“Five Things You Need To Know In Order To Create A Very Successful Tech Company” With Douglas Brown & Zeynep “Z” Ekemen

Have a superior product that is needed and is making a difference in the world.Always be ahead of competition.Have high quality products that you are proud of.Have great customer service.Always look for the next new idea. As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of […]

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Have a superior product that is needed and is making a difference in the world.

Always be ahead of competition.

Have high quality products that you are proud of.

Have great customer service.

Always look for the next new idea.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zeynep “Z” Ekemen, Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Silver Defender, a women-owned business developing adhesive films with built-in antimicrobial protection to help businesses stay safe and clean.

An entrepreneur at heart with a background in commercial real estate, her vision of empowering individuals and businesses in promoting cleanliness led her to the arduous task of meeting with scientists, testing products and establishing the business and its supply chain. Launched in 2018, Silver Defender is currently the only product of its kind to have initiated the EPA pesticide registration process.

Z is also the principal of Z Realty Group, a commercial real estate firm in northern New Jersey that was founded in 2009 and has been named CoStar Power Broker of the Year — a prestigious accolade celebrating the industry’s top professionals — not once but twice.

Z is a graduate of Pace University’s Lubin School of Business where she earned her MBA in Accounting. When not working, chances are Z is on the golf course or enjoying a Broadway play.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ever since I was a little girl, I always wanted to invent something. Something that doesn’t exist but is needed in the world. I graduated with a master’s in accounting but knew that wouldn’t be my ultimate path. For the last decade I have owned a commercial real estate firm but always knew that would be temporary as well. I wanted to do something that actually makes a difference in the world, even the smallest difference. I think Silver Defender does that.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

Silver Defender has been in R&D since 2018 but the company officially launched to the public in late January of this year. On March 4th I found myself sitting across the Ministry of Science and Technology at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC. At first it was the most intimidating meeting I have ever been in. After going through security and walking a mile with escorts inside the embassy to the most impressive conference room, I found myself sitting across the table with the Minister along with five other man colleagues. Inside my head I was saying, “Who do I think I am and what am I doing here!” But once I started to talk about our products and how they needed it more than we did back in March, my nerves settled, and it was an unforgettable meeting.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Starting a company like this during a pandemic and it being so big from the beginning, there is really not a lot of room for mistakes. Every company has mistakes but owning up to them and changing them from the beginning and being honest is important.

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 wouldn’t necessarily say hard times but definitely exhausting times. I would say there have been many days where I literally didn’t get a chance to eat lunch or dinner and worked 16–18 hour days.

US Department of Commerce was kind enough to introduce our company and products to different countries around the world. After working all day, I would have to get on international calls at 10pm, 11 pm and 12 am because that’s when it is morning on the other side of the world. The drive to keep going came from the fact that I have been so blessed to have such a successful startup and just had to keep it going.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I would have to say that person would have to be my best friend for over 15+ years Evan Wexler. Watching him grow his multiple companies from inception to where they are now has been such a valuable lesson as an entrepreneur. His advice on building the Silver Defender brand has been invaluable.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have many quotes that I actually keep on my phone in a special folder and read all the time. This one has to be one of my favorite quotes. “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” — Calvin Coolidge.

I can probably say that I don’t have any true talents. I would love to play the piano or violin, but I have no musical talent. But that didn’t stop me from taking lessons to see if I can learn. (Lessons didn’t help, I can’t play any instrument). I loved playing sports but mostly sat on the bench whatever sport I tried to play in a team. I’m nowhere close to being a genius. I’ve been a good student, but I had to study so hard just to be an above average student. But one thing I do have for sure is persistence and determination.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Simply put, imagine you are at a public bathroom at a coffee shop and now it is time to exit the bathroom. Do you want to touch the door handle after you just finished washing your hands? I can guarantee the answer is no. That’s where our antimicrobial protected films come in. This was the idea behind this product. Keeping door handles clean that no one wants to touch with bare hands.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our products are a solution to an everyday problem that we all knew we had. As I mentioned above, no one wants to touch a dirty door handle, but nothing was being done about it. We are making high touch points clean again and giving the confidence back not to be afraid to touch a door handle.

I always say perception is reality. There are a lot of products out there that can clean a dirty touch point whether it is a spray, fog machine or a light. Our products are the clean that you can see.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have our hands full right now with our current product line. But we are always thinking of what is next to grow the Silver Defender brand of products.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

I’m new to the field so I think it would be unfair for me to make a statement on the status quo in Tech. But overall, it is always a challenge for a woman to be respected just as much as her male counterpart. I come from a commercial real estate industry where I had to experience the same issues in a male dominated sector.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

I’ve only been in the tech industry for a short period of time but have a commercial real estate background. As a woman in the male-dominated commercial real estate field, I remember attending conferences were there was a 9 to 1 ratio of men to women. I think people generally assume that women do not hold leadership roles in these types of industries. Although I had founded my own firm at the time, men would always ask if I worked for someone else’s firm. I won the CoStar Broker Award twice in New Jersey and in both years, of 10 companies each, I was the only woman-owned company. Women have to continue believing in themselves to reach their fullest potential and goals.

What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

Even though I’ve only been in the industry for six months, when I worked in commercial real estate there was a time when we came to a standstill and had to revise our strategy. We found that the best way to overcome a standstill was to hone in on a specific niche. That was when we decided to specialize in providing our CRE services to daycare facilities and operators. Now, as we launched Silver Defender during a pandemic, it was also important to focus on a niche and raise the standards for clean.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

Hire salespeople that truly believe in your brand and product. Make sure you train them so they know everything there is to know about the product they are selling.

In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

We have been lucky enough that customers are finding us. They see our products in their daily lives whether it is on a door handle they reached for, at a retail store, office building, their kids’ school or their doctors office.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

Whether our customer is just buying one product from us or cases of product, we give the same customer service to all of our clients. We make sure we stay on calls as long as we need to answer any questions our customers might have on how to use our products. It is a new product that hasn’t existed before, so we have to be patient and teach our customers what it is that we manufacture.

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

Our products are recommended to be replaced every 90 days. We have been retaining our customers once their replacement periods are due. I think that has to do with providing great customer service and having a quality product.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

Have a superior product that is needed and is making a difference in the world.

Always be ahead of competition.

Have high quality products that you are proud of.

Have great customer service.

Always look for the next new idea.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire 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.

Society is shifting how they perceive cleanliness and safety. As a company that wants to inspire others to feel safe, I believe Silver Defender is starting a movement with our products. We’re providing solutions for cleanliness and empowering people to feel safe again when touching door handles and touch points without being afraid.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to have breakfast with President Trump especially as we face the COVID-19 pandemic as a nation. Silver Defender’s mission is to provide a new standard for clean for our community and we would love to make America clean again.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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