Tim Jordan | How A Fireman Grew Into An Ecommerce Powerhouse
In this Prime Talk Podcast Video Sponsored by GETIDA, Tim Jordan, the founder, and CEO of Private Label Legion shares his story of how a fireman grew into an Ecommerce powerhouse. Tim is a leader in the eCommerce community, plus the host of the AM/PM podcast show, shares his life's journey into eCommerce.
Are you afraid of taking risks in your business? Why is that? If you sit down and think about what you need to do to get your business going or develop your business, you will usually find that it means going out of your comfort zone and being bold. Yoni Mazor from PrimeTalk discusses how you can become bolder on your e-commerce journey in order to achieve remarkable things!
In today’s episode, PrimeTalk has teamed up with Tim Johnson from Private Label Legion and the host of The AM/PM Podcast among other ventures. Private Label Legion is a community where e-comm sellers can connect and create networks and learn how to sell private label on Amazon. They offer group classes, consulting, and many different events. The AM/PM Podcast is a great resource and font of motivation for e-commerce sellers on any platform.
Tim Johnson discusses his incredible journey from fireman to e-commerce consultant in this riveting episode. If you have an e-commerce business, or maybe are thinking about starting an e-commerce business but aren’t feeling bold enough, then this episode is for you!
Visit Private Label Legion for more information.
Learn about GETIDA's Amazon FBA reimbursement solutions.
Find the Full Transcript Below
Yoni Mazor 0:05
Welcome, everybody to another episode of PrimeTalk. Today I'm really excited to have a good friend. I'm having Tim Jordan. Tim Jordan is the founder and CEO of Private Label Legion, which is a leading e-commerce community. Plus, he's the host of The AM/PM Podcast show. Welcome. Welcome to the show.
Tim Jordan 0:22
Thanks. Thanks for having me on. And I'm super excited about all the content that you're putting out for all these sellers, even though we can't be there in person for Prosper.
Yoni Mazor 0:31
Yeah. And so, you know, it's always great to see you in person with the events. Last I saw you physically was in Vegas in the White Label Expo. It was great. And then we're really looking forward to see what Las Vegas, for the Prosper Show actually, and also SD, but we're gonna put all that aside for the moment. Today's episode is really going to deal all about you. It's going to, you know, we're going to bounce into the Tim Jordan story. So you're going to share with us, you know, who are you? Where you from? Where'd you grow up? Where'd you go to school? How'd you begin your professional career? So without further ado, let's jump right into it. Where are you? You know, you like an onion?
Tim Johnson 1:12
Yeah, you're gonna have to start peeling man because I don't even know where to start.
Yoni Mazor 1:15
Where were you born? Let's start with the hospital if you want, you know?
Tim Johnson 1:17
Seriously? Yeah. So Nashville, Tennessee. Born in Nashville, Tennessee. I didn't live there. I grew up moving all over the place. So I've lived in Colorado, Michigan, Tennessee, Alabama,
Yoni Mazor 1:29
So what’s the trigger for you to move? Are you a military brat?
Tim Johnson 1:31
No, not military, just different jobs from my parents, you know, moving around.
Yoni Mazor 1:35
So what kind of jobs for example? What were they doing?
Tim Johnson 1:39
My dad was actually a preacher for a number of years. Right. He actually owned a business selling car batteries, of all things, for a long time. Then he started, found his calling as a preacher, started preaching a little bit, and that drug us around to different places. And as soon as I was 18, I was gone, went to college, became independent, and never looked back. So...
Yoni Mazor 2:00
Oh, my God, I know you bounced all around. Your father was a preacher, what kind of church for example?
Tim Johnson 2:04
It's just a non-denominational Christian Church.
Yoni Mazor 2:07
Got it? And you hit 18? Where do you go to school?
Tim Johnson 2:10
So I went to school in a small private school in West Tennessee, called Freed-Hardeman.
Yoni Mazor 2:14
What do you learn? What do you take?
Tim Johnson 2:16
It was pretty small, so I studied business. And actually, after I studied business, I thought I never want to be in business. Because I assumed that business was all about corporate life, you know, and I knew I'd never been a good corporate employee, I'd never sat in a cubicle and work. So I ended up meeting my, she's now my wife. She was actually my roommate’s sister, which was a little awkward. And I started dating her because he and I were really good friends. And I met his sister and started dating her and ended up following her to Alabama to her hometown. And uh...
Yoni Mazor 2:48
Give a shout-out. What's the name of the town?
Tim Johnson 2:51
Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama. So they call Alabama, the Silicon Valley of the South. We have more tech jobs per capita than anywhere in the US. And we have more engineers and PhDs per capita than anywhere in the US. So it's pretty smart. A smart town. But um, yeah, I
Yoni Mazor 3:09
So what year did you graduate? Let's...now we're going to touch the timelines. 2007 you graduated college? And you're what 21-22?
Yeah, like 22, something like that. And
Yoni Mazor 3:23
What was your first station in, I guess, the professional world?
Tim Johnson 3:26
So when I was in college, I was dirt poor. Man. I had no money I had no... nobody...Poor me. I was driving a thousand-dollar car and overcharging my debit card just to put gas in the tank, right? Like, I'll take this $30 overdraft fee because I got to get to work. And I was a waiter at a restaurant and it's tree work, you know, on weekends, cutting trees for different companies. And they had this gig in the...so the town that I was living in where the college was pretty small. And their fire department was not large enough to be like a full-time department. They couldn't hire a bunch of full-time employees. But this was Henderson, Tennessee. This is a college town. So I'm backing up back to college. But they needed some full-time employees, they could have an all-volunteer fire department. So they had a mix. They had a few full-time guys, a bunch of volunteers. And they had these half in between people which I became one of. And what that meant was we got to live at the fire station. So they built an apartment complex on the back of the station. So I got free room and board which is great because I was dirt broke and didn’t want to keep you know, using student loans to get my dorms and we basically, the station they, put us there training and we would get to logger hours there. So the fire department was essentially getting full-time employees although they weren't paying us they would pay us for every call. We went on so every call, we would get like 25 or 50 bucks or something...
Yoni Mazor 4:51
So, a great combination for them, a great combination for you. You're getting, I guess, freeboard and getting some pay...they didn’t have to pay the full...
Tim Johnson 4:57
And it was fun as an experience but I never thought about going into public safety. Well, when I left there and I moved down to Huntsville, and I was looking for just a job. I remember I had a job, I was working at, I was doing sales. And every time a fire truck would drive by, I was like looking at the fire truck. Man, I wish I was on that. So, I applied for the fire department in Huntsville. In the year that I applied, there were 2500 applicants, and they only hired 25. I was one of them. And I wasn't the only person in the class that got hired on my first attempt. There was a guy who ended up being a buddy of mine who'd been trying for 12 years to get in the fire department. And looking back...
Yoni Mazor 5:35
How would you explain that? Is that because of the experience you had back in the college days or?
Tim Johnson 5:40
No, I don't think so because they didn't actually like experience. They wanted people to train from scratch. I think that I got a few good recommendations because even though I’d only lived in that town a year, I've met some people who were impressed with my work ethic and stuff like that. I think I just nailed the interview. I think I went in and had like one of those aha moments just nailed the interview. And I finally got through and I just wanted it you know, we had a physical test that was brutal. And some people trained for six months to get this physical test, and I didn't train at all. I showed up. I just wanted it worse than anybody I blew through the test, ended up with a second fastest time out of like, 200 people that took it, without any physical training, and I'm not, you know, a specimen of health. But I walked back out to my car in the parking lot and I fell asleep in the car and someone's banging on my window two hours later waking me up. They're like, Dude, are you okay? Did you pass out? I just wanted it worse, you know? So anyway, I got that and
Yoni Mazor 6:32
So sheer willpower right? That's what they get?
Tim Johnson 6:35
Sheer willpower and stubbornness man cuz I wasn't making any money at sales. And, you know, I was engaged. This time. I wanted to get married, and I needed to make some money. And I knew that at least the fire department, although it wasn't a ton of money, it was stable. Great benefit, great pension. I got hired on and I was 25-24?
Yoni Mazor 6:57
So what year is this, because you said you mentioned you graduated in 2007. Right?
Tim Johnson 7:00
Yeah, this is like 2008, something like that.
Yoni Mazor 7:03
So a year later, you were kind of doing sales for a year drifting and then about a year later able to settle into
Tim Johnson 7:10
Yeah, the fire department role. And I was going to be able to retire after 25 years with a full state pension-like it was a great gig. Cassandra's asked me if I want food.
Yoni Mazor 7:22
So you already passed a test with the fire department I think you can have a plate, it’s up to you.
Tim Johnson 7:27
But anyway. So I knew that the fire department gave me some stability, you know, just a good paycheck, but I wouldn't have to work very often. So I had, I would work a 24-hour shift and then 48 hours I'd have off. So essentially, one day out of three we worked. So it gave us lots of time for side stuff. And I was really ambitious in the fire department initially. I graduated second in my class in the Fire Academy and first in my class in EMT school.
Yoni Mazor 7:51
So they hired you, you had to go through the academy? That was the deal?
Tim Johnson 7:55
It's like a six-month Academy. It's ridiculous. And I became a hazmat technician, I got into an Urban Search and Rescue team. So I became a structural collapse specialist, a confined space specialist, high angle rescue specialist, hazmat tech, swift water rescue specialist, imagine like the SWAT team for the fire department, like the highly trained guys. So then I loved it at first for the first couple years, I was just spending all my time trying to take on extra gigs and the extra training and then man, I just kept falling back into the realm of business. Like I just wanted to run a business. So after a couple of years at the fire department, I went and launched my first official business.
Yoni Mazor 8:37
And what year was that?
Tim Johnson 8:38
so that was 2010, I guess.
Yoni Mazor 8:40
Alright, so you're kind of settling in your position for two good years. 2010 you basically head-on into, you know, being an entrepreneur and opening your first business and what was the business?
Tim Johnson 8:50
So it started off as just a simple landscaping company. Right? So we were doing, you know, plantings and laying sod and all that good stuff. But I had had some practice in those first couple years, the first year I was doing sales, learning how to do very high-end installations for landscaping. So I was doing very, very good ornamental pavers, I was doing structurally, you know, engineered retaining walls, I was doing outdoor kitchens, I was building really high-end Koi ponds, I was doing outdoor fireplaces.
Yoni Mazor 9:22
This is 2010? That is an interesting time because it was kind of the recession, in 2008 where things was wilting down.
Tim Johnson 9:30
There’s a recession everywhere but Huntsville, Alabama, Huntsville, and...
Yoni Mazor 9:33
Silicon Valley, like you, said.
Tim Johnson 9:35
Yup, they had zero declines in property value in the Great Recession. And it's because all the government jobs, the tech jobs, the military jobs, space, none of that stuff was defunded, essentially. In fact, there were other military technology bases that were closed and moved to where we're at. So yeah, in the Great Recession, I was building $25,000 outdoor fireplaces on people's patios.
Yoni Mazor 9:59
So you’re an island of sanity in the world of craziness.
Tim Johnson 10:02
Yeah, got really, really lucky to have been there. So I'm still in my 20s. And I've got, at one point, I had like 50 people working for me, employees and full-time contractors, I had all these different vehicles, I had all this equipment. So at the height, I had 24 full-time employees..Oh, the lights just went out.
Yoni Mazor 10:23
That’s alright. Do you have sensors?
Tim Johnson 10:26
Good. Yeah, it's a
Yoni Mazor 10:29
No worries, take care of that.
Tim Johnson 10:30
Let me text her...lights, lights, please. So I had 24 full-time employees. And at the same time, I had about 25 full-time contractors. So I would have liked a mason crew. And I'd have an irrigation crew, you know, five or 10 guys in these crews that work full time for me, but they were contractors. So
Yoni Mazor 10:52
So how many clients are you serving every month?
Tim Johnson 10:54
Depends, man we had, we were doing grass cutting, you know, where we had contracts with businesses and schools, you know, ongoing low margin stuff. And at the same time, we were doing $100,000 landscape installations. So every month was a different number of employees. But the problem was, I wasn't making any money. Because I was great at sales. I was great at design. But I had no idea how to manage cash flow, I had no idea how to stay profitable, I had no idea how to be a tough boss, you know, so if I brought in an employee, and they just sucked, man, I had a hard time firing, I had a hard time keeping people you know, like keeping their nose to the grindstone so to speak, I let too much stuff get in the way. And I found that the business model was a little bit flawed where I'm at because the labor market here is so poor, there are so many great paying jobs, that hiring someone to cut grass, if you're not paying them $20 an hour, there's some meth head that's going to wreck your truck and blow up your engine, and they don't take care of your equipment. They don't care about the clients. And you know, I had somebody wreck, it was a brand new $12,000 commercial lawnmower. Wrecked it, and I showed up to the school that they were cutting, and he'd flipped this thing over driving on too steep of a hill. And he was I'm sure high on meth and he was drunk. And it was like 9 am.
Yoni Mazor 12:10
Yeah, sounds like the same reason where you're in business was the kind of the same reason or you were having challenges in business. It was Boomtown, salaries were high, lots of opportunities, therefore, to get, I guess, decent talent to do the core tasks, nearly impossible unless you pay a premium. But that makes it an impossible way to make a good profit.
Tim Johnson 12:28
Yeah, and I was young, and I was just making dumb mistakes. You know, I thought I had that, you know, sales volume was great. So I thought I was doing awesome, but I just wasn't managing it well, and I didn't delegate stuff that I should have. My finances, which I should have, I wasn't hiring qualified managers, I was trying to do it all. And remember, it was still a part-time job. Because every third day, I'm at the fire station. So...
Yoni Mazor 12:51
That's pretty crazy, to be honest, to be balancing these two jobs because being a firefighter on its own is probably, has its own demands and its own skills that you got to maintain and mindset. But, you know, employing 20 plus employees at the peak, and then, you know, 20 plus contractors, and having all these headaches, it's life was busy.
Tim Johnson 13:10
Yeah, it was... it's kind of what I do is I always overcommit, I get into too much stuff, and then just try to figure out how to swim and not think it's like the story of my life it seems like.
Yoni Mazor 13:20
Let’s see. Take us to the next station.
Tim Johnson 13:22
So I finally realized that business was not something I wanted to keep doing. I was going insane. So I had a bunch of loans out for trucks and equipment, and I sold everything I had and got just enough money to pay back all my loans.
Yoni Mazor 13:38
Nice. And which year was that? You started in 2010. And how long did you continue with…? So, you have a whole five years? Wow. That's pretty heavy.
Tim Johnson 13:47
So I shut down the company I had, I bought some commercial property. It was like the only asset that I kept from that business. And I had a buddy who wanted to expand his business, which was a procurement business for the US government. And I said, Hey, man, I'll sell you a piece of my land, I'll help build your building and you know, your warehouse and all that stuff. So it was a side project I wasn't doing anything else at the time. And my propensity for sales I kept asking what they were doing and got their business model.
Yoni Mazor 14:14
So what was the connection though, with that person? You wanna give a shout-out?
Tim Johnson 14:16
It was just an old family friend of my wife's, right? So, someone, I didn't even know but, you know, I was getting ready to sell this property. And my wife said, Hey, I know someone who might want it so I didn't sell them all of it. I kept some of the property and my old building but sold them a basic corner of my property for him to build his own warehouse and offices on and I got involved, just hanging out with them and learning what they're doing, and then started working for them part-time.
Yoni Mazor 14:41
So it's safe to say that a seed from your old business we landscaping, yeah, give a little bit of agenesis, you know, some of the residues of your business, give it the genesis to your next chapter.
Tim Johnson 14:52
That's true, because if I didn't have that property, and if, then I never would have got to know those guys. So we did some crazy stuff within six months, we set up a business in Kenya, Africa, started doing business there. I was working just basically as a contractor for him selling jobs to the government. And if you've seen the movie, War Dogs, it's about it's the
Yoni Mazor 15:17
These guys in Florida selling weapons?
Tim Johnson 15:18
Yeah. So the...what they do is they would bid on weapons sales to the government now, I was not selling weapons, I wasn't selling anything to the military. But all those bases had contractors, and they had US State Department contracts. It was things like the power generation systems and dump trucks and heavy equipment, you know, to level up ground or Quest protein bars, like anything, you could imagine that all these contractors and diplomats needed, right. But it's the same thing. We were using federal government systems, bidding on it. And I learned how to procure. So I started,
Yoni Mazor 15:49
Hold on, so who was the end client? Who was the end client?
Tim Johnson 15:52
The US State Department. No, that's a different business.
Yoni Mazor 15:57
So I’m confused, put me...lay the tracks for me.
Tim Johnson 15:59
Alright, so the company that my buddy owned, we were supplying stuff to the US government. State Department. Well, mostly in Afghanistan and Iraq, or wherever they're deployed, their stuff overseas. At the same time, we set up another business, selling the similar type of items we had access to into Kenya. We were shipping anything from bulldozers and dump trucks, to security systems, to all this stuff that we could procure through our supply chains that even government agencies and really large industrial buildings and stuff needed.
Yoni Mazor 16:34
Can I ask you a small question, what was the thread that got you into Kenya, out of all the places in the world? I would assume Nairobi?
Tim Johnson 16:40
It was through Mombasa. We were shipping everything through Mombasa. But the business was based in Nairobi.
Yoni Mazor 16:48
But how did you get there?
Tim Johnson 16:50
It was...we were talking to a guy who said, Hey, we're trying to source this stuff, and we can't get it.
Yoni Mazor 16:56
And what? Did it come through email? Just random email?.
Tim Johnson 16:59
Yeah, just basically right.
Yoni Mazor 17:00
Cause you know, there’s the Nigerian sting where they got this contract.
Tim Johnson 17:05
These were actually some guys from...they were Indian guys that live in Kenya. So they're not from Kenya.
Yoni Mazor 17:12
So Indian from India or Native American Indians?
Tim Johnson 17:14
Yeah. So India, India. But I researched them. They did a lot of business. I flew over there. I went and met with their clients. And we set up a business, we started importing stuff into Kenya, which was crazy using the same solution. Yeah. And that went great until the Kenyan banking system collapsed. If you're going to google it like 2011-2012, one day, all the banks will just shut down in Kenya.
Yoni Mazor 17:39
Hold on. When did you start this business? Because I thought you were in landscaping?
Tim Johnson 17:42
That was still 2010-2011.
Yoni Mazor 17:44
So hold on, you started this procurement track what year? 2010/11?
Tim Johnson 17:49
Yeah, basically, as soon as I stopped the landscaping thing.
Yoni Mazor 17:52
So hold on, I thought the landscaping, I thought it ended in 2015?
Tim Johnson 17:56
Oh, you're right 2015. I've got my five years mixed up. So 2015 Yes.
Yoni Mazor 18:00
So 2015. You shut down the landscape business but you already lay the tracks for the procurement. Right? You're doing Yeah, for the American government deployed overseas, and also in Kenya got it. Okay, now things are making sense. So what were the challenges or what was the next step for you?
Tim Johnson 18:18
So the next step was just figuring out how to sell more, right? We had these great supply chains. We were shipping containers of stuff over to Iraq and Afghanistan and other diplomacy bases and consulates, and embassies and stuff. And I knew we had great pricing for wholesale items. So I decided we needed to sell on eBay because I didn't know you could sell on Amazon. So I literally put out a Craigslist ad and I said, Hey, I need someone to teach me to sell on eBay. So I'm going to come to look at my wholesale accounts to help me find out what's profitable, I'll pay you as a consultant.
Yoni Mazor 18:50
And what year was that? The eBay brands you created.
Tim Johnson 18:52
Well, you know, this is still 2015. This is still kind of the same time I'm doing all this. I was doing a lot at once, right? And some like, 65-year-old guy showed up, supercomputer nerd, walked into the office, I met with him, he looked at our wholesale catalogs, and he said, You need to be selling this on Amazon. So we launched an Amazon store...
Yoni Mazor 19:12
So a random Craigslist ad that you need help with eBay brought you a 65-year-old, I guess, you know, computer veteran telling you, go to Amazon. That’s your Amazon Genesis. I’ve heard a lot of Amazon geniuses and I like this one.
Tim Johnson 19:28
So I started, we started selling wholesale, and I rapidly figured out, hey, if these wholesale suppliers figure out that we're not just selling it to the government, they're going to shut us down.
Yoni Mazor 19:40
So there was conflict or something conflict of interest or?
Tim Johnson 19:41
Yes, conflict. So it was like designated sales channels. And you know, to those 15 people worried about Amazon, but there were like, physical districts that were allowable sales channels. So now we're just destroying all that. These are industrial goods mostly so people used to have to go to stores and different stores like Caterpillar. I was selling Caterpillar brand stuff on Amazon. That's one of the most restricted brands in the world.
Yoni Mazor 20:05
So basically, you're breaking into their distribution model.
Tim Johnson 20:08
Yeah, we're destroying it. And being in 2015, I was the number one seller of automotive filtration online. And I know what in the world because we were selling oil filters, fuel filters, separators coolant filters, like we were bringing in pallets every day, prepping and putting it in skews and sending it back out. And so using the FBA model, the Fulfilled by Amazon, now we're using FBA, we were bundling stuff, we were creating kits, but I realized, hey, this could dry up tomorrow. Because if Cummins Filtration, or if Caterpillar or Baldwin figures out that it's us, because we're buying this kit, you know, based on these agreements for the US Government, you know, we're killing everybody in pricing. Because we were buying so cheap.
Yoni Mazor 20:59
You're buying direct, and you're able to make the full markup.
Tim Johnson 21:01
Man, we were making so much money. And I knew that that wasn't sustainable. So within just a few months, I decided, hey, we have to figure out how to have our own brands. So basically, what we did is we took the information that we had that was popular, and we already had contacts in China through our procurement and shipping systems. So I started trying to figure out stuff to launch a private label on Amazon. And that was in 2015-16.
Yoni Mazor 21:26
So it’s your first year of Amazon, so fairly quickly, a few months into the gig said, you know, sustainability is in with owning your brand.
Tim Johnson 21:33
Yeah. So in 2016, early, you know, it was easy to launch anything. So I mean, we launched everything from golf cart accessories, to automotive accessories, to sporting goods, we were selling crazy amounts of folding beach chairs, and backpack beach chairs, and beaches. Everything I get my hands on, man, we were selling tons of it, tons of it. And that's what eventually led me, you know, deeper into this Amazon rabbit trail of helping other sellers complete the vaccine as well.
Yoni Mazor 22:02
What was the story there? What was the genesis of that track?
Tim Johnson 22:05
So I started ordering all this stuff from China, making regular buying trips to China. And I'm figuring this thing out on my own. And I basically had people contacting me and saying, Hey, we heard you're buying stuff from China, can you put my pallet in your container?
Yoni Mazor 22:23
Tim Johnson 22:23
Yeah, and things like, Hey, can you connect me with your sourcing agent, right? So I started, basically just helping people realize here's a business model. So we started a new business, I started a new business with a Chinese business partner that I'd grown to trust and love. And he was like my brother.
Yoni Mazor 22:42
And this is Mainland China or Hong Kong?
Tim Johnson 22:44
Mainland China based in Shanghai. So I said, let's start this business together. And we set it up as a corporation in the US that he was 50% owners and a corporation in China that was 50% owners, and we were sister companies, right? Yeah. Okay. And basically, that was the genesis of Hickory Flats, which was at first a sourcing and logistics company, then we set up warehousing in the US with a 3PL FBA prep, we did imports for people. And at the time nobody else was doing and it was going great.
Yoni Mazor 23:16
I mean, this is...what year did you guys create the partnership. About three years ago? Yep..
Tim Johnson 23:17
Yep. So that was going great until that business model kind of collapsed. And it collapsed because I was still working in the fire department, you know, it's still my primary job.
Yoni Mazor 23:26
Really? You’re still a firefighter this whole time? I did not realize that as well.
Tim Johnson 23:30
It was crazy. And I didn't manage it very well. And then margins started dropping because as you know, everybody's a freight forwarder now, you know what I mean? Like, you get online and you post in a group, hey, I need a quote and you have 75 people dm you. And at the time, people weren't educated enough to know to use legitimate freight forwarders. So we're getting our pants beat off of us on pricing because everybody was undercutting us, even though they sucked.
Yoni Mazor 23:51
There's definitely a proliferation in this whole space of, you know, sourcing in Asia and China and bringing it you know, it's Amazon. 2017 was an explosive year, as far as I can recall.
Tim Johnson 24:05
So I eventually decided I needed to make a change in my life. And every day, I'd go to the fire station, and I would do my truck checks, and I check off my equipment and do whatever we needed to do. And then I'd immediately go back to my bedroom, we had private bedrooms, I’d get on my computer and start working. And I realized that it got to the point where I was calling in sick and burning sick leave, so I can go on work trips, and I was going to conferences, you know, and using vacation time, and I realized, hey, my heart's just not in the fire department. And, you know, I think that over the, you know, those last couple of years, like I had to miss Christmas morning, I've got three little kids at home, I’d miss Christmas morning, cuz I had to be at the fire station, and I don't know, I just realized my heart wasn't in it and I was gonna get to be one of those grumpy old burned-out codgers. So the day that I got my 10 years in, which meant that my retirement was vested. I put it in my papers and I left. That was in 2017 also.
Yoni Mazor 25:03
Thank you for your service. I'm sure you know you saved a bunch of lives, you know, nothing to take in lightly.
Tim Johnson 25:08
We sat around a lot. We... I've got a few war stories...I did get a couple of awards you know from the mayor's office from legitimate saves, but for the most part, it's not like a one on one deal, you know? When you show up to an apartment fire, there are 20 guys there doing all the work. I learned a lot. I learned to appreciate life and I learned that I'm never gonna own another motorcycle.
Yoni Mazor 25:30
Oh man, yeah the accident?
Tim Johnson 25:30
Yeah just the stuff you see, man, it makes you appreciate life and it makes you put on your seatbelt and you know motorcycle...motorcycle wrecks, you know, I've own motorcycles I was younger and then I started seeing these wrecks where the driver was not at fault and what would have been a fender bender in regular traffic, you know, we're scraping somebody off the road.
Yoni Mazor 25:51
I mean, guys, you know, if you have a motorcycle and you cherish life, maybe it's time to, you know wind it down a little bit. So 2017 you put your papers, you get your, i guess, pension so to speak, and then off you go into full steam into e-commerce?
Tim Johnson 26:10
Yeah, so I guess what...
Yoni Mazor 26:12
By the way, what about your core, your other business with procurement? Is it still running today? Or it was...what was ...what happened to that track?
Tim Johnson 26:19
No, I actually exited that. So I basically sold my ownership of that to the other guys because we weren't gonna get along. It was crazy. Do you remember that movie “Founders” came out about McDonald's story?
Yoni Mazor 26:32
Tim Johnson 26:32
And the whole thing was these guys had a business and they brought this other guy in and he ended up taking all business. When that movie came out and my business partners watched it, it freaked them out. And he's still a good friend of mine. Nathan, if you're watching this, I'm telling the story! Literally the day he watched that movie, he came in and he was freaked out and was like oh my gosh Tim is generating the majority of the income on this, the revenue, and I started this business first and, you know, gave him a percentage later yada yada. And he just freaked out and we decided that there was so much...and I had other side stuff going on, and there's a little bit of jealousy going on, and there are some issues. So I decided just to separate from that. So I separated from that and I took my money from that and my money from my pension, which I was able to get most of back, you know, after taxes and just reinvesting it into products. So I started launching products like crazy on Amazon myself again. So rebirthed the whole thing like in 2018. Some of those brands I've now exited out of, and really doubled down on what Hickory Flats was doing but changing the model a little bit so instead...
Yoni Mazor 27:41
Hickory Flats was created as your platform for procurement?
Tim Johnson 27:44
That was the sourcing shipping warehousing.
Yoni Mazor 27:47
Right, but you transitioned it to become, what, your e-commerce platform? Or...
Tim Johnson 27:50
No more education. So it's still public, you know, like public-facing...oh my lights are going on again...but it became more educated and the reason for that was there's a lot of people that are handling logistics and sourcing there's no less demand for it but I realized that the special thing that I had was not my ability to ship products the special thing I had was years of experience myself but years of experience watching hundreds of other brands right? So seeing what worked, what didn't. Understanding what filled up the warehouse and wouldn't move and why and what bundles actually worked. And so I got this unique perspective on basically product selection and launching and I realized that was very unique and valuable. So that unique perspective is what led to things like the Project X Case Study with Helium10, which that's why I'm here today. We're actually shooting two more episodes of Project X like this afternoon.
Yoni Mazor 28:45
So shout out to Helium10 in California right? This is a which part of California
Tim Johnson 28:48
Irvine, Los Angeles. A suburb of Los Angeles.
Yoni Mazor 28:52
Hold on, so 2018 full throttle into e-commerce, you know, selling your brands but you're saying a new kind of track laid out where you essentially become a consultant, a high-level consultant, where you become a community leader. I guess that brought life into the Private Label Legion, was that 2018?
Tim Johnson 29:10
Yeah, about 2018. We started putting that together and I've never really pushed too hard. You know, I don't have a big Facebook group of 50,000 people but I collaborate with a lot of people. So there's a lot of people that I think have gained value from my unique perspective but it's spread out, it's not all consolidated into fancy sales funnels or anything like that. I'm not a very sales guy. But all of this just allowed me to learn more. So I get to sit in on these masterminds and these expert circles and expert panels and get to talk to some of the best people in the industry. So then I started doing some consulting and consulting for actually service-based businesses, so businesses in finance and logistics and software and hey Tim how do we, you know, create a better product or create a better service how do we connect or how do we, you know, brand or market towards you know the e-commerce seller? So I went from starting and selling myself to being a service company myself, you know, a small bootstrap, you know, help other sellers logistically. So then getting to see behind the curtains in software development and SAS and...
Yoni Mazor 30:16
Solutions for sellers.
Tim Johnson 30:16
Yeah, higher level of logistics and what I've ever done and you know, the world of finance and banking and things like that. So that's where I'm at now is this kind of crazy world where I get to see behind all these curtains and it just allows me, you know, to better myself, better my own businesses, helps other businesses. It's really cool. So right now, I've still got the Private Label Legion community, still selling products. I'm venturing off of Amazon now. I'm doing, like working on a case study with Indiegogo crowdfunding, and I've got some great people helping me there. Doing more episodes with Project X, the AM/PM Podcast, I’m the host of that, took that over from...
Yoni Mazor 30:52
Yeah but, I want to touch a few of these components. But before those, I just want to, I don't know, it's stepping back and looking at your evolution. It's pretty interesting because you started as, you know, easy to mention a firefighter for most of the time, but reseller right, private label seller, right? Supplier or helping with right? supply. And then solutions for businesses. So the whole evolution out there throughout pretty much most of the spectrum gives you an unbelievably unique position and angle of how you see things happen. It's, I find that a little bit rare, to be...such ability to understand really all the components that are, that are challenging for the business owners, and all the types of business owners with business models. Okay, so now we're going to touch I guess, three tracks. One of them we kind of touched, Private Label Legion. It's your own community. You have your own gatherings, you have your own social media group. But then there's Project X and what's the other track?
Tim Johnson 31:51
There's Project X, there was the AM/PM Podcast, and I'm also an executive for a finance company, which is crazy.
Yoni Mazor 32:01
Alright, so 4 tracks. Here, we touched on Private Label Legion. Let's talk about the remaining three: Project X, AM/PM podcast, and Seller Funding, which is a great company that helps many Amazon sellers to get funding. Let's start with the first track: Project X. So what's that about? What's the idea there?
Tim Johnson 32:20
Well, I don't know how it exactly started. And usually, I am very much of the opinion that you need to praise publicly and criticize privately. I'm very much of the mindset that you need to praise publicly and criticize privately. So you're not going to see me put people on blast. Even even if things that I don't agree on you'll never, I shouldn't say never, but rarely see me on social media. But there was one time that I got triggered a couple of years ago. Really, it was I won't mention who it was. But there was a company that had put out some YouTube content about, Hey, this is how you find great Amazon products. If you use our software, it shows these great products. And the products that they were using the examples were horrible products. But this group had such a large audience that I know that that day 500 people went out to try to source that product. And it was already saturated with terrible. And I ranted a little bit on Facebook. Hey, guys, we have to stop looking at, you know, sales volume as an indicator. If this is something we can sell to you, nobody's falling into this fallacy of selling saturated products, whatever. False positives. Yeah, yeah. And I got like 300 responses on that thing. It kind of went crazy. And at the time, I was already friends with Manny Coats and the guys at Helium10. And they were kind of growing, they're going through a growth phase at the time.
Yoni Mazor 33:40
Let’s touch Helium10 for a moment, for the audience, just in case they're not aware. Helium10, a great company based out of California started by Manny Coats and Guillermo. They are pretty much entrepreneurs who started selling on Amazon. And they did very well as retailers. But then they realize there's a big need for a suite of tools, software tools for Amazon sellers to, you know, do discovery, what kind of product to sell or optimize many, many, many things. And then as you're saying, that was pretty much, you already had a relationship with them? Or how’d that relationship create itself?
Tim Johnson 34:17
I had that relationship just going into events, just sitting with these guys having dinner, you know, going to parties in Vegas, whatever it was, ended up meeting these guys. And you know, in 2018, 2019, there was a big demand for updated information. Because there's a lot of courses. There's a lot of content out there, but it's all the same thing. You know, what worked in 2017. So last year, early Manny Coats came to me, he said, Hey, Tim, we'd like to do a case study, would you be interested in doing this? And it was the first time they'd ever really partnered on such a large scale with someone outside of the Helium10 umbrella.
Yoni Mazor 34:50
You’re not content, right?
Tim Johnson 34:51
I'm not an employee, you know, and I said, Yeah, let's do that. So we collaborated between Helium10 and Private Label Legion. We kind of break down a lot of barriers. You know, for people, and broke a lot of misconceptions on how you should do Amazon private label. And there's a lot of ways to do private label, the Project X method follows what I call the Yeti principle, which is just one way. But it resonated with a lot of people. And it's turned out to be massive. I still... So the Yeti principle is finding something that is in demand with little to no competition on Amazon. So that means the sales volume on Amazon sucks because there are no offerings. But there's a lot of products out there that aren't on Amazon yet. So the Yeti principle is essentially finding, and you can go on my YouTube channel, type Tim Jordan Yeti principle, and see a whole walkthrough on it. But it's essentially finding something out there, which is very different from most strategies, which is to go find something someone else is doing and try to do it better. So again, not saying it doesn't work, but it can be much more difficult.
Yoni Mazor 35:46
So a very clear track, I guess, probably sustainable as you perceive it for sellers to pursue. Got it.
Tim Johnson 35:54
So we started dropping these episodes. I was... it took us like seven months to film all of it. I was flying out to this office all the time and shooting and
Yoni Mazor 36:04
So Huntsville, LA. LAX, back and forth.
Tim Johnson 36:07
Yeah. 2019 I flew 250,000 miles. Legitimate miles. I was flying to Australia and Thailand and all over the US and Central America. And it was crazy. But long story short, we ended up blown out of the water when it launched early to 2020 early this year. And you know, it took us about six months to film it all run through everything, get it all edited up and released. And now it's got 10s of 1000s of full views on YouTube, which is crazy. So people that you know have not been exposed to, you know, kind of my outside-the-box way of thinking or getting introduced to it. It's all free content. So it's cool.
Yoni Mazor 36:47
I find it very innovative, refreshing. Just a good vibe. So you guys know yourself and Bradley Sutton right.
Tim Johnson 36:58
That leads into the next thing that's kind of big this year for me which is AM/PM. There we got a little shout-out. It was actually started by Manny Coats prior to even Helium10 starting. It was just a free podcast. Here's my Amazon journey. Ended up being for I think a year and a half the number one Amazon podcast out there.
Yoni Mazor 37:16
Looking back I can definitely tell you it was a legendary show. So you got a big tour to carry. And I think you're doing well with it. I got
Tim Johnson 37:24
So Manny was getting ready. Nobody knew it at the time, he was getting ready to exit the business, sell the majority of Helium 10. And he said we got to have a new podcast. I can't be the host of the podcast anymore. So they started the Serious Seller Podcast with Bradley, which is really successful.
Yoni Mazor 37:39
SSP? Serious Seller...
Tim Johnson 37:40
Serious Seller Podcasts. And after that launched and was doing well and many exited. They looked and were still getting like 10,000 downloads a month of AM/PM Podcast and we're like, man, it would be a shame if we let this go. And there's more business development behind the scenes things, but basically, we decided there was room for two different types of podcasts. One is the Serious Sellers Podcast which is very focused on Amazon and the AM/PM Podcast, which is more omnichannel, more entrepreneurial, a lot of mindset stuff. You know, it's good information for an Amazon seller, but it's not necessarily about being an Amazon seller.
Yoni Mazor 38:16
It's broader. Just broad. Yeah. I would even say funkier, right?
Tim Johnson 38:23
A little bit. Yeah. So I got a call from Bowie, who's the CEO now, and he called me. I talk to him pretty regularly. He said, Tim, he said, You've got your own podcast, the Private Label Legion radio. Yeah. He said, how's that going? I said, Man, it sucks. I said, the podcast world is saturated, you need a huge team. I don't have the funds to blow this thing up. I said, but I love it because I get to meet people. You know, I get to interview people and I get to, you know, have these business relationships. He said, Well, what if we put that on steroids and allowed you to meet some really really great people with the basis and he said how would you like to host an AM/PM Podcast? And I was actually taken aback, like my jaw hit my chest and I was like, Oh my gosh, so they just asked me because AM/PM Podcast is the thing that launched me publicly because when I was sourcing crazy out of the box ideas back in 2017. Manny heard about me through a Facebook group, like a group post, contacted me said we want you on the podcast. It was my first time I remember my friends making fun to mix. I ordered a $30 podcast microphone off Amazon and like I have a podcast, podcast mic. So my first ever public appearance in the world was as a guest on the AM/PM Podcast. And that started driving traffic to Hickory Flats. People learned about me yada yada. So that was like, blind circle genesis. And now like I was just offered to be the host of this legendary podcast. Holy crap.
Yoni Mazor 39:42
What a beautiful closure. Unbelievable. Yeah, basically, this stage brought you to the world. You're basically it's your stage now. And it will be interesting to see if you give a stage to other interesting talents and an innovator of going forward. I'm not saying that. They'll take over the show, maybe in 20 years, after you do tremendous Well, but yeah, it's amazing how the good vibe cycle works in this e-commerce space in this hyper-dynamic industry.
Tim Johnson 40:07
Yep. So then the next thing talking about Seller Funding is I was having some different companies approach me and say, Hey, Tim, we want you to work as a, you know, kind of behind-the-scenes consultant, yada, yada, and one of those became Sellers Funding. And as I was helping them with, you know, some product stuff, and business development staff, some, you know, understanding the community a little bit better. I became familiar with finance and finance is always something that terrified me. Right? And I was realizing that one of the biggest struggles for businesses like myself Think, think back to my first failed business, it was I didn't understand finance, I didn’t understand
Yoni Mazor 40:41
You’re talking about the landscaping?
Tim Johnson 40:43
Yeah, I mean, I was borrowing to the hilt. Massive, you know, interest rates, I didn't know any better. And I didn't know how cash flow mattered, even though I was profitable. If I didn't have, you know, consistent cash flow, it would kill me. So I got very involved and excited about what Sellers Funding was doing because they were building a platform that wasn't just lending. It was daily payouts across multiple platforms, multinational. We
Yoni Mazor 41:10
Multinational meaning variable currencies, if you're selling in Amazon Germany, you’ll get Euro...
Tim Johnson 41:14
Multiple currencies and allowing things to a lot of different people in different places. So for example, you know, Amazon lending used to have a business entity in the US to have it. And then Amazon lending dried up, and then Cabbage dried up and Ali Baba Pay Later dried up.
Yoni Mazor 41:28
Yeah, this is, you're saying in the midst of COVID, when COVID hit all the funding institutions were like, Huh, where we have no idea what's going on with this world. So they stopped it, but they kept the faucet open.
Tim Johnson 41:41
And the reason was that they built something specific to e-commerce. And I thought that was very exciting. And then, you know, I had this crazy idea. I called Ricardo, the CEO. And I said, I'll never forget, I was walking through my friend's backyard. And I said, Are you feeling bold? He says, What do you mean bold? Did I say, feeling bold? He said, No. And I think he hung up on me because he knows me. So I'm crazy. What are you talking about? I said, I said, we need to integrate a payments platform into this too. I said so we need to take the lending, the daily advance and add like, basically, the components of, there are other people out there that do the payments, where we can cross borders, and we can onboard people. And we can allow people that aren't in the US to open up an account with the US and collect their currencies and not be forced to go back. And I said we need to be able to pay locally in China in RMB. I said like, even the big companies can't do that right now. And he was like, Okay, let's do it. So I came on as the chief growth officer and executive there, and you know, helping work with product development, partnerships, sales, just kind of helping that build that growth plan, you know, that roadmap. And then educating people on what is successful. And right now, we are the only company in the world that is actively funding e-commerce sellers, the way that we do to the extent that we do, you know, I know a lot of people out there are just getting their lending facilities up and saying, Hey, we can support Amazon sellers up to $250,000. We can go over 10 million. And our default rate is historically low, it's because we have a better product. So that's why I got involved with them, because I was absolutely convinced they could move the needle for sellers, and it was new, and it was interesting to me. And, and yeah, I never in a million years would have thought I'd be an executive of a New York-based finance technology company. But here I am.
Yoni Mazor 43:24
Look at that. I can identify two things that are kind of similar to the two tracks that you created. One with, you know, Project X, and one with Sellers Funding, is that you saw some clear weakness, right? With Project X, you saw some content that was going on, which is really weak, right, is that I for sure, definitely can create something which is much more robust, much more effective. And you did that, you know, gave birth to Project X, you know, you rode the white wave of success. And then again, you saw a weakness in terms of funding, right into liquidity for sellers out there, you call, you have the relationship with, you know, the CEO of the bank, said you feeling bold, and that created efficiency and a new product and a new ability to liquidate, to put liquid in the pockets of the retailer. So once again, you clearly identify two points of weaknesses, which laid a brand new track for you to push into, and it's an incredible ability. I find it very, very unique. And it'll be interesting to see what's gonna, what's gonna be the next trigger. But I think some of the
Tim Johnson 44:26
The changes from 2017 to 2020 have been ridiculous in my life. I can't imagine what things are gonna look like in 2022 or 2023.
Yoni Mazor 44:34
That’s what I'm saying. And the industry, the e-commerce industry, I keep saying this, but like a day in the e-commerce industry is so hyperdynamic. It's like it's worth like 10 years of regular, you know, traditional businesses in the span of three years. You, man, you will like it's almost like a hockey stick effect in terms of your impact on the industry. And I would say the positive impact in the industry on so many multiple levels is logistics, finance, education. I mean, you name it, you touched it. But there's...as the industry grows and matures, there's going to be more and more components that they're going to need attention. And they're going to need some clarity. And I am pretty confident that you'll be able to participate in that as well. Okay, we're gonna start packaging it up. So so far, it's been a wild journey. Unbelievable. a firefighter, you know, a contractor with the US government, doing business internationally, Afghanistan, Kenya, you name it, he did it. And then overseas in China, you have Chinese partnerships, very robust, unbelievably rich. So thank you for sharing that. I had a great time with that. So I guess we're gonna close off with two components. The first one will be is if somebody you know wants to find you. So give me a handoff, where can they reach out to you. And the second, the last thing will be, what is your message of hope and inspiration for entrepreneurs listening out there?
Tim Johnson 45:48
Yeah. So if you want to find me, you can find me on Facebook. You can, I've got a Private Label Legion page and a Facebook group. You can find me through Sellers Funding, spelled just like it sounds. Project X is free on YouTube. Go check that out. Of course, The AM/PM Podcast. And I would say that the message of hope and encouragement will be this: When you put when you package this the way that you do. Y'all need, like, think about how much my life has changed since 2017. And if I was listening to someone else, I'd be like, Man, that person is really impressive. They've accomplished a lot. This is crazy. But the truth is, I'm not that impressive. I'm not that smart. I'm super disorganized, I've made a lot of dumb mistakes in life, still make dumb mistakes, like I am a very, very average person. The thing that allowed me to get to where I'm at now is I just took some bold chances and got lucky finding this e-commerce space and having the flexibility to change. You know, am I an Amazon seller, yes. But I also started this other business and also tried this. And I also partner with these people and also took a chance on this, right? I'm not that spectacular. If you saw my grades, you know, in school, you'd be like, Man, this dummy, you know, why are we listening to him. But my point is, if I can do it, you can do it. Right? Like, if I can have begun this journey for myself at my relatively young age and have this stuff going on and the stability for the rest of my life based on the things that I know now and the relationships I have. Maybe it's just because I got on a plane and went to a stupid Amazon conference with 50 people or I got on a Facebook group and contributed some knowledge or I jumped on this podcast with somebody I didn't know. Like, that's all it takes, you have to put yourself out there. So I'm learning right now that leaders in industries are not that particularly special. They just put themselves out there. And anybody that is listening right now has opportunities they don't dream they have, you just have to get out of your own way and try things till you figure it out.
Yoni Mazor 47:47
Got it, put yourself out there, even if it means that you're outside your comfort zone. Try to do it, it might, you might find that it's gonna put you in a whole new position where you're very comfortable with, so it's worth a shot. Tim, thank you so much. wish you many, many more years of success throughout all these journeys. I wish I had more time but then maybe you could do it another you know, maybe a sequel some of these days. Till then stay safe, stay healthy. Thank everybody for joining us today with this live event at the Prosper Virtual Show. Until next time.