Season 01 • Episode 03

Alex Merutka, Craftsman Plus

Alex Merutka, CEO & Founder of Craftsman+ is our third ever guest! In this episode of wide-ranging topics, Alex will explore with us his many instances of accidental self-injury, be it playing volleyball like Ice Man and Maverick (shirts and baby oil optional), swimming with sharks while having a bloody nose, or ignoring friendly advice and sliding down an entire icy staircase. No one was injured in the making of this podcast, thankfully, as we also discussed bartending for celebrities, getting decked out in all-swag attire, and of course, learning all about being a “Dragon Bro.” Alex did talk nerdy with us, too, and his POV was on changing the game of mobile ad creative. How he finds time for all this, we’ll maybe never know!

Episode Transcription:

Louis: My name is Louis Tanguay. I am the founder of App Growth Summit. With us today, we have Kali Stelse.

Kali: Hi, Louis.

Louis: She’s the manager of App Growth Summit. Our amazingly special guest today is Alex Merutka from Craftsman+. Hey, Alex.

Alex: Hey, thanks for having me.

Louis: You want to say a little bit about what you do briefly?

Alex: Yep. So, I’m Alex Merutka, founder of Craftsman+. We help advertisers in the ad creative space with automation and we focus on interactive and playable ads.

Louis: Awesome. You also Airbnb your apartment in New York or in LA to friends?

Alex: Yep. That’s the founding startup mindset.

Louis: Okay. So, getting here today is a very special day, getting to this podcast room in New York City because Kali hailed her first cab in New York City today. So, congratulations, Kali.

Kali: Thank you. I’m still learning the streets. Louis keeps telling me the different directions. This one goes east and this one goes west, and I gave the taxi driver totally incorrect directions to get here, but good then to have Louis. But I did stand on the curb and wave my hand like a true New Yorker would. So, one highlight of the day.

Alex: Yeah. Once you got the grid system of New York, it becomes super simple. But for the first two weeks, that’s kind of a mind fact.

Kali: Yeah. I keep failing the test. Louis keeps saving me.

Louis: No, that’s not a fail. It’s a learning moment.

Kali: Learning experience.

Louis: You can’t go more than one block. If you go more than two blocks and you haven’t figured out you’re in the wrong direction in most of the city, then that’s on you.

Kali: That happened to me yesterday, I learned quickly.

Louis: Yeah. You go one block, oops, they’re going the wrong direction, then turn around. Alex, you got your car to you in today?

Alex: Yep. I injured my shoulder about a month ago, but re-injured it over the weekend playing some volleyball. So now, I’m just focused on cardio and legs and decided to ride my city bike here.

Louis: Everyone’s riding a city bike, so even people that don’t look like they ride city bikes.

Alex: I feel like it’s an excuse to… You don’t feel as bad if you’d miss your workout and you just ride city bike. Well, I bike three miles today, so at least I did something. It’s the little things that count.

Louis: Where do you play volleyball?

Alex: I just played on the beach. I was in Barbados for the weekend.

Louis: Okay. Tough life.

Kali: Oh! You do have a nice like glow to you.

Alex: Thank you. Yes, the tan.

Kali: Yeah. You’re welcome. I’m jealous of that.

Louis: The post-Barbados glow. Were you athletic as a kid?

Alex: I was okay. I don’t think I was the most athletic guy, but I just tried really hard. Hence, my body not liking me for the effort I put in.

Louis: So now, you tried it so hard with helping people with their marketing and the creatives?

Alex: Yep. That’s where all that efforts are on. Instead of volleyball on the court, it’s on the ad space.

Louis: Spiking this creative campaign. Okay. So, the first part that we’re going to get into now is random questions.

Kali: Alex, question number one, if you are a bartender, what famous person would you like to serve?

Alex: I was a bartender one time for a charity event, and it was a really fun event. If I could serve anyone, well, the first name came to mind was just sad because it was Kobe Bryant.

Louis: Oh!

Alex: Yeah.

Alex: Outside of that, I would say… I can’t say this one either.

Louis: No, no. Okay. That one sounds like the one you have to say.

Alex: I mean the one I was going to say is Nina Dobrev just because she’s my number one slept crush. A good amount of people in the industry know that, but I would serve her.

Louis: I would so.

Kali: Nice. What do you think she would drink?

Alex: I’m guessing, a shot of tequila.

Alex: She seems like a fun girl. I’ve met her a few times. Some chemistry building. I think we just got to share in the shots.

Kali: I love that. Go bigger, go home.

Louis: In the celebrity bartending episode of yours, was there anyone notable that you served?

Alex: Oh, no. I was close friends all in New York. We were just raising money for charity and had a bunch of my friends come over tip us because all the tips went to the charity and basically, brought a couple of handles in for free and poured shots for everyone at the bar to turn up the night and have everyone loved the bartender that’s given them one free shot. So they tip better.

Kali: Nice. What charity was it for?

Alex: It was about helping, actually, in the creative space, but helping kids in underfunded programs in elementary and middle school get more arts and crafts time and supplies.

Kali: That’s really nice. Cool.

Louis: Then you recruit them into working for Craftsman+?

Alex: Exactly. It’s a long game.

Kali: Next question. What is your favorite app right now that’s not your own?

Alex: Probably and just recent, just because of the name that I secured, but Byte. So it’s the Vine founder’s new app they just started. Recently just launched. I always wanted to get my name just Alex, just get that. It’s always taken, it’s a common four-letter name for a guy and girl. So for Byte, I secured Alexnyc. So, get ready for my posts on there. I just like exploring the new platforms in the space. You have to keep up with what TikTok’s doing, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram. I feel like this platform has a lot of clout coming from the Vine guys that turned down tons of money at Twitter to go do this. So, I think they’re going to get a lot of their following back, and it would just going to be a different, interesting audience that I want to explore.

Kali: Sounds cool. What’s your cooler, dinosaurs or dragons?

Alex: Wow. I’m going to have to go dragons. Just Game of Thrones, still relevant, still top of mind. Thinking about ice dragons, fire dragons. I’ve always been a pretty big fan of dragons.

Louis: Do you have a dragon tattoo on your back?

Alex: Me and my best friend from third grade both thought about getting different dragon tattoos on our back. I’m not a tattoo guy, so I didn’t do it, but he got a few tattoos, but we do have different dragon statues in our apartments. He has one and I… This is one’s steel and one’s jade. We basically switch whenever one person needs to be more calm and relaxed to get the jade one. When someone needs to be strong and power through it, they get the steel one. So, we’ll mail it to each other and swap, if there’s a life crisis happening.

Louis: So you’re like dragon bros.

Alex: We’re dragon bros, yeah.

Kali: Yeah. I like that. #dragonbros

Louis: #dragonbros, #appyhour, #alexnyc or @alexnyc on Byte, not Vine.

Alex: There we go. Yep.

Louis: Do you think they took the name Byte because of ByteDance?

Alex: I think something like that. Yeah. I’m not really sure, but yeah, potentially.

Louis: They’re like, “Oh, you took a bite out of us. Let’s take a bite out of you, but we’ll do a B-Y-T.” Subtle.

Alex: Yep. Subtle.

Kali: A little switch up of questions. What is your favorite hat?

Alex: My favorite hat, honestly, and this sounds lame to say, but the Craftsman+ hat just because I’m not a designer. It’s strange for someone to run a creative company that tends to come from a creative background or a traditional creative background. I’m definitely not a designer. If you saw me dressed up before I came to New York, I had zero style. I just picked simple black and gray. People love them. I get people sending me pictures of them in the hat. I wear mine all the time. I wear it when I hurt my shoulder this weekend in Barbados. So, I would say that one just because I like the design. It’s simple, easy. I wear it the most.

Kali: Nice. Now, I want one of these hats. Sounds popular.

Alex: Let me know next time, I’ll bring some in.

Louis: All right. Well, shameless plug, we’re actually are… All of our speakers this year are going to get gifts. One of the gifts that we’re going to give out are our spider jackets. We’re going to have a nice, subtle logo on the lower part of the jacket. So, it’s going to be black jacket with the gray logo. So there you go.

Alex: Perfect. You have to be in New York, too.

Kali: It’s fashion.

Alex: Yeah. All black is just all you have to do.

Louis: So, you’ll have to wear your Craftsman+ hat with the AGS, App Growth Summit, spider jacket.

Alex: I think it’s hilarious when people wear entirely decked out of swag. Go to a conference and have 30 different swag items on there. It reminds me of that movie Office Space with flair, the 15 pins of flair. It’s like that first swag at conference is hilarious.

Kali: Speaking of conferences and hats to New York, I brought my favorite beanie from an AGS conference I went to in San Francisco in October.

Alex: There we go.

Kali: It’s from AppsFlyer, but it’s like the comfiest, warmest winter beanie there is. I wear it all the time.

Louis: I bet you Michelle is gushing right now, and no, that was not a paid plug. That’s just legit.

Kali: It’s just legit. I walked into the conference and I was like, “I need that hat,” and I got the hat. I love the hat.

Louis: She’s still wearing it.

Kali: I still wear it.

Louis: Go to one more.

Kali: Next question. One more, last one. Which activities make you lose track of time?

Louis: Playing volleyball on the beach in Barbados?

Alex: Maybe. I feel like I’m always just counting the score and somewhat keeping track of time. This is probably a bad thing to say, but scuba diving, which is the opposite when you want to forget time because you don’t have that much air. So, you want to keep track of time. But when you’re scuba diving and you’re just floating through the water, there is no phone. There’s no way you can even get close to a cell phone. It will not work 100 feet down. There’s no laptops. You can’t talk to anyone. You’re literally just by yourself floating through the ocean. So, I lose track then. Again, not the best, but I’m still alive and well.

Louis: Do you ever meet a shark down there?

Alex: Oh, yeah. Swam with sharks multiple times.

Louis: Yeah, literally. Swim with sharks. Did they come up to you? Did you have to punch them in the nose?

Alex: Yeah. The nose thing. I actually got a bloody nose when I did a shark dive at the bottom of the ocean. I have a hard time clearing my ears. So, we’re doing a shark dive and everyone goes down before me. So, obviously, I’m worried, I’m by myself and it’s murky water. I can’t see anything, that my whole crew has left me. So, I’m trying to get down faster than I normally would to clear my ears. I have issues with that.

Alex: So, I went down a little bit too fast. I got a bloody nose when I got to the bottom, and it’s just filling up in my mask. There’s three sharks swimming around us, and the shark dive in Mexico. My mask is filling up with blood. You’re wondering, do I clear it, which you can do pretty easily, or do you just get blood in your eyes and just deal with it. But if you clear it, the shark’s, obviously, going to smell it. So, I just kept it in, and just went through the dive with a blood in my mask.

Louis: Okay. So now, we’re going to get to a section of the podcast called Talk Nerdy To Me. Now, since we talked about you as a human being and a person, now we’re going to get back into it because this is an industry podcast. We’re going to talk a little bit of what you do for work. We’ll ease into a gently. What’s the most fun part of your job?

Alex: Yep. I would say working with my team and clients. It’s been great. When you found a company, you can bring the people you want next to you. Because of that, I’ve got to surround myself with really amazing people, that I get to pick and choose and create an amazing culture. Same with clients. We love working with the partners that we work with. Everyone’s really respectful in my industry. It doesn’t feel just like a vendor-client relationship. It’s more personal. I like the people we work with.

Louis: I think that’s key. If you hate the people you work with, it’s going to be a rough day every day.

Alex: Yeah. Quit your job immediately.

Louis: Yeah. Kali, do you like the people you work with?

Kali: Yes, I do.

Louis: Yes, you do.

Alex: There’s still time to get out, Kali.

Louis: Are you paid to say that?

Kali: Run.

Louis: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?

Alex: I would say doing something game changer for the business that you’re in, just thinking of it different just outside of your role of you’re a marketing manager, you’re in sales, you’re an account manager, these are all roles then, it’s good to have a definition of what your role does, the responsibilities, what you should be held accountable for. The best thing that got me out of the mindset of, “Hey, I’m in sales and my goal is to create revenue.” I’m a part of this company. My goal is to create more value at this business. When someone told me just focus on impacting the business and doing something, game changer, my mindset changed.

Alex: I thought about what is everything I could do to change this business for the better and do something outside of just my role to really impact the business? It could have been an idea. It could have been helping other people on their parts of their job, or learning more about the different sides of the business to be better at my role. That definitely gave me the… It just gave me the freedom and confidence to say, “I can do more than just X, Y, Z role.” I feel like a lot of times when, especially when you’re straight out of college, you’re going in, you just want to listen to the person above you and just put your head down, grind and do a good job. That’s what you’re meant to do.

Alex: When you’re head’s down, it’s not up and you’re not looking ahead. It’s hard to do something game changer when you’re just sitting there head down, typing away in whatever role you’re doing. So doing something game changer was the best piece of advice I’ve ever had.

Louis: What would you say is the thing that you’re doing right now to change the game of mobile advertising?

Alex: I think with the shift of Facebook and Google and all the machine learning capabilities out there and algorithms that have helped automate part of the buying side, I think creative has been lacking there. I think the biggest pain point right now and bottleneck in industry is automating creative. So, what we’re trying to do is help people the same way Facebook and Google have automated buying, help folks automate ad creative to keep up with machines.

Louis: Do you brand? Are you going to license it out, or is this just for Craftsman+?

Alex: Yep. We’re doing the license route. So, we’ll license the software out and give advertisers, agencies, DSPs, anyone who does the buying side, we’re going to stay clear of the buying route and just focus on being a good creative platform for partners.

Louis: It looks like you just got a partnership with the YouAppi.

Alex: Yep. We have them and a few other partners on the DSP side testing right now. We have a few direct advertisers and an agency partner. So, just getting a few different folks, taking as much feedback as possible. We love receiving feedback. It’s awesome when you have an idea that people immediately click and get. They can help pull you in the direction that fits their needs the best. We’re super open to feedback. So, it’s been really interesting hearing the 10 different folks testing the platform right now, what they want, some pain points, what they like.

Louis: A shout out to Nancy, Ash and Leo over at YouAppi. Can this be licensed or utilized by brands and our apps or that I have to go through you to manage that creative automation?

Alex: Yeah. It’s a self-serve model that when you license it, you can log into platform, upload your creative and then start automating.

Louis: One more nerdy question. How do you see the industry changing in the near future?

Alex: People anytime can save money on pre-development like pre-planning, and we’ve learned a lot from this… Craftsman+ actually started as a creative agency before moving into the software space. The more planning and pre-production you can do before project and anyone in the production space will know this, the more costs you save and the better the project goes. So I think the same as for any product company out there, any service, anyone in business, the more pre-planning and preparation you can do, an investment on that side you can do will pay off dividends in the future.

Alex: So I think with things like Google Play Instant or creating many experiences, and advertising is a big part of that, but just getting more research and understanding of what users are connecting with, what products they like, and then building after the fact, I think the market’s shifting from a let’s build products and push it on people to hey, let’s listen to everyone with social media, with how easy it is to connect directly with your audience, and these brands are listening now; hey, let’s listen to our audience, and then let’s build backwards from that and build the products that they care about.

Kali: So, if you remember the answer to this question, it ties back to your celebrity question, which is interesting. After a long day at work, what’s the drink you like to wind down with?

Alex: Thank you for the hen. But, yeah, typically, it depends on the night, but tequila or whiskey and even a great glass of red wine.

Alex: Yeah, it just depends what I have available. Whiskey, tequila, or red wine.

Kali: Nice. I feel like tequila is just like my go-to. Feeling like just take a quick shot, it’s always tequila. I don’t know why.

Louis: Because you’re in your 20s. That’s why.

Kali: Okay. Well now, everyone knows my age. Sorry.

Louis: That’s what you do. You pregame, you just take a shot, and that’s the beginning of it all.

Alex: Just depends on what you’re looking for. Red wine is great. If I’m eating dinner with a glass of red wine, perfect. If I’m sitting by myself and contemplating in life, I’m going to drink whiskey. When I’m looking to stay awake and get an upper, but slight buzz, I’m going to do tequila.

Louis: Scientific. #drinkscience.

Kali: Next question. Tell us something about yourself that most people might not know about you.

Alex: Yep. I am a pretty big anime fan. So, I don’t know if you guys are animate fans at all, but I think that’s part of the reason why I liked getting into the space working with gamers. A lot of the IP and games that we see out there are based on an animes or other sort of cartoony-type characters. I just really like those. So I’ve watched a lot of anime in my life. Most don’t look at me and go, “Oh, that guy loves anime,” but I do.

Louis: What’s your favorite manga?

Alex: It switches. There actually is a really good volleyball anime out there. It is a lot better. Well, I rewatched Attack on Titan, recently. I was pretty into that. But I really like Sword Art Online. Talking about dragons before, I’m a huge Dragon Ball Z fan. I think that embedded dragons in my life, but I’ve always just wanted to be since I was like five.

Louis: You are the Super Saiyan of ad creative.

Kali: Okay. Next one. If you weren’t an App Growth expert, what would be your chosen profession?

Alex: Anything that just helps kids. So, again, that charity, going back to helping kids be more creative. I used to coach kids volleyball. Talking about volleyball again. Anything that’s just going to inspire and create a better life for kids. I love hanging out with kids, and I love anything that’s going to make them better and change their mindset because as a kid… When I was a kid, there were certain people in my life that said even just one sentence, that completely changed my mindset and perspective on life. That if I never met that person, I’d be completely different. You can just shape someone so easily when they’re younger. They just have less data points that they haven’t lived as long, they don’t have as much experience. I can’t train an old dog new tricks essentially. So, I like being that positive impact in someone’s life early on, whether it’s career or it’s a child. It’s really gratifying for me.

Kali: Yeah. I love that. The last question is what is the funniest or most embarrassing thing that has happened to you recently?

Alex: The most embarrassing thing recently was … I’m a big snowboarder. I was riding the other day. My best friend had just said, “Alex, the stairs are slippery. Watch out. You could fall.” Three seconds later, I fell down the stairs and the guy in front of me also fell down the stairs because of me. So, it was like a train falling down the stairs reminded me of the Goonies, the movie, where he’s in the movie theater. He starts puking. Then everyone in the movie theater starts puking as well because of him. I felt like that guy, I felt like chunk in that moment because I fell down the stairs knocking out the guy in front of me and running into my best friend at the bottom where we all fell.

Louis: Then he just looked at you like, “I told you, bro.”

Alex: Yeah. Everyone just said, “We just said watch out for the stars.” I’m like, “I’m sorry. My heads are up in the cloud right now.”

Kali: Is it one of those things though, if somebody went to have said something, would you have fallen.

Louis: The Matrix.

Kali: Exactly.

Alex: 100%. I blamed her later. I said, “This is all your fault, Gabby. If you had not mentioned that, I never would’ve slept. I would have done something differently.”

Alex: So, yes, I love that you just quoted The Matrix, one of my favorite movies.

Louis: They predict. So, I think it’s apropos to ask, “How did you get hurt in that fall?”

Alex: It was mostly pride. I was a little sorry. I’m used to falling on my ass then in snowboarding. So, it’s a snowboarder’s way, you’re used to it.

Louis: So, no shoulder injuries, no knees. This one was just the pride.

Alex: Yeah. Knock on wood, the shoulder does not get hurt in ski season right now. I got to make it through before taking a look at it and opening it up. Yeah, no serious injuries. No one was hurt.

Louis: No one was hurt in the making of this podcast either.

Louis: Okay, Alex. Well, thank you very much for being a part of this. This is one of our first podcasts. So there you go, you’ve helped us break the seal. So, thank you very much for doing that. Everyone, you can go check out Craftsman+. How can they learn more about you? Shameless plug time.

Alex: Yep. You can just Google or find me on LinkedIn, and it’s all linked there.

Louis: Or download Byte.

Kali: @alexnyc.

Alex: Yep. Thanks for having me on the show.

Louis: Hey, you made it till the end of the episode. Thanks for taking the journey with us, and we hope you found it exactly as advertised, where it was mostly fun and entertaining, but we did manage to get in a little tech talk and there as well. So you can tell your managers that this was actually time spent doing work stuff. Trust me, we won’t tell on you.

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