The best did happen
Digital marketer and consultant saw a need and filled it
By Jenn Murphy
One of Reva Minkoff’s favorite quotes, a shamelessly pragmatic one, is inscribed on one of the walls of her office in prominent, bolded lettering: “What’s the worst that could happen? Everyone turned me down; big deal.” The struggles of the author, J.K. Rowling, may or may not reflect Minkoff’s own battles, but it’s impossible not to draw some parallel between the two—especially since Minkoff seems as full of promise as someone who attended Hogwarts.
That’s the way that Minkoff sees things. She spies an opportunity and goes for it. It’s how she got her start in the digital marketing world, and it’s how she has come to run not one, but two marketing companies, consulting firm Digital4Startups Inc. and the educational DigitalGroundUp Inc., by the age of 28.
Much like she is now, Minkoff was very busy growing up. The Riverdale, New York, native participated in as many school activities and events as she could. She was a varsity athlete, a frequent participant in local community theater and an editor of her high school newspaper. “It was just one of those things where you could kind of keep going and going with me,” says Minkoff.
Dan Blum, 60, Minkoff’s childhood guitar teacher and family friend, believes that Minkoff had an old soul from an early age. She was able to effectively communicate with adults, something that he says not all young people he’s encountered can do. He also described her as being effervescent, achievement-oriented and enthusiastic. “Reva always had a lot of energy,” Blum says.
Minkoff’s interests varied, but it wasn’t until her senior year that she became interested in what she does now. It was a marketing internship at USA Today that pulled her in the direction of digital marketing. That internship was followed by several more, including some time spent at Google, all of which solidified her interest in marketing in the digital world.
After graduating from Harvard University with a degree in government, Minkoff was working as the director of digital marketing for a startup and trying to plan her next steps. “I always sort of thought I would be CMO at somebody else’s company versus having my own,” says Minkoff. “I’ve never really considered myself someone who was an entrepreneur.”
She thought about going to business school, but didn’t want to make a big investment in something she wasn’t sure she would like. She eventually discovered the Founder Institute, a four-month boot camp where she learned the ins and outs of starting a company. It was there that she decided to take the plunge and began doing freelance digital media consulting for other companies and businesses. That freelancing business turned into her first company in 2012, Digital4Startups. The startup she had been working for no longer needed her full time but offered to let her continue to use their offices, which is where she still works today.
The office, a unique space with long tables of computers and chairs filled with other fledgling businesspeople, is the perfect environment for Minkoff and her small team. The conference rooms are named after historical visionaries, and the walls are covered with modern art pieces and inspirational quotes from the likes of J.K. Rowling and Wayne Gretzky. Minkoff is especially fond of Rowling’s; they appear to have a similar mentality of perseverance.
Minkoff’s second company, DigitalGroundUp, sprouted from a need that she saw while working with her consulting clients. She says that she kept encountering people who had very little idea of how digital marketing worked, and there were no resources available to teach them.
“I was running into all of these people who didn’t understand what they were doing and thought I was a genius for fixing it for them,” says Minkoff. She wanted to make sure that people who might not be able to afford a consulting firm like hers could still effectively market their business. She decided to start a blog where she posted different digital marketing tips nightly. This blog eventually became a full-fledged online training program where, for a small fee, people can take courses on different types of digital marketing. This also became Minkoff’s second company.
Early on, Minkoff struggled with figuring out all of the regulatory tasks that go into running a business. She says it took her a little while to get the hang of things like book-keeping and accounting, and she’s still learning to keep it all together and organized.
Minkoff also has faced some challenges as a woman in a male-dominated field. “I definitely think that the tech industry is and has been a challenging place to be a woman,” says Minkoff. “It’s not like it’s hard to get off the ground, but I think the bigger thing for me was being taken seriously.” She says that often her male colleagues would be surprised when something good happened with her businesses, something she feels wouldn’t have happened as much if she were a man. “You have to prove yourself a little more out of the gate as a woman in this space, because I don’t think that people assume that you’re as much of a player or a threat when you walk in.”
She attributes many of the challenges she’s faced to the fact that there aren’t a lot of well-known, successful female role models in the technology and business worlds. This can make it seem like a more unattainable goal. Minkoff recalls a specific event that she attended where the number of women involved was far too small. “It was like 50-plus men and three women,” says Minkoff. “And it was just like, what the heck? Where did everybody go? You know, what’s going on?”
Despite these challenges, Minkoff has been able to do what she set out to do: help people. “My goal, my mission in life has always been to leave something behind,” says Minkoff. With over 250 students currently taking DigitalGroundUp courses plus a recent collaboration with Facebook, Minkoff is well on her way to leaving a positive impact on all different kinds of people and businesses.
Minkoff has certainly left a positive impact on her former guitar teacher. Blum became a client of Digital4Startups in the summer of 2012 and has since seen the yearly traffic to his website quadruple. Minkoff rewrote all of his advertisements to attract more students, and according to Blum, saved his business. “Had Reva not come into the picture, it would have just died,” says Blum. “That’s the direction it was going in, so she really saved it. That’s not an exaggeration.”
Blum says that Minkoff’s personable nature is what makes her business so successful. He says he always feels like his needs as a client are most crucial to her. “No matter how busy she is, no matter where she is in the country, if you need to speak to her she will call you, and she will call you soon. That is very important,” says Blum.
Minkoff says that it’s vital to her to make clients feel that they are important. She wants them to know that she cares about them on a personal level and will do everything she can to make sure that their business succeeds. “It’s all about relationships,” says Minkoff. “People do business with people, not companies.”
She plans to continue to help people master the art of digital marketing. “I wanted to build something that I would be comfortable running for 20 years or more,” says Minkoff. “I feel like there’s always stuff brewing, and you’re always on the cusp of something amazing and hopefully a couple of those dominoes fall. I never know which ones it’ll be.”
Edited by Evan Paddock
Photos by Jenn Murphy