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How NorthBridge used QuickBooks Online Advanced to grow from 0 to 700 employees in 4 years

  • NorthBridge was founded in 2015 by Blake Elliott and Luke Wendlandt. Over the past 4 years, the company has grown from zero to 700 employees.
  • They are 100% self-funded and have been using QuickBooks since day one to run their finances.
  • There are 4 different companies under the parent company, with 85 locations across the state of Minnesota.

16 years ago, Blake Elliott’s brother was in a car accident, resulting in a traumatic brain injury. At the time, Blake had been planning to go into the medical field. But this unexpected tragedy caused him to make a change. A few years later, he had started his first disability services company, Everyday Living.

Today, he’s the Vice President of Disability Services at NorthBridge Incorporated, a Minnesota-based company he co-founded with Luke Wendlandt, who heads Business Development. The parent company has four subsidiaries that currently employ 700 employees across 85 different locations.

If there’s a reason behind their rapid growth, it’s because of NorthBridge’s approach to solving some of society’s toughest issues. These challenges have created a huge need for the kind of work they perform daily.

Tackling tough social problems with a unified vision and sound finance

NorthBridge’s 700 employees work in areas including disability, opioid addiction, mental health, sober living, and non-emergency medical transportation.

Their four businesses within the larger organization help to address specific issues:

  • Bridges Minnesota: Serves people with disability and mental illness.
  • Northstar Behavioral Health: Helps people recover from opioid addiction.
  • RUMI: A tech platform that connects live-in caregivers with those with disabilities.
  • TRUSS: Invests in real estate for group homes.

Each of these four companies have within them specialized programs that provide essential services for the business. For example, Northstar Behavioral health engages with clients in several ways to help with opioid addiction recovery: mental health care, medical transportation, laboratory services, and more.

This complex infrastructure reflects their commitment to do whatever it takes to help their patients get the best results. Since Northstar opened up its first opioid addiction program in March 2016, it’s been offering a solutions-oriented treatment process called a medicated assisted model. This model, which is often more effective, deviates from the current practice in the field that focuses on a 28-day absence-based model.

“We’re the country’s only residential treatment program that’s specialized for an opioid use disorder,” says Luke.

Part of their mission is making sure they have the freedom to pursue their goals and not succumb to outside pressure from investors. That’s why they’ve been a 100% bootstrapped organization from day one. But to succeed as a self-funded company, NorthBridge has had to manage their finances carefully and make prudent business decisions.

“We always say profits don’t define us, but they sustain us in this space we operate in. We need to make sure we’re making sound business decisions as we take the next steps where we’re continuing to grow,” Luke explains.

One way they’ve been able to achieve success as a bootstrapped organization is by using  QuickBooks Online Advanced as the business became more complex and continued its rapid growth. The main selling point for Blake was its ease of use.

“I don’t have any formal financial education,” says Blake. “I’m a Biochemistry major and now I’m trying to run a business and be an entrepreneur. So QuickBooks has been a tool that allows me to use it and do so effectively.”

Including Blake, there are 12 current users on their QuickBooks Online Advanced accounts.

With batch transactions, Advanced enables NorthBridge to streamline the creation and editing of approximately 13,000 checks, expenses, and bills every month, as well as track data from 85 locations across four businesses, giving them more time to better serve their clients.

Opening regional offices and scaling from 0 to 700

In less than four years, NorthBridge has grown from zero to 700 employees. During that time, they’ve had to shift their operations to a regional model with the main office in St. Paul. Each regional office around the state runs its own profit and loss (P&L).

They also brought on Scott Loe, their current CFO, to help with their complicated finances. Scott credits Advanced as a critical component of scaling as fast as they have. “We’re a pretty acquisitive business,” he says. “When we talk to a business owner we’re trying to partner with and they use QuickBooks, the path to whether we can come to an agreement or understand the financial performance of that business is amazingly different.”

If NorthBridge didn’t have the capability to quickly digest financial information, it wouldn’t have been able to scale as fast as they have. But in addition to speed, flexibility was also a vital component of their success.

Scott credits the reporting functions and customizability of Advanced giving them the ability to grow. He’s been able to customize Advanced to meet NorthBridge’s changing needs.

User permissions and the security and convenience of cloud-based software have also been essential because of NorthBridge’s need to secure sensitive information. “QuickBooks Online Advanced gives us the exact ability to grant people access to the right level of information while allowing us to customize and track certain regional financial performance within the greater trial balance and general ledger,” Scott says.

Why getting access to micro-level data helps keep their finances healthy

While being self-funded helps NorthBridge focus on their mission as opposed to appeasing investors, healthy finances are as essential to their operations as helping their patients. Without it, they wouldn’t be able to provide the services so many Minnesotans require.

QuickBooks Online Advanced gives them both macro- and micro-level data, with the ability to compare monthly P&L across different locations. This data helps them keep accurate financial records on utilities, food, rent, and other recurring costs and plan for the future without worrying if they’ll be able to pay the bills.

“It’s imperative for us to manage things like how much food one of our facilities is costing, and how much utility bills are going on at one of our group homes,” explains Blake. Since these elements directly impact their patients’ lives, it’s more than just about maintaining costs.

“It’s so easy to go in and say, ‘All right, it looks like this facility is spending 42% more on groceries than our average facilities. Why is that?’” says Blake. Advanced has enabled NorthBridge to pull precise and accurate data from 85 different cost centers to help find the root cause of a problem to solve it quickly.

Blake also looks at macro trends to make financial decisions. For example, if the rent for September seems too high, he can use the custom fields feature in Advanced to find out why. “You can click on the number, which brings you to a different screen that shows you the 47 different transactions that accounted for rent. You can dive into the granularity there,” he says.

When making snap decisions can help save lives

An exception to NorthBridge’s bootstrapped approach happened when they applied for a Minnesota state grant to fund the tech platform RUMI. Competition for government funding can be fierce due to the heavy competition as well as the short timeframe for applying. However, QuickBooks made that process easy and ended up helping them win the grant.

“We were able to pull [the required information] very quickly and get that to the state in a 48-hour turnaround, which is a testament to QuickBooks Online Advanced’s capabilities,” explains Blake.

But being able to move quickly is not just important for finance; making snap decisions can save lives. If people need immediate assistance and shelter, NorthBridge uses Advanced to check their financial ability to invest in real estate within a short time period.

“We can make that decision to open up another treatment center in Minneapolis and provide more services to those people,” says Blake. “A big part of how we’re able to make that decision is through QuickBooks Online Advanced. If we can open that up, we can impact dozens of peoples’ lives.”

Making a positive change in Minnesota and around the country

In the past four years since NorthBridge was founded, Minnesota has seen the worst opioid epidemic in the country, with a 640% increase in opioid-caused deaths from 1999 to 2017. Fighting this problem is one of the reasons why they’ve needed to scale as fast as they could. Going forward, they’re planning to expand both in Minnesota and other states to help more people in need.

Part of that is working to change the stigma surrounding opioid addiction, mental health, and disability to help people experiencing challenges integrate with society.

For Luke, he says the work they do is a privilege because they get to see people recover and live healthier lives. “We see people broken and hopeless from day one when they start in our programs, and we get the opportunity to see this through to the graduation or completion of our programs,” he says.

Blake agrees. “As long as we’re providing value to those folks, I think we’re going to be continually compelled to try to do more.”

By committing to healthy finances and bootstrapped operations, NorthBridge aims to expand its mission to tackle society’s toughest problems with the continued help of Advanced. Scott says, “Every good business decision that we have made, as we’ve grown exponentially from zero to 700 employees, has involved QuickBooks Online Advanced.”

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