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Transcription in this episode:
[00:00:01] spk_1: Welcome to the seller roundtable e commerce coaching and business strategies with Andy Arnott and Amy Wees, [00:00:10] spk_2: hey, what's up everybody, this is Andy are not with [00:00:12] spk_0: Amy Ruiz and [00:00:14] spk_2: we're super excited to have Ben Leonard back on Ben, thank you so much for being here, [00:00:18] spk_1: Hey, good to be here. Thanks for having me. I [00:00:21] spk_2: almost, I almost re butchered it, I'm so used to that last name, being my friend from college college, I had to really, really think about that one. [00:00:29] spk_1: It's cool, you can call me whatever you like. I've been called a lot of bad things, so you know, I don't want to do that, we'll [00:00:35] spk_2: stay with the niceties. [00:00:36] spk_1: Um [00:00:37] spk_2: then on that note, I would love if people haven't watched the episode that you were on previously, you guys should go back and listen to that, but if you have not then give us a quick little synopsis of kind of your journey to where you are today. [00:00:50] spk_1: Cool. I'll try and keep it brief. Um My background is science. I'm an environmental nerd, um studied, studied ecology, was working as an environmental scientist when I started my first e commerce brand back in 2016 and it was a fitness brand. It turned out I was pretty good at it, so I quit my job and I scaled that brand up and by late 2019, we were doing about $6 million bucks a year in sales and I sold it. Uh this was right before the explosion in mergers and acquisitions that we're now seeing in e commerce and I sold it through a broker and the experience with that broker could have been a bit better. So at the end of that, my accountant and I put our brains together and decided to combine our skill sets me on the e commerce side and Allison on the mergers and acquisitions on the accountancy side, we created a better brokerage and now I'm kind of doing three things, I'm doing a bit of consulting, helping big brands to be a bit more like the little guys, because it's us that's crushing it in e commerce and not them. I got the brokerage helping e commerce business plan and then execute their exit strategy and I'm still building brands partly because I love it, partly because now I know how to build a brand into something valuable that I can sell. And partly because I still need to have my, my feet in the trenches as it were, so that I can properly advise people because of course this space is moving so fast and that's a really quick rundown on, on me and how I got to what I'm doing now, [00:02:21] spk_0: awesome. And how did you learn about amazon? How did you first learn about it? [00:02:28] spk_1: Yeah, so I came at it a bit different than a lot of people. For me, it was never about all I need to sell stuff on amazon it was, oh, I'm starting a brand of fitness equipment, I need somewhere to sell it. I was one of those people that thought that when you bought something on amazon, you're buying it from Jeff Bezos, like I didn't know that third party selling was a thing. I just knew that I was developing these fitness products and I would probably want to sell them on my website and I might want to sell them somewhere else like either or something. And then I discovered all you can sell on amazon. So for me, it was just a sales channel and that's how I got into it. And the approach, [00:03:03] spk_0: I think that's so smart and whenever I see people that are building a brand first and brand focus and customer focus first, they always do really well on amazon because they are very, they're not dependent on amazon for all of their traffic and sales, they're just looking at amazon is a very strong sales channel and they're doing all the rest of the customer. Follow up customer market research, all of that kind of stuff very well. So I think that it's always nice to hear that not everybody who builds a brand first does well on amazon because sometimes they don't understand e commerce, but I think today you just, you have to understand e commerce to really, you know, to grow faster. So speaking of that though, you know, you started this brand of fitness equipment by, oh, by the way, that sounds like hard, like oversized, like heavy, you know, what was the hardest part about growing and scaling that business [00:04:10] spk_1: a few things, I guess. Um, it was quite competitive. Um, so it was important to stand out from the crowd and I did that through brand identity and building direct relationships with customers off of amazon through social channels. Um, I ran into a few intellectual property issues which we can touch on if you want. Um, one of the biggest challenges, it was just the, the status quo of the fitness industry, like it's all about, um being the biggest, strongest, fastest, the slimmest, the most, mostly the skinniest. And so I actually use that to my advantage, I kind of dig it where everyone else is act. So I made the kind of somewhat unorthodox decision to make myself and averagely fit normal guy, the face of the brand. And so the whole idea was if you're an averagely fit, normal person, you're provided, you set some goals and you're working hard to get after them. You're a beast. Welcome to our tribe. The brand was called Beast gear. Um, you know, welcome to our tribe at the same time. If you're really unfit and you're just trying to get off the couch and run your first 5K, you're a beast. Welcome to our tribe. And if you're going to be the next heavyweight boxing champion of the world, you're also a beast. Welcome your drivers, like everyone is welcome fitness kit, high quality fitness kit at a fair price is for everyone and we're kind of going against the elitist image of the fitness industry come along and it worked because people buy from people, not brands like until your Tesla or Nike, no one cares about your brand, they just want to solve the problem. So eventually people did care about my brand, but only after they bought two or three products and they became like a big fan. So until that point I just had to kind of present myself as hey, I'm Ben, I'm the guy that started the skier. I'm a normal guy like you uh come by my stuff and it worked. [00:06:01] spk_0: Mm I love that technique in it. I love how you brought up that people buy from people, they buy to have their problem solved? They don't care about your brand in the beginning, that doesn't mean that your brand messaging and what you're communicating doesn't matter. As you proved with making sure that you actually had a brand persona and you are connecting with the customer, which is really important and awesome. Um what in terms of choosing those winning product, You talked, you talked a little bit about how you had some intellectual property issues and I think all of us, if you have not had some intellectual property issue, you have probably not been a brand owner or in e commerce for very long. But but yeah, how did you pick winning products? Was it more important to pick the winning products or to build the brand? Was it a balance, talk to us about that. [00:06:58] spk_1: So I'll tell you what I didn't do first because again, when I started this and even when I had my first idea of what the first product was gonna be, I wasn't coming in from an amazon point of view, so I hadn't played around with just 2016, right, I don't think helium 10 existing Java Jungle Scout did hadn't played around with Jungle Scout. I wasn't trying to figure out what the search volume on certain keywords was and what should I sell it was about, I'm gonna build a brand of this, I'm interested in this, this makes sense, I'll go and do that. And for me then it was just about scratching my own itch. So I was looking through my fitness hit in my gym bag and I did a lot of boxing and crossfit at the time and my jump rope wasn't very good, so I decided to make a better one. So I developed a better one and the first product for the brand be skier was called the beast rope. Eventually I brought out 3, 3 jump ropes. And so for me it was about, well what problems do I have and how do I solve them? And then it was about creating products which solve related problems for the same group of people, it was never about gaming the algorithm or finding some opportunity through amazon in that way, I'm not saying you can do that, you absolutely can do that and then build a brand around that, but it really helps if you're passionate about whatever it is that you find, so for me that's, you know that that's how that worked, I just created more products that made sense for my customers to solve related products problems for them, always trying to either be as good as or better than the competitor products that were already available. [00:08:35] spk_0: Yeah, and in terms of your marketing strategy um when you're building that brand out, I love how you mentioned, you know, you picked yourself as the persona and you said hey I'm just a normal guy and I'm making, I'm solving my own problems and these are your problems too, you know come along and be part of our tribe, how much of growing your brand um had to do with what you were doing off of amazon [00:09:04] spk_1: a huge amount um so I think more and more brands and even amazon themselves now are paying attention to the off amazon part of the equation, but I think I was pretty early to do that, so for example a lot of this is like straight out of like the Gary Vaynerchuk playbook and you know love him or hate him, he's got some pretty cool ideas and it's doing stuff that on the face of it, you think doesn't scale, but when it starts to work, you eventually find a way to make it scale. So let me give an example, right? And it really helps if you have a brand that lend itself well to social media, either because it's photogenic or people like to talk about it and fitness is a good example of that, but other brands work. Like you could have like a knitting brand. I would work really well, like Pinterest or instagram. So, you know, let me get a new picture. Um, Dave buys, Mind You weightlifting belt and he posts a photograph of himself on instagram using the hashtag for the brand. And he tags the brand and in the beginning it was me doing all this, but eventually it was a team search the hashtags and search for who's check his tank. This. Not only would we comment on their post with a meaningful comment, not some generic rubbish, but actually something relevant to what they posted about. We would click on their profile and spend a minute scanning back through their last several posts and learning a little bit about them and then have a conversation with them in the D. M. S. So it's oh, hey, Dave great job with your squat personal best the other day. And I saw your post from a few weeks ago where you absolutely nailed your dad lift. Great job. I see you're from, you know, I know Edinburgh, it's my favorite city in the UK and then you just build a conversation with them, Right? And you're building a relationship. David's delighted because you've paid him attention. That's why he's on instagram. People on instagram for attention and whether they admit that or not, that's why they're there. And so you paid him attention. He's blown away because the brand that he just bought from is deeming him. You don't get that with Nike. And then you just you just start out there. Well, because you're awesome. Here's 10, off on our website. So now you've moved him over to your website. So amazon's top of funnel. You've moved into your website. He might or might not buy from you, but you've got a good chance of at least getting his email address from your lead magnet. So now you can market to through email. Mhm. And you can then just ask him a simple question at this point, you've built up so much goodwill. Right. He's delighted purely because you've been you've paid him attention and you've shown interest in his life, by the way, where did you buy the weightlifting film? And you know what the answer is going to be? Well, I got it on amazon. You wouldn't mind just heading back over to your account and just living as a quick review, would you? And then you get the review and then here's a great bit. So he's brought a weightlifting belt from you. So what I would do is I would save all my customers post in different collections. So that, that post would go into collection called like UK customers weightlifting. So in two months later I'm launching another weightlifting product back to that collection, Back to every person who's posted back into the DMZ catch up conversation, how you doing, what's been going on? How's your life, how is your training and they can help you with, you know, keep it cool, keep it natural, show interest, empathy. By the way, we're launching a new product and then you can see where we're going from here. So then you can launch new products to an audience who cares about you. And this is how you build raving fans and people will be [00:12:37] spk_0: micro influencers and brand ambassadors. [00:12:40] spk_1: Yeah, so you get your user generated content would never have to pay for any content. You get your reviews which are all verified and real like you're completely with in terms of service, you're not saying, hey, you know, if you didn't [00:12:52] spk_0: give him a free product, [00:12:54] spk_1: nothing like that [00:12:55] spk_0: reached out to just [00:12:58] spk_1: it just so happens that unhappy people tend not to post on instagram, but you're, you know, it's not, it's not against terms of service. So you're that is how you do it. And then um they become raving fans and they tell their friends and so on and so forth. So to answer your question yes, they play a huge part and we did that in every country right? We were selling in U. K France, Germany italy spain and we would I use really not google translator translating tool called deep L. Deep L dot com I think it is check it out. It's really good to actually put together scripts and even just on the fly just put in whatever they're typing at me into deep L and translated and right back in their native language I it really really really worked to build those relationships and after a while it became unsustainable for me to do it myself. So I built out the scripts and I handed them over to a team and they did it. [00:13:55] spk_0: I love that, I love that from the very beginning you started by with the intention of connecting and following up with your customers which is brand 101 that's [00:14:08] spk_1: awesome. Killing my mic there. I couldn't have done that if I found some random thing on amazon to sell and even if I then try to build a brand around that let's say I found like some, I don't know plumbing component and I built some plumbing brad. I have not the smallest interest in plumbing so even if I built a brand around it, I wouldn't have had, I wouldn't have got out of bed in the morning, excited to go talk to people in the DMS about plumbing right? It has to be something that you're passionate about or at least someone in your organization needs to be [00:14:43] spk_0: Yeah, I mean you can sell plumbing [00:14:46] spk_1: parts, but not as much, [00:14:48] spk_0: you can sell plumbing parts on amazon all you want and you might even find a really underserved niche and you might make some good money, but it's gonna be really hard for you to build a brand around that, especially if you don't know anything about it and actually make it a sellable brand. So that being said, you know, you talked about all this, it's just so interesting to me because this is one of the biggest pain points that I noticed when people come to me and ask me about, you know, hey, I can't, I can't get this thing to sell and it's like, well that's because you're one of 400 other ones like why why should the customer by this? Right? What's your vision, what are you doing with this brand? You know, and people just feel stuck and I think it's because they start with this model where they pick a product that they think is, you know, low competition, high demand and then everybody else does the same thing and you know, we end up in this lovely, you know chasing tails thing. So speaking of that, I mean amazon has changed that actually used to work a while ago, you know that that was like you could sell a man, but people are still teaching that and it's just, it's not as effective [00:15:55] spk_1: anymore, it's [00:15:56] spk_0: definitely not effective for selling, so that being said then what do you recommend for people, you're still building brands today? What do you recommend for people who are getting started there listening to the story, they're listening to this amazon opportunity and what do you recommend for them? What should they be doing? [00:16:14] spk_1: The first question to ask yourself is not what to sell, it's who to sell to and ideally you want to scratch your own itch and all the best brands start from somebody scratching their own image for example, Airbnb was okay, it's not physical products, but it's cool, it's a big brand was started by some people who were broke and they inflated some air beds in their spare room and rented it out. Right? And so they created a platform for people to run out of their spare rooms and it's grown from there, Shopify was started by Tobias Luca who needed a platform, a website to sell his snowboards and in the process of building and discovered that actually he was scratching an itch there to build a platform for people to sell products on their own dDC website, you get the idea right? So it needs to be something that you identify with and you're passionate about and you want to build a brand which to me a brand is A suite of products and you don't need to end up having a lot of products right, if you, if you end up with five skills, that's absolutely fine. I would say a sweet spot is between five and 25 suite of related products that solve related problems for a particular group of people, whether that's motorcycle fans or, you know, people who like crochet, whatever, um, and make it something you're, you're interested in. Start with, that is what I would do, and then it's the classic stuff, you know, identify what's your first product going to be, that's going to get people hooked and ensure that there's something about it that differentiates from the crowd. Now, that might, that might be difficult at first, might be difficult to either improve upon the competition or create something novel, but as a minimum, you have to then make it all about brand and make your brand stand there and potentially take a slightly different view on it. So go niche to target a particular niche group within that group of people, if that makes sense? Yeah, [00:18:26] spk_0: that's where I would start, I think that's really great advice and, you know, people can get very overwhelmed because they see this opportunity and they go, okay, you know, I want to, I want to leave my job and I want to go after this opportunity, but then they get stuck in this kind of loop where they're like, I don't know what to sell and they don't feel confident enough in scratching their own itch and, you know, so then they're just like uh just I'm just gonna sell this other thing because it looks like it has good numbers right? But then it's really hard to grow something that you're not interested in right? Because you're like okay where do I go from here? So I think just starting there and not being afraid to just start small and grow from there is just such great advice. [00:19:06] spk_1: I think at the start a lot of people because of a lot of the topics in the blogs Youtube podcast is people coming on to talk about and what's the latest tactic or hack or shiny object for doing A. B. C. But newbies hear that and they're like oh I need to be doing that. And then the next episode We'll be doing that as well and that and that and that and that and they get pulled 1" in a million directions rather than just thinking strategically, forget all that stuff. Forget about the latest hack to rank on amazon you don't have an amazon business? Only Jeff Bezos does and think about the wider strategy right what's my first product? What would what would what would a suite of four products right now for this particular people, Group of people look like write that down and then ask yourself okay who are these people what are their values? What are their challenges? What are their pain points? What do they need, what would their objections to buying from me be and how do I bust those and where do they hang out and then get in front of them like ali on Pinterest. Great go there. If they're not on Pinterest then don't go on Pinterest. Are they on youtube? Are they on instagram? Are there on Tiktok or on the facebook groups wherever they are, Get in front of them and start building the audience now before you even launch, there's a great book on that topic actually. I wish I'd written, it's called 12 months $2 million dollars by Ryan Daniel Moran. Um, it's, it's great book because it's quite straightforward and simple strategic without getting too caught up in the wigs. So I would recommend everyone reads that. [00:20:45] spk_0: Alright, 12 months to a million by Ryan Moran, awesome. Okay, so you sold your business? [00:20:53] spk_1: I did [00:20:54] spk_0: what made you decide that it was the right time to sell [00:20:58] spk_1: well? Um, so it was early 2019 when I made the decision, so completely different landscape now. Right. I've heard a few whispers, you know, within the e commerce community that there was some money coming into the space to acquire e commerce brands and that buying and selling e commerce businesses was becoming a little going to become more mainstream, you know, previously, if somebody had said they wanted to buy an e commerce business or selling e commerce business? You know, you would have got looked at like you had two heads? People believed that an e commerce business wasn't a real grown up business because it didn't have a roof and a door and walls and I came to realize that I was sitting on a pretty valuable asset. My wife was pregnant, we wanted to move house and the business was at a turning point where either I build a bigger team either remotely or locally and got a bunch more resources to take it where it could go or I could take some legacy money off the table and do something different and give us a bit more security for life. And I decided that the right thing for our family at that point, what we collectively decided was to sell and perhaps if I had already had an exit under my belt, already had that kind of safety net, financially I would have potentially stayed along for the ride because I loved the brand still do on the ground, but it was the right time for us. And there is kind of a qualitative way of looking at this, a quantitative way of looking at it and a really wishy washy emotional way of looking at it. And I received some wishy washy emotional advice whilst I was thinking about this, it was actually really, really helpful. Yeah. Um and the advice was this, it was sell your business at the point of peak romance and what that means is you've built up a whole bunch of potential, stored energy in your business as to where it might go. Its got a lot of potential, but that's only potential, it might not be achieved. It might not be realized if you get out now you're a really great spot because you have a lot of potential which you can use as leverage to negotiate a great deal and you can potentially in addition, um, capitalize on the upside if you structure the deal right as well after you've sold. But if after you've sold, it doesn't quite reach the potential that you think it has then you got out at the right time, which is a pretty interesting way of looking at it. I also felt like it was the right time to sell just because I was growing, but I hadn't maxed that growth. So there was still some meat on the bone to attract a potential buyer and I think that's something that everyone should take account of. You want to sell your business when you've got your on an upward trajectory, you've got growth history. But you haven't maxed out growth because whoever buys your business wants to enjoy some of that growth to an accelerated and then if there are financial buyer, they're going to want to exit themselves a little bit further down the line. [00:24:05] spk_2: Yeah, absolutely. Um, I love some of the points you made there. One of the things I really like that you mentioned is you know, if you wanted to, if if, you know, because a lot of people see their businesses like their babies, right? They have this emotional kind of attachment to their business, right? Almost like a child. And I love the fact that you mentioned that, you know, if you structure the deal right, if you still want to be involved, you can, you can take, you know, some money off the table in terms of, you know, percentage of ownership, um, and still stick around if you, you know, if you believe in the company or you want to continue to grow the company or like you did take it off the table and go on to the next thing and take what you've learned and, you know, sometimes it's, you know, I'm do, I do a lot of software and sometimes it's better to just start over rather than try to rework code that you've done before, right? Because you all, you have this knowledge of the journey now that you can take And, and kind of start from, it would be like, uh, you know, like being a contractor and building houses, right? If it's the first house you ever built, it's not going to be nearly as good as the 10th or 15th house you're gonna build, right? Because you're going to have that experience and those tips and those tricks and those, all those different ways of doing things that are going to evolve and get better. So to take that first house and maybe try to remodel it. You know, you might not get that that perfect house that, that dream house that you really can envision unless you start from the foundation and work your way up. [00:25:28] spk_1: Yeah, you had a great point there actually, which is a lot of people are asking now they're saying, hold on a second with all these aggregators in the space buying brands and all the resources they have, aren't they just going to start their own brands and how compete me and I'm not gonna be able to compete. And the answer to that is no, because most of these aggregators know diddly squat about e commerce, they know how to raise money, but their operational capability is pretty poor if we're being frank And many of them won't exist in the next 9 to 18 months anyway. And their expertise lies in taking what you have already built and sticking some big resources behind it. They don't have, they are a cruise ship. The cruise ships are great, they have tons of entertainment on board, you can eat as much as you want and they take you to interesting places, but they take half a day to turn around and you can't just change the itinerary when you want, but when you're on a speedboat, you can choose, Oh, I'm going to go swimming, dolphins are going to go shark fishing, I'm going to go scuba diving, you can still end up in the same destination at the end of the day as the cruise ship and probably faster. So you can still, you can exit your brand and then with the resources that you've got, buy yourself a new speedboat and still beat the cruise ship and and then sell again and again and again. And that's kind of the model that I'm following and I would encourage others to follow. And you know what you mentioned before as well about deal structure. I mean that highlights why it's really important to work with. Not only a great broker but a broker who will partner you with a really good mergers and acquisitions attorney to help structure the deal such that uh it protects you from the potentially poor operational capability of whoever buys it. Um, but also whatever in a way that suits you. So if you want a bit of an in and out because you can see where this could go and great if you want to consultancy agreement, so you can help advise on the running of the thing. Great. If you want to take a profit split of new products that you launch after you sold the business because you've still got a big list of products that you could launch. Great if you want to retain some equity, Great. But you've got to have the right representation to help you do that. Thanks for tuning in to part one of this episode, join us every Tuesday at one PM pacific standard time for live Q and A. And bonus content after the recording at cellar Roundtable dot com, sponsored by the ultimate software tool for amazon sales and growth seller S EO dot com and amazing at home dot com.