You’ve had a super successful career, entrepreneur, marketer, influencer, storyteller. Give us your backstory. How did you get to where you are today?
I got my start very early days. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin. I have a master’s in organizational communication and technology. Very few people actually know this, I was studying under one of the preeminent scholars on time, believe it or not, time and communication so a lot of interesting things around that now with work from home and so forth.
But I was fascinated by social media in general at large. I thought, man, this is going to change the world. I know you said that I just spoke at South By, which I did, they did my keynote. But the first time I attended South By was in 2008 so super early days. That was the year actually Interactive had just launched so there were 200 of us and I know … the numbers were like 20,000 plus at Interactive so you could just see how much that’s changed in that short amount of time.
As a grad student in Austin, in Texas, I actually did my thesis on Twitter when it had about 2,000 users so super early days. People would say, “What’s Twitter? Facebook is something my kids use.” I mean, social media was just not even a blip on the radar, if you will, but I was passionate about it. I thought this is really going to be a game-changer, and I found especially a lot of interest in small businesses at the time to say, “If this helps get customers in the door, we’re game.”
So that’s how I got my start, more from academia, and then being 22, when I started my company, which is now Zen Media, I find the most fascinating thing is that I tell people this, if you’re starting a company, your best friend is a bit of naivete. And I’m grateful that I had a lot of naivete starting out so very naive about a lot of things. But it’s good. I think it works in your favor because if someone, as a founder or as an entrepreneur, tells you the entire road you have ahead of you and every challenge possible, I think it can be daunting so, yeah.
So that’s how I got my start, couldn’t get a job, got out of school. Nobody understood what social media was and I don’t say that lightly. It was a lot of companies left and right rejected me and just didn’t see that that had any potential to change how business was done, communications were conducted and so forth. Again, I’m talking really early days and so, at 22, I have a choice. I can either change my career trajectory into something that maybe I was less passionate about, but had more broader appeal, or I put my own shingle out there. So I thought, yeah, self-employed, sounds good. And I [inaudible 00:02:45] kidding. No, I had a lot of demand again from small businesses at the time when we started out to say, “If this gets customers in our door, we’re game.”
Remember this was 2008, 2009 so giant recession looming, biggest thing to hit the US since the Great Depression. So there was just a lot of hunger in small businesses to say, “How can we use this? We’re game to try anything that helps.” Those are my roots. That’s how I got started and then, yeah, and then just grew from there. Then a few years later, many of those companies that were not very interested in the world of social media came knocking and yeah, man. I mean, you know much of the story after that, but haven’t looked back, grown Zen Media. We passed a million in revenue in the first three years.
I share a lot of my story, too, because I feel like I get a very unique perspective, perhaps a very different perspective into marketing and PR than other people have, because I came from academia and then at 22, like I didn’t have any connections, any network. I think it was six years after starting my agency that I even realized that most people start their agencies they have like a book of business, they started a corporate job and then they transfer over. Like I didn’t know any of that so, again, my naivete helped. I only knew what I was passionate about, what I was good at. Feel like my skill set’s pretty limited, but this is one of the things that it’s rather limited to.
So yeah, man, so that’s how I got my start and we grew. We went from being social media to Earned. So today we do a lot of PR, content, social. Those are our three main buckets and we work predominantly with tech and B2B companies so a lot of expertise there and kind of seeing what’s actually working in the trenches.