At 24, Shama Hyder brings a combination of education, moxie, and fearlessness to her title as President of The Marketing Zen Group. Hyder earned a Master’s Degree in organizational communication from the University of Texas, started bootstrapping a company in the Great Recession, and her lack of fear is based on her age. “What is it I have to lose at my age? If everything gets taken away, you start over,” she noted.
The vision to start The Marketing Zen Group, a Dallas based SEO, Internet marketing, and website design and development company, was not very clear. As Ms. Hyder was getting near graduation, she believed her path to success would be through joining one of the big consulting groups like McKinsey or Bain & Co. “I interviewed at 18 companies, thinking, ‘Here’s my great thesis, I understand social networking, and I can see ten years down the road.’ At my first interview, I was extremely cocky, thinking, ‘You guys want me.’ I got a straight ‘no,’ and was told, ‘We don’t think this is where clients are going to be – this is not a trend our clients are interested in.’ I heard the same things over and over again, and by the fifteenth interview, I was not cocky any more, and I was begging for a job so I didn’t look like a failure to my parents.”
After graduation, Hyder returned to Dallas. “I had no pressure from my parents, and my mom was all too happy to have me back home. I got my dog, cried my eyes out, and then started my own company.”
Soon, Hyder found her first client through an email blast, a company from Boston. Yet, she still saw her role as a business consultant, not a social media specialist. “I started speaking in the Dallas area with very broad topics. People would introduce me in terms of online marketing. They’d say, ‘She’s the online marketing guru,’ and I would tap them on the shoulder and say, ‘You mean business consultant?’”
The path became clearer when Hyder took a marketing course she paid $10,000 for by borrowing her father’s credit card. “Dad’s an entrepreneur himself and he understands risk, and he recognized I had to know more,” said Kabani. Finally, a conversation with her husband, Arshil Hyder, got her focused. “He’s a lawyer, very type ‘A’ and he said, ‘Do you help them with finance? Are you good at numbers?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I know nothing about it.’ He asked me if I was good at HR, and I said, ‘No.’ He asked me if I was good at marketing, and I said, ‘Yes.’”
Up went the website for Hyder’s first company iteration called Click To Client. The website, along with public speaking across the country, brought in the second client. While on a speaking tour, Hyder was asked, “We’re staring a social networking site, can you consult for us?” Hyder knew she could. “The company I went to work for paid $250,000 to build a website. From a design perspective it was beautiful, but from a social network perspective, nobody would use it over Facebook,” Hyder declared. Hyder got more and more clients through public speaking, and social media marketing. Her company does no outbound marketing, and has no salespeople. She uses the tools of her trade like Facebook and blogging to get the attention of marketers and business owners. By October, 2009, Hyder had four employees. Today there are 24. “We went from that homemade feeling to a grown-up business,” she said.
With that type of rapid growth, Hyder was getting calls from people who were confused about social media. With more and more demands on her time, Hyder decided to write an e-book to answer some of those questions. It was a primer about social media marketing she wrote in two weeks that could easily be shared. She started with the last chapter, answering the most common questions she received. Next, Hyder put the 100-page book on Facebook and Twitter. The book started to sell – clearly the demand for her knowledge was there.
Janet Goldstein, whom Hyder had met through Twitter, could see the potential demand, too. Goldstein is a book publicist and publishing agent based in New York. Goldstein convinced Hyder there was a good market for her expertise. The connection to Goldstein lead Hyder to Dallas based BenBella Books and Publisher Glenn Yeffeth. Publisher and author met for lunch, and a week later there was an offer to publish the book in hard copy. The Zen of Social Media Marketing was published last year. “Most people don’t have good things to say about publishers,” commented Hyder, “but I went in knowing I was going to have to do a lot of marketing for the book, and thought it would be a cool thing to do. I joke that I wanted a baby before I was 25, but a book would do. It’s doing really well in its arena. I obsessed over the Amazon ratings for awhile – I played the game, then I got over it.”
For Hyder, her “never look back” moment has come not once, but twice. The first was in October, 2009, when she was named one of America’s best young entrepreneurs by Bloomberg BusinessWeek as one of the “25 Under 25.” In classic social media fashion, Hyder found out she’d won from a Twitter message.
Eight months later came more recognition when Hyder received word the head of the Dallas Women’s Alliance of Technology wanted to nominate her for recognition as an emerging technology company with a Technology Titan award. One month later Hyder found out she was one of the nominees. Last year there were only two women nominated for any of the awards. Hyder said, “I was happy to be nominated, with no illusions that I would win. These nominees are true technology titans, and I do not consider myself a technology titan, by a long shot. At the gala when they got to the emerging technology category I sat up straight and was ready to clap for the winner. From the stage they read the nominations, and said I was the youngest person ever nominated for this award, and then they announced my name as the winner. I looked at my husband, and he said, ‘It’s you.’”
Today, Hyder’s business has changed dramatically with over 30 clients and 24 employees. Hyder observed, “Some people say I got lucky. I will never deny luck was a huge part – 99 percent of my life has been luck.” And the lesson Shama Hyder learned? “The awards led to more press, and more press, and more press. That’s how we keep getting our clients. I speak because I really enjoy it. I have a web TV show, and just today there’s an article in Entrepreneur magazine that had 75 retweets, and 20 people shared it on Facebook. It’s amazing – it does take on a life of its own. It made me go from a scrappy, bootstrapping entrepreneur, who I will always be at heart, to a real business.”
Links to accompanying bootstrapping articles: