John Machacek, Chief Innovation Officer for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation, has worked with countless startups throughout our community over the 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 Rick Berg, CEO of AdShark Marketing.
01 Will you please tell us your AdShark Marketing elevator pitch?
We help businesses grow faster by driving new customers through performance-driven marketing. Our number one core value is a commitment to client success, which reflects our philosophy of putting our clients’ needs before our own and being a trusted partner that helps drive success. Ultimately, our goal is to provide an irreplaceable client experience through building strong relationships and delivering results.
02 What would you say is your sweet spot or differentiator?
Our true differentiator is the relationships we have with our clients. We have an incredible team of “Sharks” that will bend over backwards to deliver a great client experience. In my experience, that’s incredibly rare in the marketing world and we’re always looking for ways to improve upon it.
AdShark was born from a focus on digital marketing and has remained true to that since its inception. By specializing in performance marketing, we maintain and grow our expertise in an ever-evolving medium. Many companies try to diversify too broadly but end up diluting their core competencies. We, however, focus exclusively on areas where we can kick ass.
Our sweet spot would be companies looking to grow that have had at least some established success that we can build upon. Our services include digital marketing, like Google Ads, Facebook ads, etc., SEO, website design and development, and, more recently, email marketing. In 2013, we were proud to become the first Google Partner in North Dakota. Last year, we achieved another milestone by becoming, to the best of my knowledge, the only Premier Google Partner in the state. This designation is reserved for only the top 3% of Google Partners in the United States.
03 With your work in this industry over the past decade, what would you say is some low-hanging fruit for companies or perhaps your most common solutions for them?
There’s so much to consider when trying to tackle the digital landscape, which can be overwhelming for some. The simplest way for me to answer that is probably by highlighting some of the common challenges we see within our key focus areas:
Social Media Pages
- Be authentic. Brands that do it best aren’t afraid to show that they’re human.
- Avoid the constant sales pitch; instead, you should aim to entertain, inspire, or educate. No one cares about your business but they might care if you can provide value to them upfront.
- Build pages around how people search. Google aims to provide results that best match someone’s search query. If you create pages around search behavior, you’ll find your site ranking higher. For example, if you provide multiple different products or services, you should create specific pages for each containing information that answers all the common questions.
- Prioritize simplicity and intuitiveness. Minimize the number of clicks needed and avoid industry jargon. If visitors don’t immediately understand who you are and what you do, they’ll move on.
- Optimize user experience for all devices, but prioritize mobile. Mobile makes up 58% of internet traffic so odds are most of your traffic is also mobile.
- Set up analytics and goal tracking. By tracking key onsite actions, you can start to understand where those visitors come from and how to drive more. And by onsite actions, I mean things like lead forms, phone calls, purchases, etc.
- Avoid doing it yourself. Google makes it incredibly easy to waste money. So, as long as your budget allows for it, I’d recommend hiring someone who knows what they’re doing.
Social Media (Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc.)
- Make ads that are interesting and resemble the native content on each platform. The internet is a battleground for people’s attention and the best way to capture it is to create content that people actually want to see.
04 From knowing your business, I was aware of how your services helped drive eCommerce sales as well as customer lead generation, but I guess I was less familiar that you did web design as well. Have you always done that service, in addition to those other things that help clients drive sales?
Our first client was an eCommerce company that hired us to manage Google Ads, so search marketing is where we “learned to swim,” so to speak. Soon after that, we expanded into SEO and then Facebook marketing, which was quickly growing and both inexpensive and effective. A year later, we ventured into web design out of necessity, because if a website wasn’t good, it didn’t matter how much traffic we sent. Our experience in digital marketing and SEO was a big advantage in building websites because we understood how to appeal to both search engines and people.
Beginning our journey in eCommerce was a great experience, as it allowed us to precisely track the revenue we generated for a client, down to the last cent. Additionally, you’re competing against brands nationwide so every little detail matters. With our help, our first client grew from $2 million in online sales to $26 million, and they remain with us today. So a big thanks and shoutout to Heat Transfer Warehouse—we love ya! Witnessing that type of impact and growth is incredibly rewarding.
While we remain heavily involved in the eCommerce space, nowadays, about 60% of our clients fall into the category known as “lead gen”. The difference between the two is the objective. Rather than aiming to drive online purchases, the goal of lead gen is to generate lead forms or phone calls. From our perspective, the two aren’t that different, except instead of selling a product we’re typically selling a service.
05 I recall that when you started working on AdShark, you were an employee of Myriad Mobile, now called Bushel, doing AdShark as a side gig. Will you please tell me more about that experience, including when you decided to go full-time with your business?
I joined Myriad Mobile in January 2013 as their sole salesperson. After meeting the two founders, Jake Joraanstad and Ryan Raguse, who were both 23, I was excited because they were young and it was the first time I thought, “These guys think like me.”
A few months into my role, I learned they were running Google campaigns, and they agreed to let me take it over. Over the next two weeks, I taught myself everything I could about Google Ads. After using what I learned to restructure the campaigns, we saw immediate success in generating leads from all over. Jake, the CEO, began sharing our success story with other business owners, which led to the signing of my first client in August of that year.
Around the same time, I conducted a Google search to see if there were any other digital marketing companies in Fargo. The only one I found was Fargo Web Strategy, run by Sean Maki, a senior engineering student at NDSU. I reached out to him, and after we met, he joined as a co-founder just a few days later.
I continued to balance my full-time role at Myriad with growing AdShark for the next six months until Jake finally pushed me to take the leap and focus on AdShark full-time. AdShark most likely would not have happened without those guys. They were supportive of me launching the company while working there, gave Sean and me free office space, and referred multiple clients to us. I’m grateful for their support and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship during that time, and we remain good friends today.
06 How do you keep up with all the changes in Google, Facebook, etc. algorithms and processes?
Our industry is continually changing so staying on top of industry trends and trends in consumer behavior is crucial. We strive to be early adopters of new technologies and stay informed through industry blogs, thought leaders, podcasts, newsletters, and online conferences.
We regularly connect with our Google and Facebook partner reps, who keep us informed about new strategies and provide us access to test out new Beta features. When new features arrive, we quickly test them, and if they work well, we roll them out to other clients. We’re fortunate to have an incredible team of hungry “Sharks” who share in our desire to be the best.
07 Speaking of hiring great people, something I really think of now for AdShark is your company culture. It’s very evident in your social media that happiness is one of the core values listed on your website. What can you tell me about your views on company culture at AdShark?
The coolest thing about our culture, and I’m somewhat stealing this from a recent Tom Brady interview here, is that we have a culture of culture creators. What I mean by that is, our wonderful culture is driven entirely by our team members, and not necessarily Sean and me. They’ve taken it upon themselves to create the workplace culture they wanted. We’re a close-knit team that supports one another, cares deeply about our clients, and, like me, loves to have fun. As I mentioned, we’ve been fortunate to hire a lot of great people, and I’ve found when you hire great people, all you have to do is get the hell out of their way.
The one aspect of our culture that was intentional is creating an environment where people feel comfortable being themselves. In some previous jobs, the workplaces often felt stuffy or overly corporate-y, where people acted differently out of fear of saying the wrong thing or making a bad impression. Work can be pretty draining when you can’t be authentic. I wanted AdShark to be a fun place where team members could behave at work just as they would around their friends. To foster that, I try to set an example by being laid back and am often the one who says and does the most ridiculous things. If I’m comfortable swearing and saying dumb stuff, then hopefully they’ll feel comfortable doing the same.
08 I mentioned the evidence of your culture in your social media, and I’m curious about those social strategies around your culture. I’ll speculate here, but is it for future talent attraction or to showcase the personality and human side of your company, which can be important for small businesses or maybe it’s just a good creative outlet for your employees?
Yeah, I would say, “all of the above.” Many companies make the mistake of only sharing content they want their audience to see. Sure, we do some of that as well, but ultimately, we try to put out content we feel people want to see. We aim to both entertain and highlight the things that make our workplace or community a fun place to be.
And you’re right on the other points as well. This is embarrassing to admit, but about six years into the business, it finally clicked for me that the most important thing for any organization is to hire great people. Once I fully realized that seemingly obvious concept, we shifted our focus toward A.) creating a workplace our team loved, and B.) making sure people knew about it. It came at a great time too because shortly after that we hired Jack Yakowicz as our first business development team member, now our director of operations, and he was able to build upon our foundation and skillfully helped us execute that plan.
One of my major goals was to win the YPN Chamber Choice award for best place to work. In 2021 and 2022 we were finalists for that award but earlier in 2023 I’m happy to say we finally won. Some may not see that as that big of a deal but to me it really meant a lot. It also helped that we’ve had low turnover, nearly 95% of our staff was under 40, all of our managers under 30, and nearly 40% of staff started out as interns.
09 If you could go back in time to Rick from several years ago, what hindsight advice would you give yourself?
Focus on hiring great people. If I could only be good at one thing, it’d be that and it would’ve been nice to realize it sooner. Of course, though, you can’t just go out and get the best people, you also have to create a place that those people want to be. Then once you get them you have to do whatever it takes to keep them.
10 Lastly, what can we do as a community to help you and AdShark Marketing succeed?
A few things come to mind.
- Support local businesses because about 80% of those we work with are local companies and in order for a community to thrive, the area businesses need to also thrive.
- .We are always on the lookout for talented smart people, so if you know any rockstars who may be interested, let us know.
- If any readers are high school or college students, I encourage you to think about digital marketing or content creation as a potential career option. Especially anyone that has an interest in or a knack for video content. Content creation as a career may seem unrealistic but I suspect that field will only continue to grow and thrive. Whether you like it or not, that age of AI is on the horizon and I think content creation will be one area that has a much longer lifespan.
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.