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Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Damien Bouvier: I am a 33-year-old Frenchman and the co-founder of Zima Media. I graduated with a Master’s Degree in International Business and an MBA in Information Technology from the University of Saint Thomas, MN. I started my career as a data consultant before creating a new-age digital marketing agency. Zima Media is a fully remote, subscription-based marketing agency that has already helped over 2,000 businesses in 80 countries and 30 industries over the past five years. In my free time, I love reading French comic books and historical novels. I also consider myself a certified international traveler and live anywhere between Paris, Thailand, or Vietnam.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Damien Bouvier: I have always wanted to create my own business, but I truly made a move to become an entrepreneur after working as one of the first employees in a start-up in Austin, Texas. There, I learned how to build and run a company from the ground up. I was involved in everything at the company, from finding a business model and an offer, building processes, implementing tools, marketing a company, and finding customers. When I left the start-up, I started freelancing with another employee of the company. We found success and decided to build a real company by starting a marketing agency together. We worked together for five years and created a modern, fully remote company without meeting in person until a few months ago.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Damien Bouvier: My most crucial professional inspiration is my uncle, who worked as the Head of Legal at General Electric, France. He has supported and mentored me for as long as I can remember, and his help has been invaluable. I would not be where I am today without his precious guidance.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Damien Bouvier: After being a freelancer for a few years, we started building a real company and growing a team. I was appointed as a CEO and responsible for the team and operations while my co-founder was in charge of business development and client relationship. I faced many challenges along the way. The biggest one of any company is to find a market fit and bring in cash. If you don’t get paid, nothing else you do matters as you are out of business. So we focused on building a brand and getting online reviews and testimonials, which are key elements in bringing trust and getting customers. At the same time, we changed our business model to subscription-based, where clients sign up for our services and pay upfront to ensure a safe cash flow.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Damien Bouvier: Zima Media is a modern digital marketing agency. Although 70% of our clients are in the US, we still get a chance to work with businesses from Norway, Nigeria, South Africa, Chile, New Zealand, Japan, and more. We’re also lucky enough to have helped grow cool and unique businesses. They included a gorilla preservation project in Africa, local airlines, a museum of chocolate, online psychiatry & therapy office, innovative backyard chicken supplies, eco-conscious towels, and a Thai gin manufacturer.
We help our client grow their business with marketing. We are a new-age agency as we wanted to do marketing differently. We offer subscription-based services, cancel anytime, upfront prices on our website, and are affordable as the company is entirely remote. Hence, our employees enjoy working from anywhere, and our clients don’t have to support the cost of the typical agencies like fancy offices. We provide high-quality marketing services, including SEO, content writing, Google Ads, social media ads, and website development.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Damien Bouvier: The role of the CEO is to know how the business should evolve, which path of development it should go next, and make sure it happens. The CEO is the central piece of the company. They put a strategy in place, surround themselves with great people and resources, and empower the team to help them get there. They are also responsible for creating the company’s values and culture, as this is often given too little thought.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Damien Bouvier: CEO means delegating and guiding others to do their job well. It means renouncing any production and day-to-day work to focus on the big picture; even if you love those things, it’s not your role anymore. I learned that there is something I like more than doing marketing and tech all day long: to build a team and support them in their effort, and their successes become your success, and it’s very rewarding.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Damien Bouvier: The core roles of a CEO is three things (and many more):
- Focus on the big picture (roadmap, strategy, vision):
ensure that everyone knows where we are going and prioritize things. For example, you have to decide if it’s more important to redo the website to convert more leads or is it more important to adopt a new CRM to help improve customer experience and retain clients.
- Build a team.
Without a team, it’s impossible to accomplish anything, and the people are indeed the core of the business. You have to find the right ones, care for them and empower them so they can accomplish their best to make your vision a reality.
- Optimize the finance of the company.
Without a healthy account, you can’t accomplish anything. You have to manage your costs, grow your earnings but care about all things about your margin. More customers do not always equal better margins.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Damien Bouvier: The most challenging decision I had to make was firing someone that was not a great fit for the team and the company. This person had a poor work ethic, but I waited too long to decide since it was during the pandemic and quite a difficult time for everyone. However, when they left, the team was much happier. The next difficult decision I had to make was to stop offering one of our most popular services and limit our opportunity to make quick cash.
We made the difficult decision only to provide our customers with the best and give them marketing campaigns that will truly support their growth over the long term and not offer them quick wins that could affect their businesses down the road.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Damien Bouvier: I think how people define their success is a very personal thing. For me, success as a CEO/entrepreneur is firstly generating a certain amount of wealth as wealth is an enabler. Wealth will then help us do some good and have a small impact on our communities. Wealth will allow me to reward the people of my team, launch new impactful projects like helping 100 charities for free with their marketing as we did this year. It can also benefit our network/partners/suppliers, families, communities, and even the government to some extent. Without wealth, it’s very challenging to have any impact.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Damien Bouvier: The leadership skills that I possess innately are more hard skills like planning and organizing, bookkeeping, and analytical skills. But what I had to develop over the years were more of my soft skills, including social and emotional intelligence. As a result, I learned to be a better listener, more social, more creative, and more flexible.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Damien Bouvier: No business could have foreseen the pandemic, and every business was affected one way or another. However, we were among the lucky ones. With our current organization, fully remote and decentralized, everyone was already working from home, and we did not have to change anything in our day-to-day operations.
We did suffer from a loss of business, mainly as most companies were trying to cut their costs and reduce their marketing budget. However, we were proactive in securing our cash flow as we did not know how long the situation would last. The most important for us as founders was to keep the company and the team safe. So we decided to cut our wages drastically to make sure the company could sustain the worse, and it had a tremendous impact as we closed the year with better accounts than the previous year.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting on their journey?
Damien Bouvier: The primary advice I would have for aspiring leaders and CEOs is that they will have to be ready to constantly take stressful, important, or urgent decisions. The best way to be prepared is to be a very active reader to be knowledgeable about a myriad of topics. This also includes training themselves to make data-backed decisions rather than emotional ones and empowering democratic decisions in their team so that everyone can have a voice and contribute actively to the team/company.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Damien Bouvier: I would love to start learning Mandarin. I have spent one year in Hong Kong and enjoyed it. Now, China is becoming a much bigger player, and understanding the culture and economy will be crucial to the future of any business.
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Damien Bouvier: It is a difficult question, and this is a project that I have in mind for later. I guess it would be something like “How to Build a Thriving Modern Business.”
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Damien Bouvier for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Damien Bouvier or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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