Success builds upon itself — Think about our response to this COVID crisis. If we didn’t have clinics and testing relationships, we would not have been able to create the full solution that employers required. Maybe just software. Adding a new service line is much easier than starting a new business.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Garick Hismatullin.
Garick founded Action Health in 2013, a network of primary care and urgent care clinics in California. The company has been providing telemedicine and in-person medical care for seven years before Covid-19 hit. Providing medical care to the workforce and having employers as customers, Garick saw a demand for bulk testing in the workplaces as the pandemic took over the US. His new company, Kyla, was launched in 2018 as a primary care company. In March 2020, the business was re-shaped to provide Covid-covered solution for employers.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I was born in Tallin, Estina and my family relocated to Tver, Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the age of 12 I moved to Silicon Valley with my mother who spent 20 years of her career working in the IT sector. I attended Gonzaga University and spent 1.5 years studying abroad in Tokyo, Japan where I launched my first start up.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There is never a lack of resource, only a lack of resourcefulness. I heard this quote from a friend of mine, do not know where it originated. However, it really symbolizes what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. People frequently think that having money or connections is the key to being successful in business. However, I think creativity is the single most important attribute of any successful team.
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?
Bloomberg Risk Takers feature on Elon Musk and many subsequent pieces I have seen on him over the years. There are many lessons to learn from Elon: thinking about fundamentals when trying to solve a problem, the importance of long term planning and strategy and how to attract the right talent. Most importantly, what it takes to be an entrepreneur. You have to work a sickening amount of time.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I co-founded Action Health, a network of primary care and urgent care clinics in California. Our services ranged from telemedicine to non-emergency in-person care.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
We recognized in late 2019 that containment of COVID was lost. Looking at 20% hospitalization rates and 2%+ mortality rates coming out of the countries which were affected the earliest was a big red flag. We quickly recognized that testing at scale was the first line of defense; we needed to buy time for treatments and vaccines to be developed. As a result, we looked at successful testing strategies in other countries, where they opened up drive-throughs and other mobile testing solutions. In February/March of 2020, we opened the first drive through testing site in Santa Clara Country. Shortly thereafter, we began to send vans with nurses to test employer’s onsite. As the size of the employers grew, we created software to facilitate scaling Kyla’s mobile testing solution. Automation was key; over time we were able to meet our goal of 30 second face-to-face time for customer interaction and backend automation, allowing us to test thousands of people per day. When the volume of testing significantly impacted our lab partners, we invested into opening up our own laboratories so we could maintain 24hr turn-around times. Over time we added other services, such as mail in kits.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
We were already working with many employers for workers comp and other employer health services. We anticipated that certain business could not close and asymptomatic transmission was going to become a major threat. At that point, we began to prepare for the demand that materialized as word of mouth spread.
Symptom monitoring, on-site testing, contact tracing, and virtual doctor’s consultation were the right approach to handle the needs of the employers. All the pieces came together at the right time. We had the nurses, the clinics, the testing relationships, and an app that focused on daily engagement between employers and their employees.
How are things going with this new initiative?
Currently, we are serving over 400 companies with hundreds of thousands of employees.
We hired a lot of new team members last year. As we continue providing mobile testing services, I realize that healthcare won’t be the same. We are beginning to add many direct to consumer solutions, not just around COVID testing. We believe that people will be very hesitant to go back to doctors’ offices for primary care. However, that is just as important as staying COVID-safe. Most of our current efforts are focused on an At-Home Care solution where you can get all of your preventative care from the comfort of your home without exposure to other individuals at doctors’ offices. Additionally, we are working on a physician driven-AI that will provide daily guidance to people to help to improve their overall health between visits.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are many people I am very grateful to. Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Vladimir Skorokhod, was able to recognize early on that this was going to be a different situation than anything we have experienced. Our channel partners were able to get word of mouth going so we could focus our resources on improving our service, instead of spending money on ads.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
There have been many interesting stories. Very early on, a major aero-space contractor called me on Sunday night at 7 p.m. and they needed testing next day at 7a.m. Our team geared up and drove through the night. Within a few hours, we tested almost 1,000 employees and got results shortly thereafter. We were able to prevent a major outbreak by identifying positive cases that were asymptomatic, leading to the creation of our outbreak prevention program.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Be prepared to fail for at least 10 years — most people think that you will start a company and then a few months later you will get VC funding and become a millionaire. That’s not how it works. You will fail every day for many years before you begin to have some degree of success.
- Success builds upon itself — Think about our response to this COVID crisis. If we didn’t have clinics and testing relationships, we would not have been able to create the full solution that employers required. Maybe just software. Adding a new service line is much easier than starting a new business.
- The reason you are not successful is probably not because of what you think — most people think that money, connections, team members, etc. are responsible for a slow start to a new company. Counterintuitively, it is usually none of those things. You usually haven’t thought through your idea from the fundamentals, you lack full understanding of the entire market, and you haven’t validated key assumptions. Once you do that, money and team will follow.
- You can get a lot done today — most people put off major actions because they try to understand everything about a particular subject. Bezos said that his comfort level is 70%. I think mine is 25%. You don’t have to quit your day job, go make a quick website and launch a few ads worth 50 dollars. Send a LinkedIn to someone in the industry and ask them for some advice. In short, stick your nose in. You will learn much more than reading market analysis reports.
- Hiring the wrong person is much worse than hiring nobody — the worst part about hiring someone who is not right for your team is that you will spend a lot of time training them and all of that time will be wasted if they leave or you have to let them go.
[Things people listed in the sample interview below: the importance of delegation, asking for help and advice, authentic relationships vs network, being an eco is hard and lonely, build a team of mentors, check if people who you hire adhere to the culture]
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
I think understanding the basics helps a lot. Once you create a strategy based on fundamentals, you know that this is the best way to proceed. You will not always be successful but you at least know that you are going down the right path.
[Suggestions: knowing your limits and when to stop working, going through news, when to switch the devices off and have a quiet evening with family]
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I want to see a movement where people get involved in their health, become curious, apply the available tools to unleash their health potential.
Health is a daily habit, so we all should take an active position in understanding our individual health risks, working daily to prevent illnesses and premature death.
It’s not about mindlessly following trendy diets or fitness programs anymore. The focus is on an individual plan for a healthier and longer life.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
How can our readers follow you online?
I have accounts on both Facebook and LinkedIn, but I am rarely active on social media. And I suggest following Kyla on Facebook and LinkedIn. We have exciting news coming up on how to access healthcare in the most convenient way possible and how to make health a daily habit.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!