My passion for home cinema arose during a demonstration in a Hi-Fi shop shortly after my graduation from medical school in 1998. I took in my VHS copy of The Empire Strikes Back and I was simply blown away by the image projected onto the big screen with surround sound effects, sitting in a chesterfield armchair. I remember the experience vividly, thinking… “Wow… I’ve got to have this at home one day!”
During my training and career, I always tried to strike a balance between work and play. My favourite pastime was listening to dance music and watching movies – something that I developed a fondness of in my teens. I became an avid enthusiast for audio-visual technology during university days and would often visit Hi-Fi shops with my brother and save money to spend on upgrades at home on audio systems.
Over the last two decades, after spending lots of money on upgrades, attending numerous demonstrations, reading lots of magazines and online content, I too dreamt of having just the most awesome home cinema system that I could afford. That dream was partially fulfilled when my family and I converted our double garage into an award-winning home cinema in 2012. We had so much fun entertaining family and friends. It was something that was really special. However, when I say partially, it was like saving up to buy your first “decent” car – and then over the years, if you’re lucky enough to test drive more luxurious and powerful cars, your appetites and ambitions rise exponentially!
During this time, my roles and responsibilities as a General Practitioner running a practice, changed considerably over the years. Politics and economics became more apparent at the forefront of delivering care and this affected me personally. As a partner in a relatively busy practice with a high proportion of elderly patients and chronic diseases, the responsibilities of maintaining practice income based on quality of data was becoming overwhelming. I was losing touch with my patients as a sacrifice for ensuring that the data was being captured accurately and that endless lists of policies and procedures had every ‘T’ crossed and “i” dotted correctly. This was completely alien to what I had trained for in the first place. Sure, I was earning well from the practice…. But my passion and reasons for why I became a doctor were quickly diminishing. I often felt tired, disgruntled and resentful towards the system in which I was “trapped”.
This drove me to giving up my partnership so that I could breathe again. It was difficult for my family and colleagues to understand and I couldn’t articulate this particularly well. But I knew that it was the right decision for me. I sacrificed income for my time – time to reflect, time to exercise, time for family, more time for patients and choosing to work in a way that reflected my character and resuming that degree of autonomy that I sorely missed. This allowed me to regain confidence and passion for treating patients and improving my knowledge and skills using time that I had rather than squeezing it in for the sake of ticking boxes.
I also allowed myself to indulge in hobbies and passions which had remained dormant for most of my adult life. I always wanted to mix dance tracks on the decks and made a short attempt as a junior doctor – however, I never had the time or anyone to learn from (way before YouTube) so I abandoned it. Three years ago, I purchased a mixing controller and speaker set, followed “DJ TLM” on his YouTube channel and started mixing! As “djGekko”, I’ve uploaded quite a few mixes to my Mixcloud channel so that people can enjoy listening to them during their workouts and leisure.
I also started gym classes, going for the occasional run and ventured into working as a Private GP as well, providing home visits and telemedicine consulting. None of this was possible had I not made the change that I did.
It was also at this time that I had an epiphany. I wanted to fulfil my other dream. I wanted to be able to share my passion of home cinema and music using the very best audio systems that I had discovered during my journey, from the comfort of my home, amidst the very clients who were in the market for such home entertainment. I was privileged to be given the opportunity of representing and selling the most prestigious and technologically advanced audio systems in the world. An opportunity which was too good to ignore! And thus, Zebra Home Cinema was born in June 2019.
By chance, my brother-in-law put me in touch with Kaine Pritchett from Virtus Integration – our paths had crossed before 10 years ago at a Range Rover Sport enthusiast event. He had at least twenty years’ experience in smart home integration and installation of audio-visual systems but he had a break from this for a couple of years and had recently started back up again. After an initial meeting and exploration of what we both wished to achieve, we decided to join forces – I would concentrate on generating client interest and sales of audio equipment and he would provide all the installation work. And so, the association between Zebra Home Cinema and Virtus Integration was established.
I took out a business loan as well as investing my savings into redecorating the family entertainment lounge and installing an outstanding audio-visual system, designed to impress and entice. I printed five hundred invitation letters and signed them all before delivering each and every one to local residents. I acquired my first client within three weeks because they liked the paper that I used to print on!
The thought of running my own business in an industry of which I had little knowledge other than as a consumer, was daunting. There was so much to learn. I had a lot of support from my distributor, Rob Sinden from Gecko Home Cinema. He sent me a list of reading material to get to grips with the basics of audio technology and I spent a lot of time familiarising myself with the different set-ups that he had developed over the years.
Rob also recommended that I join CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design and Installation Association) – this was pivotal for two reasons. Firstly, they offer a tremendous amount of support and educational material which was crucial for me. I attended their Home Cinema Design course and also enrolled in the volunteer training programme to provide presentations to interior designers and architects. Secondly, I felt that becoming an official member from a business perspective provided an element of professional kudos and responsibility. This concept was familiar to me in my medical career, being a licensed practitioner with the General Medical Council as well as taking postgraduate exams to become a member of the Royal College of GPs. This concept would apply to most trades and organisations and instils a certain level of reputability and trust for clients.
During this time, I also attended various business seminars and completed online tutorials. This included a three-day intensive course on social media and branding and I also joined a twelve-month business academy programme, covering a whole host of topics as well as business mentoring and support. There was so much to learn but this really helped me understand how certain processes worked, particularly in the current digital age and social media explosion. All of these concepts were alien to me as a GP in my day job but eventually a lot of it started making sense. With some expert help and advice from my peers, I had a website designed, set up social media profiles, started a dedicated YouTube channel and began networking in person as well using LinkedIn and other referrals to widen my connections.
I was already in the process of inviting friends and family for music and film demonstrations but I now I had developed the confidence of inviting members of the public as well as musicians, producers, interior designers, architects and anyone who could appreciate and connect with what I had established.
Establishing and conducting my own business has many similarities to my education and career as a doctor:
- I embarked upon a parallel journey of learning and professional development in another field.
- My consulting experience in dealing with patients’ concerns and expectations and sharing patient-centred management options is very similar to the approach I take with clients.
- It is crucial to maintain those client relationships based on trust and provision of an excellent level of service just as I would want to treat my patients and be treated myself.
- During my career, I have always worked amongst teams and peers, gaining valuable insight, expertise and feedback along the way. I have continued to adopt the same approach in establishing similar connections within the audio-visual industry.
- “Closing the deal” or “the sell” is in fact very similar to negotiating a plan of management or offering different treatment options. Sometimes patients expect me to make the decision for them and I will do so taking their feelings and concerns and those of their loved ones into careful consideration. And when something is not available, not possible or unrealistic, being able to respond and explain this in a sensitive but clear way is also a skill in itself. (At this point I have to express my thanks to Ryan Serhant and Fredrik Eklund, whose books I loved and from which I gained a lot inspiration and enthusiasm).
- We need to maintain the highest ethical standards in all aspects of life, personally and within any profession or field we work in. We very much depend on feedback, dealing with complaints appropriately, admitting our mistakes, learning from them and establishing measures and procedures to avoid them in future.
- At the basis of it all, it’s so important to maintain the passion, the drive and the fire in one’s belly to succeed – fulfilling that vision or dream – having faith and hope in oneself and one’s abilities and making the most of every given opportunity. Essentially being grateful for one’s health and making the most of each day.
It has been one year since I started my business and together with Virtus Integration. We have successfully completed two projects and are due to embark on our third. Business is gaining traction and I am receiving more enquiries. The excitement and sense of achievement I feel upon completion of a project and surpassing the client’s expectations, is just priceless.
As a result, I feel invigorated and refreshed and this in itself positively impacts upon my professional role as a doctor. It helps me to maintain the enthusiasm and commitment to serving my patients in the best form of myself.
Whilst I made some bold life changes and decisions to achieve my goals, one thing is for sure. None of this would have been possible or at least very difficult, without the constant support of my family and close friends. Therein is the greatest blessing for which I am eternally grateful.