The $5 Million Mistake: Alaina Maciá
“I mean, I can’t be proud of the fact that I spent $5 million and didn’t get anything for it.”
This episode of On Principle is about recognizing when you’ve made a mistake and having the guts to face it—even if it means flushing millions down the drain.
In 2003, Alaina Maciá arrived at MTM, the St. Louis-based broker of non-emergency medical transportation services, to find a company on the verge of explosive growth. By 2005, she was MTM’s CEO, and since that time the company has rocketed from $30 million to nearly $700 million in revenue, with clients and customers nationwide.
A nagging concern she noticed as she began, however, was the stable but not particularly cutting-edge technology platform the company was built on. Yet she faced a conundrum: How do you overhaul your tech foundation while onboarding clients at a fever pitch? Can you afford to pause growth for the sake of a foundational investment? Is it possible to grow and rebuild simultaneously?
Increasingly, as the tech world advanced, Maciá saw that customers were demanding a higher level of self-service—apps and functionality that offer an “Uber-like” transportation experience, for example. “It's probably been the single biggest challenge I've faced since I began running the company,” Maciá said. “This is big dollars for a medium-sized company.”
Knowing she didn’t have the in-house expertise to make this transition, Maciá contracted with an outside firm to work on the tech upgrade with her team.
And this is where the pivotal moment occurs.
Five million dollars into the project, she realized the work had barely scratched the surface of what MTM was going to need. She decided to scrap the project. Soon after, MTM brought Salesforce aboard to collaborate on the upgrade, but “they don’t tell you that you have to have a robust team,” she said. “We launched some projects on Salesforce, but it was clear it would be slow to get where we needed to go and it still didn’t do everything we needed.”
That was another $5 million down the tubes.
Ultimately, progress began when Maciá engineered the $15 million purchase in August 2017 of Reveal Management Services in Kansas City, effectively bringing in-house the expertise of technologists focused on transportation scheduling algorithms and real-time GPS tracking. Now, she is seeing light at the end of the tunnel and MTM has already implemented a number of technology upgrades—including that Uber-like experience. The progress has her looking at adding new service lines such as meal and grocery delivery and other things.
Maciá refers to work they’ve accomplished with the Reveal technology as MTM’s “resting platform” while they fully overhaul their system, with a hard deadline of Dec. 31, 2022, to complete the transition. “It took 20 years to move off the old platform, three years to move to the dot-net platform, and it’ll take 18 months to move to the new platform,” she said.
This podcast is a production of Washington University in St. Louis’s Olin Business School. Contributors include:
- Katie Wools, Cathy Myrick and Judy Milanovits, creative assistance
- Jill Young Miller, fact checking and creative assistance
- Hayden Molinarolo, original music, sound design and editing
- Sophia Passantino, social media
- Lexie O'Brien and Erik Buschardt, website support
- Mark P. Taylor, strategic support
- Paula Crews, creative vision and strategic support
Special thanks to Ray Irving and his team at WashU Olin’s Center for Digital Education, including our audio engineer, Austin Alred.
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Download the podcast transcript (PDF)