There is a saying that leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders. Brother Jeff Zisner (Cal State – Northridge, 2010) is a serial entrepreneur who not only runs his own successful business but also invests in AEPi owned businesses to help them become successful.
While still in high school he worked for a security company and was promoted from a security guard to an operations manager and within a few weeks he was essentially running the small security company. This was a precursor to bigger things.
He’s always been a fan of getting the biggest bang for your buck with the maximization and optimization of processes, protocols and systems. So, when choosing a college, Cal State – Northridge was close to home and didn’t require additional courses that some of the other schools required for business. “My degree in business was just a natural progression of my life. I knew I wanted to do something in business and be involved in commerce and transacting. I’d already had a bunch of professional experience and CSUN really helped define, quantify and refine a lot of the things that I already knew.”
In the spring of his freshman year, Brother Zisner was still working for the same small security company and had some friends in AEPi planning an event. They wanted to contract security and asked him if he would provide security for the event. “So I agreed to do that along with a few other security guards. I interacted with the social chair at the time, Jason Rieger.” Zisner got to know some of the Brothers while providing security to the events. “I didn’t know what rush was, but I knew a bunch of the guys and it just seemed like the right community to be a part of.” He even knew some of the Brothers from his time on regional board in AZA.
On the surface, Brother Zisner learned to craft well-written emails and work with people while in AEPi. On a deeper level, he learned things that would directly help him in his career. As Risk Manager, he learned how to be told something under confidence, relay information efficiently and be able to provide guidance, counseling and support. All skills instrumental in his current job in security. He also learned how to manage multiple tenants, leases, utility costs, maintenance, and landlords as house manager which has proven useful in his real estate endeavors. “I have a direct correlation to what I do today and what I did while I was in leadership positions in AEPi.”
Through all the regional retreats, conventions, Hineini programs, road trips and formals, Brother Zisner’s favorite AEPi memory was going to Israel with AEPi. “I would have to give the nod to Rabbi Denbo and Andy Borans for their effort to organize and execute AEPi Road Trips in Israel.” The trip was for three weeks with two full buses of Brothers. We lived in a dormitory steps away from the Zion Gate in the old city of Jerusalem. They were immersed in Israeli culture, taking classes, traveling to the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, Tel Aviv and even going to the Knesset. “I went twice and the second time we went to Sderot, which is a town just a few kilometers from the border of Gaza where they only have six seconds to take cover when a rocket gets fired. It was truly an enlightening experience.”
After college, he went on 30 interviews and couldn’t get hired. “On paper, I looked fantastic but they saw how old I was and were like there’s just no way to hire a 23 year old security director. So after 30 interviews, I said, ‘screw it,’ I’m gonna start my own company.” He took a significant portion of his savings and started his AEGIS Private Security. He picked up two clients relatively quickly. The first was Camp JCA Shalom, where he met the Executive Director at a Hillel shabbat dinner. He still provides security there to this day, 13 years later. The second client was an international fashion brand where he had worked previously as a guard for another company. “I walked into the store and the director of operations came in at 8:45 AM. I said that I’d like to talk to him about my new security company. He said he’d come back downstairs and talk later. So I’m standing in the corner and I’m waiting. They were closing the store and I’d been standing there for nine hours. The manager came back down and said ‘Oh my gosh, Jeff you’re still here!’ He then asks me to quickly pitch him and I said, ‘if I’m willing to stand here for nine hours just to give you my sales pitch, can you imagine what kind of support I’ll provide as a security vendor for you,’ and he hired my company.” That was the real start of AEGIS Security & Investigations Inc.
Today, AEGIS operates statewide throughout California, has 400 employees, running about 10,000 hours of services a week 24/7, with HR, admin, a back office, cloud-based systems and training programs. “We have the infrastructure of a big company with the boutique service of a small company and it’s worked reasonably well for us so far. My hope is that it will continue to grow and it will continue the serve us well into the future.”
Brother Zisner has been on a mission to replicate that feeling of being a successful entrepreneur multiple times. He created AEPitch, a Shark Tank type angel investing group that helps AEPi entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to AEPi angel investors. During the pandemic, he posted the idea on the AEPi Business Networking Facebook group and got overwhelming interest. “Quarterly, I host a free virtual pitch session where the Brothers who are investors get to upvote their top four entrepreneurs they want to hear from live.” He didn’t stop there. Partnering with experienced venture capitalist Brother Chris Moreno (UC Santa Barbara, 2003), Brother Zisner has created a venture capital firm, Scotch Capital. They primarily invest in the AEPi-owned businesses that have the potential for high growth.
Brother Zisner has seen a correlation between hardworking AEPi Brothers and a successful business launch. “Thinking about every AEPi who truly works hard to achieve their goals, there is an overwhelming success rate of some kind. What makes us different is the AEPi leadership practice, our network, education and upbringing. There are a lot of things that are compounding in our favor that translates to a significantly shifted bell curve from a VC’s expected 90% fail rate.”
Brother Zisner has advice for those who are trying to become successful entrepreneurs. “Find someone you want to be your mentor and ask them for an introduction to someone like them that can help guide you to achieve specific goals. A lot of the time, it’s easier for them to justify a 5 minute conversation which gets you in the door rather than a cold commitment to help. Once getting to know you, they’ll naturally want to help you. Secondly, don’t be afraid of differentiation. There’s plenty of businesses, people and companies who have done very well for themselves and it’s okay to emulate successes, but don’t try to be just like everybody else. That’s not going to show a prospective client, partner or employee the secret sauce that makes you different. You need to showcase and shout it from the rooftops. That is what will get you noticed.”