Ecologist Who Turned E-commerce Entrepreneur and Brokerage – Ben Leonard
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?
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?
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
- 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
- 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 in but only got maybe three SKUs in there. And then right before I sold the business got into the Middle East, so Amazon UAE.
Yoni Mazor 24:46
UAE United Arab Emirates. Okay, let's touch 2019 you are about to sell or sold the business what was the trajectory? What happened there?
Ben Leonard 24:55
Yeah. So early 2019 My wife was pregnant, we wanted to move house. And I realized that people were now buying e-commerce businesses like mine. And I did some, you know, pretty basic sums back of an envelope type sums, and realized that I could take some serious money off the table. I was also extremely busy, the business was growing, which was fantastic. I was gonna either need to scale my team pretty quickly, or, you know, whether that was locally or remotely. Yeah. And life was getting, the amount of putting out fires I was doing was getting unsustainable. And relative to what taking money off the table could do. For me, my family at that stage in our life wanted to move house, my wife was pregnant, you know, on balance, the right thing for us to do is to look at selling. Yeah, so this was like February 2019. So I made the decision, early March. So we're recording this March 2021. So almost exactly just over two years ago, I started to research how to sell my business. And you got to remember, right, the landscape has changed. Now everybody knows who Thrasio, everyone knows that the big buyers in this space are.
Yoni Mazor 26:16
The brand aggregators, as they're called.
Ben Leonard 26:20
Even just two years ago, no one had heard of them. drafty are formed in September 2018. And the idea of buying an e-commerce business now we're still very new, despite the fact that the internet and e-commerce has existed for decades, a lot of people kind of believe that, if the business doesn't have a roof on the door, it's not a big boy grown up business and nobody wants to buy it.
Yoni Mazor 26:40
Yeah, just like any bank, any commercial bank, if want to get some lending. They don't know what you are, and what's the value, therefore they can't really give you proper financing solutions. That's why there's so many alternatives to financing as now there's so many alternatives to buying a business or options to buy a business which I understand the value.
Ben Leonard 26:58
Exactly. And so I needed to talk to people who understood this world that I was in the e-commerce world. So I started speaking to brokers, and eventually settled on one who, over the course of the next several months, vetted my business. And I want to say I was gonna say, got it ready for sale, but they kind of didn't really, they were fine. But basically, they just pulled some numbers out of my Amazon account and my Shopify account, and applied to multiple to it, and then told the buyer, and I'm allowed to talk about this publicly, because they use it in their PR all the time, which was Thrasio, about the business. The offer came in September 2019. And I think my business was the second acquisition, the second European acquisition for Thrasio at that time. And the deal was done in late October 2019.
Yoni Mazor 28:09
So less than 60 days, the whole thing was wrapped.
Ben Leonard 28:11
Yeah. And usually they can, most they can all the aggregators can wrap these things up faster, but they wanted to buy the assets. I wanted to sell the entity, the limited company. Yeah, the reason for that being in the UK. We've got entrepreneurs relief, which is basically a tax relief on selling a business. And so to get that, that, the benefit I had to sell the entity. Yeah. So it took a little bit longer because they were relatively inexperienced in doing that at that time. And so there was a bit just a bit more work to do. It was fine, and so when they bought the entity...
Yoni Mazor 28:48
So what happened, they bought the entity? Eventually they bought the entity, the entity. And now you know, now it's pretty routine for American buyers to do this. Yeah, that was two years ago.
Yoni Mazor 28:54
Yeah, we're all you guys are paving the way. It's amazing.
Ben Leonard 28:57
Yeahh, that was a year and a half ago. And so I stayed on it, not part of the deal. But I I stayed on as a consultant to develop products for the brand, because I still wanted to do that and see some of the upside afterwards. And I enjoyed doing it. But it was the process that we went through. That led me to where I am now. So I'm doing three things now really, which is I'm still building brands, because I love it. Like I said before, right? I discovered this entrepreneurial spark with the first brand with vSphere.
Yoni Mazor 29:33
So let's just let's just package this properly. So 2019 towards the end of it is sorted. So the whole entity now your recent now you got to basically establish yourself again, and what do you do and the first track is?
Ben Leonard 29:46
Yep, so what do I do right? One of the things that first came into my head was do I go back to my old job? Oil? The answer was absolutely not, right. Not that I didn't like it. It was a nice job and I worked with nice people, but I no longer wanted to work for the man. I didn't need to work for the man, right? I had this new entrepreneurial spark in me and I had 1000 ideas running around my head. And one of those ideas was I need to keep building brands. I got a lot of ideas for brands, and I want to keep doing it. But this time, I'm going to build these brands to sell right off the bat, this isn't a hobby that I'm doing, because I have a hard problem. This is I know what I'm doing now, right? I'm four years into this. I know how to develop products, take them to market, grow the brand, and then sell the business. And so I'm doing that. So one reason for doing that is I love it. The other reason is, I can't do the other two things I'm doing in good conscience, without still being an e-commerce business owner and a seller.
Yoni Mazor 30:46
You're saying this is a fundamental thing for you to keep engaging and creating and developing your own brand online.
Ben Leonard 30:54
Yeah, it's important because the other two things I'm doing a) I'm teaching so I'm consulting, I'm helping others based on the benefit of my experience. And then I'm helping others exit their business through the brokerage, three comp brokers, and I can't do those things, I can't teach people. And I can't help people sell their business. If I don't have skin in the game, I'm not on the ground understanding this industry, because it's such a fast-moving industry. That's the mistake some people make. They get some success when they step away, and then they try to teach or they try to offer a service in this industry. But by the time they're helping people they're offering something, times have changed and things have moved on, right? And what can become obsolete very, very quickly? Exactly, exactly. So that's it. So I'm building brands, you know, I guess that's my core competency. But then you know, I have extra capacity to contribute to this e-commerce community that we're all in by teaching and helping others to exit and I like to I like to think others may disagree that I am like the antidote to you know, you're scrolling through Facebook and you see these guru ads and they're standing in front of a Lamborghini and you're like buy my course you know, I'm kind of here to teach for the benefit of my experience and kind of talk about you know, the real world right not courses that are going to supposedly get you the money to buy a Lamborghini and so...
Yoni Mazor 32:27
Let me ask you this, did you buy a Lamborghini after your successful exit when you had an exit? Probably not, right?
Ben Leonard 32:32
I did not, although I did buy a car it wasn't a Lambo.
Yoni Mazor 32:34
Yeah, it's probably you know, regular Joe was you know, car and then if I look outside your window, probably seen the nice landscape, I'm not gonna see you in a high rise tower. And, you know, some major city, China, you know, boss the world around you taking it in stride, you're saying, Okay, I got, you know, financial stability I made, you know, a small fortune for myself. Well, what do you do? Go back into the swamp, try to pave your way again, you know, yeah,
Ben Leonard 32:58
That's the way to do it. So not a great deal. It's changed since I sold the business. We're living in the same house, same street, and the same nice little town, we have some financial stability behind us, which is great.
Yoni Mazor 33:08
Your values are the same. They're not altered as a result.
Ben Leonard 33:11
Yep. Yeah, precisely. What I would say, though, is that when you have, you know, when you're building your business initially, and you're doing it the evening, the weekends, any time that you can get, there's always a little bit of pressure there. And some people because, you know, if you get it wrong, you know, there might be quite a lot at stake, especially when you then quit your job, right. And this is that you've got everything riding on it. And some people would say that that pressure is fantastic because it helps you to keep going right? And there's an element of truth in that. Yes, I agree. And undoubtedly I've benefited from it myself. But the flip side of that is, once you've had some success, you've taken someone over the table, you're no longer you know, you're basically financially free. You have this sense of relief and the safety net, and it's like you can then operate at your best self. And it's like, I like to think of it as if I was gonna use a soccer analogy, but we'll do baseball right now. Let's do basketball.
Yoni Mazor 34:11
I can do music, I think music might help you, I can help you with this if you want. I'll pick one you'll pick one. It's like an artist you know, you want to be a singer or an artist right and you had a good record CD, we had a lot of pressure from the record company to make a hit. But now you have some sort of a stature now you like you want to focus on the art of it. So next record you're doing you have freedom to do it the way you want it the way you believe in it the way you know drives you without fear of making something that you know just for the almost like working for the man. You know, there's no nothing limiting you. Give me your analogy.
Ben Leonard 34:40
I know you're Yeah, you're absolutely right. Because often the second album of an artist wants to run a major record label. Isn't that good? Because there is too much pressure, right? Well, my analogy was going to be like the basketball player for a basketball player scoring lots of baskets. He's confident he's free. He's operating at his best but the more he doesn't score, the more pressure there is, the worse and worse it gets until he needs to see a sports psychologist and you know it is always terribly wrong. It's a little bit like that. So once you've sold, you have the safety net, you can offer to your best self. And of course, the other benefit is now I'm entering markets that I couldn't enter before because the barrier to entry was too high, because instead of sourcing a product for like three, or four or $5, I can source it for 30, 50 or more dollars, right?
Yoni Mazor 35:24
You can afford to go more upscale to target a niche, which is I know affluent, and there's no…
Ben Leonard 35:32
Precisely, competition, etc, etc. And so, you know, that's what brought me here. I'm building the brands that I'm teaching, and then you know, I'm helping others to exit with econ brokers, because when I sold with the brokerage that I used, they were like, they were okay, but essentially all they were was a middleman taking, you know, shovels to the gold rush. The people were great, right? They were nice people. But what they didn't have was my business, my experience, actually understanding what it's like to put your blood, sweat and tears into your business, cry on the phone to support a 3 am source product from China, bring it to market, market it to your customers. And then my business partner, Alison, she was actually the accountant for vSphere. She's got like 20 years of experience in mergers and acquisitions, and she's an e-commerce accountant as well. So we thought we would put our two skill sets together and offer, you know, I like to think of it as like the brokerage plus. So we will work with sellers, some sellers will want to sell a basic item now and they'll come to us and we will take a look at it. And we'll take a little bit longer than other brokers, because what we'll do is, rather than just kind of slap it on our website and listed on like, you know, the eBay for businesses will actually work to get it Built to Sell both on the e-commerce operation side, that's me, on the financial side, that's Allison. And this way they can realize, you know, the best deal that they can. The other thing is that we will do is we won't, we don't list businesses for sale on our website, what we do is we approach a small, you know, usually no more than a handful of businesses, or by potential buyers for the business, because we only sell businesses to the right buyer, because so much of the deal is on the earnout that it needs to be the right buyer to take that business forward. So you know, we're off, we felt like we could offer something a bit different in this space, crucially being the only one located in the UK and Europe.
Yoni Mazor 37:32
So yeah natural grounds.
Ben Leonard 37:35
But the brokerage buys e-commerce people, to actually been there and done it.
Yoni Mazor 37:41
Got it. So yeah, so once again, 2019 new cash out and the past, you know, year and a half or so, kind of three layers, right? No, being still an entrepreneur cell, you know, developing a brand online, doing consulting, right, helping others, you know, other brands or other sellers, with, you know, how to be a successful entrepreneur on the platforms, and also helping you know, anybody's interested with an exit helping with that aspect as well as that's kind of the the the three tracks your focus essence, then?
Ben Leonard 38:10
Exactly, yeah. And we're just adding another string to our bow with the brokerage, which is the accelerator. So some people might say, well, I want to sell my business, I've got a target in mind, but I'm thinking more, you know, 6, 12 18 months down the line. And actually, I need help to do this. We will work, there's two ways we can do that: we work with people to actually realize the goals. On the other hand, we'll just kind of audit your business and send you away with some homework to go in. And take it forward yourself this kind of a done with you model or, or a consultancy model if you like on that. But you know, that's, that's where we are, it's been a hell of a journey from I remember, you know, I said, I posted on Instagram. The other week, that screenshot of the message I sent on Alibaba, right. And it's people should go look at it, because it's really funny because it shows how inexperienced I was. And the order was for 500 units of my first product, the skipping rope, which became the Beast Rope, the beast, the beast, the original, and just before I sold the business, so the new owners will be doing even bigger orders now, I would imagine. But just before I sold the business, the next order I placed for that same product with the supplier was for 250,000 units of the beat stroke. Wow. And talk about growth. Talk about so that's the point. Yeah, I've talked about growth from the dolphin geek who thought that only Amazon sold on Amazon.
Yoni Mazor 39:43
I love it. I love that. I think that it paves the way, this way.
Ben Leonard 39:47
Yeah, you know, the lesson I think there is you don't need a business degree. You don't need a background in business. You just need the spark and the passion and you need to sell things which you are passionate about right? You need to build a brand around a group of products that appeals to a particular group of people. And hopefully you're one of those groups of people, right? If you love knitting, start a knitting brand, don't sell random fidget spinners. Right? If you like motorbikes, start a motorcycle accessory brand. That's the way to do that.
Yoni Mazor 40:23
Yeah, things that relate to that will give you the best push and drive. Alright, so I want to kind of package the body of everything you share with us so far, because it's been extremely fascinating. Let's see if I got it correctly, right. So 2006 to 2010, you're in school, you get your degree in biology, for the most part and in ecology. And then for about two years, you bounced around in this kind of industry or in the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean and the Shetlands in the north, and then around 2012, you settle on Aberdeen and you started to work in the actual industry that, you know, it was all famous for for about three years. And 2015, you know, a curveball comes in, a plot twist, do you have any medical condition that you gotta, you know, deal with, it's limiting your ability to exercise, it puts you in a mindset of I need to do something, and I would like to exercise and I can't, let's see what I can do that space in that industry. So it compelled you to develop your own product, which made you develop your own brand. And you launch it in available marketplaces, which were online, discovered Amazon discovered Shopify, within a short, three and a half year run, you know, you're able to grow to beautiful the dimension where is a really recognized brand for, you know, for people who like, you know, to exercise around 2017, already, your medical condition is no longer an issue. But you were already trapped and swallowed in a good way, in the e-commerce space and world. So you've kept at it, it's not like you said, I can exercise again, let me go exercise and go back to the oil industry. You went, you kept marching on you adventure, and then around 2019, towards the beginning of it actually around March, you decided that you kind of want to sell because it was overconsuming you even though the business had a great potential around the end of the year around 2000. I mean, in September, maybe October, you were able to finally sell it to thrash to make a successful exit and have a liquidity event. And from that point on, you're an injunction again, you know, calculating your option, you said, That's it, I'm going back to the swamp and creating another brand. But this time I created my that I'm passionate about and I'll do it in a more sophisticated way. Because, you know, financial stability is less of a concern. And then also add two more layers of activity, consulting, helping others, helping this community that created your financial success. And on top of all that, helping sellers who you know, familiar and experienced, who would like to do exits, how to do it in you know, in a good way. Did I get it right, so far?
Ben Leonard 42:44
You got it right. Yep. It's quite interesting to hear somebody relayed it back to me like that, because it's not often that you kind of get the opportunity to reflect on that type of thing. So yeah, it's pretty cool.
Yoni Mazor 42:57
Yeah, that's kind of the intention and design. So thank you so much for that. It's much appreciated, it was fascinating to me at least. So now I want to close up the episode with two points. The first one, if somebody wants to reach out and connect with you, you know, give them a handoff and the last thing will be is, you know, very, very shortly and quickly. Last two points, what is your message of hope and inspiration for entrepreneurs listening out there?
Ben Leonard 43:15
Okay, cool. Yeah, if you want to get in touch with me, you can if you want some help, you know with your own business, some consulting you know, getting control of your business scaling it up, head to bend Leonard dot Pro. So Leonard is le o ne rd like the golfer Justin Leonard. And if you would like to sell your business or think about selling your business in the future head to econ brokers, Koto, UK, it's the UK domain, but we operate globally. And in terms of, you know, a message for people, if you're listening, I guess my messages. Unfortunately, it's a cliche, right, but the cliches exist for a reason. They're generally true, okay. It's, it's true that you can do anything you want if you put your mind to it. That doesn't mean that if you magically think about having a successful brand and selling it for millions, it's just gonna like happen overnight. But if you think about and reverse calculate, right, the steps that are going to get you there, and then knock them down like dominos, you can't do it. So think now, what is the one thing you can do now that will make the biggest difference to tomorrow, and each at each step, think about that, and knock them down and take them off, and you will get there. You just need to make sure that you're thinking long-term and not going for a flash, you know, a flash in the pan, that doesn't work. build a brand.
Yoni Mazor 44:39
You gotta build a brand, think long term, don't get tempted with, you know, easy money or easy or easy solutions. You know, really think long term because whoever is gonna come afterwards and take your business will probably appreciate it so much. That's when you get fully rewarded. Alright, Ben, thank you so much. Hope everybody enjoyed what you did, and wish you as much as continued success in the industry. You know, appreciate your efforts. That's it. Everybody stay safe and healthy. So next time. Thanks for having me. Cheers.