From Rehab To Digital Marketing Empire: How Two Entrepreneurs Teamed Up To Build An Explosive Agency
GR0 cofounders Jon Zacharias and Kevin Miller are experts at adapting. Whether it’s overcoming their addictions, launching a company at the start of COVID, or weathering the recent economic downturn, these two entrepreneurial mavericks prove time and time again that flexibility, FITFO, and a fast pace are the key ingredients to success — especially while building a digital marketing empire.
The best-friends-turned-business-partners started off on dramatically different paths. Miller grew up in Ormond Beach, Florida, attended the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, then moved to San Francisco to work for Google. Meanwhile, Zacharias was raised in Los Angeles, got a law degree from the California Western School of Law in San Diego, and spent ten years studying Search Engine Optimization before a chance meeting and unique project brought them together.
“I actually moved to L.A. without knowing a single person,” says Kevin, who was a recovering addict at the time. “I went to AA because that's what you're supposed to do when you move to a new place as a recovering addict. That’s where I met Jon, just by random chance.”
“We were both digital marketing experts, so it was just very easy to relate, and we were both sober. We were both trying to rebuild our lives,” explained Zacharias. “Sometimes timing is more important than anything.”
The timing was perfect when Zacharias heard Miller mention something near and dear to him during that first meeting. “He was talking about how he was working on an SEO project,” Zacharias recalls. “He was a master digital marketing expert with paid ads, but he had been assigned an SEO project to do for Open Listings [later acquired by Opendoor], and he didn't understand how to do SEO.” With a decade of SEO in his back pocket, Zacharias saw an opportunity and offered to help.
“We crushed it for Opendoor. The plan that we came up with together was a huge success,” Zacharias says. “Kevin built an algorithm, a programmatic campaign, that got them ranked No. 1 for every single location in the country. I told Kevin, ‘why don't we do this for hundreds of other clients?’” That’s how the idea for GR0 was born.
From the beginning, the duo’s unique perspective and relationship helped capture the attention of some major names in the business world. “We had the vision and we brought it to these powerful people in our network, and they believed in it,” says Zacharias. Their star-studded advisory board includes venture capitalist Carter Reum, superstar Paris Hilton, investor Jeffrey Lo, Balance co-founder Judd Schoenholtz, BAM Ventures Managing Director Richard Jun, Doe Lashes founder Jason Wong, and BWCP investor Jack Mohr. “Our secret to success has been going to the people who have been there and done that and asking them how they did it,” Miller explains.
The company launched in February 2020 featuring a high-quality SEO product that hadn’t been available in the industry before. “Google's been around for 25 years, but people forgot that that was a growth channel,” Miller explains. “And for the people who didn't forget, there were no reputable agencies. They were all just buying shady backlinks overseas. We brought transparency and authenticity to an industry that has been clouded by doubt and dishonest work for years.”
This cornerstone offering helped growing brands become competitive by ranking at the top of Google search results. GR0 proved its massive value by helping viral float company FunBoy rank No. 1 for “pool floats” and getting celeb-favorite flower brand, Venus et Fleur, to the top for “roses that last a year.”
The founders admit they got a boost from the massive switch to online marketing during the COVID shutdowns in 2020. “We definitely greatly benefited from all these companies that were going digital in a way that they weren't before,” says Miller. But they’ve worked hard to prove their value over and over by launching new products to better serve their customers, perfecting each service, and delivering major returns.
The success of their expansion was validated in major campaigns with Hilton and Addison Rae for Venus et Fleur, a Search Engine Land Award win for Best B2B Search Marketing Initiative - SEM in 2021, and an Inc. Power Partner Award in 2022.
The company has continued to grow with acquisitions of Email/SMS Marketing Service QuaGrowth and Google Ads company TM Marketing Consultants and the launch of innovative new products tailored to meet the needs of their clients — like LinkedIn optimization and posting and influencer marketing.
Despite the growth, Miller and Zacharias remain hands-on with their clients, which allows them to intimately understand their needs and opportunities to fulfill them better. “If we have 15 different channels that we can offer, we can easily pivot into something that is working if what we've tried hasn't worked,” says Miller. “Our mission is to empower every entrepreneur to start a business and make a lot of money online — you can't do that with just one channel.”
And when it comes to which products are right for each client, Zacharias says timing is everything. “It's so important to give the client the right product at the right time,” he says. “We want to assess the actual needs of the client and then give them the product that's best for them at that specific time. It's the difference between a client staying for three months and churning and a client staying for five years and being thrilled and growing their business and being happy.”
And the duo knows a thing or two about keeping people happy — GR0 won a slew of awards centered around employee happiness, including a Comparably Award for Happiest Employees and being named one of Fortune’s 50 Best Workplaces in Advertising and Marketing. Zacharias and Miller credit honesty, openness, and a focus on mental health for that.
“We genuinely do have a really dynamic, deep company culture as a result of the fact that we, at the top, are talking about our struggles with mental health or addiction,” says Miller. “It opens the door for other employees to do that, too.”
That openness is what helped form the strong bond between Miller and Zacharias that set the foundation for the company. “I was newly sober, coming off of a 15 year bender [when I met Kevin],” said Zacharias. “So mentally, I was really kind of beaten up. He's not judgmental. He propped me up.” Now they work together to prop up their world-class employees and other young entrepreneurs who are just starting out.
“Sometimes when it feels like everything's falling apart, it's actually falling into place,” Zacharias tells anyone looking to start a company of their own. “Get out of your own way. Understand that to be efficient, you need to focus on the things that you can actually change.” The pair put in the work to learn this wisdom themselves. “Now we know how to manage stress in a healthy way,” Miller says. “We learned how to do that by seeking therapy, by talking about our problems, because a problem shared is a problem halved.”
There’s no doubt they’ll continue working together to solve the marketing and growth problems for hundreds of companies, big and small, as GR0 continues to experience massive growth and become one of the digital marketing industry’s top players.