How to Build a Successful Marketing Agency

When Ari Nahmani spent two months in a high school Israel program, the far-away land of his childhood legends became real.

Ari Nahmani 758 (photo credit: NEFESH B'NEFESH)
Ari Nahmani 758
(photo credit: NEFESH B'NEFESH)
 Over the next several years Nahmani found himself returning to Israel again and again until moving there permanently in 2006 at age twenty-three, making Aliyah officially the following year. Nahmani finally felt that he was home.
Of a mixed Ashkenazi/Sephardi background – his dad was born in Fez, Morocco while his mom was born in New Jersey – Nahmani’s upbringing in the United States was pretty unique relative to the majority of American Jews, as he puts it.
Actually, the origin of his parents only tells part of the tale. Nahmani’s father moved to Israel with an underground Zionist youth movement at age 18 for six years (1964-1970). While the rest of his father’s immediate family went to the United States, he stayed on Kibbutz Tze’elim for that duration, guarding the Kibbutz during the Six Day War.
“What truly led me to make Aliyah,” explains Nahmani, originally from Maryland, “was a feeling of belonging and a deep connection to a culture that I was raised by. As cliché as it sounds, I truly felt a sense of ‘home’ that I never had in the United States.”  Nahmani describes how growing up with a Sephardic grandmother and cousins, his father negotiating at places he didn’t think possible, and so forth, prepared him for the cultural leap of Aliyah without ever intending to. “Culture, food, music, and names are extremely powerful. If all of a sudden something that had only been connected to your immediate family is part of a national culture, you feel like ‘everyone’ is your family. For the good and the bad…”
Ari married Israeli-born Yamit in 2012. Born and raised on Kibbutz Urim in the Negev, Yamit left at age eight to Minnesota with her family where she grew up, to return a few years after university.  “Ironically, I met my wife on the beach through a friend I’d made on my Aliyah flight!”
Now six years after his Aliyah, Nahmani is happily married, has his own successful digital marketing agency, close friends, and couldn’t be happier. “We are a team of 13 at Kahena Digital Marketing, and in many ways we are another family. All are Anglo Olim, most of whom made Aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh like I did. We are all friends, and each other’s support network.”
As Nahmani tells it, Kahena was started for a very practical reason: “I had too much work. After starting to freelance, a good friend in Los Angeles started sending me online marketing work from his clients. This grew so fast that I needed help. I hired a friend, which soon became two, then three, and within eight months we had to move out of the shared office space we were renting and move to the JVP Media Quarter.”
Nahmani’s approach to his business has been pragmatic from the start. “I didn’t take huge risks, bring on employees, or take on more work than we could handle until I had a solution. I have basically learned everything I know on the web. Be it how to setup a corporation in Israel, employee benefits, or how to do profit and loss statements. In addition, I’ve learned quite quickly about how valuable time is. If I can pay someone else to deal with things that I’m not great at, it’s a no brainer. This model has helped Kahena grow in an incredible way – but in a sustainable manner.”
Nahmani uses the platform he has created in his business to share his knowledge with a wider audience, and get some positive Israel press along the way. “We ran our second annual digital marketing conference (KahenaCon) this past May. There were over 240 people there and it was a huge success. We flew in some thought leaders from London and Madrid. It was incredible to see them sharing positive status messages, pictures, and tweets to their thousands of followers about how modern and amazing Israel was. Despite the purpose being about digital marketing for local English speaking audiences, an inadvertent byproduct was hasbara to the outside world.”
All in all it comes down to the love of the work. “I love search marketing and online advertising. I didn’t start Kahena for profit, to run a company, or to be a CEO. I started it as an independent contractor who loves the work. I still love getting my hands dirty with campaigns and client work and I think the minute it stops being about helping other businesses grow and the actual work we do and more about the business or profit itself, it will no longer be successful or meaningful.”
There’s much more about Israel that Nahmani appreciates. “One of the reasons I consciously chose to move to Israel was that people here seem to work to live, not live to work. That the focus is shifted more towards family, friends, and really living passionately. Despite a fast-paced hi-tech world, people really know how to relax at the beach on the weekend, or gather their family for a Friday night meal.
“I have never felt more alive than I do in Israel – the ups, downs, and all the raw emotion and passion – you can’t replace that with Target or Starbucks”