Dan Cobb’s senior year at Missouri State was far from typical.
He was a traditional age student, but he was married and had a toddler. He was also tapped by two MSU professors to help them launch a software company.
It would have been easy for him to land a job at a corporation after graduation. And, startups require grueling hours. Even though he knew all this, Cobb signed on.
“If you’re at a large company, you’re one of thousands. So, you could really knock it out of the park and yet never go anywhere. But when you’re at a small startup, the success of the company depends on what you’re able to do. That appealed to me. But yes, it was very risky having a family,” he said.
That gumption would pay off and shape the rest of his life.
Cobb has been involved with startups ever since.
Going from first-generation student to software innovator
Cobb was born in Japan and grew up in Ozark, Missouri. His dad was in the U.S. Navy, and his parents brought him to this country at the age of 1. He became a U.S. citizen at 5 years old.
As a first-generation student, he chose Missouri State because it was affordable.
He was initially a general business major. He switched to the computer information systems program after taking a class.
During his senior year, Drs. Jim Atteberry and Reed Doke, then faculty members at Missouri State, decided to start a software company.
They hired a few recent grads and students then launched Management Software, which specialized in home health-care software.
It was 1983. The software industry was in its infancy. They were one of the first companies to provide medical information software over personal computers.
“We were way ahead of our time as far as personal computer-based health-care software,” Cobb said.
Cobb earned a bachelor’s degree in computer information systems in 1984, graduating magna cum laude.
Management Software became a nationwide company.
In 1996, it was purchased by the McKesson Corporation.
Founding another software startup with his partners
With the success of the first business under their belt, Cobb, Atteberry and MSU alum Charlie Daniels next co-founded HealthMEDX in 1999.
It delivered long-term care software over the internet. They were pioneers, as very few applications used the internet to provide health-care software at that time.
“Back then, the internet isn’t what it is today. It wasn’t an information hub. It was something you did for browsing and some email and that was about it,” Cobb said.
He and his partners had complementary skills.
“I did the technology stuff, and we all wore a lot of hats. Charlie ran sales and operations. Jim was more of a strategic visionary type. We got along well and we had a lot of mutual respect,” he said.
The company was headquartered in Ozark and started in Missouri. Since health-care laws vary from state to state, they had to learn the laws before entering a state.
“It wasn’t easy,” Cobb said.
“We had to learn them, we had to program them in and that was one of the barriers to entry for other companies because it’s just a lot of work. Our base product had more than 4 million lines of code in it, so it’s a lot of instructions.”
Their early years were rough. They worked every day, many hours a day. When you have a startup there’s no revenue, so you have to be highly motivated to get the product to market as soon as possible.
In the beginning, Cobb designed the flagship product and oversaw its development and roll out.
As the company grew, he shifted responsibilities. At various times, he managed product development, research, technical support, customer implementation, sales, marketing and the data center.
Finding more success, and hiring Missouri State grads
Their hard work paid off.
About four years in, Cobb says he felt like they were gaining traction.
Sales came a little easier because they had referrals and companies were coming to them. They weren’t borrowing money. Growth continued to snowball.
The company became a leading developer of electronic medical records solutions in the post-acute segment of the health care market. The integrated platform streamlined clinical, financial and reporting operations for long-term, post-acute and home care providers.
It was another success story.
They sold HealthMEDX in 2011 to a couple of private equity firms. Cobb stayed on for another year and retired in 2012.
At the time of the sale, they had roughly 175 employees. About 80% of those were fellow Bears.
“One of the reasons I looked for Missouri State grads out of the College of Business is because I knew that they’d been exposed to marketing, communications, accounting, etc., because basically when you’re in software, you’re automating a business. To do that well, you have to understand business. If you know nothing about accounting, for example, you really can’t build a financial system very well.”
Serving his community on boards, supporting entrepreneurship
Since retiring, he has served on a variety of boards. These include The Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks, Mercy Health Foundation, Springfield Innovation, Inc. (which oversees Missouri State’s eFactory and Jordan Valley Innovation Center), The Drew Lewis Foundation Inc., the Southwest Missouri Humane Society and the Missouri Technology Corporation.
“It sounds a little corny, but I have been really blessed in life. It’s a good way to give back, but also a good way to stay intellectually challenged.”
He currently serves as vice chair of the board of the Missouri Technology Company, or MTC. He is also chair of its investment committee. MTC provides startup and seed funding to technology, biotech and ag-tech companies. It supports entrepreneurial service organizations throughout the state.
“One of the things we do is help fund innovation centers, like Jordan Valley, and there’s another 10 across the state. And we fund entrepreneurial support organizations like the eFactory. But the thing that really interests me the most is that we invest in startup companies,” Cobb said.
MTC has invested more than $35 million in more than 140 companies so far.
Sharing his knowledge with the next generation of Bears
Cobb now shares what he knows with younger entrepreneurs. He enjoys watching others succeed.
“The thing I’m proudest of is helping young employees grow into mature adults,” he said. “We would hire fresh graduates from Missouri State, then I would go to their weddings, I would see their first kid born, I would see them buy their first house, their second house and basically see them grow and thrive. Over the years, we had hundreds and hundreds of employees. Getting to see a lot of them grow and prosper is really cool.”
Cobb credits Missouri State for helping him start on his career path.
“I got a degree in computer information systems, which gave me the skills to help me in my career. I took classes in the College of Business and that was really helpful. I was recruited by two MSU professors, and that changed my life,” he said.
And he returned to recruit more Bears — shaping their lives.
“If you think about the first company, Management Software, and the second company, HealthMEDX, it’s really safe to say we’ve hired several hundred Missouri State grads over the years,” Cobb said. “Missouri State has been a large part of my success.”