“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable”, Alex Mulyar of CRI Genetics and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

Find the main bottleneck that leads to the bad habit and then avoid that specific trigger. For example, if you’re tempted when you pass cookies in the store, but say “no” when you pass them, they’re not there in your house to tempt you later on. You only have to say “no” once in the […]

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Find the main bottleneck that leads to the bad habit and then avoid that specific trigger. For example, if you’re tempted when you pass cookies in the store, but say “no” when you pass them, they’re not there in your house to tempt you later on. You only have to say “no” once in the grocery store, rather than 5, 10, 15 times a day when they’re sitting there on your kitchen counter. You tax your own willpower less, yet the result is exactly the same — you not eating the cookies!

As a part of our series about “How Anyone Can Build Habits For Optimal Wellness, Performance, & Focus”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Mulyar.

Alex Mulyar (34) is the CEO and co-founder of the one of the fastest growing DNA testing companies CRI Genetics. (www.crigenetics.com) Originally from the Ukraine, Alex moved to Canada at the age of 10 and then, dreaming of becoming a cardiologist, neurologist or surgeon, was accepted into Harvard University where he successfully gained a degree in Biology. With a strong interest in heart health and DNA testing, he co-founded CRI Genetics in 2016. Today, the company has a 9 figure valuation and over 100 employees world-wide. CRI Genetics provides top-quality genetic testing for both ancestry and health. Whether you’re interested in tracing your family back 50+ generations with ancestry, or want to improve your daily life through 70+ actionable health reports, CRI has you covered.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, 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 Ukraine, where my entrepreneurial bent started early. In grade 1, I had a toy robot I received for my birthday, which I would “rent out” to other students in my class to trade for snacks and lunchables.

My Mom raised my sister and me, while working multiple jobs. She moved us to Canada early on, where she was able to break into meteorology after studying part time. Her work ethic continues to inspire me.

When I was about 11–12, I broke a vase at home and my mom made me get a job to pay for it, so I got a paper route, which I held for about 3 months. This was my first job and I made 100 dollars per month — as a kid, this blew my mind, as my income had essentially gone up infinitely (from zero) overnight.

The first house Mom bought was a 3-story house with 3 bedrooms, which was turned into a 5-bedroom house, with 2–3 bedrooms rented out to help generate extra income. While I didn’t like being crowded, it’s clear to see that my mom’s side hustles wore off on me in later life.

At the time, however, I just wanted to hang out with my friends and goof off. This led to my being kicked out of high school, working at a construction site, and hanging out with the “wrong crowd.” That’s about the time when I got into a car accident that changed my life. Fortunately, everyone involved survived.

However, my purpose in life had drastically shifted.

I had a new dream of becoming a healer: a cardiologist, neurologist, or surgeon. And I realized I needed to get smart — and do it fast!

I stopped hanging out with the “wrong crowd” and finished high school. Then I enrolled in community college, graduated top of my class, and wound up at Harvard University.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

After my car accident, I became passionate about becoming a doctor. It’s why I pushed myself to complete high school and community college, and then into Harvard University.

It was all with the single-minded goal of becoming a doctor so I could help people in their most dire moments. Specifically, I wanted to become a cardiologist or cardiac surgeon because it was a large enough field to make a major impact but focused enough to hopefully master it.

After graduating from Harvard, I planned to start my masters at the University of Toronto in cardiophysiology, while applying to medical school. Before I started this 10–15-year educational journey, I decided to take a year off to start my own business.

I moved to California to meet my brother there, who I started a business with. The first venture we tried failed. 
Our second business hit 100K dollars in sales the first year. The business grew over the following year to 208k in sales, and in the 3rd year to 230. However, this seemed too slow to me, as I was only netting about 40K dollars per year. I was not passionate about the business but pushed myself for a year and a half to grow it anyway.

After my first year and a half in California, I met my friend Peter, who quickly became my best friend. At the time he worked for a supplement company. He introduced me to direct-to-consumer marketing. Once he was no longer with the company, we decided to start our own supplement brand.

The supplement company was much closer to my personal passions, so I jumped on it and handed over the old business to my brother. Peter and I invested everything we had and started working 80-hour weeks to try and make the business work.

We struggled for about 9 months working off of a couch in my apartment and almost failed and lost everything 3 times, but we did not give up.

After 9 months we started making a profit and paid ourselves 2k dollars each for the first official payment for the month. We invested everything we earned back in the company and lived on the bare minimum for another year. However, we continued to grow and scale the business, launching a beauty and cosmetics company the next year.

By 2016, we had 2 successful businesses under our belts. When it came time to discuss another business we wanted to launch, Peter mentioned his father had a PhD in genetics, and consumer DNA testing had just hit the mainstream.

I jumped on the genetics idea. It was right in line with my passions in health-care, and seemed like something that could make a truly valuable impact on the world. I became extremely passionate about launching the genetics business and took it on. After about a year and a half, I handed off the supplements side to my business partner to dedicate myself to CRI Genetics full-time.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

I have many people who’ve helped me but a few in particular stand out.

My brother got me started in business, but also gave me the room to fail or succeed on my own. I think this lesson of “sink or swim” is essential for entrepreneurship.

One of my best friends then, and business partner now, Peter Fedorov, got me started with marketing and direct response techniques, sharing his own knowledge as well as his favorite books and courses on the subject. I compare it to starting out with a basic wooden wheel, and suddenly the books that Peter suggested were like getting the blueprints to a BMW. It was a quantum leap in terms of how I understood business.

I am also a huge believer in biographies, as you can learn directly from some of the greatest people in history. Their wins and losses are laid bare for you to look at, and you can take in years of experience in a book that might only take you a few weeks to read. “Books are the cheat sheets to life” and they were my third mentor.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

One of our first beauty products was struggling to break even, and my business partner and I didn’t understand why. So, we set up calls with customers and prospects to understand which piece of the sales page didn’t resonate with them.

“This copy sounds like a man wrote it! I can’t identify with this,” was the most common piece of feedback we got.

Of course, the copy had been written by a man, without too much research into the customer’s mindset. It was a little embarrassing at the time, but definitely led us to focus on the customer and make sure our marketing approach resonated with them. This is a valuable lesson that I’ve taken to heart — our marketing efforts and launches always start with research and surveys. It’s also why the first pillar of CRI Genetics is “Customer First.”

The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?

Sure, I have a few key points to keep in mind.

Rule one: focus on learning, then don’t stop. Never stop learning.

Be passionate about what you do, because that’s the only way you will work hard enough.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Find the right people, build the team and hold on to them.

Focus on the bigger mission: you can’t always be motivated and excited every single day but considering and keeping the long-term mission in mind is what will drive you through the toughest times and make them more meaningful.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Billion Dollar Coach made a big impact on my management skills. At the time, my management style was fairly direct, aggressive and not always received well.

Billion Dollar Coach showed me a management style that I really liked. Essentially, it is about being a coach and guiding people with a lot of freedom instead of micromanaging them or being domineering. Once I started to adjust to this kind of management a lot of things became easier, and I became more fulfilled with the way the team began to interact with one another as well as with me. Results also followed.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

“If someone else did it we should have no problem doing it; if no one has done it, that’s all the more reason to do it.”

This is actually something I said frequently at the start of our company. If something is hard to do, but someone else has done it, then it must be possible. You should be confident in your ability to achieve something that someone else has done before you. If there is something nobody has ever done before, then it becomes an even more valuable contribution to the world — and there’s all the more reason to try and accomplish it!

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

The coolest project we’re working on now is OmniPGX, which is a product we soft-launched in late 2020 and are in the process of bringing to market.

The idea first arose from the realization that we now have this genetic data that no one has ever had access to before in human civilization. Specifically, there are numerous health conditions that have previously been accepted as inevitably difficult to deal with. Now that we do have the data, what is the biggest need we can solve with this new technology and data?

One of the biggest problems facing the medical industry today is medication errors, and one of the leading preventable causes of death is heart issues. Omni PGX tackles both of these problems by looking at the potential genetic response to, and metabolism for, some of the most common heart medications.

OmniPGx is a genetic test that gives patients and doctors information on how quickly they metabolize drugs based on their genetic makeup. We also give some information on risk-factors for cardiovascular health, like type 2 diabetes and familial hypercholesterolemia. We’re hoping that this early-warning functionality can help get users the treatment they need before complications arise. 
Knowing metabolism rates for drugs empowers patients by giving their doctors an idea of how they might respond to certain drugs. Drugs dosages are often “one-size fits all”, even though people with different genetic backgrounds respond differently to the same drugs. The doctor may choose to lower or increase the dose based on information from OmniPGx, or switch drugs entirely.

The goal is that doctors will be able to quickly and accurately prescribe the right medications to their patients. This will ideally help shorten lead times for correct medications and dosages, as well as hopefully save lives by getting patients the medications they need.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. This will be intuitive to you but it will be helpful to spell this out directly. Can you help explain a few reasons why it is so important to create good habits? Can you share a story or give some examples?

It’s very difficult to change the world with one singular act or effort; however, if you set good habits you can incrementally build towards something great. It’s like dividends building year over year with compound interest. The small habits might not move the needle on the day-to-day but can build into huge results.

Over a year, you can achieve great things through small daily habits.

One example is reading books — most of us avoid reading, as we’re tired after work, don’t have time before work, and probably are too busy with work during the day to sit down and read a book.

But if you set a habit of listening to audiobooks while driving instead of listening to music, you can get through more books than you probably would have read otherwise.

In a year I listen to an average of 18–25+ books just by listening to them on my drives. 15 minutes of listening each way to work is 30 minutes of reading in a day, which comes out to 150 per week, 600 per month, and about 120 hours of reading in a year — all in your morning commute.

I personally make an effort to sit down and read the books that are most important to me in order to get the maximum impact, but by supplementing with audiobooks I’m able to exponentially increase my reading. Over 5 years I’m able to look back at 100+ extra books I’ve read thanks to this daily habit during a time most of us think is a “waste” — our morning commute.

You can build an incredible knowledge base this way. My second favorite quote is that “books are the cheat sheets to life” as you can get the benefit of years of experience in a mere week or two of reading.

Speaking in general, what is the best way to develop good habits? Conversely, how can one stop bad habits?

There isarule of thumb based on books and research that in order to build a habit it takes 28 days, which I think is very true. Push yourself very hard the first and second week to build a habit. In the 3rd week it becomes easier, and in the 4th it becomes routine. Past that it’s important to just stay on the horse — beyond that it should be second nature. The first two weeks are critical, after which it becomes easier.

To break bad habits one can set punishments, but I don’t find this super effective. Instead, I think you can reward yourself for building better habits. There’s also a great way to prevent bad habits by identifying trigger points and cutting them off at the source.

Find the main bottleneck that leads to the bad habit and then avoid that specific trigger. For example, if you’re tempted when you pass cookies in the store, but say “no” when you pass them, they’re not there in your house to tempt you later on. You only have to say “no” once in the grocery store, rather than 5, 10, 15 times a day when they’re sitting there on your kitchen counter. You tax your own willpower less, yet the result is exactly the same — you not eating the cookies!

As a leader, you likely experience times when you are in a state of Flow. Flow has been described as a pleasurable mental state that occurs when you do something that you are skilled at, that is challenging, and that is meaningful. Can you share some ideas from your experience about how we can achieve a state of Flow more often in our lives?

It starts with discovering what you enjoy about your work and daily routines. If you’re passionate about something, use that passion and excitement to drive results, and feel good working harder and longer to get these results. When that passion appears, use it to its fullest!

99% of the time I prefer logical thinking, but when I’m passionate about something I always make sure to make use of that passion.

If you wake up at 3 AM and can’t sleep thinking about something for work or your goals, get up and start working on it. You will enjoy it, get more results, and you will feel more fulfilled!

One of the most surprising times I had was not being able to sleep because I wanted to wake up and make an investment, but I had to do due diligence and go through a 30+ page contract. I couldn’t review the contract during the regular workday as I’d been too busy with day-to-day responsibilities.

I was up at 3 AM and couldn’t sleep, so I got up and read through it. Before I started my day, I had all the questions written out, got legal feedback on them and was able to make the investment later that day.

I’ve never thought of contracts as exciting, but at that time I was really excited about getting this investment in and the contract was the last part of the process that I had to get through.

By 8 AM I was at work, the contract was signed, and I was full of energy!

Emotion and excitement have their place and the key is to lean in when you are truly excited about something.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would encourage everyone to have their DNA tested and make genetic screening a routine part of medical checkups. I think no doctor or patient should meet before their DNA has been reviewed. Going to the doctor without a DNA test is like trying to put an IKEA dresser together without the instructions.

Genetic testing can point you in the right direction holistically and help people live longer, healthier, happier, and more active lives.

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, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

There are too many to choose from, however I do have a few in mind.

I would truly enjoy…

· A future tech centered conversation with Elon Musk

· A conversation focused on long term decision making and investing with Warren Buffet,

· And a conversation about decision making and strategy with Bill Gates.

There are many more, but given the opportunity I would have these conversations in this order with these great human influencers.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

CRI Genetics has a regularly updated blog where we both cover genetics in the news as well as updates to our reports. You can read some of our work here.

I’m not the biggest fan of social media as I think real leaders should be doing things — not talking about what they’re doing. However, if there was interest, I would start sharing things via Twitter. https://twitter.com/alexmulyar

I’m very open to interviews and participating in conferences and dialogues about improving human life and pushing biotech forward.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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