As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Pasha Hakimzadeh and Dr. Ben Reyhani.
With a mutual mission to improve people’s lives, Dr. Pasha Hakimzadeh and Dr. Ben Reyhani joined forces to put their USC School of Dentistry education to work. The Los Angeles-based duo are founders of six dental practices in the Southern California region in addition to being co-owners of the world renowned aesthetic dentistry practice, Apa Aesthetic Los Angeles in Beverly Hills. In addition to serving patients, the duo offer a dental management and marketing consulting arm that provides support to area dentists helping them further their customer base, grow their operations and enhance their marketing channels.
With their non-traditional approach to dentistry, Dr. Pasha and Dr. Ben have created a laid back luxurious experience for their patients combating the stigma of what once was revered through a lens of fear and discomfort. With the celebrated signature Smile Makeover and anti-aging treatments, they aim to restore confidence, happiness and long term health to their patients.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?
Dr. Ben: We met on the first day of dental school and had a group of friends that were considered the outsiders because we saw through the institutional bureaucracy of the school and the lack of training for real life scenarios. We were being taught by a group of dentists that mostly failed in the outside world therefore they went into academics. This wasn’t the case for everyone, but it was clear that most of the so-called leaders and educators didn’t have our best interest in mind. So when we came out we started to really educate ourselves by attending clinical courses taught by world class clinicians as well as business and leadership courses. We both worked for large corporations when we graduated and learned a lot about how we wanted to emulate as well as differ from them.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Dr. Pasha: I remember when Dr. Ben and I had decided to partner up and open our first dental office from scratch with a very limited budget, which I think was $70K (which was also our entire savings at the time). Somehow I convinced Ben that we needed to buy a used CAD/CAM machine for $25K so we could do our own crowns in-house without even having a single patient.
The main lesson I took away from that single event was to respect cash flow and control your desires. Sure, we all want fancy tools and we want to be at the cutting edge but this was a bad investment for us to spend ⅓ of our budget buying this type of equipment before we even opened our doors. By the time we opened our doors we had no money left for marketing.
Dr. Ben: When we opened our first office, we were both working full time at big dental corporations and we knew that it wasn’t going to be our long term goals, but neither one of us could afford to quit and do our own things so we spent every dollar we had saved on a little office on the back of a medical office. Our goal was to bring quality dentistry into areas that were mainly filled with low quality dental clinics. We did as much of the design ourselves, like painting the office and installing the computers and furniture, (we did most of it wrong, by the way, but we learned a lot in the process). For a good year and a half I was working 7 days a week at different places to keep us afloat. We struggled a lot in the beginning, trying to hire the right people and teach them how to handle things like insurance even though we had no idea ourselves. We hired and fired all the wrong people for a couple of years until we created the right team that shared our vision. I believe that the reason we were able to survive the beginning and even now, 10 years since our first office, is our true friendship and trust in each other, also our shared vision that keeps us going strong.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Dr. Pasha: I don’t have anything in particular. I try to keep up with the latest trends in my industry as a clinician but more importantly, I’m always trying to improve myself to be a better leader for my team and a better person for my family.
Dr. Ben: I’ve read several leadership books and business books but I find that the best teacher in life as in business is to actually do something and succeed or fail, lucky for us since we started small when we were younger without a lot on the line we were able to fail and grow when the stakes were much smaller, that’s something the business books can’t teach you. It is because of these past experiences that we are comfortable taking big risks like opening a cosmetic only practice in the heart of Beverly Hills and not only be able to survive during these crazy times, but to see growth.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Dr. Pasha: It was and still is pretty simple. Treat people like they are a member of your own family. Give them that kind of sincere attention. That voice has become our culture. Our goal is to be the most trusted dental advisors in our market which means we provide great customer service, we provide great quality dental work at an affordable price and we are transparent with cost.
Dr. Ben: Our vision when we started was to grow to a group of practices that had the benefits of large corporations but functioned essentially like a family practice with a personal culture that we were able to cultivate over the years. We could have grown faster at times but we know that building the right team takes time and nurturing, especially because our product is our people, so we have kept our growth steady and in line with our philosophy.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Dr. Pasha: Believe in your vision, your processes and your team
Dr. Ben: Systems are great but without the right people the systems are nothing, so we spend most of our energy on training and professional development.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Dr. Pasha: As a family my wife and I had to figure out how to balance work life at home while raising our little ones. Homeschooling and in general being present with them while staying on top of everything that was happening in the outside world. From closing our doors and cancelling patients appointments, to helping our staff who were relying on us for a direction, understanding risks, applying for loans and managing cash flow all while remaining positive and communicating hope to our staff to keep them going and making sure they know that we were all in this together. I think during this pandemic I realized the value of team culture, communication and relationship.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Dr. Pasha: The main challenge for us was the unknown. No one knew what was considered safe and what wasn’t so as you can imagine we had patients who were scared to come in for their appointments. Our staff was scared as well to put their own life at risk. In addition, because of the CARES act and unemployment benefits, we had staff that preferred to stay home instead of come back to work which made our revamping stage take longer than anticipated which ultimately affected our bottom line. We were able to pivot quickly and learn how to become more efficient with less staff. This also gave us clarity on what we stood for as an organization and who were our loyal team members who believed in what we were doing during the tough times
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Dr. Pasha: We had to make some adjustments as a family. My wife and I are business owners and prior to the pandemic, we had relied on my parents quite a bit to help with our childcare. Because my mom has an autoimmune disease and is considered high risk for contracting Covid, we no longer were able to access our former source of childcare. Now we FaceTime them daily or do weekly drive by’s so they can still see the kids and hopefully cope with some of the loneliness and anxiety.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
Dr. Pasha: For us the opportunity comes when more and more older dentists who were underperforming prior to Covid decide it’s the right time to sell their dental practices and retire. I think we want to be prepared so we can position ourselves to be ready to expand our network of office locations.
Dr. Ben: Due to the natural restrictions of Covid we have had to slow down our schedule and see less people per day, this has been a great blessing because our team has realized that it’s not about how many people you see but how you can maximise each opportunity, and the extra time allows us to reconnect with our patients in a way that can be lost when you get in the grind. We find that this time has made people more aware of their health and what really matters to them, so a lot of people are forgoing fancy non-essentials for physical health and beauty, this has been great for general practices and especially for our cosmetic brand.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Dr. Pasha: I think for the next year at least in the US people will continue to be divided on how they feel about covid but I’m expecting things to go back to normal by mid next year and Covid virus will become more controlled by vaccines and social distancing.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Dr. Pasha: I have put all my energy into improving the culture of our organization, breaking down our protocols and finding ways to up the ante when it comes to patient care and patient centered services.
Dr. Ben: A lot of what we are dealing with now is psychological, As a leader we can’t have any bad days, you do the worrying and planning before you get to the office, once there you have to give your staff the confidence that no matter what we will be able to not only survive but thrive. Our country has been through much worse times in the past and properly run businesses have been able to get through it by adapting to the times, we have many employees and their families that depend on us so failure is not an option.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Dr. Pasha: Identify your why and work on that. If you have a business that helps people, provides support and solves an issue you are always in business regardless of a pandemic or a down economy.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Dr. Pasha: I love Quotes that remind me to stay present and enjoy the journey…There are a ton out there
Dr. Ben: It’s a cliche but so many young dentists, my younger self included, are in such a rush to become famous or do things that are too technical compared to their skill set and they need to understand that you have to build the cornerstones first to build the pyramid to the top otherwise you are building a castle on a pile of sand. So the best quote is that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” and to “make sure you enjoy the journey” because there is no end goal, no matter where you are in your journey there will always be people doing something better than you and someone doing worse than you and none of that matters, I know that those are such overused quotes, but there is a reason why they are.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Dr. Pasha: They can get a glimpse of my world on my Instagram @doctorpashadds
Dr. Ben: You can follow me on Instagram @dr.benreyhani
To learn more about Dr. Pasha & Dr. Ben please visit www.smilemakersla.com
To learn more about Apa Aesthetic LA please visit https://www.apaaesthetic.com/team-la/