How being ‘different’ helped Kim Grennan build her brand

Women Leaders, 2020

It is often said that the ability to observe without evaluation is the highest form of intelligence and it cannot be more evident looking at the journey of Kim Grennan, the CEO and Founder of Axle Eight, a boutique digital marketing agency that provides end-to-end marketing solutions from SEO to content creation, advertising, email, social media, and PR. Ever since she was a kid, Kim had an unconventional approach towards everything. Many would deem it as a negative trait because her perception didn’t align with the norm. As she grew up, Kim discovered it was rather her strength and ultimately become her asset to make all her dreams come true. This moment of realization came for the first time when she started working for Verizon in Boston, on their corporate strategy team which focused on crafting new visions for the company along with marketing, advertising, and some portion of capital venture investing. It was actually one of her mentors Sam Bastia who recognized the potential in her and convinced her to come to Boston to pursue this job opportunity. Kim shares, “Sam as a mentor, instilled in me that this way of thinking is tremendously valuable to a company that needs to think outside of the confines of what they are comfortable with. He taught me to not be afraid to share these ideas, back it with data to prove my argument, always go above and beyond to create lasting relationships on a personal level, and to always be confident when I communicate. He then proceeded to show me by example how to “stay weird”, even in a corporate environment. That’s the only way to make big waves and big change.”

Unfortunately, soon after Kim left Verizon, Sam was diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer and eventually made her promise that she would never give up on her uniqueness and will keep on fueling it with her passion to reach all her aspirations. Starting as a freelancer marketer with Sam’s teachings close to her, Kim managed to earn more than enough clients within just two years of working, and eventually, she had to hire a whole team and launch her own agency. This agency is called ‘Axle Eight’ and is located in Scottsdale, AZ.

From Freelance Marketer to becoming an Industry Leader
“I brought the “Sam” way of thinking into everything that we do at Axle Eight,” shares Kim. “In fact, many of his beliefs he instilled within me are now core values of ours and we love working with brands that like to think boldly and try new things.”

Within just four years of operations, Axle Eight has achieved an average of over a 100% growth rate which is rarely attainable in such a short period of time that too in an industry which is this competitive. Kim shares, “Growing this fast has been a wild ride, but completely rewarding. I’ve learned so many things about myself, growing a business (with the help of some really amazing people), and how important a smart and passionate team is.” As a next-generation marketing agency, Axle Eight wants to change the way M&A agencies work and flip the model a bit on its head. Axle Eight drives results via marketing qualified leads, and enhance brand positioning and awareness while its focus remains on the client’s needs before anything else. Kim asserts, “...

“Our tagline is “all of the aptitude and none of the B.S.” because we all come from agency backgrounds where we felt the way that they handled long term client relationships and how contracts were structured did not put the clients’ needs at the forefront.”

Overcoming the virtual barrier with confidence and wit
As a young female, Hispanic leader, Kim chooses to leverage her identity and use it as an opportunity rather than getting discouraged by it. In her professional journey so far, she has never been intimidated by the number of men in the room even if she is the only female and has always presented her opinions with unputdownable confidence while making sure she comes up with unparalleled ideas and strategies. Kim exclaims, “I view this as sort of my unique “brand”. I won’t always give you the answer you are expecting. This, I have found, has allowed me to earn the respect of these professionals.”

When asked how she managed to reach this stature so quickly and gracefully, Kim simply says, “Put people first. We’re all human, and at the end of the day, people want to work with good people.” Probably, Kim’s deep regard for service can be traced back to her ancestors Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana and Carlos Santana. Yes, you read that right, a fun fact about Kim is that she is related to the Mexican General who served in the Mexican-American war that ultimately killed Davy Crockett. It may not sound very American but it definitely shows where she might have gotten her savvy, courage, and dedication from.

“Put people first. We’re all human, and at the end of the day, people want to work with good people.”

The Pandemic and its aftermath
At the beginning of 2020, Axle Eight has recorded significant growth but as business began to slow down, the impact could also be seen across its clients all around the globe. However, staying true to their commitment to putting client’s needs before anything else, Axle Eight gave its clients a fair chance to negotiate new relationship terms just so they could get by the pandemic together. Kim says, “It had an absolute impact on our bottom line, but we were fortunate enough to get through the hardest times while maintaining most of our clients and getting them great marketing results.” To keep its employees motivated in such harsh times, Axle Eight practices profit sharing for all employees to align with their 30/30 goal which is to ensure it maintains a 30%+ growth rate and 30%+ overall profit each year so that everyone gets to celebrate the success in its growth and profitability.

As for their plans moving forward, Kim states, “We have continued to grow so fast over the past 4 years, but I don’t view that type of growth as totally sustainable over the next 2-3 years and beyond. Our exec team at Axle Eight is rallied around our 30/30 goal. As a leader, I want to be really in-tune with the desires of our employees and what brings them a sense of self-worth so I can do what I can to enable it. The agency life is a HARD life. But I will stand behind the fact that it is an environment where you will learn more than you could ever imagine in a very short time. I really put an emphasis on creating an open and fun culture so people want to stay and want to add value to our growth journey. We’re like a little family, and I think this sets us apart from a lot of agency environments.”