Expert to know: Conoon Kim (Q&A Interview)

November 21, 2023

Conoon Kim is the Founder & Director of Strategy at Embark (based in Corona, California), listed on 50Pros as a top 50 firm in Web Design.

In this Q&A, Conoon shares his in-depth perspective, unique background, robust experiences, and insightful tips.

How did you get into your industry?

My journey to digital marketing began in high school when I developed my first website. I built an e-commerce store to sell apparel and fell in love with using technology to craft digital experiences. Once I entered college, I decided to major in Business and Marketing to better understand people and how to make money. On the side, I started freelancing as a web designer and developer to help subsidize tuition. However, I quickly realized I was already building a career and dropped out of college to fully pursue a website business. Many websites later, I was hired by a digital marketing department of a nonprofit to manage all of their websites and realized my true passion for building integrated digital experiences, and not just focusing on websites. Through the digital marketing industry, I get to continue using the latest technologies to make awesome experiences for websites and beyond.

What inspired you to start your agency?

During my nonprofit experience in web strategy, I had the opportunity to hire outside agencies to support our internal projects. However, I experienced many challenges and issues dealing with the vendor market and processes. So I ventured off to start my own agency with the mission to do better. I wanted to improve upon my own past experiences for new clients. I want my clients to experience what I wish I could have experienced when I had to hire agencies.

How do you manage work-life balance as an agency owner or executive?

As a father of three, setting daily work hours is critical to being present when my family need me. One of our company values is family, and to encourage a quality life we also plan team gatherings with our families to ensure we prioritize what is most important to us. Outside of emergencies, our team is good about avoiding work during odd hours and we never sacrifice personal health or well-being over work. Most importantly, having strong systems and processes allows us to disconnect from work with peace of mind.

What is the best piece of advice you've received in your career that pertains to your work, and how has it influenced your decisions?

The best advice I received in my career is to be uncomfortable. That is where growth happens. This has led to me finding opportunities that I would otherwise never have considered if being uncomfortable wasn't the goal. It has impacted my decision-making at so many levels, allowing me to inch closer to my potential. Bidding on the project I feel unqualified for, hiring the person that doesn't seem to fit my personality, setting goals that I've never fathomed before, and so much more.

What activities or hobbies outside of work do you enjoy that help you recharge and stay creative?

To recharge and stay creative, I realize I need to be mentally and physically fit. I endeavor on fitness challenges and routines, like running and strength training, to keep my mind and body in shape. I'm also devout in my Catholic faith as it helps to keep me at peace, leading to new ideas and confidence in my decisions. Finally, I enjoy video games to inspire me with endless creativity and stories.

What do you like most about your industry?

What I like most about digital marketing is how much change there always is. Sometimes it's a struggle trying to keep up with the latest and greatest, but I enjoy having to push myself to discover and learn new things that ultimately make things better.

What do you dislike most about your industry?

What I dislike most about the digital marketing industry is the procurement process. There is no standardization to how clients hire firms for work, so consequently the marketplace is a mess and there is often lots of confusion.

If you could make 3-5 changes in your industry, what would they be?

If I could make a few changes in the digital marketing industry, it would be to 1) implement an independently verifiable method of screening agencies, 2) eliminate the RFP process, and 3) require prospects to have a committed budget before hiring.

What do you wish people knew about your industry?

I wish people knew that digital marketing doesn't have to be complicated. Often people get overwhelmed when facing the challenge of marketing through digital, but focusing on 1 or 2 platforms is the best place to start. Additionally, it's common for people to overestimate the power of technology and underestimate the power of fundamentals, like storytelling and community-building. People equate digital marketing to magic, but fail to realize that it requires intentionality, effort, and creativity just like regular marketing.

Can you share a situation where you had to make a tough business decision and the impact it had on your agency?

A tough business decision was when I decided to part ways with my business partner. It significantly impacted the trajectory of the agency and our personal lives at the time, but it ultimately led to the best decision. What made it amicable was our level of trust, communication, and sense of gratitude we had for each other. Change is never easy, but out of it comes new opportunities to pursue.

When you first started, how did you get clients?

When I first started, getting clients was good old fashioned cold outreach. I remember finding my first client off a Craigslist listing seeking to redesign their real estate website. I stayed up all night to build that website and ended up making $50. That one client led to hundreds of thousands of dollars in work through referrals and industry connections.

...and how do you get clients today?

Today, I rely mostly on inbound marketing. We are listed in agency directories like 50Pros and But we still get a fair share of word-of-mouth referral clients.

What is your approach to continuous improvement and learning within your agency?

Our other company value is education. We love taking on work with clients that are not afraid to experiment and try new things. This allows us to push ourselves to learn new technologies, trends, and strategies for our clients. In addition, we emphasize internal professional development and have regular team presentations to share industry knowledge. Finally, we always look for at least 1 thing to learn from every project so that we are always in the mindset of improvement.

What is the biggest issue that your firm, or firms like yours, face?

The biggest issues firms like ours face is scaling and balancing. Finding new clients and work can be a challenge on its own, but growing the team to accommodate for new work is a constant balancing act for smaller firms like ours. Growing too fast or too slowly can be detrimental from a business standpoint.

How do you stay updated on the latest technologies and tools relevant to your industry?

Subscribing to newsletters, writing blogs, listening to podcasts, and staying engaged on social media have been effective ways to have a beat on our industry.

What changes have you seen occur since you got into this business?

The biggest change I've seen is the adoption of digital for communications. Starting out in this industry just a decade ago, I would mainly use the phone to reach my clients. Today, Zoom is a given standard and preference for meetings, consultations, and even multi-hour sprints. Along with that, I see live messaging systems like Slack and Teams being used very effectively for collaboration. As someone that is obsessed with efficiency, this is a great change to see in our industry to eliminate excessive traveling and waiting.

What changes do you foresee occurring in the future?

I imagine AI will make a huge impact in digital marketing. How content is created, how communications are handled, how information is accessed, how data is analyzed, and so much more. It's nearly impossible to predict the changes that AI will cause, especially for this industry. I just know we have to start learning and adopting now.

Who do you see having a competitive edge in the future?

As mentioned with AI, people that are able to harness the capabilities of artificial intelligence will hold a massive advantage over those that do not. The level of efficiency, scale, and speed at which work can be performed is exponential when using generative AI. On the other hand, it will be important to avoid the cultivation of skills that AI will soon replace.

If a company was looking to hire your firm, or a firm like yours, what questions should they ask themselves as a team before approaching you?

Instead of seeking the cheapest firm, the priority should be to find the best potential fit. To do so, you must ask yourself questions like "what firms have we worked in the past that were good vs. bad?", "what are our strengths and weaknesses?", or "what measurable objectives do we need to achieve"?

When a company is interested in hiring your firm, how should they approach you and how should they do business with you?

The simplest thing is to have a conversation. Whether you have a 50-page RFP or just an idea, every project starts with a conversation. We set up a call to understand the general direction you want to go and how our firm can support you in that journey. Then, if there is a potential to work together, a written proposal can be presented to work out the scope, costs, and timelines.

How do you maintain strong relationships with clients to ensure long-term partnerships?

Put simply: communication, trust, and quality work. With that combination, it's very likely a client will develop a strong relationship and prefer to continue working with you.

If someone were thinking about starting their own agency in your industry, what advice would you give them?

Really discern the question "why?" Is this for money? For fun? To expand your freelance services? You need a very motivating purpose to be successful in this industry.

What role does networking play in growing your agency's business?

This can be important for some, but not everyone. For myself, networking consists of just 20% of our marketing strategy since we rely mostly on inbound leads. That said, I do always have a mindset of networking whenever I meet anyone. Networking doesn't have to be a planned meetup or conference event, it can be as simple as introducing yourself to a stranger at the park, asking deeper questions to acquaintances, or directly asking friends for referrals.

How do you ensure that your team members stay motivated and engaged in their work?

Keeping team members motivated and engaged is all about knowing their strengths and passions. If you can find work that challenges them in an area they are interested in doing, then you just need to hand them the keys and watch them thrive. The biggest de-motivator is micromanaging.

Can you share an experience where your agency went above and beyond to exceed client expectations?

Our internal motto is actually the cliche: under-promise, over-deliver. It's the mindset we have going into any client relationship and project. An example of how we incorporate this regularly is with project timelines. We are conservative when it comes to planning deadlines, and then when the work begins we do everything possible to always deliver ahead of time. The end result is always happy clients!

What else would you like to publicly share about your firm or agency?

Embark is currently offering complimentary consultations to nonprofits and startups that are looking to elevate their digital presence. Please connect with us on our website or email us at to schedule a consultation.

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