An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis
You don’t need a lot of money to validate an idea. The conclusion that I’ve come to is that I can validate so much of what I need to do without major monetary investments, and as soon as you see traction, that becomes interesting and exciting.
As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Saad Alam.
Saad Alam is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Hone Health, the largest online clinic that treats men’s hormonal imbalances, low testosterone, and increases longevity. Before founding Hone Health, Saad was the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Citelighter, an education-technology company that helps students become writers using principles of neuroscience. Before submerging himself into entrepreneurship, Saad was the Director of Marketing and Sales at HealthCentral, a health-centric website that publishes medically vetted content. Before that, Saad led Market Research at Eli Lilly & Company for the $4B neuroscience franchise He was responsible for market research and insights development for leading pharmaceutical brands, including Zyprexa, Symbyax, and Relprevv.
Saad holds a Masters of Public Health (MPH) from Columbia University and an MBA from the University of Rochester, where he was the student body president.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
I’m a first-generation Pakistani-American. My father originally came to America to attend Stanford University on a full academic scholarship, where he received his Ph.D. in Particle Physics and was part of the largest particle physics studies in history, discovering several new particles in the process. My father made sure that my mother received her education when they came to the United States, something that was fairly uncommon in Pakistani culture, and she went on to become a financial executive. I was truly blessed to grow up with such loving parents that really encouraged me to be an acute academic student, but I also spent a lot of time trying to fit in and be accepted by my peers, and that came in the form of athletics. I started at a very young age and had to teach myself many of them because my parents didn’t grow up playing American sports.
When I went to college, I definitely knew that I was also an entrepreneur — I had a lot of entrepreneurial tendencies growing up and had many endeavors to make money, and my parents really wanted me to be a physician. I prepared myself to attend an Ivy League Medical School but ultimately decided that it wasn’t the path for me and decided to go to business school. After graduating, I went to run market research and development for a $4 billion pharmaceutical company, because I thought that it could help me be as close to the healthcare industry as possible while being able to have a large impact and support myself. I eventually realized that this wasn’t the role or path for me, as I wanted to be able to have a greater impact.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The obstacle is the way” — In life, if you believe that there are going to be nothing but a series of obstacles and you are already anticipating them, you will already be in the right mindset to attack them and be in a problem-solving mentality rather than feeling defeated that you have a challenge in front of you. It’s relevant in every part of my life as an entrepreneur and as a family man, I’m always ready for the next problem and trying to find the solution.
My father used to read me this poem called Sitaron Se Age and what it basically said was that in your life, there are many different valleys and peaks to climb, but once you get to that peak, don’t become complacent. Always remember there are other mountains that are higher to climb. To never become satisfied and always look for the next thing that will get you excited in life.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I read voraciously, and there are lots of books that have had an impact on me. One book that really changed my understanding of how to manifest things into reality was Becoming Supernatural by Dr. Joe Dispenza. Dr. Dispenza had a traumatic spine injury while riding a bike and physicians told him he’d never walk again, and he visualized his spine healing, and within several months he was riding a bike again. The conclusion that Dr. Dispenza came to was that there is a mechanism that you can manifest things into life, and how you can take your thoughts and turn them into real-world actions.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?
I have a lot of ideas, but there are six things I always keep in mind when going through ideation.
- Take time to think deeply about the problem you’re trying to solve. I have to go through a process where I fall in love with it. When I have an idea I record a voice memo, or write a note in my phone, and if I continuously find myself going back to that idea or concept, there’s a deep emotional attachment to the idea or the problem I’m trying to solve. Over the next 1–2 days I’ll use a whiteboard and start writing and start asking myself ‘Is it the idea I’m in love with? Is it the problem I’m in love with? Are there other ideas that could solve this problem?’ and I let myself become deeply attached to it to the point where it becomes my mission or my duty to solve this.
- Just start while you’re still excited. While I’m excited I’m taking the time to do research, and have conversations with multiple groups of people to get their insight or perspective.
- The business starts when it gets hard. This is when progress is happening. For many, this is when they will lose their enthusiasm, but this is when you need to take a step back and ask yourself ‘Why is this challenging? What can I be doing differently to work around the issues?’ and push through it. When you’re able to get through the challenging portion, that’s when the magic happens.
- Failure is progress. When you’re failing you’re learning, and that’s the building of the business. What a lot of people will think is that this is the universe telling them that this isn’t a good idea and won’t work but it really is working — it’s just a matter of finding another way to get through to the other side.
- Force yourself some time to think through the learnings and re-adjust. Sometimes you have to force yourself to de-couple from the process and take a step back and take a different viewpoint on what you’re trying to achieve. This can be really challenging if you’re deep into the operations process. To think about what you’ve learned to this point you need to separate yourself from the situation you’re in — go for a walk, listen to music, go play basketball, spend time with people you care about — and then you can typically re-approach the situation with a set of fresh eyes and think about how you need to re-adjust.
- Keep moving forward — work hard and smart. You may get overwhelmed, but it’s important to keep the momentum that you’ve generated and keep on pushing. Generally when I hear people say they want to work smart and not hard I think that they are not the kind of people that I’d want to work with. I believe that you have to work both hard and smart in order to be successful and be able to bring an idea to life.
The concept of Hone Health was a byproduct of this process. At age 35, I found myself with a significant decrease in energy, loss of focus, and was putting on weight, despite eating perfectly, exercising regularly for 20-plus years, and putting a huge emphasis on ensuring I got enough sleep. After months of going to different physicians, lab work, and consultations, it was finally discovered that I had the testosterone levels of an 80-year-old man. What was more alarming, but in some ways reassuring, was when the physician that finally diagnosed me with low testosterone explained how common of a condition this is for men over 35 and as they continue to age. After experiencing this firsthand physically, mentally, and emotionally, I knew that there had to be other men out there that were dealing with the same issues, and trying to navigate the healthcare system the same way I did.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
Here are three processes I go through during an ideation process:
- The first step is to write a set of questions that a person may ask Google.
- Google like crazy. Google as many different variations of that question as you can think of, and look at all the different solutions that pop up. You’re going to find a lot of organizational websites, you’ll find a lot of academic articles. You’ll also need to go to the second, third, and fourth page on that Google search to identify the businesses that are trying to solve that same problem.
- Once you find the competitors — understand how well they are doing. If they are doing poorly, why? Is the need not there? is the execution poor? How would your solution differ? If they are doing well, you need to ask yourself ‘Is there room in the market? How would my solution be better? How much would it cost to develop? How much more could I charge? Can I take market share away from this competitor, and if so, can they pivot to catch up with me?’
For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
First and foremost, you’d need to think of every potential manufacturer, vendor, or retailer you would need to use for your product or service, and find the emails or phone numbers of the owners of those businesses, and schedule time to speak with them. Tell them that you’re an entrepreneur and always present yourself as an expert in your field, and tell them what you’re looking to accomplish. You’d be surprised how many free calls you can have, and when you find someone who is passionate about what you’re working on — they will give you all the time in the world. Always remember — they are looking at you as a potential client and they want to talk to you
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?
- Hire people smarter than you. I wish I had spent more time adding people who were veterans in the space and had done it before and I could go to them and say ‘Recreate this, but with this slight variation. Instead, I thought about how can I hire but spend all my time creating, but in reality if I had spent more time finding the right people and letting them create I think I would have gotten further a lot faster.
- You don’t need a lot of money to validate an idea. The conclusion that I’ve come to is that I can validate so much of what I need to do without major monetary investments, and as soon as you see traction, that becomes interesting and exciting.
- Fail fast and it’s never as bad as it seems. At first, I wanted everything to be absolutely perfect before I shipped. Now, I aim to create something that’s just good enough, ship it, fail, understand how you can improve it, and re-tool it. Generally, at the onset, I always use to think that failing is horrible and it was an indication that I was a bad entrepreneur, and now I approach it with the mindset of ‘I can fail at anything, it’s never as bad as it seems.’ You can always find ways to pick up the pieces and improve the process.
- You will have to repeat yourself over and over. I felt bad about this early on, but now I don’t feel bad about this at all. I have to continue to repeat myself over, and over, and over again to ensure that the same message is resonating with multiple groups of people in the company, and it becomes part of their lexicon.
- If the actual idea is bad don’t chase it down if the execution proves good. This may sound antithetical to the things I’ve previously said. Generally speaking, if you have an idea and you’ve tried to make it work 10, 15, or 20 different times, don’t go raise capital if you’re a really good salesperson if the idea truly isn’t unbelievable at the end of the day. You have to truly believe that if you take the capital you will be able to apply it and build the business. The mistake I made in my first business was exactly this. I shouldn’t have tried to build a venture-scale company and bootstrapped it a little bit more.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
- Sketch it out with paper and pen — write it all out, draw it out, outline all the features and why this is necessary.
- Go on Fiverr or Upwork and find a CAD developer to build a 3D model if this is a tangible product. If it’s a development product you’ll need to find a development shop that can help you.
- Go to Alibaba and find someone to build the product as cheaply as possible. You’ll probably have to talk to 30–40 people to give them the specifications and the 3D model.
- Build and iterate. You’ll probably want to work with 2–3 people on Alibaba to see different variations that are being sent to you so you can review the quality of the product. From there you’ll go through several iterations before finally landing on a supplier.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
If you’re hiring a development consultant you’re not an entrepreneur. I think you need to have the idea yourself, especially if it’s your first one, you have to believe in it, you have to think through it. I think development consultants are better for larger companies and not first-time entrepreneurs.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
I love both, but it took me a while to understand the difference between which you choose and why. I’m sure that many young people starting out when building a business think that they need money, I was the same way, versus thinking that you can start a business, but you don’t need money. I think it’s important to have a clear understanding of the outcome or purpose of what a venture-backed business is and how fast it’s supposed to grow, and will the market you’re going into truly support a venture-type outcome that would make investors happy.
I have built several venture businesses, but for my next endeavor, I’ll want to bootstrap for as long as I can before I go to look for venture — if at all. I think that there’s a way to build a bootstrap business that is cash flow positive with very little money, it just takes a little bit more time and management expertise. I think you just need to think through the business model very carefully.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I am a cold-hearted mission-driven killer. I only build mission-driven companies that provide value and improve people’s lives, and I work like tomorrow is not promised and I make sure that the team around me is of like-minded people who have the same approach to the work and the task at hand. If I haven’t gone through the problem personally and had it impact me directly, I won’t build it — it’s just not the business for me.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
With Hone Health, I am leading the movement that I think is of the utmost importance — peace of mind, confidence, and perspective as they age. I think most people succumb to the idea that the best years are behind them when they hit 40 or 50 years old, and the reality is you have 2–3 good lifetimes left ahead of you, and we’re trying to teach people that through education and solutions to increase and enhance longevity.
Other movements that I think are really important are centered around self-awareness, desire and willpower, and momentum and manifestation. If people were more self-aware and could remove themselves from their egos a little bit more they would be able to accomplish so much more in life because your ego can hold you back from hearing the truth and understanding the next steps you need to take to become the person that you really want to be. I think a lot of people have great ideas but they don’t have the desire or willpower, so creating a movement to be able to tap into your inner-self to make sure you have an unlimited amount of willpower and desire, even when things get difficult. The last one, there’s this concept of momentum and manifesting your dreams and desires and a lot of people don’t understand how to do that, and I think there’s another movement being personified in the creator economy, which is you can basically create your entire life and it’s a function of what are the steps to do it because they can be easily replicated.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Fred Wilson or Marc Andreeson
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Making Something From Nothing: Saad Alam Of Hone Health On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.