How An Ex-Google Employee And A Doctor Of Law Created Powerhouse SEO Company GR0
Jon Zacharias and Kevin Miller bonded over sobriety before building a digital marketing empire.
Presented by Tom White
Jon Zacharias and Kevin Miller are no strangers to building things from the ground up. Both recovering addicts, the two co-founders of GR0 mixed equal parts creativity, flexibility, and pure grit to rebuild their lives, and create a company that’s won numerous awards for growth, success, and company culture.
Their story is a true tale of rapid vertical mobility. Before they became business partners, they became friends, through a chance encounter at a recovery meeting in L.A.
Miller, who grew up on the east coast of Florida, studied digital marketing at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University and later began a career with Google in San Francisco. Zacharias, a Los Angeles native, received his juris doctorate from the California Western School of Law in San Diego, and then switched gears and spent the next decade studying search engine optimization (SEO).
“I actually moved to L.A. without knowing a single person,” says Miller. As a recovering addict, he wanted a change of pace and a fresh start, and he got one when he met fellow addict Zacharias. They both quickly discovered they not only shared a passion for digital marketing, but also a die-hard entrepreneurial spirit.
“Sometimes timing is more important than anything,” says Zacharias. “We were both trying to rebuild our lives.”
And rebuild they did. The rooms of recovery are well known for reestablishing lives, and Zacharias and Miller not only reclaimed their destinies, but built a marketing empire through born of their first conversation.
“[Kevin] was talking about how he was working on an SEO project,” recalls Zacharias. “He was a master digital marketing expert with paid ads, but he had been assigned an SEO project to do for Open Listings [later acquired by Opendoor], and he didn’t understand how to do SEO.”
Insert Zacharias, who, with ten years of SEO knowledge under his belt, saw this as an opportunity to help another person in recovery. The results for Opendoor were prodigious.
“The plan that we came up with together was a huge success,” explains Zacharias. “Kevin built an algorithm, a programmatic campaign, that got them ranked No. 1 for every single location in the country.” If they could do this for one client, why not hundreds more? And thus, the idea for GR0 was born.
Zacharias and Miller knew from the very beginning that they wanted to create a company that could be successful in a multidimensional way; providing transparency in helping brands establish better Google rankings while simultaneously fostering a workplace that advocated for the mental health of its employees.
Again, timing was on their side. They launched GR0 in February of 2020, at the beginning of a massive switch to online marketing fueled by COVID-19 shutdowns. While brands scrambled to find their footing and compete in the newer, more competitive online marketplace, GR0 provided them the vehicle to get the attention they needed in an honest, forthright way.
“Google’s been around for 25 years, but people forgot that that was a growth channel,” Miller explains. If companies were attempting to use Google for growth, they were limited to “buying shady backlinks overseas.”
“We brought transparency and authenticity to an industry that has been clouded by doubt and dishonest work for years,” Miller says.
Their approach to growth works by integrating numerous different methods of marketing and SEO techniques to tailor-fit a company’s specific needs. “If we have 15 different channels that we can offer, we can easily pivot into something that is working if what we’ve tried hasn’t worked,” says Miller. “Our mission is to empower every entrepreneur to start a business and make a lot of money online — you can’t do that with just one channel.”
And the channel approach works. Through the GR0 method, FunBoy, the makers of the Instagram-famous inflatable party floats, easily ranked No. 1 for “pool floats.” Likewise, eternal flower brand Venus et Fleur enjoyed top of the search-engine charts success for “roses that last a year.”
Confident in their product from the very beginning, Zacharias and Miller sought out influential people to help bolster their own brand and build a solid reputation. “We had the vision and we brought it to these powerful people in our network, and they believed in it,” says Zacharias.
The A-team list of founding advisors includes iconic personality Paris Hilton, investor Jeffrey Lo, venture capitalist Carter Reum, Balance co-founder Judd Schoenholtz, Doe Lashes founder Jason Wong, BWCP investor Jack Mohr, and BAM Ventures Managing Director Richard Jun.
Says Miller, “Our secret to success has been going to the people who have been there and done that and asking them how they did it.”
Their rapid expansion and success was highlighted by major campaigns featuring Hilton and social media superstar Addison Rae for Venus et Fleur, followed by a Search Engine Land Award win for Best B2B Search Marketing Initiative-SEM in 2021, and an Inc. Power Partner Award in 2022.
The continued success has meant even further expansion for GR0. Through recent acquisitions of Email/SMS Marketing Service QuaGrowth and Google Ads company TM Marketing Consultants, the company continues to stockpile tools to help their clients achieve growth and success at every level of digital optimization and marketing.
At the heart of it all is a desire to custom-fit services to a client’s needs. “It’s so important to give the client the right product at the right time,” Zacharias says. “We want to assess the actual needs of the client and then give them the product that’s best for them at that specific time.” Using a hands-on approach is the key difference in keeping a client happy, or seeing a client churn after three months.
And keeping their clients happy is only one side of the coin. Both Zacharias and Miller are committed to creating a workplace that is healthy for their employees. By being open and honest about their own mental health, they’ve developed a workplace that never shies away from tough topics, including addiction and recovery.
But don’t take their word for it. GR0 has racked up employee satisfaction awards, including a Comparably Award for Happiest Employees, as well as a well-deserved spot on Fortune’s 50 Best Workplaces in Advertising and Marketing.
“We genuinely do have a really dynamic, deep company culture as a result of the fact that we, at the top, are talking about our struggles with mental health or addiction,” says Miller. This vulnerability makes it safe for their employees to trust their leadership and be open about their own struggles.
The first meeting where Zacharias and Miller met found them both in pivotal points in their lives. “I was newly sober, coming off of a 15 year bender [when I met Kevin],” said Zacharias.
“So mentally, I was really kind of beaten up. He’s not judgmental. He propped me up.” Instead of self-reliance, they have built a digital marketing empire by relying on one another, and it’s a thread of DNA that is hard-wired into the GR0 workplace.
With the inability to see into the future, it sometimes seems like the odds aren’t stacked favorably. “Sometimes when it feels like everything’s falling apart, it’s actually falling into place,” Zacharias tells anyone looking to start a company of their own. Learning to focus on “things you can actually change” creates the building blocks for success.
It’s also important to learn healthy ways to manage stress. “We learned how to do that by seeking therapy, by talking about our problems, because a problem shared is a problem halved,” says Miller.
This mindset, along with continued expansion and creative solutions, will continue to help GR0 meet the needs of countless other clients, regardless of their size.