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There’s a saying I have, Jeff is, there’s no such thing as long copy, just boring copy. So good story, you can be as long as you want.

Jeff Hastedt 11:55 

So well, here’s the thing. So Andrew and I, my good friend, also co-founder of Brkthru, he and I were colleagues at a previous organization. And we always shared a love for starting a business. I had attempted to start other businesses before it didn’t really pan out the way I wanted it to. So in 20, so I first got it, I was always in media and advertising, but got into digital advertising in 2009, working for powerhitz. And that’s where I actually learned what a 300 by 250 ad size was, I mean, some of the very basic things about digital. And so shortly thereafter, after I left, I wanted to kind of create, ironically enough, what really happens nowadays in DSP form, which is create some type of automated ad network. That was the thought at the time. before I think all these other words came about for our industry because I knew how to go out and sell advertising. And I figured if I could get a bunch of it and help a lot of these smaller publishers. That would be something really great to do. Well, quite honestly, the reason why that didn’t take off is because I don’t think I had enough experience yet. No, I mean, not I think, I know I didn’t have enough experience. I just didn’t. I needed to be out in the field more and get a better understanding. And so that’s how later on I know that’s why Brkthru was successful is because I needed more real world experience working in any industry

Jeremy Weisz 13:46 

I asked that because from the outside looking in, and you’d be like, okay, yeah, this successful career. And then he started his own company. And then that was successful. And everything he does is successful. And I like to hear some of the things while I started something. It didn’t work out like I thought it was going to.

Jeff Hastedt 14:04 

Yeah, yeah. And that’s correct. I mean, that…

Jeremy Weisz 14:09 

Were you doing that other when you started that up, were you doing like moonlighting while you’re working the like, how were you balancing that?

Jeff Hastedt 14:17 

If you remember in 2009, it was a very bad time for the economy. So I had been that’s when I was laid off from Clear Channel. And I took my severance money and use it just to live while I tried starting this startup. Short and then about six months after that, yes, I didn’t. It wasn’t more moonlight. I don’t. Well, I need to figure out which one was a moonlighting job. I actually sold violins on the side for a company that made violins in order to keep paying my bills so I could keep the startup dream alive. Selling violins really. Yeah. And so a lot of people then assume I’m a string player, and I’m not including the people that I was selling the violins for. Because I was the number one salesperson. And they couldn’t figure out how somebody who’s never played the violin can master this selling of violence as because you mentioned it when you kicked off this podcast, you mentioned relationships. And I went out and built relationships with some of the most influential people in violin sales, which would be violin teachers. And I’m proud to say one of those teachers is still a very good friend of mine to this day. So I went out and built relationships and became very successful at it. However, I did miss being in media and in digital media. And so that’s why I decided to go back to work and put the startup dream on hold for a little while. And that’s when I went to go work at CBS television.

Jeremy Weisz 15:55 

So talk about from a selling perspective, people are listening. What are some of the key elements that you think fundamentals of selling? Obviously, you’ve done this across many different industries, including which I didn’t realize the violin industry? What are some of the fundamentals people should consider what brought you to being the number one salesperson for violin? You mentioned relationships, but a little more tactically. What else did you think about or do?

Jeff Hastedt 16:24 

A couple different things. I mean, and this is, if you read most sales books, it’ll tell you this, but it’s not really followed, building trust and rapport. You don’t just jump in, and I understand some industries are one and done, you know, maybe like a gutter salesman, and I’ve had people briefcase dump and just pitch in my lap right away. But even for short term sales, you still got to build some type of report. And the reason why I use gutter sales as an example is because I was actually looking for new gutters. And I had two guys come to my house, one guy who came in with two briefcases and showed me every single thing his competition did wrong. And he goes, the reason why you don’t want to use Gutter Guard is because of this. You don’t want to use leaf guard. Because of this. And I’m sure you’ve already talked to all of them, and they all suck. And this is why I’m great. That did nothing but turn me off. I didn’t know anything about this guy other than him insulting every possible gutter guard out there. The next guy came in and said, we were just randomly talking about not even gutters, just maybe about the weather. And I said, hey, I happen to notice that you have a 201 area code on your cell phone, are you from New Jersey? And he said, yeah, I am. And I go, that’s interesting. I lived there for four years. And I never see that around here. This is in Michigan. And so we got to talk about that. I’m married to a New Jersey, and we talked about New Jersey, we talked about pizza, obviously, we did all these things. And quite honestly, I don’t even remember if his if his was the best product or not. I just remember I really liked the guy. And he’s good. He seemed incredibly trustworthy. He then also told me things that he thought were really good about his product and other things that he didn’t, and really, led me to what would be a really good decision. And that’s the person I did business with. And I think that a lot of people just miss that. And I think it has nothing to do with being a slimy salesperson, like, I’m just gonna say, whatever and lie to this person in order to get the business. No, because it comes out, you’re either authentic or you’re not. And so when it comes to selling gutters, violins, pizza, or digital advertising, people are going to purchase from people that they feel they have built some type of rapport with. And if you can do it on the first day, but if you need to do it over time, and there’s a sales cycle, that’s fine, too. It’s even better because then it’s longer to build that rapport, but so many people miss that. Many, many, many people, especially people I’ve interviewed who don’t work here, always think that it’s a product sell in this industry. And I mean, it’s not, we have eight figures worth of reasons as to why it’s not. And none of those sales were done by dumping up to doing a product pitch. Why? Because we don’t have a product. I don’t own a product. Brkthru does not own a product. Our IP is our people. Our IP is building relationships, building trust and rapport. And if our clients don’t trust us, we’re dead. So I can’t instill that enough. You see that obviously, I’m sitting in a hotel room right now because we’re in the middle of Brkthru You, which is our training that we’ve created to teach the Brkthru way. And a lot of it includes that is it’s interpersonal human interaction, which is really interesting considering what we’ve lived through for the past few years where so much stuff is done on Zoom. I mean, I mentioned we’re a remote company, we’ve always been remote. But that human element is so important. I’m sure there’ll be lots of people that disagree with it. But it works. It works for us. And that’s why it’s so important in the sales process.

Jeremy Weisz 20:34 

Yeah, I mean, we do business with people we like, and we trust, you know, and so we’ll go back to how you started. Because you had the first, I just had to have you explain the first go around, and we’ll go to the second go around, which is Brkthru. But talk briefly about Brkthru You and what you do when offset?

Jeff Hastedt 20:57 

Yeah, for sure. So, Brkthru You, it’s ironically, enough, it has been used as a term that I from the beginning, because I always thought all right, well, when we were brand new, and just Andrew and I, and then we brought on an account manager. And we wouldn’t be on every email talking to anybody, whether it was a vendor, technology provider, who our client, we are on every email, and I remember thinking, as we grow, when we added a fourth person and a fifth person, we’re gonna have to have some type of glossary or training or we need to do Brkthru You, it just rolled off my tongue. So it was kind of born that in 2017. It has turned into basically in an online and offline training program for our staff. And most people that attend, and we don’t do it for the whole company at once we do it broken up. But it’s a week-long training session, and a lot of people I think, feel they’re gonna come and learn a lot of product knowledge. And there is a time and a place to learn about the product, whether it’s via sales training, for account managers, or media traders to go through product training. Absolutely. This training is solely about being better communicators, and quite honestly, I love everyone that has chosen to come work at Brkthru, but they can take these skills from Brkthru You and employ them at any company that they work for in the future. So they’re really good for your career and life skills, in order to move the business along and help them as professionals. And we look at that as an investment. And it’s made our company better. And it’s made us move quicker and faster without sacrificing quality. And it’s an incredibly important thing to myself and Andrew and I just love attending, because I can’t get over how much I learned and learn about other people, and how people want to be communicated with and feel a sense of belonging.

Jeremy Weisz 23:14 

I want to talk about the, obviously, you have a remote company of people all over the US and you find it, you could just as easily I’m not saying it’s just as effective, but you can just as easily do it all online virtually. But you choose to do it in person for a week. Why that decision to do it in person?

Jeff Hastedt 23:40 

It’s human nature, I feel guilty to and you’re talking to somebody who has ADD. So I’m gonna throw myself in this category to, there’s other distractions at home or wherever you’re sitting. There’s the phone, there’s a life there’s your kids, your husband or wife, that could cause an interruption, dogs barking, whatever the same thing that we are already dealing with in everyday life. This is the activities also planned. So that’s one main reason is from a distraction standpoint. Number two is I can tell you that the relationships that we have built online via zoom and whatnot are enhanced when all those people meet in person. And there are group activities and whatnot that cannot that could absolutely be done on zoom but would not be as successful and they would not have as much impact than if they were in person and then following up with that. I don’t want you to just shut your day off at five o’clock, or 5:30 or whenever we happen and for the day. I want you to go out and have dinner with your colleagues and talk about whatever you want, talk about the Super Bowl all talk about stocks, talk about whatever you want to talk about, you can talk about Kim Kardashian, I don’t care. But it’s really important to have that time with your colleagues as well. And time and time again, and that just Brkthru You. And we have to all company off sites per year. In addition to that, and time and time again, when we send that employee survey out the number one thing that comes back about what they enjoyed the most was hanging out and spending time with their colleagues, and getting to know them better in a non-work setting. And if that doesn’t happen over zoom, it just doesn’t. And I knew that during the pandemic, because I’ve been a remote employee for well, since 2006, with a short stint there, when I was working at CBS 2011 and 2013.

Jeremy Weisz 25:58 

What’s the one thing you talked about the better communication is definitely not just work but life skills? And what’s one thing that sticks out in the Brkthru You curriculum that would allow all of us to be a better communicator from your curriculum?

Jeff Hastedt 26:14 

I would say, well, there’s so many different ones.

Jeremy Weisz 26:22 

You could do a few.

Jeff Hastedt 26:23 

Okay, it’s so easy to be misunderstood. Especially in a remote environment, we know this so well. And what I mean by that is, believe it or not, I can be a very sarcastic person, because I love comedy, and I love humor. And you could send something on zoom that you meant as a joke, and somebody else thought you were serious, and it ruined their day. And it festers on and on. And you might not have meant it like that. And you wouldn’t even know to clear that up. Okay. And so you need to make sure that if you are going to be fun or sarcastic that there’s a time and a place for it. Another good example is this. There is requests, again, going back to good communication, you have to over communicate in a remote situation, over communicate, triple check. We had a situation where somebody was asking for a report. And the person that was asked for the report replied with hey, I’m running late today. Could I get this to you at 5:30? And the other person replied, no worries. Her reply of no worry, he’s meant sure 5:30 is fine. He thought that meant, oh, you’re good. I don’t need to do this anymore. And by not communicating properly, and left up for assumption, nothing happened until she contacted him the next day and said, hey, where’s that report? And he said, you said no worries. So I thought you were good. She’s like, that’s not what I meant I was being nice. And I’m it’s fine, you can give it to me at 5:30. So that, again, is minor and be happy that that’s all it was. With that type of basic communication, you’re going to have a major problem at some point the wheels will fly off at the wrong moment when somebody doesn’t over communicate in a remote situation.

Jeremy Weisz 26:32 

I know that you think a lot about the human element. And so I’d love to hear some of the ways that you think about building culture in the remote setting. Obviously, one of them is the off site, you have online training of off-site training, what other things do you think about to do with the team to help build culture even in a remote environment?

Jeff Hastedt 28:55 

We have a positivity committee that meets regularly, they have created pizza Friday, no surprise that I may or may not have heavily influenced that where the entire company can order pizza for themselves in the last Friday of every month for lunch that the company obviously pays for. And so that’s a way and again, when the company first started that I didn’t really think much other than, oh, this will be fun because I personally love pizza and want to order myself lunch. I mean, that was probably one of the motivators. But I couldn’t get over how so many people the company, they were posting to Instagram, their pizzas. And it just took on this whole other life of how excited this pizza break was and how creative our team was around pizza Friday. And so we continued it and it’s one of our longest standing traditions. And that might seem very, like, it’s no big deal, but it’s not going anywhere. For that reason, it’s part of our culture. We do a coffee break trivia, every Wednesday at 10 o’clock. It’s just gives people an opportunity in the middle of the week, not quite the middle of the day. But we figured, if we were working in an office, 10 o’clock is a good time to go just grab a coffee for 15 minutes and maybe catch up with your colleagues. And so we started that actually, in the pandemic. And, as, hey, let’s make sure everybody’s got it. That was a tough time. I mean, so let’s make sure everybody is doing well, and it’s good for mental health, etc. Well, then, towards the end of 2020, we talked about getting rid of it. And you would have thought I said everyone was getting demoted. I mean, that was the level of outrage of why would you get rid of coffee break trivia? And the answer was, oh, it was a pandemic era thing. Oh, you really want to continue it. So that also is going strong and not going anywhere. So and you think like, wait a minute, you’re saying an ordering pizza, and having trivia for 15 minutes on a Wednesday solve all your cultural problems?

Jeremy Weisz 31:26 

Pizza solves all problems.

Jeff Hastedt 31:28 

Yeah, it solves almost all problems. But don’t try and reinvent the wheel. Just be a human and figure out what things people like to do. That’s building a good culture.

Jeremy Weisz 31:41 

What’s the format for the trivia? Is it just like an open Zoom Room? And how do you run that?

Jeff Hastedt 31:46 

So it’s an open Zoom Room. It’s also one of the only times that I get to see so many employees at once every week. So I host trivia most weeks. Today I didn’t because I’m here at the training. So we have fill ins or if I happen to be traveling at the time, or we’ll have a fill in hosts, which is always fun, too, because they do it their own way. But yes, it’s an open Zoom Room for anyone at the company to jump in. And we keep it pretty light. I have five plan questions. And I don’t always get through them. I usually end up something happens to where we then just do I do impromptu trivia questions. My personal favorites, usually center around music. I love music trivia have always been in all different types of music. So it’s fun to see that engagement. We have a very musical staff as well, as I found out through trivia. I also focus a lot on geography. It’s my other favorite topic. But we do sports questions. We do pop culture questions, we do science and math questions, because those have actually been requested by the staff, that we should ask more of those. So it’s pretty open ended. And it goes from 10 till roughly 10:15. I try not to keep anyone later. But sometimes they’ll go a few minutes later. And then we answer the questions in the Zoom chat. So you can’t yell them out. That’d be impossible to keep track. But we answer them in the Zoom track, and one of the members of the positivity committee tallies up the answers and somebody wins a gift card every week.

Jeremy Weisz 33:39 

I love it. I love it. Jeff, I want to talk about the evolution of the staff growth, which kind of goes back to starting the company. So it starts with you and Andrew. Right? And what was the initial idea for the company? Is it the same as it is now?

Jeff Hastedt 33:59 

Pretty much the mission is still the same. And the mission is where we want to be the preeminent service company in digital media. And also that we started with no minimums. And that was such a motivation for us. Because it felt like we were the only ones in this class of media services that offer that but that’s still one of the top reasons I put in the top three reasons why when we pick up a new client, why they said they wanted to work with us was because of no minimum. So it’s such a huge, huge reason. Obviously, other platforms have gotten incredibly popular in the past six years such as streaming television, CTV and OTT, which was used to be a very small portion of our business now it’s a large portion. SEM, which has been around the longest was a very small portion of our business, it has now become a very sizable portion of our business, not by design, but by client demand for all the reasons that I just mentioned. And so really what it is, is we focus more on again, going back to the service and what the client needs are, that is where the market has directed us. I’m also going to answer the question the way that I normally answer, which is, we said then, when it was Andrew and I, in 2017, that we were going to let the market decide how big we were going to get. We knew that there was a market, but we didn’t go, oh, we want to be $25 billion company and get this thing public or sell it or whatever. That wasn’t the intention. The intention was done because the clients we were working with, we’re getting so many noes. And we are hearing that from so many different places we are prospecting that I did not want to be part of the no club, I want to be part of the yes club. And the only way to be part of the yes club is by to create a company ourselves. And so we knew that that was the direction we would go, we would let the market tell us where that is. Well, I can tell you six years later, we still haven’t scratched the surface. And that is even being eight figures and growing. And same with if you told me then that it would be me, him and five other people that ended up working here, in six years, that’s what you would have. I would have been perfectly fine with that. Well at about 165 employees, I am not surprised. But I would have thought that that type of growth would have taken longer to get to. I have to say that that’s not just because of what Andrew and I have done. We assembled an amazing early team, an amazing early management team of incredibly smart people who also were willing to take that risk working with a startup and grow with us. And that is who we have the vision Andrew and I do. But the management team is amazing at executing that vision and understanding the Brkthru way.

Jeremy Weisz 37:30 

At what size Jeff are you thinking, we need to have a management team?

Jeff Hastedt 37:36 

So Jonathan Mellinger is my Chief Operating Officer and in early 2019. And I have known him and he was working at a different startup at the time, and was then, looking around and we had a conversation, he was just like, hey, I’m kind of going to be back out in the market looking at the right opportunity. And I can tell you right, then I couldn’t afford a chief operating officer. And I really didn’t know how that was going to work. So that was not even two years, that was a year and a half into the existence of their company. This was winter.

Jeremy Weisz 38:15 

You were like he’s talented, he’s available, I’m just going to make the plunge.

Jeff Hastedt 38:20 

Correct? That’s absolutely correct. And I think for whatever reason, I am apparently it looks like I’m having a seizure, but I’m not. There is a way to stop this. I’m just gonna do that. And then watch this. It’s like magic boom. As you can see. That’s where I limit myself. So I might have to keep doing it.

Jeremy Weisz 38:49 

It’s probably a hotel Wi-Fi. Is probably it.

Jeff Hastedt 38:53 

Absolutely blame it on hotel Wi-Fi. So anyway, I was talking to Jonathan, exactly what you said this case, I’ve always had so much respect for me, I think he’s brilliant. Let’s see, there’s no way he will take this job because he’s been offered jobs at four times what I could afford to pay him. I call him and told him and I said, I would love if you could make something happen with us. I’d love to have you on my team. However, this is probably the most I can come up with a pay. He goes, that works for me. I’m in. And I go, you’ve got to be absolutely kidding me. And he goes, no, I want to work for the startup. I don’t want to go work at a large agency or a large company. He already was a successful startup founder and I had a very successful exit as well. And he goes now, let’s do this. And so it started that. And that’s when we did start looking at then, I mean, I was the de facto sales leader. Andrew was the de facto media leader. Just by being co-founders. We finally had somebody who was going to help us head up operate sections and really head up everything. So I would say that that in our third official year of business, but we our second year, was when we started thinking about management. And it continued from there into 2020. And that’s when we started putting people with VP titles in media, Client Services sale, and then growing from there, so that’s an interesting question, because I always think about how exactly that happened. But it was more about, we had some really key people at the right time.

Jeremy Weisz 40:42 

Not even the right time sometimes. I mean, you seize your opportunity when it came about, and maybe it wasn’t the perfect time, but you shot your shot, like you didn’t like, well, he’s not gonna say, yes, I’m gonna forget about it. You actually just said, no, I’ll go for it. If he says no, he says no.

Jeff Hastedt 41:03 

And it is what it is. And so we’re very lucky in that regard that we have some amazing leaders.

Jeremy Weisz 41:12 

Jeff, I want to highlight and talk about a little bit more about what you do as a company, and there was an advertising agency in Virginia, and what did you do with them?

Jeff Hastedt 41:22 

So this goes to everything that is about why my Brkthru exists. It in last year, on Thanksgiving, actually, the day before Thanksgiving, one of our client agencies was trying to put together a Black Friday campaign and it was going late into Wednesday. And you know the day before Thanksgiving, most people if they’re not off their work until maybe noon. Okay. So we’re talking at this point, this is after five o’clock, and everyone’s putting in their all and we’re just waiting. Well, it came to the point where one of the people at the agency called us and said, hey, my team took off Thanksgiving. It’s just me. So you know what, I’m just going to have to go back to the client, Tell them it’s not going to happen till maybe Monday or whatever. And we go, well, what do you need? What do you need? And part of it was creative part of it was putting the right plan together, part of it was strategy was a little bit of everything. And our team without being asked or told by anyone just took it upon themselves to go ahead and work on this. They then stopped for the evening and continued on Thanksgiving morning. And one of the things, one of the reasons that was given to me was, well, not much really goes on next given morning. I mean, you could be watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade. But it’s not like it was turkey time, it wasn’t during football. So it was fun. Now, I found this out by getting a text at about four o’clock on that Thursday afternoon on Thanksgiving night, hey, this is what happened. These are the people that were involved. And they got it done. We have that campaign ready to launch at midnight tonight for Black Friday. And I’m thinking first of all, again, I wasn’t surprised our team knows the Brkthru way we have to jump in. And sometimes we jump in when everyone else jumps out at the most inopportune times who wants to be working on that during their time off on their day off, even if it is for a couple of hours. I don’t want my people to do that or anything. But they saw the pain one of our trusted partners was in and the money that they were going to lose by not launching it on time and said you know what, we can get done, what should have already been done, we can get it done for you and do it. And they did. And the kind of dividends that service like that pays is hard to quantify. I know that there’s probably been times that we’ve maybe received business or whatever that maybe we wouldn’t have if we didn’t go the extra mile like that. And that type of dedication to our partners, I view and I viewed through my entire career as just part of my job. And I think a lot of other people look at that as a huge pain. But they don’t see they look very short term. They don’t look long term. We are a long term goal company. And I was just so incredibly proud of my staff. They felt that they wanted to take that on. That might have been the one time that I would have been okay with them waiting until Monday. But they didn’t, they didn’t feel okay about it. They were like no, it was festering in my head and I wasn’t doing anything. So I wanted to take care of it. I’m thinking all right. And that’s part of our culture too.

Jeremy Weisz 44:58 

And there was another agency in Michigan, that you helped.

Jeff Hastedt 45:01 

A similar story. This is somebody who was left high and dry by a previous partner, because they just decided that they weren’t spending enough money with them anymore. And they basically said, unless you spend, it was something outrageous, I don’t know, $100,000 per month with us moving forward, you’re done, we’re cutting you off. And we had chatted with this firm before, and they were very happy with whoever they were working with. And out of the blue, they call us and said, I’m in a huge issue a huge emergency. And I don’t know if we were their first call or not. But the issue was, my campaign has been turned off, because I’m no longer a valued customer for this other firm. And can you somehow take over? And you can probably imagine that that wasn’t just some random Tuesday afternoon. That was on New Year’s Eve. And because it was, if you’re not going to continue, basically an end a year thing. And can you somehow continue this? And again, it was one of those things where it’s like, of course we can, we’re going to figure this out. And I’m hearing about this after the fact too about, well, it’s okay, we can do this after the holiday. It was that other firm that left them high and dry. We can absolutely take over and take this business, but no, they were fine. The team was fired up and wanted to be hero. And I think that’s awesome. And they were incredibly appreciative. Not that we just got it up, but that we wanted to work with them. That’s what I thought that’s what was most striking to me. They were like, wow, thank you so much for accepting our business. And I’m thinking what the hell is going on out there? Why is this person thanking me for taking their business? It’s supposed to be the other way around. And there’s a lot more stories out there like that. And I intend to uncover them all. Because it’s pretty wild.

Jeremy Weisz 45:31 

Jeff, I know you got to get back to your off site. So I appreciate your time. I want to encourage everyone to check out to learn more and Jeff, I want to be the first one to thank you. Thanks so much.

thank you everyone. Check out more episodes of the podcast and thanks so much. Thanks, everyone. Thanks again.