Episode Summary

In this Prime Talk Podcast Video Sponsored by GETIDA, Ryan Gnesin, Founder & CEO of Elevate Brands discusses his experience from selling commodities to selling on Amazon. Ryan’s an Amazon Brand Acquirer/consolidator and shares his personal journey into eCommerce.


Starting an e-commerce business has lots of ups and downs. There is so much to learn in order to become successful in a marketplace that many people are trying to take advantage of right now. Yoni Mazor from PrimeTalk discusses growing your Amazon business into a more successful and profitable brand.


In today’s interview, PrimeTalk chats with Ryan Gnesin, founder and CEO of Elevate Brands (formerly Recon Brands), a friendly and collaborative company that acquires successful FBA brands from Amazon and elevates them into category leaders. Elevate Brands is also within the top 1% of Amazon sellers by size.


Ryan Gnesin tells us about his interesting life journey from the insurance industry to commodity trading to brand acquirer and consolidator. If you are an Amazon seller and are curious about the steps to take to get your brand more successful, then this episode is for you!


Visit Evaluate Brands for more information.

Learn about GETIDA’s Amazon FBA reimbursement solutions.


Find the full transcript below

Yoni Mazor 0:09

Hi everybody, welcome to another episode of PrimeTalk. Today I have a special guest, and I’m having Ryan Gnesin. Ryan is the founder and CEO of Elevate Brands, which is an Amazon brand acquirer and consolidator. So Ryan, welcome to the show. 


Ryan Gnesin 0:20

Thanks very much, Yoni, great to be with you, man. I’m putting my Elevate Brands hat on here because we’re rebranding the company from Recon Brands to Elevate this week. So we’re very excited about the new…the new launch and great to be with you and thank you.


Yoni Mazor 0:35

Awesome, thank you for taking the time, truly appreciated. Yeah, so, this episode is really going to be all about you: the story of Ryan Gnesin. So you’re going to share with us, you know, who are you, where are you from, where were you born? Where’d you grow up, where’d you go to school? How’d you begin your professional career, how you ended up in E-commerce, so I guess, without further ado, let’s jump right into it. 


Ryan Gnesin 1:16

Oh you wanna start from the? Ok cool. I was born..Ok so cool. I was born in South Africa, Johannesburg. You know, I have a pretty standard upbringing right? I mean, I had a great family life and, you know, wonderful parents, brother and sister. My brother actually works with me in the company, he’s 10 months older than I am. And so we were very, very close. You know, we like to say there was no TV in those so there’s nothing else to do right? So, my brother, my brother and I are pretty close and he works with us in the company. He, you know, he lived for 10 years in China, so he sorta speaks Mandarin and so he helps source products for us from China. And my mum also, by the way, works in the company too doing HR and customer service 


Yoni Mazor 1:57

It just indicates I guess the family company connection and the family environment which is very close in production. 


Ryan Gnesin 2:03

You got it. So, yeah, I grew up in South Africa, Johannesburg and I lived there till I was 14. Right.


Yoni Mazor 2:11

So, your parents – what kind of industries were they working back then in South Africa?

Ryan Gnesin 2:13

Yeah, my parents worked together their whole life. So my dad owned, uh, he was in the food business, and he had a couple of restaurant chains. First, a steakhouse and he worked with a company called Nando’s is one of the early…


Yoni Mazor 2:27

Nando’s? Your father’s part of Nando’s?


Ryan Gnesin 2:29 

Not anymore. I mean he was, I mean, I think he had the fourth ever Nando’s store, and he was a regional director in South Africa.


Yoni Mazor 2:34

Is that like a South African chain?


Ryan Gnesin 2:35

It is. It’s a South African chain. It’s a Portuguese style chicken. 


Yoni Mazor 2:42

Yeah I know. I’ve seen it around. I think they had it in Israel at some point. Like a flashback. Okay, so the business restaurant business, Nando’s global chain.


Ryan Gnesin 2:51

Yeah, exactly, yeah, you know, so I mean you know the dinner table discussion was often around business and customers and, you know, et cetera. So, you know, I’ve got sort of an early insight into entrepreneurship in a way, even though my dad was part of sort of a bigger chain for most of his career. And we lived there till I was 14, and things in South Africa, you know, we’re a little unsafe and my dad was hijacked, you know, when I was sort of like…


Yoni Mazor 3:16

Your father was hijacked? 


Ryan Gnesin 3:17

Dad was hijacked, you know. It was a long story, it was a Friday night but actually the whole family was there and the long story they hijacked.. My dad’s brother and sister thought, my dad’s two brothers and his sister were there, and they thought that he had been kidnapped in the car, because they saw the car driving out of the house. My dad’s new car and they thought he was in the car. And so they, they took their guns, in those days everyone was carrying guns, they took their guns, you know, driving around Johannesburg trying to chase this car down. Meanwhile, my dad was actually safe in the house. Which was fine. So it all ended well. But it was enough to scare the family, such that within I think 12 months…


Yoni Mazor 4:00

Give us a little bit of the context, was just for I guess to expand their horizons, why was it so rough in South Africa? What year was that, that this happened, for example?


Ryan Gnesin 4:08

I mean, I mean this would have been in like the early 90s. This is like ‘94. And, you know, South Africa came out of apartheid and through the transition, which was obviously a terrible regime, you know, class and segregation of race, and, you know, like it was, it inevitably had to happen. But all of a sudden you had a huge majority of the population who now weren’t as well educated, and were angry, rightfully so. And you know we’re taking it upon themselves, you know, to loot and steal 


Yoni Mazor 4:48

Got it. So these layers of the society were so deprived for so many years, essentially steamed out. They were blowing out steam. 


Ryan Gnesin 4:55

Correct, and listen, it was also a question of survival for many of them, right? You can’t judge, but regardless, it was unsafe. It was common practice for people to be, you know, murdered. I mean every day there was, you know, three pages of murders on there, you know, it was just terrible. Crime capital of the world at one stage, and, 


Yoni Mazor 5:20

And Johannesburg is more of the business town as opposed to Cape Town?


Ryan Gnesin 5:24

Correct. So Capetown is more beautiful, Johannesburg was a sort of commerce…


Yoni Mazor 5:30

Right so Cape Town is more of a recreational, in a way, but yeah got it. So early 90s. You’re 14 years old. Where’d you guys move to? 


Ryan Gnesin 5:35

We moved to Sydney, Australia. Yeah. 


Yoni Mazor 5:39

Wow. What was the what was a thread?


Ryan Gnesin 5:40

Well, I mean, first of all we needed, I mean, first of all we needed a place where we could get papers. I mean, like, it wasn’t easy to immigrate to the US for example, we couldn’t get into the US if we wanted to. Right? We tried to get into Canada, we got accepted into Canada and then we just, my dad went on a sort of recon mission to go look for a house, but he went in the middle of winter, and he came back and said, Holy shit like there’s no chance I’m going to that place! Way too cold for me! So, we kinda turfed that idea and decided we’re gonna go to Sydney. So, on the surface Australia is very similar to South Africa, Southern Hemisphere, similar climate, similar sports. Right? They also like…


Yoni Mazor 6:20

Similar language right? That helps.


Ryan Gnesin 6:21

Right, right, and and you know it was a softer landing in the sense there were a number of South Africans who had already gone to Sydney. So that kind of was a logical place.


Yoni Mazor 6:31

So there was an ex-pat community over there in Sydney?


Ryan Gnesin 6:33

Yeah there was, it was, you know, we were, we were kind of a big wave of…there was kind of a big wave of immigration when we went, and then another wave happened like a few years later. So, you know, it was, you know, like some of my friends in those early days were also people who had immigrated from South Africa, so it was great, I mean like, you know, on the surface it’s looks like a very similar culture. It’s not as similar when you get there, there’s different nuances to culture right? And it was an early lesson I guess in life for learning to deal with people from, you know, across a broader spectrum, learning to deal with uncertainty. You know, learning that change is not always a bad thing and you know it is what you make of it. Right. So, there was a lot of, sort of early lessons in life thereby, through immigration. 


Yoni Mazor 7:21

So you graduated junior high there, you know, what was the next station?


Ryan Gnesin 7:23

Correct. So I graduated there, spent… so I lived in Sydney for 10 years and for high school and university.


Yoni Mazor 7:30

So 14 to 24. What year was that? When you left?


Ryan Gnesin 7:32

So, 2007 is when I left and I went to, I got a job in Switzerland. Right after I got my degree. I spent a year actually, I did a, I did a scholarship with MLC group which is a big life insurer, and I worked with the company called Life Protection Solutions. So they were, they were an insurance brokerage firm. And at the time like Australians were heavily under insured and I looked at that opportunity. And there were a couple of mentors that I really liked and admired who I went to work for, and I loved those guys. I just hated the industry, because it was very difficult for me to sort of.. You know, I’ve got, what happened was, I remember the moment I decided to leave the industry was, you know…


Yoni Mazor 8:18

The insurance industry? You were working there already? So right after college, you basically penetrate into the insurance industry in Australia, following the people that you do like but you found out there was no soul and purpose for you in that industry. 


Ryan Gnesin 8:33

Correct. I didn’t love, I didn’t love it, and, and then I got this opportunity to interview for this company called Glencore, which is a Swiss-based commodity trading company, I thought that sounds a little more interesting, a little more sexy, and I was young I was, whatever, I decided…You know, it took me six months to get the job. I had so many interviews. 


Yoni Mazor 8:54

So give us some perspective, cuz you dropped the name like it’s nothing, but Glencore is the titan of industry, the commodities industry. It just a global giant that, and you know… Give us an example about the commodities or the skill and sheer size of this enterprise, that’s why, you know, it was a six months process just to get filtered in and have an opportunity to be a part of the organization. 


Ryan Gnesin 9:16

Yeah, yeah so Glencore was at the time it was still private. And it had a sort of interesting kind of clandestine kind of culture about it. There was this just like, it was like air of curiosity about the company and…it was mysterious but like they were doing exceptionally well, I mean they were, they were responsible for a huge portion of the commodities that move around the world, whether it’s oil or coal or copper or zinc or aluminum, you know, they were, they are the biggest trading company in the world.


Yoni Mazor 9:50

The fundamentals of the modern world, all these, you know, bonds and ingredients that we need, all these commodities. You know,  they run the show.


Ryan Gnesin 9:56

Correct. And so, you know, I knew nothing about commodities right? I remember sitting on the plane reading from what literally “Commodities for Dummies”, or something, or whatever, one of them, literally like learning from nothing. And, but it seemed intriguing, and I was kind of interested in the adventure and I was interested in the opportunity to…you know, I was young, so to explore and experiment with different things, and I knew the opportunity to be financially successful was there as well because I kind of heard anecdotal stories that guys have done really well with them.


Yoni Mazor 10:27

So you said you were on a plane. On the plane where?


Ryan Gnesin 10:29 

I went to Switzerland to work in, I went to, I interviewed with them and literally they flew me there for a meeting. Literally I had six hours solid of meetings, and then they put me on a plane and I came straight back the same day. I mean, it was a whirlwind of activity, mindblowing…I mean, they flew me business class which for me was the most exciting thing ever. Picked me up in this like black Mercedes. You know, it was just like super exciting for me. But then I realized that okay like this is, this is going to be hard work right?


Yoni Mazor 11:00

Before you dive into that so what was the trigger for them to be interested in you? You don’t have any background in it? What was the point of connection? Looking from my angle, it’s what’s the connection? A private company, kind of mysterious, based in Switzerland. This was one, you know, Ryan Gnesin over there in Australia that’s a little bit, trying to get out of the insurance business. You know, invest into you a business class by coming for six hours, business flight back. Don’t make sense. 


Ryan Gnesin 11:28

Yeah, it’s a fair question. So first of all, the CEO of the company at the time, he recently stepped down and he’s basically is a Jewish South African, right? And so, you know, it was, I’m a Jewish South African, so it’s the same kind of community, and when I was working in the insurance industry I said to my boss one day, I said listen I’m not happy. I mean I really liked you guys, but like this isn’t for me. I can’t see myself here for the next 10 years. I don’t know what I’m going to do, I’ll stay as long as you want me to stay to work, but like, ultimately like I’m going to move on. And he said to me, okay, well listen, I have a friend of mine who works at Glencore and he literally called me last night saying do I know young guys who are hungry and ambitious and want to be successful, and are willing to work hard. And so he said perfect timing, like why don’t you call the guy? So I called the guy and we had a couple of discussions. And that was it, you know? They weren’t looking for prior experience they were looking for guys who are hungry, willing to live anywhere, go anywhere, work 18 hours a day and like I was willing to do that, you know..


Yoni Mazor 12:36

So looking for a young horse, you know, that’s full of energy, full of power, with good values, good ethics, good work morals. And off you go into the organization and you mentioned the CEO of being a South African Jew. How did that manifest at any level? At least in the early offset, or is that something you discover later or something that, I mean?


Ryan Gnesin 12:53

No, no. I knew that because his niece was my next-door neighbor in Sydney. So I knew her very well and in fact, long story, I mean back in South Africa, actually we used to like carpool with her younger sister, so there was some kind of like, there was this connection right? And you know what it’s like the communities are fairly small. Everyone to some extent knows each other.  


Yoni Mazor 13:18

Yeah tight-knit. We’re gonna get to that future on and that’s why you met your current co-founder, Brian Stein, but a different part of the Atlantic over the ocean. So, it’s pretty interesting how your life revolves around being you know, involved in tight-knit communities, who are active in a global scale. But in any case, to our matter and purpose, you know, fate has it that you, you’re in the right place at the right time saying the right thing, and you found yourself, you know, in Switzerland. Which part of Switzerland?


Ryan Gnesin 13:44

So it’s this tiny town called Zug about 20 minutes south of Zurich, this tiny little town. Right? I mean, you know like you go for a run, and first of all there this absolutely stunning lake right next to the office, and you would think this sort of high powered commodity trading company, you would think that there’s, you walk in there and there are energy and excitement and there’s noise in it. It wasn’t, it’s not like that at all. It’s very quiet. Everyone’s kind of doing their thing, actually super quiet. And then when you walk outside, it’s sort of like within, you know, five minutes, there’s cows in fields, and it was beautiful but it was just so completely another planet from where I came from, sort of.


Yoni Mazor  14:20

Right, for an average American, thinking about commodities, you think about Chicago and New York, that hustle and bustle big town. Skyscrapers, downtown New York, maybe Wall Street, you know it’s cutthroat, screaming, yelling. You’re saying no it was completely out of this world, serene, beautiful landscaping, puts you in the ease. Wow. That’s a unique approach, I never thought about that.


Ryan Gnesin 14:41

And it was a great experience. It was there were other young guys like me who would also be in there and you’re, you know, we lived in tiny little apartments and, you know, we worked ourselves to the bone, but we were happy and it was a good experience and you know, being in the center of, being in Switzerland, in the center of Europe was the opportunity once every so often to jump on a plane on a Friday afternoon and then come back Sunday and you go to Paris for a weekend, or you go to Milan for a weekend or something. 


Yoni Mazor 15:09

So it was located kind of in the heart of Europe, you know, a few hours away from every major capital or cultural capital and so I guess you had a great ride. Tasting Europe and the best that it has to offer. But what was your actual, like, you know, day to day or experience? What was your role? What was your position, what was your, you know, what was…?


Ryan Gnesin 15:28

I mean in those days I was doing logistics, I mean when you… In order to become a trader, which is, which is the ultimate objective right for most of the guys to become a trader. Well, you’ve got to start with logistics because if you’re moving commodities around the world, you’ve got to understand the intricacies of what it takes to bring a vessel and how the vessel arrived, what, what the paperwork looks like you’ve got to be able to write the contracts that allow us to see what’s been learned, that sort of traffic. And so that’s what I did and I didn’t really enjoy it. To be honest, I really didn’t enjoy it at all. 


Yoni Mazor 16:01

But that was the ground level was, you know, pivotal ground level, to be able to have the infrastructure…


Ryan Gnesin 16:05

That’s it and to be honest with you I wasn’t very… In those days, like, I hadn’t trained myself to have really strong attention to detail. And so now you’re forced to like be looking at contracts all day long and if you make a mistake and then you’ve got a multi-million dollar deals. I mean if you make a mistake on a contract, you potentially are exposing the company to a huge loss. So you know it forced me to really become better at that. And I did become better I’m not, I’m not the best in the world,  there are certainly a lot better at it…


Yoni Mazor 16:38

So is it true to say that you know this is really your that you’re diving into the professional world as a professional, diving into the details, the nitty-gritty of things, the daily operations.. 


Ryan Gnesin 16:49

That’s it. Because in the previous role as a broker and I’ve done a bunch of sales roles, by the way, I mean I’ve always throughout college and school, even I was doing a bunch of different sales roles. So it’s a very different like skill set to develop is now you’re getting a contract, and making sure planning, planning, shipments and looking at letters of credit and so it was a very different experience, but a necessary one for me and it came at the right time and it was very important for me to learn that skill set. 


Yoni Mazor 17:13

And it started in 2007 Right. Okay, so 2008-2009 and kind of global economical crisis. Did it affect Glencore in any way? 


Ryan Gnesin 17:23

Oh yeah absolutely. I mean, I was in Switzerland for only about nine or 10 months and then the opportunity came to move to Indonesia with the country. Right, and so that for me was a huge opportunity and, and also a very sort of scary one. They pulled me in the office on a Thursday and said, hey, Ryan, we’ve got some, you know, we’ve got this office that’s really growing fast and we need some people down in Jakarta, and at first I thought they said Chicago, for some reason. No, no Jakarta. Jakarta, Indonesia, which is the third biggest democracy in the world and, you know, what did, it is a huge country which I’d never…I mean I’d heard about it but never knew…I mean I knew Bali. 


Yoni Mazor 18:06

I think it’s also something like the largest Muslim country in the world, like 200 million residents right? Or population. So once again a different culture completely for what you know in South Africa, Australia, and Switzerland, I would assume. But what year was that when you made the decision to uh…


Ryan Gnesin 18:21

So they asked me, I went into the office on Thursday, they said, listen, we’ve got this opportunity and you should probably be there by Monday. I mean, I had very few, I had almost no time and I was like, okay, and boom, and then and I jumped on a plane, they gave me a Blackberry which I was super excited about. And I jumped on a plane and off I went to Indonesia, and, you know, and now I started learning about commodities trading in Indonesia and that for me was actually far more exciting, because now I was on the front line. 


Yoni Mazor 18:54

So they gave you the ticket saying, now you’re ready, you got your fundamentals. Go to Jakarta, Indonesia, help with the push over there you’re a trader.


Ryan Gnesin 18:56

No, it wasn’t that you’re a trader, I didn’t know that, they didn’t say you were, but it was no. The interesting thing is like, there were never any titles, labels. Glencore had a thing about never putting titles on someone’s business card. And there was a specific reason for that so that if one day you were sitting in front of the CEO of some other big utility in Japan, for example, they never knew who you were so they will always like they were always cautious because oftentimes, you know what it’s like in certain cultures, if the CEO is there, they want to talk to the other CEO. If the manager is there, they want to, they don’t want to be, they don’t want a senior guy to talk to an inferior. They never knew you were exactly. So, and that was part of the reason for that so there was never, titles was was never a big deal there. And, and so I went down there and sort of I was still working in logistics, but slowly but surely I would start to meet customers and I would, and I would start to learn about the trading part of the business and sort of…Then they bought a couple of mines and I started helping manage some oversee some of the mines, but the title was never really defined, I essentially caught up in a way, it was growing quickly and did whatever had to be done, you would help wherever you could. 


Yoni Mazor 20:10

Interesting, maybe that’s also part of the reason where internally when you grow into the outfit. You’re ready when you’re ready. It’s not really about the role it’s about the reality. You pick up more more skills, more more experience, more, more ability to do more things, but then the more sophisticated, more elevated and just grow into it. Interesting approach. Yeah, yeah, okay, Jakarta 2008 You’re rising the experience and skill set. Take us, what was the next station here in this other company? Was it a big crazy story? Or something. 


Ryan Gnesin 20:38

I have a million crazy stories. I’ll give you a sense of what that experience was like for me. I mean the very first week that I was there, we went to play golf with a Thai customer from Thailand. Yeah, yeah. And, you know, I remembered like I was curious. Okay, my boss at the time was very, was, was a fantastic guy and he was incredibly personable, and a very very good trader. And I remembered sort of sitting there thinking, Okay, well this is going to be interesting like to see how the discussion is handled around the golf course right? Is it going to be fun? Is it going to be mostly business? Like how does this actually work? We played golf, and it was, there was zero business talk, I mean everything was just having fun, from the politics and talking about all sorts of things, but there was no business discussion at all over again. It was a pleasure. It was wonderful and then we went to lunch afterwards. And right at the end of lunch, after having a great time and having, laughing a lot and talking, the guy said to my boss at the time he said, So Tony, why don’t you buy a million… This was a supplier, right, why don’t you buy a million tons of coal from us. And Tony said, ok happy to do that. This is early…So the Thai customer, he was the marketing manager of a mine in  Indonesi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *