By PAULA BURKES
COPYRIGHT © 2020, The Oklahoman
Laura Fleet hatched the idea for her startup tech company — a customized, concierge door-to-door transportation service for the health care industry — at one of her lowest times ever.
Flat on her back for weeks following surgery, Fleet relied on family and friends to drive her to follow-up appointments, before she determined to arrange transportation on her own. Slow moving, Fleet couldn’t get out of her front door fast enough for the first contracted rideshare driver, who left and charged her a $5 cancellation fee. The subsequent cab driver waited for her, but she still felt frail and vulnerable.
A health care lawyer, Fleet and her husband put in $500,000 of their own money and raised funds from i2E Inc. and other angel investors to bootstrap her company — SendaRide — specifically for the health care industry and patients like herself.
Started in May 2017, SendaRide partners with healthcare facilities to ensure patients arrive on time for their dialysis, chemotherapy and other medical appointments. Social workers or caseworkers typically book round-trip transportation for patients, using a web portal that meets the privacy regulations and other laws that govern the industry. On average, a 10- to 15-minute ride costs $25.
The company, which employs nine at its Oklahoma City-based call center, hundreds of contracted drivers and a contracted team of code writers in Bangalore, India, serves customers in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston, with plans to launch in Houston and San Antonio this year. It’s now providing more than 4,000 rides a month, and has hit $1 million in annual revenue, Fleet said.
From her leased offices at 14201 Wireless Way, Fleet, 47, recently sat down with The Oklahoman to talk about her life and career. This is an edited transcript:
Tell us about your childhood.
My dad was in the Air Force, so we moved around a lot. I was born in Texas, and we lived in Turkey, then in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Albuquerque, New Mexico, before returning to Wichita Falls, Texas, where I graduated high school and my mother worked as a bank secretary. I have twin siblings: a brother and sister, who are five years younger.
Until recently, you’ve been an avid horseback rider. When did you start?
As a young girl. My parents held my 5-year-old birthday party at a stable in Fayetteville, and when we lived in New Mexico, I’d ride the city bus to the Air Force Base, where there was a stable. My dad would take me home. Our family spent summer vacations in Minnesota, where my parents retired to. Both have extended family there, and all my cousins had horses. In Wichita Falls, we lived on five acres and had horses. I jumped fences and showed horses; English style. Years of jumping is what injured my back. I finally gave up horseback riding when I had back surgery in 2016 on my birthday — Oct. 15. I now have two titanium discs in my lower spine.
When did you decide to become a lawyer, and why’d you choose to attend Oklahoma City University School of Law?
In a business law class in 10th grade, taught by Mrs. Ress. It just clicked; I loved learning about cause and effect and hard and fast rules. I studied political science and English writing at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls and chose OCU for law school because I’d visited friends here, liked the city, and it was close to home.
How’d you come to specialize in health care law?
I established an interest in law school and took every related class I could. After graduation, I joined the legal department of PacifiCare Health Systems (now United Health Care) as a compliance officer. After four years there, I was recruited as the executive director/lobbyist for the Oklahoma Association of Health Plans, a role I still fill part time. I’ve also served as of counsel for Crowe & Dunlevy law firm since 2006. Those experiences have given me an in-depth view of health care systems and health care law. Many of the contacts I made are now clients of SendaRide.
Tell us more about SendaRide.
Our drivers are carefully vetted, background screened and drug tested. We train them on the concierge and patient confidentiality expectations of the company, and in CPR and first aid. All of our rides are recorded. Our app shows the ride in progress, and family members and caregivers can text riders or even talk with them during the ride. One Oklahoma City church now has contracted us to provide transportation to worship services for their homebound members. And, the epilepsy foundation and other individuals are using us to arrange rides for their loved ones to family dinners and to run errands. Unlike other rideshare programs, we’re a phone call away if there’s a change of plans or other issues.