Keren Kang – CEO, Native Commerce Media

Keren Kang is a tech entrepreneur in the mobile platform space. Today, she serves as CEO of Native Commerce Media, a top content marketing agency headquartered in Austin, TX. She specializes in technology operations, content and direct response marketing, and rapidly growing companies from startup to maturity.

Tell me about your early career.
My early career started with editing articles for a video game review website called Games Radar. That internship led me to becoming a writer for another video game review site, Game Almighty. Obviously, I was into video games. After graduating from college, I found a small, pre-funded, startup game publisher named True Games. I worked unpaid for four to five months, on the development side of video games, while the founders were securing funding for the company. When funding was secured, I rose through the ranks of game development.

How did the concept for Native Commerce Media come about?
It was a long time coming. Our main property, Survival Life, had been around for six years. It was a guinea pig in many ways: testing conversions and theories of SEO and content marketing. We finally developed a system that worked effectively in gaining massive, organic traffic in a short period of time, and replicated this system across different niche interests, such as home and garden, beauty, politics and finance. Since that success, we’ve been asked to handle content marketing for outside brands, countless times. At the time, we weren’t ready to become an agency just yet. After developing the domestic and overseas infrastructure over the last three years of working here, this year, we are finally ready for this new agency endeavor.

How was the first year in business?
I joined two years after the company was founded, but came at a time of major shift. The core management team had left and disorganization was everywhere. After taking control of their web development across several sites for a year, the founder of the company asked me to run it. I was hesitant, at first. I had seen three other folks leave the post, so it seemed like a revolving door. But I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge and I ultimately accepted the offer.

What was your marketing strategy?
It was to execute. This was a problem when I took over. There were so many excuses and reasons why something couldn’t happen. This doesn’t always make friends, but it yields results. The actual marketing strategy was to build congruent sales funnels starting with a free offer at the top of the funnel. We made a sales funnel for each of our products and related products.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
In the first year I took over, it grew from a projected $10 million to $26 million.

How do you define success?
Being able to support my family, comfortably. I grew up in a household that struggled with money, so this is by far my biggest achievement.

What is the key to success?
Work hard, don’t expect things to be easy, and execute. Also, don’t be an asshole. Nobody wants to work with an asshole.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Every man has his breaking point. Things can always get worse. Pick yourself up, deal with it, and march forward.

What are some of your favorite books?
I’m a huge fiction reader. I’ve read the Harry Potter series over twenty times (yes, the entire series). A Game of Thrones was incredible. I love anything written by Chuck Palahniuk and Kurt Vonnegut. But in terms of nonfiction, I absolutely adored Tina Fey’s Bossypants, How Google Works, and The Dan Sullivan Question.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The toll on family and friends. It builds up and gets worse as you become more successful. I would often lose sight of my true and important priorities and put work above all else. I learned the hard way (like most people) that mentality is a one way ticket to depression. Do something about it. Change it. Life is not work. Life is everything, outside of work!

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Great question. Most entrepreneurs are like me: super-competitive. I simply won’t go down without a fight.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
1) Prepare for the hardest time of your life, and don’t wallow in failure when things don’t go the way you planned. Trust that things will NEVER go as planned, and there will be more disappointments than wins. But that’s okay, celebrate every little win you can because you’ll need that to motivate you toward your next little win.

2) Also, work your ass off during work hours, but make sure you have a personal life.

3) Seriously, surround yourself with people you love working with. Don’t cause yourself unnecessary stress.

Who else should we interview? Nominate someone!

Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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