Vikram Raya is the CEO of Viking Capital, a multi-family real estate investment syndication firm, and Limitless MD, a firm helping MDs succeed in business and life. We discuss the four growth levers all companies must pull to succeed, the benefits of doubling down on your zone of genius, and what makes people unsuccessful.
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Pull on 4 Growth Levers with Vikram Raya
Today my guest is Vikram Raya, the CEO of an Inc. 5000 company, Viking Capital, a multifamily real estate investment syndication firm and Limitless MD, a firm helping MDs reach success in business and in life. Vikram, welcome to the show.
Steve, great to be here.
Yeah, it’s great to have you on the show. It’s been long, it’s long been overdue for you to come here because you have a lot of frameworks to talk about as well as two very successful businesses. So tell me about, for starters, how you even got into business because you started life as a cardiologist, you were a doctor, a successful practitioner. How did you achieve escape velocity from the medical profession?
I would say I’m an accidental entrepreneur, Steve. That was not my intention. My intention was I wanted to achieve something in my undergrad years. I’ve been heavily suggested to be a doctor by my family. As an Indian-American growing up in the United States, being a doctor is sort of, the joke is, you have three options, either you’re a doctor, you’re an engineer, or you’re a loser. So, it’s quite limited in my optionality. That being said, I actually, as I was pursuing it, it actually started to feel right. It actually made sense. I loved it because I had an interest in people and I interest in science and so the two married quite well as a physician and it was even more meaningful when my father collapsed in front of me with a heart condition and my son’s first year birthday and I had five other family members who’ve had heart attacks on my father’s side and I was like my god I have to figure this out and so not only did I end up becoming internal medicine physician I studied further and ended up going after my cardiology dreams. And sometimes when you think your dreams are it and that’s the end of the journey, but in my case, it was actually the beginning. And in fact, my dreams are not my destiny.
Okay, that is very interesting. Your dreams are not your destiny. So what is your destiny then?
I think my destiny is to elevate and impact people in all aspect of life and goal is to help them achieve their maximum highest version of themselves, whether that’s quote unquote escape velocity, whether that’s highest impact, whether that’s the highest and best version of themselves. I see that as my sort of ultimate calling, and I can see that happening through my multiple companies.
So, does it mean that this is your ultimate calling, but it’s not your dream?
My dream I thought was like to become a cardiologist and help people in the health profession and I realized it’s a lot broader context, a lot broader aspects than that because I have skills beyond just medical that I can offer and it was sort of an epiphany if you will and when I came across that, I guess the way I would describe it Steve is a lot of people climb mountains and we’ve been working with you and Pinnacle and you have this theme, this concept, this metaphor of climbing a mountain. And so people climb this mountain and 2/3 of the way up, they see the summit, it’s exciting, it’s right there to touch, but there’s a nagging feeling sometimes some of these climbers have. And Steve, the interesting thing is they’re climbing the wrong mountain. Most people don’t have the courage to climb back down and go to the next mountain. They instead, well I’m already here, I’ve already spent all this energy and time, let me just go ahead and finish the journey. And that is something that I refuse to do and I think fulfillment is as important as success. And hence, as I climbed this cardiology mountain, I was like, hey, it’s a beautiful mountain, it’s gorgeous. I could see the top, I actually, I’m at the top, but perhaps this is not the right mountain for me. And I climb back down, I’m like, all right, let me climb this real estate mountain, let me climb this coaching mountain, let me climb all these other mountains that are there. And now I achieve, in my life, I think, fulfillment and joy and passion and helping people. And I guess going into my zone of genius versus my zone of excellence has really been the game changer.Most people don't have the courage to climb back down and go to the next mountain. Click To Tweet
A zone of genius. So it reminds me of the Bob Dylan quote when he was asked what success is to him and he said, “A man is successful when he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between he does what he wants to do.” And I think that’s the kind of thing that you’re talking about here. So Vic, what triggered this idea or this inspiration to climb down from this cardiology mountain and to start climbing another mountain? What was the actual event or the though that made this change possible?
I’ll tell you exactly what happened, Steve. I was rounding on patients at the hospital. I was in Maryland and part of a cardiology group, we’re one of the largest cardio groups. I was already on the framework to become selected as the next leader of the practice. I just had to buy in and I was ready to be sort of promoted as grooming myself to be the next leader. And I had this sense that man, this is good but is this all there is or can I see myself doing this for the next 20 years.
And what really tipped me over is there’s a certain test they have in these hospitals and it’s called a troponin assay and essentially it tests if you’ve had a heart attack. And when they initially released the test, a positive number of men, oh my God, there’s something serious going on. And so I was like, okay, cool. After about five years of practice, they released a second version of this test and it was super sensitive. So it was so sensitive in fact, Steve, that if I punched you hard enough in the stomach, I probably may be able to trigger that enzyme to go up or that test to go up. And so I was getting consulted, asked to see so many patients all over the hospital for these elevations of this cardiac marker. And I knew in my heart that they’re all fake. It was a false positive. But my group was super excited because this was creating more revenue for the practice. This was creating more business and it led to more testing. And that testing led to sometimes patients coming into our office, and I was just like, this is not what I studied 26 years of my life to do. I knew I meant for more, something greater, and I knew it was not just the money, it was more that I wanted to make a dent in the universe, and I feel like I had skills and passions and interests that could be translated somewhere else, and I took the leap of starting my own practice, but to do that leap, I felt let me protect my income by learning to get income from other streams. And that’s why I started a real estate company just so I can have income coming from somewhere else besides my practice while I went to start a cash-based practice that was based on reversing disease and optimizing people’s health versus just putting band-aids.
The funny thing was during COVID, my side business, the real estate thing, became bigger than my main hustle. And so it’s interesting when your side hustle becomes greater than your main hustle, you have a moment of either clarity or doubt. What do I do? Should I go where I’m being, obviously things are easier. Like there’s a concept that we’ve talked about, Steve, elf and half. When things are elf, it’s easy, lucrative, and fun. And business owners should be very mindful of that. That is probably something closer to their superpowers. And when things are half hard, annoying, lame, and frustrating, that’s a red sign. Either they don’t have skill sets there, there’s friction there, perhaps it’s not the right market product fit, something is there, not there causing that friction.When things are elf, it's easy, lucrative, and fun. And business owners should be very mindful of that. And when things are half hard, annoying, lame, and frustrating, that's a red sign. Click To Tweet
And even despite their best efforts, if they’re seeing that friction, there’s no need to push down along there, you know. And so at that moment when the COVID happened, I had to shut my boutique concert clinic where I was helping reverse disease. And this opportunity for real estate, despite the pandemic was going buck wild and crazy and I was, we’re having 2x, 3x years and I wasn’t even trying, I was even there full time. I had, I made a decision. I’m like, “You know what, let me go where I’m being celebrated, not where I’m being tolerated.” And so I doubled down on that and man, our real estate empire just took off. And another opportunity came that spoke to more my zone of genius versus my zone of excellence where man, it was, another thing, I guess a barometer I would say, Steve, is when things are playful to you but seem like work to others, that is another area where you need to double down. That is where you can really excel. I can work seven hours, 10 hours, 12 hours, 15 hours as a coach, as a consultant, as a strategist for someone else’s business or company or their life, and it doesn’t even seem like work to me. And I was doing that when all these physicians started asking me during the pandemic, “Hey, can you help me? You’re doing something different, can you work with me?” And I was doing it for free, and man, I loved it. And then someone said, “Hey, when did you start coaching?” I’m like, “What? What is that?” “You’re coaching consulting.” I’m like, “Oh, I am.” “You know, you can charge that, right?” I’m like, ”Really?” And so I had, you know, these two companies and that’s what launched that some of that, but that’s sort of some of these aha moments i’ve had Steve.
Yeah, it’s really interesting. So just a couple of weeks ago when we were together in doing this session together, you mentioned a book which I read and it really made a big impact on my thinking which is The Art of the Impossible. I think it’s Stephen Cutler, The Art of the Impossible. And basically it talks about these neuroscientific facts that there are certain neurochemicals in the brain and when you do an activity that you really enjoy, you’re in the zone and then you get these dopamine shots in the brain which makes you seek out higher. It improves your memory, it improves your focus, it elevates your awareness and you get to a higher level and you keep climbing that proverbial mountain in your skill of genius, as you call it, zone of genius. And I was just thinking about it. I was watching Lionel Messi who joined Inter Miami and he’s been scoring these amazing freaky goals and these strikes and the goal passes and he’s in his zone of genius. He’s being celebrated as more than ever before and that elevated him. He loves the game more than ever before and it’s incredible. You cannot miss it. He got to a completely different level. Okay, so definitely ELF or ELF, which is easy, lucrative and fun. That’s a great framework. You just have to find it, right? And then you double down on it. That’s basically the framework we’re talking about. So what other maybe mental tools or methods are you using for both of your business? So you’ve got your real estate investment, syndication business, you’ve got this coaching business for MDs. Are there kind of tools or methods or mental models that you are applying to both? Other than the, yeah.
Yes, there’s the thing that I think you coach very well on, as well as some of my other mentors. But the key is really, there’s so many things we can do as entrepreneurs. And I have 50 new ideas before I go take a shower in the morning. And so these are these shiny objects or are they perhaps new verticals? And that’s the question we have to answer. And in many cases, until you get one company, one channel, one avatar, one offering, one service line to a million dollars per year, I would not get distracted. I would not change course. I would go as long as you feel like this is the right path you’re on, keep moving forward. The problem is, what makes people unsuccessful is having nine companies, nine vertical, nine business, always keep adding, and in fact, the first half of my life, success was found by addition. The second half of my life, success was found by subtraction. And the less I do, the more successful I end up becoming. But I constantly have to monitor my own thoughts, activities, and visions, and activities, because as a visionary, as an idea creator, you get paid to create ideas, but all those ideas are also potential shiny objects, distractions, and can really slow you down.
And I’ll give you an example. In the early years of Viking, we weren’t really clear on our avatar or our service line or what we wanted to offer. And so even right now, we’re a company that focuses solely on multifamily and we raise money through other folks, through something called syndications. And we have a geographic area and we have a certain avatar we cater to. It’s very clearly defined now. And that’s why we’ve had so much traction. But in our earlier years, I’ve invested in stupid things, Steve. I own a hemp farm in Colorado that’s not producing any money and I’m waiting for it to go out of business. I’ve looked into student housing, I’ve looked into mobile home parks, I’ve looked into hotels, retail spaces, strip malls, and all these things, though an interesting thought exercise, took energy out of my team, my time, and in fact, you did a great job with us. So I have a separate company now that just does coaching and consulting, but in the early years of Viking, we thought, “Hey, within Viking itself, let’s start coaching and helping other people do multifamily as well,” and that was a huge drain on my energy, my team’s resources, my resources, energy, and the moment we killed what we call these sacred cows, right, Steve, that our company excelled forward. And the moment I stopped sort of diverting all this energy to all these different things and just focused on one thing, man, we just, I think we 6X our company in one year. And so that is the power of focus. And so the framework I have for you, Steve, is anything I touch turns to gold, but one, I can only touch one thing and I have to touch it long enough.
Right. So as long as it’s one thing and you touch it a lot of times, then yeah, okay, got it. So by the way, this sacred cow thing, so we actually, I thought we killed it, but it turned out that it didn’t die, you just chased it out of the company into a new company called Limitless MD and then you’ve got a new team who was completely dedicated to this idea, 100% of their energy, and then with you being the catalyst there, this company is now growing as fast as Viking, right?
Faster. Yeah. Yes, so that is very cool, but I think the secret there was that you had a team, you got an operator who runs that business, and the other business as well, so you’re not tied into any of those businesses.
Steve, I went to visit one of my mentors in LA just this past weekend, and net worth of multiple nine figures, and I was like, he tells me to focus and tells me to really do one thing, but then I go, I look at his portfolio, I’m like, sir, I mean, Bedros, you have almost nine companies, how did you just tell me one thing, but you’re doing something else? Explain that to me, he goes, ah, Vikram, interesting, you caught that. What I’m doing now is, I don’t start any company. Either I get equity in any company that comes to me, and I’m an advisor, or if I have an idea, I find the who to do everything, and I advise for a couple hours, and I mentor whoever that is, and they do all the hiring, they do the structure, they get everything going, and I’ll guide and put in the systems, and then I’m really high level with them. So once you get, I guess, your first hit, your first major success, you can do multiple things, but I really think the key word I want to share with your listeners is not simultaneous, but sequential. It’s hard to do simultaneous success, it’s very difficult, but sequential success you can have.
Yeah, yeah, and if you bring them, your term is the escape velocity. If you get the company to escape velocity, then the momentum is going to keep propelling this company and you just have to keep pushing it a little bit to keep to stay on orbit, in orbit, basically. But the heavy lift is already being done for it and then it can go on its own. That’s amazing. So talking about being in a company and as a more as a leverage rather than as an actual doer and propeller. What are those leverage forces that you teach to your students in Limitless MD and also in Viking that a business owner can pull on to prop up their business for them?If you get the company to escape velocity, then the momentum is going to keep propelling this company and you just have to keep pushing it a little bit to keep to stay in orbit, basically. Click To Tweet
Yeah. To hit LGS, leverage, growth, and scale, you must use the four levers. And the better and more successful you are at using these levers, then essentially every ounce of your input gets like 5X output, 10X output, 100X output, 1,000X output. And the reason why most solopreneurs and specialists and self-employed people don’t go beyond their own means is they lack systems, they lack a business operating system, Steve. They need people like you involved. And then they don’t use their leverage appropriately. And there’s four main forms of leverage that we know. Labor, as we know, is old school and it’s still very powerful. Next is capital. The third is sort of code, and code is broken down to actual creating code and then now artificial intelligence, which is a form of code, I would say. And the fourth one is media, really, and using media to its fullest advantage. And so, in both my companies now, I use all four forms to get to where I want to go. And the more I’m able to utilize these forms of leverage, the faster my company can grow, and the less work I do personally. And once you learn how to use these levers, you teach other people in your company to use the levers, and then you can be the guidance, the rudder of the ship. And this is what I’m learning, this is what I’m doing, this is trial and error, if you will, but the more I realize this, that’s why a successful entrepreneur, you can put him in any business, and it’s focus. And if you’re able to do those things and use these levers, I think you can create any successful business you want in life.
So is there a particular order to these levers? So if someone is starting out in business, maybe they are an MD and they want to get out of the hamster wheel, they want to build a business, maybe they need a side hustle or passive income initially, but then they want to go into business. What would you advise? Is it capital or labor or code? Maybe media is the last one, maybe not. So what is the sequence? What is the right sequence or is it a different sequence for all businesses?
Before this, the current advent, if you listen to this, we’re in 2023 and there’s a surge of AI right now. But prior to this era in our life, I would say that it’s an over-staged approach. Capital seems to be challenging for a lot of folks. So labor is probably the first thing that people can get access to. And if they can start replacing some of the activities they do with other folks, that is easy. So I’m teaching all my physicians out there, “Hey, look, first, before you even replicate yourself or get teams, optimize your own time.” And so it’s clarity of your purpose, clarity of your team, clarity of your goals. Learn to sprint in 90 days, not in 12 week year as popularized by Brian Moran and things like that. It’s learning to sprint very fast in a short amount of time, knowing that’s going to eventually lead to your long term outcomes.
Number two, it’s optimizing your schedule through things like we learned in Art of the Impossible, flow state, time management, time blocking, things like the one thing that Gary Keller talks about. All of that’s very important. Once you sort of have done as much as you can on yourself, then it’s time for leverage and either an executive assistant, virtual assistant is usually the first top hire. The next hire is an integrator or second in command or right hand. And if you have these things, you’re set. And I find that the third, if I dare say it would be one more is in-house marketing or in-house marketing slash sales. Those are the top three functions. If you can get those, that’s enough to create a million dollar company in most industries.
Then after that, it’s okay. What’s the bottleneck? Is it my time? Is it lead flow? Is it fulfillment of the product? What is it? And you start working on these bottlenecks. And you start expanding the bottlenecks. And usually for leads and getting people into your funnel of whatever funnel you have or whatever company you have, if you understand social media, then that organic growth is there between organic and in real estate, we have forced appreciation, organic appreciation. In marketing and in sales, we have sort of forced growth through paid ads, and then there’s organic growth through your organic media. And so you need both of those things to really grow. At the beginning, if you don’t have much money, then you have to use more of a grassroots network, you have to do more organic posts and all that. But as soon as you have money, you want to put sort of fuel on the fire for that.
Love it. There’s so much to unpack there. So what I think you may have described is more of a professional service type business, or maybe a bootstrap, maybe a technology enabled professional service business, but a bootstrap service business where you’re not using other people’s money, but you are essentially leveraging the labor and the time and then the methods with the fast brains, the flow states. So it’s more methodology, time management, and then you bring in the people as your income is growing and it’s a bootstrap model. Maybe there’s another model that the Silicon Valley startups do who start with code and then they go to capital. And then they go from there.
Like in capital models, if we had some proprietary technology or some kind of software offering, we would optimize, maximize, create that, and then learning to raise capital is one of the most powerful, one of the most powerful superpowers of an entrepreneur, and we’ve had the blessing of raising a quarter of a billion dollars of capital so far, and the way we did that was the typical ways, right? First you have, make sure you sell yourself, and you believe what you’re selling, and you make sure you’re, you’re the first customer, do you believe in what you’re doing? After that, it’s friends and family around. Then it’s sort of a semi-warm network. And then after that, you need to learn how to have a pitch and a presentation and go more of the Orrin Klaff model of pitch anything and really just be able to compel second degree, third degree associates and eventually complete strangers to invest in your product. And knowing what your avatar is and really dialing into your avatar and figure out their pain points and knowing how this potentially can help answer their strategies and their concerns. And so now it’s to the point where I’m not even involved in that capital raising, besides doing a webinar or two here and there, but otherwise most of it is done by my team. And so once you learn it, figure out being, it’s able to replicate it and scale it without your involvement, that’s a key strategy for one of the company who wants to go to the next level.First you have, make sure you sell yourself, and you believe what you're selling, and you make sure you're, you're the first customer, do you believe in what you're doing? Click To Tweet
Yeah, definitely. That is very important. So we can we are kind of out of time, but I can’t resist to ask one more question from you, which is about your podcast. So obviously this podcast, Management Blueprints, we’ve been doing this for three years now. You only started the Limitless MB podcast maybe less than a year ago, very recently, and within six months you were in the top 2% of all podcasts, which is amazing. And I was wondering, how the heck did Vikram do that with his podcast? What helped him elevate it and get it out to such a large audience so quickly? So can you share with our listeners some of your tricks there?
So one is consistency. It was, I’ll be honest, I was procrastinating for almost two years to launch this podcast. I made it very big in my head. I also used the excuse of perfection to justify the procrastination. And so once I decided, then we cut off any other possibility and we decided to move forward. So two, I have a team. I have a team podcast team, so they’re really good. And they expect a certain cadence of things. And number three, I have someone holding me accountable, so I have to produce these episodes, and then, in terms of the actual strategy of growth, it’s getting high-quality guests and really conducting something where there’s true value at the end of the conversation for your listeners, and the third thing was I really made it a video and an audio podcast, which was very helpful, and then you use the audience and your guests to help promote the podcast further. And so that’s been very key. Where if I, and some of the more of the marquee guests that I have, they have larger audience. And so I’m able to leverage their audience to help grow the podcast.
Yeah, so that definitely helps if you can get a high recognition guests, marquee guests as you call them, then you can get a job, but you put the right levers there. So Vikram, if someone would like to learn more about what you do, maybe your real estate investment opportunities that you create for entrepreneurs and medical professionals, or maybe people want to improve their business, their lives, if they are MBs or other high paid but very busy professionals, where can they go to find out more information?
Yeah, if you go to our website, VikramRaya.com, there’ll be links to everything that we do there. So links to the our company Viking Capital. There’ll be also links to the coaching as well.
Okay, well definitely check out Vikram Raya. R-A-Y-A. The last four letters. Check it out and to test, you sign up for a newsletter. There’s plenty of information, podcast coming your way. So Vikram, thank you for coming to the show. You caused me a bit of a headache because I don’t know what the title is going to be because you covered so much ground. And I think you actually shared multiple framers here, so I will have to somehow 28 this list, which is going to be extremely hard. But that’s my problem. So thanks for coming. And thank you listeners out there. Make sure you pin this episode because this is going to be a blockbuster one. Thank you, Vik. I’ll talk to you very soon.
Links and Resources:
- Pinnacle: Five Principles that Take Your Business to the Top of the Mountain
- Vikram’s LinkedIn
- The Limitless MD Podcast
- The Art of Impossible: A Peak Performance Primer by Steven Kotler