Todd Brown always wanted to own his own business. He started out managing a restaurant, and eventually opened his own. An avid athlete and motocross rider, Brown seemed to have his life on track.
But then he was injured in a motocross accident in his mid-20s, which left him paralyzed from the waist down. To his doctors' surprise, Brown always stayed positive -- so positive that they eventually asked him to become a mentor to other people with similar spinal cord injuries.
While talking to the other patients, Brown noticed a common problem: finding the right supplies for those with spinal cord injuries. So about eight years ago, he decided to start 180 Medical, which sells urological catheters and other medical supplies.
180 Medical has a customer-first policy: All phone calls are answered by real people at his company. "We want our patients to feel they're the most important person in the world to us," Brown says. "We want to treat them like they're our mother, our sister, our brother, our dad."
Today, Brown is married with four children, and 180 Medical is one of the fastest-growing medical supply companies in the nation. In April, he formed a partnership with the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, committing a portion of 180 Medical's proceeds to spinal cord injury research.
With the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act this month, AOL Small Business talked to Brown about the accident that helped spawn an entrepreneurial adventure.
Where did you get the idea to start 180 Medical?
Basically, I was hurt in a motorcycle accident in 1994, resulting in a spinal cord injury. I had some problems getting equipment and supplies locally, so I started my own company out of my garage. There wasn't anybody local who knew anything about the supplies. I just saw a big need there.
How has your injury helped you grow as an entrepreneur -- and as a person?
I think it makes you thankful for what you have. Because a lot of times, people can kind of look at the situation and think they've got it bad, because you're in a chair and you can't do what you used to. But you can always find people that have more difficult situations than you do. So you just need to be thankful for what you have and keep on going and keep on working.
So you were an entrepreneur from the start.
I always wanted to be more than just a worker. I wanted to be as involved as I could possibly be from the beginning to the end.
Your company really focuses on customer service.
We are very, very big on customer service. Let's say you call about your cell phone bill and you have to go through multiple prompts before you ever talk to a person. What we try to do is give you the best customer service that you could possibly get. So you're going to talk to a live person.
How has your focus on customer service helped your company, while keeping your employees passionate about what they do?
We talk about it a lot. We look at it on a daily, weekly, monthly basis, and we're always trying to express to our workers how important it is to take care of those patients. But also it comes down to the people that you hire. So we also try to do the legwork on the front-end to try to make sure we're hiring people who are compassionate and caring.
How could someone learn from your experiences creating and running 180 Medical?
You have to find something that you're passionate about doing, because you're going to spend the majority of your day at work, and if you don't have something you like to do, it's going to be difficult to be "all-in." So if you find something you're passionate about, it doesn't become work anymore.
Also, get a good support network around you to help you do it, because sometimes when you're trying to do it on your own, it's a very lonely thing. If you're having a hard day, they can actually pick you up and help you. I've always believed in surrounding yourself with people that are as motivated as you are and that want to work hard.
Name: Todd Brown Company: 180 Medical Age: 42 Location: Oklahoma City Founded: 2002 Employees: 138 2009 Revenue: Undisclosed Website:www.180medical.com
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 7/20/10.