A day in the life of… Founder and CEO of Zehner, a creative digital agency – Econsultancy

This week we pay a visit to Zehner, the LA-headquartered creative digital agency, and speak to Matthew Zehner, eponymous Founder and CEO.

From the benefits of hiring smart people to starting the day early and having a decisive attitude, Zehner tells us what a typical day looks like in his role.

And remember, if you’d like to tell us about a typical day in your life, get in touch.

Please describe your job: What do you do?

Matthew Zehner: I’m the Founder and CEO of Zehner, a creative digital agency that calls Los Angeles home. We are focused on commerce and deliver meaningful digital experiences for fashion, lifestyle, and CPG brands. We design and build ecommerce sites that tell the brand story, ,increase conversion rates, and improve loyalty through better customer experiences. We partner with our clients and allow them to focus on what they do best—run their businesses successfully.

I am responsible for all growth, vision, strategy and oversight of our people, partners, and clients.

Whereabouts do you sit within the organisation? Who do you report to?

Matthew Zehner: As CEO, I have reported to the satisfaction of our staff and clients for 10 years.

In order to do that well, I hire the smartest people. Since I’ve performed every role in our company at one point or another, I’m able to identify the best people to take us forward. With staff, I urge them to lead, grow, and manage. I oversee and work closely with the team, our B2C clients, and our partners to help guide and add value from a sometimes more strategic lens. In doing so, I try to avoid getting caught up in the weeds because I can’t see the bigger vision and contribute the level of leadership needed from a CEO of a growing company in a quickly evolving industry like commerce. It’s vital I don’t get too far removed since talking to and understanding our people, clients, and partners generates the insights to drive that larger vision.

What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?

Matthew Zehner: Speed, decision-making, listening, and focus. One of the most important things I can do at Zehner is to quickly make decisions. The time spent deliberating or putting something off is way more harmful than simply making an educated decision. Most of an organization’s pain points live in the lack of decisions. This was something I had trouble with earlier in my role and I started to see the damage it had on the company and its success, particularly on the people.

Making “a decision” and moving forward is almost always the right decision. I’m a fan of action bias, where something gets done versus nothing. If a poor decision happens, it’s simply an opportunity to learn and course correct. Not making a decision, such as sitting back if we keep an employee too long that’s destroying the culture of the company, can cause irreparable damage and resentment from staff feeling that they are not being heard. My role requires that I not only have empathy, I show it.

Tell us about a typical working day…

Matthew Zehner: I arrive at the office two hours before anyone else since I leave my house early to cut my commute in half. On the way in, I typically listen to a podcast to spark ideas, thoughts, and insights. By getting to the office early, I am able to get a lot of tasks out of the way before distractions, calls, and meetings. I have much less stress this way. Not to mention that first thing in the morning and last thing at night I have the clearest mind, and can focus and think the most creatively. Much of my day is filled with meetings and a few “task” blocks I put in my calendar to not get too far behind.

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Externally, my meetings often revolve around business development and growing relationships with our clients and partners. Internally, I have a weekly two-hour meeting with our leadership team to focus on any opportunities or issues we can tackle as a group. We also track and measure towards our annual company goals and KPIs. I mentioned earlier I hire smart people and because of that these meetings are very effective. Other internal meetings I have are usually more one-on-one with department leaders in finance, hiring, operations, and business development. We also have a weekly all-hands meeting focused around what’s happening across the company in the upcoming week, as well as recognizing staff for their achievements and success in the past week.

I usually head out early to beat traffic and make it to the gym or get outside to run or hike. Then, I go home to have dinner, relax, sometimes catch up on a few emails, look at my calendar for the next day, and get a good night’s sleep.

What do you love about your job? What sucks?

Matthew Zehner: I love the people. Our number one core value at Zehner is relationships. We make sure that we have great relationships with everyone we work with: employees, clients, vendors, and partners. A lot of the time, agencies have the wrong understanding of the “Agency/Client Relationship” and play the blame game. One thing I learned early in my career is that there is no shortage of work and opportunity. Also, the opportunity cost of working with someone you aren’t aligned with is much higher than the money you’d make.

I enjoy building long term partnerships. To do that consistently, we are selective with the brands we work with. We look at their owners, founders, teams, and stakeholders, basically everyone that would have a relationship with us. We take a very close look at their processes and values, in addition to their business and products. We also examine the competition and the marketplace. We align with clients we see opportunity with and then strategically plan to create growth and accelerate value.

About what sucks, I would say how the day flies by too fast. There will never be enough time in the day to do everything I want, and that’s why I am a big fan of creating efficiencies, testing, delegating, hiring smart people, and empowering the team.

What kind of goals do you have? What are the most useful metrics and KPIs for measuring success?

Matthew Zehner: Growth. I am driven by growth and helping others grow. That growth comes from a variety of areas. On the client/brand side, it is around looking at where they are now and scaling them to where they can be. KPIs and measurements for success depends on what their goals are as a company. These KPIs can include metrics such as conversion rate, average order value, lifetime value of a customer, Net Promoter Score, etc. On the employee/people side, growth goals include promotions, growth in leadership and management, and cross functional training.

What are your favourite tools to help you to get the job done?

Matthew Zehner: Time is the most valuable thing to me. I am always looking for tools and systems to make my activities more efficient so I can do more of what is both most valuable to me as a person and also what I can bring the most value to myself.

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Here are a few of my most commonly used daily tools at the moment and the tabs always open in my browser:

  • Email – Superhuman
  • Task Management + Task Assignment – Asana
  • Scheduling – Calendly
  • Collaboration + Delegation – Google Sheets + Docs

How did you start Zehner and where might you go from here?

Matthew Zehner: Zehner was originally started as I was building a SaaS product startup. My background leaned toward design and development. Being in the Santa Monica startup community back in 2008 as I was beginning to market my business (a content management platform focused on the entertainment space), a lot of people asked if I could help them design, build or scale their startups. While helping them, I had to scale a team around me to support the demand and really enjoyed collaborating with other smart people and teams to build great products and companies.

Over our 10-year history supporting brands and retailers, we have evolved our offering and focus to stay on trend with demand and where our skill set brings the most value. I am always a fan of serving customer’s needs through being experts in what we do. Too many people want to be everything for everyone. By combining our design, technology, digital product, strategy, and marketing capabilities along with a market need, we shifted to be a commerce-focused agency that aligns closely to grow and scale consumer brands. We are always enhancing our offering to provide more holistic value.

What creative have you admired recently?

Matthew Zehner: There is so much clutter out there today. I am a big fan of brands with a personality that share a message or story and are able to tell that as part of the user journey and consideration path. Brands that are able to weave their story and value proposition in, on average, have much higher average order values, conversion rates, and increased lifetime value. With that, I would say brands like Reformation and Outerknown (disclaimer: a client of ours) are doing a great job that others are replicating.

Do you have any advice for anyone starting their career at an agency?

Matthew Zehner: An agency is an amazing place to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. I suggest getting involved in as many aspects of the business that you can. Take advantage of the ability to work on teams and learn various skill sets. One of the things that allow me to build great teams and hire the best people, is I have served every role in the company. Besides learning the roles of the team and the agency as a whole, you also have the opportunity to learn a tremendous amount about different industries and business in general. Working closely with many clients and truly diving into their business’ successes, failures, competition, and more is a free MBA waiting for you. The ability to work with different people, teams, companies, and industries all while working through problems every day is what excites me the most. I love the speed of agency life, growth, and the energy that comes with it—that’s what excites me to come in every day.

Submissions now open for our Top 100 Digital Agencies report!

Submissions for Econsultancy’s Top 100 Digital Agencies 2019 are now open.

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