Ali Payani is the CEO and co-founder of LookinLA, a full-service digital marketing agency named by Clutch as one of the best marketing firms in Los Angeles.
He came to the US from Dubai with vast experience in business and technology, but he had no contacts or leads when he started his company. Nevertheless, LookinLA made six figures within a few months of launch. he has established himself as a highly sought-after business coach and mentor as well as the host of the podcast “The Leading Mindset with Ali Payani.”
Driven by his experience as a serial entrepreneur, creative digital marketer, and strategic management consultant, Ali seeks to share the rapid success of LookinLA. His success as a member of the Forbes’ Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) makes him one of the most innovative minds in today’s business world.
Ali and I discussed how to stand out in a crowded market, how his expertise with artificial intelligence has helped his business, tips for first-time clients, and more.
How to stand out in a dominated industry
Los Angeles has a long history as home to many iconic brands and agencies and is also considered as the thriving creative hub of the entertainment industry. This makes it an ideal location for entrepreneurs looking to make their mark on this world.
It’s a hotbed for marketing agencies with so many brands vying to get people’s attention – so finding the right marketing agency for your business can be challenging in a market this crowded and competitive.
I asked Ali what makes his company stand out from that of his competitors.
Aside from having worked with over 19 different industries, LookinLA manages every stage of the marketing plan, from planning to execution to optimization, using a data-driven approach. Ali also takes pride in their ability to execute faster than anyone. “When you figure out very fast what you should do to achieve the goal for your clients, you have to also execute it way faster than any others,” he said.
This includes knowing the trends and understanding their clients’ problems, vision, company, and capabilities. He is confident that they can execute the strategies well because of their internal processes and great team who is constantly developing these marketing strategies.
“Everything is now automated in terms of internal processes for the team. The project management is really working well and also the knowledge for every channel.”
Using artificial intelligence
The company’s success can be attributed to Ali’s computer science expertise, which has helped him master the ins-and-outs of digital marketing through artificial intelligence. This allows him to create successful social media campaigns using data-driven strategies on Facebook ads or Google Adwords.
“To understand the AI and some tools that we use to gather data and analyze them, that helped a lot to understand those problems that the clients have now or might come in the future.”
He mentioned that they have developed their own framework to gather the data to best understand their clients’ needs.
“AI, especially analyzing the data, is understanding the behavior of your customers, your clients, what are the factors that impact your decision making process,” he explained. “We utilize a lot of tools to analyze those data and then figure out the best possible strategies.”
Tips for first time clients
When a business is looking to hire an outside company for digital marketing services for the first time, there are many factors that should be considered – one of which is the budget.
“The budget obviously plays [an] important role,” Ali noted. “But we see even companies with a good budget, but they’re performing really bad] internally.”
However, the ability to manage a company is more than just spending money. It’s also about managing people and ensuring that all aspects of the business are improving over time, not only in terms of their budget but what they offer as well. “They [should] make sure that their management, their goals, their objectives, their product, their services are all really in a good place.”
According to him, the management team composed of the CEOs and founders also have to know what they can expect from the different marketing strategies in order for them to not only understand their industry, but also how marketing fits into the business as a whole.
What Ali is currently focusing on in his business
I love getting insights from my guests about how they’re growing their business. I always find it fascinating to learn what strategies busy entrepreneurs are doubling down on and why.
For Ali, it is increasing the number of partnerships they have with companies.
LookinLA recently partnered with Terminus, the only true account-based marketing (ABM) platform for revenue growth, and ZoomInfo, a global leader in modern go-to-market software, data, and intelligence.
The partnerships aim to create next-level B2B sales and increase their co-marketing opportunities. “That part of the marketing is really to make sure that we have that brand awareness for LookinLA.”
“We are also producing more content, more real educational content and annual report[s] on the B2B industries and B2C industries. That’s also been very effective.”
Tune in to the Fascinating Entrepreneurs podcast to hear my full conversation with Ali!
Transcript from Podcast
[00:00:00] Ali Payani: I believe that in the future, we’re probably going to see more e-commerces to be active on the metaverse and selling their own NFTs, but that would provide the opportunity basically for all the businesses in different industries.
[00:00:14] Natasha Miller: Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS. How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur? How do they scale and grow their businesses? How did they plan for profit? Are they in it for life? Are they building to exit? These and a myriad of other topics will be discussed to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.
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Ali Payani is the 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 came to the U.S. from Dubai in 2016 with vast experience in business and technology, but he had no contacts, leads, nor income stream to support him as he built his new business.
Yet, LookinLA makes six figures in six months. Fun facts about Ali, he’s a pianist, a former national basketball player, and a chess champion. Now let’s get right into it.
[00:01:55] Ali Payani: Even when we started five years ago, it was actually against all the odds to have a digital marketing agency or growth agency in Los Angeles, where we have over 15,000 agencies in the country. So to stand out is really to understand your clients and their client’s industries and their customer’s journeys, the buyer decision process.
And then you have to really work hard to be ahead of all the competition and all the other marketers and strategists. Everything is really changed. So you have to really know the updates, what are the trends, and what can you do to take your clients to the next level.
[00:02:35] Natasha Miller: Do you have an analyst on the team that looks for the changing times and trends? Or as you as the founder leader, is that your responsibility? I can’t imagine that you can sell and serve as well as keep current and ahead of technology and changes and trends.
[00:02:56] Ali Payani: Yeah, we do have a strategist. That’s also still my main focus too, because I really love this challenge, to always learn about all the industries.
Another advice I used to get five years ago was maybe focus on one industry and I didn’t like it because it’s still not really a challenge. And so we work with over 19 different industries, different types of company products or services.
I think it’s really challenging and fun to know exactly what is going on in their industries and learn more about them. I do that with regular talking to the business owners maybe every week, and then we’re becoming friends and then they share with me. And then I read a lot of like articles and get a lot of updates from various sources to learn more about each industry, as well as the marketing trends and updates.
[00:03:44] Natasha Miller: What would you say is your number one differentiating factor about your company versus your competitors?
[00:03:51] Ali Payani: We are very fast. We understand it very fast. We figure it out very fast and then execute faster than anyone.
[00:03:59] Natasha Miller: Is that getting to know the customer and split testing? What things are you fast at?
[00:04:05] Ali Payani: To understand their problems, to understand the client’s vision, their industry, their company, and their capabilities, and how we have to figure out a strategy. And maybe it comes to the content strategy.
Then when you figure out very fast what you should do to achieve the goal for your clients, you have to also execute it way faster than any others.
[00:04:30] Natasha Miller: How do you do that? What is your secret? There’s only so many hours in the day.
[00:04:34] Ali Payani: Let’s say in terms of the executions, if you ask, that would be our internal processes. Everything is now automated in terms of internal processes for the team. The project management is really working well and also the knowledge for every channel. It’s in a level, that we don’t get a lot to the problems, so we really execute fast.
And when it’s constantly developing the strategy business or marketing strategies for the clients, we have a great team. And I’m in exploration meeting to ask the right questions to exactly get the problems and what the client is looking for, so we can draft the business strategy so they can get there faster.
[00:05:15] Natasha Miller: How big is your team now?
[00:05:16] Ali Payani: I believe we are 16 now.
[00:05:19] Natasha Miller: 16. Is it all local or do you have offshore and remote? Not in the LA area.
[00:05:26] Ali Payani: We do have remote employees and the hybrid.
[00:05:29] Natasha Miller: How is that working out with the new change of the new working?
[00:05:33] Ali Payani: Actually before the pandemic, we used to have a Slack. And then we were communicating everyone, even in the office, through Slack. And then when pandemic happened, we really didn’t notice anything or any problem internally. And then it was opportunity for us because we got really great people from Florida, from Colorado, from Idaho, from different states.
And we are still hiring, finding and having remote employees because we have regular team meetings and they have a really great communication and engagement on Slack and all the project management tools, monday.com that we use.
So everybody’s really engaged. So you don’t really feel that you’re working remote.
[00:06:15] Natasha Miller: How do you guys utilize artificial intelligence in what you do?
[00:06:19] Ali Payani: One of my background actually is system security, AI, and machine learning. So it wasn’t marketing before. So to understand the AI and some tools that we use to gather data and analyze them, that helped a lot to understand those problems that the clients have now, or might come in the future.
So AI, especially analyzing the data is understanding the behavior of your customers, your clients, what are the factors that impact your decision making process, whether it’s on your website or in your marketing platform or marketing channels and campaigns. So we utilize a lot of tools to analyze those datas and then figure out the best possible strategies.
[00:07:04] Natasha Miller: Are you inventing any technologies? Are you really focused on using other people’s technologies that they’ve built?
[00:07:13] Ali Payani: We’re using other technologies, but then invented our own framework of how we are gathering the data, what sources we’re getting and then what we’re looking into it and how we are doing the execution. So we have our own framework that we apply to the companies.
[00:07:28] Natasha Miller: If I were your client, how would I know what kind of job you’re doing for me? A good job, a mediocre job or not great job? Do you have reports that are systematized every month? Am I just supposed to see an increase in RFPs or web visits? What is that like for your end customer?
[00:07:48] Ali Payani: All of them basically. So they start feeling they are getting more busy. The sales team are busy. If it’s a B2B, if it’s e-commerce, they need more inventors. But also we have a monthly reporting meetings and quarterly executive meetings. I don’t have any kind of limit on the number of the meetings that if the clients say something is happening, especially like when the pandemic has started.
So we had like more meetings even in the week to discuss the new changes. And I think the right communication with the clients is something that they already know exactly what we are working on and then what comes next.
And in the brainstorming meetings, they also share with us their different concerns or maybe new goals or new product or new service. So we share with them the strategy.
[00:08:34] Natasha Miller: Are you guys dipping your toes into the NFT horizons and crypto? Is that something that you’re interested in or keeping your eye on?
[00:08:43] Ali Payani: It’s good you ask because it’s been few months that we are working on it as a new division and it would be actually launched very soon.
That will be a new division that will be looking meta. So we’re working on that and then we are taking some of our classes to the metaverse. We have for you even a request from the NFT creators, so that they want it to also do the marketing. So yeah, we do work on that area.
[00:09:11] Natasha Miller: How do you feel about that? So I like to say it is our present. It’s very new, it’s part of our future, but if you’re not in it now you’re behind. If you’re in it now, it’s so new and it’s not centralized. And there’s a million players.
How do you become an expert at something? So few people are actually experts in because it’s growing. It’s a baby. It’s an infant right now.
[00:09:39] Ali Payani: It still needs its own strategy. So think of it as a new website that you might build for your company. Like the first version. It’s not really good, but at least you have the website. You do have a domain.
[00:09:52] Natasha Miller: Are we going to go through like the heartbreak of flash in NFT world? I don’t know. What would that equivalent be?
[00:10:01] Ali Payani: I believe that in the future, we’re probably going to see more e-commerces active on the metaverse and selling their own NFTs and products in NFT format. We have like B2B companies that are willing to go there, to have their own mutual office there but that would provide the opportunity basically for all the businesses in different industries if they wanted to have their own regional office.
Plus, they start like selling their own NFTs or products in NFTs. And with the blockchain technology, you’re continuously going to make more money.
[00:10:35] Natasha Miller: That element of it. And let’s break that down for listeners in case they’re new to that. So let’s explain, I create an NFT and I sell it to you for a thousand dollars. It’s never going to be that cheap, but let’s just say that.
And then you sell it to your brother for whatever amount. I’m then going to get a royalty. So that’s so different than if I sell you this iPad and then you sell it to your brother and I’m not going to get any money back from that. But it goes on for infinity. And that is really interesting. And I think people outside of the metaverse, crypto, NFT world, they’re not understanding the upside to themselves.
[00:11:16] Ali Payani: Yeah, I think maybe in 2030. So that would be the time that everybody would be active there.
[00:11:23] Natasha Miller: Yeah, our grandparents.
[00:11:25] Ali Payani: Yeah. And then for the audiences, you have to see, it might not be really good for all the businesses today because your target audience might not be active there, depending on the demographics and ages.
So if the generation Z are like more active now, maybe they’re not your target customers for your business. But in 10 years, they will. One of my articles I talk about the millennials being in the workforce and that helped us a lot to grow and you’ll have to keep the constant growth because of this strategy, to look into how the business decision process is changing because of the millennials. So that would be changed to generation Z in 10 years.
[00:12:04] Natasha Miller: Absolutely. This is a question I’d like you to answer. If a business was coming to you and they had never engaged with an agency like yours, what are the things that you would hope they come to you with beside a healthy budget? What can you teach people to prepare for?
[00:12:21] Ali Payani: What information you think might be better if they…?
[00:12:23] Natasha Miller: Yeah. What level of sales should they be at? What kind of growth should they be looking at to start investing? Because I think a lot of people before they get to an agency like yours, they’re doing it DIY, or they’re doing it in-house with somebody that isn’t really an expert.
When is the right time to come to an agency like yours? And what should you have in place?
[00:12:47] Ali Payani: The budget obviously plays important role, right? So your finance. But we see even companies with a good budget, but they’re performing really bad internally. So I think they should maybe go over a maturity level of the companies and then they make sure that their management, their goals, their objectives, their product, their services, are all really in a good place or also maybe thriving and then growing and improving.
And one of the, I would say maybe the main factors is the management team. CEO, founders, co-founders. It’s really important that they are understanding their industry and they know what they’re going to get with marketing. Then it comes to their budget. Usually I ask a question, “How much money do you want to make?”
And some companies haven’t thought about that and they say, “Good question.” Because then I would say based on that we can get them in your budget, then we can understand the activities for the marketing, for your sales, how good your sales teams are, or if it’s e-commerce, how good are your products, how much people like it.
I think all those factors would accompany who was successful even with marketing. So we also help companies with their sales department, with their products, like surveys, feedback, studying and analyzing those to make them actually improve the other departments.
[00:14:06] Natasha Miller: Yeah, it sounds to me like you have to be ready for the success that your company will create for that product or service.
And if you’re not, it’s going to break something, it’s going to break the website. It’s going to break the supply chain or the orders, or something’s going to go wrong. And then when you start disappointing your clients, your end clients.
[00:14:27] Ali Payani: Scaling the business is another kind of a topic of discussion. So even if you are growing, how do you scale your business? Can you do that? If you have an e-commerce with 5,000 orders or 20,000 orders, can you really deliver?
So those are also the questions that the companies have, that’s why I’m saying that the management and the founders and the team are important because they can handle the growth if they are really knowledgeable and active.
[00:14:56] Natasha Miller: What is your biggest challenge in your business right now?
[00:15:00] Ali Payani: I would say for marketing engagements, probably changes in the privacy was really affecting, and there are tons of data that have been disconnected and data sharing integrations. It didn’t impact any of our clients so far much.
We find like other ways to do it and find our own kind of strategy by already understanding their customers and that would be one that’s directly affecting the marketing campaigns. And another, as you said, there are more people that think they’re doing marketing.
So they are active on social media and they think that’s it or they have like relatives or the families or some freelancers that they might even be out of the states. So they don’t know what is going on in the states. So they are doing marketing and the common thing I see is that they don’t get results.
And then they come to us and say, “Hey, you know what? We did marketing before it didn’t work.” And we look at their campaigns, there’s really nothing there. And so that wasn’t marketing. So that’s another issue in the marketing industry in general.
[00:16:04] Natasha Miller: And then the followup to that is this year, we’re still new in the year, what are you focusing on in your business order to scale and grow it further?
What is like one thing that you’re really doubling down on?
[00:16:18] Ali Payani: We are getting a lot of partnership actually from the companies. We became a partner with Terminus, which is the one of the best icon based marketing platforms. And we just became partner with ZoomInfo. So we are increasing the number of the partnerships we have.
And then with the help of also the partners, we introduced their services because they’re really good and helpful. And also a lot of like cool marketing opportunities and the partners.
[00:16:43] Natasha Miller: What is the structure for the partnership?
[00:16:45] Ali Payani: There are different structures based on who you are and like what that agency is or what levels you are or what type of clients you can bring for the partner. So that would be different levels.
[00:16:55] Natasha Miller: So is it similar to affiliate marketing or is there rev share or how are you looking at those?
[00:17:02] Ali Payani: They have their own different type of structures. So each company, they have their own type. Maybe it would be a rev share or…
[00:17:08] Natasha Miller: So you’re going into their already created program as a partner…
[00:17:14] Ali Payani: Yeah. And then we use their services because for most of the clients, we have a partnership with the other CEOs and in our network and my network and even with the clients. So we’re getting lots of referrals. So that works well, but that part of the marketing is really to make sure that we have that brand awareness for LookinLA.
So we are also producing more content, more real educational content and annual report on the B2B industries and B2C industries. That’s also been very effective.
[00:17:46] Natasha Miller: What would you say that you wish you would have known before starting your own company that you had no idea about?
[00:17:54] Ali Payani: I’m always thinking that every six months we find something that we never thought about it six months ago.
I’m like, “Oh, what is it in six months that I don’t know today?” There are a lot, like if it comes to this strategy, the strategies we develop now, understanding the industry is really different when we started. And I would say maybe one would be focusing on the growth versus some weaknesses, or maybe the problems that may come to the business.
So instead of like dwelling on those issues, you will only focus on the growth and how you can become better every day. So that will help a lot, for scaling the company.
[00:18:36] Natasha Miller: Ali and I talked about how to stand out in a crowded market, how he built his team and what his biggest challenge is today. For more information, go to the show notes where you’re listening to this podcast.
Want to know more about me? Go to my website, natashamiller.com. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you loved the show. If you did, please subscribe. Also, if you haven’t done so yet, please leave a review where you’re listening to this podcast now. I’m Natasha Miller and you’ve been listening to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.