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E2: Bad hires, legal battles and lessons learned with Keith Roberts

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Bad hires, legal battles, and lessons learned from building a $2mm agency

Our guest today is Keith Roberts, the founder of the Denver-based digital agency Zenman.

Keith graduated from the prestigious Brooks Institute of Photography in 1995, just as the emergence of stock houses was set to turn the photography business model on its head. Knowing that there wasn’t much of a future ahead of him in photography, Keith fibbed on his resume, tried to learn graphic design over a weekend and launched his career in digital marketing.

He founded Zenman in 1998, building talent around him while he continued to grow his own craft in web development and digital marketing. Today, Zenman employs 20 people with $2 million in annual revenue, working with clients like Frontier Airlines and Denver Mattress.

Connect with Keith
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Show Notes 

[2:00] – Keith’s Background

The roots of the name ‘Zenman’

Transitioning from photography to graphic design to web design

Why he went from just websites to full-service digital agency

[4:23] – Zenman Today

20 person shop with $2 million in revenue

Enterprise clients with dedicated specialists

Contact Keith for contracts and documents

[06:41] – Starting Out

Getting his start in photography just as the industry was dying

Lying on his resume and learning graphic design in a weekend

Pivoting into web design and flash to follow the money

His first client was Urban Ventures, still a client

[14:12] – Hiring People

The first $5,000 and $500,000 checks

Getting involved in sales to “keep what you kill”

First hire fail: “Newman” and his DJ labels

Second hire fail: “Brother” and working with family

[20:40] – Landing Big Clients

Frontier Airlines

Denver Mattress

$100K legal battle

[30:53] – Turning Points

Joining the Entrepreneurs’ Organization

Implementing the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS)

Getting the most out of your professional networks

[35:26] – Next Big Projects for Zenman

“Bigfoot Web” to nurture $5-15K projects

Zenman Labs to nurture higher-dollar projects

[38:55] – Lighting Round

Best advice: “Life is too short to learn everything from experience.”

Best habit: Stubbornness, refusing to fail

Best resources: BasecampHarvestGoogle Docs

Best books: TractionLet my people go surfingArt of Happiness



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