messenger and loved every minute, even though I was making half of what my classmates earned in their management and banking jobs. I eventually focused on amateur racing full time and spent a summer racing in Europe alongside future Tour de France riders.
What was your biggest challenge starting in business? How did you overcome it?
Aaron LeBauer: I worked as a massage therapist for six years before earning my doctor of physical therapy degree. After seeing 43 patients in one day, I knew that I couldn’t treat patients effectively with the insurance model. So, I opened my physical therapy clinic to treat patients as unique individuals, without influence from insurance companies, even though that meant we didn’t accept insurance.
Other therapists said that this wouldn’t work, and on top of that, we opened during the 2009 recession. But I believed that if people spent $85 on a massage, they would pay at least that much for physical therapy. I knew that patients needed my help, but they didn’t realize that physical therapy was the solution. I learned to market directly to patients — instead of physicians — by adapting strategies from other industries.
How did your business get started?
Aaron LeBauer: I started my coaching and consulting business to help other physical therapists build clinics like mine. One day, I told my wife, Andra, “I just gave so-and-so all the details about how I started my practice — and they didn’t even say thank you.” She gave me the best advice: Don’t give anything for free when you expect something in return.
The next day, another business owner insisted on paying me for my advice. That same day, I wrote down my consulting rates, created my blog, and started sharing answers to common questions I received. Within a month, I was invited to speak at a major physical therapy conference. That’s when I knew I had hit on something special.
What’s your favorite quote?
Aaron LeBauer: My favorite quote is by the great hockey player, Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” After I briefly consider my options, I just shoot. If you don’t take a chance, you’re never going to score.
I work with highly educated entrepreneurs who have been taught that if you’re going to do something, it has to be perfect — but perfection is the killer of business. If you listen to your fear of imperfection and failure, you’ll never even put the ball in play. You can only make an impact by taking the shot.
What’s the biggest common leadership mistake?
Aaron LeBauer: There is no better way to make someone feel small and unimportant than micromanaging their every move and decision. I hated being told what to do and when, which kept me from excelling as an employee.
I’ve found that the best way to lead is by empowering employees to make decisions and show up with solutions. If you micromanage, they’re only going to come to you with problems, which takes away your time and energy from growing your business.
How do you evaluate a good business deal?
Aaron LeBauer: By watching the market and researching. I need to truly understand the product, as well as the value and day-to-day results it delivers. I also must be willing to walk away, because as soon as I turn to walk away, the deal gets better. But if I approach it thinking, “I must have this,” I’m a passenger on the emotional roller coaster and not in the driver’s seat.
How do you prevent burnout?
Aaron LeBauer: By focusing on what I do best and enjoy most. I try to spend my days focused on what I would do for free. If something irritates me, gets tedious or boring, or creates anxiety, I delegate it to someone who enjoys it. If I can focus 70% to 80% of my time on what fills me up and lights my fire, burnout doesn’t have a chance.
What are you working on right now?
Aaron LeBauer: I’m growing my clinic and coaching business to help 25,000 people locally and 100 million worldwide to avoid unnecessary surgery. I can only treat so many patients myself, so I’m helping other physical therapists build successful businesses.
I’m also redefining “retirement” by doing what I love from anywhere I want and creating more time for my family and kids, who are 8 and 10 years old. Last year, I spent 81 days out of the office with them. This year, I hope to at least match that.
What do you want to be known for, or what do you want your legacy to be?
Aaron LeBauer: I want to be known as an amazing, present husband and father who worked relentlessly to save people from unnecessary surgery. I want to change the culture of the health and wellness industry in the U.S. and help people understand that they need to see their physical therapist first when they are injured or in pain — to help them see their bodies as strong, competent, and capable, not harmful, threatening, or broken down.
The words and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee alone. What worked for them may not work for everyone. Any claims in this article have not been independently verified.
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