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Joe Shelerud is the Co-founder and CEO of Ad Advance, a digital ad agency specializing in Amazon advertising. He has a business and engineering background and started selling on Amazon in 2014. Before Ad Advance, Joe was a Business Development Associate at Flint Hills Resources. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and worked as an engineer at Enbridge. Joe also has an MBA from the University of Minnesota.

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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [03:20] Joe Shelerud talks about how he got started on Amazon and the products he was selling
  • [08:43] The mistakes people make with advertising on Amazon
  • [11:30] Joe’s partnership with Matt Wiklund and their idea of quitting their jobs and focusing on their agency
  • [17:27] How Ad Advance got its first clients
  • [19:24] How Ad Advance differentiate itself to acquire employees in any marketplace of workers
  • [24:55] The value of attending Amazon conferences as an Amazon seller
  • [29:08] Joe discusses the evolution of their hiring and his thoughts on remote and in-person environments
  • [33:18] How Ad Advance onboard and train new employees and its hiring process
  • [41:39] Ad Advance’s customer success stories and its ideal clients

In this episode…

Amazon is a huge marketplace with millions of sellers from around the world. So what do you need to do to make your Amazon business more profitable?

To thrive as an Amazon seller, you not only need to have a good product, but you also need to be ahead on how you advertise on Amazon. Since it’s a very competitive space, Joe Shelerud recommends hiring Amazon advertising experts to help increase your brand’s exposure. He now shares his journey of starting and running a digital ad agency specializing in Amazon advertising.

In this episode of the Inspired Insider Podcast, Dr. Jeremy Weisz sits down with Joe Shelerud, Co-founder and CEO of Ad Advance, to discuss tips for Amazon advertising. Joe talks about the mistakes people make with advertising on Amazon, how Ad Advance got its first clients and how it helped them, the value of attending Amazon conferences as an Amazon seller, and Ad Advance customer success stories.

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:15 

You are listening to Inspired Insider with your host, Dr. Jeremy Weisz.

Jeremy Weisz  0:22 

Dr. Jeremy Weisz here founder of, where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders today is no different. I’m here with Joe Shelerud of And Joe, before I formally introduce you, I always like to point out other episodes, people should check out. And since this is part of the top agency series, there was an episode I did with Ian Garlic, who runs a And he talks about some of the innovative marketing that he does, and also that his dad did for a restaurant that was in Wisconsin, Joe is also in a very cold climate like myself in Minnesota, and they had actually dolphins live dolphins in the restaurant and they weren’t in Orlando, they were in Wisconsin. So just some funny stories there. Check out the one I did with Todd Taskey. Todd Taskey also has a Second Bite Podcast, he talks about how agencies sell their companies to private equity and get a second bite. And sometimes their second bite is more than the first bite. So we did an episode on valuation and how agencies sell and everything like that. So it’s a great episode as well. And this episode is brought to you by Rise25. At Rise25 we help businesses give to and connect to their dream 100 relationships and partnerships. And how do we do that we actually help you run your podcast. We’re an easy button for a company to launch on a podcast we do strategy, accountability and full execution of a podcast. And for me, Joe, the number one thing in my life is relationships. I’m always looking at ways to give to my best relationships. And I’ve found no better way over the past decade to profile the people and companies I most admire and share with the world with their work here. So if you’ve thought about podcasting, you should. If you have questions, go to and learn more happy to answer anything that you have. We have a good episode people like as the five different types of episodes every podcast should be creating, right and Joe as a podcast to which we’ll talk about as well. And just to formally introduce Joe Shelerud is co-founder and CEO the Ad Advance in their digital advertising agency, and Amazon Advertising Advanced Partner. And Joe’s career is not your normal trajectory, like myself, like my backgrounds of biochemistry as a chiropractor, Joe took the hard route of engineering, which I would not wish upon anyone because I did take a lot of those physics based calculus classes. But he pivoted eventually into the Amazon space after he started selling on Amazon back in 2014. And after scaling his own seven-figure brand, Joe and his business partner started their agency Ad Advance in 2017. So his company helps brands all over the globe, grow and sell their products. And like I mentioned, he also hosts the Ad Project Podcast about growing ecommerce brands. So Joe, thanks for joining me.

Joe Shelerud  3:12 

Yeah, thanks for having me on, Jeremy.

Jeremy Weisz  3:13 

So talk about what you are selling on Amazon, it relates to your industry that you were into.

Joe Shelerud  3:20 

Yeah, exactly. So it’s kind of funny how you end up in these different areas, like you’re saying with biochemistry, like I’m coming from the chemical engineering background, and now I’m a digital advertising marketer on Amazon. Yeah, and so it’s kind of funny to look back. How I got started in Amazon is I’ve always been tinkering on different businesses. I mean, even starting, let’s see, I was a sixth grade. Sixth grade was actually my first business. So it was right when the internet was coming out. I started this site called I taught myself how to code taught myself HTML and plugging away on my little dial up connection and essentially I was just copying other people’s jokes from other sites and put up these banner ads and it was in the early days of the Internet made a couple $1,000 off the ads and learned hardest pay small business taxes even as a child.

Jeremy Weisz  4:25 

The government came after you.

Joe Shelerud  4:26 

Yeah. So, it’s been one business after the next and what’s kind of fun and I really enjoy doing podcasts like this is, you can always start or you can go on like what we’re doing right now but it’s kind of fun to talk through the journey. So on the Amazon side…

Jeremy Weisz  4:45 

Well stick tight for a second Joe so what happened in joke city, did you just let the domain lapse what happened with it? Domain I feel like you could have done something with that.

Joe Shelerud  4:54 

Yeah, so it was joke-city, there’s a little hyphen in the middle of it. So back in the day, I just save up my allowance and it was like, it was over 100 bucks to register domain. And then the hosting fees were not insignificant. So there was a lot of money going into that. And then, I was into basketball, and then I played drums at the time. So I made a hard life’s priority switch that I had to focus on my sports career. Yeah, and so the site kind of lived on for a while, but then the hosting costs got too high. So that one died. Yeah, and then I don’t know, it’s kind of funny to just talk through, there’s been so many different building blocks that have got to this point. When I was in college, I was really into brewing beer at home, it was doing that with a roommate. And so we started this business called Brew All Green. And what it was just this temperature controller where the liquid would flow through, and then it goes on top of the grains, and then that is extracts the starches and all the good stuff for the beer. And so we made these little like home controllers. And we built a website, we got our LLC, we got a bank account, we did everything. Then we built it. And we said, I wonder what happens if this like plugs off and the water stops flowing through, plugged it off, and within a minute it was smoking. And then fire, it was like, okay, you know, probably not ready for the big time yet. And so that one failed, literally started on fire. And so you know, there were various other econ businesses that came and went, but one that stuck was heard about this thing on selling on Amazon. This is back in 2014. And so initially, it was trying to think through, okay, what’s key products that I could sell. As an engineering nerd, you go through organic chemistry class. And with organic chemistry class, there’s these 3d models you get. And you can kind of map out different formations of molecules. So it’s kind of think of like Legos for nerds, where you can build these little molecules. Yeah, yeah. And I’m sure you’ve had to do the exact same thing. So he can relate to the chair flip with cyclohexane, and all that good stuff. And at the time, it was like 80 bucks. And it just came from one of the major book providers, huge markup. And so it’s like, you know, there’s probably an opportunity here. So when I found a producer, setup, the product redesigned, it included better atoms that would go in to make the molecules, bunch of stuff there and launch that business. And that one took off, and it was doing pretty good. And as I was growing that business, one piece that I had to start doing was advertising for myself on Amazon. So for those who aren’t aware, there’s a lot of sponsored ads that show up and that can get your product to the top of the search page. And so I wanted to be ranked higher than some of these established molecular kits, from the big bookstores inside advertise for myself. And as I was doing that built up some tools for me that I thought were good at the time. Now, it’s kind of fun looking back and seeing what they were looking like at the time. But at the time, they were pretty cool. And figure that, I could probably start helping some other sellers. And so that’s really like the foundation of Ad Advance and where it started, it was just fulfilling the need for myself for another business.

Jeremy Weisz  6:39 

What mistakes do you find people make with advertising on Amazon?

Joe Shelerud  8:43 

Oh, yeah. So there’s many mistakes that you can make with advertising on Amazon. I think a key one is honestly starting to focus on advertising too quickly. So from the start, you need a solid product. You need it, if you think of it kind of like what the corollary which many people are probably can relate to like on Google. So if I set up advertisements on Google, and I send them to a landing page, but the landing page looks terrible, and the messaging isn’t clear on what I’m selling, and the form to submit doesn’t even work. My advertising is not going to make sense. It’s not going to work. It could be a targeting it could be set up perfectly, but if it’s not going to convert after the click, I’m just wasting. And so one mistake I see is people getting into advertising too quickly, before really focusing on the product itself, focusing on how it looks on Amazon, making sure that it’s going to convert well, making sure that it’s a true competitor to what else is out there. And so one mistake is honestly getting in too early. You’re wasting money and wasting time in first if you perfect product if you perfect that landing page, now when you run advertising, you can scale it really quickly. And it’s kind of the same approach we took for Ad Advance too so my co-founder, Matt and I, for the first two years for our agency, we first focused on the product. So we built out the software and the tools and really fine tune the process and how we set up ads. Traditionally, with an agency, you scale really quick, and then you try to build up the tools as he go, we took the first two years and really focused on that product first. And then at that point, now we’ve got it, it’s a repeatable process, it’s working really well, it’s tested, now we can start to scale it. So kind of same corollary there.

Jeremy Weisz  8:45 

Yeah, so people don’t focus on totally optimizing their listing, which is, they’re just going to be kind of flushing money down the toilet, if they’re sending someone to something, I said, optimize them, I’ve been to, Amazon products I was gonna buy, and it really didn’t have much information, they don’t have the right images there, they don’t have the bullets that I’m looking for. And I just bounce off of that listing as a consumer standpoint, there’s certain things I want to see when it’s totally optimized and answering all my questions. I buy it. Right. So from you meet Matt, how do you meet Matt? And then I love to hear, you could have just kept going with the Amazon business and you decide to start an agency. So how did you meet Matt first of all?

Joe Shelerud  11:30 

Yeah, so I was actually when I was doing the Amazon business, I was still working full time actually, as a project manager. So another career shift away from like traditional chemical engineering, Matt was doing financial analysis. And so one key skill set I have is surrounding myself with the right people, and trying to be aware enough of where my strengths lie, but also really focusing on where my weaknesses are. And so I’m good at scaling systems, I’m good at building out the structure. What Matt is really good at is the detailed implementation. And so I saw him doing this where he was building out financial models that we could all use as product managers, and kind of rolling this out to our entire org. So knowing my skill set, it’s like, okay, I’m going to need somebody else in there with me if I really want to build this. And so I sat down with him and pitch the business. And he was really skeptical. From the start to in all honesty, I did pretty good to lay out my groundwork and my case for why this was an idea why it was an unserved need, and finally, was able to sell him. And from that point, like the two of us…

Jeremy Weisz  12:48 

What was it Joe, that you think that pushed him over the edge? Because I think anyone listening like they’re always trying to recruit whether it’s a small position or a big position or a partner or an advisor or investor, what pushed them over the edge?

Joe Shelerud  13:05 

Yeah, yeah, I think it was a combination of two things. And one was painting the vision on where we can take this, while also making sure that it seems attainable to the person that you’re talking to. And in all honesty, the forecasts that I had that I presented to Matt, were probably a lot lower than I thought that we could take the business but I also wanted it to be as seem achievable to him just coming from the outside and not being as familiar. And then the other piece is just trying to limit the risk as much as I could, too. So in that instance, I wasn’t asking him to quit his full time job and jump into this, we set it up where we were able to start as a side gig, to start building this up. And again, building that foundation and not being so focused on growth from the start that we could take our time to get it right on the front end. And then at that point, once we get to that, that system that we had, that we could scale, now we could really invest, build out the team and take a lot more risk and jump in full time.

Jeremy Weisz  14:06 

At what point does Matt decide I’m gonna jump in full time?

Joe Shelerud  14:11 

Yeah, so we both quit our jobs. And it was a scary situation to I mean, just for like, personally, for me, I was a project manager, solid job. My wife’s a nurse, a labor and delivery nurse. We just had our third child. And we decided that we’re gonna go full time into this. And at the same time, we wanted to travel more with the family. And so a key driver was my oldest son, he was getting to the point where we had about two years before kindergarten started, we want to travel around and we want to just invest full time in this thing. So both myself and my wife quit our jobs at the exact same time with a six month old and two other older kids. And so but it was definitely a leap of faith. And the key thing that led us do that is we built the system, but then we were able to continually build on that. And I think one key thing is that we’ve always had clients from the start. And so it’s not like we were building this in a vacuum. And so one key to success that I’ve seen is just jumping in and trialing it, you may not have everything figured out from the start. But you’re gonna learn so much more quickly when you’re getting that real time feedback. And throughout the process, still being fully transparent on, what your skill set is where you’re at with it, like even today for clients, like there’s new features rolling out all the time. And we’ll be totally transparent be like, hey, this is brand new, we haven’t tried it before. And as long as they’re in it for the test, and to learn quickly. It’s great. And so the key thing for us that allowed us to do that is we had clients from the start, we had a proven model, and now it’s we just need to invest more time and go in full time on this. And it’s worked out pretty well.

Jeremy Weisz  16:08 

Did you have a goal, just like I want to reach this certain, you know, revenue level the business before I quit?

Joe Shelerud  16:16 

Yeah, so we definitely had some financial milestones to where we’re a little bit more conservative, we bootstrapped our business just from the start, so we’ve never taken out debt, we’ve been cashflow positive from the start. And so that was another key piece is like, alright, let’s build up our savings to x. So we’ve got a couple of years of runway on this. And if it doesn’t work out within that time period, you do those worst case scenarios, and it’s like, all right, this doesn’t work out. All the clients leave right now. We have this amount of time to figure it out. And if not worst case, we can probably find pretty solid jobs again. And so yeah, nurses can always find a job, that is my fallback.