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Craig Zamary's journey from kitchen table business to entrepreneur in residence

Craig Zamary, founder of green energy tv. Photo | Bob Perkoski
Craig Zamary, founder of green energy tv. Photo | Bob Perkoski

Craig Zamary's first foray into the world of entrepreneurship began at his kitchen table in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1998. The Youngstown native was 24 and working for the Marriott Corporation when he launched XZAMCORP to do mystery shopping.

He sold the company at 31, and in 2007 founded Green Energy TV, an online television channel dedicated to educating viewers about the environment by promoting green, alternative and renewable energy options. That business, which he sold last November, now has viewers all around the world.

Today, he's sharing what he learned in both successful ventures with students at Kent State University, where he is Entrepreneur In Residence.

Zamary started XZAMCORP because he was curious about the phone etiquette of hotel personnel.

"My nickname growing up was 'Zam'," he explains. "Adding an 'X' in front of it stood for the word 'exam,' and I was essentially giving businesses an exam by mystery shopping them. The name always stood out to customers."

Using a one-page critique sheet and posing as a potential customer, he called a variety of hotels and recorded the conversations. "I monitored how many times the phone rang before someone answered and rated them on things like courtesy, how well they answered my questions and whether or not they ended the call properly," he says.

His first client was the New York Marriott Marquis, the largest Marriott Hotel in the world at the time. He quickly landed more Marriotts across the country. Other large national hotel chains, including Sheraton, Westin, Radisson, Holiday Inn and W Hotels, came on board as well.

The cost of living in Salt Lake City was expensive, however, so Zamary soon moved back to Youngstown. He eventually diversified to offer customer satisfaction and market research surveys as well and picked up national accounts with insurance companies, limousine services, and furniture companies.

"We also had H&R Block, Intuit and ConEdison," he notes.

Zamary grew XZAMPCORP into a successful operation and sold it to investors in 2006.

Pondering his next move, he researched ideas in business magazines.

"Lots of articles in Forbes, Inc., Fortune and Fast Company indicated that a large percentage of Fortune 500 CEOs believed that the environment and renewable and alternative energy would be the next big industry -- and not just in the U.S., but worldwide," he recalls.

Zamary thought back to his childhood. "My neighborhood had a really big wooded area with creeks and a lake," he explains. "When our moms sent us out to play, we were in the woods all day, and we did a lot of camping and fishing. It was great, and the experience gave me a huge respect for the environment."

His business research and those fond childhood memories were the driving force for Zamary to launch Green Energy TV in January 2007, at age 32.

"I wanted it to be a platform where people from around the world could share the positive environmental things they were doing," he says. "People could send us information and upload videos, and anyone with an Internet connection could access it."

Inventors, companies, colleges, universities and entrepreneurs with breakthrough green technology to share soon discovered the site.

"We started getting stuff from lots of different sources -- everyone from backyard inventors and kids doing environmental projects to videos from G.E., IBM, Intel, Greenpeace, the United Nations, and Google," he recalls.

Everything that was submitted was reviewed to make sure it was in line with the company's mission. He also started a blog on the website.

By posting videos, news releases, tips and articles sent in, GreenEnergyTV.com quickly became an aggregator of environmental information -- a one-stop information source and media outlet for all things green.

"People really wanted to make a difference by showing and sharing what they were doing to be green, and it just really took off!," Zamary says.

Next, he started developing content partnerships. One of those partnerships was with the Los Angeles Transit Authority.

"Their buses have TV screens, and they contacted me about using video content from our site for free in return for posting our logo with the message 'Watch GreenEnergyTV.com'," he explains. "The L.A. Transit Authority has more than 1.2 million riders every day, so that brought us 30 million viewers a month, without spending anything on advertising."

According to Zamary, that partnership was extremely valuable because it demonstrated that the website's content could be pushed out to other markets, which helped make GreenEnergyTV.com even more visible.

The website's income stream grew to include company and product ads, sponsorships and other content partnerships. It began donating a portion of its advertising revenue to solar and wind energy projects in Third World countries to provide electricity and clean drinking water.

Green Energy TV ultimately became a free international community of viewers from more than 160 countries on six continents.

"That's a lot of eyeballs for never spending any money on advertising," he notes proudly.

While Zamary started Green Energy TV on his own, he quickly moved it into the Youngstown Business Incubator.

"They were a terrific support system to help grow the business," he recalls. "I had a great office space, coaching and an extensive network of connections. They were a huge part of the reason GreenEnergyTV became a successful company."

He sold the company to a Florida-based private equity firm last November but still plays a role in it, writing blog postings, handling media interviews, and serving as point person for content partnerships.

Zamary just turned 37 and is now teaching Kent State students what he learned and helping to build the next generation of young entrepreneurs.

When asked about the highlight of his career so far, he doesn't hesitate in his response.

"Being able to launch and sell two successful companies and still be there for my wife and children, never missing out on any of the important moments, has been vitally important to me," he says. "It was only possible because I had dedicated and competent employees and a wife who played a huge role in the success of both companies. She literally had my back every step of the way."

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