Hawaii one-poler pursues pool industry career after health issue
When Matthew Boranian was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2012, he took the opportunity to examine his life. He no longer wanted to pursue things that did not make him happy and, after a 2017 kidney transplant, went back to a long-established passion: pools. Doctor Pool of Kailua, Hawaii, was founded that year.
Boranian’s grandma taught him to swim when he was little. “Growing up in Hawaii, it’s a necessity to be able to swim because you’re surrounded by water,” he says, adding that he developed a love for the ocean, including surfing, early in life. While at college in California, Boranian got a job as a swim instructor for both kids and adults.
He was always aware of the dangers of drowning, but his time as a swimming instructor taught him the importance of balanced water. “I got out of the water and began to study and learn about water chemistry,” he says, including local laws pertaining to pools and spas and what role he could play in preventing water-related injuries.
After graduating with an associate’s degree in fire science and a bachelor’s in political science, Boranian left aquatics behind and spent six years in the parking industry. Starting as a valet, he worked his way up to managing 70 employees for a multimillion-dollar commercial corporation. “I guess I played it safe, so to speak, and worked for somebody else to get that consistent paycheck,” he says.
But when his health deteriorated, he pivoted to substitute teaching for something less rigorous. In the five years following his diagnosis, he had gone from being a swim instructor to barely being able to walk a flight of stairs. Boranian counts himself lucky to be alive due to the generosity of his youngest brother, Josh, who donated one of his kidneys in early 2017.
Before his health problems, Boranian pressured himself to follow the path of the rest of his family and work a more traditional job. Everyone else had bachelor’s, master’s and even doctorate degrees: “You go to college, get a job and work in an office,” he says, “but that’s not for everybody.”
Following his recovery from his transplant, however, he decided to take a risk and do what he loved: working in the pool industry. In late 2017, he was attending a Las Vegas expo and in negotiations to buy a Hawaii pool service company.
He says the expo helped him see what the industry would really be like. He got a crash course in equipment and supplies, and began to envision how he’d carve his own way and create a career in pools.
Service route, leak detection, supervising remodels
30 weekly maintenance customers
But when the business deal fell through, Boranian came back to Hawaii, took his knowledge of water chemistry and hit the ground running anyway: He registered Doctor Pool and started reaching out to local realtors, providing pool inspections on their listings to build a reputation of reliability. It worked, and Boranian signed his first service contract in early 2018.
Health wise, Boranian reports he is doing well for the most part. He has to take antirejection medications daily. Recently he underwent a hospital stay because of a kidney infection caused by dehydration, but says he’s doing much better now.
“I volunteer quarterly to speak to other patients who are going through the health issues I previously went through,” Boranian says. “The resources for things like that here are difficult to find. The group is scattered throughout the state and meets via videoconferencing. It also helps me to discuss the myriad of issues I personally faced. It’s therapeutic.”
With his health mostly under control, Boranian looks for every opportunity to expand his business. While doing a pool inspection last year — a service he still provides — he noticed bubbles in the return, which concerned him. At his urging, the realtor called a leak-detection company, and Boranian was there to show him what he thought was wrong. While there was no leak, Boranian noticed the owner of the company had leg braces and was finding the work difficult.
“About a month later, I called him and said, ‘I don’t know if this is inappropriate, but I noticed you’re a little bit on the older side and wondered if you’re thinking of getting out of the business,’ ” Boranian says. “His response was ‘Who have you been talking to? My wife and I were just talking about this last week.’ ”
In late 2020, Boranian acquired Big Island Leak Detection — one of two leak-detection businesses on the island of Oahu — and added it under the Doctor Pool umbrella after training with the previous owner, who is now retired. “I’ve seen opportunities to continue to expand my business and generate different streams of revenue, but still in the world of pools,” he says.
Boranian now has about 30 weekly service customers. He works on those in the mornings, then does leak detection in the afternoons. He’s also managed two remodels in the last few months, an area he wants to expand into.
Currently working 25 to 28 days a month, Boranian recognizes his schedule can throw off his work/life balance. Boranian and his wife, Janell, married in 2012. Janell is unemployed due to COVID, and Boranian says she’s incredibly supportive of him. “She understands the importance of now being a one-income family and me taking the opportunities where I can,” he says. “She does a lot more managing the house than I could ever do with managing a business.” The couple are parents to two boys, ages five and almost two.
In March, Boranian had his first weekend off in a month — and struggled to disconnect from work. “It’s kind of unsettling, because you get in this groove of working so much that, when you’re at home, you feel there’s something you’re probably supposed to be doing but can’t figure out what it is.” Thankfully, by Sunday he was relaxed and playing baseball with his sons in their backyard.
He works hard because he wants to pay it forward to his wife, who took care of him while he was sick. “I am more than happy to return the favor and let her worry less about how we’re paying the bills,” he says.
Boranian hopes to soon hire his first employee. He intends to train them to take over the service route and leak detection, then shift his focus to remodels. Being away from the mainland makes it hard for him to attend even virtual trainings because of the time zone; trainings are either at 4 a.m. or in the middle of the day while he’s working. In hiring an employee he can trust, however, he’ll have time for hands-on remodeling training.
It’s sometimes hard, Boranian says, to comprehend that he’s really achieving the many goals he’s set for his business and his family — but because he was willing to take risks, it worked out. “I’ll talk to people and tell them I’m thinking about doing this or that, and almost immediately it comes right back with that opportunity,” Boranian says. “It’s knowing that, if you do fail, you have to put in more effort to rectify those failures and learn from them. I’ve learned quickly that I don’t want to make mistakes more than once. That’s how you succeed.”