Since 1998, Alex Pollak worked as an emergency medical technician (EMT) in New York City as a side gig while pursuing his MBA in finance. He was a first responder during the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001. Yet as passionate as he was about helping people as an EMT, he never saw it as a full-time career—until a chance encounter on the subway changed his mind. A woman was looking for a last-minute medical service provider for a fashion show, and Pollak jumped on the opportunity.
Soon, Pollak realized there was an unmet need for medical services during big events, such as music festivals, fashion shows, sporting events and private celebrity parties. In 2011, he transitioned from a career in finance and launched ParaDocs Worldwide Inc., which set him on a whirlwind of unique experiences, from setting up mini-hospitals on-site at major musical festivals and MTV video shoots to a South Hampton celebrity wedding with gold-flaked desserts.
Today, ParaDocs has grown to provide medical services for an estimated 3,000 events a year and employs some 1,600 people, including 100 emergency room doctors—and is on track to hit close to $4 million in revenue in 2017. But it wasn’t necessarily an easy journey.
Here are Pollak’s top five tips for turning a side hustle you’re passionate about into a successful business.
Put in the extra time. Pollak says he had to pick up extra ambulance shifts to cover costs of equipment like defibrillators. “Funding my own business was the hardest part, and I had to put in a lot of overtime,” he says.
Build the right team. Aside from qualifications, Pollak explains that he looks for candidates “who are smiling the entire time during job interviews.” Often, his employees are helping someone with a blister on her foot or holding back someone’s hair while she’s sick, and it’s important that the staff is very personable, he explains.
Take risks. When Pollack was required to purchase a $10 million malpractice insurance policy for one major event, it was a huge financial risk. He estimated that he would have to book three big events for it to pay off—but the company landed only two that year. However, he landed more the following year, and that policy turned out to be a stepping stone for bigger contracts to come.
Think big. ParaDocs recently landed a contract to provide all medical care for New York’s Nassau Coliseum. Instead of focusing on one-off events, Pollak identified a need for his services at big-time venues, and made it happen.
Build not just a company, but a family. Pollak says his biggest accomplishments include “building a family" through his business, and “saving lives.” Since most of his employees are frequently on the road, many live together as roommates. “We found a house with a really big garage to store our medical equipment, and several of us moved in together,” Pollak says. With eight employees sharing living quarters, “it’s kind of like a dormitory.” He says the extra emotional support and friendship among employees is particularly important because of their field of work. "Our jobs are fun, but can get super scary pretty fast," he says, explaining that a patient can be chatting with you or singing along to a song, and then the music stops and they take a swing. "The emotional support is huge," Pollak says.