One of the main things is passion. I’ve noticed a lot of kids that I mentor chase money not passion. They watch things and get ideas of what they think they want. They get stuck on chasing money, instead of passion. And when you chase money without passion, you’re not really going to make money. Passion is what gets you through your failures. When I’m sleeping, I’m working. If I wake up at night with a new idea, I’ll write it on a notepad. You have to be in love with what you’re doing. That has to be your ultimate goal. You should take it seriously, find your passion.
As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexander Kidd of Z Group Digital.
At age 15, Alexander started his first business and purchased his first commercial building at 19. He has since started businesses in direct marketing, motivational coaching, industrial manufacturing and importing goods. He routinely spends time with large clients helping them develop an up-to-date current strategy in today’s ever-changing world.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve been doing this for about 25 years. I started at a young age. My parents are immigrants. My father was a self-starter and he had his own business. I remember spending a lot of my early high school years trying to come up with an idea to do something. Because the idea of being an employee wasn’t fun for me. I was a big fan of the Rolling Stone as a kid. I looked at them and I knew I wanted to be a rockstar. But I knew I had no talent. I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t play guitar. So I thought what was the next best thing? To be an entrepreneur, right? Start your own business and kind of call it as you will. And that’s basically where I began.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
I’ve spent a lot of time partnering up with the wrong people. My first partner didn’t have the mindset of an entrepreneur, he wanted to be a 9 to 5 guy. That just doesn’t work. My second partner had different ethics. My real “Aha” moment is when I met my current partner. I met him during a marketing consulting project. He was one of the guys that was on that team I was working with. We kept in touch and we became closer friends. After about a year back and forth I said to myself “This is my partner for life”. He has half of what I don’t have. This allowed us to work harder and longer and faster. So that was really the “Aha moment” for this company. I feel in the future one day, I will die working with this guy.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I’ve had many failed businesses and failed ideas, but each failed idea rolled into the next thing. When we first started this company, we were doing health and nutraceuticals. We were having a very hard time, so we brought an internal marketer in. Next thing you know, one of our friends who had a great business asked us to help him. A month later we were helping another friend. Next thing you know, we had four or five clients and now we didn’t have time to run our health organization, now we’re just marketers. So we fell into marketing. We never intended to do that.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Well, success is a weird thing. For myself, I never had a definitive moment. Success is always about creating the next level. Because in business you’re either growing or shrinking. There is no even medium, so we put a lot of focus on growth. A lot of small wins is what creates that success, but I don’t see success in a normal metric like that.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think our management style is very unique. We model ourselves after Apple or maybe Tesla. We look at what those companies do and we absorb it. The one thing you have to look at Apple is that they make it very easy to become a part of their ecosystem because they offer many services that all compliment each other. That’s why we’re a full-service marketing agency. We give you great products that constantly deliver across many platforms. We model our business in that respect, like Apple. Let’s be full service, let’s make it very easy for people to join us, make barriers of entry very low, and let’s give them incredible customer support. Let’s give them everything they need.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Probably the biggest mistake of mine is not believing in myself more. I had a call the other day with an old business partner of mine, we hadn’t spoken in about four or five years. He said “I’ve got this deal on the table. It’s a 280 million dollars buy.” In the past I would have thought “This is awesome!” What I learned in the last few years is that I’m good on my own, I can do things by myself. I can create, I can imagine. I have a lot more confidence in my own ability. It was such closure to that relationship for me. After making the call I felt good because I didn’t feel the need to jump on his thing or feel I had to have him back in my life. I know my team is the best, I know my products, I know everything we do is the best. I have full confidence in what I’m doing, to be able to take everybody on that journey and be successful. So I think that was one of the largest mistakes of my life, listening to other people, letting them get in your head.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
It’s an interesting thing. I think it rolls back to just listening to other people’s negativity. It’s not that it’s bad advice, like we all have people in our lives that tell you you’re no good. Some may not directly say that to you, but they expose it in a way that you absorb it and feel bad about it. And that was an important thing. I listened to other people when they would say “That’s a stupid idea”.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
First, my relentless stupidity to do things. I mentor a lot of kids, from 20–30 years old. I see me in them. I see a guy who wants to be something, but has no clue how to do it. Like throwing a dart and wherever it hits, that’s where I’m going, whether I know how to get there or how to do it. I wouldn’t call it drive, I call it blind stupidity of chasing something. You learn through these decisions.
Second, I don’t worry about risks. Some people think about how certain things will affect their jobs and worry about their success. I don’t think about that, because I never had a job, so it’s either succeed or succeed. If I don’t succeed, there’s no backup. But I’m a full force kind of guy. Once it’s time to do it, we do it, no questions asked. You do it until the next better plan comes up. That was a really strong point for me.
Third, I was raised around a lot of people who were self-employed. For me at a young age, I wanted to be the richest guy in the world. I don’t necessarily feel that way anymore, but I just wanted to be the quickest at coming up with ideas for business. In 1992, my neighbor had just got a computer and handed me 150 dollars for plugging in three wires. I really felt bad for not doing much and handed it back, but he insisted, saying I earned it. That’s what hit me. From that point forward, I spent a ton of time learning, to be able to do things for others, and looking for how to monetize that. This was pivotal for me.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Domino’s makes pizza and there’s so many other pizza places. And every year a new pizza company opens up. I realized quickly that you don’t need to have crazy unique ideas. You can take a standard thing and look for the hole and plug that hole and make that your niche.
I’m pretty close with my competitors. I even speak with some of them regularly, I tell them what I’m doing. These guys are bigger than me and have bigger companies, but they sit there and look at how we do things and commend me for learning how to do things sooner whereas it took them years. I think something that the competition has to understand is that you can never rest.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I think vision is important — I don’t think they extrapolate. When you do something you look at where you are and where you want to be. You can learn to be prepared. Though you’re going to find resistance and you’re going to miscalculate things. And there can be unexpected things like COVID, but you have to try and stay prepared. Always be prepared for what if situations, it’s important to have good plans of attack.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
I think most people think things are going to be easy. You get in and underestimate the challenges. It’s about preparedness. I think that’s a large part of it. A lot of companies that I consult aren’t prepared for that and they get really stuck on things. I remember when I would consult with large tech companies, they would be so worried about what Apple is releasing that they thought they had to release watches too. They would get stuck, and when I offered counter ideas they would show such resistance. They would always go through with their own ideas, despite consultations, and would fail. Only to go to the drawing board and repeat the process again in a similar manner. Those are the few things I see companies doing.
Ok excellent. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company”? Please share a story or an example for each.
#1 — One of the main things is passion. I’ve noticed a lot of kids that I mentor chase money not passion. They watch things and get ideas of what they think they want. They get stuck on chasing money, instead of passion. And when you chase money without passion, you’re not really going to make money. Passion is what gets you through your failures. When I’m sleeping, I’m working. If I wake up at night with a new idea, I’ll write it on a notepad. You have to be in love with what you’re doing. That has to be your ultimate goal. You should take it seriously, find your passion.
#2 — Spend your 20s learning and spend your 30s earning. Look for a mentor. Someone who is where you want to be in life. Nowadays you can reach out to so many of them on LinkedIn or email. Find that person, give them a compelling reason to work for them, or with them. Show them that you’re worth it. Eventually they will realize that they can’t be without you. So spend your 20s learning.
#3 — Another important thing would be extrapolating. It’s a tool I use continuously in my life. A lot of times I ask my students to tell me what they see when they’re on their deathbed. Remember whatever you’re going to see is going to take years to build, but now you have your end goal. Now you have to get there, and use extrapolation. I’m constantly extrapolating. I see the end goal and the path to it. It helps you see all the steps involved and the challenges you should account for.
#4 — It’s completely unfair to compare yourself. My grandfather said to me once, “I don’t understand why you’re not successful and worth five billion dollars”. At that time Mark Zuckerberg was making billions of dollars. That’s when it hit me, you can’t compare yourself to anybody else. You have your own metrics and you follow those metrics, and those metrics are what you compare yourself against. That’s how I grew and once you figure that part out, it just levels the playing field.
#5 — The most important thing for everyone, is time. I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that I’m not teaching somebody about time. It is the most important thing we have. We shouldn’t waste it just sitting and being unproductive. We should value it. Use it to better yourself and your business.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
In the United States, we’re indoctrinated in a way to be like robots, and I see it when immigrants come here. They act a certain way and their kids spend a generation in school to come out differently. I feel that this system is designed to create a certain type of person who is not really benefiting from the system. We’re designed to be consumers and borrow money. There are a few basic successful tips that you can share in a five minute conversation with anyone, but nobody shares them. So for me, to get this message out to people on a large scale for free, would do the most amount of good. I want to be able to give them a different perspective from a younger age. I want to reach them in that age group where you can really be influential and help them achieve their best.
How can our readers further follow you online?
It’s interesting because as a marketer I don’t have a great online presence, but my company does. So you can follow Z Group Digital. We’ve got a website where we put out a lot of great content. We have a podcast series that we do. We do it for about an hour every week and we post those. From our website www.zgroupdigital.com, you’ll get the link to all our socials.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!