Startup Milwaukee has partnered with Cognition for 5 Questions, a series that highlights entrepreneurs, investors, and leaders committed to advancing Milwaukee’s startup ecosystem. This edition features Jordon Meyer, founder and president of Granular, a digital marketing agency that specializes in pay-per-click ads. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
In the name of full disclosure, you and I go back about 15 years. You were even the first to tell me about Twitter back in the day! I always knew you were a tech guy but how did you get into marketing with Granular?
I’ve always been passionate about the creative side of marketing, and in my first job out of college I was doing email and website work while sitting by the digital marketing team. I really liked how they had to figure out a way to encourage people to take the next step. I decided to focus on digital marketing after that, and then I honed in on paid search. I was better at it and it really scratched that itch of being an advertiser without necessarily being at a creative agency. Eventually, I moved to the Twin Cities to run paid search for Best Buy and then I worked in the higher education space, but at the same time I was doing side work for companies back here. I literally sold all of my nights and weekends consulting until I was forced to tell clients I had no more time. That’s when one of them told me they’d love the opportunity to invest in a startup agency. I had been thinking about doing the side-hustle full-time anyway, so in November 2014 I formed Granular and moved back to Milwaukee the next month to start operating it.
What a great way to have found your niche! What do you think makes paid search such a good fit for you?
Paid search has more of an art and a science to it. The science part is the basic math where you figure out how to get more money out of an ad than you put in. The art is the extra you can squeeze out to take it from good to great. It’s fun because you can be a data nerd and look at analytics all day, which the team and I are really good at and enjoy, but on the flip side you get to use the other part of your brain and come up with creative ways to advertise to consumers. You also have to understand people and how they interact with the internet to know why they’ll be enticed. And by now, it also comes down to experience. I’ve literally seen hundreds of accounts so I know what a click should cost, what a conversion rate should be, what a good ad is, and it’s all top-of-mind so I can quickly identify improvements without having to test things.
Do you think it’s a good thing that Facebook and Google AdWords now make it so easy for a person to create ads on their own?
Yeah, because the economics may not work for a startup to pay for both the ads and our services to manage them. Businesses with small budgets should definitely test the waters on their own and they might get some positive results. What’s cool about Facebook is it’s not intimidating to boost a post and see engagement and number of clicks right away. That encourages people, which bleeds into [Google] AdWords. The problem is AdWords is a lot trickier than Facebook so we’ve seen a lot of wasted money there. Many try to do it on their own and can get by, but I equate it to flying a plane. They can push the throttle forward to start moving the plane and steer it so it stays on the runway, but they can’t take off. They don’t understand what speed they need to be at, what pitch the ailerons should be, or what to do inside the cockpit to actually get off the ground. They’re really just driving around the runway, which looks like piloting but they’re not really flying. That’s where we come in. We know where the hundreds of switches in the cockpit are and what each one does, and it makes a lot of difference.
That analogy really speaks to your expertise! Aside from your skills, what else benefits your business?
I started an agency because of my passion to do good work, so we really just try to be friendly with all other competitors. It’s worked out well to be able to collaborate and share advice without being petty or fighting over clients. We had a competitor once where one of us hired an employee from the other, and that could have created a bitter rivalry where we wouldn’t have wanted to talk to each other, but we went on to form a beneficial partnership. We just got together as two leaders and had the vision to see that that little speed bump was not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. There are so many small businesses that need our help that I don’t see the point in setting up walls between ourselves and others or having any weird hostility. So I would say that partnerships and building strong community relationships in Milwaukee have really helped us grow.
Speaking of Milwaukee, after having ran paid search for the likes of Best Buy in the Twin Cities, why start Granular here?
Ten-thousand Lakes is no match for the Great Lake! Milwaukee always felt like home and logistically it‘s way better than the Twin Cities in the middle of nowhere. A lot of young, smart people are putting thankless time and energy into the startup scene lately, too. So many businesses in Milwaukee have clients coast-to-coast in the biggest cities in the nation, yet those here in town don’t even realize talent is right here in their backyard. It drives me crazy when I see large and medium-sized companies farming out their paid search, SEO [Search Engine Optimization], or web design to out-of-state providers. We’ve even seen local political campaigns run by people in places like Florida! I wish they knew they don’t have to sacrifice talent to support local businesses. And I’m not just talking about Granular, it would be great if every agency in Milwaukee could get a piece of that pie.
Asha Dewan is the owner of Cognition, a writing agency located in Milwaukee, WI. Cognition specializes in creating digital content to help businesses save time and bandwidth while maintaining visibility.