Jed Carlson isn’t a new name in the Triangle startup community. His current venture is Adwerx, which found initial success providing advertising tools that allow real estate agents and brokerage firms to use digital advertising to build their local brand. Today, he’s looking beyond real estate to bring Adwerx to entirely new verticals. In fact, Jed describes Adwerx as being in the business of making online advertising “brilliantly simple” so that anyone who wants to use it can do so. When he’s not busy running Adwerx, Jed is typically sharing his time and experience mentoring younger CEOs like Clayton Gladieux of Pawboost (see previous GrepBeat feature) or making occasional angel investments.
Adwerx customers credit the success of Adwerx’s products to the fact that they are easy to use. Agents simply go into Adwerx, create an ad, identify the target market and link to their landing page. As the online industry continues to change, Adwerx products are evolving to capture consumer attention in all sectors of the connected world, from the web and social media to mobile apps and television streaming services.
Jed reflects, “Looking back at my past I wanted to build marketing tools that level the playing field for the small business owner. That was true with independent bands at ReverbNation and now it is true with real estate agents in the real estate vertical. I see all the cutting-edge tools and products that typically only big companies with big budgets can afford to do and I’m kind of obsessed about making them accessible to people who have smaller budgets. I think Adwerx is a manifestation of that obsession.”
Looks like Jed— husband, father of three daughters and a four-legged canine named Ben—is doing it right. For the second year in a row, the company was named to Inc.’s Best Places to Work and to the Inc. 5000 list of America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies. Adwerx is now over 95 employees working out of Durham’s American Tobacco Campus, and the business grew over 60% in 2018. Jed believes in building great relationships through empathy and anticipating people’s needs. He sat down with me to share more.
Q. Adwerx spun out of ReverbNation. What was the catalyst for the focus on real estate?
We hypothesized that Real Estate Agents might view online advertising through a similar lens as musicians did—as a vehicle for “getting the word out” and “staying top of mind.” Each is on a journey from obscurity to being noticed, then known, in their local area. The pace and shape of that journey drive their respective businesses to a significant extent.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish in the next year with Adwerx?
I hope that we sell it to Joe Colopy for a sliver of his net worth. 🙂 Adwerx is about to embark on a couple of ambitious steps that have the potential to take the business to entirely new heights—and potentially change our position in the market in some fundamental ways. I hope that we accomplish this in the next year without too much pain, nor too many missteps. We have the best team in the Triangle, so if anyone is going to fulfill their potential, I would bet on them.
Q. What do you think the greatest challenges are for startups in the present Triangle startup environment?
Full employment. Scarce capital. Relatively inexperienced founders (though that is changing). An insufficient connection between the powerful universities and the entrepreneurship community despite great effort by a number of good people. Other than that, the environment is actually quite good.
Q. Share something we might not know about you – preferably personal.
I enjoy doing local 10-mile trail races from time to time. I am not very fast, but I did beat David Jones [of Bull City Venture Partners] once (admittedly, he had just sprained his ankle on the trail). In another race, I recall Jay Mebane, Ben Feldman [both of Bootstrap Advisors], and Mark Simpson [of Nest Realty] trying to box me out so I couldn’t pass them. It’s kind of like the Kentucky Derby out there on the trail, except without the horses or fancy hats.
Q. What drives or shapes the person you are today?
My dad was the biggest influence in my life by far. He was the epitome of a life well led, with the right attitude and approach, and with unassailable integrity. He built a profitable company over 30 years that employed more than 1,200 people when he exited and it wasn’t even close to his greatest accomplishment (his words), compared to his family and values. I am honored and fortunate to have learned from him.
Q. We spoke about leading multi-generational talent. In your role as a Father/Teacher/Coach/Manager/Mentor is there something you learned from those you lead that you want to share?
What people want from work is shifting—more meaning, more mission, unique experiences, flexibility, personal growth, and, of course, standing desks… 🙂 But what people want from interpersonal relationships at work isn’t shifting—respect, trust, belonging, etc. I watch with great interest as companies attempt to reconcile changes to the way we work with the foundation of how people like to interact.
Q. What were you like in high school?
As insecure as everyone else. I spent a lot of effort trying to make people laugh (occasionally successfully). I was very good at taking tests without studying much, which was great for getting high marks, but it delayed my development of a real work ethic. I had four sisters and made it my job to menace them and their friends in various ways. Sorry, sisters…
Q. If you could change something/anything (pie in the sky) what would you change?
I would ask people to dig deeper on issues that matter to them and to stake out their own, well thought out, positions instead of relying on politicians as their proxies. Life is complicated, and policy is tricky and full of tradeoffs. We don’t get presented the tradeoffs very often in an honest way where they can be deliberated. I think most of us do a disservice to each other by taking the easy route instead of asking lots of good questions.
Q. What gets you most excited about the future?
Interacting with my children. I have three daughters who each have their own incredible minds. They see the world in such a different way than I did at their age, and I embrace the opportunity to listen to their perspectives, and to educate them on how we got to where we are. I find that once they have the context, they are able to paint amazing visions about the future that are always new and fascinating to me.
Q. Fast-forward 15 years from now and where do we find Jed?
Hiking somewhere breathtaking with my wife, dog, and grown children, telling myself that I have made a contribution, but probably struggling to identify or quantify exactly what it was. If I have succeeded as a father, I will be brimming with joy that my children have a permanent curiosity and a way of thinking that will remain valuable to them for the rest of their lives. A stretch goal would be to have impacted my employees in the same way—to have past employees changing the world for the better, having received some of the tools they needed from their time at our company.