Stick to your vision — there are many shiny objects that can distract you from your purpose, derailing the initial reason you started the business. As the CEO, my goal is to plant the vision and ensure that every team member marches in that direction.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Suggs.
Andrew Suggs is the CEO and founderof Live Chair– one of the industry’s premier barber reservation software providers that has evolved to provide accessible and affordable health screenings in the barber chair. Prior to Live Chair, he held various senior executive sales roles managing and overseeing multimillion-dollar books of business. He earned his bachelor’s from an HBCU, Claflin University, and MBA degree from Eastern University.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
As a boy growing up on the south side of Chicago, Andrew Suggs found himself missing the guiding light during his formative years, as his father, who was struggling with addiction and imprisonment, was not able to help his boy become a man.
Missing out on the crucial conversations that every young man needs, Andrew started seeking out new outlets, and soon realized that while he didn’t have a father figure to rely on, he had a strong community to lean into. His family, his church, and local barbershop (which he affectionately refers to as the “Black Man’s Country Club”) became the three main pillars in helping him lay down the foundations for his life.
Early on, he recognized that the barbershop was a unique social space where men came together to open up and be honest with one another in a safe space. This was an opportunity to receive mentorship, encouragement, and empowerment. It was a place of escape, a place of knowledge, and a place to have those crucial conversations that Andrew needed the most.
Once his father was released from prison, they began to build on their relationship, but shortly after, his father was diagnosed with a heart condition — had he received early screening and treatment, could this condition have been prevented? While doing research, Andrew learned about the alarming gap in the life expectancy of African American men and the general population. Reports showed that these men would die approximately five years earlier and had 45% higher cases of hypertension overall. The simple reason to these unsettling figures was the distrust these men felt towards the traditional healthcare system, and subsequently the lack of preventative screenings and treatments.
Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is the highest form of research.” This simple phrase embraces the idea that in order to make change, people need to see beyond the evident to find new solutions. Andrew felt a spiritual pull to be part of something greater than him and decided to harness the power of the importance of human ties found in a barbershop to put accessible and affordable health service screening in the hands of every African American man. Thus, Live Chair, Inc was born.
It’s the simplest ideas that yield the greatest results. Andrew’s foundation equipped barbers with blood pressure monitors and information provided by medical partners, and simply using the trusted environment of the barbershop, allowed for preventative care and crucial conversations to be introduced to save lives. Andrew’s passionate drive to make a difference in these men’s lives, is a call to action for anyone who has ever dreamed of being part of something that can change the world. While he is on a mission to make a difference locally, his ambition will end up making a difference globally.
The recent loss of his own father has made Andrew’s passion for this cause grow even stronger and is set on elevating barbers into becoming not only leaders in their community but also lifesavers for those who sit in their chairs. He’s on the path to reach men and save lives in the most unexpected of ways.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We have a unique way to influence an under-engaged minority population better than the current health system and health plans, leading to lower cost, improve health outcomes and greater patient satisfaction.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Believing that the healthcare industry thinks and behaves like traditional industries. Not really funny, but stressful, so laughing about these things made it funny. It’s important to speak with all stakeholders (barbers, clients/patients, health plans and providers) to better understand their needs versus operating on assumptions.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
My investors. Despite a few of them not possessing the same hue as me, they bought into our mission so much that I now consider them brothers in this fight to reverse the plagues that have affected communities of color. Not to be outdone, my wife has been my biggest support system as she’s seen the toil I experience day-to-day and has encouraged me to think about the greater mission — helping people of color live longer and healthier. There have been several times I wanted to abandon this mission, but continual reminders (from the parties aforementioned) that this company is bigger than my feelings has propelled me to delve into this journey deeper.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
COVID has forced many industries or markets to adapt or change to reflect the new reality. In healthcare, it has compelled patients, healthcare providers, healthcare systems and health plans to quickly accommodate more virtual or remote care, and healthcare services to be delivered where people are living their lives, not just in legacy medical encounters. People and the healthcare system are now collaboratively addressing many healthcare needs outside traditional healthcare settings, like on a videoconference consultation or during a barbershop appointment. That was a positive disruption or adaptation.
Positive disruption looks like health screenings, preventive care and connections to the right healthcare services, in the right setting by the right level health care provider, is happening better when we incorporated our services into the routines of bi-weekly haircuts. This is an example of positive disruption, as the health system has failed the population we’re serving, and we’ve used this as fuel to reverse the curse.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1. Discovery. Stay the course. Stick to your vision. Discovery — because your assumptions are usually wrong. The best thing you can do is talk to people and see what matters to them, then adjust your plans to fit their worldview
2. Stay the course — Running a startup is extremely hard. Those who preserve usually experience the success humans laud.
3. Stick to your vision — there are many shiny objects that can distract you from your purpose, derailing the initial reason you started the business. As the CEO, my goal is to plant the vision and ensure that every team member marches in that direction.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
This is our secret sauce, so not comfortable sharing.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
Virality. See this video launching soon. (Please email [email protected] for the updated video link before publishing. Thank you!)
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I read a lot of material by Seth Godin. His material resonates because it prompts you to think deeper about your ‘why’ while also providing creative energy to craft remarkable products and services that lead to the change you desire to see.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel” as a leader, this quote will determine if people follow me on this journey, through all my imperfection or jump ship to perceived greener pastures. The old adage holds true — treat others how you want to be treated.
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? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Black health matters. My father passed from a condition that was largely preventable. The nation needs to consider alternative methods of healthcare delivery; this is our aim at Live Chair Health.
How can our readers follow you online?
Subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on all social media outlets (Instagram, Facebook, & Twitter) @livechairinc
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!