JD Prater | Growth Marketer | San Francisco

discovering what's possible

I'm a seasoned growth marketer living in the San Francisco bay area. I'm quick on my feet and excel at digital strategies and storytelling.

Why I Gave Up the Agency Life to Join a Startup

This isn’t a story of hating agency life. In fact, it’s the opposite. If you’re looking for a rant about long hours, crummy clients, or poor work-life balance then I’ll stop you now, because you won’t find it here.

You see, I loved my last role, the people I worked with, and agency’s management team. It was a dream job and, in many ways, still is. It’s difficult to leave a job where the company cares for their employees as much as my last company does. They set a high bar, and one that I will always respect and appreciate.

Plus, I had the honor of working with some of the smartest and brightest people at a few of the best agencies in the industry. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world. I loved agency life.

Solving Puzzles

I’ll start by saying that I love puzzles. They’re addicting. I’ve been known to sit down to work a 1,000 piece puzzle without taking a break. It’s fun to see the big picture, but also get lost in the details.

Solving interesting and complex business problems is what excites me. Each problem is like a puzzle piece waiting to be placed. I enjoy spending my days searching for that puzzle piece, experimenting with this channel or looking for insights in that report.

And as it turns out, I’m pretty good at it. Over the past few years, I’ve worked on intricate puzzles for Fortune 500 companies as well as newly formed startups. I worked with B2C and B2B companies across a variety of industries all with different goals and KPIs. There was never a dull moment as I tailored marketing strategies and tactics to each business.

But recently, I was confronted with with a puzzle that I’d never really worked before.

The CEO of an ad tech startup reached out and presented me with an opportunity to lead their user acquisition and growth marketing efforts. Coupled with his zeal and excitement for the company’s future and the role that I could play in growing a tool that’s made such an impact in my work and the work of colleagues, the opportunity gave me real pause.

What can I do to turn a startup into a thriving, self-sustaining company?

The question came at a time when I was feeling an intense draw toward growing and building something. I had no idea what that something was or even looked like. That something eventually manifested into a concept of no longer wanting to work on a variety of companies, but growing and building one company to be the best in class.

In hindsight, I had been thinking about internal growth projects for several months. It came after reflecting on the parts of my job that I enjoyed the most and figuring out how I can do more it.

In the end, it seems liked the stars where aligning around this startup position. So I trusted my gut and accepted the role at AdStage as their Head of User Acquisition.


The startup I'm working for.

The startup I'm working for.


My Reasons for Joining a Startup

There are several reasons why I’m joining a startup. And no, it’s not for the snacks, foosball, or unlimited vacation. I’d love to dive into all of them, but here are the ones that get me most excited.

1) The Opportunity to Grow a Product and a Company

As for the day-to-day, having ownership of the marketing funnel is a lot responsibility and pressure. But hey, no pressure, no diamonds. For me an added bonus is implementing my ideas as fast as I can think through them, rather than waiting for (necessary, but sometimes frustrating) client bureaucracy.

And to be honest, a little equity doesn’t hurt either.

2) Working On a Cool Tool

Put simply, how cool is it that my fingerprints will be on a tool that simplifies the lives of fellow advertisers. It’s exciting to be involved in building and improving a tool that I used for years spanning two different agencies. Now I get to work directly with the engineering and product teams to develop an even better tool for the PPC community.

3) Innovation

One of the worst feelings in the digital marketing space is seeing the industry just passing you by. Clients are often reactive and risk-adverse, they want something after everyone else has done it. But while clients are asking for case studies before deciding on which software they’ll choose, I often see their competitors acting quickly and aggressively to earn an edge.

Startups are notorious for moving quickly and “growth hacking” their way to success, because for many of them time is market share. If you’re slow to innovate and adapt then the market will pass you over. And now it’s my job to ensure that our our growth efforts are innovative and keeping pace with our customer’s expectations. Talk about a puzzle with lots of moving pieces.

4) A Different Way of Thinking

There’s no better way to understand the ins and outs of business than to see into the inner workings of a company with your own eyes — on a daily or weekly basis. I’m no longer focused on completing one section of the marketing puzzle.

Now I get to think more holistically and figure out the order in which pieces should be placed for the greatest impact. Obviously, I’m going to start with the edges.


Seth Godin said, “sometimes, the world is telling us it’s time to leap." And as I head into this new startup world, I’m optimistic about the new puzzles I’ll solve, the skills I’ll learn and grow, and the company’s future. As an employee, you couldn’t ask for more.

And if you’ve made it this far and are interested in learning more about my journey or AdStage then drop me a line.