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Zeeshan Hayat

Forty Under 40 winner 2014: CEO, Prizm Media, Age 35

Back when Zeeshan Hayat was still a child in elementary school, his grandparents would give him $3 a day for allowance.

“I used to spend $1.50 on my food,” he recalled. “The rest of the $1.50 used to go in my savings budget to buy my first car when I turned 16.”

That’s how the CEO of Prizm Media knew he wanted to be a businessman from a young age.

He co-founded the lead-generation business with his then-girlfriend (now wife) as a means to earn a little extra cash while they were students in the early 2000s at Douglas College.

Launched without any startup capital, Prizm Media zeroed in on the market for weight-loss supplements between 2004 and 2007. But instead of generating leads through newspaper or TV ads, the pair began creating online campaigns to entice more viable customers to contact the company’s call centre.

When the 2008 financial crisis forced many of Prizm’s competitors to out of business, Hayat returned to his initial approach of keeping the company as lean as possible.

Meanwhile, Prizm diversified and began focusing on leads for diabetic supplies. From 2009 to 2013, the company’s revenue leapt 1,285%, and it is expected to surpass $10 million in revenue by the end of 2015.

But Hayat said it wasn’t easy weathering the storm of the financial crisis while finding a work-life balance with his wife and co-founder.

“We don’t have a board of advisers. We’re a self-funded, bootstrapped company. One thing we established as we started to grow is I’m the CEO, so I have to make the final decisions even though we’re equal partners.”

The company’s results, he said, speak for themselves.

Prizm has generated 12 million leads and helped its 600 clients attain more than 300,000 patient enrolments.

“Some people may think we were lucky – I think we were also lucky – but at the same time, to this date and even through the downturn of 2008, we never ended up borrowing money from the bank or anyone else.”