John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the past nine years. He knows their ups, and their downs, but most of all, he knows the questions to ask them. Here are John Machacek’s 10 questions for Co-Founder/CEO of generAI Jimmy Slagle.
1. Will you please tell us your generAI elevator pitch?
We are building a model that uses AI to generate realistic and effective video ad content.
2. Can you please walk me through how that actually works?
Of course! I’ll keep it as simple as possible: you type in a description of your product or service and add the link to your website, and an original video would be generated in minutes. Let’s say you’re Dot’s Pretzels and you want a video ad for Facebook. You would come to our website, type in the description of the pretzels, link the website and you would have a video ad that looks so good you could not tell if it was created by humans or AI.
3. With that, what is the problem you are solving?
TikTok really changed the marketing landscape. UGC, aka user-generated content, such as TikTok-style videos, are so popular and brands need a lot of content. The average brand purchases or creates 750 UGC videos every year. It’s really expensive to outsource that but it’s even harder to create it all in-house. So, we created a tool that allows brands to never have to worry about managing influencers, shooting videos, editing, or any of that. It’s going to be revolutionary for startups and small businesses.
4. I have been hearing more about the anticipated growth of AI. What kind of ways or AI tools are relevant to a small business?
This is something that really gets me excited. AI is not here to take away jobs. It’s here to make everyone’s job more efficient. If you’re a small business, these are some tools that you should definitely be aware of!
- seo.ai – Nothing is more important for local businesses than SEO, but SEO is really expensive. This is a great tool for you to automate a lot of the work.
- jasper.ai – If you ever experience writer’s block, whether it be on email, advertising headlines, website copy or anything else, jasper.ai is a great tool to use.
- othersideai.com – This is more on the email or blog writing side of things, but this platform actually learns specifically how you write based on your emails and then auto-suggests what you should say next. This is a new level of hyper-personalization.
- photoroom.com/backgrounds – If you have physical products, this allows you to generate professional product images instantly and edit what sort of background you want. This could save you thousands of dollars on photography.
- durable.co/ai-website-builder – This tool allows you to build a website in 30 seconds. Is it great? No, but a lot of local companies just need some sort of website—and this is the fastest and cheapest way to do it.
- beautiful.ai – If you ever need a presentation and don’t want to use a standard template from Google, let AI generate the presentation design for you!
Those are just some of my favorites – many more cool ones to come.
5. You started your first business in college and then you’ve had some pivots and rebrands to where you are now. How did you get from there to here, and what have you learned?
I started Advest Marketing when I was 19 years old with my best friend, and we learned so much from that opportunity. But where we really struggled is we didn’t clearly have a unique advantage—we were competing with large and established agencies, offering very similar services. It is just really hard to grow when you don’t stand out. In 2019, I got my hands on TikTok for the first time and knew this was going to be the next big social media platform.
Everything about it was incredibly addicting and entertaining. It unlocked a new level of viralness that brands would be interested in. At the time, TikTok was a “young person” platform, and so we knew that was going to be our unique advantage. We became a TikTok marketing agency and really started to grow and work with a lot of cool brands. But, we quickly realized our capacity was hitting its max. After a lot of brainstorming, we realized that our services could be even better if we just found creators to make this content for brands, instead of us trying to. We raised a pre-seed round off that idea, and we hired a CTO who has a lot of experience with AI. He first showed us how powerful AI is becoming, and explained to us that soon, UGC content is going to be created using AI. No more shooting, editing, revisions and all that. My favorite thing about our journey is our mission has really stayed the same. We have always been obsessed with helping brands get really cool and effective video content. The means by which we create the content has been the only thing that has changed.
Looking back, the biggest thing I learned is that pivoting is entrepreneurship. You have to continue to iterate until you truly find something that works. Rarely is it your first, or even second, try
6. With your marketing experience, especially in the world of TikTok, what are some misconceptions businesses may have about using this as a marketing tool?
For the longest time, like until this summer, I strongly advocated that local brands should not use TikTok. I thought it was a waste of time because if they went viral, people from all over the world would watch their videos but nothing would change the bottom line. It would be a cool story to tell friends, but that’s it. Now, I think it’s more important than SEO.
40% of Gen Z prefer to use TikTok or Instagram as their search tool instead of Google. For example, people are now going to TikTok to search “Best restaurants in Fargo” or “Best chiropractors in Fargo”. That means if you want to be relevant over the next 3-5 years, focus your efforts on what I call your “TikTok SEO”. This is where TikTok will be so powerful for local businesses.
7. In being connected with you, I can see that with your own personal marketing and relationship building, you’ve been very active on LinkedIn. What’s your strategy or process when using platforms like this?
A lot of my relative success has stemmed from LinkedIn. I owe that platform a lot. I would say 75% of our business comes from people on LinkedIn. I met two of our three investors because of LinkedIn and have formed many friendships, mentor relationships and connections that are impossible to find locally. I am a big Gary Vee fan, and my strategy to grow on those platforms really comes down to this: give away all your secrets with no expectation of anything in return. Just look to help people. The more you help people, the more they will start to trust you and want to use your services. And, of course, you have to show up daily. I post almost daily on LinkedIn and have for about two years. Even if you don’t see results right away, there are a lot of followers that linger in the background. Then, out of the blue, they will reach out to you and want to buy or help you in some way. The other thing to note—you have to be smart about where your audience is. For example, since we pivoted to focus more on AI, I have pivoted to focus more on Twitter where a lot of tech conversations happen. Make sure you are on the platform where your target audience is.
8. As a startup relatively new to raising funds, what has the process of fundraising taught you, and is likely still teaching you?
I cannot express this enough, but you need a network of champions to raise money. Who you know is the most important thing that we have learned. Warm intros to investors make the process go 10x easier and faster. There is a saying, “it’s not what you know, but it’s who you know.” I would disagree. You need to be an expert in your space AND you need to have an amazing network of friends.
Also—read the books “Venture Deals” by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson and “Fundraising” by Ryan Breslow. I wish I would have read these much sooner.
9. If you could go back in time to Jimmy from several years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?
I would say stop following the path that everyone else is doing. It’s crazy how many of our decisions are dictated by the fear of judgment from others. To be an entrepreneur, you have to embrace being different. Being different should be your unique advantage! Staying true to yourself is when you really start to find success. Plus, your startup or business just becomes a lot more enjoyable.
10. What can we do as a community to help generAI succeed?
We are currently raising our seed round, so if there’s anyone you know in the investing space, we would love to get connected! We are also always looking for talented software developers. Hiring tech talent locally is really difficult. It takes a community to find the best talent available. So please, let them know about us and have them reach out to me personally!
John Machacek has been helping local startups with the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation since prior to his position with the GFMEDC. Before joining the team, Machacek was the VP of Finance & Operations at United Way of Cass-Clay and a business banker at U.S. Bank.