As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ali Payani, Co-Founder and CEO of LookinLA, a leading digital marketing agency recognized by Clutch as one of the best marketing firms in Los Angeles. He was born in 1990 in Iran and moved to Dubai in 2005 and moved to the U.S.A in 2016.
The fast success of LookinLA speaks to Payani’s skill as both a digital marketer and as an entrepreneur. Though he came to the U.S. from Dubai in 2016 with vast experience in business and technology, he had no contacts, no leads, and no income stream to support him as he built his new California-based business. Nevertheless, LookinLA made six figures in six months, and Payani has become a sought-after business mentor and coach, as well as the host of the podcast “The Leading Mindset with Ali Payani.”
Much of his success with LookinLA can be traced back to Payani’s skill for computer technology. As the world of marketing grows increasingly digital, his advanced expertise with artificial intelligence has helped him master digital marketing executions using data-driven marketing techniques. He holds a Bachelor of Computer Science in Digital Systems Security, a Master of Information Technology Management, and numerous international awards celebrating his achievements in technology. He has been recognized for his Auto Phishing Detector (Best Innovation Gitex Award in Dubai) and has won the Du InfoSec Award and the AI Algorithm Gulf Programming Contest. Payani has also authored a research paper on a behavioral model to improve information security policies implantation and engineered an AI-based air quality measuring technology that is widely celebrated for the innovation’s life-saving potential among those who suffer from asthma.
In addition to his passion for science and technology, Payani has a wide range of interests. He is a pianist, a former national basketball player, and a chess champion.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’ve been studying B.s Computer Systems Security and M.S IT Management From the University of Wollongong in Dubai, Because of the political conflicts between Iran and UAE, I was not allowed to establish my startup back in Dubai, So I came to the U.S to explore the possibilities and then I stayed and established Fortment,inc to develop wearable Ai based solution for Asthma patients and also LookinLA as a Digital Marketing Agency since I had certificates also in Web development and marketing.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Well I’ve been through many “Aha moments” and I believe that’s a growth factor. The first time was when I was working on developing a health wearable device that I realized I need to have an income stream and the best would be a service based company in marketing. The second time was during the early stages on LookinLA when I realized that small marketing companies will be out of business in the first year because they go after wrong clients, offer small and cheap services and have no quality for what they execute, So I realized that I need a system in place, super high quality service due to the high competition and a strategy development for clients and not just offer regular marketing services, something more than a marketing theory.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
One of the funny stories is a year after we started LookinLA, me and my co-founder were going through the old files and we found a very first invoice I issued for a client, where I included many services for a very very cheap price, the very same services outlined in that invoice worth 10x today and for sure the quality is way different and that would be maybe the second funny story that how we pivot and grow in execution as well as the service offering and systems within the company.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
My vision was to have a company where we can fix many issues in marketing and sales for growing companies as well as educating startups with what they need to learn to grow rather than following their ideas. That’s why I didn’t want to have a regular marketing agency where we just execute regular campaigns like many agencies in the country, I wanted to be different with offering the right services and strategies to the client that understand the value. I wanted to make sure that we can help them in more areas in business and marketing strategy and increase the likelihood of their success and decrease the clients’ churn rate to be close to zero for our company which we eventually achieved it.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Great question, One of the main reason that your service based company would be successful is communication with your clients and employees. You have to make sure that you share your company’s value with your clients in regular basis, we use many communication tools to stay in touch with our clients, have regular meeting with their c-levels and explain our way of thinking. Same with our employees, to make sure they understand that we are all part of a family and we are all work together to elevate the company. Whatever the mission and value is, should be shared with all the employees and make sure you hear their voices and feedbacks too.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Discipline in work and life. You have to have a discipline in what you do in business and life if you are a CEO, when everything is going well or down, you have to stay focus and not loose discipline and be ready for the next level.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Sure there were many hard times, we didn’t have an officer, we were sitting in Starbucks with my co-founder and working on our laptops to get the first client. It took us a few months to get the first one, I was never thinking of giving up and try to create the same spirit for my co-founder as well and promise him that we will make it. For me, to be better everyday, have hope, being optimistic, and be sure that when I’m doing everything right, focus and paying attention to details, eventually we will success. The driver is my ambitious of being an entrepreneur and make things happen, no matter the sacrifices I have to make, but I have to make what I planned to happen. The same logic when I’ve moved to the U.S with no money, company, salary, job or even immigrant visa.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Every month we have a better and stronger business metrics than a month before. Our churn rate is zero for two years which is incredible for marketing agencies. Our growth rate is about 300% in 2020 compare to 2019. More big companies are interested in what we do, in our business and marketing strategy that we develop for them and our way of executing their marketing campaigns. Client see that we are really working hard for their success and in Mose cases our clients are more pump up to grow their business when they see how passionate LookinLA team is to grow their business.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Focus on Client: I believe the first thing is paying attention to what your customer wants, how you can make them more comfortable in decision making. You have to make sure that your client is stays happy and in down time you have to make sure that you can help and guide them to pass the down times.
- Always have discipline in company: You have to have discipline, if you are starting a business and working seven days, 12–14 touts a day, you have to make sure that nothing can change it. Stick to your plan in business and life, make sure that everybody in the company also follows the rules and have discipline in what they do.
- Pivot every 3 months: you have to constantly design new strategies for your company and test them. My rule is that if the new strategy, plan or service that you proposed, worked in three months, continue that otherwise you have to change it or improve it.
- Improve quality of service: make sure that everyday you are allocating a time to improve your services and quality of the service you provide to every clients. Focus on both strengths and weaknesses. Make your strength stronger and learn how to become better in your weaknesses.
- Learn everyday: You need to make many sacrifices in life to make your company successful, in order to do that, apart of learning business and other four points I mentioned above, you have to learn how to cope with loneliness, depression, stress, anxiety. How to manage projects, design systems, sales processes, financial and more and more. You have to learn a lot, make sure you understand what you watch or read.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Well, I think it would be my parents who were believing in me since I was a kid and they did not limit me in any ways and what I want to do or experience and provided everything I needed for my studies.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I wish I could have that movement some day soon, focusing on bringing peace and tell everyone to not be divided because of politics or anything else, but stay united and help each other everyday.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
My twitter is @alipayani, my Instagram is @ali.payani. they can also follow or ask questions on my LinkedIn account, /alipayani.