Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
I’m Uri, and I like to think of myself as an eCommerce enthusiast. I’ve started four businesses in my short career, two of which were massive failures (learning opportunities) and two that I consider relative successes and still operate today!
My first baby - Adjust Media - will be the focus of today’s Starter Story. Adjust is a full-service Digital Strategy Agency founded in 2018. Currently constructed of 5 full-time employees, we offer Small-Medium sized DTC eComm brands services such as Paid Media Management, Email Management, and Creative Services.
We’ve worked with over 120+ different founders and brands over our 5-year existence and currently work with ~15 clients on a monthly basis, many of which have been guests of Starter Story over the past few years.
My second baby - Milky Mama Canada - is an eCommerce store that I operate alongside my wife Tali, where I practice the exact digital executions that I preach to our clients. Although this is a very large part of my story and day-to-day work, I will save this Starter Story for another post!
By the end of 2021, Adjust Media grossed just under $1M. It feels surreal to say that, but it wouldn’t be possible without our team.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
It goes without saying that I didn’t create any unique ideas. But, I’d like to think I crafted an internal culture and strategic ‘structure’ that we roll out to all our clients. As a service-based business, our ‘product’ is our top-tier service and the internal responsibility that we impose upon ourselves to act as partners in our clients’ businesses.
How did I start? Well, I believe it was a natural progression.
I went to University here in Toronto to study business, with a specialization in Marketing. After graduating back in 2015, I needed to pay off my debts and was extremely motivated to get a job “in my field”.
I wound up interviewing and landing an internship position at an Advertising Agency in downtown Toronto. Over a 2.5-year period, I was promoted 3 times, from Intern to Assistant Media Planner, to Media Planner, to Media Supervisor.
Throughout those years, I learned how an Agency operates, i.e., how to speak with clients, manage expectations, work with teams, structure teams, conduct billing, come up with a strategy, execute that strategy, and more. I saw what worked, and what didn’t.
I loved my job. It was fun and exciting, but living in Toronto, my job did not pay the bills. The only thing it paid was my ‘dues’ – sorry dad joke. I was wined and dined, flown around the country, and ate at the best restaurants, but as a newly engaged man, I just wasn’t making enough.
So, I started consulting on the side. I knew how to use the systems. I knew how to strategize and speak with clients. In my spare time, I would jump on the Shopify Forums and answer questions related to Facebook Ads, Pixels, Google Ads, etc. Provide free content to solve other merchants' problems and just drop my email if they wanted to reach out.
Over time, my inbox started to flood. I brought on one client, then two, then three, and would work on these Merchant ad campaigns when I got home from work at 7 PM. Eventually, my side-hustle was bringing in about 80% of my career salary in 25% of the dedicated time. I knew I had to “buy back my time.” I sat down with my soon-to-be wife and said that I need to take the risk. She agreed, and the rest is history.
I quit in February 2017.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I took a very conservative approach to launching the business. As I referenced above, I slowly started to supplement my FT salary with my at-the-time side-hustle. I was the type of guy who always dreamt of climbing the corporate ladder, paying dues to one day become a VP or CMO of a company… oh how times have changed! I worked both jobs for about 6 months before I took the plunge.
As a service-based business, specifically one that comes a dime-a-dozen, I knew that I needed to set myself apart. The way that I did that was through free content. I lived on Shopify Forums, answering any and every question that would pop up regarding Facebook Ads. I was refreshing the screen twice an hour and would reply to each post within minutes.
My second source of distributing content that I made was on Facebook groups. I joined every Facebook eComm group I possibly could, scanning comments to provide answers without strings attached.
Love what you do. If you don’t, you’ll quit.
I quickly became an ‘influential contributor’ within a few of the groups. I provided case studies, real-time updates on CPMs or FB outages, new ad format releases, strategies, etc. I always approached it with humility so I wasn’t mistaken as a “Facebook Guru” – if anyone remembers those.
Over time, a few things happened:
- My existing clients grew due to effective execution
- My overall client base grew as people took notice and existing clients made referrals
- The ‘quality’ of my clients increased exponentially
- Most importantly, I developed a “structural strategy” that I could effectively execute within almost all accounts—one which our team still uses today.
I operated alone as a consultant under UW Consulting for just about 14 months. I was working HARD and couldn’t find the time to take on more business. I plateaued. This is the point where I started to understand that the only way forward to growing my agency was to find and hire great talent and develop them to become “another me”.
When I reflect back, I think this is the point where the business was solidified and conceived. In my first year, I made ~$120,000 with 100% margins. No employees, no website, nada. But, it was a side hustle, not a business, and I wanted a business.
After the first couple of weeks, I decided to launch my website, although this was for UW Consulting before Adjust Media was born. I designed and wrote copy for the website by myself.
Screenshot of initial UW Consulting Site:
On April 1st 2018, I hired my first employee & Adjust Media was legally born.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
In our business, acquisition and retention are our specialties. We quite literally run the show for our brands, meaning that we need to have a tight handle on both these aspects for our own business.
Let’s start with the acquisition. At this point in time, based on team size, we know that the ideal number of clients we can manage at our standard is 15. We have clients that work with us seasonally (Fishing, Biking, Skiing, etc.) but like to keep a constant 15 on the roster at all times.
When we drop below 15, a roster spot opens up and we start pumping out free content such as case studies or updates, but those typically live on our Blog, YouTube channel, or within our own Facebook community group. I even started a podcast - eCommerce Made Simple - which has been surprisingly effective despite only having had the time to launch 4 enticing episodes.
We’ve never run paid media – which is ironic – because we haven’t had to. We usually get inbound leads through any of the above-mentioned channels or through client referrals.
Once we book a ‘discovery call’, the process is pretty simple, and our conversion rate is quite high. I preface each call by noting that this is not a sales call. I simply want to understand the merchants’ needs and discover whether we are a good fit for each other. I walk through our process and some real and live ad accounts to explain our process.
Don’t be afraid to give content away for free. Whether that’s audits, strategies, case studies, or free offers, it’s important that you land your first client.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I am the one interviewing them. At this point, we have the luxury (and responsibility) of picking clients that are only good fits for us. Our agency is small. We know what we’re good at and prefer to stick in our lane. I call it “The Power of Small”.
Retention is tricky, but I can confidently say that we do a great job. Over half of our clients have been with us for over 2 years. The key to this success, in my eyes, is multifaceted.
First, impeccable service, i.e., communication standards and humility. I’m big on both of these aspects, and so is our staff. They’re non-negotiable, and clients appreciate it. We set expectations and communicate results whether we hit performance numbers or not.
There’s value in understanding that we aren’t magicians, just highly skilled professionals, and sometimes campaigns don’t perform as expected. As long as we communicate that in plain English with humility, clients are generally happy.
The second is proactive performance. We adjust our campaigns daily, ensuring that we hit our clients’ KPIs. We write killer copy. We make thumb-stopping creative. We plan, strategize and execute new ideas. But most importantly, we catch a lower-than-average performance before the client does. If there’s a problem in the account, we bring it to the client rather than wait for them to bring it to us.
Lastly, a “merchant-first mentality.” I started Adjust out of a passion for helping SMBs grow, not be a thorn in their side. As a result, the way we have constructed our operation is merchant-first—no contracts, performance-based billing, and a-la-carte services that our merchants actually need.
We started with Facebook Ads only, but over the years have expanded into Google and other social platforms as clients requested. We have an entire team of email marketers that do copy and design for clients who can’t do it in-house. We have video editors and graphic designers if required—all a-la-carte to help our clients out.
We aren’t perfect. No one is. But I am happy with our retention numbers.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
I’ll break this down into 3 categories: Finances, Operations, and Goals:
I operate a high-risk, high-margin business. As a remote, merchant-first agency, I have no contracts, no overhead, no shipping, and no COGS. Our largest expense is our talent, and I make it a point to find the best talent I can and overpay them so they stay (more on this below). We currently have 5 full-time staff.
In FY 2021, we grossed $985,000, which represented a 25% increase compared to FY 2020.
As much as I’d love to grow the business from a financial perspective, it’s not a priority to me. I’m currently focussing my efforts on becoming the best manager and father I can be. My family and staff are the most crucial elements to my overall happiness and health.
Even if you aren’t the absolute best at what you do, if you show up, do the work and communicate on a daily basis, you’ll likely become the best version of yourself.
Adjust operations have changed drastically over the past 18 months. We’ve grown from 2 staff to 5 and added additional services (email + creative), which roughly half of our clients take advantage of.
Our team now comprises 5 entirely new staff, spanning 4 countries and 5 timezones. Establishing workflows to ensure that each department is communicating effectively on ongoing projects is vital, but we do a decent job with the help of some tech.
At this point, I am looking for efficiencies within the team. I don’t want to add new staff unless necessary, and that would only make sense if we wanted to add more clients to the roster.
Ideally, I’d sell the business in the next 3-5 years, but selling a service-based business is not simple. Businesses are valued based on their assets, and Adjust doesn’t have contracts with clients. Down the road, I may incentivize our current roster to join us on a contractual basis, but I don’t feel the need at this time.
Another goal, and totally out of the left-field, would be to spend more time on podcasting. If I reflect on the ‘task’ that has given me the most joy, it would be interviewing other brands about their successes and struggles and sharing that with others who are interested.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
This is probably the trickiest question because there have been so many valuable lessons that I would pass on to others looking to start a service-based business or agency.
Simply answering this question has me going back and forth in my head about what I would advise someone starting…so I’ll have to give you a rough outline.
- Love what you do. If you don’t, you’ll quit.
- Be consistent. It’s the only thing that matters. Even if you aren’t the absolute best at what you do, if you show up, do the work and communicate daily, you’ll likely become the best version of yourself. You’ll look back in 6 months and be proud of what you’ve accomplished.
- Approach everything with humility. Whether it’s staff, clients, or business partners, set expectations from the get-go and don’t pretend to be the smartest individual in the room. No one likes that guy.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Being a remote agency, we heavily rely upon our tech stack to operate.
Our internal and external communication channels go through Slack. We have a channel for each one of our clients and utilize Slack Connect for clients who wish to have a direct line of communication with us.
On the project management side, we have recently transitioned from Google Keep to Notion. Probably an unpopular one here, but it allows us to assign tasks to certain individuals, assign statuses, notes, priority levels and check in on projects. It allows for different views such as spreadsheets, ‘boards,’ and ‘calendars.’ I love it, and we’re never going back to anything else. The best part? It’s free.
Creatives are shared via Google Drive - we create a shared drive for each client. We considered Dropbox, but I hate it with every fiber in my body. So…no. Google Drive FTW.
In regards to actual execution platforms, we, of course, use Facebook Ads Manager, Google Ads, Google Analytics, Snapchat, TikTok, LinkedIn, and Klaviyo. We’re Klaviyo preferred partners.
Shopify is on the top of our list and all the apps that come with it. We’ve recently been huge fans of Triple Whale - I highly recommend it if you're a merchant running multiple channels. Shameless plug - use ADJUST15 for 15% off.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I’m a big fan of podcasts.
eCommerce Fuel is one I’ve intentionally tried to get started, but for some reason, I just don’t resonate with the format.
I love Podcasts so much that I launched my own - eCommerce Made Simple. If you’re into the 2 or 3 above, feel free to check mine out!
Another resource; I think every merchant should be a part of is Facebook Communities full of Merchants. ShopifyEntrepreneurs and The Unofficial Shopify Podcast Insiders are two I’m very involved in, but if you want to learn more about Facebook Ad Buying Strategies, join “Facebook Ad Buyers.”
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
- Don’t be afraid to give content away for free. Whether that’s audits, strategies, case studies, or free offers, you must land your first client.
- Surround yourself with skilled individuals. Whether it’s for bouncing ideas off one another, offloading certain tasks to someone who is more skilled, or simply to have a backup when you’re sick, you can’t do it alone. Even if you think you can, you’re just hindering your growth.
- Learn when to say no - taking on too much at one time will reduce your quality of work. Clients will take notice.
- Focus on servicing that client to the best of your ability, and referrals will come!
Where can we go to learn more?
If you want to learn more about our services or just reach out to me directly - never hesitate! I love speaking with fellow business owners.
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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