Brent Zahradnik | The Opportunities of Amazon Advertising
In this Prime Talk Podcast Video Sponsored by GETIDA, Brent Zahradnik discusses the opportunities of Amazon advertising through his advertising management agency, AMZ Pathfinder, who shares his personal journey into eCommerce.
Part of having an e-commerce business is knowing when to take the next step to develop or scale it. That can be a frightening prospect for many budding entrepreneurs out there because it requires you to really step out of your comfort zone. Yoni Mazor from PrimeTalk chats about how you can start to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves to you if you want to grow your business.
In today’s interview, PrimeTalk has teamed up with Brent Zahradnik, the founder and CEO of AMZ Pathfinder, an advertising management agency with a unique philosophy: work with us, and everyone wins. They treat every client with a personalized approach and don’t believe in the “cookie-cutter” approach to business.
Brent Zahradnik talks about his journey from the “Family Room Specialist” at the Apple Store to use the opportunities that struck along his path to create his own business: AMZ Pathfinder. So for those e-commerce newbies or even those who have been on the scene since the beginning, who are interested in learning about how to expand and grow a business, this episode is for you!
Visit AMZ Pathfinder for more information.
Learn about GETIDA's Amazon FBA reimbursement solutions.
Find the Full Transcript Below
Yoni Mazor 0:06
Hi everybody. Welcome to another episode of Primetalk. Today I'm really excited to have a special guest. Today I'm having Brent Zahradnik. Brent is the founder and CEO of AMZ Pathfinder, which is a leading amazon advertising management agency. So, Brent, welcome to the show!
Brent Zahradnik 0:22
Hello Yoni. Thank you so much, this is exciting!
Yoni Mazor 0:25
Our pleasure to have you. So really today's episode is gonna be all about, you know, the story of Brent. So you're gonna share with us, you know, who are you, where are you from, where were you born, where did you begin your professional career. So i guess without further ado let's jump right into it.
Brent Zahradnik 0:41
Yoni Mazor 0:44
All right let's start with, you know, where were you born? Where did you begin your way?
Brent Zahradnik 0:47
Sure, I'm originally from eastern Pennsylvania. Some of the audience might know the Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton area and it's not too far from New York so i spent a lot of time there as well through the years because it's only about an hour bus ride. But that's originally where I'm born and raised.
Yoni Mazor 1:05
Nice, so you grew up there? You did a school middle school, high school?
Brent Zahradnik 1:09
Yeah all through high school and middle school and then went to university at a campus in northern Pennsylvania. In Hazleton. One of the Penn State branch campuses
Yoni Mazor 1:20
So the university is Penn State University, right?
Brent Zahradnik 1:22
Yeah, that's right.
Yoni Mazor 1:23
Got it. Yeah, so growing up, you're doing your business, and your work, and hustling?
Brent Zahradnik 1:26
Yeah pretty much. I was a stereotypical, like, IT computer nerd so I spent afternoons, like, configuring people's routers and stuff like that and like getting paid for it. I did a lot of repairs for people's macs and pcs through all of high school. And eventually, that's what I ended up going to university for and I have, you know, basically a degree in information sciences like networking cybersecurity stuff.
Yoni Mazor 1:56
Does anyone in your family have background, like your parents were in the industry or something like that?
Brent Zahradnik 1:59
My dad was like the resident nerd at his company in the publishing industry because he was like one of the few people who knew about networking and computers and the internet back in the early mid-90s. Like we grew up with a Windows 95 computer and before that some even more basic machines at home. We had internet, you know dial-up, like really early so even from that age I was playing around with that stuff which I think is such a cool artifact of like someone who's my age or your age because like we remember when the internet was just this like little baby you know and now it's like people have you know 4g in their home and like yeah like wifi is like super fast. Like, kids these days they don’t know!
Yoni Mazor 2:35
Yeah, remember when we had that little modem box and makes the squeaky sounds when you try to log in and when you upload a page and it might take a few seconds or a few minutes. Early days but it was really the mid-90s it was exciting times because you knew it's something big you know it's like in his baby steps you know fast forward 20 plus years later it just’s a beast. It's in everybody's palms, in everybody's hands at this point. New industries and disruptive industries. So you felt like you're a part of it already back in the 90s? You said your father has also had the inclination to dabble into that space. Your mother also? Or was she on a different route?
Brent Zahradnik 3:14
No, she’s not really super techie but she is a big iPad user so she's an ios expert. I mean I think of it this way sometimes, a man like how great is your life if the only computer you use is your iPad? That's so simple. Like, you don't worry about software updates, no one's hacking you, just touch touch touch and you’re done!
Yoni Mazor 3:32
It’s a beautiful life. It's a very sanitary life. It's good for the virus days, you know, the corona days. Okay so you finished high school, you go to university, what year did you graduate?
Brent Zahradnik 3:43
Yoni Mazor 3:47
Yeah, so what was your first station after college? Where do you go?
Brent Zahradnik 3:50
Oh man I looked for a job for a while. I was living with my parents and eventually, I worked at Apple, at the Apple Store. I worked at Apple Retail and I did a lot of PC-related stuff at Apple which is a bit strange because they have this program they'll do where they migrate people from pc to apple. And I would like help with the actual hardware and data migrations for that but I also did repairs on iPhones and iPods and stuff. I was what they call a “family room specialist”.
Yoni Mazor 4:17
Nice, so this was the Apple Store where around where you lived in Allentown?
Brent Zahradnik 4:24
No, it was in Philadelphia. It was on Walnut Street in Philadelphia. R162..
Yoni Mazor 4:28
Oh right. So you moved to the big city after college? Philadelphia area?
Brent Zahradnik 4:32
That's right yeah. That was a very transformational period of my life because I was you know suburbs boy and then I moved to the big city so to speak and yeah that kind of blew my mind wide open because it's just like way more kinds of people way more situations and just like I mean the store i worked at and itself was filled with super interesting people that's one thing I got to get Apple credit for they hire like some of the best people in retail. I had so many awesome coworkers, a couple of whom I'm still in pretty close touch with to this day, and this was like 10 years ago, actually, 11 years ago now.
Yoni Mazor 5:02
Yeah, you started in 2009 and we switched to 2021. But um, so 2009 Apple Store it was, you know, still even today, but then it was explosively hot because the iPhones were just, you know, breaking in, it was like maybe the second or third of the iPhones, it's probably that year of the iPhone 3, which was really the megastar that brought it to the world. So there's a lot of frenzy going on in the stores and a lot of excitement, it was a good time to be in brick-and-mortar retail.
Brent Zahradnik 5:28
It was absolute madness. I remember the iPhone 4 launch because when I started the 3g, like you said, coming out the previous fall, 3GS came out. And then the 4 was like the big one because that was a big design change. And that was the same year I think “antenna gate” happened if you remember the whole like you're holding it wrong with that thing, Steve Jobs on stage. And man, those were intense days, a man like eight, nine hours on the floor helping people fix their phones, and people come in super mad about their antenna doesn't work or whatever. And I need to swap this out. And you get all kinds of people coming in, like a high-powered executive who has a meeting in 20 minutes, versus like a mom of four kids who's like I can't call my husband like, it’s this amazing variety of people who just step in off the streets into an Apple Store that's in the city. It's way bigger variety because people just walk there, you know, everyone just walks there.
Yoni Mazor 6:19
And you guys felt like you're on a mission like, you know, this, like a battle for you guys to turn this around Apple as a team? You know, you're gonna mitigate the damages. And somehow we're gonna even flip the energy back up to you know, we got this for you, we take full responsibility, we own this, you know, here's your repair. Hopefully, it's good, you know, march forward, because even though we, it happened, I don't think it was a big blemish to the continued success of the iPhone is still, you know, started today, 10 plus years after, so that's admirable. And it's a great lesson for any entrepreneur to learn about, how do you deal with challenges, even though you've Apple, one of the biggest, most important or valuable companies in the world, you have a fluke? How do you deal with it? And how does a big corporation like that also deal with it with the ranks? Because you know, you guys are on the battlefield and the storefronts now. But you as far as you're saying if you guys felt like it was a mission, and you all up for the task, and it seems like you were successful because we're talking, you know, more than a decade later, and, you know, the reputation of the company is still like a Titan. And it looks great. Well, that's pretty cool. And how many years did you spend in that environment, the store?
Brent Zahradnik 7:22
I was there for like two and a half years, that same-store, my position changed a little bit. But like that, those two and a half years, that whole time I credit with, like, some of the best people skills, because Apple trains you really well, first of all, to handle tough situations and talk to people from any little background and who has a varying degree of needs. And I kind of credit that with being my education for gaining a lot of people skills, because like I had mentioned before, I was like the IT kid, like, you know, not really famous for their people skills. I mean, my parents are very personable, but like some of that didn't pass on to me until later in life, when I got more confidence and basically was aided by this position. I credited it with a lot of my own, like personal development, actually,
Yoni Mazor 8:06
That's great, makes a lot of sense. So you know, you spent your nerdy years actually gain the ability to deal with the mechanics of everything. But the store gave you basically an uninterrupted experience to, you know, manage the corporate office, you know, business people, entrepreneurs coming in, as you mentioned, they're hot and heavy on their issues, or the mommies, or the dads or you know, whatever it is. So it's great to have that experience, that people person, in the variety. You can't really teach at school as well, you know, you go to the best college in the world, Ivy League, none of them will prepare you for, you know, the variety of human experience. So I find that to be an amazing asset for you to grab. So two and a half years, so 2009 around to 2011 or 2012. What was the time like?
Brent Zahradnik 8:48
It was early 2010 when I actually started that job. I think it was the spring because I didn't find it until then. And then there's training and then I started I moved to the city, and it was May of 2012 when I left that position. So yeah it was about two and a half years. And I actually left to do a bike trip. So I had a friend Brian, who, he and I had talked about doing a bike tour, a bicycle tour. And so we actually planned it and both like quit our jobs. He was finishing up University. No, we rode across the United States, actually. So we left for most. Yeah, we left from eastern Pennsylvania, where I'm from, and I finished in Anacortes, Washington State. Four and a half months later, you know, I'm not kidding.
Yoni Mazor 9:39
Wow. So you said...hold on...so you said, let me start my life trajectory. Let me stop my job, my experience, you know, my college training, everything, and hit up my buddy, Brian.
Brent Zahradnik 9:50
Yoni Mazor 9:51
And what was he doing?
Brent Zahradnik 9:53
He was finishing his degree at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Yoni Mazor 9:57
So you guys grew up together. How'd you guys …?
Brent Zahradnik 10:00
Yeah, we went to high school. Yeah, I kept in touch and I have a bunch of friends that were living in Philadelphia at that time. You know, most of whom I still keep in really close touch with, but cycling is kind of like in my family. My dad worked for Bicycling magazine for many years. One of my mom's cousins founded an organization called Adventure Cycling, which is dedicated to bike touring. I have various people in my family who have done long-distance bike trips, and it's something I'd always wanted to do. From basically the time I was like old, like 17- 18, until like my early 20s. And when I was 23...
Yoni Mazor 10:30
So, you knew that you were gonna do this. You said the moment we get a real opportunity, a shot at it, you're gonna go for it. Right?
Brent Zahradnik 10:34
Yeah, it's basically a question of having enough money and being in the right life position to do it. And yeah, we got things organized. We got stuff together, and we left on May 15 of 2012. From my parent’s house, and we started riding West across Pennsylvania.
Yoni Mazor 10:48
Right. And you got there around what, October November area?
Brent Zahradnik 10:53
Oh, yeah, I think it was early September because we took a very circuitous route. You know, we didn't go directly across the US. We went west, and then we went south. We were down in Nashville, in Missouri. Then we got across like Kansas, I went north, he stopped in Colorado, because he had like plans there. I kept going through Wyoming up through Idaho.
Yoni Mazor 11:13
Oh, so you guys split at some point? You did some solo.
Brent Zahradnik 11:15
He had planned to go to Colorado, and he got there and he stopped. Yeah. So
Yoni Mazor 11:19
So he completely got out of the, you know, quote, unquote, race and you just continue all the way to the target.
Brent Zahradnik 11:25
Yeah, I continue by myself. Yes. I went through Wyoming and Idaho. Washington State, Oregon. Not in that order. But you know, but to get to the coast. And yeah, that was,
Yoni Mazor 11:35
What was your daily routine? Like, how many hours you cycle a day? Take us a little bit through that?
Brent Zahradnik 11:41
Yeah, sure. So typically, you'll wake up super early, because I'm someone who gets up early anyway. But when you're
Yoni Mazor 11:45
What’s early, what time is early?
Brent Zahradnik 11:47
Like, 6:30-7. And depending on the kind of like, light environment and weather because sometimes it was really hot like I was in Missouri in the summer, it's like extremely hot, you know, it’d be like 100, 100 plus degrees Fahrenheit like in the overnight sometimes. Yeah, yeah, it's crazy. So, you know, you wake up, whatever time is early, you pack your tent, eat some light breakfast, you start writing, it's pretty much what you do every day, you just ride all day, every day.
Yoni Mazor 12:14
And all you got is, that little bit. It's all you own, a little bag that you have, that you carry in your bag, which has a tent, your outfits. And?
Brent Zahradnik 12:21
Yeah, yeah, it's a specific kind of bicycle. So you have a couple of bags on the front and the rear. And sometimes you wear a backpack, but I would recommend against it. But the bike carries a lot of weight. It's just the bike is quite heavy and you know, can be hard to maneuver a
Yoni Mazor 12:36
We’re talking about a bicycle with no engine. Right?
Brent Zahradnik 12:38
Yeah, no engine. The only engine’s my legs. Yeah. So I did that for...Yeah, I think it was like four or four and a half months. We went intentionally on a route that was secure. So it was a total of 4600 miles or so, just about. Which is I don't know like 8,500k or something like that.
Yoni Mazor 12:58
Yeah. So I used to stop cycling what, toward three or 4 pm? Or seven 8 pm? Depends on when it gets dark. What was their kind of routine at the end of the day?
Brent Zahradnik 13:08
It depends on the day, and some days were super hot, we would actually take a break in the middle of the day. I remember one time we were in Kansas and we stopped at a swimming pool. And we just locked our bikes up and we went for a swim for like four or five hours in the afternoon. And then we jump back on the bikes, we ride it till it gets dark, you know because we had some lights, but we weren't gonna ride overnight. That's just crazy. And then we set up in camp somewhere. We did a lot of wild camping, which is where you'd like you to know, you don't camp in any specific place. You just pick a spot and you kind of like hide in the trees, hide in the bush. Because we didn't have like, you know, money to spare though.
Yoni Mazor 13:40
You freestyle it. So wherever you see a little bit of woods, there's a little bit of soil, you know, you that's your new residence for the night. But um, during the day you listen to music? Or you just enjoy the scenery? What's the mindset on when you're actually cycling? And you know, with your feet and legs as an engine?
Brent Zahradnik 13:56
Yeah, it's a good question. We both definitely listen to music, I listen to more podcasts. But a lot of times I wouldn't listen to anything just because I want to hear the road, it's a bit safer to be kind of plugged into the sound landscape. But really, there are parts of the American West and the central part of the country to you, for that matter that is incredibly beautiful. And just soaking in that scenery and also meeting up with other bike touring people. There's, you know, during that summer, we met a lot of people, we actually wrote a script for three guys from New York for like weeks. We went through most of Missouri with them, and Kansas and until they went off and split their own direction, but yeah, you make some cool friends on the road, too. It's really quite the experience.
Yoni Mazor 14:37
Wow and when you finally reach your final destination, you know, was it climactic, what was the feeling in that moment?
Brent Zahradnik 14:42
Yeah, I actually have a good story about that. So I got to Anacortes, Washington, which is on the west coast and you know, goes right up against the Pacific. And I, you know, dip my wheel in the ocean and like I met this girl who is cycling by and she like told me this path to go on. And then I got set up. And I actually slept at her parent’s house that night in this bus they had in their backyard. And then the next day I set off for Redmond, Washington where Microsoft is headquartered, and my actual like last stop, I guess like the final leg of my trip was to go through, I think it was called Whidbey Island, on the west coast. And then I went to like, it's called Whidbey Island. It's like this island that's off the coast of Seattle. And there's like an Air Force Base there, but you can like go on these bridges and stuff. And I went down there and I came across into Seattle, and I went into Redmond and I stayed with my friend, Jason, who actually worked for Microsoft at the time. And I was so hungry that night, he took me to a Mongolian barbecue buffet. And I ate as I do, I swear, I ate like the place to bankruptcy. I ate like everything they had. Because I had ridden like 117-118 miles that day. It was like a massive day. And yeah, I just like destroyed that buffet.
Yoni Mazor 16:02
That's the climax. That’s the climactic moment right there. It’s like, I earned the calories. I probably am not gonna do 100 plus miles on my life on a bicycle and you did it in one day, that's phenomenal.
Brent Zahradnik 16:12
And it's surprisingly easy once you're in shape.
Yoni Mazor 16:15
Yeah, the body is a wonderful machine. And I'm sure you probably know more than others, you know, four and a half months of strain on your body daily like that. That's fabulous. I love that. Okay, so you reached out to Seattle? Was that a little bit of a hint of your future in e-commerce? Or was this like a divine thing that you try to really pedal your way all the way to the e-commerce land in Seattle, Washington or I guess? In other words, what was the next station for you?
Brent Zahradnik 16:42
I always want to see the Pacific Northwest. So I managed to do that. You know, I rode over the Cascades, I was in Oregon. You know, I went through some really incredibly beautiful territory over there. And I spent actually three weeks living at my friend's house in Redmond, I went to the Microsoft campus a bunch of times I spent a ton of time in Seattle. I went to Portland, Oregon for a couple of days on a bus. Like I checked out the whole area. I was thinking of moving there. It was just a question of, oh, what can I do for work or whatever. And, you know, if I had what I know now about Amazon and everything, maybe I would have tried to start the agency even then. Or maybe I would have become an Amazon seller, who knows. But I didn't have that foresight or insight into e-commerce. I was way more focused on the stuff I knew about like from, you know, computer technology and like IT stuff and I just didn't have the same awareness, unfortunately,
Yoni Mazor 17:28
Got it, but it seems like it was more of the scenery, the culture that brought you physically into that area, location. Okay, so 2000, already you’re kind of reaching 2013, right there at the beginning. So what was the next station for you professionally? or How did you get back into the world, the, you know, the regular world?
Brent Zahradnik 17:43
Yeah. Eventually, I flew back to the east coast because I just didn't find something that was working for me there. And I sometimes wonder if that could have been an inflection point in my life. But I flew back to the East Coast because one of my good friends is getting married. I want to be at his wedding. So I went to that. And then I basically didn't do much for like, a couple of months, I was trying to figure out what was next. Eventually, I got an internship with a b2b marketing company. And that's where I learned AdWords actually. So someone there taught me AdWords, and yeah, we're working for b2b clients.
Yoni Mazor 18:12
So this is like 2013? That's when you hit your next workstation with SEO b2b marketing.
Brent Zahradnik 18:18
Yeah, that was like late 2013. Yeah, like it was fall 2013 I can't remember the exact date but it was that like, mid to late? And yeah, that's where I started to get into digital marketing. And like, obviously, I had the tech skills with like, IT stuff. And actually, I became like, the de facto IT guy at the office because it was a small team. People were like, this printer’s not working. I was like, Oh, no, not again, you know, classic, classic, accidental IT guy. But yeah, that's where I started doing AdWords. That was my first taste of pay-per-click marketing. And that whole scene in keywording, and SEO and we had a, you know, in-house web dev guy taught me some stuff. And it was just a really rewarding experience. Or how many I couldn't even tell you,
Yoni Mazor 19:01
Any clients, anybody that's worth mentioning? Any fortune 500, or some unique company that was more memorable for you? Or was...?
Brent Zahradnik 19:08
Yeah, the company is actually still around this. This agency I'm talking about. I won't say their name, just for privacy reasons. But yeah, Olympus was a client at one point.
Yoni Mazor 19:17
The cameras? Olympus cameras?
Yoni Mazor 19:19
Yeah. Um, and what else? They had some other, companies that were doing digitization of giant amounts of paper, like large corporations. It was another client, I can remember the name of that actual business. But we had some, like local clients too. But we had some, like large companies we worked with. And it was a small shop. I think they're like 14-15 people, which is funny, because like, now my company is bigger than that in terms of headcount. It's weird to think about.
Yoni Mazor 19:45
You never know, right? When you start something, you know, you might have the same or a bit larger outfit later on, but Okay, so how did you do or did stay in that position?
Brent Zahradnik 19:54
I was there for a couple of years. Let’s see, when did I…?
Yoni Mazor 19:58
So like 2013-ish until?
Brent Zahradnik 20:02
I think it was, um, till late 2014. Actually, so yeah, that was maybe like a year and a half, because actually what happened was I got laid off. I got fired, wherever you want to call it, they had some revenue crunch, and they just laid off some of the newest people. And I was included. So at that point. Yeah, that was rough. That was definitely one of the more like difficult experiences I had to deal with. And, you know, I think I held some ill will against them for that for a while, but I no longer do. But it's one of those things that the time is really tough.
Yoni Mazor 20:33
It's super tough, but it had to happen. Because you, I mean, there was a different trajectory in place for you. We're going to get to that very soon. Okay, so 2014, you got laid off, you know, you experienced seeing a little bit of a dip, or downfall. So what was the next station for you? How'd you pick yourself back up?
Brent Zahradnik 20:49
Well, I actually moved back to Philadelphia with some friends of mine who I knew from my Apple days, and I was working part-time and other jobs, but I was determined to do something like freelance. So I actually was doing AdWords consulting for various companies making an okay living at it. I actually had some clients. And that was like paying, you know, enough to keep me afloat. I wouldn't call it a business or anything. It was just a kind of freelance work. And I worked part-time somewhere too, simultaneously. And I was just kind of like, you know, moving along in that existence. But I actually had someone who is a friend of a friend, who is from New Zealand, and she used to work in the yachting industry. So she still does work in the yachting industry, as far as I know. And she was telling me all about yachting that you should really get into like yachting, there’s so much money in it. It's really interesting, and I was like, Okay, so what I did is I actually moved down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and I got various certifications. And I worked in yachting for like, 10 months, I was a deckhand. I was doing day work, which is like where you just work on a boat for a day, sometimes like a week.
Yoni Mazor 21:46
Hold on, let me understand the components here. So you're in Philadelphia, you have a friend in New Zealand. How'd you guys even connect?
Brent Zahradnik 21:53
Oh, no, she was a friend of one of my other friends who is a professional cyclist. Who's a kiwi as well. And I met her...
Yoni Mazor 22:01
A kiwi? What’s a kiwi?
Brent Zahradnik 22:02
From New Zealand.
Yoni Mazor 22:04
Oh, you call it Kiwi? Didn't realize that.
Brent Zahradnik 22:07
Yeah. So she's a professional cyclist. And this was a friend of hers. And she had come to visit her, actually, she was on leave from her boat. And she came to the US and like, just like this dynamite personality. I was like, wow, this is crazy. This is kind of like
Yoni Mazor 22:21
She came to visit the United States, visiting a friend. You guys happen to come across. And she changed your physical trajectory into Florida. And steering you into the world of yachting. And so you did 10 months of everything in the world of yachting. And you got licensed and everything?
Brent Zahradnik 22:34
Basically. Yeah, I did my kind of yachting career, I worked on a sail yacht. That was actually a really nice, really nice boat. That was probably the most enjoyable job I had. But I worked full-time there for a few months. But simultaneously while I was doing that, I was still doing AdWords consulting, and trying to make something work there. I was like, maybe I can make it like an affiliate website. Or maybe I could start up some kind of like blog about something. I don't know. I had a couple of things I tried that didn't work, ultimately, but I always had some clients here and there. That was nice. So I kept my hand actively with AdWords, I'm still really interested in it. And I met a guy in Florida, who was selling on Amazon, and this was.
Yoni Mazor 23:15
Hold on, lemme get the years straight. So you move to Florida, what? 2-14 or 2-15?
Brent Zahradnik 23:17
Yeah, 2014 Yeah.
Yoni Mazor 23:20
2014 you moved to Florida. Which part of Florida?
Brent Zahradnik 23:21
Yoni Mazor 23:23
Fort Lauderdale. Right? And then you're there for about, you know, a year in the yachting industry for about 10 months, and working, still kind of dabbling in the world of SEO. And during that time, you also met the Amazon seller or that came after?
Brent Zahradnik 23:35
No, that was all the same time. Yeah, I was living in Florida. I was working on ads still. And I met this guy. And yeah, that was early 2015 that I really started to, like, help him with what he was doing. Because at one point, he approached me and he was like, hey, there's advertising on Amazon. I know you do ad stuff, because I have clients and he's like, you know, he’d asked me before what's the deal with that? So I met up somewhere he told me all like how Amazon works, I was like, really skeptical. I was like, wait, you just send your products in and like they put it in their warehouses? Sounds like...this doesn't sound real.
Yoni Mazor 24:04
What? It sounds too easy?
Brent Zahradnik 24:07
Yeah, I was just like, I didn't know anything about e-commerce. You know, I was always like the b2b AdWords guy. Like I understand the data side of it, I understand the pay per click, but you know, I never had an idea or notion of like, oh, sell stuff on e-commerce and that was not something I was ever interested in. But he taught me some basic stuff that he was figuring out, but he was still at the beginning of his journey really. And at one point, he was like, Hey, you know ads, like take a look at my account. Let's see what these ads can do. And I was like, all right, all right. All right. I had a few Buds at that...
Yoni Mazor 24:34
This is the moment what I call where e-commerce came knocking on your door, what do you like it or not. It came knocking on your door, and it opened up the world for you and you entered, you know, without a clue, knowing that it's gonna really consume..
Brent Zahradnik 24:47
Pretty much. It wasn’t a soft knock either. It was repeatedly like, hey...
Yoni Mazor 24:53
Break the walls down on the whole house and you know, if you don't come out, we're gonna crack down the house. Yeah.
Brent Zahradnik 24:57
Yeah. So I was like, Okay, well Let's see what this holds. And so I set up some basic, this remember, this is early 2015, sponsored products as a platform had launched in 2014. So these is early days, and I set up some campaigns for his products. And they were like a higher price point $70, $90, depending. And yeah, we started getting like click cost per click of like, if I remember correctly, some of them were as cheap as two cents, but I think it went up to 15-14 in some cases, and we were selling like $85 $84 products with like a few clicks. So like the return on ad spend was like, insane. I was like, Alright, wait a second. What's this all about? Seems like there's something here. There's something going on here. I was like, This is super basic, I can do this, like, with my hands tied behind my back compared to Google. And like the return on this is, there's got to be some kind of opportunity here.
Yoni Mazor 25:51
Got it? Yeah, it makes total sense. Because there's full intent, with the consumers once they shop on Amazon, you put something in their face. And that's it, there's not too much about it went to Google, there are a few screens, you got to kind of pass, are they really shopping, they're not really shopping, they're just browsing around, comparing the website with Amazon, there's a there's, you know, they created an amazing ecosystem, where the intent is simply, you know, simply there, there's trust going on, it’s in front of your face and take a few and you make a click or take a little look, boom, you act accordingly, buy it and move on. Extremely powerful and back in those fertile days of 2015, it was dirt cheap. And a lot of people made a fortune. So you discover that and, what was the next station for you? What was the next, you know, trajectory?
Brent Zahradnik 26:33
Yeah, so I, a few months after that decided yachting wasn't for me for a couple of reasons. One of which is I think I happened across a very, very interesting thing here in this Amazon thing. And I thought, Oh, this is something that I can build a business off of, or I can at least get a nice book of clients to really be an expert, I can deliver awesome value for them. Like, this is early days, you know, I kind of saw where the trajectory was going. And I think back to your point, you know, Google's a search engine, right? What is Amazon? It's a conversion engine. This is the whole point. And yeah, it doesn't get any more relevant than that. And that's buried out in the conversion rates, we still see Pathfinder, like, you know, 9-10 percent in normal season, you know, during quarter four, it goes up to like 14-15 for products and sometimes far higher. So, yeah, compared to the conversion rates, I had been used to with b2b clients and the occasional b2c client with AdWords. I was like, This is insane. So I, yeah, I moved back to Pennsylvania, basically. And I said, I'm going to live with my parents, I'm going to work a part-time job, but I'm going to focus exclusively on setting up this Amazon consultancy, whatever you want to call it. At the time, I just wanted to get clients and work with them myself. I had no idea to ever be hiring anybody. So I started to do that.
Yoni Mazor 27:43
You said compel. Like there's like a rocket fuel compelling you to hone in on this. You feel like on a mission, like the same kind of mission you were on, you know, doing, doing a bicycle ride all the way to Washington State, you feel like, you know, there's a purpose. There's a mission. I'm going for it.
Brent Zahradnik 27:56
Yeah, because at that point, you know, I had some money saved up from the awnings, it paid really well. But I did do a couple of months trip through Europe, I'd never actually been to Europe before. So I did that. That was awesome. But then I came back to my parents, I was like, Alright, time to get serious about this. This was basically early August of 2015. And I and I call that the starting date of Pathfinder, the company that you know, I'm now. Because that's what I actually had like a logo and I put together like, you know, it was not the logo we have now. But it's really basic, a website on Squarespace or something awful like that it looked really bad. But the point is, I got the minimum concept up and people started knowing me by that name and understood that. And so I started just being super involved in Facebook groups, because that was the place to go to talk to people and to learn stuff and get clients to and then just, you know, message them through Facebook Messenger, get on a call, like send a proposal, get everything sorted out. And sure enough, I had, you know, a book of clients and I was making better money than I made in yachting and better money that I made in my last job and I was like, well, this is on the right trajectory. And I gotta just build my expertise and keep moving from here.
Yoni Mazor 29:01
So you realize this is real. This is real. This is sustainable. This is on a growth pattern. Yeah, and you're just scratching the surface here.
Brent Zahradnik 29:08
Exactly. And that's right at the same time Fun fact, I was working at an Amazon warehouse.
Yoni Mazor 29:13
How’s that? Like in a fulfillment center?
Brent Zahradnik 29:14
Yeah, yeah, I was part-time. And so the warehouse is fairly close to where I'm from is ABE2, I'm sure a lot of listeners know where that is because they send the product to it. Allentown Bethlehem Easton. And I was a picker. I was a fulfillment picker during peak season so I worked there for like three or four months and having had personal first-hand experience with that, my whole life was Amazon, man. I’d wake up. I would do Amazon ads and then a couple of days a week, I was just part-time but it was like 10-12 hour days sometimes, I would do these picking sessions and that job is unforgiving. It is brutal. Like that is really a tough job.
Yoni Mazor 29:49
And this is what, 2015 16?
Brent Zahradnik 29:51
Yeah, it was 2015 into 16. Yeah, during the season cuz I was like man, I need extra money for this whole venture and like I need to recharge my cash. And I was like, what can I do? And so I got an inside look at Amazon working there...
Yoni Mazor 30:05
I guess that’s brilliant, just brilliant. Yeah, you know, building a business around that e-commerce ecosystem. I think it's pretty, pretty bold, and pretty smart. As I said, it was a brutal environment, he realized the intensity, and you can actually touch it and feel it with your own hands. Everything that you're creating in the back end with advertising. Cause every time you put an ad or somebody, you know, digital space, or there page, and they click and they buy it, then somebody in the warehouse has to, you know, touch it.
Brent Zahradnik 30:31
Pretty much it was like I had, I was bidding on digital real estate. And then in the meantime, I was taking action in physical real estate inside of an Amazon building. And I like to imagine sometimes when I was doing that job that this is something that I sold through ads. And now here I am putting it in this thing, and it's going to a packer in the warehouse. I don’t think I ever found any client stuff in the warehouse. I mean, the Amazon warehouses are massive. And I, you know, I stuck to my job, I wasn't trying to, like look around or anything. But that was a cool experience for a number of reasons. One of which is I got to see like that culture and the inside, but also see how the machine works. And I also simultaneously sent a bunch of stuff into FBA, just to see how the mechanics of it worked. Because I had my own little account. And I was like, I'll just send it in and see what happens. So I learned to do the FNSKU, and it's like, scan this thing and package it like that. And like that was an educational experience, too. And that kind of also helped me understand what clients were trying to do. And, you know, at that point, I was working with a lot of people who also were starting up their own ventures, and some of them have gone on to be wildly successful. And actually, a couple of clients. We have a few clients that have been with us since 2016. Which is crazy.
Yoni Mazor 31:42
Wow. Almost five years now almost five, yeah. Yeah. Brilliant. You're able to bridge between, you know, the digital into the physical with your own bare hands. I find that super unique. I haven't met anybody who did that before. So kudos on that. Alright, so 2016 take us there. What was the next station for AMZ Pathfinder?
Brent Zahradnik 32:00
Yeah, so I was, uh, I stopped at Amazon fulfillment because peak season was over, I was a seasonal employee. So they said, Hey, thanks for your time and effort and everything, bye! But by that point, I was already doing really well with the consulting in terms of just clients and you know, how things were moving, how my experience was accumulating. And in June of 2016, I decided to start traveling because I wanted to go traveling again. So I started to run my business from the road. You know, I spent huge amounts of time at like cafes in Japan or co-working spaces, oh where was I? I was also in Macedonia for a while. I lived there for a couple of months.
Yoni Mazor 32:37
Hold on, so you’re saying, so essentially in 2016, you became, you continue growing your, your agency, your advertising agency, in the digital space. But you said you know, I'll become a digital nomad.
Brent Zahradnik 32:50
Pretty much. Yeah. We look back on that now. Pretty much and we look back on that now. And it's so easy, because it was like, that was a golden age of travel.
Yoni Mazor 32:58
Hold on, you said “we” - was somebody out there with you?
Brent Zahradnik 33:02
No, no, just the “royal” we. Like you, me, everyone watching this. Cause now we think about Oh, it's so hard to get a flight anywhere. Now I gotta get a test. I gotta pay this thing. I gotta wear masks. I gotta go to the airport. It's all like, way harder. Yeah, that was pre that time. And man, it was so easy to get a plane ticket for anywhere. It was like the golden era. At least that's what it feels like. So I was trying to...
Yoni Mazor 33:22
Actually, I never thought about that now that you put in perspective for the digital nomad community, that was really a golden era, because e-commerce, the whole space is growing on a digital level. And it can really allow you to have a good, you know, income, you know, is located anywhere. And, you know, air travel became, you know, democratizes a lot of, you know, charter flights, a special kind
Brent Zahradnik 33:43
Yoni Mazor 33:46
So it opens up the world to, to the digital nomad community, and they're having a blast, you know, the golden era. Now, it all came to a brutal halt. I do believe it's gonna come back once we fight back with this pandemic. For now, we'll stick to 2016. Okay, so you Macedonia, Japan everywhere, keep going.
Brent Zahradnik 34:04
Yeah. And that's when I also hired my first team member. So I had been working a lot with a company called Bobsled Marketing, which is actually still a massive player in the Amazon space, and highly recommend them. If anyone's looking for full account management. They're great. And I'm still in close touch with their ad team because I trained a lot of them at that time. I was working with them in addition to my own clients. And
Yoni Mazor 34:24
How was it that you came across Bobsled? What was the point of connection for you?
Brent Zahradnik 34:27
I actually met the founder, Kiri Masters, on Twitter. I was a really big Twitter user at that time, and we had been messaging a bit on Twitter and she said, Hey, why don't you go like, you know, come talk to us. They were a small team at that point, just four or five people and I was just solo and she said, Hey, you come help us with ads. So I helped them with ads in their early days to help train some of their people. Their current head of advertising, Stefan is someone I trained. But he's like, you know, he's, he's taken far, far away from where I've gone. He's gone to the next level. Absolutely. So they...I still have a really good relationship with that company but I was doing that, I was doing my own stuff, and that's also when I hired my first person just part-time. And then from there, I started hiring people part-time, and then I moved them into full-time and then got more full-time people and things start to grow from that point. But it was late 2016 when I hired my first part-time person.
Yoni Mazor 35:21
Right. So you basically entered the stage of scaling your business right? The infrastructure, the manpower, the talent. Take us to 2-17... yeah the whole thing, the whole, you know, intellectual property that you guys are really developing, SLP standard procedures, the whole structure, make it you know a bona fide digital factory for it’s you know its main mission and purpose to you know to boost sales through advertising for e-commerce Amazon sellers. Okay, so that was, you know, 2-16, 17, 18 the whole, all these years were kind of that mindset trajectory or anything in between those years that was notable?
Brent Zahradnik 35:57
Two big things. Two big things happened. So I’m talking to you right now from France. I live in Montpelier, right?
Yoni Mazor 36:05
Mount? Mount what?
Brent Zahradnik 36:06
Montpelier. Yeah so the reason I live here is my girlfriend is French and I met her on Couchsurfing many years ago but then we reconnected in early 2017 when I came to France. Because I was like I'm traveling around Europe like I'm gonna stop through, like let's meet up, and I pretty much had a real connection because we've been talking for a couple of months before that. We had a real connection and I was like I'm just gonna stay here with you, is that okay? Okay. So I lived in Paris by accident for like a year and a half and I went back to the US...
Yoni Mazor 36:38
So you’re still running your business?
Brent Zahradnik 36:40
Oh yeah, they got internet in Paris don't worry. So yeah it worked out...
Yoni Mazor 36:47
You know what they also have in Paris, or I think in France, are fulfillment centers you can also work there. You know picking stuff for Amazon friends, right?
Brent Zahradnik 36:53
I think they have several in the Paris area because it's obviously one of the biggest metros...
Yoni Mazor 36:57
There you go, you can rely on Amazon, they're everywhere.
Brent Zahradnik 37:00
They got a job for me anywhere I go. Strange but true. Yeah but I ended up accidentally living here and you know I've since appreciated the culture and language everything much more but at first, you know I'm not someone who had any preference for France I just like Cecile, my girlfriend. so I was like okay well, I'll stay here. And the other thing that happened was in early 2018 I had two business partners come on. One of them was a former client who sold his business in late 2017 for a pretty large exit and the other person was someone who does a lot of investments and stuff with him. And so one of them, Nate Ginsberg is actually his name, is a very good friend of mine. He is very involved with Pathfinder, he also has a company called SellerPlex and they do a lot of services that kind of complement services we don't do, like listing optimization, A+ content, all kinds of other stuff, inventory supply chain management, cash flow finances, and then we do the advertising side. So he's kind of like our sister company and
Yoni Mazor 38:00
So hold on. So Nate Ginsburg is your partner? He's a pathfinder? And he has his own platforms, you know, that stuff that kind of are complementary to what you guys are doing as well?
Brent Zahradnik 38:09
Exactly yeah. SellerPlex is the name of his business. Yeah and so, you know, I talked to him on a very frequent basis and I consider him like a friend and a mentor because he's a very savvy entrepreneur and really helps me see things from a bigger level. And I got to say like you know partnering with him, and I met him through a private entrepreneur group called the Dynamite Circle, partnered with him and this other guy who is kind of like with him with this, was like one of the best decisions I ever made because kind of their combined network and kind of perspective and wisdom has allowed the business to do much better than it would if I was just running it myself. I don't consider myself like a natural-born entrepreneur. I learned a lot of my lessons the hard way kind of by smacking my head against the wall until finally, I go oh this is how it works. But having someone else there was really really great. That accelerated things drastically. So things were going like this you know 2017 but it really in 2018 they started to go like that.
Yoni Mazor 39:05
Like the hockey stick effect.
Brent Zahradnik 39:06
That’s when we started to hire a lot more people, we got proper structures in place, we got you to know more serious about retaining high-end talent, like paying more, charging more, offering more everything. Yeah, that's what started to take off.
Yoni Mazor 39:19
Got it, brilliant. So essentially you entered the domain of scaling your business by doing it through you know establishing a partnership with more entrepreneurs who complement each other and together to create a really a much more sustainable infrastructure and business that is more formidable looking into the future. And hopefully kind of building an empire together which makes it a more complex nevertheless sophisticated journey to do together. So 2018, 2019 explosive growth. 2020 hits. Anything special happens in 2020, besides the corona, the business got propelled even more? What were the effects?
Brent Zahradnik 39:55
It seems like kind of a bit of a blur. I mean well yeah just to go back to the partnership thing for a bit. I think one of the things that's important from that is that Nate has a really interesting philosophy on business, which is like: everybody can win in a business transaction. Now you, the client, Amazon, all parties can win if things are arranged correctly. And I've really taken this to heart over the years because I firmly believe that. Like, I think, you know, here, you're a client. And what we give you is this, this, this, we provide value as an agency along these several axes, you pay us for our time, and our energy and our effort and our expertise. And the exchange of those two things is greater than the sum if they wouldn't have happened, right. So they have a better outcome, we have a better outcome as everybody wins. And that is a really positive, and I think, generous philosophy that I've really taken to heart. And I, yeah, I try to operate with that as one of my core operating principles from my you know...
Yoni Mazor 40:46
I think mathematically there's a little bit of a take on that where they say, you know, one plus one equals three, there's that, that synergy component, which adds another unit, which creates just a better, no results, more enhanced results for everybody involved.
Brent Zahradnik 41:00
The most generous people I've known in this industry and Amazon, you know, there’s a lot of really good people in the Amazon industry, there's, there are people to avoid, for sure. But there's a lot of really good people. And all the people I know are the ones who are super open-minded and super generous with their time, and energy, and knowledge. And those are the people who are on the stage at conferences, giving excellent talks, other people you can talk to and hang out with, after the after show, people you can call on zoom and like, you know, ask them questions about stuff, and I try to make myself available in that same fashion and to be generous. And that, that I think it genders a really good feeling of the Amazon community. It's one of the reasons I like this industry because there are a lot of really good eggs. It's like it's a good scene.
Yoni Mazor 41:39
I agree. Totally agree with, you know, I agree with this mindset. But yes, as far as what you're saying is that you know, you were able to absorb a lot of the mindset and the positive environment and you were, you know, which enriched you and your skills and your knowledge to do business. And you say the least I can do is do the same thing and give back and stay open to the opportunity because there's a lot of synergies out there. And there's I always say, there's enough space for everybody involved because it's just a gigantic space and opportunity. And, you know, today, maybe e-commerce is maybe 15-16, maybe 17% of total retail, everybody can make a safe bet, saying it's gonna go to 20-22, 23 to 25%. And every percent is humongous. So, a lot of opportunities. It's exciting times to be in this kind of space. The Golden Era really is exasperated by COVID, unfortunately, and fortunately, right? Alright, so I want to kind of touch you know, recap your story, because it's been fascinating so far, you know, born and raised in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, around 2009, you already graduated through college. 2010, you do a little bit of a stint with the Apple Store getting a lot of people’s experience because before that you were much more into the tech side of the engineering side. After that, essentially, you decided to go bicycle riding, you know, for about five months, right? Almost coast to coast. The eastern part of Pennsylvania, all the way to excuse me, um, you know, the state of Washington all by yourself. And you had Brian along the way, who kind of quit in Colorado, but from that point on all by yourself, connecting with nature, the world, connecting with yourself. After that you move back, you kind of look at yourself, you know, you move back to actually you said well, in the northeast a little bit kind of looking over there, touching, dabbling, but then going back to Pennsylvania, and then by chance somebody from New Zealand, the New Zealand connection, the kiwi connection forces you to Fort Lauderdale, and Florida. So you go into the yachts. And once again, by chance, you know, e-commerce comes knocking on your door, this Amazon seller comes and tells you, you know, you know how to do advertising, please help me with that. Opens the door for you to dabble with it, you see this tremendous opportunity, you hit back into Pennsylvania and start building your business and then you started, you know, continue building your business but traveled around the world. And around 2018, you connect with more partners, with Nate Ginsberg and his partner. Things even propel and scale even more and now we're you know, 2021, early 2021. Where, you know, the growth has been exponential, you know, it was growing and then you know, it touched a little...it came to the world of the point of the hockey stick effect. And you know, your eyes are still looking forward, but you're physically living in France because along the way, you know, you fell in love with a French woman, which is irresistible to many. Right? And then now you're living in Mount?
Brent Zahradnik 44:31
Yoni Mazor 44:32
in France. This is unbelievable stuff. So thank you so much for sharing that. I found it to be a fascinating, colorful, eclectic, energetic, motivational everything, you know, all the above apply. So okay, so now I want to kind of finish off the episode with two components. The first would be, you know, if somebody wants to, you know, reach out to you or learn more about you, where can they find you? And the last thing would be, what is your message of hope and inspiration for entrepreneurs listening out there?
Brent Zahradnik 44:58
Sure, so the first one, you know, just AMZ Pathfinder dot com takes you to our main services and everything, you can find us on Facebook, or on LinkedIn. And you can always email us directly at “hello at AMZ Pathfinder dot com”. That'll go, that goes to me and one other person, but I'll get that and most likely respond. So, yeah, hit us up anytime. And your next question, I have been thinking about here. You know, I think the biggest thing that has made all the difference for me has not been, oh, I have these technical skills, or like, Oh, I'm so good at being a people person or whatever, like, those elements do help as you go through life for many things, not just entrepreneurship. But I would say the single biggest thing has been putting myself in the right situations, in the right rooms, to be near the right people, you know? You don't know about the opportunities you don't know about by sitting at home, and like looking around on the internet and trying stuff and trying to like, you know, kind of hide behind the screen, so to speak, real-life happens when you get out there. And you are in online communities or real communities, whether they're meetups in person or their meetups on the internet, and you're putting yourself in front of other people who are super smart. There's that classic, saying, if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room, I really do believe that. And I love when I go to events with this group DC and other you know, groups, I'm a part of where it's like, man, the people in this room are brilliant, or like this guy on stage is like really blowing my mind with this presentation, or I can't believe I have the ability to network with this, you know, a famous person in this industry. At the dinner after the presentation, we went out to the bar afterward. And we talked like, all those things are those chance encounters that lead to amazing relationships, both in business and personal for years to come. I really, really missed the conferences that I didn't, you know, go to in 2020 because most of them were canceled. And this year, I'm really looking forward to going to them. And that's, it’s for that reason. You know, it's the chance to go to an exotic new country and Europe or maybe some city in us I never been to, but it's also the people there that's putting myself into the rooms with those people has been the number one most important thing I think.
Yoni Mazor 47:06
Yeah. So if I wrap up the message, don't be afraid to engage. Engage because you find out that in this space in this industry, people just warm it's welcoming, there's so much opportunity, you might not realize when the opportunity is striking you because you're in the moment and you're engaging, but it will something good will draw you into a good path. So keep engaging, do not close yourself off, think open, think wide, and good things will happen. Alright, beautiful. So Brent, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing the story. I had a great time. I hope everybody else that listened had a great time as well. Until next time, stay safe everybody. Thank you.