Two things in Zeeshan Hayat’s DNA have shaped his future.
The first is a predisposition to diabetes, a disease that runs in the families of the Prizm Media CEO and his wife and co-founder, Karina Hayat.
“Being competitive was always in my genetics,” explained Hayat, who ultimately harnessed that innate drive to turn a part-time job in college into a health technology business that has helped more than 18 million people with diabetes.
Hayat was just seven years old when his mother passed away. His grandfather took an early retirement from a “very good job” of 22 years to move Hayat to Vancouver from Pakistan at the age of nine.
“He wasn’t poor, but we weren’t rich,” said Hayat, who, as an only child, grew up wanting a big family.
“That was something that I always missed in my life,” he explained. “I’m glad that I have three children now.”
Hayat’s early years were characterized by athletics and a remarkable level of discipline. The latter, along with willpower and patience, is something he cultivated through taekwondo, a martial art he earned a black belt in and competed at nationally.
The former was a kind of collegial competition. Instead of vilifying his opponents, Hayat took every opportunity to learn from better athletes. At school, he would seek out the best person to spar with; today, he goes biking with a cross-country cyclist who has competed in world championships.
“He would kill me in any downhill, but I’d still want to go out there and learn from him,” he explained. “That was the goal.”
One of Hayat’s earliest goals was to become an astronaut. When he turned 10, he wanted to be a fighter pilot. It wasn’t until his grandfather bought him his first computer when Hayat was about 12 that he discovered the internet and settled on becoming a business owner in some capacity.
The earliest iteration of the kind of entrepreneur Hayat would become can be seen in how he approached acquiring a car for when he turned 16.
Of course, he asked his grandfather first. “He said, ‘Well that’s great, but I won’t be buying you one,’” said Hayat with a smile.
So he bought and sold items on eBay (Nasdaq:EBAY). And by saving $1.50 from his $3 daily weekday allowance in high school, he accumulated $1,900 by his 16th birthday.
“Before school started in Grade 11, I had a car – a 12-year-old, 1989 Toyota Celica. That taught me a lot. It taught me how to save money, taught me how to just be patient.”
It was during high school Hayat met his wife, who serves as president of Prizm Media.
Today, the company helps connect certain patients with pharmacies that can remotely fill prescriptions. It also arranges to have the medication delivered directly to the patient’s home.
While Hayat’s passion for helping patients – and specifically diabetics – comes from his family history, the idea for Prizm was inspired by a part-time job Karina Hayat sought out while attending Douglas College to earn some extra income as she completed her nursing studies. She was selling products tied to a weight-loss program, and Zeeshan Hayat, who was studying business at the same school, helped her generate leads.
They were so successful at identifying potential customers that they pivoted to selling the leads to other salespeople.
“Within three months, we were actually generating more revenue selling the leads than actually running the business of selling the products,” recalled Hayat.
The experience set the couple down an entrepreneurial path in health technology. Hayat decided to forgo acceptance into Simon Fraser University’s business program and instead exited Douglas with an associate’s degree, going into the health and nutrition lead-generation business full time.
“We thought to ourselves, ‘If this doesn’t work out in three years, we’ll go back to school and do a master’s,’” Hayat said.
As it turned out, they didn’t need to.
“Our greatest success was to start the company with no experience, with no professional training,” he said. Hayat and his partner bootstrapped their company by putting $7,000 on a credit card and swore to do whatever it took to pay it off within 30 days.
“We used to get up at 3 o’clock in the morning to reset all our marketing ads so that the East Coast response is high, and we would get a whole bunch of orders by the time we woke up after going back to sleep,” he said. “My friends were out there being in their college days, going out, having fun; we were working those nights.
Prizm now has several brands under its umbrella dedicated to delivering medications or medical equipment directly to patients. The company is focused on the Canadian and U.S. markets and is eyeing expansion in the U.K., New Zealand and Australia. The company already has call centres in Mexico, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.
As the company grows, Hayat’s successes and ambition get bigger, but his discipline and competitive edge haven’t changed.
“I still strive to grow every day, learn something new every day, whether it’s personal or professional,” he said.
“I think that’s inside my DNA – to continue to learn and not be the smartest person in the room.” •
Join us to celebrate this year’s honourees at the 2018 BC CEO Awards November 15, 2018, hosted at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For tickets and event info, visit www.biv.com/ceo.