Stay ahead — A lot of companies may be tempted to make promises and market qualities of their business before they can be quantified. Staying ahead sometimes means going by the book — getting your certifications, testing, and sticking by the science. We want Silver Defender to be the best not only now but in the future. We look to ensure we receive the proper certifications ahead of the curve so the promises we make about our products are backed up by the scientific insights necessary to build trust with businesses and consumers.
Many successful people reinvented themselves in a later period in their life. Jeff Bezos worked in Wall Street before he reinvented himself and started Amazon. Sara Blakely sold office supplies before she started Spanx. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWE wrestler before he became a successful actor and filmmaker. Arnold Schwarzenegger went from a bodybuilder, to an actor to a Governor. McDonald’s founder Ray Croc was a milkshake-device salesman before starting the McDonalds franchise in his 50’s.
How does one reinvent themselves? What hurdles have to be overcome to take life in a new direction? How do you overcome those challenges? How do you ignore the naysayers? How do you push through the paralyzing fear?
In this series called “Second Chapters; How I Reinvented Myself In The Second Chapter Of My Life “ we are interviewing successful people who reinvented themselves in a second chapter in life, to share their story and help empower others.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zeynep “Z” Ekemen.
Zeynep “Z” Ekemen is Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Silver Defender, a woman-led business, which provides self-cleaning adhesive films with built-in antimicrobial protection that help businesses keep their commonly touched surfaces 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 Silver Defender business and its supply chain.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I have always been driven by the American Dream, as I came to the United States from Turkey as a 12-year-old girl. I had to learn so much about a new country and culture, which instilled an ambition in me to do something remarkable. The endless possibilities of that American Dream have driven me and pushed my work ethic. If I have an idea, I am going to do everything I can to bring that idea to life. Anything is possible if you work for it. That’s what I dreamed of since I was small, and that’s what happened with Silver Defender. I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit. I applied all that I knew and a lot that I learned along the way to this concept. I initially envisioned a company that would help businesses and consumers solve the seemingly simple problem of cleanliness. My experience coming to this country and challenging myself to dream big helped me to solve that problem.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Someone once told me the definition of hell is “the last day you have on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.” That really stuck with me and has helped me focus on the best next step at every challenge. As a person, I am constantly evolving and taking lessons from past experiences to grow. Keeping self-awareness front and center, knowing where you’ve come from and paying close attention to the decisions that have been most and least helpful, are all essential for growth.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- Persistent — In the first year of creating Silver Defender, I never took a day off. I even worked weekends and nights. It was a lot to take on, but I was willing to put in the time to make my vision a reality.
- Self-Motivated — I started my real estate brokerage in 2010. I’ve worked with many prominent clients over the years in real estate and beyond. Coming from the male dominated field of corporate and commercial real estate to another (health tech), I always had the confidence in my own ability to share my ideas. No one inherently knows better than you, or works harder than you, but it’s up to you to remember that along the way, particularly when you are an outlier in your environment.
- Outspoken — Coming from a real estate background gave me the ability to confidently market my product even in an industry that I knew so little about in the beginning. Build your confidence in explaining why your work, service, or product is different and how it helps others and you’ll be several steps closer to making the sale.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Second Chapters’. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before your Second Chapter?
I founded Z Realty 11 years ago. I had many different careers throughout my life, but I started my first day at my first brokerage while working on my realty license and commercial real estate fell into my lap. A man walked in and said, “I need a store” and my broker at the time told me to go for it. That little push is all I needed. I didn’t know anything about commercial real estate at the time, but I figured it out. I sold that man a space in Manhattan for his shop and never looked back. As soon as I got my license, I opened Z Realty.
And how did you “reinvent yourself” in your Second Chapter?
I am someone that always needs to be busy — I am always looking for the next project. Originally, I was just looking for something to do beyond real estate. I didn’t picture myself going into health tech, all I wanted to do was solve for a problem. I wanted to keep the most-touched surfaces clean in businesses and homes around the world. I problem-solved step by step from the design concept and technology to the manufacturing to the eventual sales. The reality is, you’re not going to be an expert at something new, but the only way to become an expert is through experience. So I approached my second chapter as I did my first — ready to learn. I never could have imagined how big Silver Defender would eventually get. This project has become my passion now, as I get to help people all over the world stay clean and ultimately healthy.
Can you tell us about the specific trigger that made you decide that you were going to “take the plunge” and make your huge transition?
I had been thinking about this idea to create cleaning products with silver ion technology for a long time, but once we started to invent Silver Defender, we really saw how big it could be. There was just so much need for a non-chemical cleaning solution, even before the pandemic. Imagine a surface that gets cleaner the more it is touched. That was just remarkable and as soon as I realized I could help bring this solution to the world I was all in. Cleaning products are generally built for short-term use. There is a lot of waste and a lot of chemicals involved. Simply put, there is a better solution.
What did you do to discover that you had a new skillset inside of you that you haven’t been maximizing? How did you find that and how did you ultimately overcome the barriers to help manifest those powers?
I’ve been entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. The skillset was not being afraid to start the conversation and go through any door. My commercial real estate background gave me the confidence to approach big time clients. I was already successful in a male dominated field. I had confidence that whatever I didn’t know, I would learn. That confidence in myself and my concept drove me. The biggest barriers I faced eventually didn’t feel like barriers, just new lessons that I could embrace and eventually master. Ultimately, having faith in yourself and your abilities is its own power.
How are things going with this new initiative? We would love to hear some specific examples or stories.
Silver Defender has exceeded my expectations from day one. Seeing our products in One World Trade Center was really an eye opening moment. To see a product that I took the time to create with my business partners actually being put to use for the public was incredible. Door handles, credit card machines, elevators — just last week I saw our own product in Bergdorf Goodman when I was shopping. It’s incredibly rewarding to realize we’re becoming part of people’s everyday lives. Today, our products are used on every habitable continent and by notable businesses like Paramount Studios, NFL, MLB, and many more.
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?
My good friend if over 15+ years, Evan Wexler, is constantly inspiring me. Watching him grow his multiple companies from inception to where they are now has been such a valuable lesson as an entrepreneur.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
We started in 2018, but the company officially launched to the public in late January of 2020. On March 4th I found myself sitting across the Ministry of Science and Technology at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C.- which is exactly as intimidating as it sounds. Once I started sharing my vision and my passion for our products, their antimicrobial properties that self-clean better the more they are touched, my nerves settled. It was such an extraordinary meeting with extraordinary people. And at the time, there was a need for Silver Defender products, more than ever. It really could not have been more appropriate or have gone better. In the year plus since the onset of the pandemic we have grown exponentially. We couldn’t have predicted this level of need and it’s been immensely gratifying to be able to help businesses stay clean on a global scale.
Did you ever struggle with believing in yourself? If so, how did you overcome that limiting belief about yourself? Can you share a story or example?
In short, no. From day one, we knew this would be a life changing product, and I knew I could do what I set my mind to doing. Did we know that there would be such immense growth so quickly? Absolutely not. To start with such an amazing idea, however, we had to believe in our vision that this would be something used by people for generations to come.
In my own work I usually encourage my clients to ask for support before they embark on something new. How did you create your support system before you moved to your new chapter?
It’s important to have partners that share the same outlook as you. In my personal life, I was not always met with the same optimism, but the people that I worked closely with always believed in Silver Defender, and ultimately helped me reach success in my second chapter.
Starting a new chapter usually means getting out of your comfort zone, how did you do that? Can you share a story or example of that?
This was a completely different industry for me to be entering. To sit down and actually learn about the technology and the product as a whole was overwhelming at first. I spent many nights working until 1 AM or later. It was a nonstop learning process and one that could absolutely burn you out. I had to push myself and keep the bigger goal in mind every day — helping others. I was learning a new industry which means pushing yourself and pacing yourself. I made mistakes, everyone does, but I always learned from them and kept going. That kind of perseverance can make or break you in the beginning, and it certainly made me.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
- Fight for your idea — Silver Defender is what the world needs to stay clean, but in a new way. Traditional spray and wipe cleaners often leave odors, chemicals and can make it easy to miss spots on surfaces. I wanted to create a product that would cover the whole surface and clean itself. As an antimicrobial protected film, our products work the better they’re touched. There was a clear need that we were able to solve for, which only grew once COVID took hold. There were plenty of people who didn’t see the need for this kind of product as clearly as I did, but sticking up for our concept allowed us to push forward.
- Be prepared for the unexpected — You never know how fast the company will grow. Our team is full of hardworking people who care about our product. Our work ethic allows us to get our products to as many people as we need, which was essential at the beginning for us. We had to figure out how to scale quickly, but our team was fully dedicated to finding and focusing on the solutions. That’s the mentality you need when as a new business you inevitably need to pivot your ideas or operations as fast as possible to meet your market.
- Stay ahead — A lot of companies may be tempted to make promises and market qualities of their business before they can be quantified. Staying ahead sometimes means going by the book — getting your certifications, testing, and sticking by the science. We want Silver Defender to be the best not only now but in the future. We look to ensure we receive the proper certifications ahead of the curve so the promises we make about our products are backed up by the scientific insights necessary to build trust with businesses and consumers.
- Network — Coming from a real estate background, I always knew how to make a sale. Through the connections I made in that industry, I was able to sell our products to businesses I knew. I was in a different industry, but I do my best to build trust wherever I go. Chances are, no matter how far you’re pivoting, you will know people who are relevant to your business so do your best to continue building relationships along the way.
- Stay confident — It is easy to let other people get in your head. I had so many people throwing their opinions at me when I first started, but you cannot listen to anyone who doubts you when you’re starting out or your ideas will never get anywhere. Trust yourself.
You are a person of great 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?
Society is shifting in how we perceive cleanliness. As a company that wants to inspire others to keep their commonly touched surfaces continuously clean, 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 common items in the world around them, hopefully with a bit less fear when doing so. We’re also putting power back in the hands of business owners. Our products allow businesses to be proactive in protecting their staff and patrons in new ways.
Silver Defender’s main objective is to keep the public clean and safe. Now, more than ever, people are afraid to enter public places, and we want those fears to be put at ease a bit more. So many businesses across the country have already utilized Silver Defender’s antimicrobial protective films. Overall, it is a great way to encourage employees and patrons and show them that their general health is a priority.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Z’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/zeynep-ekemen-5b85901b
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!