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Is Buying an Amazon FBA Businesses a Good Investment?
A lot of buyers come to us and ask about the risk of buying an Amazon business. Likewise, when setting an Amazon business up to sell, what are some things to consider? Buying up businesses and creating a profitable portfolio is something that some very savvy buyers are going all-in on. Today we are talking about Amazon FBA with someone who has been doing just that. If Amazon is the past, present, and future of e-commerce and all the others are just playing catch where do YOU want to put your money as an online business owner?
Carlos Cashman, CEO and entrepreneur, has started over a dozen companies as well purchased, sold, and taken public many others. He is now CEO of Thrasio, an FBA business acquisition company. Thrasio has a wealth of experience purchasing businesses from all over the world. At Thrasio, the team guides the seller to a deal in record time backed by expert law, due diligence, and financial teams.
- Carlos’ take on the Amazon consolidation model.
- The importance of sku concentration, consolidation, and product stability.
- How many Amazon deals Carlos has made.
- Whether he places weight on secondary metrics such as email marketing.
- Where the efficiencies are in Thrasio’s portfolio.
- Navigating a bad purchase and when to cut losses.
- Cross-collateral investing and how Thrasio sets that up.
- Why Amazon?
- Some statistics that cannot bely the retail ecosystem that is Amazon.
- If and how any business can compete, in the long term, with Amazon.
- Product creation and innovation best practices to follow.
- The importance of having representation when selling your business.
Joe: Mark, I have a lot of people that come to me and talk to me as either buyers and they say, Joe, what’s the risk of buying an Amazon business? And I talk—5, 6 years ago everyone thought the risk was really high but today there are people that are a lot smarter than you and me and you and me combined and maybe all of our team that have raised 10, 20, 30 million dollars to buy up Amazon businesses and build a portfolio. And I understand you had Carlos from Thras on the podcast talking about just that.
Mark: Thras.io; he’s very careful to approach to actually correct me on that at the beginning of the podcast and he tells me the meaning behind their name which is really cool. I’m going to save it for the podcast so people can listen to that. But yeah what I wanted to know so many buyers look at Amazon only businesses and they discount them for channel risk because they’re like do you really want to be on this one platform or competition and products could be sort of ubiquitous, competition can be really tough and your subject in mercy to the whims of Amazon. And so here we have Carlos putting together a fund and buying up a lot of these Amazon Asense and the question is you’re a smart guy, you’ve done a lot of business in the past and we’ve talked about how he had grown multiple businesses and sold them, so why is he going all-in on this platform and also why are people giving him money to go all-in on this platform; what’s the reasoning here to say this is where the future of e-commerce is. And so we talked a lot of statistics on this. We talked a lot about what is the future of Amazon. And here’s a spoiler alert Amazon’s going all-in on FBA. It’s one of their 3 biggest platforms, it’s one of the 3 legs to their stool that they have with their aid of US being one and their sellers—their 3rd party services being one of the largest profit centers that they have. In addition, when you take a look at where do they stand in the marketplace, it’s staggering. Everybody knows that they’re huge. They’re 49% of online e-commerce sales. When you look at this in terms of total retail sales; total retail sales make up about roughly 10% of all—e-commerce makes up about 10% of all retail sales. Amazon makes up about half of that. So what do we do here? What are we going to do? Okay, online sales is only 10% which means it’s going to grow. Amazon is already half of that online marketplace. What’s the future here? Well, the future is Amazon is trying to become the e-commerce internet. They’re trying to become the de facto way of ordering products online and everybody else is playing catch up right now. And so they are betting and saying we get it. We know that Amazon growth is going to continue. We know it’s going to continue at a rapid pace for a long time; there’s lots of room to grow, and yeah there are competitors and we talked about this. We talked about; Shopify just announced recently that they’re investing one billion dollars in their Shopify fulfillment network which is great news and he was ecstatic to hear that. He’s like competition like this is good. But the fact is Shopify is playing catch up, Target is playing catch up, Walmart is playing catch up, and they’re not there yet at all. They’re more difficult to work with than Amazon. They don’t have the same draw. And so it made me rethink this if we’re looking at where do you want to put your money as a business owner.
Joe: That’s it right there the multiples are going up on Amazon businesses tomorrow guys; that’s it.
Mark: It’s more sure of investment than maybe we’ve thought about in the past. It was; you know what? We talked to some of these guys that are doing this professionally that are on the Amazon space only; fascinating conversation. I enjoyed it thoroughly to talk to somebody who’s doing this and sees things from maybe a different angle than what most buyers think about.
Joe: Well I think it’s great because probably half the audience here is made up of buyers as well and they ask that question all the time; should I buy an Amazon business? And we know that I say we’re going to raise the multiple on Amazon businesses, we actually don’t as we always say determine the multiple. The buyers do because we do our best based upon historic numbers and then we get the feedback from the buyers. If we’re wrong they let us know by driving the multiple down or driving it up in some cases. Year to date; this is end of June that we’re recording this year to date I’ve seen the multiples on Amazon businesses at levels that I had never seen it in the past. So I think that the buyer pool is getting much more confidence in the Amazon channel. I think that that one channel risk is if you’re focused on adding new Asense in growing the business worldwide on other Amazon platforms in countries the risk is diminished a little bit. Historically we’ve seen multichannel businesses sell for 10 to 20% more than single-channel Amazon businesses but I do think that’s creeping up a little bit and catching up a little bit. So it will be really interesting to hear what Carlos has to say. He’s a super nice guy. One quick aside I had Amazon businesses that I had for sale and Carlos had to call them, the guy loved him and they both happened to be traveling to Singapore at separate times. They actually got together and had coffee and dinner with their families just because they had met on a phone call. So Carlos is a super nice guy, very, very good at what he does, and obviously an expert on the Amazon site. So I’m looking forward to listening to this one myself.
Carlos: Oh that was all good stuff.
Mark: Yeah it was all the good stuff you see that’s the thing, we always record the good stuff before I hit record. And I’m actually going to enter with that. Carlos, thank you for coming on the show.
Carlos: Cool. I’m glad to be here man.
Mark: Yeah so tell us who you are. I know who you are but tell everybody else who you are.
Carlos: Yeah everybody come look at LinkedIn, they usually do. But I’m a serial entrepreneur. I’ve started—it depends on how you count them size or whatever but you know over a dozen companies. I was thinking about this in a way because people are like wow, tell us about that. I started I think it’s about 6 to 8 I got to figure out better multi-million dollar companies. I’ve taken company public, I sold them, I bought them, I’ve sold several for 9 figures, dealt with some amazing people along the way and it’s always been tech-related. So software, advertising, some services related to that stuff and e-commerce stuff. So I’ve got a lot of miles on the road that way.
Mark: Yeah no it sounds like the profile for any of our brokers. So if this whole Thras.io thing doesn’t work out for you let me know. So you’re the CEO of Thras.io.
Carlos: I know we have the worst name in the world but let’s just make it clear for everybody; Thras.io.
Mark: Thras.io, I’m sorry. It’s good that I know that now because I’ve been saying Thras.io; so Thras.io, okay.
Carlos: So it’s based on the review of your site, it’s based on the greek word thrasos which means boldness or confidence but it was actually an Amazon warrior queen hence the kind of Amazon connection.
Mark: That’s pretty cool. See I learned something. This is awesome. I love this. I love the name now.
Carlos: Josh came up with the name in just a second and I’m co-CEO and co-founder with my partner Josh Silberstein. And yeah he just came up with it and yeah I don’t like to spend too much time naming companies even though I’ve done that professionally before so we just went with it.
Mark: So it was an Amazon goddess, is that what you said?
Carlos: It was an Amazon queen. So we actually had a whole lot of sub-companies for our Amazon warrior queen. I mean like things that do different parts of what we do in the ecosystem. It’s got to stay with that theme or words.
Mark: I got to ask now I mean is Josh like some Amazon queen ruler aficionado and connoisseur?
Carlos: We’re both aficionados of mythology and things like that but it just made sense getting into Amazon that we would do something like that.
Mark: I like it. I mean I like names of businesses that have secondary and deeper meanings and now I’ve got something if I’m really bored I’m going to go out and procrastinate by researching Amazon queens.
Carlos: There are a lot of them and their names can be very difficult to spell which is kind of a mess when we’re trying to do with legal documentation and stuff but it’s fun.
Mark: That’s really cool. Alright, so I had a few companies that I would say is in a similar vein to what Thras.io does and that is this idea of consolidating multiple Amazon businesses under one roof. That said everybody’s got a little bit of a different twist on it. So I would love to get your twist on this Amazon consolidation that you guys are doing in trying to acquire companies and anything that you’re able to share as well. Like I mean how many acquisitions have you done and how long have you guys been in business so far doing this would be really interesting and if there’s something that—alright I’m not going to tell everybody this then don’t worry we’ll just say it and only the 3 people that listen to the podcast will know.
Carlos: Alright so I hope you’re calculating right—I’ve been listening to this for a while now. So I hope you’re keeping track of these questions because I’m not taking notes. You just asked me about four questions right there so let me try to take them in any order that I kind of remember them. In terms of do, we have a particular twist on the market; now I don’t think we do necessarily. I mean I heard Richard when you had him on here with 101 Commerce I mean that’s—the idea is fairly simple. I think people get it. In terms of—I think what they see in this Mark is you know when you mention other people like there’s someone who has built a great home goods business and now they want to expand and so looking for other home goods products to roll into that, right? We are really kind of vertical agnostics. So we’re only looking on that from that point of view. We would just believe in the ecosystem overall, we believe in the fundamental transformation that Amazon has brought on the way we do commerce and particularly e-commerce, and we just see an overall appearance. We’re looking for just great business. I mean look we want great products and now some people have top ranking, great ratings, and good number of reviews; all that stuff. That’s really what we’re looking for but as far as what it is, it could be all over the board really. Again the most important thing is that they’ve built a quality product. And it really comes down to the Asense; the Amazon listing itself; the product, the SKU, whatever you want to call that. So that’s really what we’re most focused on is we look at our business as a portfolio of those. So any business may have a handful of them and I know a lot of people in this marketplace some of the acquires in this place market space or tend to be still I mean you’ve probably seen a lot, you know, people looking for a single business, right? So yeah with the executive leaving some big company taking an SBA loan whatever we could talk through all that stuff later but for that person they’re concerned with customs to concentration and rightfully so. It’s going to be their one business wonders and they take out a big loan for it. It’s actually kind of the opposite for us. So as far as our interest we are interested in the more concentrated your SKU’s are the better because it’s less for us to take on and manage the whole thing. And we’re not concerned about the individual performance of that one because we’ve got hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of others. But I mean we are concerned about in terms of how it does but it’s not going to sink us or make us by the performance of anyone SKU we acquired in one time. So that’s kind of how we—that kind of answers how we look at the business and again we’re not looking for fad products either just something clear to say. So if you got fidget spinners we’re not interested in that. Those are hot for a year. My son has a dozen of them sitting all over his room and he’s never going to spin them again. So we don’t want things like that. And so we want stuff that is really stable in terms of its demand.
Mark: Yeah, I’m just going to put a note to everybody that’s given up fidget spinners for swag, thank you for making my room, my kid’s rooms just filled with stuff that’s lying around because you’re absolutely right and you know I will disagree with you on something here. You said that you guys really—you’re not sure if you really having any expend but this idea that you guys have of looking at Amazon businesses not so much in terms of the business side of it but you’re looking more at the Asense and trying to evaluate individual Asense and the strengths of those relative to everything else that’s really what you’re looking at. That is a unique way of approaching the marketplace and it allows you to look at something that has SKU concentration or a unicorn product and we do see that from a lot of buyers with a business that has a unicorn product kind of thinking I don’t know if I want to bet 2 million dollars on this is unicorn product here and you guys are saying well no we’ve got a lot of products like that so that’s a twist.
Carlos: Oh that’s good to know. I mean alright so we do have a slight twist on it.
Mark: So how many deals if you’re able to share even broadly how many deals do you think you guys have done so far?
Carlos: I’m going to be a little cooler here about some of these things. But we’ve done dozens of deals so not high but we’re moving quickly and that number is increasing over time.
Carlos: So it’s been exciting for us and then going back to the ego of the SKU concentration question, I just wanted to add something. You guys are talking about like because there’s a lot of interesting; Amazon sellers [inaudible 00:13:56.7] you get this real business straight where they’ve used these products out there, viral launch or fellows got a [inaudible 00:14:02.6] and they found four different holes in the market so they’re selling pot holders and humidifiers and some sort of potted plant for the fruit product you know great different [inaudible 00:14:13.5] and I got 4 of them. And you know to somebody external coming in looking at that would go sheesh they’re all over the place. They’re not just sporting goods and that’s crazy. But we get it. We get that that’s how Amazon works and what matters is the listing and it’s position relative to its competitors in the keyword space, right? And that’s what we look at and we care about. So it’s usually like in that sense also that business is attractive to us because it’s again concentrated even if it’s in strange different products. We don’t have to have like this suite of products around like I said one vertical where you’re building a brand into it. Again that’s an interesting point to discuss is the position of brand in the Amazon marketplace because let’s face it were all talking about FBA businesses here and frankly most people who buy these things; I see a product in the wild all the time and I love it. You go to a friend’s house and they’ve got one of your products sitting there. Like oh, it’s great but where did you get it? Well, do they say the little brand that we happen to buy? No, they say Amazon, right? They got it on Amazon. They got it from Amazon, if they had a problem they would drive it to Amazon. We’re at a place right now where we’re still; we’re all sitting on the coattails of Amazon; the brand halo that Amazon provides. So we recognize that and we’re going to be very clear about that and how we look at the products and the ecosystem.
Mark: So do guys place much weight at all on a business building a brand or even building customers outside of Amazon such as email list and being able to drive that to products and new products or is that kind of a secondary metric that you look at?
Carlos: It’s a secondary metric. I won’t say we don’t look at it, we certainly do and there is some value there but it is dwarfed by the value presented by the Amazon ecosystem. And so we care 1st and foremost about how you are positioned on Amazon. But of course it’s nice to have someone that you know the e-mails and people that love your product or you know if you do because what happens now is oftentimes we will have or we’ll acquire a product that is in the same space but we have 5 more. And so that becomes what we start to now as a business uniquely perhaps accrue some value from things like that. Because if you have that email list of 40,000 chefs or something; people who love cooking and I have 4 other cooking products now I can cross-promote our stuff right through there. So it does start to have some value the longer we go out there. I think that value will increase the more we do this but right now we’re still pulling stuff in all sorts of different spaces. They don’t always overlap and it’s something we look at but it certainly is a secondary metric.
Mark: When I look at companies like yours not just specifically within the Amazon space and I want to talk about that in little bit here but when I look at companies like yours that are consolidating businesses and millions of them the portfolio the approach is typically to find efficiencies in combining things together. So if you’re looking at a content network of websites so completely divorced from the Amazon world what you have usually is a staple of writers, editors, and an editorial process that can turn out new content to be able to build up a network that way. So bringing a new content site isn’t as labor-intensive you have this natural efficiency. E-commerce stores in the past what I’ve seen have been logistic efficiencies. You’re able to have maybe the same warehouse staff fulfill more products. When you guys are doing what you’re doing and again I think it blends itself maybe to this Asense approach I think from my evaluation; I’d love to get your comments on this, it seems like you’re doing this for 2 reasons. One I would imagine efficiencies which I’d love to know where those are but also a portfolio sort of approach to things and that you’re spreading out over lots of different Asense niche vertical agnostic as you say but it’s more of let’s not bid on one winner let’s bet on a lot of winners potentially. But I’d love to get into 1st of all have you confirm that and then get into are you doing this also for efficiencies within your company that you can run these businesses may be more efficiently and if so where are those?
Carlos: So that’s a great point and something worth to think about. So I’ve done your traditional rollups before. We sold the company in the late ‘90s to a company called US Web; a lot of people may—you probably remember a national brand of webshops doing person websites and stuff. But you know the traditional kind of rollup looks more for the—like those efficiencies are more important there because it’s all about pulling costs down, right? If you go acquire a 100 30 person companies and each one of those 30 person companies has inside person finance team or a 3 person finance team whatever and 3 salespeople I am sure you don’t need all those, right? You need 3 finance people for all 100 of them or maybe 6 but still not a linear scale. So that kind of efficiency is certainly more important in a traditional rollup. Like you said rolling up content on websites that would be important there also because you have editors and writers and HTML people and designers and that can be where there can be leverage across more stuff certainly if you template size that. It’s less of a big deal in this Amazon ecosystem. And what some reasoning about what Amazon has down here in creating all these millions of solopreneurs is they’ve taken not just Amazon also it’s all the supply chain companies, it’s the manufacturers. They’ve simplified this interaction so much that you can get a single person running a 5 million dollar business which is unheard of in history. It’s incredible. So it’s taken out a lot of the complexity. Now, most of the time when you get to that scale you’ve got a couple of assistants; part-time assistants, VA’s, someone like that so it could be drive efficiencies there. Yeah, we certainly can if they’re good but it’s more about being able to improve the performance than it is a simple efficiency. So [inaudible 00:19:54.9] a lot of these, we meet a lot of great sellers who I just love them. Like classic entrepreneurs that dropped out of college or I just got out of college and started selling on Amazon and I travel the world and living the life and they built great products and they just hustle. And they’re smart. That’s great but when it comes to global sourcing and your supply chain I mean from all over the world and getting into different places in Amazon you’re not going to be as good at it as the team that I have here. I’ve got a leader here who ran a 2 billion dollar supply chain in 140 countries for one of the largest shipping companies in the world. And we have a whole team of people under this on the side doing this work. And so we can do it better and more efficiently. We can negotiate better. We can do both on the shipping side and the manufacturing side with volume discounts. So we can do that better and we, therefore, carve out more profit from these products. I mean I’d look at it from creative; we’re doing stuff across hundreds of products in all sorts of different areas. We know things that are working that are very likely work what the impact is and what is it and we are—I can afford to have photographers on staff if I want to because I don’t have to try a different outsource for all this stuff all the time. Let’s say advertising and marketing that’s another key place where it’s not necessarily about the efficiency of having less people doing it for more things. It’s really about the knowledge. I’ve come from a performance marketing background. I sold 2 companies with our Google performance marketing company and a Facebook performance marketing company that were top of the line but we did. I’ve got a team here that is 2nd to none in understanding performance marketing and driving traffic from all these various sources. And Amazon is just another PPC marketplace so should we be able to do better than the individual seller who did a good job with their business? Yeah, we should. So I see it as efficiency in deploying new resources for new revenue; resources to improve the performance of the products where they are. It’s not like a cost efficiency, right?
Mark: Sure. Now that makes complete sense. I want to ask; you know one of the problems I have seen companies run into when they’re consolidating either businesses or in your case Asense but I would still consider them businesses to some extent but be the consummate of Peter robbing Paul. You buy a dog and it starts draining the resources of the companies. What have you guys done to protect yourself against that? When you do multiple acquisitions you’re going to buy a bad one at some point. It’s just going to happen. So what have you guys done to help protect yourself against draining the resources of the company? When do you pull the plug?
Carlos: You know it’s not even so that you buy a bad one in this ecosystem; it’s that you bought one that has bad competitors; but screw with that, right? I mean Amazon sellers know what I’m talking about very well. I mean the wrong complaint even if it’s fake even if it’s not correct put into Amazon can shut you down or slow you down or cause problems. So yeah look I mean we have to know the difference between a problem like that that we’re going to fix versus someone like you said just a bad egg or we’re going to pull the plug. I think we’ve done this a lot. My partner Josh and I both started a bit part of a number of startups, started companies ourselves. He’s one of the most creative and experienced financial dealmakers I’ve ever seen. He’s done more debt deals and equity deals than anybody. I think we look at those dispassionately with—I mean I think that’s the key, think about capital allocation which is really what we’re doing and you can go listen to a podcast about that all day, there’s some great ones. You’ve got to know when to cut your losses and do it fast. That’s the key. And we don’t get emotional about it. That’s hard to the seller who builds their family of 20 products and each one is kind of—this business is their baby and each one of those is another baby of theirs and they may be getting chilled on the [inaudible 00:23:47.8] or something or letter openers but they love it and they think they can get back to it and they’re going to hold on to it longer than they should. We don’t have that. We have no baggage on it. If the letter opener just sucks then we’ll cut it off. So quite often if we buy a business that has a lot of SKU without the SKU concentration we like, we’ll look at it and we’ll cut the losers day one. I mean we’re not even going to pay for them if we’re not making money on it. In some cases we will actually—sometimes it’s underperforming ones and the seller may want to keep them and keep working at them. We have actually—we’ll buy individuals SKUs or separate SKUs from somebody so our Asense—I think everybody knows [inaudible 00:24:21.5] Asense it but more people have SKUs and SKUs are so. I think it’s just a question. You just have to be dispassionate about it and have a financial mindset towards it. And you know look sometimes it’s worth setting because you know you can get back but sometimes you cant.
Mark: I mean you may not have emotions related to some of these products but you do have investors within your company, right? I mean how much has that play into it as far as not wanting to pick that losing SKU or an SKU with bad competitors as you put it?
Carlos: It doesn’t. I mean we have great investors but they’re not that involved in the business for the looking at individual deals we’re doing. We cross call there early on a decision we made that was really—I think really important. And that was the only way we’re going to do it was we cross collateralize investors across everything we do. So there are some people who look to this market by saying hey I’m going to do an SPV and acquire this—
Mark: What is SPV?
Carlos: Social Partners Vehicle. So you can raise money in a single; it’s almost like separate companies and then they’re all related in some point in the future [inaudible 00:25:22.7] together and rationalize based on revenue and EBIDTA or whatever it is. But then we have a different set of investors and that ends up; that’s a really bad idea because then you have your intent and what you want to do can be across purposes, right? At this group of investors over here their product is going down and I shouldn’t focus on it anymore but this group over here the product is doing great and if I put more effort there I’m going to make a lot more money. The right thing for me and for the business is the focus where I need to and approve there but if you’ve done your financing that way then you’re kind of shackled. That’s what we did not do. We were not going to do that. It just doesn’t make any sense. So it was important to talk about cross collateralizing across everything and say look everyone we buy that was into this and you all are part of this. So that allows us to have that broader focus.
Mark: Why Amazon? I mean there’s a lot of different rollup place within the online space and you’ve got a really remarkable resume with tech companies. You could have gone for ad networks, you could have gone for content sites, you could’ve done any number of things as in the video—
Carlos: The advertising space.
Mark: Alright so maybe not that; bad example. But why choose Amazon?
Carlos: It’s funny. This started actually as an e-commerce rollup. So you go back to it because maybe I [inaudible 00:26:39.0] why Amazon is probably one of the reasons you said why we were kind of coy about talking about what we’re doing for a while and now we are talking about it. We discovered this and it looks super easy. It’s not as easy as we thought but it never is. So we originally were going to do e-commerce like my Facebook Advertising company Orion CKB, we were all performance marketing which is not [inaudible 00:26:59.0] you know change names again but a fantastic group but we were very, very good at performance marketing on Facebook and so all of our customers were either e-commerce or lead gen but people who made money from what we did. And so we started looking at that and saying hey e-commerce companies are getting smaller and smaller and they’re able to produce more value and this whole supply chain kind of thing is figured out maybe there’s an opportunity to go out and rollup the small ones and take what we know how to do which is all the performance marketing which ultimately was adding value to these businesses more so than the other piece of it and we could create additional value by putting them together. So we were doing and looking at e-commerce and when you do that you start to look at Amazon as a channel obviously. So we thought Amazon would be a channel for our e-commerce play. I just started looking into it and started meeting people in the ecosystem and at the same time my e-commerce customers at my Facebook advertising agency were asking us like you guys are good at Facebook can you run our Amazon ads for us because we’re not doing well there. So we started really looking into that. Once we looked into the Amazon ecosystem it was really—it was amazing. I mean to me to see the leverage that you’ve got. We all pay for it certainly to Amazon but like it’s the green traffic; that’s a sure thing. You’re paying for it but anyone who is looking for product that you’ve got to build [inaudible 00:28:13.6] you’ll get it. Or you can have great product and you don’t have the right team driving traffic to you on Facebook and Google and no one is going to know about it. You’re not going to get it. You’re not going to get it to [inaudible 00:28:22.8]. So we just started to see that the Amazon ecosystem was really, really much more powerful and we think the deals were better and the opportunity to move here was quicker and to find these companies and then I think we—I would rather be lucky than good any day Mark but I think we just hit the right time when we sort of started looking at this and there were more and more businesses. We really just kind of went out to sites like yours and looked around to see what was on the internet available and we started to see these Amazon businesses and we said let’s give it a try. Let’s nab a couple of these. Then we really all started to gel from that.
Mark: So many Amazon sellers look at Amazon obviously with big eyes of opportunity but also wary eyes of distrust for what Amazon is going to do. And frankly for some people that have been selling on Amazon; let’s talk about Amazon vendor central you know maybe that’s been justified. Amazon as of the time we’re recording this podcast well it was about a month ago they sent basically non-renewal just to so many vendors that saying we’re not going to be buying any more products from you and poof those businesses are basically gone; not entirely but very, very damaged. How do you get over the suspicion of Amazon bad or evil I don’t trust them but I’ll make money from them?
Carlos: We get asked this a lot and I’ve dealt with these behemoths. That’s all I’ve done for the last like 10 plus years 12 years. So Google I thought; I have an SEO company I’ve been doing SEO for a long time there we did Google PPC the company we grew here before we sold to the post companies like Facebook and Facebook Advertising company. I’ve dealt with these you know the fangs whatever these giant companies that seem kind of harmless in a move without caring and you can try to read the [inaudible 00:30:07.7] in what they’re doing but I think the most important thing—I have longevity in all those places by doing a couple of simple things. Like by following the rules, being a good actor in the ecosystem, and understanding what they’re looking for. And frankly this vendor central change; it’s tough for a lot of those guys and you can go back to 2002 and start reading Jeff Bezos’ shareholder letters and these telegraph—not telegraph I mean just really writing down in words this is what we’re going to do, this is where we are. People asked if he was a competitor of Barnes and Noble back in ‘99 and 2000 and he said no. He’s always had a vision for building a platform and a marketplace. He said they sell books. We’re a marketplace. They needed to be the 1st party seller to be the whole vendor central platform to get it to the scale and size that they want to be. He’s been writing about the marketplace since then and there are some great quotes about—he talks about the businesses they get married to that are great. They try a lot of stuff. And third party seller marketplace is one of them. It’s that, AWS, and product. Those are the 3 pillars of their business. So think if you think about that, they’re not going to destroy one of the pillars of their business. And then if you get into their numbers outsized portion of their profits is driven by—actually all of their profit is driven by these 3 businesses. And we all know that AWS provides an enormous part of profit for them and the marketplace they don’t want it all breaking out independently. You can kind of read between the lines there and see its producing profit; a lot. And that’s where these decisions are gotten from. And again profit is not always his goal that’s why he’s moved so much inventory and product over the years. But again I think it’s been telegraphed there. So I really think that Amazon’s positioning in this space is to be the marketplace to do what they’ve done. They say they have 500 million things or items for sale on Amazon. They didn’t get there by having a sourcing team like Walmart does you know going out and sourcing individual products. You got to have a 20 million person sourcing team. They have 6 million person—there’s 6 million accounts on seller central. We all know that a lot of people have double ones whatever the Chinese companies do different things but there was probably a couple of million sellers there for real make any kind of money. And they are doing all of that for them. So I just think if you look at the business it’s clear what Amazon is all about and where they’re going and from that standpoint [inaudible 00:32:28.5] after the ecosystem and you’d be in good shape.
Mark: Yeah I’ve quoted the actual number here and I don’t do show prep but I actually prepped a little bit for this here and looked at some Amazon statistics 229 billion dollars in 3rd party services and then in 2018, 1 million new sellers joined their reseller services. About 3,000 people per day. Now again probably some duplicate accounts and there’s probably some even 3rd or 4th accounts in there.
Carlos: 6 accounts yeah. There’s a lot of real; I mean they’ve released the numbers. There’s 200,000 sellers that make 6 figures and up, 100,000 a year and up US dollars. I mean there’s 2 million who have made any money I think as the states or you know the 50,000 might be a lot of money to somebody I’m just saying in a year, right? So I think there are 50,000 sellers that do half a million a year and up someone like that. So that’s a city man.
Mark: Yeah, I know absolutely, in fact, one of these statistics was if Amazon was a country they would be 140th largest country in the world something like that in terms of gross domestic product; absolutely amazing statistics. I tend to agree with you in the past I’ve been pretty publicly bearish on Amazon because I felt like it was a gold rush. However, seeing where they’re going and you are ahead of the curve on this reading what Bezos was saying that they wanted to be a marketplace and they want to be that de facto ecosystem of the internet where people buy stuff. Alright, they want—when you think I’m going to buy something online, they don’t want to think about any other solution other than I’m going to buy it through Alexa or through the Internet or through my app or whatever because that just works and that’s where all the products are. So I agree I think they’re going all-in on that. I don’t think it’s much of a mystery and so because of that, I think 3rd party sellers are actually really well positioned especially right now because it’s still relatively immature but I have to ask you about competitors. Shopify recently announced that they are going to spend over a billion dollars on the Shopify fulfillment network which is going to be able to power all of their sellers with customized packaging and full-on fulfillment services. Obviously, Target and Walmart are offering free today shipping without having the Amazon Prime subscription. You said you don’t want to read the tea leaves but I’m going to ask you to read the tea leaves. Let’s talk a little bit about the future here with some of these competitors. Do they even stand a chance and are we going to see a consolidation of the marketplace or do companies like Thas.io—I’m going to get this right, need to have more of a multi-channel approach?
Carlos: I think that Shopify announcement was awesome. I love that. I think it’s a brilliant idea and I hope it works. I mean we would love to have more channels. And we sell in other channels I mean in small amounts. It’s really for us it’s a question of focus; I’ve started a lot of companies and you know the platitudes and stuff about it you’ve got to focus strategy and saying no. If we have lived through that a bunch of times you don’t really get it. It’s like you don’t always have to feel if the oven is hot to understand that we can have someone tell us. But it really is about having that—the focus is about saying hey look this is what we do, we do really well right now, let’s perfect this and then let’s worry about other things. If that thing is big enough and takes enough of your time that’s worth doing so there’s a lot of complexity in the Amazon ecosystem alone with some of it like I expected it’s been more than I thought I expected it’s been crazier and surprising but there’s just some stuff in there that’s even surprised me. The competition is quite [inaudible 00:36:11.1] stuff on there. But we fully intend to look at other channels and well I mean we are exploring. As I said we have some small alternate channel sales already. We’re looking at retail. I mean let’s face it as large as Amazon gets that I think retail is over 10 trillion [inaudible 00:36:26.7] or something like that and 90% of it is still transacted offline. I mean people are still buying a lot of stuff in stores so you’d be crazy not to be looking at that as a channel. So it’s really a question time for us of when. So where we’ve been at this less than a year really, around a year, so that’s a lot to do in a year where we’re both acquiring all these products but then having to operate them and having to worry about improving them at the same time we’re building the company. We’re building the teams and the systems that allow us to do this and the processes and procedures. So it’s really just a question of looking at that way and that’s kind of just traditional kind of start-up thinking and how you go about this stuff. But I do think that whether they succeed enormously or not; Shopify, they have a good chance of succeeding with this. It’s always just a question of what portion of revenue it accounts for. I mean we looked at a lot of these businesses that say they’re going to start to sell on Walmart and stuff. We’ve seen people that are selling on Walmart and have been doing it for a while and it’s 5% of their sales on Amazon, 10% of their sales and I’m like Amazon is so dominant when you talk about sort of pruning like how do we deal—what do we do the bad product. Well to an extent like if I can focus on that 90% of revenue that’s on Amazon and do better with it I’m going to make more than my trying this hack out a little bit more on Walmart which is a more difficult to work with ecosystem right now. So I think those guys are going to have to up their game. I mean for everything I hear they’re not as easy to work with and let’s forget all the other channels beyond that. Shopify I imagine will do a good job of that. I mean they understand user interface. They understand simplicity as well better than anybody. So I’m excited to see what they do. But let’s face it so I’ve been throwing around the statistics, some like 50%, 56% of product searches start on Amazon now. From all the products ranks and more than all the search engines combined including Google. But I just saw a new figure that among millennials and below it’s like 76% chronic searches are starting on Amazon. Come on it is [inaudible 00:38:26.8] great when you’re looking for something and you want to toothbrush you just pull up Amazon now and you go and you get it. It shows up at your door anywhere from 2 hours depending on where you are to 2 days, right? Or even 3 whatever but you don’t have to think about it anymore. So I think that dynamic is just going to continue to play itself out. I don’t think of Amazon as this company so to speak anymore really. It’s a commerce internet. And so you’re telling me you have channel risk, it’s like telling me I have channel risk because I’m on the internet. People told me that and you probably too like 15 years ago [inaudible 00:38:58.1] problem that you’re only selling yourself on the internet. I was like, okay, next [inaudible 00:39:02.6] person, right? And so from that perspective, I hope these other things are successful. I hope Shopify makes a go of it. We will certainly be in all these channels over time but right now Amazon is a great place to focus your efforts to drive value.
Mark: Yeah to your point about 90% of all retail sales are still happening offline and validated by the statistical research I was doing before this that Amazon accounts for 5% of all retail sales. So what does that mean? That means that the 5% of this highly fragmented online sales happening and that’s been fragmented by Walmart, Target, and other big box stores that have gone online but then also the millions of onesie twosie sort of sellers online that are playing in 100 to $500,000 of revenue per year and there’s a lot of those little businesses out there doing just that. So I think your point is right. Right now in the marketplace where we’re at Amazon is dominant. Amazon is the new Google as for just e-commerce transactions online. So then that leads us to the question of how do you compete on Amazon? What are the most and this is going to round out our conversation, we’re almost coming to the time here but how do you compete in the long term? The one criticism I hear about Amazon is look it’s a marketplace so products tend to be somewhat ubiquitous and you kind of get into a race on the bottom because the only way to differentiate yourself in many ways is on price. You don’t have better customer service because that’s been equalized by Amazon. So you can differentiate on product or on price and where do you see the best way to set up a defensible long term position?
Carlos: So 1st I would say that I slightly disagree in a way customer service is handled by the companies themselves. Like how quickly you respond to queries, what you do if something has a problem, grand Amazon is kind of front line there but there’s a lot you can do in that space. Yeah I mean look overall people don’t always buy the cheapest product. Heck I know I don’t. Maybe it’s dumb but I’m the guy who goes to the page and I’m looking for a 2 grand [inaudible 00:41:15.4]. I don’t just buy the cheapest one on the page. Some people do but I got to look for someone and someone I got to go researching, I look for quality. I mean it really comes back to what I was saying earlier like about playing with these giants these ecosystems is being a good actor in the ecosystem. Now people used to ask me about Google SEO like how do you guys do this? I’ve been running SEO properties for 10 plus years now through every Google change with penguin, panda, whatever animal name you want to bring up. They change multiple times a month and people will say what’s your secret, how do you keep doing that? And my secret was I said those pages on Google, those site where they explain to you what to do for SEO. And that’s what we do. We follow their rules. There’s a lot of rules and we follow them all and we do a good job of that. Amazon says here’s how to play, here’s what to do, have a great product and make sure you’re treating customers well and you’re responding well. If your ratings are going down is it a problem with your product or how you deal with that right. So I mean I may sound silly hear [inaudible 00:42:18.2] but like the reality is make a great product, service the customer—where you can do customer service do a good job of it and be a good actor in this ecosystem. With that being said there is an element of Amazon that is cheap [inaudible 00:42:33.2] race to the bottom and you’ve got to think about how you differentiate yourself. I mean look if your supply chain is more efficient and you’re better off than going to the bottom you’ll win that battle and you’ll sell a lot. I think you’re going to start to see some branding differentiation over time. Right now as I said earlier we kind of discount that because everyone feels like they’re buying from Amazon and this is just the evolution of marketplace as I think a little bit. But if you’re in a category where you know tennis shoes or something someone is going to buy a Nike or Adidas or whatever they like. You got to think about some categories that will matter some it won’t. I mean if you’re buying a letter opener you don’t really care if it’s a Nike letter opener. Not really, right? So you have to be able to play by the other things I’m saying. Just be a good actor, have a great product, and make sure your supply chain is tight. I think for individual sellers looking at this marketplace, certainly new ones, I mean it’s just tough to get into now. I mean that certainly is an issue because it’s really just blown up in the last 5 years; 4, 5 years. And so there’s people in almost every space crowding it out. But I don’t want to—again it’s a price differentiation already. We’ve actually seen products, deals, and you may have heard some of these said once or kind of funny like where they raised the price every week for like 6 months and kept selling more. There’s counterintuitive examples of all these stuff and there’s reasons people do things when they’re buying and shopping and you don’t necessarily know all of them but it’s not necessarily just one [inaudible 00:44:13.2] press.
Mark: Yeah, I agree I mean I obviously look at a lot of Amazon businesses and more and more I’m seeing the ones that are consistently growing over the years are the ones that never really actually compete on price, to begin with. They’ve looked at a product or maybe even in a crowded category and said how can we innovate on this and create something just different enough that nobody else is really going to want to compete against us but we’re going to create something that’s super useful and then magically; of course it’s not really magical like you said it’s being a good actor and doing what Amazon wants and creating a good product that people like. It works for the long term and it’s more sustainable. So I’m happy to hear you say that because of the broad experience with different Asense that you guys at your group have just kind of validates that. Now the last question I’m going to ask you it revolves around this idea of product creation. I am going to ask you for more of a general rule maybe it’s not the right way to go because I do think that there are multiple ways to compete on Amazon but I want to see if we can get to a generic sort of here is maybe the best practice and how to be a good actor in the community. Where would you recommend sellers put most of their effort or break up their efforts and I’ll put it into product creation and innovation and quality versus the Amazon-specific metrics of making sure that you have high ratings and maybe even going out and gaining those if you have to or being aggressive of as ways get those versus the PPC side I’m going to try and get as much sales velocity as possible whether that be on Amazon or setting off Amazon traffic as well to Amazon to get that most sales velocity. So kind of 3 groups here, right? You have the sales metrics that kind of influence things, the customer service and ratings, and then the product quality. Where do you think people need to really be giving up their time and again you might come back to say Mark you’re thinking about this completely wrong. That’s cool if that’s what you think.
Carlos: No, but I would just say you just kind of summed up how do I be good Amazon business. It’s all of these things. Like I don’t think there’s anyone magic bullet. PPC works for some parts, it works great. It doesn’t work for all of them. I mean it’s like—the thing I love about Amazon, to begin with, it is that there are certain products you can sell stuff on there you could never sell directly in another channel unless you somehow had magical viral take off or something. But like when we were on Facebook for instance; Facebook advertising, it’s going to cost you 30 bucks an hour give or take something to acquire customer leads for a consumer kind of drive by product. Which means [inaudible 00:46:49.8] for 70, 75 bucks at least to make any money back after your COGS and all these kind of stuff in advertising cost. It’s expensive so you can’t sell a $10 item. Can you sell $10 items on Amazon? All-day, right? Because they’re bringing to the people they are taking so much stuff out of the equation. But then you just have to play in the Amazon ecosystem well whether that product may not make sense to advertise to be paying to acquire customers on that one. It’s tricky. I mean I think for individual sellers a product launch and new products are important. That’s not something we sort focus on and particularly care about again because now you’re talking about having more Asense and we’re interested in having less. Lots of sellers that we’ve talked to it’s actually they have—now you’ve learned all this and they know how they can launch something and they know how to do the quality of the stuff and how to get the initial purchases, they need capital. Again we don’t focus on that [inaudible 00:47:48.4] one capital to do and so we will buy in like the top-performing Asense from them and they take that cash and put it back into these things they want to do and test out advertising and purchasing new product and stuff like that. I think the most important thing is just that there’s more stuff now there, it’s the quality question. It’s the number of reviews and quality reviews. I would not—going back to what I said earlier, I would not suggest being aggressive with that or—being aggressive with following Amazon’s rule is great and so whatever they say you could do. You can’t ask for 4-star reviews or good reviews hence I wouldn’t break in [inaudible 00:48:24.8] because my experience going back to 10 years with Google is you get away with it for a while but they catch you. They ultimately catch you and they’ll burn you for it. I mean Amazon is coding reviews every month and their system is going through that probably every day but I mean they’re going through it doing cleanups. And if you’re doing something that’s a bad actor thing in that space you’re going to get busted for it. So I say do that but there are things you can do that are legit. Now if you’ve seen your ratings are going down because you’ve got some product quality issue then go fix that and send out free versions to all those customers whatever it is. Be a good actor in the system, have a voice, respond to queries, the question, and FAQs as quickly as you can and let people know you’re on top of it and if that takes an external site that’s informational where you talk to people about where you are who you are what your product is then do that too. I think that’s an important to focus but it’s hard for people to get a tall hold here now if you’re not already in the ecosystem and with a product.
Mark: This has been fantastic. Carlos thank you so much for coming on. Do you have any last thing that you would want to share with the audience here or maybe a question I didn’t ask that you think would be useful? Just something general Amazon or what you guys are doing over at Thras.io.
Carlos: No not really. I mean it’s an exciting time to be in the space and it’s a good time too for people to be selling their business and we’re happy to do that help them—I’ll buy them. I think you guys are an excellent brokerage. I’ve really enjoyed working with you guys. And I’d put a little plug there for you would. Getting someone on your side that understands what they’re doing and how to represent your business and how to talk about it and help you understand what you should get and what you shouldn’t; that’s very important. And not all brokers are created equal, not all business people help you sell your business or equal and you guys have all done it and I’ve really appreciated that work with you guys.
Mark: Yeah, we’ve always appreciated working with your group as well. You guys have been fantastic to work with. I really appreciate you coming on here and sharing as much as you have. I mean I know what you guys are doing is pretty innovative. Not a lot of people are doing it. There are some doing it but it’s great to get the insights from a company that is working with so many diverse different Asense because it just brings a different perspective to everything. I’ve greatly enjoyed this conversation so thank you so much. I know that the Amazon queens of the past are smiling down on your company and will continue to do so. So thank you for sharing that with me as well. And there you go. One moment do you sell that on Amazon; just curious?
Carlos: We don’t sell those. [inaudible 00:51:03.8] I bought them on Amazon. It’s great.
Mark: [inaudible 00:51:08.1] on Amazon. Alright, awesome. Carlos thank you so much for joining me.
Carlos: Cool. It was great talking to you, Mark.
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