In this Prime Talk Podcast Video Sponsored by GETIDA – Danny Carlson, Founder & CEO of Kenji ROI – an eCommerce agency, shares his life story and how a near-death experience led him into eCommerce.
Danny grew up in Vancouver Canada and worked as a carpenter in construction sites. He felt that he needed to take serious action in order to get more out of his life but just kept on with his routine. It wasn’t until Danny had a near-death experience when he finally took action, quit his job, and started selling on Amazon.
Since then, Danny has evolved into opening his own successful eCommerce agency – Kenji ROI. Today, many established brands are looking to expand into eCommerce. Danny has remarkably catered to this growing trend and is now in a turning point of propelling his agency to new heights.
Find out more about Danny & Kenji ROI: https://bit.ly/2WnfdzL
Find out more about GETIDA here: https://getida.com/
Find the Full Transcript Below
Yoni Mazor 0:05
Hi, everybody, welcome to another episode of prime talk today. I’m really excited to have a special guest, Danny Carlson. He’s the founder and CEO of Kenji ROI, which is an e-commerce agency. Dan, how are you? Welcome to the show.
Danny Carlson 0:23
Oh, good to be here caught up real bright and early. It’s 5am over here in Bali. So I salute you on this side of the world as you
Yoni Mazor 0:30
I salute you unbelievable all over there. 5am. Really, I really appreciate your time. And the fact that you woke up this early, I asked you before we started recording, but the background, it’s real, right. It’s a, you know, it’s 100% real. It’s, it’s beautiful. You know, from my perspective, it looks really cool. So I like the VA that’s over there in Bali, right, Bali is in Malaysia.
Danny Carlson 0:53
It’s right next to Malaysia is in Indonesia, it’s the little island that really nothing is happening with COVID. Here, there’s like other parts of Indonesia, where there’s a bunch of crazy stuff going on here. But Bali is known for being a bit of a mystical Island and has always had, you know, some mystical natures to it. So maybe, maybe that has something to do with it. We’re just…
Yoni Mazor 1:13
I mean, that kind of background looks magical. So if anybody is listening, I do recommend you to hop into the YouTube channel and take a look at the video just to get a glimpse of Danny’s background. And that’s a little bit of the taste of Bali and Indonesia. Okay, this is basically your show today. Uh, Danny, you know, we want you to share your story. You know where you’re from your professional background, How’d you end up in e-commerce? How’d you become a business owner? Your challenges? Oh, and without further ado, let’s dive right into it. Go ahead.
Danny Carlson 1:46
Yeah, so I am definitely a different interesting background. I didn’t have any kind of business background or anything. When I started my first business. I actually was a carpenter, even when I was still in high school, so I actually might last year of high school in grade 12. I went to carpentry college, to start to become certified to be a carpenter. So we’re..
Yoni Mazor 2:06
Where in Indonesia or like, what’s that?
Danny Carlson 2:09
That was in Canada.
Yoni Mazor 2:11
Yeah. originally born and raised in Canada, right.
Danny Carlson 2:17
Born and raised in Canada. Yeah. Yeah, I lived in Vancouver for like six years before Indonesia. But I grew up in a small town outside of Vancouver, maybe like four hours outside the river.
Yoni Mazor 2:25
Whats the name? What’s the name of the town?
Danny Carlson 2:28
Kelowna BC. Kelowna.
Yoni Mazor 2:34
Sounds a bit like Corona ish. But yeah, it’s Kelowna.
Danny Carlson 2:37
Yeah, I’m sure there’s lots of Corona. Joe Scott on Kelowna right now. But yeah, and, and I was a carpenter, actually, for six years before I started my first business. So from 18 to 24, I just worked as a carpenter. And I, you know, I’d like some things about it. But I really did not like working outside in Vancouver. It rains a lot in Vancouver. And carpentry really, is something that caps out at about, you know, $30 an hour, which, you know, it’s not terrible money, but it’s not like great money either. So the only way to make more than that was to start my own construction company, and, you know, start taking on some big contracts and stuff like that. And I just looked at what was ahead of me, like all the examples that I had in my life of people who had done that, literally 100% of them were not people that wanted to be like them, they just weren’t happy people. And sure, some of them made six figure salaries, but most of them just hated their life, or they were alcoholics, or they, you know, they just were not what I wanted to become. kind of rough is rough and tough. Right? Right. Um, so I just saw the writing on the wall like that was going to be me. And during this whole time, like, while I was still working the last couple years of carpentry, I was listening to podcasts about online business. And I just read the four hour workweek by Tim Ferriss and my mind was kind of blown. I was like, in my brain business was not something that potentially I could do. But then all of a sudden, it was accessible to someone like me, someone who didn’t have any university or had no idea what they’re doing, could all of a sudden listen to these podcasts and buy really cheap online courses, and get access to people who actually knew what they’re doing. And so I was diving into that. And I really, it was really one single moment that made me decide to go and start my first business and ended up being Amazon. It was a near death experience I had in the Philippines. And you know, through my whole career as a carpenter, I spent most of my spare money and spare time going and traveling for longboard races. So we’d go, four of us at a time would go ride these long skateboards, these longboards down the road in a race against each other. And it was super fun, exciting when you go up to like 60 or 70 miles an hour on these longboards. And I was on a remote island in the Philippines and I almost had a head on collision with a motorcycle that somehow got on one of the close racetracks and I literally hit Mr head on collision by like two inches. And that just really shook me up like I was used to the danger. I had lots of close calls before. But just really the reality this one sank in I was on a remote island in the middle of the Philippines 12 hours away from an actual hospital like there wasn’t a real hospital on this island. And it just would have been a really terrible situation. So I kind of realized in that moment, I almost never got the chance to go start that online business that I was developing my brain that I really wanted to start and there the excuses really just melted away after that. I got home from that trip. And I literally just just want to start. I think I even purchased my first online course with Amazon before I even returned from the trip and just started watching the premiere.
Yoni Mazor 5:43
So what’s happening is you’re still living in Canada. You went on a trip in the Philippines, you had a near-death experience. You went back to Canada and then you started taking action.
Danny Carlson 5:53
Exactly, yeah. So I got back to Canada back to Vancouver and just started taking action and at the time I was still working as a carpenter full time so I would be…
Yoni Mazor 6:02
Talk about that for one moment. Carpenter I mean, tell me your usual workday as a carpenter. Are you just nailing with the hammer carpet to the floor? A carpenter the floor, you’re pulling carpets out what was even a little tough to test it out. So you know, for the audience to kind of experience your, your mindset back then, as a carpenter.
Danny Carlson 6:20
So I was what you’d call a framer. So we would be creating the frame of the house out of wood, mostly wood and concrete, and steel. So usually, it’d be like using nail guns and, you know, saws, different kinds of saws and stuff like that. Lots of manual labor, and it was mostly all outside. So it was like before the actual frame of the house was built, or to be up on the roof, like creating the sheets on the roof and stuff like that.
Yoni Mazor 6:44
So real physical work. That’s like the real deal. You’re like, you know, a real construction guy. Joe Builder
Danny Carlson 6:49
Danny Carlson 6:52
And it was just like, you’re always out in the rain. Like some parts, construction is like after that kind of most of the house is built and inside and is nice. This is not what I was doing. You know, I was outside of the Vancouver rain all the time. And it rains like sometimes two weeks in a row in Vancouver. And that just like really gets you down after a little.
Yoni Mazor 7:11
Do you ever see the movie, Forrest Gump? Oh, yeah. classes and Vietnam. When is the Vietnam War as it keeps ranting and ranting right now? So it’s like that, right? It’s something like that, right?
Danny Carlson 7:22
Danny Carlson 7:24
Absolutely. So I mean, I really had the motivation to do something else. I really didn’t like doing that. And I just saw it as kind of a dead-end that I didn’t want to pursue down and take it to the next level. So yeah, it was good motivation through me as I was starting my business, I think it was, I think it was for about the first six months that we’re still working carpentry, I slowly worked it down from full time. And then I negotiated with my boss to just let me work three days a week instead. So I had more time to focus on the business. And then eventually, after, after only about six months, I had my first three products live on Amazon, and I just decided to at that point, um, you know, it wasn’t really that big of an income, like it was enough for me to pay all my bills and I had savings in the bank, but I was confident enough in my skills, and at other income coming in that I quit my corporate job, and just decided to focus on 100% on Amazon. And I
Yoni Mazor 8:20
said, you mentioned there was a book you read that helps you kind of pivot into the, to game basically.
Danny Carlson 8:28
Yeah, so that one was classic. That was Tim Ferriss, the Four Hour Workweek, I think it was released in 2004. I wish I had it back in 2004. I didn’t I didn’t get it until years after that. But before that, I literally just thought business in my brain. It was just this thing where you had to have no life. It was for people who are miserable and wanted to dedicate their whole life to just only chasing money. And it was incredibly hard. It took a lot of money to make money. That was the big misconception I had and Tim Ferriss just really flipped that on its head for me and millions of other people who have read that now. Very famous book.
Yoni Mazor 9:04
Got it. I’m gonna have to, I heard the name but the book itself. I guess it kind of flew by my radar. But Tim Ferriss and the name of the book is the four-hour work day four-hour workweek, yeah, we’ll start with the four-hour. The Four Hour Workweek is like the first one is the classic guy. So anybody listening out there, you know, then I highly recommend it to change his life for the better, right? We’re gonna touch that in a moment. So I know this is your chance. So that’s a good tip. We appreciate that. Okay, so you read the book, you went to the Philippines had an accident, you know, came back home and started taking action to create three SKUs or three Asians, right, three products to sell on Amazon. And take us from that journey on what was the next step?
Danny Carlson 9:48
Yeah, so I mean, out of those three products, one of them started selling immediately, quite well. And then out of the first three, I was pretty aggressive like pretty much I think it was the first month of the second month that I was selling as well. I made the call that I was going to go on the sourcing trip to China and source a bunch more products. Yeah, it was, it was a really big step. I saw enough success there. It’s like, Okay, that looks like it’s going well. I’m just gonna go like, double down on
Yoni Mazor 10:16
What year? What year was this? Roughly?
Danny Carlson 10:19
This was 2016.
Yoni Mazor 10:21
All right, 2016. You fly to China, you go to the source?
Danny Carlson 10:25
Yeah, straight to the source. There were, like 70,000 different suppliers being represented in this one single market. To give you a scale of the size of this market. It’s 2000 square kilometers. I’m pretty bad with miles. But you know, that is somewhere in the order of…
Yoni Mazor 10:42
I’ve been there. Yeah, miles. Yeah, I’ve been to you. That complex is colossal. I just give a little bit of illustration to the audience, I essentially imagine going to the biggest mall you’ve ever been to. Okay, it just looks like while you go in, and all these stores are there, but they’re not really stores. They’re actually the factories, presenting their products as if they were in a store. And the biggest mall you can imagine, but multiple, like five or six times, it’s just endless and endless, an endless amount of stores, but which essentially just a showroom for all these factories. And it’s really out of this world. So you go into that ocean of like you said, 73,000 suppliers, or a factory.
Danny Carlson 11:20
Yeah, it was literally an ocean. So if I was going to one of the fire districts, I would take a taxi cab because it’s roughly 45 minutes and walking distance, and then 20 minutes with walking distance. And then there’s, I think, five stories of that.
Yoni Mazor 11:34
Yeah just like, out of those were really that complex is, you know, whenever this wall that comes to, to some sort of balance with the Coronavirus, and you got to sort some stuff, you know, going to do that complex is it’s a whole world out there that you can definitely be able to develop your product catalog. If you’re out there, you know, doing the private label game. Now, the priority or three SKUs or ACS or products, you want it to develop some more, but they’re all in the same category, or you kind of already immediately started launching to other categories or what was kind of the strategy there.
Danny Carlson 12:08
So there were two categories, those first three aces. And then by the time I returned from China, I think I had something like 10 SKUs, across three categories. So I had one new category. And I learned a big lesson in quality there. So luckily, for me, there was one out of those like seven new products that I source that did really, really well. But pretty much the rest of them pretty much flopped, flops or breakevens. And that’s one thing about the Ico market is that it’s like it’s a commodities market. Basically, there are lots and lots and lots of products, but they’re generally like lower-end products. And if you’re selling on Amazon, you’re trying to sell the lower end stuff, you’re probably going to be at the lower end of the market selling for not very much right, I very much prefer to be on the premium end of the market selling a much higher quality product, then you don’t run into problems with customers thinking that is higher quality than it is right. Because part of my agency is we have you know, a professional product photography team and listing cooperating team and everything and they make the products look really great.
Yoni Mazor 13:10
Now we’re gonna get there, yeah, don’t spill the beans, we’re gonna get there, I want to experience the journey from you know, you know, organically from carpentry too, you know, just a few SKUs and diving into China, you know, opening your eyes to the world of sourcing, and then realizing to change your strategy from fighting, you know, all the rest of the bottom actually fighting your way to the top right to the premium pricing. I guess essentially, right, so you can make healthy margins, and start to build some sort of brand brand awareness. So you can charge a premium for that. But how does a, continue the story.
Danny Carlson 13:41
Yeah, I know that was the lesson that I learned is that, we were really good at making the listing look really great, but we made some of the listings look better than we should have made them. We’ll say like they were not the greatest quality products, but like they looked amazing.
Yoni Mazor 13:58
Right, so you effectively excelled your way your marketing skills, meaning or your marketing was more actually more powerful. Right, then the actual quality of the goods, which is a US Census. It’s an important lesson, but it’s a good problem to have. Because, you know, a lot of entrepreneurs out there they have you know, good products, you invested a lot into that. But their marketing just can’t, they can’t break, you know, the glass ceiling and generate the sales and the revenue and the profit that the dream though.
Danny Carlson 14:25
Yeah, well, and I think I think it’s a better problem to have the opposite, to be honest. Like, if you have a really good quality product, you can get away with your marketing skills being mediocre. And then if you get someone who really has amazing marketing skills and adds that on top of the layer of having a great product, then it’s a real win. Like it’s where you get into trouble where you have, you know, the amazing marketing skills and not quite the product.
Yoni Mazor 14:46
Oh, yeah, that’s definitely a bad mix if you don’t take care of it. But I guess in your case, what do you do after you realize that you know, your marketing is in this, you know, higher than the actual quality of the product? What was the trigger there? And then what would you do? What do you do after you pivot? Did you? What was the next step?
Danny Carlson 15:04
Yeah. So I mean, I just kind of learned that lesson and learned that the sourcing process is probably not a good idea to go to China and source seven new products all at the same time. So you got much more methodical with our approach. Just like really doing a lot more intentional research about each product and doing a much more intentional, quality control process with each product thing is really important and not just like jumping into it, because that means you can’t go make seven good decisions within like, I wasn’t trying to pretend days, and we want to get seven new products like it’s very hard to make seven really good product decisions in 10 days.
Yoni Mazor 15:42
Yeah, makes sense. What I take from that is that basically the realization that, you know, it’s better to focus on the quality instead of the quantity, effectively, because it’s hard to spiritually spread yourself out so quickly and maintain a good amount of quality.
Danny Carlson 15:59
Yeah, and so at that point, luckily, there was one out of those seven products that just really took off, and was selling quite well. So that one product made up for all the other ones either taking, taking a loss or taking like this, some of them just eventually came out to break even we just let them sell-through.
Yoni Mazor 16:16
Right. Mark Cuban has a phrase for that, as he says, sells heals. Right? So once you have that one that sells that heals all depend on the rest.
Danny Carlson 16:26
Totally, yeah, if you don’t have sales, and you kind of screwed, so it’s definitely a good, good thing to have. So yeah, so we, so we grew out our skus. And we just continued with four for a while. And we got that to. In total, somewhere around the count was doing around 50k per month. And then we got an Amazon account suspension. That was my first real big major barrier. And it was for a really dumb reason to it was for a friend of mine, he was selling strapped for an Apple Watch. And he wanted me to sell it on my account just to get a lot of sellers onto it. And it was a trademark infringement issue in the title, it wasn’t clear enough that it was a strap for an Apple Watch. Like that wording has to be very specific. Yeah, I think you said Apple Watch strap.
Yoni Mazor 17:13
It wasn’t clear. That was just a generic. Yeah, it was a generic product, you know, aftermarket product. And there wasn’t clear enough, I guess in the listing level, I got striked out.
Danny Carlson 17:22
Yeah, so apples got this, just got this company Mark monitor that they pay for all of their trademark and you know, IP infringement and stuff like that. And they’re just constantly monitoring amazon for this stuff. So if you sell any kind of Apple accessories, you got to be very careful with the wording, and…
Yoni Mazor 17:38
So hold on, which is it so it’s 2016 he broke into our you know, the game and to e-commerce, and which years is still to 16 where you got to spend it.
Danny Carlson 17:47
This would be like the start of 2017
Yoni Mazor 17:49
Got it, and then when did you get back on track. And what happened after.
Danny Carlson 17:54
Yeah, so that was probably my biggest roadblock actually never got that account back, I hired a reinstatement specialist, a hardened lawyer to go and look at it. And it just like literally never got the account back. But I was really lucky at that point that I had a really good network of Amazon sellers. And there was actually a friend of mine who I had been helping at that point that I made a deal with him. I basically just handed over all my products to him, and it was selling on his account. And he would actually take over a bunch of the management accounts and I would just give him a relatively small percentage for what he was doing there. So I basically technically handed over everything to him. And then that allowed me to still be selling through my own products and not lose all the BSR and everything like that while still also it was kind of a blessing in disguise because it freed up a lot of my time he was taken over management of a lot of stuff on the account for a relatively small amount of money and the company.
Yoni Mazor 18:50
Wow, that’s an amazing turn of events. So you were trying to help a friend you guys checked out and then another friend came for rescue if I’m connecting the dots a little bit and I was blessed eventually was a blessing in the sky for you because you’re able to sort of speak delegate or outsource and focus on the next step right?
Danny Carlson 19:11
Essentially yeah and I mean like yeah sure is still definitely lost a good chunk of money through that whole thing.
Yoni Mazor 19:17
I’m sure you had a lot of pain, yeah I expected you to tell me yeah we got the account back on track you know it took some hits and that’s painful but if you never got back on track that’s kind of trauma in a way. I know it’s very very painful because your Amazon accounts for the most part. You know, if you work somewhere and you become an entrepreneur and this is like your vehicle making money, and it gets hurt and you can’t bring it back. That’s kind of painful.
Danny Carlson 19:45
I have a friend of mine who just recently got his account back. I think he was out for five days. And just for some scale, he does nine figures on Amazon and he’s paying for, you know, more than $100,000 a year to get someone to make sure that his accounts are up and everything is compliant and everything like that. And a company at that scale, going down for five days is scary because it’s like so many employees and other costs and everything involved with that. And so it even happens to the guys at that level.
Yoni Mazor 20:18
So as an entry-level, that’s, that’s 100%, scale, and size. The world of Amazon is nothing and unfortunately, a lot of the big guns encounter that, they come to a shocking realization that they don’t have that special relationship with Amazon that they thought that because if you know, you get trapped in the Amazon algorithm machine that balances you out for one reason or another, you’re gonna have to wait in line with all the rest of them to basically make your point, you know, plan of action, whatever it is to get back on track. And that experience alone is horrifying. It’s unpleasant. You know, eventually, if you’re an honest, good seller,, you should always get back on track. And Amazon overall is fair, but the experience itself can be very, very tough, very tough, and very traumatic. And any skill any size, actually, the larger you get, and even more traumatic because like you said, there’s a lot of employees’ infrastructure, might cave, you know, fall from within. So it’s definitely an unpleasant situation to be in. And, yeah, I mean, it sellers have to be aware that there’s, you know, it doesn’t matter their size, they might experience it out of nowhere. So, if that happens, make sure you have all your records in line, your story ready to be told. And of course, if you can’t figure it out, reach out to a specialist that is out there to help you out. Okay, but let’s dive back to your story. You know, your friend’s wife was helping you out and you know, keep selling your products. But let me ask you what about trademarks, at that point that you have a trademark ready for your brand?
Danny Carlson 21:46
I did have a trademark for my brand. And just to be clear, the reason I never got that account back is that it was 100% in the hands of that company Mark Monitor. So as the company handles the IP infringer for Apple