Zachery Nielson is an American designer and entrepreneur raised in the Rocky Mountains & currently living in Salt Lake City. He is the founder of Shelby Company, United for America, & more. It's safe to say that we're talking to a busy guy.
In this interview, Zachery shares some unforgettable points in his entrepreneurial journey, most importantly not to give up when you hit rock bottom. He also shares his philosophy on building a successful business and how a true leader should act.
When you're done absorbing his insights, be sure to follow Zac on Twitter!
How did you get started as an entrepreneur? When did you first get bit by the entrepreneurial bug?
As a child, I would start up my own little ‘businesses’ and develop my own ‘products’. They would range from a computer company to a baseball card store.
So for me, it was clear that I wanted to start my own business someday, eventually during my sophomore year in high school I started Pyra Labs, a design agency. The following year, I finished High School early, in order to focus and grow my company. I revamped the brand and rebranded as Shelby Company where I am active CEO today.
What does Shelby Company do that makes it better than the rest? In other words, what is your competitive advantage and how did you find it?
There are a lot of design agencies out there. And I mean a lot. It can be very difficult to set yourself apart from the rest, but what I believe we do best is our level of authentic relationship building and ability to work hand in hand with small businesses.
We spend the majority of our time working on branding and design for small business. It is our core customer base, we do not want to just make another website for another company. We build a unique website and a real relationship with every single client.
Personally, I have developed friendships with so many of our clients and even advised and helped out at their businesses. I believe in helping people do more good, and have tried to implement that into my company as much as possible.
What does a typical day look like for you? Is there something you make a point to do each day?
Typically, each day I will spend a lot of my time emailing potential clients and especially current clients. From there, I go to meetings with local businesses to advise and help out in any way that I can. This differs from advising on media relations to business issues and even helping out with what they actually do for a living. I love helping out the car local car shops do work on cars and trucks, something that I am very passionate about and love doing.
Some may be surprised to hear, but even as CEO I spend a good portion of time designing websites and getting involved in our core service myself. A boss tells the team how to get the job done, a leader joins in and makes it happen together.
I work as much as I can while not destroying my personal relationships, which is never easy. There is always work to be done, but I think it is important to set time for the people you love.
Helping people has been the very core of my belief system and ideology of my life, so each day I make a point to do something for someone else. Whether that’s a small thing like buying someone’s coffee or doing a free service for a customer, I always remember to do good.
What is the biggest business mistake that taught you a powerful lesson? Would you mind sharing how it made you the person you are today?
The biggest mistake I made was definitely that at first I was afraid of failure. I didn’t want to be a failure and not live up to the hype I was creating around my business to friends and family. I was afraid to cold call/email people to buy a website from me, this is something I quickly realized was a huge mistake and something that is a part of business.
It is essential to understand that failure is likely, but you have to keep moving forward for the vision that you have for your company. You have to move on, make decisions, and pitch the sales you need to pitch.
When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.
There has been many nights where I didn’t sleep, just trying to move Shelby Company forward. Just as many times that I felt like I should just give up, and wonder why the fuck did I even start this company? Dark days come, but dark days also go.
My personality doesn’t accept giving up, I have always been competitive so when it gets rough and I hit rock bottom as CEO, I force myself to get back up and just make shit happen. You have to be able to do that to lead a company. You have to be thick skinned and maintain a steady hand. A lot of people don’t like that, but that is just how it is.
What trait would you consider made you the best person and professional you are today?
Without a doubt my philanthropist personality has been my strongest trait as a person and as a business professional. Helping customers and employees on a personal level can go a long way in a business, showing that they matter to you as a person and not just as a cash source.
What are the top 3 success tips that you would give anyone starting a business in Utah?
Utah is a great place to start your business right now, companies like Adobe have large offices here and we have a fresh, booming startup economy. If you are starting a business in Utah, three tips I would give are:
- Make sure you take care of all of the legal crap first. Government will be government, there is a lot of paperwork that comes with starting a business. Boring, but necessary. You can get yourself late fees and other fines if you don’t take care of this properly the first time. Utah has same pretty decent websites to make this as easy as possible.
- Invest in a website! I may be biased, but a website is undoubtedly essential for starting any type of company. There are some great easy to use platforms such as Wix or Squarespace, but investing in a design agency to help with this process can save you valuable time. When you are running a business time is money, it is the only true currency in life. Having a team of people that take care of your online presence will save you huge amounts of time allowing you to get back to work. Not to mention that local SEO will help you drive local traffic and customers, something you probably are not an expert in and don’t have the capability to do with most do-it-yourself platforms.
- Get out there and meet your local business owners. My first big sale was a Bountiful, Utah auto shop. I was a big fan of the work they were doing so I developed a friendship with the owner and quickly sold a website to them that we still run today. If you aren’t targeting business owners it is still incredibility valuable to go and meet with other local entrepreneurs. Utah is home of some really great and helpful people in the startup space, go to local meetups or just shoot an email to a local CEO (my inbox is always open!) and just ask questions.
Are you using any apps that help you stay on track from day-to day?
Inbox by Gmail is my most used app, by far. I can sweep through my emails within a few minutes and cut all of the clutter to get to the important content. I need to be responsive as possible to everyone contacting me, so Inbox has been incredibly valuable.
What are your goals for the next 5 years?
I want to have a larger diverse team of talented sales people and web designers that can push our human driven brand forward! We are still a very small team, under 5 employees.
Over the next few months and years we will be pushing for a steady growth in our team, being careful not to hire too many people too quickly. We want to ensure a fair salary and benefits, so we are being careful in hiring at the right time.
One of my most important goals is to make Shelby Company become the most well-known web design agencies in Utah. We are pushing ourselves to take over the local business community and be the go to option for startups that need a website around Utah and all of America.
Lastly, within five years I want us to begin our artificial intelligence sector. I believe AI is an important piece of the future of technology and especially web design. I want us to embrace this and use it together with our talented design team to drastically improve the time that it takes to build a great website.
What advice would you give to our readers who want to start a business in Utah today? Where should they start?
The best advice is to just go do it. Today. There will never be a perfect time to start a business, there is only now. You will always have a hundred reasons not to start, but the one reason to start is always the right one.
Utah has a motivated young workforce and community of people, take advantage and target them in building up hype and an interest in your brand before you actually launch your first product.
Finally, I will leave you with this, probably the best advice I can give you. Focus on your first product. Moving fast can be exciting, but launching a ton of features and products too quickly can and will damage your brand.
Make sure people want to buy your product before you go trying to improve it. Seek feedback and build something that solves the problem, not something that creates more problems.