Drive And Dedication: The Road To Success Of Epione Beverly Hills Founder Dr. Simon Ourian
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Cosmetic dermatologist by vocation and sculptor by avocation, Dr. Simon Ourian was born in the Middle East. The 50-year-old enjoyed a comfortable childhood- one he had to abandon when the Ourian family fled to the United States due to political turmoil and civil unrest.
Life was different as a teenage refugee in Los Angeles. Gone was the comfort of a privileged upbringing, and in its place was a two-bedroom apartment inhabited by his entire family. They had little money, few marketable skills, and no knowledge of the English language.
Because of the Ourians’ success in their homeland, their eldest son, Simon, had never considered what he’d do for a living; now, he had to contribute. So, he turned to thing he felt he was best at -sculpting- and decided to become the next big thing on California’s art scene.
He convinced a friend to showcase a few of his pieces at a Venice Beach gallery, telling his parents: “If I don’t sell anything by the end of the summer, I’ll find another job.” When nothing sold, he ended up at McDonald’s.
It was his first job, something to support himself while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology. So, how did the teenage sculptor turned burger-flipper end up in the hard sciences?
Ourian had been crushed by his family’s move, noting how he stood out from the blonde California look. He was dark where they were fair, large-nosed where they were buttoned. He wanted desperately to fit in.
When he turned 18, aesthetically-driven Ourian decided to make a change. A simple nose job, he thought, was just what he needed. Not to completely change the way he looked, but to give an added boost of confidence.
He convinced his insurance to pay for most of the procedure, borrowing the rest from his parents. And it’s a good thing he did, because it was that experience that prompted him to become a doctor.
Ourian remembers thinking about his plastic surgeon: “He was an artist, just like me. He approached the human body the same way I approached a sculpture, and he made a great living. I remember saying, ‘Maybe I could do this?’”
From that moment forward, medical school became Ourian’s sole goal. He worked any and every job to put himself through college- selling bagels, peddling artwork, even briefly becoming an insurance agent. All free time was spent studying for the MCAT. (Let’s just say Ourian wouldn’t enjoy a social life until his late 30’s.)
His hard work was rewarded with a 4.0 GPA and acceptance to Wayne State University Medical School, then to a residency at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
While at UCLA, Ourian saw a presentation about the first lasers being used for basic cosmetic functions, like tattoo and hair removal. Ourian knew: people in Southern California want this. If I can get one, I can set myself apart.
He convinced a few friends and banks to loan what felt like an unfathomable amount of money- enough to purchase one of the first hair removal lasers in the United States.
And while he couldn’t afford an office space, Ourian understood patients would hardly love receiving treatment in his parents’ two-bedroom apartment (where he still lived while getting his business off the ground). His plan? Find doctors in the Beverly Hills area who were on the verge of retirement: they were less likely to be threatened by his young talent, and may welcome the added income of a sublease.
One doctor agreed to let Ourian and his brother, Bob, began treating patients one day a week in 1998. Friends and family laughed. “You and your brother spent years in medical school, and now you’re going to remove people’s hair?”
Ourian, though, was making a bet. He knew there was no shortage of plastic surgeons in Los Angeles. Just 32 at the time, he couldn’t match their experience or established practices. What he could do was stand out- make a play for an effective, safe and innovative treatment no one else had.
Because, according to Ourian, it’s not about being in the right place at the right time but making it the right place at the right time. And by offering the newest and most effective treatments on the market, lasers, he hoped to carve a niche out for himself in the saturated City of Angels.
Now the only laser hair removal game in town, Ourian added more and more days to his sublease until he and his brother were working seven days a week. When laser hair removal treatments became widespread, he again sought innovation: an even newer laser that resurfaced the skin and promised results similar to a face lift without surgery.
Ourian was shocked to realize laser resurfacing worked for only a small percent of the population- those with pale white skin. A Middle Easterner himself, he knew there would be a huge market among African Americans, Hispanics, and everyone else without fair skin. But when he contacted manufacturers about the issue, no one had a solution.
After months of research, Ourian found an Australian doctor who had seen great results on darker-skinned patients by “reducing” the laser’s setting. He had an epiphany: he could reduce his laser’s settings and also space out the laser columns, while simultaneously cooling the skin. The result was a new laser technology he named Coolaser. Ourian contacted the manufacturers again, and convinced one in Germany to make a few prototypes with his desired settings.
The results were fantastic. It was the first time darker complexions could receive laser resurfacing. Ever.
To say the Coolaser changed Ourian’s life would be an understatement. Patients began pouring into his office seeking the new technology that seemed too good to be true, enabling him to take over the Beverly Hills office he had previously subleased.
By the time Botox and dermal fillers hit the market in 2002 -and Ourian became a pioneer in those treatments, too- his fate as one of America’s leading cosmetic dermatologists was sealed.
20 years after launching his practice, Ourian continues to be sought for his unique, artistic approach. His classical art training gave him the skills to enhance beauty by shaping the face using the same proportions as great artists like Michelangelo and da Vinci. He chooses a minimally invasive approach whenever possible, preferring the quick results of needles and injectables over the months it can take to see results from surgery. He knows patients want to see improvement that day, with little downtime, and that they still want to look like themselves- only better.
It’s why some of the biggest names in Hollywood -people who make their living off their appearance- go to Ourian first, and why his brand has become a nearly household name.
Excerpts from a chat with Dr. Ourian:
What are the key principles you use to lead an organization?
“One of the most important things to master is the ability to delegate. Especially when it comes to medicine, people are coming to see you. They’re coming for your unique approach- for your brand. And while there are many treatments I still insist on doing myself -more artistic ones, like fillers, cheek contouring, and some types of Botox- you also need to trust your employees and give them the chance to grow. Not only is it better for your employees, but it’s good for business and gives you, the entrepreneur, time to focus on what you want.”
What were the hardships and challenges as you went about growing your enterprise?
“There were many obstacles in my business, but three that really stand out. One was when I had first invented the Coolaser, and a large laser manufacturing company approached me about buying the machine. I walked them through the product, excited about the potential sale. But a year later I heard that company had released a Coolaser of their own- specifically in a way I couldn’t sue. I still sold quite a few lasers, but nothing like the $2 billion success they’ve seen.
The next major challenge came in 2004 when our father was sick, and my brother left the practice to help care for the family. Our office manager quit shortly thereafter, and suddenly I had the role of service provider, CEO and manager. Patient care didn’t suffer, but the business certainly did. I didn’t even have time to return phone calls, let alone do anything else. It was like a house of cards about to crumble- years of sleepless nights. At one point, I even considered filing for bankruptcy, leaving the practice, and taking a teaching job with a university.
That went on for three or four years until I was able to hire people with expertise in those areas. Things got better just in time for the market to crash again; my revenue dropped 70% between September and October 2008. Because luxury items are the first thing people cut out, the recession was one of the largest financial challenges of my life.”
How did you manage setbacks along the course of your entrepreneurial journey?
“The Coolaser situation was something I had to learn from and make sure not to repeat. But the 2008 financial crisis, well, that was different. I had just bought my first home; I had 14 employees; I had the five-star, 8,000 sq. ft. in Beverly Hills that my business still occupies.
But I did what I knew how to do best - show up to work, and work hard every single day. I gave up my house and moved my family to a smaller rental. I began offering promotions and financing options- anything to attract new clientele.
The honest truth is that you have to do whatever it takes. You have to wake up every morning, go to the office and do your job.”
What motivates you?
“Fear. I think a lot of people think hunger for success is the best motivator, but for me, wanting to succeed isn’t the same as having a singular goal that you pursue time and time again. I remember what it was like when my family fled to America and lived in borderline poverty. The fear of going back there drives me every single day. I’m much more motivated by fear of the consequences of not succeeding than by the allure of success.
That and my children. I’m married with two girls and a boy, all under the age of 8. And it’s not that I don’t want to provide for them, because I do, but I also want to teach them a good work ethic. There’s a reason motivation doesn’t always transfer from generation to generation, and that’s because fear isn’t there.
Having great kids doesn’t happen by accident. I’m motivated to teach by example.”
What are your current goals? How will you grow your business?
“I want to have Epione centers all over the world- centers with state of the art equipment and a uniform quality of results. So much of the work out there isn’t as good as it could be. I feel it’s my duty to show that there is not only an art to the science of cosmetic dermatology, but that there’s also a science to the art. To be truly successful in this career, you need to understand both. I really think it’s my background as a sculptor that set me apart, and it’s a skill I hope to pass on.
What tips do you have for other entrepreneurs?
“Find a mentor. I didn’t even know this word when I first started, but then I found a doctor on the verge of retirement who wouldn’t consider me a competitor and was willing to pass on some of his knowledge. Having someone to guide you will keep you from making many mistakes.
And, when that mentor offers you feedback, don’t be too proud to take it. Those who have gone before you are the best source of information.
Find a business you like and emulate them. Sometimes the best success comes from having a blueprint—from reverse engineering.
Have more energy and determination than anyone else. You have to want it so badly that nothing else is important.
But on the flipside, don’t wait too long to have a family. I worked so hard and lived with my parents for so many years while getting the business off the ground that I didn’t get married until I was 40. I lost track of time. But if I’d known how wonderful my family was going to be, I wouldn’t have waited so long.
Do what you’re best at. As a child, I always knew I was good with my hands. So, when I had to choose a career, art was the first thing I considered. And even though I’m not using my hands as I expected -I’m treating patients as opposed to sculpting- I still employ the same basic skills every day. I embraced my given talents and it’s a huge part of why I’m successful.
Don’t be afraid to feel embarrassed. I lived with my parents for longer than any reasonable adult should; I had minimal social life in my 20’s and a good part of my 30’s. But it was what I had to do get Epione off the ground. Entrepreneurs have to do whatever’s necessary, regardless of whether it feels cool or glamorous at the time.
Make plans -have a blueprint- but don’t be afraid to break it. Unexpected things will happen and it’s your job to stay nimble. If I’d stayed married to my original plan of operating a laser hair removal clinic, for example, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I rolled with the punches and embraced every new, effective piece of technology. I made every effort to stay innovative and current and that, paired with my history of success, is what established the practice.
Don’t let a setback stop your momentum. I was devastated when I realized the Coolaser technology had, essentially, been stolen from me. But I refused to let it keep me down; I woke every day, and went into the office, no matter how bad things felt. That disappointment drove me to improve upon the technology and make Coolaser even better than before. As a result, the new Coolaser is not only better, but safer and more effective than the competitors.”