Zeynep Ilgaz – Co-founder of Confirm BioSciences

[quote style=”boxed”]Invest in teamwork: teamwork at home, teamwork at work. Don’t try to do it all — do it as a team. Establish trust with your staff, vendors, customers, kids, spouse, and friends. Trust each other to work toward your goals.[/quote]

Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband immigrated to the United States with nothing but two suitcases, a love for each other, and a desire for entrepreneurship. They co-founded Confirm BioSciences, where Ilgaz serves as president. As the global leader in the field of lab and instant testing for drugs of abuse and health, Confirm BioSciences is committed to being on the cutting edge of offering new, service-oriented drug testing technologies.

Ilgaz is an advisor to the National Institutes of Health Commercialization Assistance Program. She is a dedicated participant in the educational and entrepreneurial programs at San Diego State University and the Rady School at the University of California, San Diego; she serves as an advisory board member for the Entrepreneur Society at SDSU.

Where did the idea for Confirm BioSciences come from?

My husband, Serhat, and I were working on our MBAs, and one of our last projects asked us to do market research for a medical device company. The company was in the diagnostic area; during our research, my husband and I found that the diagnostic market represented a growing opportunity. We work as a team; he’s usually the visionary, and I like to execute. He developed the idea, and I saw how we could make it work.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I get up around 5:30 a.m. We are blessed with two boys, 5 and 10, and we get them ready for school. I take a walk every morning for about 45 minutes. Walking helps me make a lot of business decisions and keeps me fit.

Once I get to work, I keep a routine every day. I’ve learned over the years that keeping a routine helps a lot, both at home and at work. My mornings are the most productive time for me — I try to do all the strategic stuff for the company: develop business partnerships, hold important sales meetings, etc. We have a staff of about 20; I’m very involved in corporate sales and dedicate each morning to sales-related activities as well.

I have lunch at my desk; in the afternoon, I get involved with more of the company’s operations and internal matters. Staff meetings take place in the afternoons. I leave work around 3 p.m. for the kids. As you can see, it’s a short day for me at work. But I make sure to optimize every minute of the day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I think, think some more, and then rethink. I like to read a lot on what’s going on in our industry and what’s trending. My husband and I make important decisions and develop ideas together. We dedicate every Friday afternoon to discussing ideas for the business. He’s now doing something totally different, but we’re very involved in helping each other make decisions. I also discuss ideas with our team — they come up with great stuff, much better than I do.

Once we collectively have an idea we believe in, we test a small market for about six months before we launch.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Individuals are getting more health-conscious. We mostly specialize in drug test kits, but over the past few years, we’ve moved into corporate wellness screenings. These include tests for cholesterol, allergies, nicotine, and hormones. Large corporations are investing in corporate wellness programs more than ever, so this new trend definitely excites me.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I like having a schedule and a routine. I try to instill this habit in our wonderful team as well. No one is asked to work overtime. Most of our staff is here early, around 7 or 8 a.m., and the latest we work is 4 p.m. But during this time, we all work very intensely, not wanting to waste one minute of the day.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I am very blessed to say that I’ve never had a bad job. But one of the harder times I had was at a job where the CEO of the company was not very open to the staff. We were not able to talk to him openly; he had a closed-door policy. I learned how important it is to have open communication with employees, to be transparent, and to listen to them.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

My husband and I talk about this all the time. One thing I know is that I am very happy with where I am, with my family and business. I have the best husband and kids one could ask for. I have the best staff anyone could ask for. And if all the experiences I’ve had to go through in my life brought me here, then I wouldn’t change anything because I don’t think I could be any happier than I am. Of course, I made many mistakes along the way, but I think these have all been great opportunities for me to learn and grow.

However, I would have read more books early on and started exercising. I would have learned to be a better listener.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Invest in teamwork: teamwork at home, teamwork at work. Don’t try to do it all — do it as a team. Establish trust with your staff, vendors, customers, kids, spouse, and friends. Trust each other to work toward your goals.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Focus has been essential. When you’re running a company, it’s so easy to run in every direction and get deviated. For example, when we first started the business, we wanted to go after different markets and offer different products to different channels. We wanted to be everything to everybody. Early enough, we realized this wasn’t the right strategy. As a small company, there are limited resources available, and it’s much better to dedicate them to one area and become the best in that area.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure was that we tried to go after some big corporate customers that we should have waited for. We overcame it by addressing smaller customers first and then determining how to handle bigger companies’ needs.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’d love to see a device that warns you five minutes before a toddler’s going to have a tantrum. I think a lot of parents would love to have this — it would save a lot of tears! It sure would make a lucrative business.

Tell us something about you that very few people know.

I like to drink hot water. All day long, I drink hot water. It actually helps clean the toxins from your body and calms you down. Also, my 10-year-old son and I participate in a 5K race every month, and I was in an all-girl rock band in college.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

We use NetSuite for all our CRM needs, from sales to inventory management. It’s a great software for us. For team projects, we use Basecamp.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I’d recommend “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith. One of the main reasons I like this book is that it talks about what needs to be done now to achieve a goal you want to reach, rather than what you did right or wrong in the past. It’s a forward-looking book, so to speak. Besides telling you to let go of the past, the book encourages you to be supportive and positive (with both yourself and your team), be honest, and seek constant feedback to improve.

The principles in his book not only apply to work; they go far beyond that, helping us be better parents, spouses, and friends.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

My husband, my parents, and my sister have been big influences on my thinking in general. From the business world, Peter Farrell, the founder of ResMed, is a mentor of mine and has graciously given me his time and advice.

I also admire the insights of Bill Gates, Irwin Jacobs, Hillary Clinton, and Jeff Bezos.


Zeynep Ilgaz on LinkedIn:
Confirm BioSciences on Twitter: @ConfirmBio