Search Interviews:

Jeremy Weisz  17:02 

You go to deliver babies. God bless people who do that, because I remember in that labor and delivery, I’m like, I don’t know how you do this. You deal with screaming people. It’s chaotic all the time, your wife must be like a patient person.

Joe Shelerud  17:17 

Very, to deal with me you have to be very patient. So I lucked out there for sure.

Jeremy Weisz  17:23 

How did you get your first clients?

Joe Shelerud  17:26 

Yeah, so first clients that I got was on this platform called Upwork. And so it’s a freelancing platform. And so for the initial clients I had, it was really pitching it on, hey, here’s my skill set. And I’m a seller myself, I’ve built out these systems, and I want to continue building them and utilizing them for our accounts. And so it was pitching it where, all right, I’m going to help optimize your accounts. And this was the really early days of Amazon too where everything was really new. And so there wasn’t a lot of tools out there. And so one cool approach that we took was those initial client relationships, it was like, all right, we’re going to come in, and we’re going to be optimizing your accounts. But at the same time, it helps to fund that continued development in the tech in the software. And again, you learn really quickly when you’re implementing these items, and as long as you have clients who are cool with that, and understand where the industry is that you can help, it’s great because you get paid by them, to one help them but two also build on your tech and your processes and your learning. So that’s where our initial clients came from. And that was a great platform for a while to continue to build on those initial clients for the agency.

Jeremy Weisz  18:51 

Talk about differentiation for a second Joe, because like, if you’re familiar with an Upwork, I mean, you have people from all over the world on Upwork, with varying degrees of skill sets and varying degrees of pricing. Right. And some people, I don’t know now, if that’s the perception, but some people go to lower priced people. Some people will want US based hire, if the higher quality, how do you differentiate on that platform when there’s all these options, a marketplace of workers?

Joe Shelerud  19:24 

Yeah, yeah. So on that platform itself, I think it was the trying to differentiate the technical ability, and then also the process and the system that went into it. I mean, what you’re highlighting is exactly what we’re seeing for the industry today. And it’s actually a lot stronger today, because there’s so many more options. And so we have to constantly gut check ourselves on how are we truly different. Some ways that we differentiate ourselves now is with the software in the tech that we’ve been able to build up, we’re well known for being able to go a lot deeper than our competition. And we can say that, but we like to demonstrate it. And so we always take an education first approach to how we do our marketing. So like, whether it’s like LinkedIn posts, we do a ton of LinkedIn posts, or the podcast, or different videos are walkthroughs, we’re constantly sharing what we’re up to, a lot of our competition is a little bit more, they hold it a little closer. Whereas if we find something new, we’re sharing it right away. There’s pros and cons to that approach, because one is people follow us, and then they see what we’re doing. And then it’s a lot easier to copy as you go. But our take on it is that if we’re not communicating what we’re doing, how is anybody going to know about it? And others are going to figure it out. It’s not like we’re the only smart people in the room, we may be a lot quicker. And we may have the system in the structure, but other people are going to figure it out eventually. So we might as well communicate it out and be those people that people turn to, to try to find what’s new, what’s cutting edge? What’s some really cool things that we can do? How can we implement this data? How can you take this really complex spreadsheet and turn it into something easily actionable for a seller who doesn’t have all day to spend on advertising. So that’s one key way that we try to differentiate ourselves is through the education. But to do that education, you also need to be leading to be able to demonstrate that and so it’s really a focus on the tech being first and then using that as a platform to educate people.

Jeremy Weisz  21:41 

So I love that Joe, talk about some things that you’ve shared, that maybe you were even hesitant to share, because it could have given you an advantage, but you decide to share anyways, for education sake.

Joe Shelerud  21:53 

Sure. Yeah. I mean, so let’s see. There’s been multiple, I guess, one that we’ve done. So one thing that we found is that, we’re from Minnesota, Minnesota is known as being Minnesota now, yes. And that it’s not, there’s not all nice people in Minnesota. But one thing we try to do is we try to hire a lot of like, genuinely awesome human beings. And we’re big believers in relationships. And one relationship we’ve been able to build up over time, is with Amazon itself, and the Amazon advertising group. there’s constantly new features and betas that are coming through. And they’re looking for early testers, just like we are with our clients, like which clients are really big into testing early. And so we get early access to a lot of these new features that are coming out. And so we always have to work with Amazon and exactly when they want us to communicate these items out. But like one, so Amazon just had this new release, it’s called Amazon Marketing Stream. And up to this point, we can just see advertising data on a daily basis. Amazon Marketing Stream allowed us to break it into our chunks. So really cool, because you can see the different shopping patterns throughout the day. And it varies quite a bit. So Jeremy, if you come in on Amazon, and you click on an ad at 5am, in the morning versus 3pm, in the afternoon, your intent to buy is going to change quite a bit between those two time periods. And so if we can take advantage of that, we can get a much better return on our advertising. And let’s let our competition spend at 2am during the worst time of the day, and let’s spend later in the day when people are more likely to convert. So there’s two approaches we could have gone with that is one, we could have given these general updates and said, okay, high level, here’s what’s happening. And we have this machine learning model, which we do that optimizes all these bids and everything but we could have kept it really close. Instead, we put out different reports, sharing our learnings, and also sharing how sellers who say can’t pay for services, or already happy with who they’re with right now, how they can implement those. And so they may not be able to optimize bids by the hour, but maybe you can just run your ads from 5am to 5pm Pacific Time, which is going to be the golden hours. And so we share that information. And so our approach is that…

Jeremy Weisz  24:25 

So is that true are those the golden hours?

Joe Shelerud  24:27 

Yep, it’s either 5am or 6am five to six o’clock those 12 hour blocks those are the golden hours to advertise for sure.

Jeremy Weisz  24:38 

I love it. I’m wondering, you stay current you go to different conferences like Prosper Show what conferences I mean, in addition to Prosper Show do you attend? I love to hear maybe some takeaways from one of the conferences.

Joe Shelerud  24:55 

Yeah, I mean, so Prosper Show is always the biggest one in the Amazon space. So ones that I was really excited about. Amazon put their first in-person conference together in a few years called Amazon Accelerate, is in Seattle, and especially for the first conference, they did a great job putting it together. And it drew a ton of sellers in the space. And so it was so fun from that perspective, just tucked in, sit down, like seller, the seller and have the conversations. Because for some of these other conferences, it’s gotten pretty vendor heavy. There’s a lot of people like me walking around. Amazon Accelerate was an awesome one, where it just drew in a ton of sellers coming in. And you just didn’t get that vibe, like everyone was trying to sell you something. So that one was great. There’s Amazon On Box, there is Helium 10 last year that had the Sell and Scale Conference. Sounds like that one’s not going to be coming up this fall. But that was another really good one. It’s fun that any of these conferences are fun, just because, well, Amazon is this monster ecosystem. When you go to these conferences, you see the same faces over and over again. And so it is this small, tight knit community within this monster ecosystem. And I don’t know, there’s just so many genuinely awesome people at these conferences, that it’s so fun. And there’s just nothing better than being able to sit down and talk in person. All the online stuff is great. But just being able to sit down and talk with these folks, like I don’t know, I genuinely enjoy these conferences, just because there’s so many awesome people in that space.

Jeremy Weisz  26:40 

I love to hear Joe, you know, we talked about technology, you built your own technology and what kind of technology that you look at to help your business. I do want to mention, people can check out the podcast I did with James Thompson. He’s one of the founders of Prosper Show with Joe Hanson. And also Chad Rubin is one of the founding people in a ton Wiener, who also is one of the founding people of prosper. It’s a great show. So from a technology standpoint, Joe, what do you use? You built a proprietary system that sounds like.

Joe Shelerud  27:14 

Yep, yep. So again, like anything else with the business, we’ve gone through multiple iterations. So our first iteration was not like this fully built out software solution, it was all Excel based. And we taught ourselves VBA and macros in the background. Quickly started breaking workbooks. And so I had to scale up. So now we’re fully hosted system, MySQL Python based primarily, we have a lot of machine learning algorithms set up to try to optimize or predict future conversion rates or different items where we can switch bids up. We’ve got campaign funnel structures, which are constantly filtering down keywords, product targets. So from our perspective, like, what’s been nice as founders is both Matt and I can get pretty technical. And so for development team, we can specify pretty specifically what we’re looking for, where I know a lot of others have kind of struggled on that too, just because it’s a different way of thinking once you get into the software side, and feel like that’s really helped us out, especially as the world is transitioned to more and more data, like when I started in Amazon, it was infinitely like easier than what it is now, just because there’s so many more tools out there. So I think just our DNA, being kind of like Tech Data, software first, has really helped us to be able to pull out the insights and the items that we need to help feed into the education that we’re putting out or how we optimize accounts for our clients.

Jeremy Weisz  28:46 

I think, Joe, it’s a unique perspective and thought process on building a company because not everyone is going to want to build the technology at all. And so I’d love to hear the evolution of your hiring, so it’s you and Matt, who are the next people that you decide to bring on what positions?

Joe Shelerud  29:08 

Yeah, I mean, so the major initial hires that we had, were actually on the development side in the early stages. And then I had one other person, actually two of the people who came over from my Amazon selling account to start helping us out on the advertising side. And so that’s grown into like full-time positions on the advertising side. But it was awesome, helping people with the seller experience from the start. And then also the development side. And so our first hires were not account managers like to work with clients. It was Matt and I working with clients. It was Matt and I starting to develop and working on the software, because we can see what the clients were looking for. Okay, here’s what we want. We’re getting really annoyed with having to pull all these Excel reports all the time, like hey, can we develop this integration with the API so can get these reports all the time. And hey, we’re getting really annoyed that we’re having to push all these bid updates every day, can we build that out and things just kept building in there. So really, it was the developer side, it was bringing up over a couple of people from my other team on the seller side. And then at that point, it was a couple of years down the road, that we hired our first account manager here in Duluth, Minnesota. And since that point, we’ve taken kind of a unique approach where we just hire locally, we’re definitely going against the grain where those initial folks on our team are working remotely, but everybody else who is new is actually in the area in-person in the office. So definitely taken a counter approach to where many people are going with remote work right now.

Jeremy Weisz  30:53 

So what made you decide to do that?

Joe Shelerud  30:56 

So the key thing is, we went through a couple of solid tests through the COVID, period. And I guess the initial test that we had is initially we were a remote company, especially as my family was traveling. And Matt was working here and also traveling. Matt and I would get together, say, like once a month, and we would sit down for that day in-person. And the breakthroughs that we would have in that single day just completely blew away the rest of the month. And it was really eye-opening. And I don’t know what it was other than just being in-person that whole time and giving yourself enough time to really like reach those next steps. Maybe that’s what it was. But it was at that point where I was personally really hesitant. I love the remote side. But we ended up working at kind of like a it was Regis it’s kind of like a we work spot here. I was just on Arizona. Yeah, that’s great. Sure, yep. And we rented our first office, and it was this 10 by 10 office where Matt and I were, we’re sitting in it every day together. And that’s where the business really started to take off as once we were in-person. And what we found is that just trying to develop the culture. And we have to move really quickly in the digital advertising agency, because it’s constantly changing. And trying to do that remotely, or training new people remotely, it was so much more difficult than everybody being in person and you overhear different conversations, you can just shout across the room to somebody else. The interaction and the collaboration that you get in person just seems to be so much more solid and meaningful. There’s definite cons to it, including, you know, all the janitorial work and things that I get to do on the side every once in a while in the office. But at the same time, like there’s so many major pros that we’ve seen the culture, the training in the been able to respond quickly. Those are all major pieces that we’ve seen, which has driven us to kind of go against the grain there.

Jeremy Weisz  33:09 

I know being an engineer, you’re a systems person, I love to hear when you onboard, a hire. What does it look like from a training perspective?

Joe Shelerud  33:18 

Sure, yeah. And when we onboard a hire, and this took me a little while to get to just being an engineer, I love black and white things. And culture is always so fuzzy. So I remember being in culture training and like previous jobs, and it’s like, okay, what does this all mean? Like, just give me the numbers and the facts. And I’ll go with it from there, because I’m an engineer. Like, so before, even the onboard the NPs, like, skills are awesome. But I can teach skills, I have a much harder time teaching in a way of approaching things, or the culture that somebody brings a perspective that drive. I can’t teach somebody who wants to constantly trying to be seeking to figure new things out or pushing themselves. And so the first thing that we really do is focus on those right aspects that we feel like is going to lead to a long-term success. And then we know we can build on the skills. And so when they get in the office, like we have a very structured training system. So from a system standpoint, like it’s a list of I don’t know, it’s like 90 somethings we actually pared this down quite a bit because it got really crazy. But it’s 90 somethings that we need to go through with them. We assign every new person to mentor and with our collaborative culture one key thing we reallyeye-openingis get them as much experience as we can early on. Because without that hands-on experience, it’s really tough to tie these concepts together. So our perspective is jump in, let’s get going. And as you work through things, you’re gonna get up to speed so much quicker than sitting in a training room for six months, and then trying to come out once we decide that we’ve reached that, that elite bar, and then start actually going through it. So we jump in really early, obviously, with major oversight. And we have our mentors and our managers and Matt and I that are in different parts of the training. But our key perspective was like, let’s have the structure. But at the same time, let’s get ways that they can get their hands dirty really quickly. And that’s going to really help to connect the dots for all these different pieces where if you’re just sitting in a classroom environment, it’s going to be much harder to try to tie everything together.

Jeremy Weisz  35:45 

Yeah, Joe, how do you from a hiring perspective, how do you hire for the approach you want and drive? What do you build into that hiring process?

Joe Shelerud  35:56 

Yeah, I mean, so one unique thing is that most of our hires have been directly recommended from people within our organization. And so I mean, it’s a good thing, one, that people would feel confident to recommend our organization to their friends. But to it, people who are here know what it’s going to take to succeed. And we have a very hot, fast-moving work culture, we have a very transparent and open work culture, and some people will thrive in that others will not. And so that’s the initial stage, or the initial step is reaching out to our network here, and seeing who’s out there that’s looking for a role change that we feel like would be a good fit. And so if we get that recommendation, internally, we’re already feeling a lot better, really good about where we’re sitting from the start. And then the key items is just really, we do a lot of behavioral interview type questions. And this is pretty standard, but we really try to tune them towards our work style. So from the engineering standpoint, like Matt and I can be pretty blunt with each other. And we feel like it just kind of cuts to the core of the issue right away. Sometimes we have to be careful too, because there’s these emotion things that tie into it. And so, like, we try to dig into like, okay, how well can people take feedback, they give me instances where you’re truly data-driven, give me instances where you took that extra step when you didn’t have to give me instances where you supported the team where you weren’t expected to. These are all items that we’re looking for, and that we need for our culture to thrive. And so we really try to dig deep into that. And if we’re not, some are always a slam dunk, where it’s like, okay, I know, these are definite, and they’re good. But there’s others that are a lot more of a question. So then we’ll just sit there. And we’ll just focus on those areas until we feel like we have a solid understanding on all right, in taking feedback, or in that drive or in that collaboration. We’ll dig deep until we feel like we have an understanding and sometimes explicitly ask our state and the interviewer to like, here’s my key concern, my question, do you have other examples for it? So that it’s digging deep, but then knowing where our values are to try to dig deep into each of those?

Jeremy Weisz  38:24 

Yeah, thanks for that. I love that. The behavioral interview questions is really helpful. You mentioned when you’re onboarding someone, you may have 90 items, or whatever it is, I’d love to hear what your tech stack looks like, internally, from an agency standpoint, what are you using from project management and other tools internally?

Joe Shelerud  38:44 

Sure, yeah. So we use like an e-learning system. We’re within the Zoho platform and looking at a lot of these, they’re all pretty similar. So we’re using that for a while, we found that it got quickly outdated. And so we actually took a step back. And so for a training program, it’s not this complex technical training program whatsoever. It’s a list of major topics. And then if we have resources put together, here’s where it’s at. But if not, you’re sitting down and you’re talking with somebody about it. And they’re explaining with real-life examples, hopefully, what they’re doing today on how these tie in. So from a tech perspective, it’s probably going to be the least impressive side of our business. But it’s the structure that goes into it. And then it’s that personal connection. We can have these awesome training modules for everything, but some people really resonate with them, people like me do not and I tend to zone out for a lot of those. And so what we find is more if we can sit down and it takes a lot more person time. But we feel like that in-person time helps to scale long term versus giving them all the e-learning but and not having the concepts click. And so, yeah, it’s kind of a structured set of topics. If we have resources available, we’ll point them to those. But a lot of it is that in-person time. And then we always like right now we’ve hired, it’s awesome when you can hire in at least pairs. And then you have two people at the exact same point in the training process, too. And so there are a resource for each other, because somebody might have grasped a topic the other person didn’t. So we’ve had a lot of success with that, too.

Jeremy Weisz  40:27 

Do you still use internal communication tools like Slack, even though it’s in person? Or what do you use for that? For those things?

Joe Shelerud  40:34 

Yeah. So we were on Slack, we switched to Teams, just because we’re very Microsoft-based, pretty much same thing. There’s pros and cons for each. So we use that quite a bit for internal communications. And so being in the office, you have to respect that there’s times where people need to just put their heads down and crank through things. And not everything needs to be walking up to their desk and just starting to talk about it. So Teams or Slack is great for kicking over those items here to share with the Team, just an FYI, but I don’t want to interrupt you. So we use that for all internal communications and great tool, great spot for it. Even though we’re sitting right next to each other, there’s many times where I don’t feel the need to turn to the side and interrupt somebody. If it’s just a quick update, or things that aren’t immediate.

Jeremy Weisz  41:25 

I love to highlight exactly what you do at Ad Advance. And anyone can check out, you know, obviously, the websites You had someone in the fitness space? And what did you do with them?

Joe Shelerud  41:39 

Yeah, um, yeah, so we got a couple of fun, like client examples. So one, I think I like this one, so much, just because he kind of reminded myself of me and my early seller days, too. So we were connected on Facebook, and he has fallen along with the content that we’re putting on. And at the time, he was working full-time, his wife was working full-time, and he was doing Amazon as a side gig, just what I was doing too. And, for him, what we really focused on is there’s two ad, two major ad groups within Amazon advertising. So they’re sponsored ads. And these primarily all show up on Amazon, there’s a couple of nuances, I won’t get into those. But just think of the ads on Amazon to help you sell your products. And so this is where Amazon advertising started. And so with sponsored ads, what we can do is we can make sure if somebody types in a search term. So let’s take like running clothes, for instance, you know, somebody types in running hat, we can make sure that your product shows up on top and gets more exposure by running this ad, the sponsored ad. So if you’re on Amazon, you’ll see all the sponsored ads popping up to the side. And so what we did with him is we worked to really scale his brand, with his fitness equipment throughout these ads. And so whether it was targeting certain keywords or search terms, or targeting some of his competitors, you can actually put ads on your competitors product detail pages. And if your products are better than your competitors, like his was, you can tend to start to draw more sales that way. And so through the advertising in all the efforts that he had, and you know, I’ll just emphasize this, like we manage one small part of people’s accounts. But we were able to help him scale to the point where he was able to quit his job. And then eventually, his wife was also able to quit her job too. And so it was so cool and fulfilling to see that we were just even a small part of that. When, you know, you can look at this from a business standpoint, you can look at the dollars and the figures and everything’s but you know, this is people’s lives and their hard work that goes into it. And so that’s really like some of the really fun, cool experiences when you can see that direct impact that what you have that cascades to others. That’s really fulfilling PSR that was a fun one where he was able to scale his business. Our ads were a small part of that that helped him build that up to where he and his wife could quit their jobs.

Jeremy Weisz  44:21 

For you what is an ideal client look like?

Joe Shelerud  44:26 

Yeah, yeah. So it’s shifted over the years. So initially, we were really focused and only focused on people selling on Amazon. So there were the sponsored ads. And really, the only way to use them were people selling on Amazon. But recently, Amazon’s launched this other product called Amazon. Its Amazon DSP. And it’s Amazon display ad. So for anybody advertising on Google, it’s like the Google equivalent of display ads just on Amazon. And some really powerful things is that if you look at advertising data, Google is looking at your search behavior, and they’re trying to tie that into what you’re going to buy. If you look at Facebook, they’re trying to take your social behavior and turn that into what you’re potentially interested in, they’re gonna buy. For Amazon, what’s really cool is that, it’s actually what you’re buying. And so you can get these very targeted audiences who are going to be very interested in your ads. And so one funny instance that we’ve had is, we’ve been able to use Amazon’s advertising and these ads show up off-site. So if you’ve ever been on like,, or any other sites, and you see Amazon’s listings that kind of follow you around, those are Amazon ads. But we’re able to advertise for companies that are not on Amazon. So one instance is we’re advertising for this nationally known insurance company. And we had to advertise for individual agents in different geo-locations. And so at one point, we had to upload 30,000 different creatives for these different ads. So kind of how the ads show up into the system. And we’re able to do this through our software. So while it took some time to develop it, it’s not as big of a deal for us because we have the software to do it. But once we uploaded these 30,000 credos, Amazon reached out and they said, hey, actually, you just crashed our system. We’ve never experienced this amount of creative uploads. And we had to work through it with them for a day or two, they were able to work it out, and we’re constantly pushing the bounds of their system. But what’s so fun about this is with insurance agency from like a cost-per-acquisition standpoint, we’re hitting one of the lowest marks that they have outside of any channel. And the key way we’re able to do that is just from the audience targeting that we’re able to get on Amazon. And we’re just able to get deeper to with our technology where we can get much more targeted and fine-tuned to the people that we’re showing these ads to, and then also where they’re shown. So fun instance. So just so you know, if you’re listening to this Amazon advertising is not just for Amazon sellers, if you are a digital advertising spender. If you’re spending on Google or meta, you should definitely consider Amazon too just because they have a lot of awesome targeting options. And then they also have some really unique supply sources for your ads.

Jeremy Weisz  47:27 

And then, people are watching the video, there is obviously you could be listening the audio, but there’s a video here we’re on and then we’re on the Amazon DSP page. Is there anything we should point out here for people to know?

Joe Shelerud  47:43 

I think the key thing like so we talked about the audiences. The other cool piece is like, Amazon has brought in all these other companies to help build on where you can show ads. So whether it’s prime video on Thursday night football is huge. So Amazon just purchased the rights to show Thursday night football, through Amazon’s DSP, you can now show your advertisements on Thursday night football. They own Twitch, so the big video streaming service. They bought IMDB. So IMDb TV, which was rebranded to FreeV, if you’ve heard of FreeV before. So there’s a ton of different sources where you can also show ads on Amazon, using Amazon’s platform so not on Amazon but using throughout their other companies. So lots of cool ways to utilize the platform. And I think a lot of people just don’t understand that you can advertise with Amazon ads, even though you’re not an Amazon seller. I think once more people determine that they’re going to take full advantage of the platform.

Jeremy Weisz  48:46 

I love it. Joe, first of all, thank you. I’m gonna be the first one to thank you. I want everyone can check out to learn more, check out more episodes the podcast and thanks everyone for listening. Thanks, Joe.

Joe Shelerud  49:03 

Thank you, Jeremy. This is awesome.