Being a founder, entrepreneur, or a business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully
Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur“ we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Amer Alnajar.
Amer Alnajar, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer and Co-founder of Vytalize Health, a new kind of Accountable Care Organization powering primary care practices with bold financial incentives and smart technology. Vytalize helps over 600 providers and manages more than $1 billion in medical spending.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Amer Alnajar: I have been good friends with my co-founder, Faris Ghawi, for many years before the start of Vytalize Health. It happened to be that he was in the right area, at the right time. We both agreed that healthcare isn’t working and that there is a lot of room for improvement. People weren’t looking at the patient holistically. With me being a physician, I also knew that the delivery of healthcare needed a lot of improvement. We decided to do something about it even though the initial idea wasn’t what Vytalize Health is today. The trick is to continue to improve upon your vision as you learn more and get exposure. From that moment on, we expanded and took the complete value-based approach with our accountable care organization.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
Amer Alnajar: I’ve always been entrepreneurial from the perspective that I like to do things differently. I don’t want to copy and paste what everyone else has done before me. Growing up, I used to test things out differently and analyze the outcomes based on the changes. I’ve always had that curiosity. However, you continue to develop upon it throughout your career and your experience. You improve and learn other skills based on your entrepreneurial spirit and all the challenges that build you into a better entrepreneur.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Amer Alnajar: Both of my parents. My father is a physician, and he has always supported me in every endeavor and business idea. I would always fear failing after gaining his support for my ideas, but even when I did fail, he would still be there for me and say, “who cares if you fail?” I’ve always had a lot of encouragement to take the risk and do something new and different.
My mother was also always there to support me emotionally and reminded me to always try my best at anything I do. I’m very thankful for their support.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Amer Alnajar: The thing that makes Vytalize stand out is that nothing is ever too big or too small. We never look at something and say, “We can’t impact this because it is out of our wheelhouse.” We always try to do the best we can to come up with solutions. We have gone a long way since our establishment. We’re trying to do things outside of a traditional doctor’s office because we always put the patient at the core of what we do to get fully holistic care.
Another thing that makes us different is our company culture and how we work with our employees. We don’t like to pigeonhole people in certain positions just because of their degrees or backgrounds. We judge people based on their character, professionalism, and merit rather than their degrees or things of that nature.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Amer Alnajar: I think it’s hard to narrow it down because it’s a blend of many different things. I think some of the more essential areas needed for being a business leader are;
You need to have that intellectual curiosity. Be curious about doing things differently and not just copying and pasting what society does. Otherwise, you only get these incremental improvements. That’s not how you get that transformative change.
It’s critical to have strong communication skills. The way you talk with an investor is different from how you speak to a customer, employee, or board member. You need to be able to adapt depending on the receiver. We’re all human beings, and the base of any relationship is communication.
Last but not least, it’s all about hard work and patience. For example, as a student, if you work hard for your tasks, you get an “A” on your exam, and that could take a few weeks or a couple of months tops. That window between hard work and gratification is relatively short. But when you’re a business leader, that window grows exponentially. You could work hard as a business owner for years and not receive any appreciation. Dealing with problem after problem before you see any positive return requires time and effort.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
Amer Alnajar: “Never give up.” Sometimes your initial idea isn’t the right one. You will still have entrepreneurs continue pushing a service or product that doesn’t have a good market fit. You shouldn’t just give up and abandon your ideas quickly, but it’s also good to be fluid and flexible, take feedback from the market, and adjust your offering
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Amer Alnajar: Establishing a good work culture requires thinking of how you would like to be treated and applying that with your leadership style. During my medical career, I had bosses that I felt were unfair in certain situations and caused me to feel bad about myself. When I became a leader, I wanted to make sure that I never made anyone feel bad. It all comes back to communication. You have to be able to communicate with your staff efficiently because everyone’s style is different. I think you have to be a good listener and try to empower your employees because each employee could become either your most significant asset or your biggest liability, depending on how much you empower them and listen.
Lastly, once you have employees working with you, don’t be scared to reposition them based on their interests. Sometimes we’ve hired folks for certain positions but realized later that they might be better fitted for another position they’ve expressed interest in. I’ve noticed that builds a positive culture because moving an employee to an area they feel more passionate about is a massive win.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Amer Alnajar: To be a person of your word. A lot of people in this day and age over embellish what they do. Eventually, you notice they are underperforming in what they stated they could do, which creates disappointment. If you say you’re going to do something, make sure it gets done. I think trust is critical.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Amer Alnajar: Not listening to their staff and not empowering their team to succeed by putting them in a better position. A lot of the stuff that we hit on earlier, like not being willing to change and being too rigid in their vision. Sometimes it’s good to be fluid, whether it’s with your employees or the market in general.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Amer Alnajar: My mother always used to tell me growing up that it’s a lot easier being an employee than being a business owner. You’re shielded from a lot of the significant stressors. If you do your job and show up, you should get your paycheck. That could never be further from the truth for entrepreneurs. As an entrepreneur, it’s always highs and lows. You always think that when you achieve your next goal, you’ll be set, but the truth is, you’re probably never fully set.
As a business leader, for the most part, you’re not only responsible for yourself, but you’re responsible for everyone within your company.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
Amer Alnajar: I feel the most excited when delivering clinical care to our patients or practices, and you see people truly benefiting. Knowing there’s a possibility that you’re positively influencing society by bringing better care creates a tremendous high for me because my goal has always been to help people. I think every business leader must ground their emotions in their effort rather than their outcomes. That’s the only way you get off that emotional roller coaster.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- To mentally keep reinforcing that the most important thing is your effort. “Did you do your job?” Try to ignore real-world outcomes. It takes a lot of time and practice, but it goes a long way because now you’re focused on areas within your control.
- Develop a social structure, whether it’s your parents, kids, or friends you can talk to outside of work. You must be able to connect yourself back to planet earth. When you’re a business owner, you’re so deep into your company and what you’re trying to do that it’s easy to lose track of real life. You need to be able to pull out every once in a while.
- Even if you’re going through a hard time, keep yourself grounded by giving gratitude. Be thankful that you have the health to work, the family and support to lean on, and that you have an opportunity to have a business. There are many people in the world that, despite what they want, are unable to start their own business.
- Be a well-rounded person. I know most people pride themselves on their ability to work 100 hours a week, they don’t take days off, and they don’t go on vacation. For me, I find that to be quite short-sighted. You have to understand that what you’re doing is a marathon and not a sprint. I think you need to be a multi-dimensional person to be a successful entrepreneur, and the only way you could do that is by having other areas in your life outside of work to help pull you out. When you’re hyper-focused on what you’re dealing with, you forget the big picture sometimes, like family, health, spirituality, and love. Your output as a business owner is a combination of two things: how much effort you put into it multiplied by your efficiency and creativity.
- It’s good to play things out like, “what’s the worst that could happen?” 99% of the time, chances are you’ll still be able to live and fight another battle another day. Just understand it’s just another day, another effort, and to keep moving forward.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Amer Alnajar: I think resilience is a combination of patience and curiosity. Someone who is stuck on a problem who can’t get out of it yet has the patience to continue working and interest to try other approaches. With time, you either overcome it, change, or adapt to it.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
Amer Alnajar: In general, working hard when things aren’t going your way and being frustrated thinking, “why didn’t this work out?” Down the line, you realize it was for your benefit. A lot of times, when you meet an obstacle, the human condition is designed to hate this obstacle and ask, “why is this slowing me down?” However, when you restructure your brain to look at it as an opportunity to become better, it changes the game. I think that’s just life in general, not just business.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Amer Alnajar: In general, I agree that a positive attitude can positively impact your client or your team because people try to mirror you. I’ve noticed it a lot when I have problems with a client or employee. Rather than confronting them with “hey, this is what you did wrong,” you can come at it from a positive perspective, saying, “I appreciate what you’ve been doing, but we would rather it be done this way.” When you explain your view, you get a client or employee who feels like you are paying attention to them and care for their well-being. Meanwhile, when you approach people with a negative mindset, people tend to shut down, and they don’t want to communicate anymore. I think that makes a huge difference.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Amer Alnajar: I don’t have a specific favorite quote. You just have to be willing to learn, ready to change, willing to be flexible, humble yourself, and not let egos get in the way. There’s no quote I read every day to do this.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Amer Alnajar: You can connect with me on LinkedIn at: www.linkedin.com/in/ameralnajar
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with
this. We wish you continued success and good health!