Name: Shama Kabani, 25
Founded: The Marketing Zen Group, 2009
Business: A Full-service digital marketing firm
Shama Kabani got her first taste of entrepreneurship at the tender age of nine selling gift wrap to her family and friends. She went on to build several successful businesses, including a college prep service, which earned enough revenue to put Kabani through college. She got her start in social media academically, writing her thesis on Twitter when the microblogging site was in its infancy, establishing herself as a social media maven. In 2009 she launched The Marketing Zen Group and in the same year was named one of Business Week's "Top 25 under 25 in North America."
Challenge No. 1: Fine-tuning the business model
Why: It takes a while to figure out what the market demands and how to supply it. We started out offering just social media consulting but quickly realized that clients wanted soup-to-nuts under one roof.
Solution: Give the people what they want. We tweaked the business model to accommodate these clients and started offering implementation services, along with consulting services. In other words, before we used to consult with our clients on how to market online, now we do it for them. Once the word spread, potential clients lined up hoping to hand us their online marketing and say "make it happen." In effect, we’ve ended up serving as an outsourced digital marketing department that performs the same function as an in-house department. Clients loved having everything handled by one company and not having to hire multiple in-house folks. This is seventy percent of what we do now, and the other thirty percent is one-off design, web development, SEO, social media, online PR, and mobile marketing projects.
Challenge No. 2: Scaling the business to keep up with demand
Why: After formalizing the business structure in May 2009, business slowly and steadily increased. It was a reliable increase, and I thought I could gradually plan for long term growth. But then in late 2009, Business Week unexpectedly recognized me as one of the "Top 25 under 25 entrepreneurs in North America." Yahoo Finance picked up the article, and my name ended up on the home page of Yahoo as a featured story. Overnight, quite literally, "slow and steady" was no longer an option.
Solution: We invested back in the business by quickly hiring intelligent and competent individuals to meet demand. We also installed online task management systems and implemented check lists for everything. The systems and documentation we set in place made it easy for the newly hired support team to hit the ground running. Today, we have 24 people working for Marketing Zen globally; the key to our swift ability to grow -- systemization.
Challenge No. 3: Building a cohesive company culture
Why: We are a virtual company, and I wanted to keep it that way since eighty percent of the employees have kids under the age of ten. Everyone on the team enjoys working from home, but they understandably miss the water cooler camaraderie.
Solution: We use online tools such as Skype, video chat and Twitter to cultivate team spirit. We have weekly virtual meetings and touch base everyday using a group Skype room. We celebrate birthdays, holidays, and work well done within the online chat room. It isn’t rare to see employees trading pictures of their kids or even sharing stories about their significant others. The virtual tools have allowed the team to gain a sense of team spirit while also allowing the team to retain the flexibility that comes from working at home.