Being prepared isn’t just about rehearsing your pitch or bullet points to refer to. Understanding your audience is an often-overlooked concept. Knowing who will be attending, and what they are most concerned with, will ensure that you deliver a well-received and targeted presentation. If they are concerned with bottom line growth, keep that in mind when you prepare, so you can speak to that priority. If you imagine that they would be most concerned with resource allocation, provide a request coupled with a solution. Tailor fit your presentation to what the audience would most likely respond to. This will convey to them that you understand the business and that your thought process aligns with theirs.
As a part of our series about “Optimal Performance Before High-Pressure Moments”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sumant Vasan.
Sumant Vasan is the Director of Customer Acquisition and E-commerce Marketing for Confirm BioSciences, a leading health screening company based in San Diego, California, that has been voted one of Inc. Magazine’s Best Workplaces for 2 years running. He oversees all customer acquisition efforts at Confirm and has helped the company grow from not just a health screening juggernaut, but also into a leading authority in the COVID-19 testing space. He previously headed up marketing efforts at i-Showcase Inc, the leading web agency for luxury jewelers and watch retailers and brands. Sumant is completely self-taught and has moved through the ranks, from intern to senior management. He has helped many businesses increase efficiency and revenue in short periods of time and continues to be an industry leader in digital marketing strategy and execution. He specializes in Search Engine Optimization, Paid Media, and Growth Hacking. In his free time, he enjoys traveling, spending time with his 2-year-old Labrador and wife, and is a Lakers/basketball fanatic.
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?
Probably your typical immigrant story. My parents immigrated to the United States from India in the 80s and worked extremely hard to ‘make it’ in a new county. They were very disciplined and valued education and knowledge above all. I think watching my parents work so hard instilled in me a sense of appreciation for what it takes to succeed. My sister came along a few years after and is the light of my life. She and I have so much in common. I am extremely proud of her successes as a JD and continue to be inspired by her growth.
As a child, I was always involved in sports and played on our high school basketball and tennis teams. I enjoyed the competition, which has carried over into my work life. I tend to be quite hard on myself, but only for the sake of accountability.
What or who inspired you to pursue your career as an entrepreneur or business leader? We’d love to hear the story.
I think this goes back to the influence of my parents and family in general. I come from a family of overachievers which always pushed me to be better. I also think my independent spirit and deeply ingrained competitive nature has kept me focused on learning. I think there was a point where the learning stopped, and was replaced with complacency, which caused a bit of frustration and lack of motivation. I think reading self-help books and speaking with trusted advisors was crucial to getting back to the quest for knowledge and self-betterment.
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?
This is something that is definitely done by the committee. There are so many influences that helped me along the way. Internships, mentoring, and the wealth of information available online today, played a crucial role in my development. I continue to follow some prominent figures in my industry, such as Neil Patel, and Marie Haynes, but I also appreciate the occasional Zig Ziglar motivational quote. In addition, my mother is a strong woman who is extremely supportive and is a great source of inspiration. She has worked hard to become a force in the e-learning and training space and has created programs for some of the country’s most prominent health systems. Her dedication to her craft is astounding and has laid the foundation for my continued growth. It’s funny that the people that you’ve fought with your entire life, whether it be due to typical teenage behavior or varying perspectives, tend to be your biggest guiding forces.
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?
Mistakes are part of the learning process, and I am a firm believer that if you take a reasonable lesson away from the experience, then it was valuable. I think the most consistent mistake I have made is to stop believing in myself. I am self-taught in my craft, and sometimes being surrounded by academically trained professionals can be intimidating. I have often found myself questioning my own abilities, but when I look back at my successes, dedication and hard work, I realize that sometimes the best education is perseverance and experience. Never discount your experience and attitude. Believe, work hard, and you will be amazed at the results.
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?
I think you nailed it, dedication. It takes long hours and a will to solve problems. I remember when I started my own agency. A normal day was staying up until 3 am and waking up at 7 am daily. If I wasn’t scouring the internet for the latest techniques, I was communicating with team members in Ukraine or Bangladesh. I would manage the accounts of 9 clients all by myself and had 2 conversations per week with each of them since they were smaller businesses, which typically require the most reassurances.
I would highly recommend becoming familiar with all areas of your industry, enough to understand and identify issues, but definitely specialize in one or two areas. Be the best in what you enjoy, and hire or work with others who are better at their respective specialties than you are. No one can be phenomenal at everything- the key is to surround yourself with likeminded people who are great at what they do. Also, trust in your team. I think one thing I’ve noticed is that some leaders, managers, or supervisors tend to want to micro-manage, which severely stifles the type of environment required for great success and growth.
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?
I love Ken Follet’’s Pillars of The Earth. It is a tremendously long novel but was addictive to say the least. It really portrayed a period in which life was much more difficult, but where a singularity of focus was the tying bond. I highly recommend it if you have the patience to read through a near 1000-page epic.
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
‘The Struggle is Part of The Story’. We have all gone through some type of hardship, whether situational, self-induced, mental, or emotional. It has been important for me to accept those experiences and learn whatever lessons they had to offer. To understand that those experiences played an irreplaceable role in who I am today. Never regret your past, well at least not too much, and know that the universe, God, or some spiritual rightness has you right where you are supposed to be at the right time.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I am currently working on a rollout campaign to market a new COVID-19 Antigen Test that Confirm BioSciences is offering. I don’t think I need to dive into much detail as to why this will make a profound impact on detecting and limiting the spread of the pandemic we are in the midst of. Being able to dependably test for the virus at its various stages is critical to curbing the spread.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. As a business leader, you likely often face high stakes situations that involve a lot of pressure. Most of us tend to wither in the face of such pressure and stress. Can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to cope with the burden of stress?
- Preparation and confidence are key. Firstly, I always remind myself that I am in a potentially high pressure/high stakes situation because I am in a position that justifies my ability to participate. Never forget, you have been ‘invited’ to present or take part in an important scenario because you are the most qualified to do so. That helps to relieve a lot of the self-doubt that sometimes seeps through. Yes, it’s normal to envision how it should go, and to stay stuck on your perceived weaknesses, but as long as you cement the notion that you are here for a reason, and you are qualified to speak, half the pressure is lifted.
- Being prepared isn’t just about rehearsing your pitch or bullet points to refer to. Understanding your audience is an often-overlooked concept. Knowing who will be attending, and what they are most concerned with, will ensure that you deliver a well-received and targeted presentation. If they are concerned with bottom-line growth, keep that in mind when you prepare, so you can speak to that priority. If you imagine that they would be most concerned with resource allocation, provide a request coupled with a solution. Tailor fit your presentation to what the audience would most likely respond to. This will convey to them that you understand the business and that your thought process aligns with theirs.
- Metrics. Have numbers that you can speak to that have been vetted. The last thing you want to do is to provide statistics or analysis that is not accurate. Do your homework, think about relevancy, delivery, and solution-based proposals. Think about what you are there to do, and paint a comprehensive picture, without rambling. Being concise and laser targeted will always make the right impression and highlight your ability to focus and not waste everyone’s time.
- Also, be ready to answer questions. Expect the types of questions you would ask someone else presenting the same topic. Be confident, prepare, support it with data, and most of all, don’t overshoot. Be likeable.
Aside from being able to deal with the burden of stress, can you share with our readers 3 or 4 strategies that you use to optimize your mind for peak performance before high pressure, high stress situations?
- I never walk into a meeting having just reviewed notes. At this point, preparation should be complete- now it’s about clearing the mind and loosening up. I like to listen to mindless music. Something with a lot of bass that drowns out my own thoughts. I also drink half a glass of water. Simple, but important. Something about a quick gulp of room temperature water helps to calm the blood. Besides, the last thing you want is to have a dry mouth when it’s your turn to speak.
- Lastly, I revisit my previous point of confidence. I remind myself why I have been invited in the first place. Although preparation is important, confidence is what takes it home. If you believe in yourself and what you are saying, it pervades the room. However you wish to do this, do it. Self-affirmation, reminding yourself of past successes and dressing for the occasion all make a difference. If you look good, you feel good.
Do you use any special or particular breathing techniques, meditations or visualizations to help optimize yourself? If you do, we’d love to hear about it.
I typically take a few deep breaths to slow my mind down. Not always successful, but the action of actually doing it, helps in its own way. Mindful breathing, with purpose, distracts the mind. I don’t try to visualize much; I tend to prefer to enter the room with no expectations other than to deliver a message.
Do you have a special technique to develop a strong focus, and clear away distractions?
One of the challenges of working in a fast-paced environment is being able to set aside time to focus on items that will move the needle. Multi-tasking, though necessary at times, is the antithesis of focus. There are days when I must float around from one campaign to the next or audit the results of others. Sounds efficient right?
I try to schedule a block of time daily to spend on projects that require deep focus. Those which will have a real impact to the bottom line and move the business forward. When those time blocks come up, I sign off from Slack, Google Chat, Skype, email, and switch my phone to silent. For me, being in the zone is pretty serious. I am also one of those people that needs complete silence when in this deep focus state, so no radios, TVs, nothing.
We all know the importance of good habits. How have habits played a role in your success? Can you share some success habits that have helped you in your journey?
Routine plays its part in success for sure, but I have to admit, I was far more disciplined in my earlier days. I consider myself to be a bit freer spirited now. I tend to get absorbed in the task at hand which does bring about a certain level of focus. My path was definitely forged with a strong sense of routine and scheduling. Not only has it helped me read through the thousands of blog posts and tutorials that have led to eventual success, but it has also enabled me to carve out a bit of free time now. Although still a work in progress, time management is something I think we all need to pay attention to. Some days are better than others, but I think the most impactful thing I do to maintain a sense of purpose is taking time off. Traveling, which I love to do, gives me a chance to experience different cultures, ideals, and food! After stepping away for a period, I am able to reconnect and refocus with a return to purposeful work. Also, after returning from a hiatus, I am able to remind myself of the big picture and strategize from the top down.
What is the best way to develop great habits for optimal performance? How can one stop bad habits?
There is no substitute to action. Act your way into good behavior is the mantra, and I find this to be extremely effective. By staying in action, you eventually train your mind to behave and think in a more efficient way- given that your actions align with the overarching results you intend to achieve. Bad habits are typically cultivated when you don’t take a step back to occasionally reevaluate the purpose and goal of any given initiative. A consistent and regular cycle of stop analysis is healthy and ensures that you are still headed down the right path. I urge people to question their motives. To question their work to determine whether it still fulfills the goal in mind. I practice this regularly, and oftentimes am able to identify, quite early on, when something has taken a trajectory that is contradictory to the original form of the project.
As a business 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?
I think that in an ideal situation, we would all love to remain in a constant state of positive Flow because we do what we truly enjoy. In reality, there are many aspects of one’s daily grind that might not be quite so enjoyable. For me, I always try to bring it back to buying into the vision. Clearly define the vision and accept that each step along the way feeds into that vision and expected outcome. This ‘buy-in’ allows you to push through the less engaging aspects of your work, with an understanding of its place in the process.
If this self-calibration is done regularly, it becomes a habit that leads to a big picture view, with all the details leading up to a successful launch or outcome. You can call this a Flow with highs and low, but nevertheless, still a Flow.
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.
At Confirm BioSciences, one thing that I am extremely proud of is our commitment to the community and giving back. Corporate social responsibility is not just a buzz term but should be something that originates from a place of gratefulness and compassion. When you grow as a company, it can be difficult to take your foot off the pedal and take time out to remember that it wasn’t always this way, it wasn’t always as successful.
A company culture, if not just the human aspect of kindness and compassion should be woven through the fibers of life. I urge other companies to enact a program of not only giving back but one which involves their employees. Encourage team members to volunteer and seek out opportunities to better humanity and the communities they live in. Donate not only a portion of revenue but time. Pass out lunches at homeless shelters, clean up the beaches, prepare kits when needed for disaster-struck areas, give animals at shelters the love they deserve and cherish. It starts with us. If your company doesn’t have programs in place to give back, speak to your human resources department, and I can guarantee you that if enough people bring it up, it will happen. Confirm BioSciences is very proactive when it comes to community efforts, which is definitely a source of pride for me.
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 🙂
I would have to say Mark Cuban. I love his cynical nature, but also his penchant for telling the truth, however brutal it may be. I think his brain is wired differently, but I find that he exudes a sense of compassion that is often overlooked. I would love to pick his brain about life, motivation, and strategy. He is very strategic with his funding, on Shark Tank of course, and I often wonder what his thought process might be when he evaluates projects to undertake.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The normal channels. You can find me at ConfirmBioSciences.com, but I have just started a personal blog (very recently) to present topics around marketing, growth hacking, and lead generation. I will definitely mix that content up with travel escapades and the occasional philosophical discussion to keep it interesting. Definitely LinkedIn as well.
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.