As a part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Sormeh Attarzadeh.
Entrepreneur Sormeh Attarzadeh is best known for her work as Co-Founder of the real estate marketing software,Zentap.
After graduating from LMU in 2015, Sormeh began law school. Then, in a twist of events much outside of her life plans, she quickly realized it was not her passion, and left. In a quest to figure out exactly what her path was, Sormeh started interning for David Duel, a notable entrepreneur with a background in tech and real estate. With her knowledge in the world of all things digital, and her experience in real estate, while working for David, she quickly saw an opportunity to merge the two, and create a software that provides marketing services for real estate professionals across the U.S. by automating the creation and advertisement of data-driven content. The software is now known as Zentap. Zentap has helped hundreds of clients understand social media marketing and has helped them create a business plan to accelerate their business digitally. Sormeh and her team have successfully provided solutions for an industry that has gone from door knocking to generating leads through social media. They’ve come a long way and still have so much more ahead of them.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
So happy to be here. Thank you for having me!
I am filled with gratitude when I think back on my development over the last few years… The plan was always to get into law school; external forces early on indirectly got me excited about a career in law. After my first semester of law school, I realized that law was not for me. I just wasn’t satisfied. It’s like suddenly, I came to my senses that I was chasing a career that I simply wasn’t passionate about. I was terrified that I’d be stuck in a career that I wasn’t fulfilled by and decided to leave law school. Thinking about what I wanted to do next was an emotional rollercoaster. I was worried if I’d ever figure out my passion, but at the same time, I was excited about a new journey. I knew in order to figure out what my passion was, I needed to work. I was always attracted to the real estate industry, so I found a job and began to intern to eventually become a realtor. After some time, my boss at the time presented an opportunity that came across his way to assist realtors and brokers with their marketing. Being a millennial, I thought the idea of helping realtors and brokers utilizing social media to market themselves was terrific. So we took the risk to bootstrap this company, and after lots of failures and a little bit of luck, we were able to grow the company to over 2m ARR within 14 months! I’ve learned a lot about myself throughout this journey. The key to this growth was surrounding myself with people whom I highly respected but had humility, emotional intelligence, and were highly focused on anything they put their head to.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
To this day, I am still shocked that I was able to get the company’s first deal. Prior to this, I had zero experience in sales! The call was humorous, and I didn’t even realize the client said yes to trying out our services. I had no expectations when we started, especially being in a cold garage filled with crickets. But it was at that moment I knew that sales are my passion. Providing a service that can assist someone’s real estate career felt rewarding. I enjoyed having a solution for our client’s marketing issues.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There was a time I mistakenly told my client that we would over-promise and under-deliver instead of under-promise and over-deliver. I realized right after what I had just said, and my client laughed so much. It was quite funny but also a reality check. The lesson for me was that I needed to slow down even though I may be excited for my clients and have good intentions. Sometimes we get so into our phone calls and excited we begin to rush our words; this could confuse you and the client. Taking it slow benefits all parties!
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 about that?
Our previous CEO and one of my co-founders, David Duel, has been one of my greatest mentors. He’s a serial entrepreneur and successful real estate investor in Los Angeles. Prior to starting Zentap, I actually interned for him to get my feet wet in the real estate industry and hopefully one day become a realtor. They say it’s important to surround yourself with quality individuals. David is exactly that, a person with intense work ethic that invites failure with excitement, knowing that it’ll take him one inch closer to success. Additionally, I am grateful for my other co-founders, exec team, and incredible teammates. Without their hard work, resilience, and focus, we wouldn’t have been able to grow this company to its size today and make an impact in the lives of thousands of real estate professionals.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high-stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I have a specific process every morning for this specific question!
Every morning at 6 am, I work out, whether it’s with a trainer, a hike, or a Pilates/yoga class. I found that personally, I am in a better mental state when I have worked out before my day has gotten started. There is breathwork that takes place during a workout, and endorphins are released.
More recently, I added two more steps to my morning along with my daily workouts.
My colleague/good friend bought me one of my favorite gifts that has had a huge impact on relieving my stress, The Five Minute Journal. Before my workout, I crack open my Five Minute Journal and set my intentions and affirmations for the day. This has helped me release any negative energy and has helped me keep a positive mindset throughout my days. After I am done journaling, I read The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living. Each day the book has a daily life lesson or different perspectives to consider, I like to use it as a guide. This process helps me prepare for anything that may come my way.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Having a diverse team allows the organization to absorb the values they grew up with, which enables us to look at a spectrum of different perspectives regarding important decision-making. This plays a critical role in the growth of a company and employee performance.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
Eliminating discrimination amongst the workforce is the first step towards inclusion and creating an equitable society. No matter their background, every individual should feel like they can participate and share their ideas. Enforcing this in the workforce will inevitably bleed into the rest of society and, in turn, little by little, create a world where everyone can feel equal. Some of the most incredible unicorns have a diverse team like Gong or Drift…
Once we can eliminate discrimination, it then enables us leaders to create more efficient hiring processes around the enforcement of equal opportunities. This will enable organizations to start adopting a more diverse team and culture.
Okay, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
I believe that every executive has a responsibility to inspire and motivate their teams. As an executive, you are a leader. They are one and the same, and if you can’t lead, you can’t be an executive. Early on at our company Zentap, we went through an intensive exercise of identifying our mission, vision, and values. This helped us understand what our north star was and allowed us to create a culture that we can assimilate into every process and decision we make. The CEO’s job is to ensure that every executive stays true to this culture.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
That employees serve the CEO, any successful company must enforce servant leadership where the CEO and executive team serve the employees. Servant leadership is important to any organization because it creates a nurturing environment where workers feel like they are heard, appreciated, and respected. It builds a stronger culture and improves employee morale and engagement.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
Being a founding team member, I thought that this clout might drive me into wanting an executive position, but founder sales were critical to our growth when bootstrapped our business, which made me fall in love with the role. I inevitably stayed in sales throughout my entire career at Zentap despite my founding team member title.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
The ones that will succeed as an executive or a founder are the ones that can deal with stress and pressure. If you are unable to stay emotionally intelligent and resilient through the ups and downs of building and/or leading a business, it will be very challenging to be successful as an executive/founder.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Definitely take the time each day to have meetings with your team and let the team bring up any updates, concerns, or questions. It makes a huge difference when your team can feel heard. It opens the opportunity for them to voice anything they may have concerns or questions about that you can address right then and there. It also creates a bond where the team feels valued, a time specifically dedicated to them. This way, there is a positive environment, and everyone is on the same page!
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
At our company Zentap, we created an automated software solution to help real estate professionals curate marketing collateral to then distribute to social media in order to generate business and build a brand. COVID has been a huge inflection point in the world and has especially shifted the real estate industry heavily into a digital-dependent ecosystem. I’m proud to have helped thousands of real estate professionals get their feet wet in the world of digital marketing. I also believe by being a self-made female entrepreneur, especially in the tech industry, by sharing my story, I can inspire other females. I want to encourage more females and honestly anyone in our society to take a chance. Leave the job that isn’t making you happy, stop studying the subject that you don’t have a passion for anymore. Take a chance on yourself and follow your passion because the only thing holding you back is yourself!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Mistakes are not your enemy- I wish I knew sooner that my mistakes would actually help me grow. I wouldn’t have wasted time being scared to make certain choices and take risks.
2. Things will not always go as planned (especially with a Start-Up) — Nowadays, I expect curveballs constantly. Before, I never planned for my plans to change. Things don’t always go as planned, and that’s okay, be prepared for constant changes, and you will adapt just fine!
3. Being honest with yourself and your team- If there’s an issue going on, it’s better to tell the team directly. Things are miscommunicated if not heard from you directly and blown out of proportion. Your team will appreciate honesty and will feel more comfortable hearing it from you.
4. Don’t take everything personally- Feedback is there to help you grow, whether it is direct feedback to you or feedback you need to give someone else, it is in everyone’s best interest. Feedback is to help you grow. Feedback can help your employees grow. Don’t be afraid to accept the feedback and to give the feedback. It’s not always pleasant, but it can be later down the line.
5. Delegate if necessary- Don’t try to do everything yourself. It is okay to delegate and ask for help. This can also help find your teammate’s strengths with tasks that you delegate.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would love to inspire people to get out of their comfort zone when it comes to their career choices. Go through the exercise of really thinking about what you are passionate about and what you’d like to be doing in life. Never do something for the money or because someone else wants you to do it. Try to eliminate outside pressures and influences and hone in on what you want to do in life. This is how you’ll be happy, and when you work on something that you can find passion in, you’ll end up performing better and ultimately will be more successful.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Growth only occurs in a state of discomfort” — Bill Eckstrom
I always stuck to my comfort zone. I cared too much about what people thought if I made mistakes. I was too scared, not knowing my future. When I took the risk of leaving law school, I got out of my comfort zone, it was a rocky road, but I ended up finding my passion, and I am extremely happy. I look back and see my growth, and if I didn’t make the choice that made me uncomfortable, I wouldn’t be the best version of myself that I could possibly be.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with Carol Roth. She is one of my inspirations, especially after reading her book The Entrepreneur Equation. Her straightforward perspective has helped me face feedback head-on that I would normally ignore, take personally and shy away from. Sometimes that tough love is the push you need to grow. She also highlights in her book all the behind-the-scenes trial and error that goes on for a business owner. Having these expectations made a positive impact on my decision-making. I feel like she guided me and led me down the right path to becoming the leader I am today.