In this Prime Talk Podcast Video Sponsored by GETIDA, Melissa Simonson, the General Manager of Empowery, discusses the passion to empower Amazon sellers and is the leading cooperative (Co-Op) for Amazon sellers shares her life's journey into eCommerce.
Being a part of the e-commerce world can often make you feel like you are a small fish swimming in a big pond. But there are organizations out there that can give your small business a voice, and at the same time empower you to grow and scale your business and revenues. Yoni Mazor of PrimeTalk discusses these organizations and the benefits that they can provide to you and your business.
In today’s episode, PrimeTalk has teamed up with Melissa Simonson, the General Manager of Empowery, an innovative non-profit co-operative geared specifically towards helping and empowering e-commerce sellers in any type of marketplace. Empowery works with entrepreneurs to help them perform financially better, they influence marketplace decision-makers for the benefit of entrepreneurs, and basically, help e-commerce sellers remain independent through a sense of community.
Melissa Simonson discusses her very interesting full-circle journey of starting her career at her brother’s business to working with her brother again on this non-profit venture. So if you’re an e-commerce seller feeling like you’re in too deep and you need some guidance, then this episode is for you!
Learn more at Empowery.
Learn about GETIDA's Amazon FBA reimbursement solutions.
Yoni Mazor 0:06
Hi, everybody, welcome to another episode of PrimeTalk. Today I'm really excited to have a special guest. Today I'm having Melissa Simonson. Melissa is the general manager of Empowery, which is a leading co-op for e-commerce sellers. So a co-op is a kind of innovation in the e-commerce space. So we're gonna elaborate more about it as we fall into the episode. But in the meantime, Melissa, welcome to the show.
Melissa Simonson 0:29
Thank you so much. I'm so excited to be here.
Yoni Mazor 0:31
Our pleasure, really. So today's episode is really going to be all about the Melissa Simonson story. So you're going to share with us you know, who are you? Where are you from? Where'd you grow up? Where did you go to school? How’d you begin your professional career and you know, stations of your life until we hit to the now? So without further ado, let's jump right into it.
Melissa Simonson 0:51
Okay, I'm excited to do it. So you want me to just begin and just?
Yoni Mazor 0:54
Yeah, start from the beginning. Where are you? And where were you born for example?
Melissa Simonson 0:58
Well, I was actually born in Germany. So my dad was in the army. And so when, when I was born, we were just about to move from Germany and my family had… there are nine kids in my family. And so
Yoni Mazor 1:14
Hold on, you’re speeding, you're speeding. Alright, so you’re born in Germany, where Frankfurt? Munich? Which part? Which area? Do you remember? Landstuhl...and was this is an army base or an Air Force Base?
Melissa Simonson 1:27
I guess it was an army base.
Yoni Mazor 1:29
And what was the major general? He was like, General MacArthur or something?
Melissa Simonson 1:34
Not so famous as that I think!
Yoni Mazor 1:37
He invaded Europe, or is this something that like legacy from the War of the Second World War where the United States really established itself as a, you know, a power? That, you know, make sure the pieces have been kept, especially in Germany. So I guess he was in the army, and that led to him living there for how many years? Do you know?
Melissa Simonson 1:57
Yeah. So um, I think we lived there for maybe two or three years. I actually was born there. So I only lived there for one year, and then we moved to the States. We moved back to the States after that.
Yoni Mazor 2:12
So when you moved to the States, where’d you guys move to?
Melissa Simonson 2:13
Yoni Mazor 2:14
Washington State, Seattle area, or Tacoma?
Melissa Simonson 2:16
Yeah. So we actually used to live in Carnation, which is kind of like the Redmond area. And that's actually where some of my older siblings, that was where they went to high school. You know, that was really where they grew up. And so that's why, Steve Simonson, and my oldest brother, ended up there in the Seattle area and why I travel there's so much.
Yoni Mazor 2:34
Got it. So Steve Stephenson is the oldest in the family. Also very well known figure in the e-commerce world. He's helping a lot of sellers. And he’s doing wonderful things. Hopefully, maybe we'll have him on the show as well at some point. But you’re...what’s your number? You’re the very last? Oh, very, very sweet. Very nice.
Melissa Simonson 2:52
He likes to tell people that he's number one. And I'm number nine.
Yoni Mazor 2:56
Well, if you flip it, you're number one, he’s number nine also. Depends on how you look at it. Upside down, right? So you guys, uh, you know, I guess the next question if you guys have nine children, you guys are Catholic or anything like that?
Melissa Simonson 3:08
Well, my parents were Mormon. Yeah, we were LDS.
Melissa Simonson 3:10
Mormon. Got it, okay. It kind of makes sense. You know, some faiths or streams of faiths have the tendency to have, you know, blessed families and big families. With Orthodox Jews, we have those elements as well. The Mormons, but also I believe the Catholics. So it's very, very nice. So you grew up in the Seattle, Seattle area, that's where you basically graduated high school as well?
Melissa Simonson 3:31
Well, actually, by the time I came around, so my high school years were actually in Idaho. That's why I ended up settling here. I think kind of where you go through your formative years in your youth, that's where you usually end up. And that's kind of why I ended up settling back in Idaho is small and, and that's where I knew everything. It's where I learned to drive and all that stuff.
Yoni Mazor 3:50
So I guess, what year were you, I guess, how old were you when you moved from Washington State to Idaho?
Melissa Simonson 3:57
I was seven. I was in second grade.
Yoni Mazor 3:59
Okay, so you're more of an Idaho than anything else, right? As far as you consider yourself, and you graduate, you graduated high school and Idaho? What was the next step for you?
Yoni Mazor 4:10
Um, I actually got married when I was 18. So life was moving fast. And I couldn't wait to get started. Like I actually was very impatient to get on with life when I was in high school. I found high school to be kind of a hindrance to moving on. So I ended up in my...early in my senior year getting my GED and starting college. And then about a year later, while I was 18, I got married. I started a family. You know, much later we actually didn't have kids for about seven years after we got married. And then yeah, so I was in college and we moved to Arizona.
Yoni Mazor 4:49
Did you move to Arizona? Chandler? Phoenix?
Melissa Simonson 4:51
Um, it was the Mesa area.
Yoni Mazor 4:56
All right. I'm not too familiar with that area. But Mesa, how do you spell Mesa?
Melissa Simonson 4:59
M E S A, it’s about 45 minutes from Phoenix.
Yoni Mazor 5:02
Oh Mesa, as a table in Spanish. Very cool. All right. So let's touch years a little bit. So what was the year that you moved into Arizona? And what were you doing there? What was the trigger for the move?
Melissa Simonson 5:12
So I have some family in Arizona, we wanted to let my ex-husband, who I had just married, he wanted to go to school for like technology stuff. And there's a great tech school in Arizona. And since I had some family there, we thought that would be a good place to land. So we moved down there, and we had a series of unfortunate events, we had a couple of cars break down. And it was almost impossible for him to get to school and register. And so it was... it kind of was not the best of all situations, but you kind of have to figure it out as you go when you’re that age.
Yoni Mazor 5:42
Yeah, life is unexpected, you know, challenges, hopefully, that you overcome them. So what was the year you guys moved to Arizona? Let's make it a baseline.
Melissa Simonson 5:51
That was 2003.
Yoni Mazor 5:53
2003, you moved to Arizona. You know, your husband back then he's in school. And what were you doing? What was your trajectory? Were you working? Or were you in school?
Melissa Simonson 6:02
Yeah, at that time, when I was 18, I actually worked for Steve's company. He had an online flooring store. And so I was able to work remotely.
Yoni Mazor 6:10
Online what store flooring?
Melissa Simonson 6:12
Flooring store. Yeah.
Yoni Mazor 6:13
So you buy the floors? Right? The tiles or something?
Melissa Simonson 6:16
Yeah, carpet and like floor tiles and all kinds of stuff. Yeah.
Yoni Mazor 6:20
Alright. So in the e-commerce game since 2003, you can say?
Melissa Simonson 6:23
Sure, I would say, Yeah, I was at the stage where it wasn't.
Yoni Mazor 6:30
You’re in the industry. I'm not sure what you're doing yet in the industry, but you’re at least there. So what were you doing for the company?
Melissa Simonson 6:35
So I made sure that all of the products that were being sold had the proper installation instructions, the warranties, and so I contacted manufacturers to make sure that those were listed appropriately. And also, if we needed to change anything on the listings, if we had a complaint come in that said, you know, the picture is incorrect, it looks blue, it actually came out, you know, it's a teal color, then I would make changes on the listing. And so at that time, you had to know HTML and stuff to be able to make changes to a listing. And a whole team of programmers if you needed something more intricate than a quick HTML change.
Yoni Mazor 7:06
So nice. That's good dabbling. So you did, you know, customer service, you did product experience, HTML, you know, code, a little bit dabbling, to make sure that you update the web pages. That's, you know, back in 2003, that’s top-of-the-line stuff back then. And how many years did you stay in that position?
Melissa Simonson 7:24
I think I worked there until I was about 20. So maybe, I started there my final summer traveling to Seattle, which I did every summer when I was in high school. And so it...
Yoni Mazor 7:35
Did you travel to Seattle for the family? To visit you mean?
Melissa Simonson 7:37
Yeah, to work for Steve, to visit family.
Yoni Mazor 7:40
And the company was based out of the Seattle area?
Melissa Simonson 7:42
Yoni Mazor 7:43
Yeah. 2003 until which year?
Melissa Simonson 7:47
Um, well, so I actually started probably in 2002, and then carried on full time from there. Instead of just doing summers, I was actually just working full time. And so probably from 2017. till I'm sorry, from 2002. Until 2005, maybe.
Yoni Mazor 8:07
So about a three-year run, you were working in e-commerce with the title company. For Steve, your...the oldest brother. And what happened in 2005? What was the next station for you?
Melissa Simonson 8:17
I got a job offer from a company that was with some family that I knew, down in Arizona. And so I changed positions. Because one thing that I think is a tricky situation when you are sort of in the family business, there can be office politics, you want to make sure that you're not, you know, giving the impression that you're overpaying your family members or anything. So we often were at the very lowest end of the pay scale, just to make sure everyone felt comfortable with how much we were getting paid.
Yoni Mazor 8:50
So it sounds like you guys were very cautious about nepotism. So you know, there's a meritocracy. So whether your family or not, you start from the bottom, you got to work your way up. But was it just you and Steven in the company or the whole entire family, what was the structure?
Melissa Simonson 9:04
So two of my brothers actually also worked there at the time, I had a brother-in-law that worked there at the time, and then everyone else was just, you know, just regular hires. There are maybe 35 or 40 people that worked in the office.
Yoni Mazor 9:16
So though, I mean, the whole company, about 30 to 40 people?
Melissa Simonson 9:18
That was the main office, there was also a call center in the Philippines with maybe 80 people.
Yoni Mazor 9:24
Got it. Wow, that's a pretty impressive setup to have that back, you know, in 2002. Yeah, pretty good. All right. Great. So, you realized, alright, so there are some meritocracy and family politics. Let's try to pivot into I guess a new fresh surrounding. This is 2005. And what was the position?
Melissa Simonson 9:41
Yeah, so because of that, I wanted to make sure I didn't put him in an awkward position and I was offered a job that was a better pay scale for, you know, being a new family, you know, starting a new family. So I worked for a home builder. And it was a great job. I worked with one of my brother-in-law's and it was a really good experience. And I was good at what I did. My ex-husband...
Yoni Mazor 10:03
What did you do for them though?
Melissa Simonson 10:07
Um. I was kind of like the liaison. So there would be people working out in the field. And they would be completing jobs. And they might have questions for, you know, the main office of what was intended to be done or like a service provider would come in and do like the plumbing or something. And they needed to have some questions answered. So I’d put them all in touch with each other and make sure that they knew what they were supposed to do.
Yoni Mazor 10:29
Got it. So you're clutching everything for the construction company? And this is in the Mesa area? Mesa, Arizona?
Melissa Simonson 10:34
Yes, yeah, it was actually the Mesa Gilbert area. And they had a bunch of different subdivisions. Very successful company for quite a while.
Yoni Mazor 10:42
Got any special projects you want to mention, or you remember? Or you guys built the Pentagon or anything like that?
Melissa Simonson 10:48
No. They built very beautiful houses, I would have loved to live in one of them. They were, they're like the rich and famous houses most of them.
Yoni Mazor 10:56
Okay, so 2005 until which year were you there?
Melissa Simonson 11:00
Probably 2008. Maybe, because 2008, you know, there was a big crash in the housing market. My ex-husband also works for a...so at that time he worked for it was like heavy equipment stuff. So he was repairing the equipment that's like paving the roads and the...
Yoni Mazor 11:21
Construction, right? In the construction infrastructure world, which took a major hit in 2008.
Melissa Simonson 11:27
So if they don't need to be painting for houses, then they don't need the mechanic to fix the machinery. So he got laid off. And then I got laid off. And it was a pretty crazy situation.
Yoni Mazor 11:39
So some...really you guys, felt the full brunt of the economic impact of the subprime meltdown. So you guys were out of work for a few months, a few years? What was the position then?
Melissa Simonson 11:52
Yeah, I know, again, I was kind of impatient to get on with...with when we got...
Yoni Mazor 11:57
You were very impatient with unemployment. Okay, which is a good thing to have.
Melissa Simonson 12:02
So yeah, we had an old truck that I knew was probably not gonna make it back to Idaho, but the kind that people like to fix up. So we sold that, we had some traveling money, we had a little bit in the bank, and I had some family back in Idaho, who was looking around for open apartments and stuff like that. And so we were able to find a place, but the deposit down, and then travel there and move straight at the moment we parked the car. So.
Yoni Mazor 12:25
So you moved back into Idaho? And this is all transpired in 2008?
Melissa Simonson 12:29
Yeah, yeah, that's right.
Yoni Mazor 12:29
You reacted fairly quickly from Arizona into Idaho, closer to the family, and you landed on a job as well?
Melissa Simonson 12:35
Yeah, I was hired fairly quickly, I got a job working for a doctor's office. It’s actually a residency, so you know how you have interns who are learning to become proper physicians? This was a family medicine residency, and so I was an executive assistant for the director of the program, so it was sort of a doctor's office, and also sort of part of the college because it was a college town.
Yoni Mazor 12:59
Wow. Alright, so what was it like for you? and How many years did you do that?
Melissa Simonson 13:04
I did that for about two or three years, I think.
Yoni Mazor 13:07
Something about the 36 months that you have over there. It’s like a repetitive thing, you did 36 months with the tile company with Steve, 36 with the construction, and another about 24 to 36 with the medical office and being an executive assistant. But what was it like for you over there? What were, you know, effectively what we're doing all day, just clutching, again, all the schedule, you know, all the patients coming in and out?
Melissa Simonson 13:31
No, I really didn't do anything on the medical side of things. I handled things with the residents to make sure that they're getting the education that they need. So I was hosting events as well. So there's a lot of things that you have to set up so that they're getting the credit that they need in order to graduate from the medical program. And so I was more on the education side of things, the event coordination side of things. And then I would also coordinate the interview season. So when they're bringing in the new interns, and we're selecting, there's like this matching process we have to do and it's a very painstaking season.
Yoni Mazor 14:02
So matchmaking, right? Professional matchmaking. That's pretty, pretty interesting. Because I guess it might, these are, you know, might have been some sprouts to what you're doing now with Empowery, which we're going to get to soon. So I can, I guess, since the elements a little bit. Alright so, 2008 until like 2010 or 11 you were there?
Melissa Simonson 14:19
Oh, sure. Yeah, that sounds about right.
Yoni Mazor 14:21
Alright. What was the next station after that?
Melissa Simonson 14:24
Let's see. Oh, my goodness. I'm not even sure. I haven’t even like thinking about that...
Yoni Mazor 14:28
Let’s pull out that resume.
Melissa Simonson 14:31
Weird. Oh, okay. So, um, I worked. I wanted to work from home. Like, again, I'm not a huge fan of going into offices and stuff like that. And I had been spoiled by, you know, the time I was 17 to be able to work remotely. And I really wanted to get back to that because it was so much better for me. And so I actually found a job that was sort of related to the position that I had had where I was doing transcriptions for doctors in the area that I knew and I could do it from home. And so sometimes I could go into the hospital if I needed to, but I can also work from home.
Yoni Mazor 15:04
Were you doing it as a freelance or you're part of some sort of organization, what was the structure for you?
Melissa Simonson 15:09
Um, no, it was I was actually hired by the hospital. So I worked for them.
Yoni Mazor 15:12
Got it. So the hospital said, this is a flexible work arrangement in terms of physicality, you can work from home. And I guess for you was a need. So because you have children, you want to raise them, you want to be there for them. And make sure you in the house...
Melissa Simonson 15:25
Uh, I didn’t at that time.
Yoni Mazor 15:27
Oh, so what was compelling for you to be at home, for that position before having children?
Melissa Simonson 15:33
I am an introvert, I prefer to you know, I prefer to, to work from home.
Yoni Mazor 15:40
Nice, the comfort of your home. That's, that's pretty good. Because on the one hand, I see that you did matchmaking, which is pretty amazing, you know, with professionals. So you have to be very, very good at understanding the needs of both sides and parties and make that match. But essentially, you were doing the same thing with all the transcripts, but they just do it remotely. So I guess there's a bit of more peace of mind to actually complete the task and work because you're diving into the writings and you know, the written content of, you know, individuals. So how long did you stay in that position?
Melissa Simonson 16:07
You know, actually...
Yoni Mazor 16:09
You're still working in it? Don't tell me you’re still doing it. You're still doing it?
Melissa Simonson 16:12
No, no, this was actually less time than my previous pattern.
Yoni Mazor 16:16
Oh, less than 36 months? Ok good.
Melissa Simonson 16:18
Yeah. So this one was interesting because a private company bought out our community hospital. And they actually outsourced all of the transcriptions, the radiology, a bunch of different departments. And so like entire departments just got laid off all at once. And that, incidentally, is when I found out I was pregnant as well.
Yoni Mazor 16:37
Wow, timing, another meltdown, and more challenges to come?
Melissa Simonson 16:41
Yeah, that's when things started to get really interesting. And this is actually where I usually start my timeline with other podcasts and stuff like that. Most people have heard the rest of the story now.
Yoni Mazor 16:54
We're getting close to, I guess, the known territory, and I hope it might connect into e-commerce at some point. So what 2010, 2011 that's one of the...that you know, the company bought you guys out. And then you got to look for another position?
Melissa Simonson 17:09
It was actually like 2011, maybe the beginning of 2012. And I think, maybe the end of 2011. And so we kind of...it was very difficult for me to get hired because I was pregnant. And people, you know, they knew I would be taking leave. And we really were getting very behind financially very quickly. And I couldn't find a solution in the normal places that I would look.
Yoni Mazor 17:33
Conventional, you know, workplaces.
Melissa Simonson 17:36
Yeah. And I was a little bit again, tired of waiting for people to help me or to solve this problem by hiring me. And so I started a business that was a residential and commercial cleaning business, because I had like $35 in my bank account, at one point, our power had been turned off because we were too behind. And that's how we're into 2012. So again, getting behind, had my son, he's a couple of months old, our power gets turned off. And I've got like $35 to my name. So I bought some cleaning supplies, I put an ad up on Craigslist and crossed my fingers and my toes, but I didn't get ax-murdered and went and did a cleaning job. And it earned about, I think, $150 or something. And so after gas, and the original cost of the stuff, you know, it was like 100 bucks at least that I put in my pocket. And then I did it again and got a bunch of referrals, but I actually turned that into a proper business with some employees, and I got some commercial contracts and, and was able to do that for about five years.
Yoni Mazor 18:43
That's amazing. It's unbelievable. I salute you. And when you hit the rock bottom, you're about to break, you took the initiative, and you took the bucket, the mop and your, your motivation and focus and created a business out of it. I started for survival. But at some point, it sounds like if it lasted for five years, and you had employees and a whole organization, it means that you were able to scale it up and you thrived. So I salute you and commend you for this achievement, I have tremendous respect for individuals who are able to really create something out of nothing and take full responsibility of the future destination and to make it a better life for them and their family. So that's pretty amazing. And you're saying five years, so it's around 2011 to 2016?
Melissa Simonson 19:25
Yes, yeah, it was about 2016 and that's kind of where my personal life started to... Everything kind of came to a head. I was separated from my ex-husband. You know, there's a lot going on. I was trying to raise two small kids essentially on my own, even while I was still married, and I had you know, a lot of stuff. There was some employees that had left. I had a lot of stuff that was just on my plate.
Yoni Mazor 19:52
And so how many clients did you have at your peak? I guess?
Melissa Simonson 19:54
I mean, I don't even know. It was enough that it would have kept, you know, two teams, the daytime, and a nighttime team busy all the time. So when I was like, okay, we're getting to a weird place right now, my personal life kind of started to interfere with my ability to do business. And again I can't really explain it's just kind of when you are in a weird headspace, then you're making the wrong decision sometimes even you are not quite sure why. And so it started to affect my profitability and my ability to carry on really and manage my people. And so in the end, I was really trying to work, you know, daytime when you clean residences, while people are at work, and nighttime when you're doing the commercial contracts after people leave the office. And so I'm working day and night. There are several times that I went without sleep for a couple of days at a time trying to keep up with everything. Yeah, it was. It was too much.
Yoni Mazor 20:55
You didn't have any help with the house? At least so hired help?
Melissa Simonson 20:58
Yoni Mazor 21:00
Wow. I mean, you should have. But okay.
Melissa Simonson 21:03
Yeah. Well, yeah, I sort of have a...maybe my weak spot is that I think I can do it all. And I don't need anyone to help me.
Yoni Mazor 21:09
Superwoman. Yeah. Got it. And so...wow, I mean, it's so so it came to what well, how did it culminate this whole situation?
Melissa Simonson 21:19
Well, there's a couple of pivotal moments, I remember one where I was kind of doing a marketing push, because I wanted to get like a team back in action so that I could kind of hand out some of the work, but I wanted to make sure it wouldn't affect our ability to handle the expenses and stuff. So I was doing the jobs myself so that I can hand them off. And for the marketing push, I wanted to make sure I had like, you know, before and after pictures. So this one house that I was cleaning is so embarrassing. I jumped onto the kitchen countertop so that I can clean the top like the upper cabinets. And there had been a ceiling fan that I had turned off in order to make that...to do that part of the clean.
Yoni Mazor 22:02
And it turns out it wasn't off?
Melissa Simonson 22:04
Well. I forgot to get the after pictures when I finished it. And so I had gotten down. I'm like, I'm sweating. So I turned the ceiling fan back on. And then I'm like, Oh, the after picture then I hopped back up there and just cut my head open. I'm bleeding. Oh yeah, it was not great.
Yoni Mazor 22:25
So you got severely hurt?
Melissa Simonson 22:28
Um, no, I mean, it was fine. I got stitches that night. And then I went back and finished the job. And the problem with that was you know, it was a turning point for me because I realized workwise and homewise that something really had to change, that I couldn't carry on the way I had been. And you know more pivotally when I got back to my house to change my shirt because there's blood all over it. And, you know, to talk to my spouse at the time about it. He was happy to just let me go back to work after just having gotten stitches, and not offer to help or anything and I realized you know, this probably isn't that normal, maybe I should be doing something different here. So that's when I got separated. And that's when I decided, you know, I need to cut back on the jobs until I have a better plan and my mind is in a better spot to refocus my attention.
Yoni Mazor 23:17
Got it. And all this was around 2016? About four years ago? Got it. Alright, so take us to the next station, you reshuffling again, you know, laying tracks for other destinations. So what was it? What were the tracks?
Melissa Simonson 23:32
Yeah, so I mean, at first, I really was not sure where to go from there. I finalized the divorce, I was still wanting to do stuff from home. And so I did a few things that had a few different streams of income so that I was able to provide for my kids and stuff, you know, and throughout the divorce process and everything. All that was very exhausting, and emotional and stuff like that. We'd been married almost 13 years at that point, I think. So.
Yoni Mazor 23:56
This is, once again, this is all in Idaho? And the city you guys are living in is? Idaho Falls, Idaho Falls. Okay.
Melissa Simonson 24:04
So, um, yeah, so it kind of was tricky. And honestly, I did not have a path chosen at that time. But, um, I kind of had identified a few important features that had come to light for me. So one was, I didn't want to let other people choose for me what my path would be. I didn't want to wait for someone else to hire me, to help me, right? And so I knew that I needed to come up with something and that it would have the flexibility that I needed. I also knew that I didn't want to have any other forces in my life relationship-wise that were prohibiting me from having whatever life I wanted. And so whatever job that I took next, whatever relationship I got in next, I wanted to make sure that it fits sort of a new outlook that I had created for myself in the new mandates. And, you know, mantra, I guess I was living by, and so Steve actually, simultaneously, so this is now the end of 2017, I kind of just did things here and there, and kind of got back into a better emotional spot. And then Steve had contacted me about Empowery. And now I'd had enough kind of small wins between, you know, my business stuff and then when Steve contacted me that I was a little bit more confident now in like, okay, now we can carry on and, and I'm not as doubtful of my own abilities anymore, given the stuff that was going on before.
Yoni Mazor 25:30
So you needed like about a year to build out your confidence, rearrange your life, you know, you know, set up the right mindset and, and by the time that happened, Steve reached out so you're able to better settle into, to starting your position with Empowery. So that being said, give us a little bit of explanation for what you know about Empowery. What it is, what's the mission? What's the purpose? You know, let's dive into that for a moment.
Melissa Simonson 25:51
Yeah, oh, my goodness. So when he contacted me, and he told me sort of what the out...the intention of Empowery was, I was so excited. I love helping people. I love helping women succeed, especially and women entrepreneurs, because I'm working at a doctor's office, that was kind of a bizarre situation watching, like, men be doctors and only hire women nurses and stuff in this area. So he asked me to join and run this co-op. And he said he wanted to start it as a nonprofit because he wanted to make sure that it was somewhere that people could trust. You know, in the e-commerce space, it's very easy to get suspicious of service providers of, you know, any new faces that you see in e-commerce that are...they're a little suspect. And so having a nonprofit that has an exhaustive vetting process to make sure that you're actually reaching out to the right kinds of people that will take care of you and not scam you and not run off with your money or beta testing with your advertising dollars. Something that is really useful right now for Amazon sellers. So I was...
Yoni Mazor 26:54
So let me, let me give some context here. So Steve, your brother, which year? 2017 was it?
Melissa Simonson 26:59
Yeah, this is the end of 2017.
Yoni Mazor 27:01
Right. He co-founded, or he founded completely or co-founded it?
Melissa Simonson 27:04
He co-founded Empowery with Evan Hackel, who is an expert on cooperatives.
Yoni Mazor 27:08
Got it. Amazing so it's an innovative idea for the e-commerce world. Essentially, Empowery is an organization that's dedicated to educating sellers, support sellers, and marketplace, sellers, e-commerce sellers in all kinds and shapes. and empower them by making sure that whatever content that you know, they are the educational content that they source or provide is bonafide is legit. All the service providers that are on the platform, they're, they're vetted, and they've got references, they're trustworthy. And not only that, you know, your ability to access the top-of-the-line providers will empower you. There are collective discounts if you because you're part of the co-op. So you're getting a better rate or a bit a better discount. Plus there are components of revenue or income for the co-op members, correct?
Melissa Simonson 27:57
Yeah, that's exactly right. So the really exciting thing is the part that the nonprofit plays here is that most of the time when somebody refers you to a service, they're probably getting a kickback for that, you know, they're getting an affiliate commission or something. And so we always have to, again, view it a little suspiciously and say, Is this good for you? Or is it good for me? In our case, we didn't want that to be a question and so did start it as a nonprofit, meaning that the kickback 51% of it goes to our members, rather than us just getting all the benefit, we retain 49% or less, depending on, you know if overhead is covered so that we can manage the co-op and continue to serve the entrepreneurs.
So let's test the flow, right, I'm an Amazon seller, for example, I pay an X amount to be part of Empowery, then I start using all the services and I pay them for their services for their solutions. And I'm, you know, I'm growing my business, but the money that I paid them, some of that money will be basically given back as an affiliate commission to the co-op, to Empowery. And in turn, me as a member, I'm gonna get some of that money back, right?
Melissa Simonson 29:00
That's right. So based on your level of involvement with the partners, you get an annual check. And that's your, as a shareholder, you get dividends from the co-op. And that's part of that is based on your participation with all of our many partners.
Yoni Mazor 29:14
Amazing that I found it to be extremely innovative in this terrain and this environment. So I think it's almost like a no-brainer if you're an Amazon seller or any kind of marketplace seller that is a need of education, for materials that can help you grow and solidify your business and tools and services that can help you as well. Go to Empowery, that's a source tool, you know, you can use it as a source to shop around, by the way, because it's such a variety. And if you choose to opt-in any way to these services, you can do it through Empowery, where you're going to get a better rate plus money back with dividends because you're a member of the club. So you know, I'm originally from Israel, we have these special villages, small enclaves where people live, it's called Kibbutz. Ever heard of a kibbutz?
Melissa Simonson 29:59
I have heard that word.
Yoni Mazor 30:00
So essentially it’s a commune. They all work together, usually a factory or whatever it is, and it's a co-op, and then from the factories or whatever businesses that they have, and the Kibbutz, all the members get, you know, dividends. So you created the kibbutz model into the e-commerce space, which is pretty cool. And innovative. By the way, a lot of these kibbutzes, today in Israel, they became so successful, you know, the companies that have inside the kibbutz, they’re public companies, running billions of dollars worth of revenue, and no corporation. So it did give birth to tremendous businesses that were generated from being a part of the co-op, which eventually empowered it with more dividends. So I do recommend, you know, full disclosure, Getida, we're part of the Empowery movement, and we offer our products with, you know, great incentives to the members. And once again, the income that we generate from the members, we pay some of that back to Empowery, which in turn is to go back to the sellers. So this is kind of the empowering cycle, and circle that that's, that's going on. So 2017, let's go back to you into the story. Right?
Melissa Simonson 31:06
So one last thing. Sure. Sure. One thing that you said is that's very important is that because they're part of the kibbutz, and you know, the co-op, you know, kind of community that made those guys more successful. And I think what people really miss in the explanation of a cooperative in the e-commerce space, because it's not really known, is that it takes you from being a small seller to being part of something much bigger. And so instead of kind of having to take whatever comes and just being like, you know, nobody will listen to me, I'm just a little guy, I can't take on Amazon, I can’t take on walmart.com or eBay, you know, it makes you have a louder voice because there are so many sellers now who are saying the same thing. And so if you have someone representing you, as a little guy, then now you can achieve more now you can have the edge that maybe some other people don't have.
Yoni Mazor 31:58
Amazing, yeah, totally relate to that. So imagine if you have to shop all around for all these solutions. But now you're buying as a part of a major group. So there's more purchasing power, so to speak. Plus, you know, that it's working for so many others, is gonna work for you. So many points or pains that we can alleviate for you just trying to swim and in the great ocean, where you're just part of a larger ship that can steer its way into safe, safer grounds for you and hope to islands where you're gonna find tremendous golden success. So I like that. Okay, so in 2017, you hear about the idea, you get excited about it. And you jump right into it? That was kind of the dynamic?
Melissa Simonson 32:37
Oh, yeah, like, as soon as he told me about it, I was like, This is absolutely made. For me, it was like serendipitous, that all the things that I had just decided, you know before I'm going to get into something serious or long term, it's got to be good for my soul, like I had just...I'd been through too much to, to allow for anything else in my life. And so having something where my job was to help people, and to help entrepreneurs, which is certainly something that I'm very passionate about, something that could, you know, I didn't know at the time but eventually led to helping empower women entrepreneurs. And then...
Yoni Mazor 33:11
Let’s talk about that. So what are the elements that you find for the past three years, you know, being in Empowery where, you know, you really felt the impact for women and their success?
Melissa Simonson 33:20
Yeah, so I kind of entered the event space so about 2017, and then 2018, I just did a few like, Catalyst88 events and stuff like that. In 2019, I really started to enter the main e-commerce event scene, and I noticed a huge disparity in the number of men speakers versus the number of women speakers. And, you know, at first, I'm observing this, and it's just the norm. There's...it depends on which conference as well, how many women attendees there are. But it was very much pre-dominated by men. Male-dominated. You know, it's not like there's anything sinister about that or malicious. But I think that that, I started to realize that it didn't have to be that way. That if somebody sort of helped pave the way to show like, there's, there's a different way to do this, and maybe if they see it happen and see it successfully done, then others would follow. And so, we decided in about May, maybe May of 2019, that we would try and host a women's conference, we started putting the word out there and there was a mixed response at first. And some people felt like, you know, why a women's conference? Why can't men be there and stuff? And the idea actually, was not to exclude men. Men were welcome to attend. We just wanted to have enough women on the stage to show that an event could be wholly presented by women and still be very successful. So at least half the women at other events would be reasonable, right?
Yoni Mazor 34:55
Yeah. So it's almost like an incubator. say this. Let's do this. Let's put him in that position, see how the event goes? Let's see the caliber of you know the quality of the content of the whole experience. And if it's top-notch, it's an indicator for at least for this industry, this innovative industry called e-commerce. This is definitely space for women to participate on the highest levels, and especially when they want to educate and lead on other sellers. So that was kind of, I guess, the experiment that you guys have tried to take the initiative and set up for women. And I would assume it went well?
Melissa Simonson 35:27
It was amazing. I don't think that I have ever been to an event like that. And certainly, that was, that was the first event that I had hosted solely. So we had done a Seattle summit, where Steve was sort of the emcee and the host. And so he'd go on and between each speaker and stuff, so I helped organize that event, but I really wasn't, you know, on the stage or anything.
Yoni Mazor 35:47
This was the name of the event.
Melissa Simonson 35:49
The Seattle Summit, the Empowery Summit.
Yoni Mazor 35:51
The Seattle Summit, the Empowery Summit, presented wholly by women, of course, the audience can be at any shape or color.
Melissa Simonson 35:58
That, sorry, that was referring to the one that Steve had emceed. The Empowery Seattle Summit was just our regular sort of mastermind, live events.
Yoni Mazor 36:07
Got it. Men, women, all, everything works. Okay, so that was kind of your first event to participate within the Empowery community that gave you I guess, the confidence to set up the next event with the women's event?
Melissa Simonson 36:19
Right. So the next one was me totally by myself hosting and organizing everything. So that was called the Empowery Women's Conference. We hosted that this year, in February of 2020, right before everything blew with the pandemic.
Yoni Mazor 36:30
Right before the pandemic.
Melissa Simonson 36:32
And it was incredible. And the feedback that I got was, it was so special to me, because people said, you know, it was intentionally a smaller event. We didn't want to have more than 100 or 150 people, because we wanted people to really engage with each other and have more of a...
Yoni Mazor 36:48
An intimate experience, right? But this took place where? In Seattle as well?
Melissa Simonson 36:54
This was actually hosted on Manhattan Beach in California.
Yoni Mazor 36:58
Oh, wow. Okay, good. West Coast. Yeah, we're gonna have to drag you guys over to the east coast sometime. When you said Manhattan Beach I thought Brooklyn because we also have Manhattan Beach in Brooklyn, but California, you know, you twisted my mind for a minute. Okay, good.
Melissa Simonson 37:14
I actually was in Brooklyn for the event this January you know?
Yoni Mazor 37:20
Yeah. Very nice. Yeah. Right before the pandemic, we had good events in January, February. And March, everything melted away. Great. So February, Manhattan Beach in California,100-150 guests, the guests are...can be...were women of any kind, or shape or form label.
Melissa Simonson 37:37
It was mostly women who attended this one. Because I think again, people probably we miss named it by calling it a Women's Conference. I think most people assume that the attendees are women.
Yoni Mazor 37:46
Yeah, the design was that the speakers are the educators are women. But the audience can be any shape or form. But maybe we got a little bit of a stir. So it's more towards the content, at least was more oriented towards, you know, women, which was still okay. Great success, you know, prove the point. Then what happened? The pandemic hit?
Melissa Simonson 38:06
Um, yeah, I mean, you know, so I mean, that was very successful. We did have, you know, like Norm Fryer, Kevin King, you know, big influencers in the space who wanted to show their support for women they were definitely there. But yeah, I mean, we get back home. And actually, as I was landing in Idaho Falls, I saw an alert, a news alert that said that the first cases had been seen in LA, as that weekend, and I was like, Oh, no.
Yoni Mazor 38:30
It was just around that corner. So yeah, almost being touched by Corona.
Melissa Simonson 38:33
Yeah, that was pretty crazy. And then I mean, this year got pretty crazy. Pretty fast. After that. I, my kids, I pulled him out of school, and then the school shut down. I admit to going a little bit crazy. Having my kids home all the time, quarantined, you know, they were not going back and forth from my house to their dad's house. I was homeschooling them, which none of us enjoyed.
Yoni Mazor 38:58
Oh, yeah. So you actually took the initiative to educate them?
Melissa Simonson 39:01
Yeah, I mean, I did, I wanted to make sure that they weren't gonna get behind or anything. And trying to do that while keeping up with your full-time, more than a full-time, job. And, you know, all the other responsibilities are pretty crazy.
Yoni Mazor 39:12
So during the pandemic, everything went virtual. And you were able to keep Empowery alive and pumping and growing?
Melissa Simonson 39:19
Yeah, yeah, we kept things going with Empowery. We did some digital content through like June or so. And then we really were trying to make some changes going forward, like to increase our membership and to really increase the value that we're offering to our members. And so instead of doing a lot of stuff online and stuff like that, we actually started to do some admin internal work and website building. We created a new member portal so that people can go in and see all the content they have access to, and just make it really easy to get everything that they pay for.
Yoni Mazor 39:52
Got it. Amazing. Alright, so this is where today, you know, ladies and gentlemen, we have Empowery, empowering, you know, e-commerce sellers. Really, you know, paving the way for women to take more leadership positions in the industry. So let's do a quick recap of what we have so far right? Around 2003, you started, sorry, in 2002, you started working in the e-commerce space with your older brother, Steve. You know, you guys are selling flooring products. And then you do it for about three years from 2003 to about 2006. And 2006, you shift to Arizona, to Mesa, Arizona and you work for the company that did what this was homebuilder, construction, you know, high-end construction for the wealthy, you do it for about three years as well. So around...
Melissa Simonson 40:40
It was about 2008, it was right when the crash happened.
Yoni Mazor 40:41
In 2008, the meltdown came in and you moved to Idaho, and you take a position with, you know, the medical field where you make a connection between, you know, residents and, you know, organizations and you're doing all this matchmaking, you did that for a little while. And then he said, You know what, I want to pivot into working from my own home. So you do, you know, prescriptions, you said? What did you, what is that called? Transcriptions, right for, you know, medical staff, so it's all good, and then got bought out, got outsourced. And you pivot into essential entrepreneurship, you take a bucket and a mop, and you start your own cleaning business, you know, for about five years, and you took, you know, full control of your life. But then you realize, you know, it grew from that success, it brought other strains, right? You're working at night, it brought a lot of strain, you said i have to shuffle and pivot, so around 2006, you know, life shakes apart a bit, and you know, you do separate from your spouse, and then for about a year, you kind of try to you know, you solidify your position. And in 2017, you head into the world of e-commerce, once again, you know, something that started around 2002 with your brother takes full circle about 15 years later, in 2017, where you jump into the opportunity to, to join Empowery. So today, you're the general manager, and of course, what you're doing with Empowery, you're taking all these components that you did throughout the years, you’re helping people, connecting people, just helping and offering support on the highest level that you can, with passion, with...And also realizing that you are yourself a woman, you are facing so many challenges, what can you do to give back, you know, to women, as well, and package it all up, this is Melissa’s story, you know, as we find her at this point. So thank you so much. It's been very honest, of you to, you know, share all the story. And I do wish you much more tremendous success as you go along. So now to close the episode, we're going to focus on two things. The first thing will be if somebody wants to learn more and reach out to you, where can they find you? And the last thing will be is what is your message of hope and inspiration for entrepreneurs listening out there?
Melissa Simonson 42:42
So, if you want to contact me, you can email me directly at email@example.com. You can also go to empowery.com slash contact if you want to learn more about Empowery and the first member of our team who sees that will kick that over to the rest of us. And then you can find us on social media @Empowerycoop, and I am @sulinsmiles on Instagram.
Yoni Mazor 43:04
Come again, on Instagram is what? At?
Melissa Simonson 43:08
@sulinsmiles. It's a nickname my brother gave me I didn't think I'd be using it professionally.
Yoni Mazor 43:13
How do you pronounce it? How do you spell sulin?
Melissa Simonson 43:13
S U L I N.
Yoni Mazor 43:17
Sulin Smile? Smiles plural? @sulinsmiles on Instagram. Very cool. And what's your message of hope and inspiration for entrepreneurs listening out there?
Melissa Simonson 43:26
I think the main thing is that, you know, when people struggle, when you have failures, when you, you know, you're trying to reflect and remember who you used to be or who you intended to be, you know, if you take too much time looking at yourself through other people's eyes or how you think they might be or how you fear they might hear you, you're wasting all of your time and your potential ability to get yourself out of a hard situation. Instead, you focus on the things that you need to get done, you know, the things that you know, what's, what's the next thing? It doesn't seem like it's such a challenging move to make, you know? Sometimes that's all you can handle, that's all you can do is just what's the next move that I need to make here. And when you do that, and you look back on it later, you realize how powerful of a shift that was for you. And what a powerful move that made for the rest of your life and how it might have changed the director and the direction forever. But it's just that one move. And don't waste time. Don't waste time looking at what you think other people are saying about you or thinking about you because it's just it's not your business.
Yoni Mazor 44:36
Yeah, I feel that. So this is empowering. You know, words from the general manager, manager of Empowery. You know, don't focus on why this happened to you, focus on the next, on the next move that will get you out of that situation. And as you keep focusing again and again on the next move, you'll be able to look back and say, Well, I made such an impact. I'm in a much better position and just keep doing it as you go along to find more and more success. So Melissa, thank you so much. It's been a pleasure. Thank you everybody for listening and watching until next time. Thank you.