Mike Zima: “Don’t be frugal”

Don’t be frugal; be a savvy investor in your marketing & advertising. You are not wasting money on your website and marketing. It’s funding over time, like your retirement fund. Some marketing decisions might have a negative return like advertising, and some marketing funding appreciate like. Always measure and expect every funding should have a […]

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Don’t be frugal; be a savvy investor in your marketing & advertising.

You are not wasting money on your website and marketing. It’s funding over time, like your retirement fund. Some marketing decisions might have a negative return like advertising, and some marketing funding appreciate like. Always measure and expect every funding should have a positive outcome. If it doesn’t, measure and find out why.

Every new business we help, we indoctrinate them to focus on testing and measuring. It will piss you off when you lose money. Get used to it. Your competitors lost way more to get to where they are. It’s a part of doing business, and you need to rectify where you’re bleeding the budget. This is why being a measurement expert helps make faster decisions instead of blowing it all on a pipe dream on hearsay from a successful friend and superstition you read about on a blog post. If you can apply, measure, and be patient, you’ll have dividends.

Investors don’t grow rich overnight; they grow wealthy over the long-term.

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Highly Successful E-Commerce Business”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Zima, co-founder and Chief Growth Officer of Zima Media. Having more than 10 years of experience in digital marketing, he helps Shopify and ECOM stores win today’s marketplace with smart marketing.

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 grew up a digital drifter preparing for a career that did not exist in 2009. I had a little idea to start a marketing agency, and in the first round, we raised venture capital to launch a competitor to Groupon. After burning through hundreds of thousands of dollars, souring relationships, and deep depression from failure, there was a reboot moment. What if you had a marketing agency in your pocket? This, in essence, became Zima Media. After lining up the dominos, relocating from Chicago to Barcelona as a digital nomad, and forging a partnership with a business partner I have not met in real life after working together for 5-years. We’ve touched business in over 80 countries, over 30 industries and earned over 1K+ five star reviews.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

The first version of my consultancy was a SquareSpace website with digital marketing services. The ecommerce experience with the aim of high-quality marketing services. The website never converted 10-years ago. It was all direct sales, complex contracts, and hours of pointless calls. I was sitting in my basement, recovering from failure. I deleted Facebook and Instagram and shut out my world for 5-years to rebuild. Zima Media was my third startup, and the only difference was it required no capital to start. The idea pushed the company forward.

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 persevered through the most challenging time because there’s a love story intertwined with my career. I quit my job to marry my wife and to find happiness. My career path hamstrung me into social media management, and I wanted a better challenge. The last 6-months of 2014 were the hardest, and I needed to reinvent myself. I studied coding, data science, and technology. Earning my Google Analytics certification was the most profitable move for my career. Since earning it, I have audited thousands of websites and fell in love with data. When I discovered the magic numbers that make ecommerce businesses run, my career went from a light jog into a sprint. By January 2015, I had my dream agency job and a side-hustle marketing agency. I went from a dead-end job with no clients in 2014 to working two jobs from 6 AM-10 PM 6-Days a week.

2015 was a blur, and by that summer, we had our first anniversary in the Bahamas. We realized we want to be happy when we come home. So, 9-months later we packed our bags and moved to Barcelona. We never went to Spain, nor did we speak Spanish. We left thundersnow and deep-dish pizza behind. My consultancy allowed me to uproot us and work from home full-time. In 2016 we romanced the streets of Barcelona till it was almost cut short in 2017. By February 2017, a single client accounted for most of my income, and they ran out of cash. I was stuck in Spain, hardly knowing the language, with no income coming in. I locked myself in my cupboard (apartments are small in Barcelona) for 1-month and started hustling on the digital slopes shaking pixels, knocking on inboxes, and sending virtual proposals. Within 60-days, my income doubled, and we took the plunge and relocated again to Mallorca, Spain, an island next to Ibiza.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

We had a pandemic moment this year. Fortunately for us, we were already remote, and we had the process in place by my business partner Damien Bouvier, MBA, to seamlessly keep the business intact. We lost a few clients; we gained a few clients. We’re still here, and our brand is built to last. We’re grateful we’re profitable, hiring talent, and expanding our business. Our resilience is the DNA of our culture, and in 2021 we are going to weaponize it to ignite growth.

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?

In 2015 I lost sleep over my feeble attempts of becoming a WordPress developer. I helped a nice guy from Bali relaunch his WordPress website. I botched the transfer and spent weeks trying to restore his website. The whole time, I heard about his wife injecting commentary into the entire process about how awful I was. It failed; I spent dozens of hours and CPU power to make it work. I laid my dreams of becoming a developer to rest after this moment. I was not cut out for it, and the revenue was coming from marketing services. This was a checkmate that pushed me to double-down on my marketing and advertising abilities.

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

We were just two guys with laptops, and we worked with clients in over 80 countries and over 30 industries. Our processes allowed us to work with thousands of clients in a few short years. We’ve had Masonic Challenge coins to luxury travel to Africa and Cambodia, hoverboards to and a company co-founded by Thomas Edison.

We were unbiased about industries and collected data on every interaction. We used data from customers’ success to map out which industries we can make the most impact as an Agency. We used creativity and data to influence the types of clients we wanted. Every step we take, we measure twice. This methodology reflects on our clients, and what works for us we apply for our clients. We use the most cutting edge marketing and advertising features, and we abandon the losing techniques. We don’t play favorites and make decisions based on the best data available.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I burn out much less now. It will happen but don’t focus on it. I’ve built a mantra that helps me check myself. Here’s a quick video on it.

1. Be accountable

2. Be a self-starter

3. Improve communication

4. Manage tasks better

5. Make time for work AND life

My mantra helps me keep my fuel on high. I also practice meditation and martial arts daily to keep motivated.

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?

I have a lot of mentors in my life. The most notable is Bejan Douraghy of CEO, Artisan Talent. I had the privilege to get to know him professionally and personally. I would spend a lot of time behind closed doors in the martial arts studio, listening to Chicago executives’ dialog. I was the fly on the wall and learned so much about business. Bejan slept in his office to start and grew the largest freelancer talent agency in the US, and by putting his freelancer first, Artisan was the first to offer freelancers benefits. A true trailblazer, Bejan gave me insights to build the culture at Zima Media. I strived to earn freelancing positions from Artisan Talent, and I needed a Degree to be qualified, and Artisan pushed me to finish College. Artisan helped me land one of the first clients that helped me leverage my expertise into more business. Without Bejan and Artisan Talent, there would be no Zima Media.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that eCommerce businesses are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

The great leap forward. Ecommerce grows 10-years in 3-months. This was a topic I covered in the following video:

Most of our clients are ecommerce based, and the ones that are thriving are all essential staples in demand from apparel, beauty, and health categories. These critical businesses were strained by overdemand and fragmented supply chains. Closing the loop from manufacturing to fulfillment is a competitive advantage that could lead to more sales. Everyone is accustomed to Amazon Prime; your business should be Amazon Now. Delight your customers with quality and speed.

Amazon, and even Walmart are going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise retail companies and eCommerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Working with offshore manufacturers is a trial by fire experience. You’re not going to get everything right on the first go, and you’re paying yourself to fail. Some companies can help you with all the quality assurance and sampling, but do you know where to begin? GlobalTQM offers this in a simple subscription package if you want to offshore to China. Our former client BecauseLove flew to Hong Kong with a mentor to have her products arrive in the US needing to be reordered. If you cannot travel to inspect it by yourself, is it worth it? We had a D2C brand start with us with

and ADs, and they worked with offshore printers and are going to pivot into their wholly-owned brand. Tokyo Dreams grew its Instagram account from 1K to 121K in about a year, and this tactical advantage will make the transition into manufacturing seamless. Also, the uninitiated see it as easy money but ignore the logistics. The end consumer knows they’re receiving a lousy product when you can instead focus on building stronger relationships with suppliers AND customers.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start an eCommerce business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The biggest error often comes from not having a budget. Testing allows you to explore what the economics of different marketing is and make sure to allocate testing for at least 90–180 day increments. If you’re only testing for 30-days, you might be one more day away from striking gold. Don’t let your competitors catch up to you.

In your experience, which aspect of running an eCommerce brand tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Most brands will fail at communication, and this is not a forever failure. Ecommerce communication comes in two flavors. Your brand has to exhibit expertise and knowledge about a specific problem and offer the best solution to your customer’s needs. Many brands focus on the end-consumer, which is vital at scale, but most ecommerce stores will have many profiles that resonate for different reasons. The second is your unbranded communication, which addresses the solution in-depth without being too pushy or even at all. Analytics will help you experiment with communication, and if nothing leads users to explore other pages, take actions, or find out more about your brand. Well, keep improving your communication because editing your text, uploading it, and measuring it is affordable and easy to do nowadays with an expert copywriter. We measure communication to improve social, and Ads Campaigns. Always be better at expressing your value and opinions to your users.

Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?

The Google Marketing Platform has all the tools to launch your ecommerce business. It has Google Analytics, Google Search Console, Google Ads (Keyword Planner is my religion), and Google Optimize for A/B testing. If you can master this tool-kit, “there is no spoon.”

One of my earliest mistakes was to conceive a tool out there that solves the problem in 1-click. The internet has moved forward, and nobody designs perfect services that solve your problem. Master the fundamentals of analytics and measurement, and you’ll know what you need in a tool. If you answer your business questions by testing them on Google Marketing Platform, you’ll save a small fortune. Trust me on this one; it will save you tens of thousands over the years for your business.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?

If sales are your “macro conversion,” many ecommerce stores ignore “micro-conversions” that brought them the sales.

Is there a blog post that generates 80% of the qualified traffic that leads to the majority of your sales?

Are you tracking your site’s interactions like scroll-depth, button Text clicks, video views, email signups, and attributing that back to your macro conversions?

Your Google Analytics is your well, and you need to send down a bucket to extract the precious raw and liquid data it produces. It’s not automatic, but Google Analytics 4 offers more custom tracking for engagement, which will be empowering. This tool will make you feel like a data-scientist, and all you need to do is adopt it, read it, and learn about the different components. I challenge you to read the Google Analytics support documents. It will take you a couple of coffees over a few mornings.

Become your ecommerce store secret weapon. Ask me on Twitter, and I’ll post a PDF of my Google Analytics guide.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

We already covered communication. This will impact your collections and product descriptions and should be optimized and measured. The brands that do the best in our management sphere know their value proposition inside and out that hooks each customer with the intent to buy. Those that don’t have their positioning 100% figured out, they have to focus on being more like a magazine. When I say magazine, it means having large pictures, memorable lifestyle experiences, models using the product, and reliable communication strategy on Instagram. Although visually driven, communication is the hub of ecommerce success today on your website and social media. This is the magnet to attract sales based on your real social proof.

One of the main benefits of shopping online is the ability to read reviews. Consumers love it! While good reviews are of course positive for a brand, poor reviews can be very damaging. In your experience what are a few things a brand should do to properly and effectively respond to poor reviews? How about other unfair things said online about a brand?

Someone is going to find a hair in their shoebox purchase from your store. It doesn’t make sense why you get bad reviews in every case. We have over 1K reviews, and we have the occasional bad review. This minority of customers either were confused because we failed at communication to deflect them, or they didn’t understand what they wanted initially. Selling marketing services is much more complicated compared to ecommerce consumer packaged goods. This is where you have to describe the fabrics, the origins, the story, and let people know your brand, and incorporate photos and videos. You’re doing everything and planning to add more value for your new and existing customers.

Sometimes humans have a terrible day, and there’s nothing you can but to mitigate it. You’re going to have to develop your coping methods and processes to work through them. The more video testimonials you have, the more social proof you can present is your armor. You have to be pretty huge to have clients make videos to trash your business. We worked with Dermacol for several years, and their biggest problem was counterfeit cosmetics on Amazon. These dupped customers were leaving bad reviews and testimonials on amazon, social media, and their website. This is a nightmare scenario you have to work through on your own with your team.

When you become the best, the worst isn’t going to speak highly of you. Don’t focus too much on it. Focus on your next sale to put things into perspective.

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

  1. Don’t be frugal; be a savvy investor in your marketing & advertising.

You are not wasting money on your website and marketing. It’s funding over time, like your retirement fund. Some marketing decisions might have a negative return like advertising, and some marketing funding appreciate like. Always measure and expect every funding should have a positive outcome. If it doesn’t, measure and find out why.

Every new business we help, we indoctrinate them to focus on testing and measuring. It will piss you off when you lose money. Get used to it. Your competitors lost way more to get to where they are. It’s a part of doing business, and you need to rectify where you’re bleeding the budget. This is why being a measurement expert helps make faster decisions instead of blowing it all on a pipe dream on hearsay from a successful friend and superstition you read about on a blog post. If you can apply, measure, and be patient, you’ll have dividends.

Investors don’t grow rich overnight; they grow wealthy over the long-term.

2. Form the right business questions.

Why are you going to take this action? Are you just following some second-hand advice from a YouTube video? Are you basing this off experience? It’s easy to start looking for answers to the wrong business questions. Get clear on these as fast as possible.

Everyone judges a book by its cover. Your website doesn’t have to look like after a new iPhone launch. You have to take your website seriously because high-end websites use the latest features to POP on your screen. Always improve, but don’t over-invest into your brand. Gradually do it over time.

There might be 2–3 questions you focus on a quarter, and that’s the length of time it can take to test ideas and patiently wait to recover results. Making decisions in real-time and slow-time takes a great deal of restraint.

3. Focus on clear taxonomy and organization

Your collections/categories should map to your products, and your products should be clear and detailed. Invest time into the story and give all the details possible. This is where Google Shopping and Google find relevant keywords and improve your Google rankings positions for and Ads.

Organizing your store will help you with your thoughts, inventory, and even your communication. The more aligned all your processes are, the less friction you’ll have. Make it clear to your customers, yourself, and your team. It will make the website feel more fluid for customers, and your team will operate more efficiently because you’re designing it around the website and sales experience.

The impacts this will have on your culture will be sowed once you nail your communication, and sales will vindicate all of your efforts.

4. Start working with influencers

Shopify and YouTube are launching a partnership to enable influencers to feature products and tag them to sell them. Tap influencers in your industry and start engaging their audience with your products. That extra push helps build young brands and helps emerging brands establish themselves in the market.

Before the pandemic, the influencer market was 6.5 billion dollars when Google ads allowed about 134.8 billion dollars in 2019. Be aware that there’s room to grow, and it’s an emerging market, and big players are creating tools for ecommerce stores to leverage their networks.

It can give you instant social proof!

5. Just have fun

If you don’t jump out of bed excited to go to work, skip lunch, and have good days and bad days, and wish you can do it all over again and again. It’s not for you. You’ll have extended hours and sleepless nights, but you’re building something that’s yours at the end of the day.

Besides, if you’re working from home, you’re closest to the people and pets that matter. Your personal life should muse your professional life and always enjoy what you’re doing and cut out people that don’t support you. They just wanted to see you fail all along. Love what you do and love the people around you.

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. 🙂

We are expanding off a nonprofit initiative. We completed an Alpha program where we donated our services and excess capacity to nonprofits in need. We donated 10-hours a month, and we collected the data and determined the best digital marketing offer for nonprofits.

We relaunched our Beta program to test our nonprofit business concept further.

One hundred nonprofits are eligible to receive The Zima Media Google Marketing Grant, where we are committing to donating 100K dollars in our services to help nonprofits making an impact. We just had one of the largest animal sanctuaries in Africa sign up!

We believe random acts of kindness shouldn’t be so random, and we’re not taking a tax-write off or anything. Zima Media has reinvented the Marketing Agency, and we discovered how to reinvent nonprofit marketing forever without opening your wallet.

We’re encouraging our partners to donate 10-seconds to spread the word about our grant. Copy the post below to share.

👍 Zima Media is donating 100K dollars in digital marketing services to nonprofits.

✊ Donate 10-seconds to spread this message on your social media today.

👇 Nonprofit organizations, please fill out the link below to claim your digital marketing grant.


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