Alex Pollak is a NYC paramedic with more than years of 911 experience, and was also a first responder to the 9/11 attacks. He holds an MBA in finance and international business, and is currently enrolled in an MPH program for healthcare management. In addition, Pollak is Lean Six Sigma Black Belt-certified and has spearheaded many consulting projects within the healthcare industry. In 2011, while working in finance for a national ambulance company, Pollak identified a void in the market for quality on-site event medicine. That’s how he founded ParaDocs Worldwide, Inc. which is a nationally-recognized brand with more than 1,600 employees.
How did the concept for ParaDocs come about?
It all started from a chance encounter on a subway. My cousin overheard two ladies fretting about where they will find a last-minute paramedic for their fashion show that weekend and he gave them my contact information. I worked that show myself and later was asked if I can cover more events. I purchased insurance and some equipment and never looked back.
How was the first year in business?
Rough, but that was only for the first few years. I needed to work much harder and longer hours at my other jobs just to cover payroll. With no outside investment and no real mentorship, it was hard to see ParaDocs evolving into a full-time career. There were many instances where real life and bills got in the way and I almost felt like giving up. Up until about two years ago, we didn’t really see a profit; everything was poured into capital investments.
What was your marketing strategy?
I didn’t have a clearly-defined marketing strategy. I tried some SEO and Google Adwords, but mostly I would keep a pocket full of business cards and any time I passed a location such as a movie set, club, or event space, I would repeatedly run into venues and introduce myself and ParaDocs, and hand over a card. One of our first big clients had their headquarters down the block from where I lived; it took three times a week for almost a year of dropping off my card to get a face-to-face meeting. These days, we get requests for interviews quite often so we aren’t an unknown entity anymore. Marketing has become more organic due to our constant exposure through media outlets.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Fast. This was basically an untapped market so we realized exponential growth those first few years. We are still realizing significant growth. Thankfully, it has not stagnated as clients are coming to discover a real need for our services.
How do you define success?
Success is relative and I’m still unsure how to define it. We are constantly trying to improve and streamline, especially in a line of work as important as ours. Until I see a red shirt in every arena and event in the country, I won’t be convinced we are a success.
What is the key to success?
Perseverance and not letting people keep you down. If you believe in yourself, your team, and what you have to offer, chances are you have a good shot at success.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Not everything goes exactly as planned and you can’t always prepare for it. In our field, we are constantly adjusting on the fly and no matter how much you prepare for every conceivable scenario, one will come along that will floor you. Having a good grasp on what went well and what needs improvement is key. We create a detailed After Action Report after every large event and we are not timid about admitting what went wrong, where we could have done better, and address it head on.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” – Jim Collins
What are some of your favorite books?
Business books. It would need to be Jim Collins’ Good To Great and Built to Last, because I make all of our management team read them. I also enjoyed Howard Shultz’s Pour Your Heart Into It; not completely relevant, but we do pour our hearts into everything we do.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
Get prepared for many tough days, because it doesn’t get easier with time. As your business grows, so does the problems. I’ve experienced so many rough days from falling in a swamp, doing a late-night rescue in the middle of a storm, dealing with local politics and media, but thankfully my many years working the streets as a paramedic has helped me hone a sort of calm demeanor when faced with disaster-like scenarios.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I am very stubborn by nature. It could be because growing up, my mom being a typical Jewish mom, would tell me there’s nothing I can’t do. Having a true passion for what you do definitely helps. I’d like to think I put together an exceptional team of like-minded individuals and having their support as a backup makes every challenge easier. Giving up at this point isn’t a decision that only affects me; I have lots of people counting on ParaDocs now, so giving up is not an option.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Believe in your product and what you have to offer. Don’t veer from your core competencies. If you have something great to offer, offer it and nothing else. It will never be perfect and if you don’t do it perfectly, someone else will, so keep working on improving your product and when its finally perfect, work on it some more.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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