Today I’m talking with Chris Rawlings. He’s the Founder and CEO of Judolaunch, and he’s here to chat about his Amazon journey, how he’s made it to where he is today, and how you can become an Amazon Seller.
Brad Moss was the Business Head of Amazon Seller Central itself. Which we all are at the mercy of. He built the Amazon Seller Central mobile app. He now does consulting company for Amazon sellers, Product Labs.
Brad got his Masters in business. He did some entrepreneurial things, launched some companies which won a few awards for some of them. He was successful in small realms and wanted to see if he could have an impact in a bigger realm, like Amazon. When he first go there he built something that no one has probably heard of because it didn’t launch. It’s called Gamification for Sellers. It was a really cool system that was held up because middle management was fighting over some resources Brad had. It would have made selling more fun and would have been able to track yourself.
When he finished, he had learned so much about Amazon Seller Central and how the system works that they decided to put him over Amazon Seller Central. Amazon had 168 teams that were dispersed through Seller Central. Each team was adding to the system, putting new tools here and there, without a real overhead strategy. That was Brad’s job.
He started putting frameworks down, and added the advertising tab. That team came, for sponsored products, saying they wanted to put it in Amazon Seller Central. Brad felt it was big enough that it should get that spot on top. Seller Central has become a beast unto itself. He wanted to overhaul the entire system, and scoped out how to do that. That only got so far when they starting think about the future. What’s the future of selling and the future of devices. At that time, mobile had come up.
There were a lot of people trying to do mobile at Amazon. They decided to focus on mobile and Brad made a case saying that they would make a lot more money if they focused on mobile. It would be more accessible, people would be able to check their seller account, they’d be able to scan things, and put new products up on Amazon. They passed the idea to the VPs, got the funding and built the Amazon Seller Central mobile app.
Those are systems and programs. So one team may have five systems. The internal structure at Amazon is really cool. It works really well in some situation, not so well in others.
When you’re there, you’re free to take your program, and figure out how to make it happen. When I was working on the gamification, I had my own team. I made the business case that it would improve the business for Amazon. Then we had to figure out how to get this new system, into the existing system.
We had to find the two engineers that were running the front page of Amazon Seller Central. Then we found several engineers that were running the back-end with the listing services. We had to go to all these different teams asking them for a day of their time to help us get into their systems. Amazon promotes that kind of culture where it’s very entrepreneurial. It’s up to you to figure out how to make it happen. It’s not coming from the VP telling certain teams to do this thing. They had to figure out the best way to get these systems to work. They had to negotiate and bribe with drinks after work.
It’s almost like the wild west in a way. It gets even worse when you have different VPs that have their own goals and directives, and it all comes down into one system. That’s where Brad was with in Amazon Seller Central. All these different VPs were all trying to pipe into the same system to accomplish their goals and there was no central authority to facilitate it. It’s pretty wild.
The perfect example is if you look under the reports tab, and there is business reports, and payment reports. Then there is this thing called fulfillment reports. If you go to Fulfillment Reports, it takes you to a new page with a lot of reports on the side. That section is owned by the FBA team, which is a different vice president than the marketplace team. The FBA team wanted to be able to keep adding new reports without having to go to seller central or the marketplace team every time. So they built a new page that they have full control over. However, it doesn’t make much sense from the user’s perspective.
When Brad first started, he was looking into a business case that someone had mentioned. He looked really deep into and thought that it would be really great. He made his report, show the analysis, and told them it would be a $30 million business if they do it. His director just shook his head and said no. That unless it was $1 billion over three years, they wouldn’t go after it.
That’s what made mobile so difficult. It was a really hard case to make. If a majority of the money comes from huge sellers on the marketplace, how would they use mobile, and how would mobile enable them to make more money because a lot of them just use API and feeds anyway. That’s what made the business cases so important.
That’s what is great about Amazon is that the mentality , from Jeff Bezos, is “It’s day one for the company.” The idea that they are still laying the foundation and groundwork for the company. If you do enough diligence from the business side, which was Brad’s job, and look at various things to be building, you can find these opportunities. Don’t settle for $50 million opportunities when you can find a $1 billion one.
You can see how that would trickle down. While working on Amazon Seller Central, people would propose improvements. The question came down to, how many sales will be generated by adjustment. If they can’t prove that it will increase sales, then they don;t get funding for it. So it’s pretty difficult to get funding to make those nice visual adjustments. There are resources called “Keeping the lights on”, that is some resources allocated to keeping things running, and they might be able to scrape resources from there to make those minor adjustments.
Have you got a vision for you business?
I have to confess. I have spent way too long, jumping from product to product, trying to make a buck, which is fine. However, after a couple of years, I stop and think, “What’s it all about?” This is a very important question you must ask yourself, and it’s something that will change over time.
When I first started, my vision was to make a lot of money quickly and put it back into my life, into other projects that were important to me. While that is still a part of my vision, it has grown. Now my big picture is to build a business that I can sell for a decent amount of money, and be proud to own because it is producing really beautiful products; rather than before when I would grab any product that looked like it might sell.
If you take the St. Paul’s Cathedral, the full vision of the architect was never realized. As beautiful and amazing as it is, there plans were much bigger.
The first thing is, you have to start with a plan
You may not be working with stone and mortar, but it is still very similar. The financial aspects are similar. You have to work within a budget. Maybe you have more than you expected, maybe less.
In your business, you have to worry about competition
There are many other people that are selling the same or similar products to the same customers. You need to plan ahead to combat that.
You need to make your plan with the understanding that it will change. Amazon is always changing things, moving the goalposts. You need to have a plan that can adjust to change with it.
You can’t go in with £5000 and expect to turn in into £500,000 by the end of the year. Big visions are great, but you need to make realistic goals. You can’t invest peanuts and expect to turn it into a mint overnight.
While this has always been the location of the St. Paul’s Cathedral, the original burned down, along with a lot of the city, in The Great Fire in 1666. You need to be able to handle setbacks and recover. Sometimes we make a bad product, sometimes we get close to bankruptcy, sometimes we have business partnerships that go bad.
Out of that makes room for something bigger. A lesson to learn from the cathedral is the chance for renewal. When thing go wrong, that can open the door to create something much bigger, much better, and a much stronger vision. You can take lessons from before. Figure out what worked, and recreate those things, and figure out your mistakes and avoid them.
It’s good to make sure you have the right mindset but, I believe, success follows hard work. So e sure to go back, if you haven’t listened already, to episodes 115 to 120, for an overview of how to increase your profits by increasing sales, and reducing costs.
Think big. Act Big. If you are in London or come down to London, consider being a part of the AmazingFBA Mastermind group. My goal is to have two levels, one for those getting started and another for those that are much further along. All that is coming up so stay on the lookout.
There is a triple metaphor here. Simple stuff but still true:
2. Know where you are going. How does your business fit into your life? How does it serve your goals?
3. When you are literally having goods transported from one side of the globe to another, check all the details twice. Where is it going from? Where to? Exactly? Have you got the commercial invoice, purchase order etc. all sorted?
Freight is one area where just doing it needs to be tempered with double checking all the details!
Having just played piano for music auditions in London recently, it struck me that the Main mistakes made in auditions are the same as those made by many beginning Amazon entrepreneurs. mindset strengths or mistakes and doing it well – needed for auditions for peak performers are the same as those needed for Amazon
Mistake #1 Failure to prepare
Solution: Prepare! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that Xmas sales are big in retail. Plan your inventory accordingly. Plan your cash accordingly. If you’re just launching a Private label business, plan your capital needs upfront (hint: £1000 isn’t enough for private label! Don’t believe the hype – it’s designed to sell courses, not make you money!)
Mistake #2 Getting put off by mistakes
Solution: When you have a basically sound plan – keep going! Mistakes are not reasons to lose focus or momentum. Or rather, they can be – but don’t let them! Stay focussed and learn fast!
Mistake #3 Expecting to be great first time out
Solution: Practise! The best way to do a great audition is to do several – some good, some bad, some mediocre – and to learn from the experiences. The best way to do pick an Amazon product or do an Amazon launch is the same. Plan accordingly (don’t put all your money into one product, for example), start manageably and scale up with experience.
A great bit of advice is to start with Retail Arbitrage (retail arb or RA) or Online Arbitrage (OA). I haven’t done it this way so I can’t guide you properly, but if you are US based, Jim Cockrum is your man. Check out his site My Silent Team.
Mistake #4 Not getting training (or just learning from Podcasts and Facebook group aka “Drinking from a firehose!”)
Solution: Get the best training you can afford. Yes, podcasts and Facebook groups are free and an excellent place to gather info. But it’s too much to absorb and nobody can really structure it to be step by step in those formats.
I would get training from someone who knows what they are doing, preferably geared to your particular finances, circumstances and experience.
Above all, I would get myself a group of peers who you can grow with (find out more about the Amazing FBA London mastermind- on waiting list only at the moment). For me personally, this has been the single biggest success factor so far, hands down.