18 August 2016
A Chat with Jordan Edmonds
If you’re looking to cast blame on that anonymous someone responsible for the ads that are constantly scrolling across and popping up and counting down on your screen, we’ve got your guy, and we actually think he’s pretty neat. His name is Jordan Edmonds and his business, Appareo, does digital advertising. But that’s far from the only thing that makes him tick. A few weeks ago, he sat down with our team and spoke to us about what he learned from selling wakeboards online during the early days of e-retail, taking chances after the market crash of 2008, and the secret to making work more than just a paycheck. Read our complete chat with Jordan below...
Ken Tomita: So before we get to talking about your business, I just wanted to hear about you. So, where are you from, that kind of thing. Where did you grow up, what's your background?

Jordan Edmonds: Man, I was born in Tacoma, Washington. When I was two, my family moved to Alaska, so I lived in Alaska for 10 years. I feel like I missed a lot of the [outdoors], like my dad doesn't hunt or fish or anything. So everyone's always like, "Oh, did you...," and it's always, No, no. I think we cross-country skied one year, that was basically it. When I was maybe 10 or 12, we moved down to the Portland area, so I've lived in the Portland area since then. I've got a wife, I have four kids, which everyone's usually surprised by. It's the Scandinavian. I'm older than I look, I think. Yeah, that's me.

Ken: Let's dive into what you do. What do you do, who are your clients, where do you work?

Jordan: Yes. So I'm the guy who may or may not annoy people all across the Internet by doing advertising, and I fully own the light and dark side of what I do. If any of those ads have annoyed you, I apologize - we're gonna get them super-sweet. Like I enjoy it, but it's also, it's a necessary evil in the world, which is a great way to start about what you do.
Part of my story is, there was a church I was going to and a guy who started a company selling wakeboards online. He happened to be the VP of Technology of this company that was the largest auto-importer of foreign parts. So he worked for a massive company and started this little company selling wakeboards online. And I just so happened to be totally into snowboarding. It was like my life when I was in high school and college.

And they were like, "Snowboarding, that's pretty much like wakeboarding, right?" Except for, you know, snow and water, it turns out it's not true at all. But they were like, "You can answer the phones." So, yeah, I sold probably more wakeboards than anyone in the country for a couple of years, having wakeboarded like four or five times myself. This was the early days of the Internet and part of running a business online is like, "How do people find out about you if you don't have a local store that people know about?" Marketing online was something we just learned from scratch.

Eventually we went through the whole 2008 crash. Apparently, a lot of people who wakeboard buy hundred thousand dollar boats on credit from their house. So when the crash happened everyone's business just tanked. So I thought, "What do I do? Maybe I become a programmer or something, my little brother does that." And I just thought, what if I do everything I've learned for companies? So that's what Appareo is, it's just me.

Ken: I remember the last time we talked, I was kind of fascinated that you didn't wanna work at an agency, and you also didn't want to make your agency big. Do you want to expand into that, why you don’t want to expand?

Jordan: Yeah, I don't really know where it comes from. I just...I try not to take myself too seriously. The job I had at this company called Wakeside was to be the marketing manager. So I got pitched by everyone - by agencies - all the time, and I don't know, none of them were very humble, and I hated that because I feel like, especially on the Internet, you have to be humble because everything is constantly changing.

And that's not all agencies, there're a ton of great people who work in the agency world. That's just like my experience there. I just don't have the ambition to make some huge monument to myself about like, "This is what I've built, all these people work for me.” I don't have any problem getting bigger, I just wanted to be the right size to serve clients well. That's my main goal. And I want to make good money, and have some flexibility but I don't see a big agency needing all that.
Ken: Last time we talked to you, we talked about the flexibility aspect a little bit and why it’s important to you. Can you expand on that?

Jordan: Yeah, so I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, I don't know why, but I read the "The 4-Hour Workweek" ten years ago or something like that.

Ken: Timothy Ferriss.

Jordan: Yeah, Timothy Ferriss, if you're unfamiliar with that. And there's a lot of stuff in there. Half of it is, like I don't even agree with, but there's one thing that he said, the flexibility and stuff like that, figuring out how to just create a life you want to live. One of them was asking what's the worst that could happen? So for me it was like, "Okay, if I start this thing and it goes horribly wrong, have I forgotten everything I know how to do? Couldn't I just go get a good job somewhere else?” It's like: we live in America. We live in an economy that for all of its flaws, is pretty great, considering (if you look through history) so it's like, why not? Why not give it a shot? That's actually how I started Appareo.

In short, think of something you wanna do with your life, and then think about what's causing you to not do that.
Ken: So I've been thinking about how the idea of work has changed, you know, since our parents' generation. The new work...

Jordan: Yeah.

Ken: And culturally it's different too. Even where I'm from in Japan, it's changed a lot. People used to get in one company and they stay there their entire life. But anyways, I think you're an example of the new work. This small, entrepreneur, lots of freedom, flexibility. What are your thoughts on how it's shifted until now and then where it's going?

Jordan: I have my ideal, I realize there's a lot of flaws in it. I think that basically everyone needs to be entrepreneurial now and I would love to run a company, I'd love to see companies run in such a way that people have complete flexibility and are judged by the work that they produce instead of necessarily the hours they put in. There used to be this method where you attained a certain level of like, “I got a certificate, I went to college, I got tenure, I did whatever, seniority, and now I'm here, and now I just live off the system.” You do work, but you're just there.

I just encourage everyone I come across to be entrepreneurial....I don't have to be running my own company. I could totally work for someone else. It's just as long as it was a company where I could be entrepreneurial in that space, I think that's the biggest shift.

My dad's just like a traditional work for the same company and he's, I love him, but there's a lot of times he's just said, "Oh, I should have quit a long time ago and done this thing." I think the lack of security that companies have now is forcing everyone to say, "Look, you're not going to have that security, so you might as well get good at learning how to think on your feet and transition when the time comes." So the best advice I have for that is to be entrepreneurial. Seek to be creative.

Further Reading