This month TBHF is spotlighting Mohammad Elashi, a 2019 Alumni from University of Texas at Dallas. We asked Mohammad to share some of his best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
You have founded four different businesses, all while completing your undergraduate and MBA studies. Can you tell us about the origins of your entrepreneurial journey?
I was a competitive soccer player all through high school and into college. Playing at a competitive club level, I typically had two practices daily, playing for multiple teams, while balancing schoolwork and family. It was my entire life. Unfortunately, due to a series of injuries, I had to stop playing during college.
Suddenly, I had all this time, passion, and energy but no outlet for it. Because of my injuries, I had spent a great deal of time in physical therapy, so much so, that it had begun to feel like a second home to me. And so the idea to start my own Pediatric Speech and Occupational therapy business naturally developed from the combination of all this new-found time and freedom, as well as personal experience and connection. My younger brother had been in speech and occupational therapy, which influenced my decision to focus specifically on pediatric care.
Once I had the idea, it became an obsession. The “sport” of building my own business replaced the sport of soccer. I wanted to learn as much as possible, so I secured an unpaid internship to get first-hand experience. After completing the internship, I felt like I was ready to go out on my own. In hindsight, that was perhaps a little ignorant. But I think without that ignorance and confidence, I may have never taken the leap and actually started it. I quickly realized I did not know everything, but I jumped into it headfirst and taught myself.
At just 20 years old, how did you know where to start? Did you have a mentor? How did you approach these obstacles that face so many early-stage entrepreneurs?
For some, mentorship can be extremely helpful. But for me, that wasn’t the path I chose and how I felt I could learn the best. My focus was getting my firsthand knowledge and to build my business. Because I was looking at going into a very niche market, pediatric speech and occupational therapy, there wasn’t a vast wealth of people who could advise me on that. It comes down to being passionate and persistent. If I can start a business with just 6 months of internship experience and $5,000 in my pocket at just 20 years old, it goes to show that anyone with enough passion can start their own business too. I was able to get contracts with all of the major insurance companies, secure a 900 square foot 1-year lease contract without a co-signer, and open a clinic all on my own.
I think the key to my initial success was having realistic expectations and strategizing for long-term growth. My first rental property was a very small clinic that needed a lot of fixing up. But you have to start somewhere. We worked on building our team and establishing our presence and after a year, we outgrew the space and were able to upgrade into a larger, better facility. That strategy and patience is how I was able to scale the business. After patiently proving the concept with 1 location in the first 3 years we were then able to scale and open 8 additional locations in a 3-year span for a total of 9 clinics around DFW.
As a young entrepreneur, how did your leadership style evolve and what is your approach to managing a team?
After I had a few years of experience, I began to realize there were several pain points in the industry. The most troubling was the industry-standard treatment of healthcare workers. This realization was a huge turning point for me in my approach to business and really shifted my strategy and leadership.
I realized that we needed to start from within, and that meant putting our employees first. We did this by providing flexible schedules, competitive benefits, and fostering a culture where our workers love coming into the office. In taking care of our employees, we can rest assured that they take care of the patient. Because of this, we have incredibly low employee turnover, customer reviews that far surpass the industry standard, and it enabled us to expand at a more rapid pace. When you take care of your team, it trickles down to the customer.
The employee first business model that had developed at Synaptic Pediatric Therapies became a crucial part of how and why I would go on to launch my other businesses. I realized I had a formula that worked and made scalable growth possible, that could be applied to any industry.
Synaptic Solar, the second business you launched, is now the 4th largest residential solar company in Texas the 18th largest nationally. What was the impetus for launching a solar company and how did you grow your business so quickly in a crowded marketplace?
I guess you could say I had been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. I partnered with my cousin and brother to launch Synaptic Solar. They were both college students working part-time summer jobs as roofers for a solar company. I approached them and asked if they could break down the business and when we started crunching numbers, we felt confident this was something we could do on our own.
My partners and I were raised together with a shared family-first mentality. I think it’s extremely rare to find that commonality and shared belief system so early on when you enter into a new business venture or partnership. Because we were on the same page, the partnership flourished. In the beginning stages of the business, we were all willing to reinvest our earnings back into the business, prioritize the employee-first model, and make sacrifices to get the business to a sustainable place.
The next business we launched was Dynamic SLR, which was a natural extension of Synaptic Solar. Dynamic handles the sales and financing with the customer. Synaptic Solar does the installation and fulfillment aspects of the business. Essentially now they operate as one company and work exclusively with one another. It allows us to bring everything in house. Between the two companies, we are the fourth largest in Texas, and the youngest company in the top 10 largest residential solar companies in Texas.
Your company Synaptic Management seeks to invest in businesses with promising growth potential. How do you evaluate and decide which businesses you want to invest in? What qualities do you look for?
I created Synaptic Management as an extension of myself and my businesses. Synaptic Management allows me to house all my operations under one roof. I brought in a team of experts to oversee the growth, marketing, and finance across all of my businesses. They are able to go to each of my companies and gather information on performance and advise me.
The second purpose is that it allows me to help invest back in the community and partner with other businesses. When I got to the point that my businesses were sustainable and I had capital, I started to think big picture about my next steps. I really liked the idea of partnering with a family business and that’s how we came across All American Flooring. I didn’t have personal experience in the flooring industry, but I felt confident I had tools I could offer them that would be beneficial. The company had a good foundation: 25 years in business, five locations, and averaging around $6 million in revenue. However they also had over $1 million in debt, little cash on hand, and their growth stagnant. We partnered in 2020, and since that time, we’ve eliminated all their debt, doubled their revenues from $6 to $12 million, and increased cash balance by 10x. It’s been a really satisfying and rewarding experience and has further proven the employee-first model works across industries.
We hope to be able to replicate this model with other businesses in the future. And what do we look for? The most important thing is the founders or partners have to be willing to put ego aside and accept change for the better of the business. The employee first model can cost more upfront, but we have the proven track record to show it pays dividends in the long run.
How do you define “excellence” in business?
Excellence is putting others in front of you in an effort to grow the business and ensure success of the company for everyone’s benefit. So often we want instant gratification, and it can be tempting to cut corners. But that won’t build a sustainable business. Customer service and customer loyalty are often a measure of excellence, so I believe you start with your employees. If you treat your employees with loyalty and dedication, they will be your biggest and most passionate advocates. That treatment and behavior gets passed down to the customer, creating a positive experience for everyone.
How has TBHF helped you in your entrepreneurial journey?
When I received my TBHF award, I was about two and half years into my first venture. I really wanted to grow my business but thought that I needed to look at expansion outside of Texas to do so. My experience with TBHF introduced and really solidified the notion that the Texas economy was strong enough on its own and offered the growth potential I was looking for. I didn’t need to look beyond Texas to find success. A great example of that is H-E-B. HEB focused on just south Texas and became one of the most successful grocery companies in America yet located in only a portion of Texas. I know this doesn’t apply to all industries, but definitely does to the ones I am involved in. TBHF also made me more ambitious and encouraged me to dream bigger. The Legends and their success stories really helped me understand what it takes to build an impactful, sustainable business that will continue to benefit society and the economy past my own lifespan.