How Amazon Grew As a Company over the Years | Stefan Haney | Foundry Brands
In this Prime Talk Podcast Sponsored by GETIDA – Stefan Haney - CTO & Advisor of Foundry Brands - They grow great brands to enhance our customers' lives. Foundry is operators that have launched, scaled, and successfully exited brands that, also Stefan shares more information about his life's journey. #StefanHaney #FoundryBrands
About Stefan Haney of Foundry Brands - Stefan was a key leader in building Seller Central and the Amazon Marketplace from $9B to over $160B. He brings a proven track record of launching new technology, delivering business results, mission-critical programs, projects, and systems in a variety of industries. Stefan lives in Moscow, ID with his wife and kids. When not shuttling his seven kids to activities, you can often find Stefan adventuring on a bicycle.
Find the Full Episode Below
Yoni Mazor 00:06
Hi, everybody. Welcome to another episode of private talk, today I'm having Stefan Haney. Stephen is the CTO and advisor of Foundry brands, which is an E commerce brand portfolio company. So, they're buying brands online. Great brands and companies are moving forward. So, Stefan, welcome to the show.
Stefan Haney 00:28
Thank you, sir. Pleasure to be with you today!
Yoni Mazor 00:31
My pleasure! Really! Thank you for your time. As I said, today's episode will be the story of Stephen Haney and you're going to share with us who are you? Where were you born, where'd you go off as you begin your professional career, station to station to where you are today with the world of Ecommerce. So, without further ado, let's jump right into it.
Stefan Haney 00:48
Fantastic! Let's do it.
Yoni Mazor 00:50
Alright, go ahead.
Stefan Haney 00:52
Well, you can go way back. But I now live in Moscow, Idaho, which is just over the border from Washington. We're home to the University of Idaho as well as just right across the border from Washington State University. So, a couple university towns, we're just south right on that border edge. So, we're in North Idaho and I love i. I moved here with my wife and kids last year, thanks to COVID doing a variety of both startup and E commerce advising. So, I can live from anywhere, serve my clients wherever they are in the world, and enjoy life with family. So, I get a lot of family here. So, we got a lot of time together.
Yoni Mazor 01:30
Yeah, but let's go back to the roots a little bit. So, where were you born and raised? Was it Washington?
Stefan Haney 01:35
I was born in Columbus, Ohio, and my parents quickly repented and got me over the border to Michigan.
Yoni Mazor 01:41
Which part of Michigan?
Stefan Haney 01:43
I grew up in Western Michigan. So, Jenison just outside of Grand Rapids!
Yoni Mazor 01:47
I used to live in Detroit for a while and my grandparents are from Detroit.
Stefan Haney 01:53
Fantastic! I just thought Detroit was like this part of the hand and then I went to Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and met a lot of people from all the different little cities of Detroit neighborhoods, and then you should be proud of where you're from. So, I love Michigan, there are a lot of good things about it. When I hire, I look for Midwestern Canadians because you grow up in snow. People who grew up in snow can get to work.
Yoni Mazor 02:20
I never thought about that.
Stefan Haney 02:21
If you have to shovel the driveway first to get to work, these people get it done, you know!
Yoni Mazor 02:26
So, most of your years growing up was Western Michigan?
Stefan Haney 02:31
No, my entire high school, that whole time was Western Michigan. I worked in a produce farm, then worked in a chain and bike shop. So, working small business, I probably learned as much or more about business, from my stories for my eight years in small business, to the time it was a three store, bicycle shop chain, and learn how to fix bikes sell bikes. At one point, I was responsible for buying everything, all the inventory in the store, except for bikes and clothes. I just learned a ton about small business and then I went to get a marketing and German degree from Western Michigan University
Yoni Mazor 03:09
Alright, hold on, you are speeding! So, how many years did you work as a teenager with a bicycle shop? For a day or two or week or two or a few years!
Stefan Haney 03:15
Oh, I started when I was 14 and worked there till I was 22.
Yoni Mazor 03:20
It sounds like you did it through school as well.
Stefan Haney 03:23
I worked 15 to 20 hours a week through high school and work 20 to 30 hours a week through college and I put myself through college and small scholarship a little bit out for my parents, but I've been buying my clothes and paying for my responsibilities since high school.
Yoni Mazor 03:37
So, was there any special passion about bicycle riding at all, or was it more like, I know how to get the job done!
Stefan Haney 03:43
When I was 12 years old, my mom dropped me off at farms that I got your job at this farmer. It was two and a half three miles away from my house, and if you start at 6:30 in the morning, you got to get yourself there. So, if you got a bike, good luck, right? So, all summer I'd be driving somewhere for lunch, and put five to 10 miles on it. So, I just like bike riding is way I got around. I always liked bike riding as a kid and then I started doing longer bike rides and I'm old. So, that's when Greg Lamond was winning the Tour de France and mountain bikes were introduced and so it's a lot of fun.
The bike shop was a great place to work because of the older people in bike shop who had really unique backgrounds. There was an English professor who worked there in the summer. Former Olympians, a trained chef who was big deadhead Volkswagen van and then bike racers. So, we hung out together, we'd work and then we'd go on bike rides together or we'd take a weekend to go mountain biking somewhere in northern Michigan. But even as a so my senior year of high school, I was working with a guy who had done three tours in Vietnam as a 101st airborne and that was the first Gulf War. So, we're watching the first Gulf War.
Yoni Mazor 05:05
Were you in the first Gulf War?
Stefan Haney 05:06
I was not but we're watching the news reports on TV from the bike shop. I'm getting live color commentary from someone who used to parachute into rescue down violence. That was my senior history class. I had class and I was a pretty good student. But what I learned both at the bike shop about how money works and how margin works, or how to sell. I took it as a challenge as a 15, 16 year old, I want to be the best salesman at the bike shop.
Yoni Mazor 05:36
I think that's great. It gave you a business experience, but also real life experience about being friendly and connecting with all these types of characters around you and about bonding and that, I guess, matures you and an early age, and build you up!
Stefan Haney 05:49
Yeah! It teaches you responsibility. What I loved is that we send kids to school, and it's great. But my wife and I have seven kids. We've home schooled some, we are just getting to try things and I think one of the things I love about Amazon sellers and ecommerce sellers is, they're used to just trying, try and learn. Try! Well, is it going to work? I don't know. Let's try!
Yoni Mazor 06:11
Yeah, its a little bit mind blowing that this whole industry, hundreds of billions of dollars, it's all about trial and error. It is constantly evolving. It's constantly changing.
Stefan Haney 06:20
Yeah! What has the Amazon got to do? I don't know, just try. The edges, don't go there, but try!
Yoni Mazor 06:28
You don't have to worry because there is no fly zone.
Stefan Haney 06:32
Yeah, just try! I got those lessons early on. Amazon is a company to work at. So, I started off at Accenture.
Yoni Mazor 06:45
Yeah, let's touch it. So, when you were 18, did you start University of Michigan?
Stefan Haney 06:50
So, I went to Western Michigan University, I thought I was going to University of Michigan all as a kid like, I am a Wolverine because in Michigan, you're either green or blue and I'm like I'm going. But it was my first business decision because in the University of Michigan there are two things which are their recruiting pitch which was like, look how awesome we are. If you come here, you'll be awesome too. I love University of Michigan, I still do. But Western Michigan was hey, you're going to have small classes directly with professors and here's the scholarship. Western Michigan gave me a scholarship for a third of my tuition. I didn't really have anything from University of Michigan. So I'm like, well, in four and a half years, I can graduate from Western with no debt, or I can take my chances at University Michigan.
Yoni Mazor 07:39
So, where did you start?
Stefan Haney 07:42
So, I was a freshman at Western Michigan in 1991.
Yoni Mazor 07:46
So, you graduated in 1994, 1995?
Stefan Haney 07:49
Yeah, I graduated in 1995. I wasn't very educated on majors and what degrees. I just knew what I like to do. I like to bike shop part which is you build stuff, and you see how machines work and I knew I like the business. I knew I like machine. So, I'm like, maybe I'll be an engineer, maybe I'll be a business degree. First semester, I took calculus, I'm like business here I come. Well, I wasn't a very good math student because I wasn't much disciplined. I didn't do the daily homework. I just tried to cram for the test and it doesn't work well, so, don't do that.
So, all in on business, Western Michigan has a supply chain program, they now have an e Commerce program. They're really big on connecting students with actual doing tasks, and I also got involved on campus. So, in my second year, I won the election as the leader of a 300 person organization, I was the Speaker of the Senate. This was the president of student body and me. But that meant I got to meet with university leaders every month. So, 50, 60 year olds who were deciding policy for the university, and specifically, they were about to build about five or six new buildings. So, they were in a big campaign. So, what I look now is that I got some early practice. As a 19 year old, I managed a $260,000 budget, because the organization was responsible to disperse 250,000 or 60,000 to different events. Then I had a monthly presentation as a 19 year old to the executives of a 35,000 person university that was raising 120 million. So, I got to interact in and I got to learn stuff.
Yoni Mazor 09:50
They paid you for your schooling. So, now you went out there with no debt. You got some real life business experience in a large body organization and I think it's awesome!
Stefan Haney 09:58
I am still working at the bike shop because I still need some money.
Yoni Mazor 10:02
So, you graduated in 1994, 1995 and what did you do next?
Stefan Haney 10:07
Yeah, well, one thing I learned along the way was I learned international business. So, in my second year of school, I started taking German classes because I liked it, and it fitted Gen Ed, but I found out I liked it. Then I saw there's a study abroad program where I could get more scholarships. So, as a white middle class guy, I did not get a lot of scholarships, necessarily. So, I found there's a whole pool of scholarship I could apply for. So, I spent my fourth year of university in Munich, Germany.
Yoni Mazor 10:33
A whole year!
Stefan Haney 10:34
Yes, a whole year.
Yoni Mazor 10:35
Let's talk for a moment. Let's touch Germany for one minute. Thank you for the experience, because that's a little unique and interesting. So, in a nutshell, what was that like, any differences? What was the takeaway for you?
Stefan Haney 10:47
So, it's a year of your life so to sum it up. So, a couple of things quickly, most German university students are a little bit older, because they typically do a bachelor's, Master's mixed in there. So, it's a little bit different. I didn't leave Munich for seven, eight weeks straight. I didn't come back to the US for the entire year. So, one is that you get used to a couple of things like at some point, as a college senior, your think you're pretty smart, and you got it all there. You throw yourself in a place with a different language, you're like, I'm not this dumb in English and you've arrived, and you can play the dictionary game, or you've made a certain language level when you can play the dictionary game in another language.
The second thing about living in Germany and doing my studies in Germany is you learn to appreciate different work styles and this works both ways. Still lazy student, as a senior, we had to write a paper, I roll up to the library on my bike at 6:55. I think, hey, I'm going to work this evening at the library. The library is shutting the doors because they close at seven. I'm like, which university library closes at seven? How is this so stupid? You're like, wait a minute, it works for the one point X million German university students. So, somebody else has figured out how it worked? It just wasn't me.
Yoni Mazor 12:07
Yeah, you had to fit into their mold.
Stefan Haney 12:09
So, you just have to think about, if it works for so many other people, what I have to change to do it. But on the flip side, I had a great class with a German professor who had taught at MIT for five years and then he brought some of those back. The way the class work was, there were 12 topics, 12 students, each student wrote a paper before the class started on one of the 12 topics, and he just gave the thesis sentence for the topic and that was it, which was fine by me. I was used to as an American student, very good thesis, go to the library, do some research again, 91, 95. Not a lot of Google going on.
So, I could do it. But the German student’s original research was a challenge for them. I'm like, why is this so hard, because they work differently. He had taken some of his MIT stuff and brought back. So, that was the second thing about Germany, and then just the opportunity. So, again, in 95, I am now an advisor at eMAG, which is an Ecommerce marketplace in Europe. It was a fun opportunity, I really loved it, and their headquarters is in Bucharest, Romania. But in 95, that's only five years after 1989, when the wall fell in Berlin.
Yoni Mazor 13:28
Yeah, summer unit crashed.
Stefan Haney 13:29
Yeah, socialism fell over. So, I had two months between semesters. My degree was marketing. But I also have a secondary degree in German history. Just the opportunity to see this transition of time, I traveled through Hungary, Romania, Poland, Berlin, because I knew in 95, this will never be like this again, I will be able to see things and if I ever had the chance in my life, which I have now, to go back, I'll be able to see the transitions. It's fun working eMAG because again, part of what I love about marketplaces, small business transforms families, cultures and cities whether its Amazon sellers, and I love seeing like, hey, I can do this for my family because my job is flexible, or it's portable. Now working with Romania, just seeing the growth of their sellers there, I'm seeing 30 years later, what small business can do for you.
Yoni Mazor 14:29
So, you worked with eMAG in the 90s?
Stefan Haney 14:33
No, they didn't exist in the 90s. I've worked with them now. But I had traveled through Romania and Hungary in the 90s as well as multiple parts of Germany. So, when you study places in history in the US, it's just a place where you see it on the movie, it is just a place but to be able to be there walk around, understand, see the movement of people and how people got from this country or that country and where they chose to live, really brought a lot of things to life.
Yoni Mazor 15:04
Nice! It sounds like it really opened up your horizons and seems like you are very well rounded at this point, at the early stage of your life. So, I think that's very valuable. Okay, so let's head back the United States. You graduated, started your professional life.
Stefan Haney 15:21
I'm still riding my bicycle at that time and riding around riding around Europe, because riding a bicycle is a great way to travel because people aren't afraid of you. They're not intimidated, like driving a car or whatever.
Yoni Mazor 15:30
I just want to say one thing about riding we did have a guest in the show, Breads Urodnic from NZ Pathfinder, I can make an intro if you ever need, but he did cross country from the East Coast to the West Coast, all bicycle riding, stopped everything in his life, his everyday was bicycle riding all the way.
Stefan Haney 15:47
I did that from Seattle to South Dakota and then I ran out of time, so, I had to go to a friend's wedding.
Yoni Mazor 15:53
It was relentless. He did all the way and now he lives in France I believe.
Stefan Haney 15:58
Awesome! I've been around Europe. I love that kind of riding. It's great. But I came back to the US, graduated, moved to Chicago and joined Accenture.
Yoni Mazor 16:06
Just give us a nutshell about Accenture. I know it's a big firm, big name. But give us a nutshell. What's it all about? What do you do?
Stefan Haney 16:15
So, Accenture deals with a lot of things but at the time, they were focused on systems implementation for people, processes and technology and how to put business systems in place that operate and run your business. My first projects, for example, were to caterpillar and Morton, Illinois. We were working on the systems to track in stock inventory for replacement parts of all the category stuff.
Yoni Mazor 16:42
Caterpillar, all the tractors and machinery!
Stefan Haney 16:44
All the tractors, engines, mining equipment, keep those machines running by making sure that we had replacement parts available and connecting the computer systems they had in every part of the world. So, some of those parts, you don't need one in the United States and Belgium and Australia, you just need one in the world because it's not very likely to repair. So, we were working in COBOL Accenture taught me how to cut a code, how to write software code. So, for three years, I wrote software in COBOL.
Yoni Mazor 17:18
Was this in 1995?
Stefan Haney 17:21
Yoni Mazor 17:22
How long did you spend with Accenture?
Stefan Haney 17:24
They're just about five years. As I stated Accenture, I specialized in project management, obviously, but also supply chain. So, I implemented a number of demand forecasting systems at companies from Harley Davidson clothing and how many pairs of chaps and leather jackets and helmets should they have.
Yoni Mazor 17:45
Harley Davidson clothing, meaning the bicycle company, their clothing lines!
Stefan Haney 17:49
Yeah, everything that doesn't go on a motorcycle! So, they sell a lot of stuff.
Yoni Mazor 17:55
Yeah, they got a lot of accessories.
Stefan Haney 17:57
Yeah, I love that project about this really great motorcycle jacket, it was great, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I worked at Kodak. Actually a Kodak spin off, good Kodak Palanquin graphics, I got to go back to Germany, I worked at a cookie company that was doing forecasting how many cookies we're going to sell. But all this for a number of other places worked at Microsoft on a project and but it was great to drop into companies and you basically had six to 10 months to help make a change in that company in how they do their inventory purchasing and their inventory ordering using a new piece of software. So, that five years, I got to do multiple projects that really set me up to come into Amazon, which uses software and keeps making new stuff, using software new ways on new problems or new ways on existing problems to grow the company, to grow the business.
Yoni Mazor 18:49
So, you want to tell me the year 2000 was transition to your next station and that was in Amazon?
Stefan Haney 18:54
Close! So, I left Accenture and I liked seeing this woman in Chicago and with Accenture, my commute was I leave on Monday, go somewhere and come back on Friday. So, I didn't see her as much as I like. So, I joined a startup in 2000s, there were a bunch of startups. I joined one of them in Chicago for online education. We were building a set a bunch of software that would do an online MBA connected with the University of Chicago and Columbia.
Yoni Mazor 19:24
Was this before the meltdown or after the meltdown or during the meltdown?
Stefan Haney 19:28
Before the meltdown, so, before the meltdown, great education, it was a great education of how not to launch a startup. They were not frugal and the founder said had never really limited business experience or academics in numerous Chicago, great minds, hired a lot of their friends who were really expensive and didn't focus enough on getting customers.
Yoni Mazor 19:56
Actually doing business, lot of great minds actually doing business making an income, wasn't neglected. That was Bob. I know there's the .com bubble.
Stefan Haney 20:05
Yeah, there's also an idea before it's time. So, I got to work with a guy named Don Norman, that Don Norman, the guy that wrote all the books. So, it was a great year for me to look at how to do a startup, how not to do a startup, to meet some people and then also, learn from it. So, it was an idea in first time, we woke up at one point and saw that we had something like 300 employees and 12 students.
Yoni Mazor 20:30
Stefan Haney 20:33
It's a really expensive education. Whereas, online education, Khan Academy now and others, but we also try to do some interesting technology stuff where for arbitrage, buy low, sell high, we're going to pay you to teach this concept. Let's go get real time, the current price of one of the top 100 best movies of all time, the current price or price range for that item on eBay, and then say, is it good or bad?
Yoni Mazor 21:04
Is that educational company?
Stefan Haney 21:07
Yeah. But the software time, there's just no way we can get that done. It took too long, it just wouldn't work fast enough. So, we couldn't do things dynamically that you could very easily in today's software. The amount of data scraping that everybody does today is a lot more dynamic because of software changes.
Yoni Mazor 21:27
Yeah, the internet connection also back then was probably still the modems and a lot of screeching.
Stefan Haney 21:35
Yeah, but everything I've always done. So, even back at Caterpillar 95, we were connecting COBOL to the internet and COBOL mainframe systems to the internet, which was pretty difficult at the time. But yeah, we're still pretty dialed. So, then I was independent supply chain contractor, because after that startup failed, I've gotten married to my wife, we found out we were pregnant with our first driving past O'Hare, on 911. I'm like; there are way too many planes on the ground.
So, at this point, I got to do another thing, where I just sold myself. So, instead of selling myself as a consultant, like Accenture, I sold myself and I was able to get some clients. The piece I got out of that part of my career was just the confidence and of how to work as a solopreneur. At Accenture, if you have a question, there's a whole network of people you can ask, and what I had learned at this time, because again, LinkedIn is just starting to happen, is keeping track of people and just reaching out to people saying, hey, I have a client. I'm working on this kind of problem and people were willing to give you some input
Yoni Mazor 22:38
Yeah, problem solving on behalf of your clients! But why did you make the shift from the startup to consulting advisory?
Stefan Haney 22:44
Yeah, so, in 2001 2003, I had about a half dozen clients, as an individual contractor. I worked at Kraft for a bit, Kraft Foods, Starbucks. I also worked at some big companies. I also worked at some smaller companies but I really learned how to how to jump across departments to build your own network, to be able to get answers and sometimes you're helping other people too. There's a gift to get or are you just you want to help other people.
Yoni Mazor 23:17
Yeah, just create your own environment? You can do some business as an entrepreneur, solopreneur. Okay, so, 2003, what's your next station?
Stefan Haney 23:26
Yeah, so, my wife has been traveling with me on some of these. She and my first daughter travelled with me. My first daughter had her first birthday in Connecticut, smeared chocolate cake all over face. My wife's like, you know, we have a number two coming in. Flying is not as easy. Can we maybe settle in? So, we decided to move to Seattle. We had some friends, their newest school and a church. So, we knew some people. So, we started looking for work in Seattle and a few others
Yoni Mazor 23:57
You said church. What kind of church?
Stefan Haney 24:02
A historic Protestant reformed, Christian Church.
Yoni Mazor 24:07
That's more of the Catholic, what's it called, Mormon side?
Stefan Haney 24:10
No, we left the Catholic Church with Martin Luther back in the Reformation. We're just pretty straight up Bible Christians.
Yoni Mazor 24:18
Yeah, I had to check in that, got it. So, you find the central Seattle Community, a nice church, and you settled there.
Stefan Haney 24:25
Yeah. So, we started looking for work and found work in Seattle first. Amazon at the time was about 2300 employees.
Yoni Mazor 24:32
Is it 2003 that you are talking about?
Stefan Haney 24:33
Yes, that's 2003. So, my first boss man was on called to make me an offer. I said, great, email me the details and I will call you back tomorrow. He's like, are you sure? Do you want to talk about it more? I said, look, buddy, the cubs are about to throw the first pitch in the playoffs for the first time in a long time in 2003. So, I want to see this game. I'll call you tomorrow. So, he's like, that's the most unique answer I've gotten in a while and I am like its all good. So, I left Amazon after the Cubs win the World Series. So I guess the Cubs kind of sandwiched my time.
Yoni Mazor 25:06
That was 2016. Right!
Stefan Haney 25:08
Yeah. 2016. So, I came to Amazon, 2500 employees, and the first job I had was an individual contributor, where it was my job to find savings, at least a million dollars in savings for him for how we selected vendors to buy inventory from. Amazon's roughly four to six categories at this time. Media, plus toys, or plus electronics.
Yoni Mazor 25:35
So, 2003, mostly leaning on the retail side of things, Amazon retail, but was third party selling already there or not?
Stefan Haney 25:43
No. So, in 2003, I worked in supply chain, I joined the first my first five years of Amazon and worked in supply chain and retail business systems specifically. So, I started in distributed but over that five years, I ended up being responsible for expanding Amazon's automated purchasing automated inventory purchasing from the four categories to 40 categories, as well as the new countries that Amazon's owning. So, yeah, at one point, we were trying to make a change in EDI that communicated the purchase order and we're trying to buy diapers. So, we call Kimberly Clark and we're like, can we get an exception on this one, EDI fields and she goes like, yeah, you're not Walmart. Bye! Amazon wasn't always big, and Amazon didn't really have the power to require or have vendors,
Yoni Mazor 26:41
Yeah, serious underdog because it was trying to do the impossible, which is create a retail digital retail industry in the world of E commerce in the early days of the internet, so to speak and nobody knew what it was going to be what it is today and there was no smart phones, and so much was unknown. So, a lot of friction all around for Amazon! That was the Amazon underdog years where today the whole paradigm has changed and it's a different world completely.
Stefan Haney 27:07
Yeah. So, then I also worked with the UI tools for Amazon's internal buyers. In the early days of Amazon, if you're cutting purchase orders, you actually had to log into a mainframe and type some, some UNIX and Perl commands. Congratulations, you're a buyer, go log into the mainframe, and type in this UNIX command, don't get the syntax wrong, or you're going to order too much. So, we move things to a web based tool set. I got to learn just a lot about workflow. But in 2009, I joined the marketplace team.
Yoni Mazor 27:43
So, marketplace team means third party sellers, but when did that start? When did the Amazon officially start opening up the marketplace for third party sellers, as far as you know, remember?
Stefan Haney 27:53
Yeah, so, there's just a multi-stream path to that. So, Amazon was working with Toys or us. It was a third party seller, back in 2005 -2006 era and was expanding more of those kinds of deals, Barnes and Noble at one point. So, there were these big names somewhat on Amazon at the same time, you could sell books; if you want to sell a used book on Amazon that was also done in 2005 2006.
Yoni Mazor 28:21
So, I guess the breakout year was around about 2005. That's where the card started opening up to third party selling instead of Amazon, throwing an appeal or purchase order, or there's some sort of a job ship arrangement. They're like, okay, it was your eyes, you got inventory here. Here's your storefront, you're here to be a third party seller.
Stefan Haney 28:40
There were two key decisions around 2006 timeframe. One is the single ace and detail page. We're not going to be like e-bay, we're going to have all sellers of the same thing on one page.
Yoni Mazor 28:51
Yeah, I can't even stress how historical and important and vital is this, the right way to set up a marketplace.
Stefan Haney 28:59
This was the iteration of Xe shop. So, they had tried to have auctions on Amazon, and then they went to these Xe shop things and then it was, nope, we're going to have a single ace detail page from third party sellers. So, in 2006 to 2008, fulfillment by Amazon was also birthed. That idea was kicked off around 2007 2008 timeframe.
Yoni Mazor 29:20
Were you involved with that team at all or not?
Stefan Haney 29:25
Not so much before 2009, a little bit because I was responsible for purchase orders and the gate to getting your inventory received and Amazon warehouse as a purchaser. So, I worked a little bit with the FBA team of how we make a fake purchase order for them to get seller inventory received.
Yoni Mazor 29:44
That's the logic behind the beast. But yeah!
Stefan Haney 29:49
One thing when you worked at Amazon, because Amazon moves so fast, you thought like, oh, wow, they've got it all figured out and there are a lot of things that they really are polished on, but both are trying idea. There's a lot of duct tape and gum behind the scenes when they're just kind of getting started. Because they'd rather get started and try it, then wait till everything's perfect.
Yoni Mazor 30:12
They then put the scale, just for work here and local area, regional area, nationally or globally, boom!
Stefan Haney 30:21
Yeah, but the mindset shift, in 2002, 2003, if you're at Microsoft, and you have to ship someone a CD to install software, you better get that CD perfect before you ship it. But if you're updating software on a website, just get it out there because if it's broken, 30 seconds later, you can kick off a new build and get the fix launched in minutes. So, it's a different mindset and Amazon push very much and very fast into that. So, yeah, in 2009, I joined the marketplace team and my first responsibility was Seller Central.
Yoni Mazor 30:57
My beloved Seller Central!
Stefan Haney 31:01
So, my first 30 days of work in 2009, 28 of them, I got a question mark email from Jeff Bezos about why do we have so many fatal? Why do we have so many timeouts, the seller central system?
Yoni Mazor 31:17
But let's dive in seller central system, this is it, this is the platform right? This is the one P though the vendor team, we have the third party selling team and that seems like to be winning the marketplace. I guess 60% plus of all Amazon retail revenue is coming from third party sellers. So, something was done right over the years. But I want to dive in for just a moment to what is so essential? If I was an Amazon seller, I think you're just probably one big team. But probably underneath the surface, it's not at all. So, how many teams are involved in building or running or maintaining Seller Central, which is super robust, more than sellers even are aware of I think.
Stefan Haney 31:57
Yeah, well in 2009, and part of the recruitment pitch to me, was, hey, you can be one of the first employees. The marketplace business wasn't even called marketplace. It was called merchant technologies at that time, and it was dozens of employees, not even hundreds, dozens and this business has grown. So, 2009, third party was roughly 9 billion or 25% of Amazon's sales. By 2015 2016, it's over 50% of Amazon sales, and well over 150 billion in sales. So, to go from 9 billion to 150 billion in seven, eight years, that's a Jim Collins Good to Great kind of story.
So, we didn't even know the ride we were getting on, we knew it was growing. We knew that it was a good thing. Some of us who came in those first early days, when we were dozens, more people were leaving the team than being hired; it was a smoke jumping fire. We had software as I just said, that was breaking all the time. In 2009 when I got Seller Central, I had been in the meeting two years or so earlier, where we decided to separate Seller Central and vendor central because I own stuff on vendor central at that time and the one piece until I moved over. So, Seller Central was like, wow, and at that time, there was no return. In 2009, there was no returns functionality in Seller Central, it was all email, and you couldn't buy shipping in Seller Central. There was very limited reporting in Seller Central, web store was still a thing, there was very limited functionality. So, essentially, you could manage your orders, manager listings in a very limited way, a lot of spreadsheet updates.
Yoni Mazor 33:47
You can send to (inaudible 33:48), very brittle.
Stefan Haney 33:52
Yeah, it's very brittle. So, I own the seller central platform team. It was roughly six engineers at the time. The first thing I did was I benchmarked it to all the other central teams’ platform teams at Amazon. I was like, we should be triple the amount of engineers and I got the great, if you can go hire them, go get them and let's expand the team as a platform team every one of the functions inside of Seller Central. That software is typically owned, encoded by another team. So, in Seller Central, I was responsible the platform the overall layout, the homepage, the login, but the components in the suite of Seller Central our own. So, in any given day in 2009, I might have seven to 15 teams somewhere in the world around the company who are making changes in the software. There's a team who owned manager orders that's all they did, they just worked on improving manager orders.
Yoni Mazor 34:51
Almost every widget and every function has a whole team behind it with its own flow and cadence and you were kind of orchestrating the whole build-up of this platform.
Stefan Haney 35:00
I'm the conductor and coordinator. As the conductor, I need to help them. So, I provided them widgets at the UX stack or API at the actual software API's at that layer or provided some amount of data accessibility.
Yoni Mazor 35:18
So, how many years have you stayed in that position with till Central? You did a whole 10 years from 2009 to 2010. What was your evolution in Amazon?
Stefan Haney 35:26
Yeah, so, I stayed with that position, I kept adding. I stayed in marketplace in 2009-2016. I handed off Seller Central, someone smarter, better than me somewhere around 2013 2014 retained responsible design team. But I participated in the launch of the seller mobile app, adding a lot of functionality, as well as for selling coach and automated data recommendations. One of the favorite things I did was working on creating parody in promotions, a plus content and launching the promotions, workflow, pricing workflows in Seller Central, because I created parity between vendor and seller because at some point around 2012 2013, when you start having more brands and a little bit less resellers, the customer doesn't care, as long as it's a trusted transaction and they're buying from the brand owner, getting an authentic product. So, if we work backwards from the customer, any brand owner should be able to do a promotion, and any brand owner should be able to a plus content. So, I was able to facilitate that and those are some big projects.
Yoni Mazor 36:28
As far as you know, until you left in 2018, how many teams are working? Or how many functions are there in Seller Central? Hundreds, thousands!
Stefan Haney 36:39
There are hundreds. In that 2009 -2016 period, we launched the mobile app; we launched the first versions of API's. We launched Branson brand registry, we launched all those promotions and merchandising capabilities as well as other recommend things.
Yoni Mazor 36:56
While you were there, wasn't the API introduced?
Stefan Haney 36:59
We started launching the first API even already in 2010, late 2009, 2010. It was in design, and we launched so, it's had a good run of 10 years. But I also helped write the early business case for this next generation of API's.
Yoni Mazor 37:14
Now in the past year, there's a new generation called guide integrated.
Stefan Haney 37:17
Yeah, we started doing the business case and the design for that back in 2016 2015. So, I got to participate in that before I left. So, I did a lot of new seller growth and that was the last thing I did. I worked a lot of data science; machine learning around what helps sellers grow. But then I got to go, I got a call that invited me to consider running the Amazon detail page. So, 2017 18, 19, I had just a great experience on the front end side of the house, the actual shopping experience. My organization was responsible. If I thought Seller Central was complicated, the Detail page also has a lot of widgets and ownership on any given day. 400 teams across the Amazon company, over 400!
Yoni Mazor 38:07
Wow! So, there's more than 400 teams maintaining running, developing, integrating Wow!
Stefan Haney 38:15
Yeah, so, my team was like an AWS team, in that we were providing API's, we're making sure the page is up and running, making sure it's operating and then also how big should the picture be? What will help people shop? What should the bullet formats look like? When should we use bullets versus a different kind of product description? So, my team was responsible for the standards, the platform and the performance. Basically, for three years, I woke up every day and said; how can I make it more fun for customers to push the magic money button?
Yoni Mazor 38:51
It's pretty crazy, because from 2005-2014, you were involved with Amazon, you're part of the creation of this brilliant machinery that is changing the lives of millions of entrepreneurs, and obviously consumers probably hundreds of millions, if not billions around the world and really, it's helpful. It's really helpful.
Stefan Haney 39:12
Yeah, that's pre kindle, pre FBA, pre AWS, like the Amazon.
Yoni Mazor 39:19
Stefan Haney 39:21
Yeah, iPhone! I didn't have a Blackberry. I had a cell phone, I had a Blackberry later. But yeah, it's all free and then I got part of that.
Yoni Mazor 39:30
You're experiencing the evolution of Amazon and it was so valuable and tremendous and your perspective to me is just mind blowing? Okay, so, let's head into I guess 2019 to next station. So, we are in these days, I guess.
Stefan Haney 39:43
Yeah. Also, Amazon's a big operating company. One of the things I really like is the thrill of the bill, that transformation time all through Amazon.
Yoni Mazor 39:56
The family also seems like you are really serious into the building even human level!
Stefan Haney 40:00
It's just same thing, we work at home, and we work on scale. How many cell phones do we need in the house, how do we solve that problem? But from a time perspective, I'm never going to get that time back. So, what can we do to work on more transformation projects, and inventing projects? So, we did at Amazon like, well, I don't know, let's not figure it out. Let's try. So, I started a small consulting company called Vantage and worked with companies that want to grow like Amazon, to work more in the Amazon way, whether it's product development, whether it's hiring and staffing, whether it's executive strategy.
I brought in a couple of people, 20 to 22 to do small projects, usually teams of two to five, to do a small project and started working with eMAG in Romania, one of those. After about a year, because I worked some ecommerce, some startup, some data as a service completely, I'm like, I still like technology. I still like ecommerce and I still like sellers, small business. So, I started talking to a few people because this brand dagger Thrasher was getting a lot of news perch, and hey, they were just starting last year. I started talking to these about being an Amazon advisor and then I started talking more and looking at it more closely and said, you know what, I think this is a great opportunity to see what will a brand portfolio company look like three to five years from now, because it's going to be more than the E commerce.
That's where some of these are born and they have products and great advertising cohesive. But your ability to connect with your customers on Amazon is a little bit of a challenge. I had helped another partner start a business on another friend start a business on Shopify, and Instagram, grow to a seven figure business in less than two years, just on Shopify, on Instagram. So, what would a model look like? I've been working with Don creative agency on some of their branding work and social media, content architecture for clients and helping people connect with their customers. That's what I love about the Detail page and sellers at Amazon, you didn't think about building something new without calling a seller. I call you and be like, Yoni, I'm thinking about this new function in Seller Central. How do you think that'll be received? Do you think it will help sellers? I'd get your perception on it and then I'd include that quote in the business case presented.
Yoni Mazor 42:34
Yeah, it's from the ground up, it's pretty comprehensive. It's pretty good.
Stefan Haney 42:38
Software is still serving customers. So, what are you building and for whom and with what impact? So, that's how we get started with Foundry. I had a couple partners that said, I think a brand acquisition company or brand Portfolio Company is going to be operator focused. Sometimes I describe running a small business on Amazon is like sailing a sunfish on the ocean, you can do it, but you better know how to read the winds, and you better be pretty skilled if you want to stay right side up.
Yoni Mazor 43:10
If you want to catch fish and reach to the safe havens, you might catch a fish whenever you reach the safe haven or you had to report. A lot of analogies we can use on this terrain.
Stefan Haney 43:22
So, our company is a lot of Amazon operation expertise, but also people who have been at Amazon have been successful somewhere else. Like my bike shop days, we understand small business in our bones, we've been there. We've started up companies, we've operated Amazon, we've been there and then we want to also keep inventing. So, well, I think it's quick and you can go get some debt capital and start, just find these things. You got to be able to operate and then you want to think about where's this going to go? All these smaller businesses grew faster during COVID, which is great. But what software into event has data going to help us big data is a thing. It's not going away. So, how can we use that to our advantage? Let's buy a portfolio of companies as well as provide services to others.
Yoni Mazor 44:17
But what's the profile right now, how much was raised? How many brands were already acquired? What's the status at this point?
Stefan Haney 44:23
Yeah, so, we've raised a significant amount of capital and equity capital. So this is investment from our partners. We're very excited about light Bay and monograms have been great partners. Not sure when this is dropping and when the price is dropping. So, I've got to be reserved and how much but it would be one of the largest raises for initial capital raises of any of the names that are out there. So, we're excited about that, we're kind of in a soft launch mode. We've got our first acquisition that is doing great. We're in the middle of a middle path a dozen others. So, we're pretty excited about that and then we've we keep adding to our team and right now it's all about buying brands, building them and building the platform and teams to grow them. So, we've had some great people join our team, and we're looking for a few more.
Yoni Mazor 45:15
So, how big is the team at this point?
Stefan Haney 45:17
In case of teams, I think we're well on almost two dozen, between operations integration, mergers, acquisitions and brand operations and then also our technical platform team and data science team.
Yoni Mazor 45:32
Got it! It sounds like the team is already established and it's still growing and you're providing you're the CTO position. So, in terms of technology and building and infrastructure, the score is big with you. So, it's pretty impressive how you have all this arsenal of experience behind you. Let's touch for a minute.
Stefan Haney 45:53
It's great to have an arsenal of experience, but we're writing a new story. I think that the fun part that I like is I'm not trying to recreate a story; I've already got an expanded chapter for sure, a brand new chapter, brand new book. So, finding teammates who want to go on the journey to write the next book, that's what gets me excited.
Yoni Mazor 46:14
Yeah, and this segues me into this next question. So, looking three to five years into the future for your brands, kind of picture how this book and chapter or all these shops will look. What's your vision?
Stefan Haney 46:26
Yeah, if you go from 2003 to 2007, at Amazon, maybe that is a parallel. 2003, Amazon was a media company and by 2007, Amazon was in multiple categories. 2003, they hadn't really birthed. Kindle hadn't birthed FBA, AWS, all those were kind of a glimmer, maybe even if that by 2007, you had seeds launched in multiple places, because you work back from the customer and said, this is what we want to do. In 2003, I'll say the other kind of main thing is E commerce was a real channel. Amazon was a real channel for books, particularly, but still wasn't the majority channel. It was long past 2007 where maybe borders Barnes Noble wave the white flag, books them now the major channel is Amazon, maybe Costco but so, if it takes some of those same things, because I think its early days. A year ago, there was I think, maybe at this time, so July last year, there was maybe five to six announced brand acquisition companies and now we're well into the dozens. We're rolling into 60.
Yoni Mazor 47:40
It's over 50, at least.
Stefan Haney 47:41
Oh, it's definitely over 50. So, any new thing that launches, there's probably going to be some consolidation, there's going to be a winners, and we're going to see it change. So, I think some things will change for E commerce companies will transform the way that customer connection works. Some things will continue to be true. Amazon will continue big to big platform, we'll see what happens with DTC there's a number of players out there, but brands that have new ways to connect directly with their customers, and the bill the customer connection and customer following and will win.
I think brand companies like Foundry that can provide that connection, and are building machinery and building mechanisms to make a customer connection across ecommerce channels, Amazon and expand customers so quickly go worldwide. I think that's a niche, a place that Foundry will win. I think a few others will as well. So, it’s going to be new mechanisms to connect brands to more customers on other marketplaces and other countries in the world and not just think about e commerce sales. Those customer connections will feed new product insights, which is great. I think also in three to five years, the amount of software that time that gives us for software and data, right now acquisition feels like every deal is bespoke. It's kind of like real estate. You look at real estate; some of the invention that happened is Zestimate. Right now, it's a directional number. Nobody expects it to be 100% accurate, but it's directional. How do we get a directional brand value number? What do I think my brand? Because if you're a founder, a lot of sellers I've met they haven't thought about it.
Yoni Mazor 49:29
It's almost like actuary technology. How do you evaluate a value or price components and you streamline that and then you can skim one more deals and make the whole situation much more fluid and dynamic and even more explosive and more scalable.
Stefan Haney 49:45
How do we make it like Zillow or Redfin where I can see all the listings in one place or I can see a number of businesses in one place and I know there's some Empire Flippers and others but these are going to evolve over the next three years.
Yoni Mazor 49:57
You're seeing innovation in this niche, there's going to be a lot of innovation that we can't even imagine was going to be, but you expected that already tapping, like you. You mentioned what Amazon's evolution with API and Kindle stuff like that sees where they're not even the seeds. But it's beyond any imagination.
Stefan Haney 50:12
Yeah, so, I don't think that's a onetime wave, I think this is going to be a new way that the brand ecommerce is going to continue to grow. We're going to continue to see new brands and entrepreneurs launch new brands, but I would say a number of sellers I met, they thought about, hey, I'm going to start a business, I want to get to a certain size because I want to replace my job, I want to get a certain amount of cash flow. I want to better myself. So, I want it to be a little more cash flow than maybe just my job and they invest the time, etc. But I've met a number of sellers who haven't gone to the next step, which is, hey, I want to be on tour that sells a business. I want to build a business and sell it.
So, I think there's also another jump there and that's where I think there's some maturing of, should I sell my business? Is that a good way, and I think Foundry and others are going to be able to help sellers build a full path. So, build a business, grow your business, you're an entrepreneur, you know when is it a good time to sell your business, because maybe you're the entrepreneur who really likes to build, or you really like product development, or you COVID grow your business, and now you find your business instead of taking over your life, because instead of having more time to spend with your grandchildren, you have to spend more time on your business so that you can spend more time away. So, helping sellers identify business lifecycle, and when it's a great time for an exit, I think you're going to see more invention.
Yoni Mazor 51:37
Got it! Okay, so, I want to package everything we have so far, see if we got it right. I guess born in Ohio, raised in Michigan, you said Columbus, Ohio, right? Michigan 1991 to 1995. You go to school, you did one year in Munich, Germany, and then 1995, to about 2000, you work with Accenture, and we got a lot of experience working with world-class companies, Caterpillar, Microsoft limited. He also mentioned around 2000 until 2002, you worked for a startup company with the education, industry, and then two, and then from 2000 to till 2003 ish, you worked on your own as a consultant advisor, 2003 to 2004, you've already hit Amazon. Then for the next for around 14 years, you have a whole cycle of evolution inside Amazon, working on the wampie side, and then on the marketplace side.
So, central side, detail page side, really seeing the whole explosive growth, in this technology accompany, you becoming one of the most valuable companies in the world right now that's really touching the lives of hundreds of millions every day, and entrepreneurs inside it. Then in 2019, for a year or two, you were again doing your own consulting, your own advisory. 2021, you launch part of the launching team and establishing team of Foundry brands, where you will package all this ability and being so well rounded. You had some German experience with Accenture, with Amazon, and you take all that and your capacity to building technology and infrastructures as you laid out the vision into the future, the next three to five years force demand and into this path.
So, we got everything correctly so far. That's all good. All right! So, thank you so much for that. I learned a lot, I wish I had more time to peel off your experiences because very robust and rich. But now we're going to close off with two points; the first one will be if somebody wants to reach out and connect, where they can find you. The last thing is going to be, what is your message of hope and inspiration for entrepreneurs listening out there? Very short, very sweet!
Stefan Haney 53:53
So, connect and find me. I'm very accessible Stephen Haney on LinkedIn. Stephen@ Foundrybrands.com is the email that I get to me quickly. My hope and inspiration part is; I feel fortunate every day to be in the position I'm in. I don't think I architected my career. I think God architected my career. But by getting up and going to work and trying hard, good effort yields fruit and it doesn't always work out in the way you think it might. But there's always a secondary benefit. My grandma always said to me, no education is ever wasted. My grandpa said to me, no work is ever fruitless. There's always room for someone who's willing to work hard, and keep trying things. So, work hard, but be curious, and don't just work hard with your head down, work hard and be curious of how things can work. Yeah, that's all from me!
Yoni Mazor 54:55
I love it. So, good effort creates yield. So, you always make sure you know to put up a good effort through good work. So, Stefan, thank you so much for that. I hope everybody else enjoyed it. Stay safe and healthy till next time!
Stefan Haney 55:09