“I SHOW UP every day for the people. Our TEAM. The insanely intelligent and high-energy group of ne’er-do-wells whose talent and creativity is manifested through the outsized outcomes they produce for our clients.” –Isaac Rudansky.
On this week’s episode of the Stride 2 Freedom podcast, I spoke with Isaac Rudansky, artist, entrepreneur, teacher, and founder of AdVenture Media Group. Isaac seemingly does it all. I was inspired to sit down with Isaac to not only learn about AdVenture Media Group and its leadership in paid search marketing but also to learn what makes Isaac tick. AdVenture Media Group helps its clients execute their paid search marketing campaigns. They measure their impact on ROI — are they driving leads and generating revenue for their clients. “It all starts with the client having a great service or product to sell,” says Rudansky. “We can’t turn a terrible product with a half-baked website into a revenue-generating machine. We take on clients that are on the path to lead the category in their market.” Now, layer on a strategy funnel to get people to the site and convert to revenue, and the beginning of a machine is born!
For Isaac, he found his path to paid search marketing to solve his own need as an artist who wanted to sell his work. What emerged was NOT the “artist taking the Internet by storm,” but rather an insight from Isaac that many businesses struggle to figure out how to drive cost-effective traffic to their offering. But of course, Isaac didn’t stop there. He created a course on Udemy which is one of the most popular paid search marketing courses today. More than anything else, Isaac brings about an immense level of passion and drive to build long-lasting relationships with clients that you truly will not get just anywhere. Be sure to listen!
Who should I interview next? Please let me know by clicking here.
In this Freedom Speaker Series episode with Isaac, you will learn:
- The importance of pay per click search marketing in a customer acquisition strategy
- How to best work with search marketing agencies
- Building a culture of empowerment
We are fortunate to have Isaac available to spend time with us on this edition of Stride 2 Freedom. If there is a speaker you’d like us to interview, click here and let us know. Stay well. Stay safe. Stay healthy.
Show Notes and Links From Episode:
Isaac’s Current Favorite Shows:
Isaac’s Favorite Books:
Russell Benaroya: Hey, everyone. Welcome to The Stride 2 Freedom Podcast. My name is Russell Benaroya and I’m the co-founder of Stride Services – a virtual back office, bookkeeping, and accounting firm serving hundreds of clients around the United States.
This podcast is designed to help small business owners focus on growth and innovation. In other words, focus on those things that inspired you to start your business in the first place. We call it your genius zone. We do our job on this podcast when business owners feel like they have the trust and confidence to build the right team of partners around them that will help them grow. Thanks for joining. Let’s go.
Hello, everybody. Welcome to 2021. My name is Russell Benaroya and I’m the host of The Stride 2 Freedom Podcast. It has been a slightly slower start of the new year for me. I got a bit distracted with some things going on, but I am back in action and ready for executing an exciting year in The Stride 2 Freedom Podcast.
And I could not imagine a better kickoff than having the one and only Isaac Rudansky as our first guest of 2021. Hey, Isaac.
Isaac Rudansky: How are you doing, Russell? It’s an honor to be here. Happy New Year! I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of fun.
Russell Benaroya: We are. As we’ve just talked about before I started recording, I am wearing a ball cap backwards. I put on some glasses today because listen, I know this is your uniform. I want to show up in a way that you can relate to me.
Isaac Rudansky: Well, you’re a highly intelligent and often intimidating leader. It’s nice for you to deign to come down to our level so that you could be more relatable.
Russell Benaroya: Oh my gosh, you’re so kind. You totally set me up here. I am excited to spend time with you today.
What many of you may or may not know is that Isaac is really an industry icon in helping businesses execute their paid search marketing campaigns. He has not only built a thriving business around it, which is called the AdVenture Media Group, and he’s going to talk about that, but he’s also a teacher.
He helps other people acquire these skills so they can build their own businesses, or they might be a service provider that can help other businesses. His gift for giving exudes in all that he does and represents. In a world where we are all trying to get the right people to pay attention to us at the right time, Isaac and AdVenture Media Group are the people to turn to.
Let’s jump in and make the most of our time together. You’re ready to go?
Isaac Rudansky: Looking forward to it.
Russell Benaroya: Okay. Let’s start off with some pretty serious questions. What was your favorite cereal as a kid?
Isaac Rudansky: This is the trick of all good podcast hosts. You get a few bullet points before the call, “Here are the questions I’m going to ask you,” and then you just throw a total curveball and now I’m anxious.
Russell Benaroya: It’s the task man.
Isaac Rudansky: I would have to go with Cocoa Pebbles. I didn’t always get Cocoa Pebbles. It was like once a week my mother would allow us to have Cocoa Pebbles, which is interesting because I didn’t grow up with a very healthy diet. I think today the whole health craze is much more pervasive than it was when I was growing up. If not Cocoa Pebbles, just plain Cheerios. Fresh Cheerios, fresh box, fresh milk. Even today, at my age, I would rather have that than a steak.
Russell Benaroya: There’s a great bit by Seinfeld where he talks about kid’s cereal and he says something like, there’s some cereal that came out, it was like Cookies & Cream or Cookie Crisp. He’s like, “They killed it for kids.” At that point, it’s obvious breakfast is like dessert. They couldn’t even fake it.
All right. What about the most recent show that you may have binged-watched, or if you’re a little too bougie for that, maybe like the latest book you’ve read or a podcast you’ve listened to where you spent time and it made a mark?
Isaac Rudansky: I will do both. I also like asking that question because everyone’s bingeing shows but some people don’t admit it. I would go with The Queen’s Gambit, but I don’t want to because everyone’s watching The Queen’s Gambit, although The Queen’s Gambit was fantastic.
It’s quite brilliant because it’s not really about chess. It’s about chess, but when you understand the compelling story, it’s about a protagonist who is in a state of torment. And from the very first 10 minutes of the first episode, you’re hooked, not because of the chess but because you just want to see what happens to her. I thought the storytelling in The Queen’s Gambit was unbelievable.
As far as a show that I’ve binged recently that not as many people have watched is My Brilliant Friend on HBO – highly recommended. It’s about two girls growing up sort of against the backdrop of World War ll in a very poor town in Italy. It’s just awesome. It’s based on a series of four novels by Elena Ferrante. They were translated into English. Popular novels show on HBO is fantastic.
Then as far as a book goes, my favorite series– I read plenty of business books. I also like fiction. I recently reread The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Stephen King is my favorite author. I didn’t grow up with the TV, so I grew up reading Stephen King. I’m not sure which is better. Probably the TV would have been better. I grew up reading Stephen King and the Dark Tower series.
Stephen King, he’s a really famous author, like he’s on every top 10 list as far as books sold all time. He himself feels that the Dark Tower series is his crowning achievement of his professional career, but a lot of his fans or a lot of people who know Stephen King, either they’ve never heard of The Dark Tower or they certainly haven’t read it. You have It, The Shining, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, some of those famous Stephen King books.
I recently finished the fourth book of the series and it was just so fantastic. The whole series is sort of a Western, but the fourth series goes back in time to when these main characters were younger. To me, it was very interesting how he structured the story that by the time you got to the fourth book in the series you were really fascinated by the childhood of these characters.
It’s an 1,100-page novel that the whole story is the main character sitting around a campfire and the main protagonist is telling a story of his childhood. It’s just so cool and so good. That’s fiction as far as what I’ve been reading, what I’ve been watching. What about you? What have you been bingeing?
Russell Benaroya: Well, I was thinking The Queen’s Gambit. That’s probably the last one that I watched and I appreciated your explanation of it not being about chess. We were captivated. It was terrific.
Isaac Rudansky: We have a client that sells chess sets – chesshouse.com – and this has been throughout the entire industry. He said they cannot keep chess sets on the shelves. They cannot keep them stocked, which is just crazy. Who would have thought that a Netflix series about a drug-addicted young girl who is a chess prodigy, the whole country just needs to be playing chess? I thought that’s pretty cool.
Russell Benaroya: I can tell you the books that I’m reading later. I’ll put them in the show notes. The one that I’m currently reading is called Cold Mountain, which is a good fiction novel by a first-time author about some of the goings-on during the Civil War. It’s excellent.
Okay. I got a question for you, and yes, I want us to dovetail into AdVenture for sure. But you got a Master’s degree in Psychology about a year after you started AdVenture Media in 2011. That’s what I observed from your LinkedIn. It’s so awesome.
I want to know what you were thinking. I’ve always said that as an entrepreneur, I need a degree in psychology. That’s the thing I’m missing because this is so much about people. Maybe you could talk about deciding to make that investment and then dovetail into talking about starting a company.
Isaac Rudansky: I really wish that my story of deciding to get a master’s degree is more profound than it is, but I’m going to try to be as honest as possible. When I was dating my wife, who I’m married to now, I really didn’t have a job and I didn’t have any higher education. She basically said, “Listen, you’re either going to go to graduate school or this is done.”
That really was my motivation for going to graduate school, to be totally honest. It doesn’t sound very profound but that’s what it was. I enrolled, I wrote an essay. Well, it’s an interesting story really because I didn’t even have the prerequisites required to apply. I’d never heard of this, it’s a degree in I/O Psychology, industrial and organizational psychology. I wasn’t really familiar with it.
I researched it a bit. I discovered that it was an overlap between business and psychology, applying psychological principles to business. It is a little bit because there were some really good classes like motivational theory and things like that, but they were also a lot of classes that to me weren’t as relevant.
I didn’t have the prerequisites to apply to graduate school because I never went to college. I went to the homepage, they’re like, “Listen, here you need to have a bachelor’s in X, Y, or Z. You need to have X, Y, and Z statistics courses under your belt.” And I was like, “Well, I’m just going to apply anyway because it doesn’t hurt to apply.” It was like $50.
Also, I just needed to make my wife happy. I wasn’t expecting to get in, I just needed to show her that I was trying.
So I wrote an essay and I really did put a lot of work into the essay. It was a combination of chess, which is funny, sort of neuropsychological principles applied to chess just through different research. The essays posed the question, “How could it be that Garry Kasparov could beat Deep Blue, which was an IBM computer machine?” How could it possibly be? Deep Blue could compute 600,000 moves a second; Garry Kasparov maximum could compute three to four moves a second. So how could he? How do you make sense of such a thing?
My essay was an attempt in a more creative, artistic way to answer that question and pose a different way of thinking about chess, human thought, and emotion. And they accepted me. They told me that I had to take a statistics course at some point before I graduate. They let me in. They were, “Okay. You can come, but we can’t really let you in because you don’t have the statistics course.”
My wife ended up taking the statistics course for me online because I wasn’t going to let her off that easy. I was like, “Look, I’m only here for you. They’re expecting me to take a statistics course now while I’m in the graduate degree? That’s not happening. You could take it or I’m dropping out.” So she took it.
I do think it was very good for me. One, just for discipline. I had to go every night. I had to study. I had to prepare. I had to write reports. That was good. But it was after the first semester I realized, “I don’t want to go and graduate with this degree and sit as a human resources manager or even as an internal HR director, or an internal consultant at an advertiser or at a company.” That’s what graduates from this degree were doing. That was their career path. I certainly didn’t want to get a PhD and teach.
So I started AdVenture Media. There was a set of reasons I started AdVenture Media. I was an artist and I was selling my artwork – paintings. I was trying to make money right after we were married selling my artwork, which for anyone who’s ever tried to do that and isn’t currently one of the world’s most famous artists, they’ll know that it’s not a great way to try to make money.
I would tie up all my canvases above a car that I borrowed, wrapped them in bungees, I had a tent, and I would go in the summer to Montauk, Quogue, and Westhampton to these art shows. I’d pay a couple of $100 to get in, to have a booth and I would sell some artwork.
I wanted to have a website and I’m not computer illiterate or I wasn’t back then, but I certainly had no idea what making a website entailed. Just no clue. I heard an ad on the radio for something called Squarespace. In 2011-2012, Squarespace was just starting out. They’re huge now. They allowed ordinary folks to go online and make a website.
I felt like there is no way that’s possible; only engineers that work at Google know how to make websites. I sat down, 12 hours later, I had a website. It was exhilarating. It was the most exciting experience. I called my mother. I was like, “My artworks are online. There is a shopping cart to buy paintings.” I was like, “Listen, I’m going to retire now. My paintings are online. This is it for me.”
It’s a good thing I didn’t drop out of school at that point because the next question was, “Well, how do you get anyone to come to your site outside of your family?” That led me down a discovery journey into digital advertising, to marketing, to online marketing, how people get traffic to their website.
I discovered Google AdWords at the time. I learned, for the first time, that Google is actually an advertising business. I didn’t know that. They’re the largest and they even were the largest advertising company in the entire world for a lot of reasons which we could discuss, but I created a Google Ads account.
What struck me about the type of work that we do is the immediacy of it. I like advertising. People think that I do SEO. I don’t do SEO. We don’t write blog content that will help you get traffic three months later, which is good. We do create content for ourselves, but it’s not what we do for clients. I like the creativity of advertising. I like the game of advertising. I like the immediacy of advertising; coming up with messaging.
I was spending some money getting traffic to my site, but no one was buying my paintings. I decided, well, I might as well teach people how to do the advertising part even though it wasn’t successful for me. It was like a certain brazenness where I was like, “Look, I failed selling my products with this, but I’m going to teach people how to do it.”
So I made a new website teaching people how to do it. I think I got one or two clients. Then I realized the agency model would be better. People don’t want to be taught necessarily how to do it, you do it for them. Long story short, at some point, a year or two later, I was working hard, but I don’t think I took it seriously as a business or an agency until we moved into an office and we hired our first couple of employees. Then here we are.
Russell Benaroya: Now 600 clients later and 1000s of students that you’ve taught, you’ve obviously built a reputation for being an expert. What types of clients call you today and what is the problem that they’re calling you with? What is it that AdVenture media does that you believe you do uniquely? There are a lot of companies out there that help companies manage their paid search advertising.
Isaac Rudansky: Yeah, it’s a good question. At some point, I went back to teaching. I had the agency and then I started creating content that I hoped would generate interest and that was successful. I think content creation is a really interesting topic that a lot of people don’t have a fully nuanced understanding of what it takes, how to leverage it, and how to make it work. I went back to teaching, created a bunch of courses, and those courses generated leads.
The types of clients that were calling us, and that has changed over the years, as we’ve developed our skills because we stuck to it for a long enough time, we developed the luxury of being able to try to find clients and work with the clients that we want to work with. Businesses that are advertising or that need to advertise, that need to get traffic, it’s not that easy to do it profitably. It’s sort of insidious, not in an evil way but it’s not what it appears on the surface.
If you go to Google Ads, if you go to their homepage, they do a really good job marketing their advertising platform. It looks like, “Wow, look, anyone running a small business, just get traffic.” And that’s what I felt. I felt that sense of total exhilaration when I really felt that I was going to be selling a few pieces of artwork a day and I’m going to retire, but it’s not that easy. Most industries that are advertising on Google, they’re doing so extremely competitively. It’s a live auction system.
It’s no different than if you made an iPhone case and you think you’re really creative and you’re going to go sell it on eBay. Well, good luck because there are about 100,000 other people selling the same looking thing. How are you going to get traffic? It’s easy to make an eBay account, it’s easy to dream that, “Well, look, I’m just going to ship these out, I made them,” but it’s not that easy.
What I think differentiates us from some of the other agencies is a very keen awareness of profit margins, of the economics of the client’s business, and you as an accountant would appreciate this. You might come to an agency and say, “Look, I have a funny headline. We’re going to do Google, we’re going to do Facebook, we’re going to do all this stuff. We have an influencer. We have a great graphic designer.”
And I’m not downplaying; I myself, I’m a creative. I’m not a data-driven person. I’m not an economically-driven person by nature at all. I’ve probably done a relatively poor job at managing our agency over the years. We probably could be a lot bigger than I am today if I didn’t neglect so much of the economic work I needed to do. Instead, I liked to focus on the client’s work.
We focus first on economics. We help clients understand what is their actual lifetime value? How long does it take for people to purchase from their website? How could they extract more revenue from their clients? Whether it’s a service-based business, a product-based business, an e-commerce business, how could they increase the lifespan, the value? How could they get people to buy again? How could we get people to refer a product to their friends?
These things are all important not only for linear profit maximization, but it actually allows you to spend more aggressively on acquiring the customer in the first place. If you have competitors that their machines are better oiled and their products are better, their website experience is better, their community engagement is better, these businesses are not just rolling over with a higher margin and letting you come in and play with them. They’re bidding more aggressively. They’re spending more aggressively because they can.
It might be the same product. Take a pen. A lot of websites sell pens, but a few websites sell pens very effectively. If I buy one pen, I’m also going to buy ink. I’m also going to buy a converter, and I’m also going to buy a notebook. Now, that allows them to make more money, but that’s not what the essential piece is.
It allows them instead of acquiring a customer at $9, they can now acquire a customer at $13. If they can acquire a customer at $13, they’re going to try to do so. And if you’re only earning $9 on a customer, you can’t spend as much money on acquiring the customer, which means you’re not in the auctions with them. You can’t compete in the digital advertising networks.
That’s the same thing with any sort of marketing, where it’s a relatively competitive space. That’s what we try to do. We try to help businesses understand the economics; understand the allowable CPAs, the cost per acquisition, understand lifetime value. Then we figure out, based on these metrics, based on these goals, based on the KPIs the client feels are benchmarks for success, now we could more thoughtfully predict where that money might best be spent.
Russell Benaroya: How important is it that you understand the industry that you’re in, and do you have a particular industry focus? Do you have a profile of a client where you’re like, “Oh, this is the money client.”? “This is our sweet spot. This is where we show our superpower. This is who we want to attract.” A, do you have that? And B, how have you honed your model to optimize for it?
Isaac Rudansky: Those are great questions.
Russell Benaroya: Sorry, I didn’t plan that one in advance. I don’t want to throw you a curveball.
Isaac Rudansky: Once I got over the cereal I think–
Russell Benaroya: Yeah, the cereals will break the seal for sure.
Isaac Rudansky: Two questions, right?
Russell Benaroya: Yeah. Who’s your ideal client?
Isaac Rudansky: Honestly, my ideal client is any industry but the best in class in that industry. We signed a client recently that is selling baking kits for kids. And it’s for sure due to the quarantine that has helped them take off, but if you go to their website and you order a box, unless it’s a very expensive product, I always order my clients products because I want to see them. The packaging, the wrapping, everything is first class.
I want to work with you because that’s going to make my job easier, to be honest. If you’re already doing whatever it is that you’re doing but you’re doing it really well and you’re doing it better than the next guy, I want to work with you. Now we could really leverage these platforms and our skills are going to be enhanced, or our skills are going to have a canvas to paint on, so to speak.
To me, it doesn’t really matter so much the industry. The same thing: we have a client that is selling a portable tennis pitching machine. It’s best in class. It’s going to take over the tennis market. They’ve been doing it incredibly well and what we’ve been doing is working. What I mean to say is it might sound conceited that I want to work with best in class, but it’s really the opposite. It’s that I’m not good enough to do what I do unless we could leverage your skill, what you’ve done. We need to ride on the coattails of a product. No amount of advertising, no amount of economic modeling could sell a bad product or sell a mispriced product, or sell a product where a customer comes and looks at it and be like, “There’s nothing really much here for me other than getting this on Amazon or going to the next guy.”
Also, I like going from niche to niche, from vertical to vertical. We do healthcare. My day might be looking at a healthcare company in the morning, a company in Turkey that sells packaging machines that create the little foil packets for Heinz ketchup. Someone’s got to produce those things and someone’s got to make the machines that make those things. Our client makes the damn machines and we’re talking about importing steel from Germany and from Sweden, and how do we communicate the value of that? Then in the afternoon, we’re selling couches, and then tennis ball machines. I like going from industry to industry.
Russell Benaroya: It’s cool. The feeling that you want your clients to have that work with you, the feeling you want them to have is like, “Oh, man, I am so stoked AdVenture Media Group solves this problem for me.” What is the “this” and what is the feeling that you want that business owner to feel?
Isaac Rudansky: The feeling is this: there are floodgates of traffic that we’re not tapping into. They’re locked from us. AdVenture Media, I don’t know if it’s the key, but there’s certainly a cog in the machine that’s going to allow those floodgates to open and open profitably. We know our competitors are doing it. We know that our competitors are spending on Google, on Facebook, and they have influencers.
I see it, and we’re sort of floundering, or we were doing it but we’re not doing it nearly as successfully as we could be. Now I’m excited that there’s a team of smart people who get it, who understand the numbers, who understand these systems and these platforms that care, they have a degree of integrity about their work. That’s the feeling that I want our clients to have. I hope at least some of our clients have.
Russell Benaroya: Like I have the service or product that I’ve invested so much time and money in and I want to bring it to the world. The world deserves what I’m bringing but the pipe to get there is not my genius zone. That is not my highest and best use, but if I could just figure out the pipe to get exposure for what it is that I have to offer, I would be complete. This is my purpose.
You really help bridge to the realization of a purpose for an entrepreneur that is otherwise stymied because all of the noise of the marketplace can often be overwhelming when it comes to digital marketing.
Isaac Rudansky: Yeah, 100%
Russell Benaroya: My pitch for you. I read this great review on LinkedIn, “His unplanetary will and talent for business success rivals legends such as Steve Jobs, Steven Hawking, Jay Z, and many others. Please connect with him. Almost every person he encounters, he transforms them professionally, and profoundly.”
I read that and I really did get chills on the back of my neck because it made me see that the story that I tell myself, Isaac, is that you are so much more to your clients than the tactical act of pay per click search marketing. You’re more to them, obviously.
Why did somebody, unless you paid them obviously, write that quote? What is it about you? What is it about the energy that you exude that makes you so attractive to work with?
Isaac Rudansky: I wish I exuded energy that makes me attractive to live with because then my marriage…
Russell Benaroya: We’ll talk about your wife on the next podcast. We don’t have time for that, that’s a long one. Whoo.
Isaac Rudansky: No time. Obviously, that quote is superfluous, a little ridiculous. I think that was actually from a student. There’s two things: I have my students and I have clients. I get a lot of that type of feedback from my students, which I really enjoy. It really makes my day, especially when people tell me concrete feedback.
I get emails and messages from a student that says, “Look, I just landed my first job because of your course.” Or, “I left a career I really was unhappy with because of your course.” Or, “I’ve gotten so much value from it and I got a promotion.” Or, “I signed my first client.” Or, “I was struggling with my first three clients and I thought we were going to totally fail, and after watching your course, everything has turned around, and now the campaigns are successful and it’s totally due to you.” That type of feedback really excites me.
I do think it is more than tactical skill. I don’t really have boundaries as far as what I expect or what people tend to expect in a normal exchange of information. I talk about personal things. I make a real effort to over-deliver to my students. I’m not saying that that’s selfless; I’m saying because I wanted to have a course that’s sold.
I’m no Dalai Lama; I’m much more of an opportunist than that. I’m working to make money and to support my family and that’s it. Well, I don’t know if that’s it, but that’s a lot of it. I’m very genuine and authentic with my students.
I’ve gotten into trouble before. I have a Facebook group where one student was really annoying me. I just said, “You’re really annoying me.” Then a bunch of people started jumping on me like, “Well, you’re so disrespectful to your students.” And then a bunch of people started defending me. I apologized although I didn’t really want to apologize.
If you’re out there and I apologize to you and you’re listening to this, just know that I didn’t really want to. But I try to be very genuine and authentic. And the same thing goes with my clients.
It gets heated with the client sometimes. The first time I gave a lecture in San Francisco, one of my clients flew just to be there to support me, which is a really nice and uncommon thing. I have another client who has been with us for a long time, she actually has gone to multiple companies over the last six years. And every time she has changed positions, she’s brought us on as her agency.
Myself, our Director of Operations, and another executive at our company, two summers ago, went to her lake house in North Carolina on Lake Norman. We stayed there for three days. She did our laundry. We sat up at her dock drinking beers and we rode jet skis the next day with a client, an active client. That stuff is awesome.
I think those relationships speak to the authenticity that comes across; the passion. People think that you can’t show emotion. If the whole relationship is sort of a superficial exchange of money for work, then you’re right. If you start showing too much emotion, that’s when you’re going to get into trouble.
But if you’re actually having a real relationship with the client that you care about your work, that you care about their success, then you absolutely should. It necessitates emotion. Your clients want to see you be passionate, be frustrated.
I once had a client… this is a little crazy, I’m not saying people necessarily follow these stories specifically. It’s all on a case by case basis. My highest paying client at the time, I got word that they had given access to another agency to their Google account to have an audit done. And I texted my client something like I was really upset. He called me, I ignored his calls. He’s like, “Pick up my call.” I was like, “No, I’m not talking to you.” He’s like, “What are you, a baby?”
I was out to eat with my wife; it was dinner. I got up and went outside, and I picked up the phone and I was screaming at him. It turned out to be that he didn’t even know that someone else gave access or whatever. It was not a big deal and maybe we would have lost the client.
Then we had a situation, this was a year ago, where we had a client that was really being aggressive and mean to one of our female employees. I emailed the client. I was like, “You need to either fire this person. We don’t ever want to speak to her again.” And she was an executive. “I don’t ever want to speak to her again. She’s not to speak to anybody in my company again.” The client fired us, but it was okay. I was very agitated over losing a client, but I would have been more agitated had I gone to sleep and prioritized the client over the emotional well-being of one of the girls in our office.
One of the questions you had to ask was… Let me see, I’m not trying to feed you your questions because it’s triggered in my mind. “What is something that people would find surprising about what it takes to operate a business like yours successful?”
What I was going to say, one of the things I think is really important is you can’t be easily offended. We live in a world where people are easily offended. If you’re going to be an entrepreneur and you’re going to be at the head of a company, even a small company, you cannot be easily offended, you cannot be overly sensitive. If you find tension on a regular basis because somebody offended you or something you’re told or something said to you that was not respectful, you’re going to have serious problems.
If that client was talking to me, I would have been totally fine. I wouldn’t have been like, “Don’t talk to me that way.” You have to have a certain emotional barrier if you’re going to deal with all sorts of people. You have to have a lot of empathy. Your basic disposition has to be that there’s a reason why you’re acting that way and that you’re not evil. Their basic disposition has to be, “I probably did something that frustrated you. And if I didn’t, you’re probably frustrating not just a bad person.”
It’s different if you have, especially to me, a new female employee who’s being verbally berated. Then you have to have that dichotomy. There are certain things you expect and you maintain for people who you’re responsible for, and you don’t necessarily have to have those same expectations for yourself.
One funny story. I was home one night. This was like three and a half years ago. I was home, it was 11 o’clock at night, and I got a call on my cell phone. I don’t know about you, I never answer anymore an unknown number because it could be a crazy student. It could be some debt collector. Who knows who it is? It could be a telemarketer. For some reason, I just answered the phone. I pick up the phone and the woman says, “Hi, my name is Jennifer.” That wasn’t her real name. She’s like, “Is this Isaac?” And I was like, “Yeah.” She’s like, “I just want to let you know that I was a client of your agencies.”
She was a client in the small business department. I’m telling the story. It’s transparent. We have plenty of clients who are not happy with our work or we’re not able to make it work, or whatever it is. She’s like, “I had a really bad experience with your agency. The work wasn’t good, we couldn’t get things profitable. I was extremely frustrated. I didn’t understand what people were telling me and I went online to watch your course to try to help myself. I just wanted to call and tell you that when I saw your face, it was just so disgusting. I wanted to tell you how disgusted I felt by seeing your face.”
I said, “Jennifer, you’re ahead. Most people are disgusted by my face without having a bad experience.”
That calmed her down a little bit and we spoke. I was like “Listen, look, I feel bad. I certainly could sense your frustration. Call me tomorrow, I’ll look at your account, no problem. I’ll give you some feedback and some advice,” which I did and she was very appreciative. You have to be able to get through moments like that.
In a way, that’s almost easy because it’s so over the top. It’s much easier to not be offended by a kook than not be offended by a spouse or a friend who is much less insensitive. You have to be somebody who could take a step back, take a deep breath, and maintain a certain perspective, which doesn’t necessarily mean level-headedness or coolness, or tone of voice. I get aggressive in my tone all the time, but that’s different than being offended on a personal level and not being able to have a conversation.
To me, I think that’s something which people don’t talk about because I feel like it’s not in style to talk about not being offended. I think that over sensitivity to personal slight cripples people from growing in business, it cripples people from working in environments because you’re going to get offended all the time and you’re just going to destroy your relationships.
Russell Benaroya: We work on that pretty hard in our business and we call that the effort of separating stories from facts. Let’s at least agree. Can we agree on what you can take a picture of that’s unarguable? Let’s at least start there and then we can manifest all the stories. I’ve got a story; you’ve got a story. I’m emotional; you’re emotional. You’re pissed; I’m happy, whatever.
It’s all based on what’s generally a fairly few set of facts, but we got to agree on those first because your story is not fact. It’s a great story. It’s hard to be on the other side of that and respond thoughtfully because it’s based on emotion, not based on fact.
Awesome. A couple more questions for you. What is something in 2021 where you sense that you’re going to have to show some courage? Either in your business or in your life, as you look at what you want and how you want the year to unfold. Where’s courage going to show up for you?
Isaac Rudansky: While I think of the answer to that question, I want you to define to me how you understand courage because courage is a word that lots of people use, and likely a lot of different definitions.
Russell Benaroya: Great. I look at it like this; it is okay to have fear. Fear is like a natural emotion. I’m afraid and we all get afraid. There’s a choice, I believe, we have to go one of two directions when there’s fear. We can either be scared. Scared tends to be crippling and scared tends to be a place where you retract. Courage is saying, “Hey, I’m going to use that fear and I’m going to make it my ally. I’m going to run toward that which I am fearful of, but I’m going to run through it rather than run away from it.” That’s how I think about it.
Isaac Rudansky: I’ll give an example from my business life. I’m not the guy to come to talk about work-life balance because to me it’s really one of the things. I think that we’re going through a change in internal hierarchical structure at the company. We’re going to be bringing in a director of sales, who’s an outsider. That person is going to go to start at a higher salary than anybody else in the company that has started.
That itself because we’re a small very tight-knit group – and not that salaries are necessarily shared, it’ll just be known – has a real potential to create friction and unpleasant feelings and that scares me. That person is going to have to take a certain degree of leadership over other people, and we’re not talking about low-level people, like really strong, energetic, aggressive, ambitious people. They’re going to have to answer to this outsider to some extent. That scares me on a lot of levels.
It scares me on an emotional level of, is this going to reflect poorly on me? Are people going to think that I’m unfair? Are people going to think that I’m just taking opportunities from them for the sake of my own pockets? Those are scary feelings.
I just had a back and forth with my Director of Operations, Patrick, last night over Slack, where he was talking to the senior account managers. He used the term cash cow to describe a few of our clients. He’s right. Some clients, they’re very stable, they’re doing a great job. You could call them a cash cow. I was like, “I am not comfortable with you using that word cash cow. It just makes me feel like a cash cow.”
He was defending it and I was like, “Just don’t do it, please, for my own comfort.” Even a conversation like that takes a small degree of courage because I’m very non-confrontational. If you look at the big five personality dimensions, typically leaders have a very low need for affiliation. I have a very high need for affiliation, which is probably why I’m a bad CEO. I just want to be everyone’s friend. I want people to like me. That’s a big problem. I want people to like me so much that I’ll manufacture things that I’m uncomfortable with or I won’t communicate things that I’m uncomfortable with when I should stand up for myself.
I’ve been working on that, but I do have a high need for affiliation. Even a conversation like that made me uncomfortable. Looking forward into the year, I think that is a potential serious area of discomfort that I’m going to have to be like, “Look, we’re all in this together. This is for the betterment of everybody.” I’m sure people are going to say things to me that will be very not nice and I’ll have to not be offended.
If your basic feeling about other people is that you’re not bad; like you’re fundamentally a good person because I think most people fundamentally are good people, then it’s not that complicated to imagine where they’re coming from or how they would feel.
I was just talking to somebody else in my office this past week. They wanted me to do certain things related to COVID filtration, whatever; something that I wouldn’t have done for myself. It was like, “Yeah, no problem. I’ll do it.” Some other conversation came up where it was communicated to him. I said, “Look, I’m really doing this because you’re important to me. I don’t necessarily agree with the reasons, but I’m doing it because you’re valuable to me and I care and I want you to be happy.”
He was saying, “Well, that makes me feel that you’re going to resent me and that I’m needy.” Then this idea of empathy was like, “Look, if our positions were reversed and I had to get approval to buy something, I’d be the worst employee. Look around my office. I have every knick-knack you can imagine. I’d be as needy or needier than you would be in that situation.” Just that perspective of empathy was very useful.
On the personal side, what I’m nervous about is I have a four-year-old son in school in pre-1A. Next year is his kindergarten, the year after is his first grade. He’s four. Don’t even get me started on the school systems. They brought me and my wife in yesterday to speak. The kid’s in pre-1A; it’s like babysitting. First of all, why are you calling me at two o’clock in the afternoon? What could he have done? Did he put a cat in the oven? Did he burn down a laundromat? It’s crazy.
If I have a client canceling, I don’t call you to come here and help. Anyway, they called me in, they’re like, “He’s a great kid but he doesn’t listen to our party.” I was like, “Well, a paternity test is no longer necessary.” So we started talking and she asked, “Well, what do you do at home when he does something wrong?” I said, “Well, he does plenty of wrong at home and he’ll grab something.” She’s like, “He’ll grab things from other kids or we’ll put him in timeout for talking out of turn and he won’t sit where I tell him. He’ll shift over six inches.” I was like, “Great. I’d be very concerned if he just sat where you told him.” But they were concerned about the shifting over six inches.
The school psychologist was there and she’s like, “Well, what do you do at home?” And I said, “Well, I ask him what’s going on?” I say, “You seem you seem pretty frustrated; I imagine there’s a reason you’re frustrated. Do you want to talk about it?” She’s like, “You don’t want to do that. This is what’s perpetuating. We need to extinguish wrong behaviors.” I really hope that I’m listening to this because I recorded it.
I knew going in that my family wouldn’t believe what this lady was saying. She outright said, “We have to extinguish bad behaviors. By validating the behavior with language, you’re implying that there might have been a motivation for wrong behavior and there could never be a justifiable motivation for wrong behavior.” My first reaction was like, “If I could run you over with a truck I would.” That was my first thought. Then I calmed down and I said, “That sounds like a very Canarian, unpleasant, and ineffective.”
Then we got into this thing where eventually she said that I was being oppositional, which was amazing. Anyway, what I think is going to take courage is for me to be able to bite my tongue and to go along, to whatever extent possible, with what the school wants and to put our best foot forward, and to work with them in a positive way, although it goes against every fiber of my being to do so. I’d rather tell them how stupid I think they are. I’d rather tell them to go jump in a lake. I’d rather tell them to never call me again for this. I’d rather tell them this kid has a heart the size of the ocean and you’re coming here and telling me that he shifts over six inches when you put them in timeout. What the hell are you putting him in timeout for?
The kid’s four years old. He’s been in this world for 40 months. You’re 55 years old and you’re saying things that are as wrong as anything you’re accusing him of doing. That’s all the things I wanted to say, so I’m happy we had this session. I think it’s going to take a degree of care.
I’d add also, it relates to this idea of empathy. When you have this perspective on children that there’s no possible justifiable motivation for wrong behavior, what you’re implicitly saying is that you’re bad or at best you’re a malfunctioning machine. There’s just a malfunction in the wiring.
Why would you ever suspect a four-year-old of malfunction? Why wouldn’t there be a motivation for bad behavior? Why can’t he be frustrated? Why isn’t he having a difficult day as much as you can have a difficult day? And I’m sure that whoever was telling me these theories is an easily offended person. If you feel that bad behavior can’t have a justifiable motivation, you’re going to have a very hard time building meaningful relationships.
I don’t mean to go off on a tangent. I think that it does relate to some extent with this idea of having a predisposition to believing that most behaviors are justifiable if you have enough creative imagination to put yourself in someone else’s perspective.
Russell Benaroya: I really appreciate you sharing that. I want to end on just reading a tweet that I think you sent out this morning, maybe it was last night. It was something like, “When your team knows that you own up to your mistakes, it makes it that much easier for them to do the same. If you don’t deflect blame, your team won’t either.”
The culture that you’ve created, one in which you’re willing to take your 100% responsibility creates an environment where good constructive conversation can exist. People aren’t fearing that there’s an environment of offense. It’s actually an environment of learning and collaboration. I really appreciated that.
Isaac Rudansky: 100%. When people ask me if there is anything that I do to build culture, and I don’t really think about culture much. I don’t do anything proactive or conscious to build culture; I think it’s an outgrowth of personalities. The one thing I do feel I have done conscientiously is just being happy to take the blame, or even working hard to find the not obvious things you could have done that were your fault. One last quick story, do we have time?
Russell Benaroya: Yeah, take two minutes.
Isaac Rudansky: Okay. I was on the phone recently with a client, and the client was unhappy. Our point of contact in the client’s business was a director of marketing. I spoke to the CEO of the company. It was a very large business when they first hired us. From the get-go, communication with this client was almost impossible. Anything we said was shot down.
We would create a game plan, and three hours later, the client would come and say, “No, this is the game plan.” Or, “Everything you said was wrong.” And then a day later, the client was super happy. And then the next day, “No, pivot.” Then things weren’t working because we were getting conflicting marching orders. It was really very difficult. He made things impossible.
He’s like, “Look, it’s not working. We want to fire you.” I said, “Okay, I totally understand. I think that there’s a lot of positive potential here.” He said, “Okay, we’re going to have a call with the CEO.” I got on the phone with the CEO and him. I basically let the call off by saying, “Look, listen, we’ve dropped the ball in communication. We had a lot of different ideas and we couldn’t exactly organize ourselves into a proper, clear, cohesive strategy. “We made mistakes that could have been avoided but we’re committed.”
I basically outlined every single thing that this point of contact in the company did to make this relationship absolutely impossible. I spoke to them outright and I took responsibility for all of them. By the end of the call, the CEO was great, “It seems like you guys have figured this out. You understand the mistakes you made.”
The point of contact on the call was taken aback because we had criticized the point of contact about these things to try to stabilize the relationship in the past, but I just knew that if I’m going to start impugning the point of contact, that’s not going to help anybody.
Here’s the CEO of the business, we are their agency, this is his executive.
Taking responsibility could only help the situation. The CEO is not going to fire us over making some mistakes as long as we understand the mistakes and whatever it was. The point of contact has been 100 times more pleasant to deal with since that call, and the client’s still a client.
So I think it’s worthwhile to have a culture where you as a leader, by example. You cannot teach it. It’s not teachable if you’re not doing it. If you’re somebody who deflects blame or isn’t the first or quickest to take the blame, no one else will do it. If you do it, you don’t need to talk about it. It’ll just be an environment where people are comfortable to speak, they’re comfortable to make mistakes.
I don’t buy this thing. There’s no such thing as a stupid question. I tell people, “That’s a stupid question,” if a stupid question is asked, but it’s done in a way where everyone knows we’re in it together. When I ask a stupid question, you know you’re more than welcome to tell me that it was a stupid question. That’s the environment we have. There’s patience from making errors. It’s okay to talk about it and take the blame for it because that’s the culture.
Russell Benaroya: Isaac, I want to thank you today for joining us on this edition of Stride 2 Freedom. For anybody listening to this, if you want to work with a firm that understands pay per click search marketing, and can do it as well as anybody else in the industry, yes, AdVenture Media Group is great. I bet that you know AdVenture Media Group today as not just a tactical organization that can do the job, but as a group of people with a leader who exudes a certain passion and purpose for building the kind of relationships with clients that endure.
As much as I enjoyed the conversation today about, “Hey, how do we make PPCs work for clients,” what I really appreciated today, Isaac, is you sharing some stories around your life and the journey of building an enterprise and navigating the ups and downs of what it means to be an entrepreneur. Thank you very much.
Isaac Rudansky: Thank you for having me. I hope I didn’t ramble too tangentially. It was really an honor. I love talking to you. I love Stride. I hope it was worthwhile.
Russell Benaroya: It was great. Thank you for giving us your time and sharing your passion and creativity. Have a great week, everyone. I’m Russell Benaroya. See you on the next episode of Stride 2 Freedom. Have a good day.