Alexi Venneri: From Kitchen Table to Enterprise

by Steven G. Zylstra

Alexi Venneri was born an entrepreneur. She lost her mother at a very young age, so she took the lead with her younger brothers while her father worked long hours as a doctor. Inspired by the stories she’d grown up hearing of the businesses her grandfather built and how depressions and wars didn’t deter him, she set up lemonade stands, built her own board games and wrote plays to then charge adult relatives to watch the performances she and her brothers would put on.

From childhood to adulthood, she was always a leader. Venneri’s “whatever it takes” spirit made her a powerhouse, even in male-dominated sectors like professional sports, technology and automotive. She earned her B.A. in marketing, business and tourism from the University of Calgary, and went on to immigrate to the U.S. and then hold titles like chief marketing officer, vice president and president from Seattle to New York to Phoenix.

Then, in 2010, right after her business partner decided to close the advertising agency she was running for him, due to one of the worst recessions in American history, Venneri identified an opportunity to leverage emerging social networks to help businesses market better, faster and cheaper. “I instantly saw the advantage of using social media for business,” she says. “Working with the largest privately-held dealership group, I saw first-hand the positive impact fully managing the social networks had on organic search results and consumer satisfaction. My approach was to show business owners how managed social and reviews boosted all other advertising while helping reduce overall marketing budgets that were still heavy with traditional advertising.”

This led her to co-found Digital Air Strike, now a leading social media and reputation management firm in the United States and Canada, right at the kitchen table of her half-built Phoenix home that was on the brink of a short sale. “While some thought it risky to start a business during the recession, I saw a way for business owners to communicate even more with their customers in a new way all at a lower cost than other channels.” After just eight years in business, Digital Air Strike has continued to grow revenue and its client base as well as expanding the vertical markets it serves.

“From day one, I focused on prudent financial stewardship, creating a dynamic inside sales team, building innovative products, focusing on client loyalty and establishing a work-hard culture, all while recognizing our team for all their great work,” says Venneri. “This helped us get and stay on a steady growth path and even thrive during tough economic times.” The company now employs more than 170 people based in four offices and has just completed its first acquisition.

Venneri exemplifies “lead by example.” As a veteran female leader, Venneri easily recognizes the benefits of having more women in leadership roles. She sees women demonstrate resilience, creativity and entrepreneurial passion every day, and cultivates these outstanding qualities by mentoring women into management, C-suites and board-of-directors roles.

“A crucial factor in the growth of a business is the people you surround yourself with,” Venneri says, emphasizing that a strong team of like-minded individuals who are committed to excellence is the cornerstone of success.

Some of Venneri’s first employees were graduates right out of college, and she continues to hire recent college graduates today. She helps them learn what it takes to become a high-quality employee and nurtures them to become leaders themselves. Even though Venneri typically works 10- to 12-hour days, as do most entrepreneurial founders, she never runs out of time to teach and is known as a patient mentor who inspires her employees and local women through mentoring programs to be the best they can be. She has also created an extensive culture of giving back through “DAS Cares,” which selects at least one charity every month to support.

The importance of innovation also drives the work culture Venneri has created, as she reimagines the shape of things and puts creative individuals into action. She has directed her team to develop technology to stay ahead of the market. Venneri and her team have developed several new key digital marketing platforms, such as Mission Control, an omnichannel listening platform to gather and respond to consumer feedback, and Mobile Review Surge, a new texting platform to solicit feedback from customers while they are still onsite at a business. These and more innovative products, including social recruiting and artificial intelligence messaging, led to more than 300 percent growth for Digital Air Strike over the past four years.

Whatever It Takes

Alexi Venneri instills a “whatever it takes” attitude when it comes to serving Digital Air Strike clients and helping fellow employees. This approach translated into a reward system for employees who go above and beyond for the company and its clients through the “Whatever it Takes (WIT)” Award. This award helps to recognize the efforts of employees while creating a supportive and friendly company culture. Employees can even nominate their co-workers for going above and beyond for clients and one another. Each month a half dozen individuals are chosen to be honored with prizes, ranging from cash and special parking spots to receiving a WIT glass desk trophy. In February, more than 30 employees were rewarded with an all-expenses-paid cruise through the Bahamas.

Steven G. Zylstra is president and CEO Arizona Technology Council.

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