Founder & CEO, The Marketing Zen Group
After 18 job rejections, Shama started her own company and became the face of today’s digital world: a web and TV show host, bestselling author of The Zen of Social Media Marketing, internationally in-demand speaker and CEO of The Marketing Zen Group. Her online web TV show, Shama.Tv, inspires her generation of entrepreneurs to engage READ MORE »
Q: Please share with us the story of how your professional journey began and has brought you to where you are today.
A: In 2008, I graduated with a Masters degree in Organizational Communication from The University of Texas at Austin. I had focused on social networking and done my thesis on Twitter. This is when Twitter had 2000 users, not the 200 million it does today. I assumed that companies would be very excited about my background in social media, but after 18 rejections I understood otherwise. I started my own company, first doing social media consulting and then morphing into a full service online marketing firm. Today, we have 30 full-timers and a global clientele. We grew 425% alone in the past year.
Q: Innovation requires creative thinking. How do you tap into the creative thinking resources within your business?
A: By fostering a very open environment. A business is only as good as the people behind it. We invest in our people, and then I make it a point to listen. I don’t believe in motivating people. I believe in finding motivated people and allowing them space and resources to use that motivation. I am always excited at how creative the team can get.
Q: What’s your best advice for an entrepreneur in an early/bootstrapping phase? Or in a growth/need to ‘now scale’ phase?
A: The best advice is to listen to your marketplace. Truly listen to their needs, and then deliver on that. As we were growing, we noticed that we’d consult with clients on how to build a good website for example. And then they would struggle to find the designers and developers that also understood the vision like us. We had a lot of clients saying – why don’t you just do it all for us? This is why we became a full service web marketing & PR company. It was scary because it required more resources, but you have to learn to listen to your clients. Especially when you are in the bootstrapping phase..
Q: I love the quote “the bigger the vision, the smaller the first step.” Right now, what is the big vision you have for your career?
A: How about two big visions? I am building two things right now. One is my company, The Marketing Zen Group. And I have plans to continue to grow the company. So, that’s my CEO/Founder hat. The other hat is my TV/media career hat. I currently host a web TV show (Shama.Tv), as well as multiple segments on technology and business on TV (Tech Zen with Shama on CW 33 for example). I love making business and technology come alive for people. My team calls me the Rachael Ray of Tech, because I don’t believe you have to be a geek or a nerd to “get technology” or to start a business. Anyone can do it if they have the will and willingness to learn.
Q: Can you share a story of how networking led to a great success?
A: I once spoke in Dallas to the Alliance of Women in Technology. It’s essentially a group of really smart women in the tech industry who support each other. And I really enjoyed getting to know them and specifically getting to know Lisa Danzer –the President. They later nominated me for a Tech Titan Emerging Company CEO award, which I won. I will always be grateful for their ongoing support.
Q: What do you believe makes a great brand?
A: The best brands are those which play into people’s identities. They allow people to feel like they belong to something bigger than themselves.
Q: Do you (formally or informally) mentor anyone? If so, who and why is it rewarding?
A: I was recently invited by The Young Entrepreneur Council (theYEC.org) and USAID to go to Egypt (post-revolution) to work with the young entrepreneurs there. I bonded with one group of amazing women who are behind SuperMama.me (think iVillage for the Middle East). I am continuing to mentor them.
ON Starting Out
Q: If you had a young sister or a daughter who was a senior in college, anxious about landing her first job or unsure of what she wanted to do, what would your advice be to her?
A: I’d recommend they work on 3 things – keeping a positive and passionate attitude (no fire, they don’t pass go), competency (can the actually do the job?), and cultivate loyalty. It is easy to skip from job to job, but harder (and more worthwhile) to really grow with a company that helps you start your career. Make no mistake, employers look for longevity.
Q: What or who in your life gives you the strength to persevere?
A: Definitely my husband, Arshil Kabani. I tend to work in intense bursts, and that means I also allow myself to burn out easily. He is always there to remind me to take it easy, and to show me that life is more than about just work!
Q: Oprah has that great section in her magazine “What I know for sure.” What do you know for sure?
A: What I know about Life: “When you get to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things shall happen: either you will be given something solid to stand on, or you will be taught how to fly.” – Edward Teller
What I know about education: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler
What I know about business: “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” — Theodore Roosevelt, “Citizenship in a Republic,” Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
What I know for sure: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” –Hamlet, Shakespeare
Q: What place in the world has the most sentimental value to you and why?
A: My parents’ house in Dallas where I grew up. Since I travel so much, I love coming back here. It’s the place where I am not Shama “the CEO” or Shama “the media star” or Shama “the author” (…you get the idea). I am just a kid having fun with my family.
Q: If you were stranded on an island and could have an unlimited source of 3 foods (and calories were not a concern), what would they be?
A: An island sounds great! I’d of course need my trusty Kindle and dog Snoopy too! But, as for food – hot chocolate (European style!), lobster, and angel hair pasta! I love my carbs and sugars.