How a Ruptured Eardrum Became My Biggest Idea


This is a story by Mr. Cyrus Massoumi, CEO & Founder @ ZocDoc. He explains his story of starting up a great startup, the idea was generated from a travel disaster for him.

The article was originally published by Linkedin.

As a kid, I’d get sick to my stomach whenever my family flew — it happened so frequently that they bickered over who had to sit next to me. I eventually grew out of that, but I still hate delays (they cut into work time). And I just recently tore my meniscus lifting luggage off an airport conveyor belt. In other words, I’ve never loved traveling.

But I have learned to appreciate that it isn’t just a series of obstacles. If you buy the old idea that every setback is an opportunity, even medical emergencies can be inspiring. That kind of scrappy thinking has made my company who we are today. In fact, you can trace ZocDoc’s history through a series of crises that we turned to our advantage. It began with our founding.


The Travel Disaster Behind My Big Idea

Back in 2007, I ruptured my eardrum on a flight into New York City. But what followed was even more shocking: It took me four days of excruciating pain to get an appointment about my ear with an ENT specialist.

As I saw firsthand, ENT doctors (like most physicians in this country) weren’t accepting new patients on short notice. In fact, I was lucky to wait only four days. The average national wait time for a first-time doctor appointment is more than 18 days. Meanwhile, physicians across the U.S. deal with up to 25 percent last-minute cancellations, reschedules, and no-shows, which become unused appointment slots — a wasted supply of doctor appointments out of patients’ reach.

The idea for ZocDoc was born then, from the simple idea that it benefits doctors and patients alike to make these appointments available online. It has been almost seven years now, and we’re still working hard to create a better healthcare system with lower wait times. But this has been no small task, and we faced our first major obstacle just a year later.

Trading Growth for Excellence

For a short while, sailing was smooth. We had seen strong, consistent growth in New York and were planning our expansion to the rest of the country.

Then the financial crisis of 2008 hit. Funding became extremely scarce, and the investments we had counted on to support our aggressive national growth curve just weren’t there. So my founders and I went back to the drawing board.

Instead of a capital-heavy expansion, we decided to perfect the ZocDoc model in NYC. We experimented, optimized, and deepened our understanding of our own business. Had we planned this phase in our initial growth roadmap? No. But was it a critical learning period that paved the way for our successful nationwide expansion? Absolutely.

A 115 MPH Opportunity

The most dramatic obstacle we’ve faced wasn’t of human origin. Hurricane Sandy was a major tragedy for the Eastern U.S., and many other North American countries. For days, the power was out in much of lower Manhattan, where ZocDoc headquarters are located. Some New Yorkers had trouble getting medicine and fresh water.

And yet, in the midst of all this, ZocDoc actually came together as a company. We put team members on planes to beef up our Phoenix-area office operations; we set up coworking spaces in NYC; we cooked food together; and we camped at our teammates’ apartments, shared hotel rooms, and helped each other out with the logistics of daily living.

The commitment of our Operations team was especially incredible. They worked overtime to make sure patients and doctors stayed connected through the storm, and ended up making a number of permanent improvements. Both operationally and culturally, this tough time became a watershed moment in our history.

The Biggest Picture

But these are just a few examples. The drive to find value in any setback has become part of our company DNA, and it’s truly humbling to see the great people of ZocDoc flex this ingenuity in their daily work.

Thinking creatively and driving relentlessly toward solutions, especially in trying circumstances, isn’t easy, but it will get you where you want to go. If you’re a traveler in any sense of the word, this is an attitude you can’t afford to lose.

Mohit Bansal(23) is B.Tech in Electronics and Communication Engineering from Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad, India. He has interest in business and entrepreneurship and has published couple of research articles. He is also associated with various NGOs. He is with Techaloo when it was just in concept stage. The Techaloo site was not existing even then. Currently Mohit is working with Mu Sigma as a Business Analyst Profile.

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