by Cara Aungst
Khurram Shahzad had no intention of starting his own company when he landed in Happy Valley five years ago so his wife could pursue her Ph.D. But thanks to some unplanned changes during the pandemic — and the resources of Penn State — his digital marketing company Digilatics is changing the landscape for home inspectors across the United States.
“If Penn State would not have been there for me, I would be working somewhere else, but I wouldn’t be very happy,” he said.
Shahzad was already an award-winning digital marketer when he arrived in the United States. He started an agency in Pakistan and then moved to the Middle East, where he was responsible for a campaign that resulted in never-before-seen growth for a regional luxury brand. Along the way, he grew his craft beyond clicks and SEO to focus on the WHY for digital marketing — “We ultimately have to measure success,” he said. “Where do you want to be, and what time and resources do you want to invest?”
Happy Valley Launchbox has played a major role in my life. The encouragement and coaching were impactful. They are so focused on the success of ideas and creating jobs by helping businesses scale and succeed.
When his wife decided on Penn State for her doctorate, the couple relocated to the United States and Shahzad quickly found a place in a local company that served home inspectors.
And then, COVID happened.
The marketing department where Shahzad worked closed, and he was laid off. Over the next few months, he applied for over 400 jobs. “I submitted my CV to banks, grocery stores … anywhere that I could. No one was hiring.”
In the summer of 2020, he connected with Lee Erickson, associate director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Commercialization, who told him about Penn State’s 10-week Fast Track Accelerator. She encouraged him to choose a beachhead market that he knew well and create a business to serve the niche.
Digilatics is making a big difference for clients in the home inspection industry.
For Shahzad, the choice was easy: he knew how to make digital marketing sing for his clients, and thanks to working with a local startup before COVID hit, he knew about the needs of the home inspection industry.
With the Fast Track Accelerator under his belt, Shahzad started to build Digilatics for the specific needs of home inspectors — company founders who often tend to be solopreneurs and don’t have the time or expertise to use marketing to expand their client base. But even with his prospects in sight and business in hand, he almost quit.
“Lee Erickson checked in on me when I was starting up. If she hadn’t, I never would have finished. That’s what it took to encourage me to build the business.”
If Penn State would not have been there for me, I would be working somewhere else, but I wouldn’t be very happy.
It’s been a scant two-and-a-half years since Digilatics came to life in Happy Valley Launch Box’s Fast Track Accelerator, but the results have been swift. A core team works from a high rise in downtown State College, and a team of 25+ employees from around the world help to solve pain points — and drive results — for their customers.
Digilatics Marketing Manager Gabi Paiva came to Penn State from Brazil and planned to find work in her home country. But after starting at Digilatics, those plans have changed. “There is such a huge opportunity for growth,” she said. “And a chance to mold what the future of the company looks like.”
The future of the company looks like success. In 2022, they turned $3.4M in marketing money into $40M in qualified business leads. “One home inspection company reported their first-ever million-dollar month because of contracting with us,” Shahzad said. “Many of our clients are now #1 in that area because of how we’ve helped them grow.”
Shahzad says that Happy Valley — and Penn State, specifically — have played a huge part in their rapid growth. “Penn State’s Happy Valley Launchbox has played a major role in my life. The encouragement and coaching were impactful. They are so focused on the success of ideas and creating jobs by helping businesses scale and succeed.”