C+S March 2020 Vol. 6 Issue 3 (web)

investment on the homeowner’s part, but this is also possibly their introduction to construction. It’s not like commercial services where it’s one business talking to another. There are a lot of questions and emotions along the way. This is not to knock homeowners, but to say they’ve taught us patience. They’ve taught us that we need to bring a level of sensitivity to our workflow because it’s not just a client. It’s a home. When you have that experience and you’re able to transfer it to a commercial client, it’s a completely different experience, and they usually tell us it’s different. Then they start telling their friends, and that’s how it spread like wildfire. We’re not a marketing company. We’re a hardcore structural engineering firm that wants to take on proj- ects that other engineers thought were too high risk. NC: Coming back to the same thing, I’ve seen companies who start with residential, servicing homeowners, and then when they grow they stop servicing them. We don’t want to do that because those are the customers that trusted us when we started. That’s why our residential team is a completely separate entity, and we tell them not to worry about profit margins. All we tell them to worry about is customer ser- vice because we know, if there is another recession, that’s where our money will come from. People will still be renovating homes, but, instead of homeowners, there will be investors. They are going to be flipping properties, and they are still going to need structural engineer- ing and architecture. That’s exactly where we come in. C+S: I like that you’re talking about customer service because it’s sometimes a lost art in the engineering industry. But, let’s talk a little bit about yourselves. Nikhil, how old were you when you founded your firm? NC: I was right about 30 when I founded the firm. It’s been about 10 years since we founded the firm in 2009. It’s been a long and tough journey. In this industry especially, people treat more age as more experience and knowledge. Changing that mindset is difficult, but at Zenith we see our youth as a positive. Our headquarters is in Silicon Valley, so many of our customers are high-tech. They work in high-tech, and they want a firm or company that is high-tech too. We make everything paperless and do online storage. We make use of technology so that everything is documented so when I client calls us for missing project papers two years down the line, we can send them a link. If a client complains, “I signed this contract a month ago and I haven’t received my drawings,” we have a robust CRM process. We track every communication, even a text from a project engineer to a client. All our admin has to do is search the project number and the whole history is right there. C+S: Let’s go back to how you founded Zenith. There are plenty of people out there who want to hear your story. How did it begin? NC: I used to work at a startup in New York. At that point, I was ready to start my own company, but I still wanted more experience, so I worked in the Midwest and New York for quite a bit of time. I came back to California for a high ranking position at Siemens, but coming from a startup, I hated my life. I was very comfortable, but it did not serve my life’s purpose because I was tied up in a bureaucratic machine. Every little thing I had to get approval for, and I was not used

Metal frame construction

the client and trying to dictate design.” With this validation people are going to take us more seriously and know we are the fastest growing firm, so we are doing something right. I always tell our team that we didn’t go into this obsessed with growth. We went into this thinking there is an interesting void, and there’s an element of this being a service industry and people forgetting about the customer service aspect of it. So, this growth is essentially a by- product of all these measures we put into place to ensure these clients are going to get the best experience working with a structural engineer. I used to run West Coast operations for building manufacturers, and the biggest crux in all these projects was being held up in engineering. Not that the engineer was doing a bad job. It was just being held up, or we weren’t getting what we wanted. And so, I went on a journey to find a new type of engineer that is going to be responsive and flexible to what we need to achieve in the field. And then I met Nikhil and Zenith, and I realized there is something here that nobody else has tried to really form a solid base on—putting the client first. We talked about residential in the beginning, and that’s what really gave us perspective. Nikhil was talking about this being a very big


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