Episode Summary

In this Prime Talk Podcast Video Sponsored by GETID,  Ben Leonard, an E-commerce Entrepreneur and Brokerage owner joins us. Ben is the founder & CEO of Ecom Brokers – An e-commerce brokerage and brand accelerator. Ben shares his personal journey into e-commerce.

Ben Leonard of Ecom Brokers 

ECOM BROKERS MAKE SELLING YOUR E-COMMERCE BUSINESS SIMPLE, HASSLE-FREE, FAIR, AND CLEAR. Founded by Ben Leonard and Allison Walker, we’ve been there and done it – on all sides. Based in the UK, Ecom Brokers works with businesses all over the world.

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Find the Full Transcript Below

Yoni Mazor  0:06  

Hi, everybody, welcome to another episode of prime talk today I have a special guest today Ben Leonard. Ben is the founder and CEO of Ecom Brokers, which is an e-commerce brokerage and brand accelerator. So Ben, welcome to the show. Hey, thanks for having me. Good to be here. My pleasure. So today’s episode is going to be all about you the story of Ben Leonard. So you’re going to share with us, you know, who are you? Where were you born? Where’d you grow up? How did you begin your professional career? And how did you end up in the world of e-commerce? So without further ado, let’s jump right into it.


Ben Leonard 0:37  

Absolutely. Yeah. Happy to talk about everything e-commerce related. I, I love this space. I love talking about it. So yeah, let’s do it. So tell us where you’re from. I am from Scotland. In the UK. I’m from Northeast Scotland. I’m living in a little town by the sea just south of a small city called Aberdeen. So it’s got like 150,000 people. So that’s probably tiny if you’re in the USA, but it’s like the third biggest ciy in Scotland.


Yoni Mazor  1:05  

America has a lot of scattered towns all around. A few big ones in New York, LA. From America in its belly. It’s like Scotland, I would say.


Ben Leonard 1:15  

So it’s a small-ish city on the coast. It’s the oil city. Everyone comes here for oil.


Yoni Mazor 1:24

Oil rigs and non-petroleum oil or oil?


Ben Leonard

Yep, all that stuff, dead dinosaurs under the sea. So my family is no different. My parents came here from England in the late 80s. For the for that exact reason for that industry. And then I came along you my brother. Unlike a lot of people up here in this part of the world, we ended up working in that industry. Although I was approaching it from a bit of a different angle. My background is in ecology and environmental sustainability. Would you think sounds a bit like it doesn’t? How does that match the oil industry? Right? My


Yoni Mazor 2:06  

No, I think today the oil industry has seriously matured right? And then Oh, yeah. responsibly and make sure the footprint is not as harsh and the environment things like that. But share with us.


Ben Leonard 2:17  

Yeah, exactly. So that was my job. My job was telling engineers that they can’t throw chemicals in the sea. My background I studied at university, zoology, and then ecology. And I’ve always been a bit of a nature geek.


Yoni Mazor 2:35  

Before you entered college university, growing up, I mean, your parents who were there industry, but for what capacity? Were they on the oil rigs, or were their engineers? What was their role in the industry? 


Ben Leonard 2:43  

Yeah, so they were both geologists. My mom and dad were both geologists. And then my dad ended up working for one of the major oil companies and sort of managing some of their assets and in charge of different oil fields, that type of thing. But he mostly worked onshore, right? He didn’t often have to fly out to the rigs, but he did sometimes. And then my mom, she, she actually worked for them for a short while, but then she changed careers when my brother and I were born and she ended up working in a primary school. And yes, so we grew up in a small town, about 20 miles north of Aberdeen, a little commuter town, living the kind of just the kind of standard life that everyone around the city lives, right. You know, parents commute to the oil companies in the city. Kids in the family live in the suburbs, you go to school, you know, everything’s kind of fine. And perfectly nice. privilege for sure. Yeah, basically. Yeah, basically, no, no, no doubt about it. It’s this. This part of the world has done very well from this industry. And um..


Yoni Mazor 3:50  

So you enter university while you’re when you’re 17 or 18?


Ben Leonard 3:53  

Yeah, I was 18 when I went to university, which was called to go to the University of Aberdeen. But I didn’t I didn’t go far right. I didn’t Yeah, I almost went to Edinburgh, which is about two and a half hours by car down the road, which is you know, one of the most beautiful cities in the world but the University of Aberdeen as it happens is one of the best zoology departments in the UK. And growing up here where we have you know, beautiful coastline, beautiful mountains, beautiful countryside. That was pretty natural for me to get an interest in nature and wildlife and ecology and so I studied zoology and then so that’s over here I don’t know how long an undergraduate degree is in the in States but in Scotland its four years as well in England its three years is that weird but in Scotland its four years so I did that for four years?


Yoni Mazor 4:48  

I guess the British you know the UK or the English people were in a rush you know, or something like that. So maybe that’s what they want to get into becoming a big Empire. 


Ben Leonard 4:50

Yeah, I think you know, it traded three years and send them out to it to exactly go too much to do. So I did that for four years, which is great. And I took a year out to do some traveling and…


Yoni Mazor  5:06  

So which Okay, so which year did you know go out traveling?


Ben Leonard  5:10  

That was in 2010? Yeah, I graduated there in 2010 is 2006 2010 took a year out, went and did some conservation work in the Caribbean coral reef project, and then did some dolphin work in, in the Mediterranean.


Yoni Mazor  5:26  

So on the Caribbean, which parts of Bahamas, as you said the military and also which parts?


Ben Leonard  5:33  

Yeah, Sardinia? So it’s Italy? Yeah, exactly. In Italian Island. And that’s where I did a lot of work on dolphins and I’m a bit of a whale and dolphin nerd. So people listening are probably like, How the hell did this guy end w e-commerce.


Yoni Mazor 5:47  

That is exactly the point of this whole show how exactly, e-commerce just swallows the variety of amazing talented entrepreneurs and yeah, from from all colors in all shapes and forms. It just, that’s the wonder of e-commerce as far as I can see. And this is kind of the passion of the show to stress out. So, you know, you’re, you’re our biologists and ecologists, and you’ll take us and we’ll get there but…


Ben Leonard 6:10

Yeah, so so I decided I need to do some more studies. So I did a master’s in ecology and environmental sustainability. And I came back to Aberdeen for that, again, because it’s got a fantastic department for that type of thing. And there’s a group of islands, very far north of Scotland called the Shetland Islands. How do you spell that? Shetland, sh, et la, nd Shetland? 


Yoni Mazor 6:30

If I die instead of the EOB? You know, I would be terrible. 


Ben Leonard  6:40  

So it’s the Shetland Islands, and they’ve actually got probably got more in common with Scandinavian countries than they do with the rest of the UK. fascinating place anyway. So I studied this big, horrible seabird up there. I say horrible. I mean, it’s really cool. But it attacks people if it gets too close to the nest. And so then I was at a crossroads, right, I could either continue in academia, go do a Ph.D., or I could get into an industry of some kind. And the logical step for me was to get into environmental consulting. So I did, and made my way into the oil and gas industry, where it was my job to do environmental studies of the impact of, you know, various projects on the marine environment, and help to minimize that. And I liked my job. 


Yoni Mazor 7:35  

So you started that in 2010 right after college?


Ben Leonard



Yoni Mazor 7:41

So also further, after college with about two years, you were running around, you were in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean in Northern Ireland with the Shetland Islands, you said?


Ben Leonard  7:49  

Yeah, the Shetland Islands. Yep. So started 2012. And I was worked there quite happily, for several years. And then late 2015, I got late 2015, early 2016, I got really ill with a heart problem. And it was actually the third time that I’d had it. And it’s, it’s called Perry Carditis. So it, it actually technically, it’s not a hard problem, because it’s an inflammation of the bag that your heart sits in. And it’s reasonably common in men in their 20s. And usually, you can get it once or twice, and they’ll give you some anti-inflammatory drugs, and it’ll go away. But if you start getting it more and more, there’s a risk that it can get chronic and you know, ruin your life. So the third time I got it, the doctors are like, right, we really, really need to kick this out now and nip it in the bud. Now the third time, so we’re going to give you all of the drugs, you have to do like nothing for nine months. Like I was very active in terms of my like fitness, hobbies. So like CrossFit, boxing, running. I did a lot of scuba diving, as you can imagine being interested in marine life. So I needed something to do. So I was pretty bored. My girlfriend who’s now my wife was studying. So she was…


Yoni Mazor  9:17  

This is once again 2012?


Ben Leonard  9:19  

No, this is like 2000. late, late 2015. Early 2016.


Yoni Mazor 9:23  

Yeah, so in 2012 you start working in the industry,  three years in?


Ben Leonard  9:26  

I’m just happily working with right just doing the nine to five. And I didn’t enjoy it right.


Yoni Mazor  9:32  

Yeah, didn’t enjoy that. 2015 as when you know, the illness started to make an impact on your life?


Ben Leonard 9:38  

Yeah, exactly. And I needed something that would keep me connected to those fitness hobbies without me actually doing them. Give me something to do and occupy my time. And if we rewind the clock, a little maybe a couple of years before maybe like 2013 14 or something. I was just You know, living my day-to-day life working and doing my hobbies like CrossFit. I remember I was at the CrossFit gym. And at the end of a really hard training session, one of the people I was training with, said something like, oh, wow, we totally beasted it today. And I remember just kind of thinking beast did it, we beast it, Beast gear would be a cool name for a brand of fitness products. And then I and that was it, I just forgot all about it, it just stayed somewhere in the back of my brain.


Yoni Mazor 10:32  

Subconsciously, it got stored in the database and your cloud, you know, mental clouds actually took it forward. 


Ben Leonard 10:39  

So, later on. You know, I’ve just been told, right, you have to do nothing for like nine months, take all these drugs, and get better. I’m sadly tidying out my gym bag, looking at the stuff I’m not using. And I remember looking at it and thinking, I could do a better job of that. And, you know, the database was reloaded. And Beast gear was pulled out of the cloud and downloaded again. And I thought, this year, that was that idea I had a few years ago, I could fill my time figuring out how to develop fitness products for a brand called Beast Gear. And maybe it would earn me some extra pocket money. Even if it doesn’t, it’s something to do with my time.


Yoni Mazor  11:25  

Ya a project or good, a project that will give you you know, purpose, meaning and motivation to learn from..


Ben Leonard 11:30  

Right. So, at this point, I knew nothing about e-commerce, right. I didn’t even know that I had an entrepreneurial spark inside of me somewhere, again, somewhere in the cloud, right. But this was the spark that kind of, you know, ignited the engine. And, and so I went set about trying to figure out how to do this, right. I was one of those people who knew, knew nothing about how to start a brand, how to manufacture a product, how to bring a product to market. I thought that when you buy something on Amazon, you’re buying it from Amazon, I didn’t even know there was third party selling, right.


Yoni Mazor  12:08  

You didn’t know there’s a place for third-party sellers. 


Ben Leonard 12:10  

Yeah. And let alone I didn’t, I didn’t know that there were platforms like Shopify that make it really easy to build your own e-commerce website. I was completely ignorant to all this. Why would I know like I was an adulting guy? And so this process began. And I developed the first product which was a jump rope. In the UK, we call it a skipping rope. But over there, it’s a jump rope called the beast rope. And so there was a theme, right, the umbrella brand was called beast gear. And products typically had the word beast on them. And The Beast rope was created and pretty quickly. And I remember selling it online and I started selling to friends and family.


Yoni Mazor 12:52  

So you launched in 2015? Or you slide into 2016?


Ben Leonard 12:57  

  1. I remember I contacted a potential manufacturer on Alibaba. You know, in fact, the other week, I went through my very, very old emails and found the first-ever message I sent to them. And I posted a screenshot of it on my Instagram because it just kind of demonstrated how inexperienced I wasn’t, you know, what, what, how things have ended up? It was quite funny. And yeah, I think I contacted them in February or March 2016. And I sold my first product to, you know, a stranger that I didn’t know on the internet in June 2016. On Amazon.


Yoni Mazor 13:32  

So let me just get it straight. So it’s Amazon, UK or Amazon, US, UK. Got an FBA or FBM?. FBA. Got it? Congratulations. You’re in business.


Ben Leonard 13:42  

Yeah. I mean business, right. And it’s hilarious, because, you know, this is back in the day, right. So I’m listening to Scott Volker, amazing selling machine, but that guy’s a total legend, by the way. And you know, it’s all about you know, friends and family 15-20 reviews. And you know, you’re going remember every day telling my girlfriend who’s now my wife, I got two sales today, I got three sales today, I got four sales. And every time the question was, were they real? Or were they friends? I think well, two of them were friends, but you know, it counts. And I remember like, getting to a day where I had like, 15 sales or 15 sales today. And she’s like, and how many were real? I’m like all of them. Oh yeah, right. And then it’s like, wow, this might actually work. And well, it turns out, it did work. Cuz I did or did not. It did work. Because I just continued to, to learn by doing which, you know, having a scientific background helps, right? There’s a lot of overlap between business and science, particularly if you approach business with a scientific kind of mind. So it was a process of, you know, just like a scientific experiment. Do what you’re going to do test your hypothesis, observe what happens, analyze the results, tweak it Go again. And by doing this, I was able to add more and more products to selling on Amazon in the UK and eventually through my own website. And then rinse and repeat, obviously in different languages selling across Europe. And at the same time,


Yoni Mazor  15:20  

So when did you head into Europe in 2016-2017?


Ben Leonard  15:23  

The interesting thing is that actually, certainly, at that time on Amazon, I didn’t really have to do anything to start selling in Europe, Amazon did it for me.


Yoni Mazor 15:34  

Yep. So if you want to sell in the UK, they start shipping it to, you know, across Europe. Yeah.


Ben Leonard  15:39  

But not not not straightaway. To do that you have to enroll in something called Pan EU. Of course, the UK has just left the EU. But that’s a different story. But at this time, we were still in the EU, we hadn’t made the giant mistake yet. And hadn’t turned on Pan EU have you. But customers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, could log on to their local Amazon and buy my product. And it would not be available on prime and it would take a few days extra. But those were very immature platforms and I was getting sales, I was getting sales. So very quickly, I realized I needed to professionally translate my listings and start marketing to these people in their own native language, through my social media channels, and that type of thing, which I was going to great efforts to build up across the UK and Europe. And then it made sense for me to turn on this thing called Pan EU. And when you turn on Pan EU, for those in the States, what happens is Amazon will for free, according to their algorithm of where the demand is they’ll move some of your stock to their fulfillment centers across Europe. So suddenly it is available on Prime. And you know, Mario in Milan can order your product and get it you know, the next day. And you know, somebody has…


Yoni Mazor  16:56  

It has the Prime badge. I had to kind of compare it to the United States, you know, instead of your product just being on the east coast in New York area, you know, something in the US Amazon has a whole network of a fulfillment center, it’s able to spread out your products across the states to make sure that you know the quantity meets the demand of the local areas and wages. So it’s their own version a way to create Europe, like the United States, wherein every country can has its fulfillment centers, country equals state in the US or something like that.


Ben Leonard 17:26  

Yep, pretty much. And almost overnight, I doubled my sales once. But the great thing about this is when you


Unknown Speaker  17:33  

So you opted to Pan EU in 2016 or 201y already when you opted in?


Ben Leonard 17:45  

  1. To update people on that now. So obviously the UK has left the EU. So now if you have pan EU, would you still I recommend you still do you have to ship products into the UK just for the UK. And for Pan EU, you just have to ship them somewhere else in the EU. So a lot of people send their stuff into the Netherlands or into Germany, for instance.


Yoni Mazor 18:03  

Yeah, became the new gateway for…


Ben Leonard 18:08  

Exactly so it became the new gateway. And so what was fantastic about this right was actually turning on pan EU in itself is easy, you just press a button in your account. But actually, to meet all the regulatory court requirements, it’s a total pain in the ass, you have to register for VAT in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, Czech Republic, and now the Netherlands, Sweden, sometimes Austria, Sweden as well. And at this point, you know, 2017, when I did this, it was quite mature, there were not a lot of services for doing this. I basically had to do it myself. And it’s not easy, you know, forms are not in your native language. Spain, it’s particularly difficult, you have to get things translated, but only by a certain translator who’s got the right qualifications, certifications, you have to get things literally physically stamped by something called a notary. But what’s great about this is it’s a complete pain in the ass, which means the barrier to entry is very high, which means not many people can be bothered to do it. You’ve done it, you are ahead of everybody else. Okay. Which is why it was so good. So I love to, if there’s if there are hoops to jump through, I like to jump through them, depending on what’s on the other side of course, yeah. So I did this I registered for kind of you, business starts to blow up. I was creating and learning strategies of my own to get ahead of the competition and building what I would call a legitimate brand. Right? A lot of people you know, I started in 2016 people in 2016 were still of the mindset that you could make money on Amazon just by selling stuff, right? Just you could have an account and you could sell everything from fidgets, spinners to you know, thermometers, right. Whereas, of course, what I was doing was I was building a legitimate brand, of which Amazon was just a sales channel, a very important sales channel, but just a sales channel. And what was happening was I was getting traction, you know on social media, YouTube, etc. This gear became a brand that people saw in the gym they saw in the boxing gym, they saw CrossFit. It’s all on YouTube, it’s all on Instagram. And it was something that people actually wanted. And it was getting googled, and we were getting sales on our own website. And we were getting influencers. And it grew and grew and grew. until early 2019. I made the decision to sell the business.


Yoni Mazor 20:24  Got it. And all this is almost three years into the mix. Just for context reasons. How big was your team? How many products were you selling? How many variations? 


Ben Leonard 20:34  

Yeah, absolutely. Yep. Yep. good points. So the team was me. And three, freelance, virtual freelance team members. I hate using the phrase virtual assistant because the member said overseas. Yeah, they were important team members. Yeah. And I’m still two of them still work with me.


Yoni Mazor 20:57  

All in, a team of four people. Yeah.


Ben Leonard 21:00  

In total the team is me plus, plus three others. 


Yoni Mazor 21:02  

How many ASINS or product listings? 


Ben Leonard 21:06  

About 15 parent ASINS. And then you know, several of those would have upgraded variations on sizes. So for instance, you know, boxing gloves, we had 10, 12, 14, 16, that type of thing. But nothing particularly complicated. You know, weightlifting belts would have small, up to extra large, right, that type of thing.


Yoni Mazor  21:27  

So all in less than 100 SKUs. 


Ben Leonard  21:33  

Nothing. Yeah. And that’s the thing, right? You don’t need to grow a brand with as many as you can, if you want. But you don’t need to, for it to become something worth a significant amount of money. For sure. And, you know, when I, like I said, when I started this, I was a complete amateur, and had no understanding, no knowledge or not understanding that’s not quite true. But no, no background in business. And I didn’t. I wasn’t aware of where this was gonna go. Right. I started it as a hobby. Something to do with my time.


Yoni Mazor 22:05  

Yeah. Well, by the way, how are you feeling in 2019? Well, busy, right, Friday, with the heart condition and the illness?


Ben Leonard  22:12  

I was completely better. I was back to training, like it worked.


Yoni Mazor 22:16  

Let’s touch that for one second. So which year? You mentioned it started around 2015. And then when did you, I guess recover or come back to a full shape?


Ben Leonard  22:27  

Probably late 2016, I started to, you know, increase my activity. Again, I was off all the drugs. Now, it wasn’t off all the drugs, there was some that I had to keep taking them. But mid 2017. I remember being off everything.


Yoni Mazor  22:40  

Got it. So but your project was a full blown year, by the time you were away, or you went back into shape. So that was carrying you as your main purpose.


Ben Leonard  22:47  

And that was really important, actually, because I did at one point, I remember, I remember having a conversation with my dad actually saying I felt like an imposter. I’m selling fitness kit, but I can’t train because I’m ill. But you know, so it was important for me.


Yoni Mazor  23:01  

It puts you in a very unique position to be very thoughtful and mindful about how to create gear. Because we had the other passion, you can do it. You know, it’s almost like telling somebody most awesome one, when they get a chance to do that they want to have an explosion going around. So if I can borrow a little bit from the culinary world, yeah.


Ben Leonard  23:22  

Yeah, that’s a very good point. So it was great that I was able to get back to training again, because I made myself the face of the brand. And that was a really interesting and important decision. Because one of the things that I learned in all my research was that people until you’re Nike, right? Nobody really cares about your brand. They care about what your brand can do for them. And people buy from people. And it was important for me to position myself as the face of the brand. And that was really interesting, because I said look, I’m a pretty average Joe, I enjoy fitness. I believe that everyone should be able to buy a really good fitness kit for a decent price. Come and join, come and join my tribe, basically. Right? I’m one of you, which I think made the brand really approachable and it allowed people to really relate to me and to the brand and it worked. And so yeah, over the next three and a half years, I basically grew it by adding products that I knew and solving related problems for my target demographic, my group of customers, my tribe, and expanding across Europe. Eventually, I expanded into Australia on Amazon, Australia. I was one of the first

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