Today’s guest, Zach Benson, wants to be remembered as the ultimate encourager, as a person who enjoys giving and helping people. Zach was a former participant in “So You Think You Can Dance,” who found his dancing career tragically cut short by an accident. Coming out from his depression, he bravely faced the new world and, with a friend, founded Assistagram, a virtual assistant that helps people market their brands on Instagram. With Assistagram, Zach guides other influencers like Russell Brunson and Fortune 500 companies into social-media success. Read as Zach tells more of his story, the lessons he learned from life, and his passion for helping people.
Our guest had a humble beginning and his determination led him to where he is now. He’s a TEDx speaker and a social media trainer for international brands like Ritz-Carlton and Viceroy. He is leading people like Russell Brunson and Fortune 500 companies into social media success. Introducing, Zach Benson, the CEO, and Founder of Assistagram. Welcome, Zach. Please tell us about your childhood and what led you to participate in the show, So You Think You Can Dance.
Thank you, Kimchi. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m super excited to share my story with you guys. I was born in South Korea and then adopted by my parents in Iowa. I’m in Iowa, in their old house. My sister lives here. To tell you a little bit about my story, growing up in Iowa was hard because I look different. I’m this Korean kid with all these white kids and I spoke differently. I had this speech impediment. I couldn’t say the letter R until I was in my twenties. I know that it sounds funny, but I never participated in class. I was always getting bad grades and getting in fights. My parents thought I was going to be a juvenile delinquent.
Life wasn’t looking too good for me until I found dance. Dance became my fire. It became something I was passionate about. How it happened was my friend gifted me this DVD. It was How to Breakdance by Michael Garcia. I watched it and I fell in love with it. Growing up, I’d always been physically gifted and physically talented. I played all sports. I was always winning the Presidential Physical Fitness Award. Breakdance came easy to me and it was finally something that I was good at. It gave me and boosted my confidence up to put myself out there. Before you knew it, I started practicing and working. I’ve created my own dance crew. I met some other kids in college and we started traveling together, going to competitions.
I eventually made it unto So You Think You Can Dance, which is a very famous TV show. I think it’s still going on. It’s in their 15th or 16th season. That changed my life, but it wasn’t an overnight success. In order for me to get to that stage in life where I felt confident enough to audition for the show, I auditioned three times. I advanced each season and made it a little bit further in the competition all the way up to the top 100 in the LA audition. I was on a couple of episodes. I never won the TV show or anything, but I connected myself with their brand. I leverage and use that name to help me teach dance all over the world in 50 different countries. There are some stories inside of that So You Think You Can Dance story as well.
You said you taught dance before.
Growing up, I did more competitions and live show performances, but I realized that my true passion was teaching. There is something about teaching these kids, watching them fail and fall at the beginning of the class, and towards the end of the class, they were executing these moves, these hard freezes that I taught them. It was cool. I love how I was able to encourage the youth, help them smile and become more confident through dance. I started teaching classes. I first started reaching out to local dance studios in Iowa. I am cold emailing them, saying, “I’m Zach. I’d love to come and teach a dance workshop at your studio.” In the beginning, it was hard. I wasn’t known. I wasn’t famous when I first started to reach out to these studios. I was just a college kid, but one studio gave me a chance. I taught at that studio for free for the entire summer, every single day in our class. I barely made any money but I loved it. I was finally making a little bit of money doing something I loved and that’s when it all started for me.
What triggers the pivot in your career from being a dance instructor to start Assistagram?
There are a lot of little stories in between that I’ll tell you about quickly. One of the main ones was I auditioned three times for So You Think You Can Dance. I came to a point in the competition where one of the executive producers was like, “You don’t have what it takes. You’re not good enough. You’re not going to make it. Do something else.” His words hit hard and hurt me. There’s some truth into that. I was a street dancer. I learned from a DVD and I had no foundation. I never took ballet. I never took some of the classical styles. I didn’t know a lot. I learned how to listen to the rejections and listen to the noes. At the same time, I learned how to ignore them because the other executive producer of the show, Nigel Lythgoe told me, “Zach, you’re talented. You’re a great breakdancer. You should go out and make a name for yourself.” The name I went by was Nesquik because I always drink the chocolate milk before competitions. He was like, “Go and contact Nestle and see if you can do a deal and pursue breakdance because you’re good at it.” I’ve learned to not put all of my eggs in one basket. I listened to what Nigel said and I contacted Nestle.
I made them a creative video. I got sponsored by Nestle Nesquik for a whole year. I made a professional video and used all of those different things to get my name out there. I was able to make a pretty solid career out of dancing because of those things. I was able to travel the world and live nicely all the way to the point of making a six-figure income. My parents who were at first saying, “Zach, good luck.” They were like, “He’s finally found something that he’s good at and he’s making a decent living. We support him.” All is good. I was living the life. I was traveling. I was being supported by my friends until I injured myself in India. It was during warmup where I fell and I hurt my back. I remember telling the organizer, “I don’t think I’m going to be able to perform.”
He was like, “Zach, we flew you out. Everybody’s here to watch you. You’ve got to dance.” I ended up dancing and the whole thing lasted about 50 seconds. I ended up falling and hurting my back again, but this time, I was rushed to the hospital. The doctor came in and he was like, “Zach, you’re going to have surgery. You might never be able to dance again.” That was the end of my dance career. I became depressed. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had no plan B and life wasn’t looking too good for me. Long story short, what happened was the same friend who got me into dancing, who gifted me that breakdance DVD when I was fifteen years old in high school, called me up. He was like, “Zach, I know you’re depressed. I know you’re going through some hard times. Me and my brother have this cool thing going on. We’re making a lot of money helping a lot of people grow their Instagram accounts online. You’ve got to get in on this.”
He was my best friend. Anything that he does, he’s always one of those guys who’s super successful. I was like, “I’m going to do it.” With a little bit of money that I had, I invested in an Instagram account. We use that account that had 400,000 followers on it. We use that account to grow other people’s pages. We rinsed and repeated the process. We use that money to buy and acquire more Instagram pages. We already have a 220 million network on Instagram. We’re working with some big brands and helping them with their social media. That’s what happened.
Who came up with Assistagram? You said your friend invited you to participate in it. He’s fumbling through or intentionally know how to use Instagram to grow followers. What is the difference between Assistagram and Instagram?
I can’t take too much credit. My friend and my advisor created the name. He’s a genius when it comes to naming and branding things. He created the name Assistagram. Think of Assistagram as your personal virtual assistant. A real human being doing hundreds to thousands of manual actions on your account every day from creating the content to posting, finding the hashtags for your account, and doing outreach lead generation. It’s a complete hands-off experience for your Instagram accounts. My company assists other people who are trying to grow their brands and sold their products on Instagram. Instagram is our platform. Instagram is owned by Facebook and my company helps people grow their followings on Instagram. That’s all we do, growth and monetization.
Who would be the ideal users of Assistagram? Who will benefit most from Assistagram?
If you want to be seen and known all over the place online, Instagram is the fastest growing platform out there. There are almost over two billion active users using it every single day. Over a billion people use Instagram Stories. Think of Instagram as a combination of Google and YouTube. It’s a very visual platform. If you’re an author, a speaker, somebody who’s trying to launch a book, if you’re a coach that’s trying to get more coaching clients, Instagram is the way to go. We work with a lot of people. We worked with a lot of internet marketers. Anyone from Robert Kiyosaki, Rich Dad Poor Dad author to Russell Brunson, the founder of a software company. Two different people, but maybe Robert is trying to launch a book or Russell is trying to launch a new software program that can help people. We help people build their brands online and help them become a local celebrity in their city and state, and all around the world.
The Ultimate Encourager: Assistagram is a personal virtual assistant that helps people grow their brands and sell their products on Instagram..
The people who engage your company service are the people with a deep pocket for marketing. Is there a space for people like me, a relationship and a life coach, to start out?
We have multiple products. We have do it yourself, do it with us, and done for you services. Our do it yourself service serves products, courses or programs online, where you can simply watch, learn and do, apply the knowledge and grow your accounts. We have other basic entry programs where even a startup or somebody trying and getting started can use. We have something for everybody.
To be honest with you, I have Instagram and Twitter and that’s all. I’m not active on Instagram. I’m not that active on Twitter. I’m active on Facebook. I’m not that active in LinkedIn either, although I’m more active in there than Instagram and Twitter. Unless I see the benefit of it, I will devote my time to learn and do an Instagram post. I’m not quite sure if I am an ideal client to use Instagram or Assistagram.
It depends on your goals. You have to find the platform that you use a lot, that you feel comfortable on and that you see a lot of engagement on. Once you dominate that platform, it’s better to get other traffic sources. Meaning, other opportunities to reach more people, whether that’s a younger demographic or it’s somebody else on a different platform. The more that you can be omnipresent and the more that you can be on multiple platforms, eventually that’s the ultimate goal. Not everybody can be a Gary Vee and be everywhere. Maybe you’re starting out and you don’t have the teams or you don’t have the time to create so much content. I always tell people to master one thing and then try to learn something else. Whether it’s on Amazon and you’re selling a bunch of products and you’re doing well, now’s the time to try something new and get an additional traffic source and additional revenue stream for your business. Whether it’s downloads for your podcast, you’re trying to sell something or get more people in your coaching program. The list goes on and on and there’s a way to do it, but it is not for everybody, for sure.
What are the most valuable lessons that you have learned that you wish you knew 5 or 10 years ago?
There are a lot of things. I’m grateful for all of the mentors and people in my life that called me out, pointed out blind spots, poured a lot of wisdom and knowledge into me. If I could go back 5 to 10 years earlier when I was starting, one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life is that life is all about people. It’s how you treat people because everybody wants to be treated like royalty. Everybody wants to feel like a king and queen when they buy something. It doesn’t matter if it’s something small or if it’s a little bit more high ticket like a couple of thousand dollars or $10,000. The thing is that we all have emotions and feelings. We want to be treated like a king and queen but also treated like a real human being.
I’ve learned a lot of people skills. I’ve learned how to listen better. I’ve learned how to listen first and seek to understand the person, their problem and their needs. Once they feel understood, they’re like, “That gets me,” then offer them a solution. I’ve learned to be patient and kind. It’s all about timing. One of the things I learned in business and sales is everybody loves new clients. Everybody is super excited to sell one of their products or services, but it’s not always the right time for that person. I’ve learned that instead of cutting it off and saying, “That person is not interested,” I wish I would’ve known that there’s a season and time for everything. If you’re patient and kind, if you continue to provide value and find a creative way to stay in touch with that person, eventually, they’ll become either a good friend and also probably a client. It’s better to have a ton of friends who are praising you and your services than to not have any. I always try to see people as potential friends. There are a lot of things I could talk about.
You say you are not the only child.
I was adopted. I was born in South Korea and then my sister was also adopted. She’s from India. She was about one year old when she came over. She’s already happily married now. She had a newborn baby boy. I’m here at their house hanging out with them. She’s a German teacher. She did not identify with her roots at all. She mastered the German language and now is a high school teacher.
Growing up in that kind of family, are your parents American?
Yes, they’re American.
You are Korean and your sister is Indian. Probably, your parents raised you with the American culture, American standard. Did you have any trace of Asian influence in you or Korean influence? Do you ever get attracted to Korean culture?
Growing up was hard because I grew up in Iowa and it is such a white American place. I didn’t have my first Korean food until I graduated college and moved to Atlanta and performed a year of service with a nonprofit. My aunt and uncle also adopted two Korean children. Growing up, they lived in Seattle, a bigger city. They would bring over kimchi and other Korean foods so I could try a little bit, but I didn’t have a lot of exposure to Asians and the Korean community growing up in Iowa. That was okay. I can’t complain about my upbringing. It was very nice and good. I’m happy, but then I ended up going back to Korea and then finding my birth mom. I already know a lot about Korean culture. I speak some Korean language. I speak some of the language and have a pretty solid relationship with my mom and a bunch of cool Korean people.
How did it happen? How did you find your birth mom?
It was something I always wanted to do. After I performed a year of service, I did a bunch of volunteer work in Atlanta, Georgia. I made this five-year plan and year two was like, “I’m going to try to find my mom and teach English while my adoption agency is searching for her.” I contacted my old adoption agency, Holt International. I filled out a bunch of papers. I went to their headquarters in Seoul and they conducted a search. It took about a year. For almost a year, there was nothing. I didn’t hear a word. They’re like, “Zach, we’ve been trying but no luck.” I didn’t think I was going to find her. When I was about to leave Korea because my teaching job was done and my visa was about to expire, I got an email in the morning and they said, “Zach, exciting news. We found your mom. When can you come to Seoul?” I was in Busan, that was the city I was born. I was like, “I’m going to come tomorrow.” I hopped on a train. I opened up the door and then I was like, “What am I supposed to say to my mom?” I asked my case manager, “Aren’t you guys going to prepare me or what?” They’re like, “Go in.” I opened up the door and my mom ran up to me. She gave me a hug. She was like, “I love you, son. I have been praying and wishing for this day for many years and now it’s come true.” It was a powerful moment for me.
The Ultimate Encourager: As long as you actually learn from your mistakes, you’re going to grow.
There are multiple things. If somebody doesn’t pay you back, where it’s like you pay for something, that person runs away and never delivers what they promised or sold you on. You paid for something and are super excited, then the product or the service is bad and doesn’t work. There are all these things, but that’s part of life and you’ve got to let it be.
I’ve been on the other end of it. People are cheating me and took my money away. People borrow my money and never pay back. There’s all the anger but most of the time, I was angry at myself. I say, “How come I’m stupid? Why would I listen to this?” As things go on, the key thing for me to learn is that what lesson have I learned? What lesson are these circumstances trying to teach me or trying to remind me? Was I greedy? Was I trustful? I did not do due diligence before I make an investment. It’s somebody handsome, educated and it seems like they had it all, and I trust them blindly. That’s my fault. If you can look into the situation and say, “What lesson am I supposed to learn here?” Learn that lesson and let go. Sometimes something simple like I got a parking ticket. I’m trying to prove that it’s not my fault but then I say, “It’s a donation to the police department.” They need my money. I donate it and let it go rather than say, “I have to pay $200 or $500.” It drains my energy. It’s not worth it.
As long as you learn from your mistakes, you’re going to grow. Sometimes it’s hard to learn from your mistakes because you keep on doing the same dumb thing. You’re like, “What am I doing to myself?” You have to look at yourself in the mirror and reflect, learn how to be more cautious and more careful next time. Also, do not let the bad energy in. Having your guard up prevents bad energy and people from coming into your life. That’s the prevention. Be aware of those types of situations and those people, and not letting them into your life, not putting yourself in those situations or going to these events where stuff like that could happen. Having enough street smarts and self-awareness for yourself to not dwell on it and not waste energy. How much-wasted energy will you waste when you’re like, “This person took $2,000 from me. He made me angry and I never got what I paid for?” I’ve learned to let it go and to focus your energy on more positive and good things. It is always better than dwelling in the past and negative stuff.
What are your dreams or goals in the next twenty years?
I am very focused on the tasks at hand and I try to live in the moment. I tried to create these five-year plans. I haven’t created a twenty-year plan, but if I was going to look at my life in twenty years, it’s nice to have a family and kids. That’s always been a dream of mine. Another dream is to travel to 150 countries. I’m almost halfway done with that. I feel like the world is beautiful and you’ve got to explore it. I’m figuring out that life is more about giving back and finding ways to make people smile and to make people love life more. I don’t have any clear concrete dreams. It used to be like, “I want to be a billionaire. I want to have a private jet or do this type of stuff.” I’m transitioning and listening to some of my mentors who’ve had those things, but ended up being bad for them. It ended up being one of the darkest, loneliest and saddest times of their life. What I’m trying to do is simply invest in other mentors, people who’ve been there and done that, who are living good lives, making a lot of impacts, helping a lot of people, and learning from their mistakes. Instead of doing the same thing, I can skip all of that mess and live whatever potential or whatever life God wants me to live. It’s more in his hands.
Maybe this would help you solidify the purpose or the direction. What do you consider is your legacy? What do you want people to know about Zach Benson?
For my legacy, I want to be remembered as a person who was positive, kind, genuine, authentic and vulnerable, who lived on less so others could have more. To me, it’s seeing people happy and achieve their goals and their dreams. It’s a combination of that. It’s also something that I have to think on more probably, of what kind of exact legacy I want to leave behind. It doesn’t have to be anything special or super powerful, but I want more people to feel like Zach was the ultimate encourager, the ultimate positive, happiest guy that encouraged everyone around him. He made everyone feel good and feel their best. They could go out and pursue their dreams. It’s something simple like that. Maybe I should think about that more as well but off the top of my head, that’s what I’m feeling.
That is a wonderful legacy to leave on. If you continue to remind yourself about what you share, I think you will be on the right path no matter what you do. If you continue to reflect on who you are, what you want and what you want people to know about Zach. It’s great to know you, Zach.
I am happy to get to know you too.
What are the top three tips that you would recommend people, especially Asian-Americans, who want to start a company similar to yours?
The thing is that I liked my company because a lot of people nowadays can work from anywhere. We can work on our laptops. I like the flexibility to be able to be in one country and then be in another country. It’s another country, another culture. If you like that freedom, if you have that passion and desire to travel the world and learn about other people and cultures, this is for you. As far as the tips about creating something that I’ve created, first, it’s not all about you. If I was going to give a how-to, I would start first with trying out a couple of other things that you think you might be interested in. Taking online courses about those topics so that you could learn a little bit about them. Finding other people inside of those courses. A lot of these courses have Facebook groups. Talking to those other group members that are inside of that course with you. It’s good to have that community and that support. In doing so, this is how I created my team for my company. I started off with taking a course about Instagram. I’ve met other people inside of that course group that was constantly giving value, creating their own strategies for Instagram. I was like, “It’d be cool to start up an actual Instagram growth agency. Do you want to join me?”
The Ultimate Encourager: In life, you never know what you could learn and what type of people you’ll meet, how they might help you or you might help them.
There’s a lot of power in courses and nowadays, you have access to YouTube and Google. You can pretty much YouTube and Google anything and learn something in a few hours. I would start there. If you’re serious about it, the next step is to find mentors and other people that do it. Pay them for their expertise, maybe pay them for an hour, which is called a power hour. Ask them specific questions about some strategies that you could use in your company and even sell them as a service. The first thing is the course. The next thing is finding mentors. The third thing about starting a company is hustle. In the beginning, you’re not going to be able to charge those premium prices. You’re not going to be able to get your dream client. If you can figure out ways to create an irresistible offer, meaning the thing that you’re offering or you’re trying to sell has so much pure value and things that can help people. If you can figure out a way to offer them for free, you’re going to be able to get your foot in the door, create a lot of buzz and a lot of attention about yourself and your company that you’re trying to grow.
The most important is the hustle and the grind because in the beginning, it’s going to be hard. There are going to be times that you want to quit. There’s going to be times where you want to give up and throw in the towel and try something new. It’s all about being persistent, consistent, celebrating the small wins, and doing things for free in the beginning until you eventually have many raving fans saying, “You’re the best. I’m going to tell all of my friends about it,” then you can start charging for your stuff.
That’s a wonderful suggestion. What is your motto and why is it important to you?
I have a couple of them. One is to just do it. Don’t think about so much stuff about what could happen and what might happen. Stop worrying about the future. Do what you can do now and take initiative, take a risk, make that leap of faith and go for what you want. Opportunities come daily. They come and go in a matter of seconds. If you’re not ready to jump on them, take that risk and step into the unknown, you might be missing out on something. The second one is keeping small promises and commitments. It’s easy nowadays to simply talk the talk, but it’s all about keeping and doing the things that you say you’ll do when you say you’ll do them and exactly how you’ll do them. As you keep these small promises and commitments to people and yourself, you’re going to see a lot of positive and cool things happen in your life.
I keep wondering why are you here, Zach. Why did you come? Why would you agree to be a guest on the show?
This is a good example. This was all about the timing. We were introduced to each other by a mutual friend named, Jeremy Slate. For one, anytime that somebody comes recommended from a friend, I’m going to try to make it happen. I’m going to always hop on a call with them. That’s one of the early lessons I’ve learned in life. You never know what you could learn and you never know what type of people you’ll meet and how they might help you or you might help them. It’s always good to see everybody as a potential friend and to give everyone the time of day because everybody has a story and a battle that they’re going through. It’s not always the people that I’m connected with. One of my passions is everybody has a story and I want to listen to them. The cool thing is you never know who these people might know that they could introduce you to, which could help bring you one step closer to achieving your goals and your dreams.
The real reason why I wanted to come is for one, it’s Asian Women of Power. I like your motto. I like that you have a show that focuses on empowering women and other people in the Asian community. This is something that I want to be more a part of and involved with. That was attractive to me. The second, you seemed an interesting and kind person, Kimchi. I saw your content and I saw your posts and I’m like, “Kimchi seems a pretty cool person. This would be fun.” It wasn’t anything special besides those reasons, but I felt like it was a good fit. I wanted to have a conversation with you and hear a little bit about your story and also share mine.
Thank you for saying that I’m a cool person. You don’t know me yet.
What I can see on your status is you seem pretty positive and you’re putting out some good content that’s helping people.
The question is how to convert those contents into a growing follower? I need help on that. Thank you, Zach, for being here.
I appreciate your insight. We hope that you have gained valuable insights so that you can apply it to your life. Until next time, live life loud.
"Dance became my fire."
"Life is about people; everyone wants to be treated like King and Queen."
"I learned to be patient and kind."
"Sacrifice for a better good is a win."
"Life is about giving and being given back."
"Live on less, so others can have more."
"Give everyone the time of day because everybody has a story in a battle that they're going through."
Standouts in the world of online entrepreneurship — and especially influencer marketing — are few and far between. Thousands of names vie for attention. But separating the genuine article, someone with both personal passion and the ability to build brands, from the pretenders is exhausting.
Zach Benson is one of those standouts. A TEDx speaker, social-media trainer for international brands like Ritz Carlton, and ViceRoy, and past participant on “So You Think You Can Dance,” Benson doesn’t just manage his own Instagram network of millions he’s also the founder Assistagram where he’s guiding other influencers like Russell Brunson and Fortune 500 companies into social-media success.