We have Ben Leonard for the second time in our podcast studio to tell us how brokers can pay dividends at exit. Best known as the founder of Beast Gear, Ben is the classic millennial entrepreneur who built a business on a laptop, in a cupboard, in his spare time. His difference from other entrepreneurs is that Ben grew an international 7-figure business and successfully exited after 3 years – the business holy grail. Now, Ben is doing it all over again and helping others to do the same with his ecommerce brokerage, Ecom Brokers.
Listen to Ben and learn from an ecommerce superstar!
[00:01 – 06:38] Opening Segment
- Let’s get to know Ben Leonard
- Ben talks about the truth about branding
[06:39 – 17:32] From Zero to a Million
- Improve your brand with these tips from Ben!
- How to build your customer avatar
- A successful strategy that you can apply to your brand now
- How to go from zero to a million
- Here’s a complex answer that Ben simplifies
- He would not have succeeded if he did not take this step
- Ben shares this can’t-miss story
[17:33 – 26:34] Outsourcing Your Business
- Micro-decisions can bring massive benefits
- Should you outsource from the get-go?
- Want some Amazon refunds? Check out Getida
- Promo code: FTM400
[26:35 – 41:29] Let’s Talk About Brokers
- Here’s when you should sell your business
- Ben shares his thoughts
- How aggregators really work
- What an ecommerce owner should look for in an aggregator
- You should not miss these interesting insights from Ben about valuing your business
[41:30 – 49:08] State of Ecommerce
- Why put your business in front of a pool of buyers
- Ben shares his thoughts on the current state of ecommerce
- Know more about Ben in the Fire Round!
[49:09 – 51:22] Closing Segment
- Connect with Ben. Links below
- Final words
“People buy from people, not brands. Until you’re Nike or Tesla, nobody really cares about your brand. They care about solving your problem.” – Ben Leonard
“The best way to differentiate yourself from the competition is just be authentic because no one else can be you.” – Ben Leonard
Are you looking to grow your sales on Amazon? Chances are if you’re not selling on Amazon’s international marketplaces, you are leaving some serious money on the table. What keeps a lot of people from selling internationally are all the confusing hoops you have to jump through to get started. That is why we worked with Kevin Sanderson from maximizing e commerce on our international expansion. Kevin and his team take care of the details and guide you through the process of expanding so that you can grow your sales and reach new customers. If you would like to find out if working with Kevin and his team is right for you head over to www.maximizingecommerce.com/fire FIRE, once again, that is maximizingecommerce.com/fire.
Ben Leonard 0:46
I think that that’s the mistake that people make is they don’t think enough about this. And they think that they just need to have a cool logo and a nice mascot and use a funky font and put some memes on Instagram, right? When really it’s a lot more relational than that. It’s about, you know people buy from people, not brands. Until you’re Nike or Tesla nobody really cares about your brand. They care about solving their problem. When you got your first brand, and if you’ve got a lot riding on it, and you really don’t want to screw it up. And you know you’re you’re scared of the black hatter’s and you’re scared of the Amazon police, you know, you know what it’s like, right? putting out fires left, right and center you feel this constant pressure. And that’s often a good thing. Because, you know, stress can help us to perform. You want to start thinking about selling the moment you start building your brand, if I’m being honest, right? The moment you have your idea for your business, in my opinion, you need to always know that there needs to be an endgame and that endgame is to probably be an exit, for most people.
Welcome, everyone, to the firing the man podcast a show for anyone who wants to be their own boss. If you sit in a cubicle every day and know you are capable of more then join us. This show will help you build a business and grow your passive income streams in just a few short hours per day. And now your hosts, serial entrepreneurs David Schomer and Ken Wilson.
Welcome everyone to the firing the man podcast on today’s episode, we’re joined by Ben Leonard. Ben is the founder of beast gear, and has had a seven figure exit. Most recently, he just started up his own brokerage firm called ecombrokers.co.uk. And we’re excited to have you on the show Ben, how’s it going?
Ben Leonard 2:31
Hey, it’s all good. Thanks for having me back on the show. Good to be here.
Absolutely. Absolutely. So for those of you who did not catch the first episode with Ben, can you give a little refresher on who you are your background and how you got to where you’re at today?
Ben Leonard 2:47
Sure. Yeah, I’ll try and keep it brief because some people listening will have heard of before and I don’t want to bore them to death. But I got into e commerce kind of accidentally back in early, early 2016. My background is science, I was working as an ecologist, as a consultant, I got pretty sick with a heart problem. And I had to stop all my fitness hobbies, and take a break from work and take a whole bunch of drugs while I got better, and I needed a distraction to keep me occupied. And I’d had this idea previously to start a brand of fitness equipment. And so now was the time to do it. And my girlfriend who’s now my wife was studying and so she was super busy. And so I created a brand of fitness equipment called beast gear. Turns out I was pretty good at it. I ended up quitting my job and running that for three and a half years. And I scaled it to we were doing about 6 million US when I exited in late 2019, which was right before this explosion in buying and selling ecommerce business. And when I sold that I sold it through a broker and the experience with that broker left a bit to be desired. And therefore I spotted a gap to create a better brokerage. So I partnered with my accountant who’s got like 20 plus years experience in mergers and acquisitions, and is a super duper ecommerce accountant. And we created ecom brokers. Here we are now and I’m still building brands now. I should add that that’s important because I think it’s important to have the lived experience of being an e commerce seller. But I also don’t think it’s good enough to say, Oh, well, I used to be one. But I sold up in 2019. Because so much changes in this industry on a daily basis. You know, just before we hit record, we were talking about inventory, for instance. So it’s important that I still have the current lived experience of understanding what it is like being an ecommerce seller so that I can relate to the clients that we work with. And that’s kind of where I am now.
Awesome. Yeah. So Ben, now, I’ve looked at some of beast gears stuff, and the branding is really good. Let’s talk branding. So why is it important, and what should entrepreneurs be focusing on?
Ben Leonard 4:40
Yeah, so when people talk about branding, a lot of times people think, Oh, yeah, that’s like your logo and your colors and that kind of stuff, your font, isn’t it? And, yeah, that’s kind of important, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about what you stand for. It’s about your brand voice. It’s about Deeply understanding your customers and showing them a reflection of themselves and also who they aspire to be in your business. Or in your brand if you like. And the reason it’s important is that far too many people in e commerce, especially when all this kicked off right third party selling in the you know, the wild west was really at its peak in in 2015 2016, when everyone was going nuts about this opportunity on Amazon, in particular, the emergence of platforms like Shopify, it was all about just finding stuff to sell, which can make you you know, a bit of money, but it doesn’t build you a sustainable asset, it doesn’t build you something of value, which you can then sell. And everybody’s now finally caught on that the best way to make money in e commerce is to build an asset, ie a brand, and then exit it. And so that’s why branding is so important. Because when you build a brand, a suite of products, which solves a variety of related problems for a particular group of people, whether they are, you know, motorcycle enthusiasts or knitters, you can build a brand around something, and people relate to that. And it is that that helps you build something valuable, something tangible, that somebody is going to want to take off your hands for a lot of money because they see the value in what you’ve created.
Absolutely, I really like that. And in terms of specific areas of branding, Ken and I have got one portfolio company in particular that I’m thinking about that sells really good products, but I think if I were to self assess or give it a letter grade in branding it probably is like a b minus or C. And so what are some areas that you if someone wants to make improvements on their brand, what are some areas that they can focus on?
Ben Leonard 6:46
Yeah, one that I talk about quite a lot is this when you deeply understand your customer. And you can, you know, some people listening might have heard something about something called a customer avatar, and a lot of people incorrectly think oh, yeah, that means demographics, right, that’s like, how old my customers are, whether they’re male or female, where they live, and their level of education and their income. It’s like well, that’s a small part of it. But really, what’s important when you’re understanding your customers, understand their values, understand their pain points, their challenges and their wants and needs as it relates to your industry, right, or your niche. So let’s say you’re a fitness brand, right? Understanding what they want in relation to that. And when you understand that, you can build your brand avatar, which is basically just a way of saying your brand identity, which is everything from your brand voice to how you want it to be perceived. You know, how you present yourself in your copy in your ads and your product listings, and your email marketing, your social media, all of that. And when you reflect this customer avatar that you’ve built by deeply understanding your customers wants their needs, their pain points, etc, then people have a much stronger affinity for your brand, right. And so by focusing on that, you’re just going to naturally draw people in a lot better. And I think that that’s the mistake that people make is they don’t think enough about this. And they think that they just need to have a cool logo and a nice mascot and use a funky font, and post some memes on Instagram, right? When really, it’s a lot more relational than that. It’s about, you know people buy from people, not brands. Until you’re Nike or Tesla, nobody really cares about your brand. They care about solving the problem. And so the best way to differentiate yourself from the competition is just be authentic, because no one else can be you, right. And so what I find to be an extremely successful strategy is be truthful about who you are. A lot of people start a business, and then they start using all this really boring corporate jargon. Like here at Acme core, we believe in bla bla, bla, bla, bla, and nothing could be more boring. Whereas if you actually say, Hey, we’re Bob’s motorcycle accessories. And I’m Bob, and then you tell the story of Bob and how you got into it. And you know, all the background, and you position yourself as the face of the brand and the guide on the customer’s journey that will really pay dividends. That’s exactly what I did with beast gear. You know, I saw that in the fitness industry, which is dominated by elitism and images of the strongest, the fastest, the skinniest the most muscles, I was like, I’m an average Joe who’s reasonably fit, but I believe that I deserve high quality fitness equipment, just like the elite guys, and so do you, So come join me, you know, be part of my tribe. And that worked really, really well. So authenticity is a really important one.
Yeah, that’s a dynamite answer. I think probably one of the best branding answers I’ve heard in a long time so that for the listeners out there, just rewind that listen to it again. And one thing that kind of sticks out is people buy products from people and getting that connection and understanding that’s dynamite. So before we get into brokerage stuff, I got a couple more questions here and because you know, you’ve grown a business to seven figures and exited so to the listeners that are just starting, or they’re early on in their, you know, their selling journey, when do you see entrepreneurs overcome their, you know, hurdles? Is it time? Is it knowledge? Or both? In terms of going from zero to 1 million?
Ben Leonard 10:17
Yeah, it’s both. It’s a complex answer, right? To be honest, here’s what I think happens, you grow into being an entrepreneur, when you start off you very often, you know, so many people listening to this will have left a day job to pursue entrepreneurship, or they’ll still be doing a day job, they’ll be feeling like a bit of an imposter. Because this is like a side hustle, this is something they’ve never done before. And that is all absolutely normal and fine. And I think what happens is you settle into this role of entrepreneur and you begin to back yourself more, you feel more confident, and you have more self belief, such that you’re ready to just give stuff a shot, like when you first start out, you can be really risk averse, you not going to, like, want to borrow much money, you’re going to want to place small orders with your suppliers, you’re going to try and enter niches that are really like low risk, you know, all this kind of stuff. But as you become more confident, because you’re seeing the results, you settle into this role as entrepreneur, you’re going to be you’re going to you know, kind of grow a pair and be willing to just go for it. And it’s when you take these opportunities that the scaling starts to happen. So you know, you’ve you’ve got your first product it’s ticking over nicely. And now you’ve got the, you’ve got the confidence to get after your second one, and maybe take a little bit of risk, maybe you’re going to borrow a bit more money to place that order, that type of thing. So I think that, that’s quite a lot of it, as well as the knowledge. But a lot of people again, they spend too much time worrying about, oh, I have to acquire all this knowledge and do these courses and whatnot before I get started, or whilst I’m doing it. And really, I’m much more of a fan of just learning as you go, you know, try something, see what happens, analyze the results, tweak it and go again, just in time learning and just learning what you need to know when you need to know it. It’s far more efficient, in my view, you know, I think a lot of people just need to kind of do something, and figure it out later, you know, Richard Branson sold tickets for virgin Atlantic’s first ever flight before he even had a jet. Right? And then he figured out how to get a jet afterwards, you know, and that’s an extreme example. But you know, if you take that spirit and apply it to whatever you’re doing, you can accomplish a bit more, because when you take that, you go out on a bit more of a limb then the rewards are greater, right?
Absolutely. Absolutely. You know, one follow up question, and this more relates to your experience going from starting your business to that seven figure exit. Over the course of that time, you probably made, you know, 10s of 1000s, if not hundreds of 1000s of decisions in steps. What would be two or three of those steps that had you not taken that, if you were to remove that from the process, you would not have had that successful outcome?
Ben Leonard 12:56
I love that question. That’s a really interesting question. And possibly one of the best questions I’ve ever been asked on a podcast. I love that. Here’s, I’m gonna kind of ramble I’ve spent most of this episode already rambling. So hope you don’t mind I’m gonna probably ramble a bit more. Pretty early on in the journey of the first brand beast gear, I had a really frightening experience involving intellectual property. So I’m a small entrepreneur on my laptop in a cupboard building my brand. And at the point that this happened, I still working a day job. And I put a bunch of money into this, and I needed this to kind of work and I got a letter. Well, before I got the letter, my product of mine got suspended on Amazon. So I created a type of product that was a thick bar adapter. So it made barbells and dumbbells thicker, and therefore more difficult to use. And when I developed this product, I came up with the concept and a product designer designed it for me now products which perform the same function already existed. The product which looked like mine did not exist. And I had my design registered, which is the European equivalent of a patent basically. And it was all done by a really, really good intellectual property attorney. And the letter I received which happened to be in German, because I happened to be selling in Germany was from the North American owner of a very popular brand of other thick bar adapter. Which until I entered the market had gone largely unchallenged for probably more than a decade, and was selling for an extraordinarily high price completely ripping off the customers because I knew how much they were buying them for. And they’d got upset because I’d come in, and I was frankly doing a better job than them and outselling them on Amazon. And they knew I was just a one man operation and they wanted to make my life as difficult as possible. So they did it all in German, even though they were North American, through their German lawyers, and I had my product suspended and as you know, Amazon will just suspend first and ask questions later and threatened me. They said I had to stop selling, pay them back how ever many 10s of 1000s of dollars or they were going to come down on me like a ton of bricks. So I grabbed my plans, and then phoned my design attorney. And we took several weeks to work this out, we took our time. But here’s what we figured out, we figured out that A, they had a history of this, they’d gone after quite a few little small time entrepreneurs and scared them out of business. We also, we knew that my product wasn’t infringing on their patent. But what was really hilarious was, we discovered that their brand that they owned, they had acquired it from an entrepreneur not too dissimilar from me about 10 years previously. And this entrepreneur who developed a product, had their patents for their product done on the cheap. They were kind of crappy. And the drawings weren’t very good. And when my design attorney looked at these drawings very carefully, because she’s really good at her job, she realized that the drawings for their patent didn’t actually weren’t actually good enough. And they didn’t actually protect their own product, which was really funny. So we went back to them, and we said, number one, our product doesn’t infringe on your patent, and here’s why. And number two, your patent drawing doesn’t really look like your product. So therefore it doesn’t protect your product. So unless you have Amazon reinstate our products, pay for my legal fees, and pay for the sales that I lost whilst I was suspended, we’re going to go to the court and have your patent invalidated, which will be publicly known about, and therefore the market is going to get flooded by people ripping you off. Now, they didn’t pay my legal fees. And they didn’t reimburse me for the sales I lost. But my product was reinstated back on Amazon within a day. And my product went on to become the leader in that space. And I won, and it was very satisfying. So coming back to your question, and David, what was the thing the decision that if I hadn’t made it would have changed the course of my business? If I had not had my design registered by the design attorney, I would have been in a lot of trouble and my business would have collapsed and I would have been screwed. So whilst everybody’s going on about bootstrapping, and hustling, and grinding and you know, doing things on the cheap and whatnot, that’s all great fun, but never ever ever scrimp on intellectual property. And I hear about it all the time. I see it in the Facebook groups. It’s like oh, how can I, how much can I get a trademark done for? And people will just reply in the comments saying oh, you could do it yourself for a couple 100 pounds or a couple 100 bucks I’m always replying saying no, get an intellectual property attorney, right? Same goes for your payments and your design registrations. Do not scrimp when it comes to intellectual property. So that was one of the huge ones. I kind of rambled on there, you want me to do another one?
Yeah, I mean, if you’ve got, that was an awesome story, by the way. Yeah, dude, this was like the ultimate power move.
Ben Leonard 17:40
yeah, I mean, I lost money, right. But it was worth it. Because after it happened, I just felt like, I felt like I was like, I don’t know, a little lightweight that it just knocked out like the World Heavyweight Champion, it was awesome. Yeah, another important decision. When I decided to take the business out of just the UK and get it right across Europe. That was huge. I pretty much doubled my sales overnight. Like in 2017, this was before the UK left the EU, which was a really dumbass thing to do, by the way, but in 2017 to get on the pan EU program, which is where you can send your stock into any fulfillment center in Europe, and then Amazon will just distribute it across all their fulfillment centers across Europe, according to the algorithm of where they require the stock. To get on that you had to register for VAT in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic. And doing so was a pain in the ass in every single country. It required a whole bunch of forms being filled in all sorts of things doing, for Spain, I even had to have a document notarized by something called a notary, and then stamped with a wax seal. Like you know, there’s like wax seals that in medieval times, they would put on letters. That actually happened, right? So the great thing about that is again, coming back to what we were kind of speaking about before you hit record about the harder things are the more you like it right, it was such a pain in the ass to do a lot of people just couldn’t be bothered to do it. So therefore, when I did it, when I jumped through that hoop, right, I emerged on the other side in this like, you know, picture like you’ve just emerged into like this beautiful landscape of fruit and everything’s available for you like, it’s like Adam stepping into the garden of Eden. It’s just like, I’m stepping into mainland Europe, and all of these customers are here to buy my stuff and there’s no one else here. It was just phenomenal, my sales like doubled overnight. If I hadn’t done that, if I’d just not done it for a while or never bothered to do it, then who knows what would have happened. So those were two huge ones.
Very nice. Very nice. Two good answers. And yeah, it’s interesting. You make so many micro decisions along the way. 10s of 1000s. And, you know, if you walk backwards, man, there’s a couple key ones that really make the difference. And so whenever I’m anxious and fretting over if I’m making the right decision, I sometimes think of this like what if this is the decision. But anyway.
Ben Leonard 20:01
Yeah, yeah, I think that the moral of the story for the second one, so the moral for the first one was get your intellectual property in order but the moral of the story with the second one is, if there’s a hoop to jump through, or a barrier to climb over, don’t necessarily just say, Oh, well, I’ll just go and take the path of least resistance then. Because when you put in the effort to jump through the hoop, or climb over that barrier, the rewards are on the other side of it, and your competitors will often not bother doing it.
I like it, I like it.
Go ahead, David.
I was gonna say you want to you want to switch gears and get into the brokerage?
Yeah, so I got one last question for Ben. So you’re, you mentioned earlier on, you’re on brand two, right? And so can you share like maybe one or two tips that you know, things that you’ve learned from brand one that you’re applying to brand two to go even faster?
Ben Leonard 20:51
Absolutely. For one outsourcing, of course. So with the first brand, I did everything myself, for like the first year until I started to outsource. This brand, I’ll be outsourcing straight off the bat. So that will be you know, customer service, social media, various aspects of email marketing, all that type of thing and a lot of automation as well, that I didn’t understand before. So for instance, okay, this isn’t quite Amazon, but it’s e commerce, like I built an automation with the first brand. So when a customer would fill in the checkout on a website, which was built in Shopify, I’d get their phone number. And I built an automation using Integra mat, which is a bit like Zapier but better, which would then shortly after they place the order, send them a WhatsApp message with a video attached, which felt very personal, where I would personally thank them in this video for buying from me, and some people were completely blown away. And that’s the kind of thing that builds some real customer loyalty. So anyway, outsourcing and automation is one thing straight off the bat that I’ll be doing. And what’s great about this, it’s really interesting, I was having this chat the other day with somebody is when you got your first brand, if you got a lot riding on it, and you really don’t want to screw it up. And you know, you’re you’re scared of the black Hatters and you’re scared of the Amazon police, you know, you know what it’s like, right? putting out fires left, right and center, you feel this constant pressure. And that’s often a good thing. Because, you know, stress can help us to perform, but you don’t want to have too much of it right before that, that you stress becomes distress. On the other hand, after your first exit, when you’ve got this safety net beneath you, and there’s much less pressure, you kind of feel free and relaxed and therefore able to operate at your best. So I’m not sure which is better yet. Is it better to have that constant level of stress? Or is it better to feel a lot more like relaxed and free and you know, you’ve got a safety net, and so you can kind of be your best self? Hard to tell, I think I probably prefer the relaxation to be honest. But yeah, having done the first exit now I’m in an interesting spot, because I can, rather than you know, the first brand, the first product was a jump rope rather than sourcing a jump rope for a few bucks, I’m developing products for you know, it’s gonna be more like 30 bucks a unit, so I can get into niches that other people can’t. So that means that, again, it’s overcoming it’s the higher barrier to entry, right? And the rewards are on the other side. So we’ll see how that pans out.
Very nice. As you build out your team, are you building it a la cart? Like with vas, perhaps that you would hire from www.onlinejobs.ph? Or are you going through a full service agency?
Ben Leonard 23:18
With this particular brand, it’s a la carte. It’s, so I’m partnering on this brand as well, that’s something that I should mention that I’ve learned since last time, it’s still cool to do things on your own. But I you know, when you do things, your first brand it’s often your baby. Now I recognize, well what are the things I’m good at and what are the things I’m not good at? And so, I’m partnering with a guy who is really, really good at the nitty gritty technical stuff when it comes to things like seller central, you know, he’s a whiz with like flat files and all that kind of fun stuff. Whereas I’m more of a, the branding side, the marketing side, the visionary side, kind of taking a step back and seeing the big picture of where this brand is going, all that kind of stuff. So that’s important. Sorry, I’ve totally lost my train of thought, what was your original question?
I was just asking if you’re going through like a full service agency, or if you’re kind of like building your team a la carte.
Ben Leonard 24:06
Yeah. I partnered with my buddy mark on the next brand. And we’re building out a team, ourselves of vas, many of whom I’ve worked with before, predominantly from the Philippines. However, I do have other projects in the pipeline, which I’ll be putting to an agency because I’ve got some projects where I’m going to be acquiring businesses and then selling them on in the not too distant future. And what’s fantastic is when you work with an agency and there are a lot of crappy agencies out there so it needs to be a good one that you can you know, work with that agency over a relatively short period of time for them to rapidly help you scale that brand and of course the fees that they’ve charged you are add backs. So then when it comes, when you come to sell your business you’re not, of course you do have to pay them right so it costs cash, but when you come to sell the business, it doesn’t hurt too much that you’ve given away, you know a percentage to the agency.
That is brilliant. Like, I’d never thought of that being an add back. But yeah. All one time work, of course. Yeah. Man, that is, I’ll tell you.
Ben Leonard 25:10
You know, the buyer isn’t going to be using the agency, they’ve got their own internal team to run your brand.
Yeah, Ken I don’t know if your head is spinning but mine is.
Ben Leonard 25:17
So like there’s an opportunity I’ve just identified to buy a brand, a small brand. It’s not, it’s not a huge acquisition, right, I’m just me, I’m not thrasio, and flip it after, you know, 12 to 18 months. So you know, I’d see the benefit there in just using the agency rather than take my team that I would rather their resources were focused on the brand that I’m building up from scratch.
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Ben Leonard 26:38
Yeah, we seem to have segwayed there didn’t we?
Hey, those were some good tangents though.
Yeah, for sure. So Ben, you know, for all the listeners, as you’re scaling out e commerce business, you know, when should someone think about selling? And are all ecommerce businesses worth selling? Or are you able to sell them, you know?
Ben Leonard 26:54
Yeah, great questions. When should you start thinking about selling? You want to start thinking about selling the moment you start building your brand, if I’m being honest, right? The moment you have your idea for your business, in my opinion, you need to always know that there needs to be an endgame and that endgame needs to probably be an exit for most people. But getting more closer to when you’re actually going to do it. Deciding that you’re going to, you know, I want to sell right, I think 12 months out is smart. But if it’s near the time, then it’s not a problem, but when to sell is, well let me describe that, you don’t want to max out growth, your business needs to still be growing, because you need to leave something for the buyer there needs to be some meat on the bone. They want, remember, they want to take the growth you’ve experienced and then accelerate it even further and eventually exit themselves. And then a slightly wishy washy way to think about when to sell is a wishy washy thing that you won’t hear from other people in the space. But I like it, which is, um, I think we might have mentioned this actually, in the first episode, I can’t remember, but I’m gonna say it again. The point of peak romance, which what does that mean? The point of peak romance is the point at which you know or you believe that this can be huge, but it might not be right, there’s so much depending. Do you even have the resources to make it huge, probably not, someone else needs to take the growth you’ve had an accelerated it further. But if you get out at that point, that point of peak romance, then a couple of things can happen. Well, the business may continue on the trajectory that you hope it has with the new owners and potentially even further. And if you have an earnout, if that’s how you’ve structured the deal, if you want to, because you can see where it’s going, then great, you’re gonna enjoy that upside. However, if it doesn’t quite go, where you’re hoping that it would go, then you got out at the right time. And you will always be the person that started that brand, right? No one can take that away from you. So that’s another way to think about it. But what I say to a lot of people is well find out what your business is worth now, right? And at least then you have a reference point you know where you are, and then settle in your head on what you actually want to sell it for. And then work backwards from that. So, if you find out that now your business is worth a million dollars, the magic numbers two million. Okay, how do we get from A to B? Right? You reverse engineer how to make your business worth 2 million by working with an expert, and you stack up the things you need to do like dominoes and you knock them down, keeping a constant track of what your business is worth and then pulling the trigger when it’s worth what you want to sell it for.
Awesome. One follow up question on that would be, you know while you’re you know, thinking about the exit, and this kind of plays into you know, the state of the market. We were at prosper last month and someone said that there’s upwards of 70 aggregators now. And so..
Ben Leonard 29:52
Yeah, or more.
They’re doing, yeah that’s a month ago so it’s probably 80 now there’s money rolling into the space right? So the question would be, can you break down like someone that’s been, you know, like an aggregator that’s reaching out to a brand owner wanting to purchase directly. Or, you know, what are the benefits of doing that versus working with a broker?
Ben Leonard 30:14
Yeah, yeah. Sorry. I realized I totally didn’t answer your other part of your first question, which was, are all businesses sellable? The answer to that is definitely not right. If you’re just selling a mishmash of stuff, then that’s not particularly sellable. A legitimate brand is much more sellable. Reselling businesses are pretty tough to sell. If you’re in a risky niche, that’s going to be tough to sell. If your business isn’t growing, you have a poor track record, if in fact, you’ve plateaued and are declining, that’s going to be tough to sell, right? You really need to make sure that you are selling when your business is an attractive proposition for someone to want to buy, right? Nobody’s going to buy a house that’s degrading and becoming a crumbling wreck. Similarly, you’re not going to buy a business that is on the way out, just to come back to then to your next question right about kind of DIY or working direct with a buyer. It’s worth mentioning, right, that you may not want to sell your business to an aggregator, for instance, right, you may want to find more of a strategic buyer or sell to other private equity or a competitor or to family office, for instance. And those are options that are available when you work with a good broker, you’ll often get a bigger exit for it. But here’s what’s happening, right? aggregators will find you because they have big lists. And they’re scraping data on platforms like Amazon. And they’ll tell you they want to buy your business and it’s extremely exciting. Wow, you know, somebody wants to buy this business. I’ve just last night I was crying on the phone to seller support till 3am. And now these guys want to buy my business this is awesome. I’m not going to have to do my PPC anymore. However, what happens is they dangle a relatively large carrot in front of you, they know what it’s like, they know that you’re either on your own or part of a relatively small team. And it’s a stressful situation. And this relatively large carrot, that’s potentially more money than you could ever have dreamed of having. But your business isn’t worth a carrot, your business is actually worth a whole sack of carrots, right. And so they want to take your business from you, give you pretty terrible terms, and pray that you don’t bring any other buyers to the table so they can avoid a bidding war. In a nutshell. Now, don’t get me wrong, I work with the aggregators every day, they’re basically all nice people. But Business is business and they want to buy your business from you for as little as possible. And remember that the moment they’ve bought your business from you rolled it up into their portfolio, it’s worth double or triple or four times as much, because now it’s part of their portfolio. So they can definitely afford to pay you what it’s worth, but always, of course they don’t want to. And so when you go direct, you’re not going to get a proper calculation of your sellers discretionary earnings, which is basically your profit, your net income plus add backs and adjustments. You’re not going to have proper add backs and adjustments done on your profit and loss, taking things out of your loss sticking back on the profit side where it is appropriate. There’s not going to be a competitive environment where you have a bit of bidding going on. In the deal structure it’s not going to be anywhere in your favor. And you know, it’s a very emotional time selling your business. And so the best thing you can do is have some sort of buffer between you and the buyer. And that should be in the form of a good brokerage and the right experts who can take the emotion out of it and iron that out, and get you the best possible deal. You know, there’s a lot going on in this space, which is a little bit sketchy at the minute. aggregators are coming on podcasts and talking about extremely low multiples, to kind of set low expectations among sellers of what they can sell their business for. But a 2x multiple is extremely low, right. And actually, businesses are worth a lot lot more than that. We’re seeing a lot in this space of aggregators marketing to sellers and trying to give this perception that there’s like this standard way to sell your business and that by selling through this particular aggregator, you’re getting some kind of special offer, like I saw an advert the other day from one aggregator saying sell to us and we’re going to today only or this one thing or whatever it was we’re discounting your earn out period from three years to two years. What does that even mean? You know, that’s all just part of the negotiation that happens when you sell your business and the ball should be in the court of the seller the power should be with the seller they’re the ones with the attractive business that the buyer wants to buy. And so you shouldn’t be you know, that’s just gaslighting people into believing a set of circumstances to be true which are not. So you know, those are those are some of the issues with with dealing direct. On the flip side to that, when you work with a good broker, what happens is you go through a process to deeply understand the business and maximize the value of it through proper calculation of your sellers discretionary earnings. So the broker that you work with needs to have an accountant who understands e commerce and is an m&a expert and proper calculation of add backs. So add backs are basically things that the new owner is not going to have to pay for. So that’s your payroll, your taxes. It’s anything personal that you’ve put through the business like you’re traveling your internet. But then it goes beyond that into adjustments. So, and this is the kind of thing that you’ll struggle to do when you deal direct. So let’s say, let’s say you launched a new product two months ago, well typically your business is valued on the last 12 months performance of the business. But it’s not fair then, that the new owner of the business is going to get your product to sell. But you’re only going to get that product contributing for two months to the value of your business. So it would be completely reasonable and legitimate to extrapolate back as if that product had been on sale for the full trailing 12 month period. That’s something that we would do, for instance, you’re not going to get away with that when you deal direct. Another one is, let’s say you increase the price of a product three months ago. And when you increased the price, you didn’t see a drop in sales. In fact, still sales stayed the same or went up maybe because the market perceives your product as being more premium now. Well, it’s completely reasonable to go back and adjust the full 12 months as if every unit had been sold at a new price, because the new owner is going to get the benefit of selling the product at that new price. Or what if you negotiated a better deal with your supplier a month ago, and now you pay, you know, you pay $4 instead of $4.50 a unit? Well, the new owner is going to get that new price. So it’s only right that you value the business based on that. So again, we’d extrapolate back. And that’s just that’s just a handful, there’s a whole bunch of stuff we can do related to shipping and all sorts of things. And that’s what happens when you go through a process or that’s part of it. The other part of it is that the broker you work with should be getting you really well prepared. So neatly packaging up your business, getting you a head start in all the due diligence process, putting a ribbon on your business and presenting it and actively marketing it, not just listing it and flipping it, that’s BS, but actively marketing it to a pool of the right buyers enough to have a competitive environment was really as important as it’s the right buyer such that you’d be pretty happy if any one of them bought your business. That buyer needs to have the chops to run your business. I think 80% of aggregators have no idea what they’re doing with e commerce. They know how to raise money, but they know diddly squat about e commerce. So it’s absolutely vital, especially if there is an earner involved, that the buyer that buys your business knows what they’re doing. Which is why it’s important to say that you might not end up selling to an aggregator, often you do, but you might not right, it’s really important to think about strategic exits. Or as I said before, maybe there’s a competitor who wants to get a bit more of a foothold in the particular geography that you’re in. Or maybe there’s a family office who has hired a you know, some people with e commerce shops, who want to run your business, that type of thing. And so what I say to people is if they are talking directly to an aggregator, which is you know, you should right, don’t just talk to brokers, talk directly to aggregators too. Please do and then, and then make a decision to go and talk to a really good broker because here’s what you want to say to them, right? I know you guys have a strong financial background, you’re very good at raising money. I understand you’ve just raised another squillion. But am I doing the right thing? Or is the best thing for my brand to actually go through an experienced broker and go through a process to maximize the value and then present it to a pool of the right buyers? And then get the best deal for myself that way? And then you’ve got them checkmate. Because the truth is, of course it is, it’s common sense. So if they lie and say, No, the best thing is just come with me. You can dig into that and say, Well, great. So if the best thing is for me to come with you, you’re going to pay me the highest bid, right? Because I’m talking to all these other aggregators, too. In which case, Well, sure, take me to the cleaners, but you’ll still struggle, because your value is still not going to be based on having your value maximized by an expert, right, you’re still going to be dealing with, you know, what often happens is, somebody will an aggregator will approach you and say, Oh, we really like your business, just send us over your p&l, and we’ll send you back what your business is worth. It doesn’t work like that. You tell them what your business is worth, right? Again, they’re trying to Gaslight the industry here in this it’s absolutely bonkers. But if they say no, no, the best thing, no, we’re not going to give you the best, the best potential offer, then they clearly just view your business as a commodity. They might say no, but we’re the best because x y Zed, right? You know, we’re the best because we can, we’ve hired so and so we can run your brand. And we’re going to get with you on your earnout whatever. The answer is, well, that’s fantastic. I’m glad you’re the best, you will clearly end up being the preferred option that our broken finds. Because by default going through a process, whether it’s with us or any other good broker is the best option for you. You know what’s insane in the industry, and you know, we spoke earlier about the wild wild west days, right? I would argue we’re going through a new wild west because this acquisition of e commerce businesses is really immature. And you know, we’re seeing aggregators now, there was one the other day saying, if you refer your friend, you can get a Tesla. So hold on a second, I can refer my friend to sell their business and get not the best possible deal that they would have got if they’d gone through a process. But it’s alright, because I’ll get a Tesla. You know, that’s not right. And that doesn’t happen in more mature industries. And so, aggregators are paying massive referral fees, as well. Now, there’s nothing wrong with somebody paying a commission, we do that ourselves, but then we take somebody through a process. So the commission is based on regardless of who we sell it to, what’s happening is aggregators are saying to services, so they might say to like, I don’t know, some like, agency we’ll give you 50 grand plus 2% of the deal, if you send a deal to us. And so, agency owner is talking to their client and client happens to say oh yeah, I’m thinking about selling and you’re like, oh, cool, I can introduce you to so and so and they’ll give you a great deal. So you get introduced to so and so on good faith, and so and so is now dealing with you direct, and you get, you know, not the best possible price and a structure that doesn’t suit you and suits them. And you’ve missed out on hundreds of 1000s or potentially millions of dollars if you’d gone through a process. And meanwhile, they’ve paid the owner of the agency who referred you to them, like 50 grand, and you didn’t know anything about it. And I don’t think that’s cool, and it’s not in the best interest of the client of that agency. And we’re seeing it across the industry. And something that needs to be talked about. And I’ve been on a big rant now. So, there you go.
No, no. Ben’s not a fan of aggregators. I mean yeah, you bring up a lot of good points and one thing that I’ll say is we were out at prosper in Vegas, and we talked to a ton of aggregators out there. And one thing that I noticed was a lot of finance dudes. And I say that I used to be a finance dude, people that were good at raising capital. And you know, there’s, people talk about thrasio it’s a billion fund. And in like, the entire landscape of finance, a billion dollar fund is tiny, and so like that skill set of raising money, there’s a lot of people that have that skill set. And you’ve got a lot of finance dudes, you don’t have a lot of operators, and you know, if I’m selling and 50% of my deal value comes at an earnout, guess what, I want to partner with someone that, you know, has more skill sets than I do. You know, we all know like running an Amazon business is unique. I would point out that that is why there are specific ecommerce, bookkeepers, right, you know, there’s generic bookkeepers, and then there’s e commerce bookkeepers and you don’t see that, like, niching down in a lot of other industries. And so it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. But yeah, offering Tesla’s you know, the giant referral fees. And, you know, another thing, I’m suspicious of is, hey, we can close in 30 days.
Ben Leonard 41:30
Why the rush?
I just spent five years I’m going to potentially capture like, half of the cash flow out of this, that I will have taken out of this entire company. And yeah, and we’re gonna do it in 30 days? Like, let’s get to know each other.
Ben Leonard 43:20
It’s ridiculous. And I think it’s kind of disrespectful to sellers as kind of making it’s like taking them for fools. Like, oh, it’s crazy how really, really smart people can build phenomenal brands. And they make really ridiculous decisions when it comes to their exit. And don’t get me wrong, like I this isn’t like bash the aggregators I like them, I sold mine to an aggregator, and I get on really, really well with them, and they’re good people. But Business is business and they want to buy your business for as little as possible naturally. And you know, kind of fair enough. And it’s up to you to defend yourself and go about the right process. You know, I was having a conversation the other week with somebody who said, Yeah, but if I refer them direct, I’m going to get this, you know, I’m going to get whatever it was, you know, 40 grand, or whatever. And I said, Yeah, but you have that deal in place, you have that exclusivity deal in place with one aggregator, the best way to guarantee that your clients going to sell the business is to give it to a broker, who will then market it probably for much well, definitely for much more to a pool of buyers. And then you’re going to get a commission. Sure, it’s probably going to be smaller, from the broker. But it’s a really interesting space and I think we’re in another Wild Wild West at the moment with everything that’s going on.
Yeah, absolutely. So Ben this to kind of circle back on the aggregate piece but we’ve had a bunch of aggregators on the show and like you said, you know, they’re good people, business is business, but you know, like, then like, like you suggested, it’s like, business owners just need to educate themselves and go to a competitive market to sell versus just.
Ben Leonard 44:44
I mean, sure, sell to aggregators. We sell businesses to aggregators all time, but just go through a process. And just remember that if the aggregator is buying your, when the aggregator buys your business the moment they bought it, it’s immediately worth a ton more now that it’s in their portfolio. So they can afford to pay you what it’s actually worth. And don’t settle for a penny less.
Yeah, absolutely. And, yeah, like, I would like to highlight where you mentioned earlier, the aggregators, the roll ups, whatever you want to call them, they can afford to pay more multiples for your business as they roll them up into their business, the valuation will usually double or even even more. So, that’s leverage. So just take that for what it’s worth. Yeah, so Ben, like, let’s pivot a little bit into kind of the current state of the market. As a broker are you seeing lots of deal flow? Is it drying up? I mean, there’s a lot of businesses, there’s freight issues or supply chain issues, what’s going on right now?
Ben Leonard 45:42
We are seeing the start of a little bit of a slowdown. We are. Which will pick up again, it will pick up next year, but we are seeing the start of it, just fewer, for starters, a lot of the businesses have been bought already, right? And aggregators are spending their money and now they’ve got less money to spend and they got to raise more. Investors are, their criteria are getting stricter, you know, it was go on and buy whatever you want. And now they’re getting a little bit more specific. And so we’re seeing a little bit of a slowdown. Here’s something really interesting that happened the other week, I had a follow up conversation with an aggregator to see how they were getting on. I hadn’t we’d never sold a business to them. Nice guys. And the conversation began with Well, we’re not an aggregator anymore. I was like what? Well, we actually had to pivot because our investors for our first round pulled out in the last minute. And what happened was after perch raised what was it three quarters of a billion, you know, a month ago, whenever it was now, their investors basically said that, we’re seeing this space is flooded. There’s like more than 100 aggregators now, we are nervous about this. The competition is intense, and we’re not putting in and so these guys that were going to be an aggregator are now marketing themselves as an m&a firm, which an e commerce m&a advisory firm, which I thought was absolutely hilarious because their fundraisers and know absolutely nothing about ecommerce. Nice guys though, so good luck to them. But yeah, really, really interesting stuff. We are seeing a little bit of a slowdown.
Yeah, interesting. You know, the ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys, money floods in and then it dries up.
Ben Leonard 47:22
Yeah. This is going to go in waves, right? They’re all going to spend their money and then they’re going to raise more money, right? And so I don’t think this is like going to burst, it’s going to go in waves we’re gonna see like mini bubbles bursting and then new bubbles forming. And so nobody needs to nobody needs to be panicking and be like, Oh, my God, I need to sell my business now before this all disappears. It’s like, Whoa, build a really great brand that has value to it and you can sell it no matter what the wider environment, because there will always be somebody who sees the value in it and has the money to buy it right in the whole grand scheme of the big wide world.
Yeah, absolutely. David, Ben, is there anything else you guys want to cover before we head into the fire round?
Ben Leonard 47:59
Awesome. So Ben, this is actually I think Ben might only be the second guest we’ve had back on so this is Ben’s second fire round. So he’s a seasoned vet right here. What is your favorite book?
Ben Leonard 48:13
Okay, I don’t remember what I said last time. So this time, I’m gonna say building a story brand by Donald Miller.
Okay, that’s a new one.
Ben Leonard 48:19
So, that’s a business one, building a story brand by Donald Miller. Yeah.
Very cool. What are your hobbies?
Ben Leonard 48:26
Fitness training, strength training, running, and paddleboarding. I used to be a scuba diver before my kids were born, and I’ll get back to it later, but it’s just like scuba diving is like, the whole day out.
Awesome. What do you think sets apart successful e commerce entrepreneurs from those who give up, fail or never get started?
Ben Leonard 48:43
Confidence and self belief, I spoke about that earlier. But it’s like, you know, separating those that kind of give up, they never develop that self belief to kind of take the plunge into the next thing and the next thing and the next thing they’re always stuck in that, you know, it’s a bit too risky kind of thing. And so they never get moving. They’re pulled in a million directions, one inch instead of one direction, you know, 10 inches, they’re just, they don’t have the the oomph to just go for it.
I like it.
Very nice. Very nice. Now, for anyone listening today that is thinking about selling their business, and they want to get a hold of a good broker, who can they get a hold of?
Ben Leonard 49:20
I wonder where they’d go for that. Head over to www.ecombrokers.co.uk, UK domain, we’re working all over the world. Email me, email@example.com, or look me up on LinkedIn. Just search Ben Leonard. You’ll find me and I’m happy to chat.
Awesome, and we’ll post links to all that in the show notes. But Ben wanted to thank you for being a guest on the firing the man podcast and looking forward to staying in touch.
Ben Leonard 49:43
Yeah, likewise. Thanks for having me guys.
Thank you everyone for tuning in to today’s firing the man podcast. If you’d like this episode, head on over to www.firingtheman.com and check out our resource library for exclusive firing the man discounts on popular e commerce subscription services. That is www.firingtheman.com\resource. You can also find a comprehensive library of over 50 books that Ken and I have read in the last few years that have made a meaningful impact on our business, for that head on over to www.firingtheman.com/library. Lastly, check us out on social media at firing the man, and on YouTube at firing the man for exclusive content. This is David Schomer.
And Ken Wilson, we’re out
Before you go Fun fact for all you Amazon sellers out there when you start selling in international marketplaces, all of your reviews come with you. At the beginning of this year, Ken and I sat down and talked of ways that we could double our businesses in size and landed on international expansion as our number one initiative this year. We partnered up with Kevin Sanderson from maximizing ecommerce and he has made the process an absolute breeze walking us step by step through the process. If you want to grow your revenue in reach new customers head on over to www.maximizingecommerce.com/fire and connect with Kevin Sanderson today. Now back to the show.
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