Ep33: How Ari Zoldan Built An eCommerce Juggernaut With Millions In Revenue & 4,566% Growth

Ari Zoldan - Quantum

Hear a story about obsessively hiring top talent and explosive eCommerce growth with CEO Ari Zoldan of Quantum Networks. A self-proclaimed “entrepreneur by trade”, Ari started his career in telecom and technology and moved into new media. He oversaw the company’s growth from a start-up to $50 million in revenue. Ari is a regular commentator for CNN, Fox News, CNBC discussing cyber security, technology, mobile, entrepreneurship, social media and emerging business trends.

 

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Transcript:

Eric: Hi everyone and welcome to this week’s edition of Growth Everywhere where we interview entrepreneurs and bring you business and personal growth tips. I’m your host Eric Siu and today we have Ari Zoldan from Quantum Networks. Ari, how are you doing today?

Ari: Great to be here. How are you Eric?

Eric: I’m doing well. Thanks for being on the show. So Ari, why don’t we start with a little bit about your background first and then we’ll continue on.

Ari: Wonderful. So, I guess I call myself an entrepreneur by trade. I started in tele-com and moved on to technology and to new media. We have a company right now, an e-commerce company. We do about 50 million in revenue per year. We’re focused in on investing in niche communication products. The company just made the Inc 500 for the second year in a row. Company’s growth has been absolutely outstanding, primarily due to the phenomenal team that we have. In addition I’m a commentator for FOX News and CNN, CNBC, and a lot of the major networks covering technology, social media, cyber security, and general business.

Eric: Great. Cool. Can you tell us a little about Quantum Networks?

Ari: Sure. So, the company is a niche detailer, which means we purchase and we sell niche communication products. So, we’re not a typical shopping cart where we sell flat screen TVs or iPads. We look to sell intelligent technologent… sorry, technologent…intelligent products. For instance; high-end routers, wifi’s, security cameras, and we developed a market that developed an opportunity in the space to be able to provide support, both online and offline, for a lot of these products. The people that need the proper handholding for sales assist acquisition, we have tech guys on staff that actually help people make the purchase.

Eric: Got it. Cool. I looked at your site and the revenue growth has been say, I think you guys started in 2008, right?

Ari: That’s correct.

Eric: Yes, so I saw three-hundred K and another went up to five-million, and like twenty-five million, now it’s like fifty-million. What’s kind of the main driver for that growth?

Ari: I think it just always comes down to talent. You find a good innovative team, you can virtually do anything, especially in today’s environment. Everyone could compete. Everyone sells pretty much at the same price. So, the only big differentiator in my opinion is finding really skilled quality talent, and that’s been the obstacle. You start to see in the market place now a lot of big companies are swallowing up some of the smaller companies, not because of the product or service that they offer. It’s strictly for the talent. So you’ll see some of these larger companies acquiring a smaller company and actually shutting down the company and terminating the product, but then absorbing the talent into the bigger company.

Eric: Cool. Great. I’ve heard from some CEOs in the past that they spent maybe a quarter or third of their time on recruiting this great talent. How much time do you spend on recruiting?

Ari: I’m the head of recruiting at the company in addition to being CEO. So I probably interview about forty or fifty people per week. It’s absolutely…It’s extraordinary and people ask me, “Well, don’t you have better things to do than sit there and interview people?” And the answer is that I don’t. It’s the most important thing in a business, having to talk to your talent and the only way to be able to do it is having the CEO get involved, not only in the day to day operations of the interviews, but actually working with the team and coaching the company to continue to acquire top talent.

Eric: Got it. So, what are some tips you can provide on finding this top tier talent?

Ari: Obviously you can post on all the major websites. There’s Monster, there’s Hot Jobs, there’s tons of boards out there. You can go by the brick and mortar recruiting firms as well. But in terms of the processes that I’ve been known to do; first interview, it’s always a four or five minute interview. I typically see if the person is dressed appropriately, shows up on time, is presentable, and sort of one on one. Shockingly Eric, nine out of ten people don’t even fit that criteria. You think, unemployment is almost still in the double digits, people just aren’t showing up on time, they’re not taking the job search seriously.

So, that’s definitely the first interview, just seeing if they can show up. Second interview I get into their skill set and understanding what their passion is about. We love hiring people that have a passion for music, for engineering, something that will really differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. So, not so concerned about their GPA, their work history. Interested in who they are as a person and their character.

Eric: Got it. Okay. So, if I’m understanding correctly you have them show up in person for a quick five to ten minute and then you come around and say, “We’ll let you know if you’re in for round two.” Is that how it works?

Ari: That’s exactly right. I mean, I set the expectation, you know I say for instance, if it was you Eric, you come in and I say, “Look, I appreciate you spending time coming in. First interview is five minutes.” And I think they understand typically where I’m going. Then I explain, one I want you to show up on time, you have a copy of your resume, if you’re presentable, and then I always, always, always, before they leave I say, “By the way, send me a follow up email tonight by 8:45.” Shockingly that’s a pretty, pretty simple assignment. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to be able to do that. And the purpose I do that is just to see that: A. If they’re listening and, B. If they can follow up. And again, eight out of ten people don’t even do that. They’ll follow up the next day or in three days, or they won’t even send me an email. So, as I mentioned earlier Eric, the talent is getting harder and harder to find.

Eric: Okay. So, sounds like you have a really worked out funnel, that hiring funnel that’s working out for you. I saw something interesting on Twitter the other day where I think Hubspot, a guy from Hubspot, David Cancel, so he always gives his interviewees a disposable cup of water and sees what they do with the cup of water after. If they don’t dump it away, they don’t get hired. I think it’s really interesting, things like that, you find things that work for you. Continuing on the hiring funnel, after interview two, what happens there? Because I mean, if you’re interviewing all these people for different positions I imagine there has to be complexities for each different position.

Ari: Correct. I mean, well also, if there’s a piece of talent there, even if we don’t…We interview whether we have positions open or not. So, if we find somebody that’s really, really special that can add something to the team, we’ll do the reverse. We’ll actually create a new position for them. That’s how interested we are in terms of recruiting talent. So, that has been something that differentiates our company from the other companies.

Eric: Got it. Okay. Cool. I always like to ask the question, how did Quantum Networks acquire the first thousand customers? I know it might be little different for you guys since you guys are acquiring these different companies, so feel free to answer that question however you see fit.

Ari: Sure. The answer to that is really, we know how to optimize projects, number one, really well, we know how to build effective shopping carts, we know how to acquire customers. It takes us awhile to get our first thousand customers and a lot of it has been through trial and error, but once we got there we were able to scale pretty effectively.

Eric: Okay. Got it. And when you say optimize, what’s one thing that you can kind of share there?

Ari: Blogging is huge, obviously, content is king. Google wants to provide the optimal best tailored content to that person, to the end user, so as long as we follow Google’s guidelines the amazing thing is they publish it. And it’s following instructions, we link to the proper people, we provide good quality, content has to be original. Stuff of that sort drives traffic to your website. So, it’s one of one. It’s not rocket science, but it’s just, again, following the rules and playing fair.

Eric: Part of the whole content, we can even call this PR as well, I mean, you’ve appeared on CNN, USA Today, Fox Business, and all the entrepreneurs in the world would love to be on the show, so how did you get to that point, first of all?

Ari: A lot of it was being at the right time at the right place and understanding that there’s something out there called pro-media and a lot of companies, that smaller and even mid-size companies don’t get the power of being on television, of being in front of forty-two, forty-three, forty-five thousand people every single week. And they don’t add a harness and monetize…Well, A: They don’t know how to get access to it and, B: They don’t know how to be able to really monetize it.

And the answer is; getting access to media is like any other product, it’s the school of hard knocks, I mean, you can either hire a public relations firm to go out there and be able to get you in front of the camera or you could do it by getting on the phone and cold calling and building a reputation with producers and the bookers and that’s something that I’ve always done. I’d never heard…early on I knew that I needed to get public exposure, to get my brand out. I knew this was an important avenue for us and I focused on that. I appear four, six, seven, times a week on different media outlets within FOX, CNBC, and CNN, and CCTV, so it’s the power of the media that I think has really differentiated our company. And again, it’s an important bet when you’re on the air, when you have the opportunity on the air, it’s positioning yourself as a neutral expert.

Companies, producers, and bookers, they don’t appreciate you going on and self-promoting your own products. They’re not interested in that. They’re interested in getting someone who’s a real expert in these spaces as an analyst or as a neutral party, going and being able to talk about the industry. So I found that to really, really, get across.

Eric: Cool. Do you have a specific example where the media’s clearly helped someone reach out to you on a consulting thing, whatever story that you might have will be super helpful.

Ari: Sure. Every time I’m on air, after I get two or three-hundred emails after the appearance for opportunities to be able to sit on their board, or just some advice, or to participate in and equity round. And as a general rule I will always take a meeting with anybody and everybody because I do believe in good business karma, if you will, and not necessarily looking to monetize or profit from every relationship, more focused on the people and wanting, as an entrepreneur myself, really, truly, genuinely wanting entrepreneurs to succeed.

Eric: Okay. So, when you say you’ll take a meeting with anyone, is this like a physical meeting or is this just like a quick phone call? Because I know a lot of entrepreneurs out there that are just like, “I’ll never do a coffee meeting. They’re useless?” I just want to get your take on that.

Ari: There is a school of thought that say, yeah, it is useless. They say it’s a time sap. I completely disagree. If you have the time and the capacity, and the bend to be able to meet somebody for coffee, even if it’s for ten, fifteen minutes, it doesn’t have to be a two hour coffee break, it’s something that I’ve seen turn into real opportunity because you don’t know where that relationship is going to lead to. I mean if there’s no opportunity with that person, they may have a brother in your business, or they may have a cousin, or a friend, or an associate. I’ve seen those paths just absolutely open up because of it. As a general rule I’ll take anyone that wants to meet with me. I’ll find the time even if it’s my two weekends that I can meet with them.

Eric: Nice. Okay. Cool. So, you talked a little bit about Karma and that actually segues into the next question. Let’s talk about your book “The Seven Spiritual Principals to Great Success.”

Ari: So, the concept is the name of the book is “Holy Bus[iness]… I’m still processing and coming up with the name. It will either be “Holy Business” or “Holy Money”. The basic principal is born out of a recent trip that I came back from in Northern India in the town called Dharamsala, meeting with the interim successor of the Dali Lama, whom we basically…In a monastery we had a conversation about general business.

And it occurred to me that the monks that I spent a week with, they’re in such harmony with themselves and they don’t have much money, but yet they’re so peaceful and they’re really in tune to the outside world. But at the same time they have an understanding of money as a necessity to provide food, clothing, and shelter. So, we had a conversation about how do you define success and how do you define money? And out of that came this concept that I had, and it’s not an original concept, but it’s something I spent a lot of time researching, on trying to do good business; that you don’t need to put somebody down to be able to be successful, you don’t need to undercut them, you don’t need to put them out of business in order to be successful.

What happened…The concept of twenty-five years ago, Gordan Gekko, Wall Street, “Greed is Good”, apparently doesn’t work. That catches up to you. You see the houses, you see what happened in the housing collapsed. You see what happened when the market dropped, Neiman Brothers and Nordstrom. So really, the concept is what goes around comes around and we put that into a very, very fine contextual sense in a book, citing very specific examples about how good business will lead to really good profits. We talk about some examples, Eric. We talk about collaboration verses competition and explaining, “Well, there’s more of an opportunity to make money if you collaborate with your competitors verses than compete, social entrepreneurship providing, whether it’s technology money or resources, to third world countries, that benefit society as a whole, your then recognized as somebody that’s benevolent. Ideas like that are threaded throughout the book.

Eric: Got it. When does this book come out?

Ari: It’s going to come out in six months. So, we’re looking in February/March of 2015.

Eric: Got it. What’s your number one goal for or number one reason, actually, for wanting to do a book like this, because I always think there’s a story behind it?

Ari: Sure. I’ve spent the last ten, twelve years and been to probably fifty, sixty, seventy countries around the world and it’s been an amazing journey for me. Much of the travel…part of the travel was personal, part of the travel was business and always ran into some absolute phenomenal people along the way that gave me tips and ideas and concepts. There’s a concept in Judaism called Bashert, it’s sort of karma on steroids, where everything happens for a reason. And timing in everything is essential also. So, you meet someone on a bus in a random country, draw a connection to them, and work with them, and four or five months later you find someone that you have in common. Some of that sort, if you’re open to it, if your heart is open to it, your mind is open to it, the opportunities are completely vast and enormous, and you’re seeing a lot of good people today making a lot of money that’s all proof that this is working.

Eric: Got it. I guess that segues into another question. How does a startup entrepreneur, someone that’s just super busy, set aside time to travel? Because it seems like you travel a lot.

Ari: I do. I like mixing business with personal. So, if I’m on vacation with my family I set a couple of hours aside to be able to do some business as well. And there’s nothing wrong, people talk about separating business from personal. Well, it’s hard to do that if you love what you do. So, Business is actually, it’s very personal. I talk about that in the book. If you hurt somebody in the business people say, “Well, it’s not personal.” And I’ve heard it so many times, they say, “Oh, it’s not personal.” And I’ve realized that business is very personal. It’s very, very personal. I don’t know of anybody that’s been stolen from that hasn’t been hurt. So, apparently, business is very, very, personal.

Eric: Got it. Okay. Cool. So, switching gears a little bit, we had this discussion before we started, you mentioned the nine out of ten tech startups just don’t understand marketing at all. Can you kind of elaborate on that?

Ari: Sure. So they come up with the idea and many times they believe that have something that’s completely innovative. First problem is that they haven’t done their research enough, they haven’t done their due diligence to see what companies are out there. But more importantly they haven’t done their research on the companies that have been out there, that have tried it and have failed or succeeded. So, due diligence is absolutely…it’s critical in success of building a successful company.

Second thing, once they built it, nine out of ten of them that I’ve met with, have been looking or continued looking for marketing dollars. So the obvious question is, “Why haven’t you thought about that before you started?” and they said “If we build it, we thought people will come.” But it doesn’t work that way. You can’t build something, it doesn’t care how proprietary or how extraordinary it is. You need to be able to have proper funds behind it to be able to push it out there. And people don’t…Marketers get it, technology people typically don’t get it, they don’t understand it, and unfortunately that’s why a lot of companies fail.

Eric: I’ve seen that a few times in the past, you know, personal experience of being a marketer, I started off and then also at other companies that we’ve helped too. How do we get these, how do we get more tech oriented people, like more developer coded, or development minded entrepreneurs to understand how important marketing is?

Ari: Good question. I think information. I think getting the big marketer’s out there and being able to give seminars, educate, educate our fellow communities, to be able to get them early on and explain it to them, say, “Hey guys and girls, you’re building something great. However, keep in mind that there’s going to come a time where, once your product is built or after it’s in beta, you’ve got to focus on marketing the product as well. And I’ve told this to people and I’d almost rather have, Eric, a decent product or even a decent [lean-to 0:19:23.6] product, but has phenomenal packaging, and great marketing, then having something so proprietary with no packaging or messaging around it.

Eric: Got it. Okay. Cool. Now, the white board background behind you, we talked about that a little bit. Is there any story behind that?

Ari: No. Aside from it looks cool and fun, it’s great because I don’t have a notebook. My notebook is the wall and it’s completely visual and it’s always in front of me. I can’t close the wall, I can close my notebook, and at least it’s in front of my twenty-four seven.

Eric: Got it. Okay. Cool. I know with Quantum Networks it seems like things have been smooth sailing. Was there any point where Quantum Networks was on the brink of failure?

Ari: Brink of concern, I like to call it Brink of concern of failure; thinking that we won’t be able to get over this barrier. Sure, it doesn’t happen on a regular basis, but like every startup we have challenges with finding good talent, liquidity, no matter what, is always an issue, understanding from technological and systems standpoint, about how to properly scale. So, it’s a very cookie cutter one on one issues that I think eight out of ten tech companies deal with. So, we’re learning to deal with it just like every other company.

It’s been a journey. I don’t believe there’s any failures in life. I think there’s challenges and it’s how you look at things. You can fail and you can be down on yourself or you can look at it as an opportunity to stand back up and get stronger and build another company. And I’ve been in both situations. I’ve had some really cool successes and I’ve had a whole bunch of failures. But I believe that they’re all in the same wheel house as being successful because of the experience we’re able to garnish along the way.

Eric: Are you, can you talk about one of your big failures and what you learned from it?

Ari: Do we have enough time?

Eric:  We do.

Ari: The list is long Eric. Some of the big failures. I’ve worked on a lot of the telecom projects overseas that took years to be able to nurture these relationships and to be able to get involved in the bidding process and to be able to partner up with some of these foreign companies, and it didn’t work. It wasn’t necessarily because I didn’t try hard enough or I didn’t show up. It’s just the stars were not aligned for the deal to be able to work out. I guess the more emotional challenges, being able to…It’s okay to be disappointed, but I don’t think it’s okay to be continually disappointed; and to continue to wipe the dust off and stand up and keep moving and persistence like everything in life is one of the keys to success.

Eric: Okay. Cool. What’s one thing you would tell your twenty-five year old self?

Ari: If I was twenty-five?

Eric: Yes.

Ari: If I was twenty-five probably appreciate every moment whether it’s business or personal. We’re here for such a small time and all we have is our reputation, our resume, and our name. Outside of that money comes, money goes; it’s completely arbitrary. You have needs and you have wants in life. Your needs are food, clothing, and shelter. Your wants are really whatever’s put into your brain; you’ll want a nicer car, you want a nicer house. So, having that constantly…Constantly reminding myself of that, I think is super important

Eric: Got it. Cool. Actually to elaborate on that a little, I hear a lot of “You’ve got to appreciate the moment”. Is there anything you do specifically to kind of appreciate the moment? Because I always told myself that, but sometimes I just let myself kind of, it’s just like really empty words. I tell myself I have to, but I’m not really doing it, you know?

Ari: Sure. Sure. I pray every morning. I meditate every morning for a couple of minutes and even if it’s five, or ten, or fifteen minutes and the rest of the day is just, you know, I’m on my way and not focused on anything not spiritual, those morning moments that I think gives the opportunity to stop and pause. So, that’s one thing that I do Eric. The second thing that I do is, I have a beautiful wife, a beautiful family, when I look at them I realize that, you know, “Wow, this is just like absolutely amazing.” So, those two are appreciation things for myself.

Eric: Awesome. Cool. Final two questions from my side. You shared a meditation part. What’s one more productivity hack you can share with the audience?

Ari: Find something that you’re passionate about outside of work. Put your iPhone, your Blackberry, your Samsung, put that stuff down, have them turned off, you know, have a turn off time, it could be twelve hours, it could be twenty-four hours. I’m an Orthodox Jew so I’m a Sabbath observer so, from Friday night to Saturday night every single week my phone is off. I spend time with my family. I go to synagogue. I enjoy my family. That’s the time where I’m completely unplugged. I would say unplug. It could be on Saturday, could be on Monday, could be Tuesday, whenever it is, take a break and you come back fresh.

Eric: Got it. Okay. Super helpful and actionable. Final question. Besides your own book what’s one must read book you’d recommend to the audience?

Ari: That’s a good question. I think “Blink” and “The Tipping Point” are both really great books. I’d get those two on the bookshelf.

Eric: Okay. Cool. Alright everyone, Ari’s on Quantum Networks. Thanks for having you…Thanks for having you on the show. We hope to definitely have you again sometime soon.

Ari: Great to be here Eric. Thank you so much.

 

About Eric Siu

Eric Siu (@ericosiu) is the CEO at Single Grain, a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid advertising and content marketing. He contributes regularly to Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes and more.

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