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Ben Leonard_Beyond 8 Figures_Turning Challenges into Business Opportunities

Turning Challenges into Business Opportunities with Ben Leonard, eCom Brokers

April 5, 2023

Ben Leonard knows that all challenges can be turned into business opportunities as long as you are willing to think creatively and put in the work! In this episode, Ben shares some of the challenges he has overcome in his personal and professional life, the value of finding an untapped niche as a business owner, and the importance of taking advantage of the enormous power of e-commerce.

About Ben Leonard:

Ben Leonard is the classic millennial entrepreneur. From a modest beginning, building a business on a laptop in a cupboard, he achieved what many dream of: growing it into an international 7-figure venture and successfully exiting after just three years. Now, Ben is not only repeating this success but is also helping others do the same through his e-commerce consultancy and brokerage.

In his book, “Quit Stalling and Build Your Brand,” Ben leverages his extensive e-commerce experience to provide actionable strategies for aspiring entrepreneurs. The book is packed with invaluable insights and practical steps for building authentic, scalable brands, empowering business owners on their journey to entrepreneurial success. Notably, before his business endeavors, Ben had no background in business, product development, or marketing, and applied his scientific training from his marine science background to master these fields.

Browse our curated collection of Business Books for more enriching reads.

Taking advantage of business opportunities

Finding business opportunities means discovering potential ideas or areas where you may create value and generate profit. Here are some tips:

  • Identify the customer’s pain points: Determine the problems and pain points that people are experiencing in their personal or professional lives. Think about how you may offer a solution or enhance current goods or services. Understand the wants and problems of your customers by conducting market research, surveys, or interviews.
  • Keep an eye on the competition: Examine the competition to find market gaps. Find out where they are underserving customers. Also, identify if there is a demand that is not being addressed. Offer a better product, service, or customer experience to set oneself apart from the competition.
  • Analyze market trends and demographic shifts: Keep track of changes in consumer behavior as well as market shifts. You can also take into account and identify segments that are expanding or underserved because they might make good customers. Think about how you can accommodate their particular requirements or preferences.
  • Seek feedback: Ask for feedback by discussing your ideas with reliable mentors, teachers, or prospective clients. Pay attention to their opinions and take into account their observations. This can help you polish your business idea and increase its marketability.

Don’t forget that finding opportunities entails a blend of market awareness, strategic thinking, and creativity. Be receptive to new ideas, flexible to changing conditions, and prepared to take calculated risks.

Episode highlights:

  • If you aren’t taking advantage of e-commerce, you are doing your business a disservice because of the volume of sales you are losing out on. There are so many affordable, accessible tools and resources available to you, so use them! (07:44)
  • Find your niche so that your business stands out from the crowd! If you can come up with a unique, untapped business idea, you are well on your way to success; and if you think about it creatively, your opportunities are limitless.  (13:37)
  • Overcoming challenges leads to enormous growth because of the invaluable lessons that you learn through the process. Don’t let hurdles discourage you; jump over them and keep moving forward. No matter how much you may want to give up in the moment, it will be worth it to push through. (27:09)
  • Long-term, sustainable business growth requires patience. Don’t rush the process; take each phase seriously, and treat your business with the respect it deserves. (31:32)
  • Making mistakes may not feel good, but it is one of the best ways to learn. If you deal with mistakes as quickly as possible, you’ll be better off for having made them. (39:50)

Ben’s best advice for entrepreneurs:

“There’s always going to be new opportunities for those of us who are willing to go the extra mile to take advantage of them.” (31:22)

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Affiliate Disclaimer: Some links in this episode are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Rest assured, we only promote products/services we believe will benefit your entrepreneurial journey.

Transcript

[00:01:29] Ben Leonard: Yeah. What happened, it was not a trajectory I thought that I would end up taking. I grew up in the northeast of Scotland, beautiful countryside, love nature, grew up around nature. So it was natural for me to study zoology and then ecology. That’s how I ended up becoming an ecologist. I thought I’d go into academia, but I didn’t. I’m glad I didn’t. But I ended up in consultancy. So, I was the tree hugger. My job was to tell the oil guys they couldn’t throw chemicals in the sea and to help the regulator make the regulations.

[00:02:03] And I generally enjoyed it, until I got sick. I got a heart problem. I had it three times and the third time it occurred in early 2016, I was told, right, you need to stop working for a while. Take all these drugs and you need to stop your fitness hobbies. And so, I need something to do.

[00:02:25] So I started a fitness brand to keep me in touch with my fitness hobbies whilst I recovered. And then I got better and it was all good. This brand, Beast Gear, that I started as a hobby turned out to go pretty well. I ended up quitting my job, focusing on that, growing that, and I grew that. And we were doing mid-seven figures, about 6 million bucks in revenue when I sold that in late 2019.

[00:02:46] A.J. Lawrence: To Thrasio, right?

[00:02:48] Ben Leonard: That’s right, it was the first European aggregator deal. So it was the first European brand bought by one of these aggregators, the new wave of roll ups that came around 2018-19. By that point I was well and truly an e-commerce person, and so from there, I started the brokerage based on my own experience of selling my business. I felt like I could do a better job. And I still build brands now cuz I love it.

[00:03:15] And I now know how to build a brand into something valuable that I can sell. And so I never thought I’d end up doing this, but it’s funny how life changes when circumstances kind of force you to change.

[00:03:27] A.J. Lawrence: Before we jump too much into sort of furthering into sort of where you are in your own entrepreneurial journey, cuz you’ve made the transition, you’ve built it, you had the success, you’ve had a great exit, all this stuff. Between the brokerage and the consulting and then the private equity consulting, how do you see that balance? Who are the different people you are kind of working with each one?

[00:03:56] Ben Leonard: Sure. A variety. So for instance, I may consult one day with somebody who’s a solopreneur running an e-commerce business on their own, perhaps they have a bunch of freelancers on the other side of the planet helping them with certain aspects. And they might be relatively new, or established but with a modest turnover, a few hundred grand or something. The next day I might be talking with other entrepreneurs who might be turning over tens of million.

[00:04:27] And then there’s the private equity side. So I consult with private equity-backed brands, in particular sort of families of brands under one umbrella, and then it’s individually consulting with the CEOs of those brands to help them get up to speed, really. Cuz many of these organizations are quite old and antiquated in their ways with many onion layers of bureaucracy, and they haven’t been able to keep up with the nimble speedboat entrepreneurs, I like to call them. Because we’re so nimble, we’re able to change the direction fast – on our laptops in our spare rooms. And so those are the people that I’m talking with, whether that’s as with my own hat on or with my broker hat on.

[00:05:10] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah, it’s fascinating because I think we’ve seen with so many different ways of the digitals, right from the beginning, it’s this weird mix of what I wanna call the pro-amateurs and then the true professionals, where it’s like the people who have no clue and just like I’m gonna make this work. And they create things that then all of a sudden like, oh, we need to copy this.

[00:05:38] Ben Leonard: Yeah.

[00:05:38] A.J. Lawrence: Used to be in the early days, you gotta copy porn. Nowadays, it’s like you gotta copy the eCommerce, the influencers. Porn is less of an innovative area. Let me get off that topic. But actually what I find really fascinating about that is, as an acquisition entrepreneur I’ve sold companies, looking back to go back and buy, I’ve been fascinated about companies that are under utilizing assets.

[00:06:09] And it’s so funny because when I look at e-Commerce and I realize, okay, that’s not really where I want my thesis to be. But I do see lots of businesses that had e-Commerce opportunities as part of their overall effort and are just massacring.

[00:06:28] Ben Leonard: Yep.

[00:06:28] A.J. Lawrence: And it’s that sort of like, when you go look at a company, a business’ social thing, and it’s like two posts per week with 10 views for the past five years. It’s at like, Ooh, why are you even doing that?

[00:06:43] Ben Leonard: Yeah. And the post is just like something from their product catalog, right? It is not a lifestyle image or anything remotely interesting for social. They’ve just copied something off their website and pasted it onto their Instagram feed.

[00:06:58] A.J. Lawrence: It’s very similar for many brands around their e-Commerce. You would think even to a certain degree, and because we are so in the world, that they would at least be doing something on Amazon but they’re not. And then you would think, okay, you would be using Shopify, but surprisingly not.

[00:07:23] Ben Leonard: And this is still a tremendous opportunity. I see it a lot. As a side note, I do some consulting up over here in Scotland where I live for an organization which champions Scottish businesses. It gets funding from the government and their role is to help Scottish businesses grow. So I do a bit of consulting with them and many of the businesses that I help still, even now, 2023, are way behind the curve on e-Commerce. Because they’ve traditionally made their money, perhaps wholesale or they’ve had all sorts of retail relationships across the country and internationally, they’ve never really needed to take advantage of the online opportunity until now.

[00:08:09] Even then, there’s so much low hanging fruit, and these businesses are a really interesting opportunity for investment and acquisition because there are so many buyers now who have had time over the last several years to really hone in how to take an asset that is either distressed or not really distressed, it just never formed well, right? It’s just, it hasn’t been there. And optimize it to perform well, whether that’s on their own website or a marketplace like Amazon. So there are tremendous opportunities there and lots of great deals to be had actually.

[00:08:44] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah. I mean, it’s funny because one, right behind you is really cool. Well, I guess you had moved. But the Nicaragua coffee bag and Nicaragua before things got really kind of crazy over the past few years, I used to go down and go surfing down there all the time. It is such a beautiful, great thing that one of my evolving thesis, one potential is looking at unknown, well loved local brands that are not in immigrant or expat communities.

[00:09:26] As someone who lived in the Costa del Sol for five years, there was this Iceland that had all the British food, but they got crazy with Brexit and they had to actually shrink and do this little teeny Scandinavian markets in some of the towns. And it’s like, wow. All that effort to this.

[00:09:53] But it’s like what types of foods can you find out there and then bring to an e-Commerce environment? How can you upscale, how can you transition? That, I find so fascinating.

[00:10:06] Ben Leonard: The thing is that many of these organizations, if only they knew the opportunity that is there, they could do it themselves. Because we live in a time now where the playing field is so much more level because of the abundance of cheap and free tools. If we didn’t live in the times we live in now, it wouldn’t have been possible for me as someone with no business experience, no marketing experience, no product development experience to take my idea for a fitness brand and make it a reality. But we do, so I could.

[00:10:37] Imagine for a second a little shop in Iceland, the country Iceland, and you go on holiday there and you buy a wooly hat. You get home, everybody’s complimenting you on it, and you’re looking at the hat and you’re thinking, wow, I really loved so many other things in the shop. I wish I could have bought more.

[00:10:59] But that shop, that store, they had no online presence. They didn’t put a little card in your bag with their website on it. They have no way to contact you, you have no way to contact them, what a wasted opportunity. Particularly, if you’d visited it in 2019.

[00:11:17] And then all of a sudden in 2020, they’re stuck. Because it’s easy for them up until that point, right? There’s hoards of tourists going to Iceland. It’s a beautiful place. They just keep chucking people in the top of the funnel, but there’s no bottom of the funnel. They don’t have a funnel. And so imagine we’re in 2020 now, there’s nothing they can do. They can’t remarket to you.

[00:11:37] And their business is collapsed and it is now worth nothing. Whereas if they had only had that e-Commerce presence which they could have built really easily, cheaply or freely with no business experience or online web development experience, then they could have remarketed to you throughout Covid times and kept selling online.

[00:11:54] And these are the businesses that I think are a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs like you and me to go and acquire. But it’s finding them.

[00:12:01] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah, it’s finding them and then also the markets. In my recent conversations, since you said Iceland, one of my good friends is Icelandic. But he’s been an America now for about 20 years. We were talking recently, I was a beer distributor here down in Virginia and I was like, oh, I saw an Icelandic beer. And he was like, oh, which one? I was like, Kronenbourg Blanc. He’s like, I know the guy who owns it back in Iceland, because everyone in Iceland knows each other. He was like, we all know each other.

[00:12:38] But he says he can’t get a distributor in New York. There’s only like three in the US that he can get it to. And not saying that that would be the right for e-Commerce, but it’s like there’s markets that have very little Icelandic presence, New York, you know, like the big cities.

[00:13:03] I think it’s fascinating to look and see that same Icelandic thing. It’s like, oh, you are in e-Commerce. Then all of a sudden it’s like, oh yes, I haven’t been home in 20 years or whatever. Or now I have kids in X, Y, Z country and I want them to have that. We’re this global market but with few niche players that fit the targeting of the people who could really love those.

[00:13:37] Ben Leonard: Yeah. But if you can find the niche, then you can really build something that could be worth something amazing in the future. For instance, let me give you an example. This was a guy we worked with, a client at eCom Brokers, and this was quite remarkable actually. He would go on holiday to Bali in Indonesia and he came across this little store selling beautiful brass fittings for kitchens, bathrooms, but also like handles for drawers and doors. And he was struck by the quality and the uniqueness of them.

[00:14:11] He bought a whole bunch of it and took it home and sold it on eBay and made tons of money. So he went back and did it several times, just bringing back suitcases of the stuff. Eventually, he was introduced by the person who owned the store to the factory. And this was a unique factory with no commercial sense. They had all the abilities in the world to make this fantastic quality and unique product, but no commercial sense. And they were very remote in Indonesia, no one else really knew who they were.

[00:14:42] So he was able to put together this agreement with them and over the next about five years, he completely cornered the market selling exclusively from them on Etsy across the UK and Europe. And it was a double win because the quality was way better than anyone else could get from China, and the price was way better than anyone else could get from China. And no one else could figure out where he was getting this stuff or how he was doing it.

[00:15:08] So he just absolutely crushed the competition. There was no race to the bottom because his quality was better, better than everyone else’s. And his reviews were phenomenal because his quality was better than everyone else’s, and he was able to still offer it at a decent price that got people in the door in the first place, right?

[00:15:27] So the price was like it was a mid to premium kind of product. And as a result of that, we were able to sell his business at a really high multiple because he’d completely cornered this niche market. As you say, taking something that was quite unique for one part of the world, selling it somewhere else, that’s the kind of thing that you could achieve. And now after selling, he bought a yacht and now he’s sailing around the world. Good for him.

[00:15:54] A.J. Lawrence: Horrible life. That’s horrible story.

[00:15:55] Ben Leonard: That’s what you can do when you can find these little things. Now, I’m not saying everyone’s just gonna go and find one of these opportunities, but it just illustrates the point that when you build a moat around your business and make it quite niche, what you can achieve is quite extraordinary.

[00:16:09] A.J. Lawrence: Looking at the combination of the consulting and then the brokerage, one thing I’ve been fascinated by in my own search and I would love to, possibly in this one idea, very early. They’re heritage food distributor within a very specific ethnic food license for the state I live in here in the US and Virginia, which has a high immigrant population because of the capital. And I find it very fascinating because they’re not antiquated. They have some really good traditional business systems and stuff, but no digital. And yet they do have a significant cash flow. They have a revenue base, they have clients that are 30+ years contracts.

[00:17:09] Looking at the multiple things you’re doing, I could see like going and buying a company that is underutilizing its opportunity with the cashflow to then reinvest into a digital e-Commerce presence and sort of then use that as an expansion because the cash flow is a whole different game than the distribution model.

[00:17:35] So it’s just, I think what you’re doing is so fascinating because mixing and matching them, you could really create some very significant businesses out of this.

[00:17:44] Ben Leonard: Oh yeah, a 100%. And the opportunities especially if you get creative are endless.

[00:17:57] A.J. Lawrence: What I’ve been thinking of, it’s like, oh yeah, the types of maybe bolt-on acquisitions. You buy the traditional thing, you do your own work, but also figure out an e-Commerce bolt-on to that type of thing. That could be really interesting.

[00:18:25] But, alright. I’ve seen people come in and talk about like, oh, I am an X, Y, Z expert. I always find it great when I find multiple other references from other people, other sources talking about the expertise of the guest, so it’s not like your own PR. You are considered one of the top e-Commerce experts out there, and when I’ve talked to other people, your name has come up. You were introduced as I asked for someone in this as one of the best, so that’s kind of why I found so fascinating.

[00:19:11] You’ve had the success. Since we hear some kids in the background, I assume you have children.

[00:19:19] Ben Leonard: Yes.

[00:19:20] A.J. Lawrence: You’re on your way. Very cool. I have teenagers, which means I’m miserable. But it’s a different type of misery.

[00:19:28] Where are you on your own entrepreneurial journey? You’ve had success, you’re building this great presence plus the e-Commerce brokerage. Where are you and where are you planning on going on this journey?

[00:19:42] Ben Leonard: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. Well, I mean, I never knew it was a journey I was gonna go. I didn’t know I had an entrepreneurial spark inside me, it skipped a generation. My grandparents, all my grandparents were entrepreneurs of some kind. Then my parents worked for the man, so to speak. And where I am, I guess is, is here – I have unfinished entrepreneurial business, right? I still have this kind of spark to burn through. I’ve got multiple brand ideas that I want to do. I can’t do them all at the same time so some of them are gonna have to wait.

[00:20:09] I co-own two brands right now, one which launched about four months ago, one which we’ll launch later this year with a kickstarter. And what I love about that is that it allows me to keep my feet in the trenches and therefore understand what it is like to be an e-Commerce business owner, which is vital for the brokerage clients. Because I need to know what it’s like to be them.

[00:20:30] The reason I still have capacity to do these several things is that I partner everything now. So with one of the brands, which is in the sports space, I mentor my co-founder on that. And the other brand, my co-founder runs the day-to-day and I’m more of the brand visionary kind of guy. So those brands are being built to sell. That’s the way that I’m doing this. That’s always the plan now. Keeps me in touch with the day-to-day e-Commerce.

[00:20:57] The brokerage journey is an interesting one. It started out really because it’s the classic scratch your own itch, right? The broker that I used to sell my first brand was a bit of a disaster, in my defense. There weren’t that many options when I made the decision to sell. It was early 2019 when I decided to sell. In e-Commerce years, that’s a long time ago. They made a couple of mistakes, one of which could have cost me about half a million bucks.

[00:21:20] My accountant and I spotted it and fixed it, and so after we’d done the deal we said to each other, let’s do a better job. She, that’s Alison, has got close to 30 years Mergers and Acquisitions experience anyway, so it was a good fit. Her on the number side, me on the e-Commerce side, understanding what it’s like to actually own and operate a brand, develop products, market them. So that business, the brokerage, we’re thoroughly enjoying that. That’s not necessarily gonna be sold. Probably will one day, but not in the near future.

[00:21:49] And then once I’ve burnt through this entrepreneurial spark, I want to return to my roots. So for context, I’ll be 35 later this year. So I’m not sure when, maybe in about 10 years time I want to get back into my original passion of environmental conservation, but apply entrepreneurship to it.

[00:22:07] I mentioned earlier that I didn’t go into academia. And part of the reason I didn’t go into academia is, I did a master’s degree and so I worked closely with PhDs and I could see what they were up to. And the problem with them, as smart as they are, is they don’t get shit done. They have a lot of great ideas, but they don’t get stuff done.

[00:22:25] And I spent some time working and also volunteering with environmental NGOs who are full of very smart people, but often don’t actually engage with industries to get stuff done either. Rather, they just kind of stand at the sidelines, waving their arms in the air and moaning rather than engaging. And so what I think as entrepreneurs we can do is we’re doers. We get stuff done. This is why in my country, the largest landowner in Scotland is actually a Danish billionaire called Anders Povlsen. If you Google him, he’s an interesting guy. Was in the news a few years ago, very sadly, four of his kids were killed in a terrorist attack in Sri Lanka. Made his money in clothing, now owns vast sways of the Scottish Highlands because he wants to rewild it.

[00:23:11] As entrepreneurs, you get stuff done. There’s a beer company from where I live called BrewDog. They’re worth billions now. They’re now in the US.

[00:23:20] A.J. Lawrence: They’re in Spain everywhere.

[00:23:24] Ben Leonard: Yeah. They’ve bought large areas of land in Scotland for two reasons. One is to rewild it and replant Caledonian Pine Forest, and the other part is commercial. They’re gonna build like these kind of environmentally friendly holiday chalets and that type of thing, but at least they’re actually doing something. And I think that environmental conservation needs entrepreneurial spirit to get stuff done. So if you can combine my actual skillset of having a degree or two degrees in that subject with the entrepreneurial skillset, I think that that could be pretty formidable. So I wanna return to that in the future.

[00:23:59] I know that’s not really a topic of the podcast, but it’s where I’m headed. But I’ll never not have my thumbs in some sort of e-Commerce related activity or brand related activity because it’s too much fun not to.

[00:24:15] A.J. Lawrence: I agree. And I find you seem very deliberate in this process because as someone who, many times when I’ve had success, I jokingly as my team would say, become squirrel. Like every bright, shiny object, let’s work on. And I like that you are putting a, maybe not a specific process, but a cadence to your effort and your expectations thereof. Because as having learned the hard way, and then in interviewing so many people who are doing something incredible things like you are, it really does seem, it’s like defer gratification in a systematic process. Really it’s kind of one of the secret sauces of entrepreneurial success.

[00:25:08] It is like, okay, yeah, you gotta work fast and you gotta chase things. But it’s how you put it into process and your ability to push things, your payouts to a future point that then actually creates higher value. So that’s really cool that you’re developing that.

[00:25:30] Let me ask sort of a past tense and then a future tense question around that. In one of the major transmission points we were talking before we started recording that, like what I’m very fascinated in is those sort of inflection points in entrepreneurial growth. You think, when you start a company and all of a sudden things start growing regularly or fast or whatever, that it’s gonna get simpler. Yet, as we all know, you may be able to pay your bills, but things get more complex and there’s more stress and there’s more moving parts.

[00:26:10] There’s this famous thing that most businesses 90+ will never hit a million. Most businesses that hit to 3 million will actually fall back. There’s like 80% of businesses that hit 3 to 5 million fall back significantly rather than grow. And then the same thing when you get to 7 and again at 10, there’s all these chasms. What has been a major inflection point for you and what helped you the most to get through that in the past? And then let’s sort of maybe guess going into the future, what it’s going to be for you to transition into that?

[00:26:48] Ben Leonard: Major inflection points for me in terms of like my journey in entrepreneurship or like any of my business?

[00:26:57] A.J. Lawrence: Any of your businesses, yeah. What has been the difficult parts? What have been like, oh, that was different.

[00:27:07] Ben Leonard: Yeah, sure. Well, I remember one challenge in particular with my first brand, and it was overcoming that challenge that actually led to enormous growth. So here’s what it was. I was selling in the UK and things were going great. We had not yet left the EU. We had voted to leave the EU, but we hadn’t left. Thank goodness. We have now left, and it’s been a total pain in the ass. But anyway, my main sales channel was Amazon, and Amazon had a program.

[00:27:39] They still do have this program, and they’re trying their best to help the UK get back onto it as best they can. They had this program called Pan EU, and what it was was that they would ship your products right across Europe for free to make sure that they were available locally in fulfillment centers so that somebody in Milan could get your product on Prime fast, right?

[00:28:03] Up until that point, somebody in mainland Europe could buy my product, but it would take several days to get to them and it wasn’t available on Prime.

[00:28:08] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah.

[00:28:09] Ben Leonard: So the moment somebody in Düsseldorf filters Prime, my product’s not there. Right? So to get onto the Pan EU program, I needed to register for VAT in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, and the Czech Republic. And now you would have to add on Sweden and a couple of other countries as well. And it was, especially at that time, 2017, it was not easy. They didn’t make it easy for you. There wasn’t some service. You had to do it per country on your own. Forms in a variety of languages. Some countries required that you had documents translated only by a translator who had a particular qualification.

[00:28:45] Some countries required that you had documents notarized by somebody called a notary in Spain to register for VAT in Spain. This is hilarious. I had to find this one guy in my city who was qualified to stamp my documents with one of these like medieval wax seals that they used to use to seal envelopes in medieval times. It was quite hilarious.

[00:29:08] Now, many of my competitors could not be bothered to do this, to jump through this hoop or many hoops. And I nearly gave up million times, but eventually it got done. And when it got done, my sales basically doubled overnight. And then of course, I continued to snowball because I started to dominate all those markets because the competitors were either not there, or those that were there were underoptimized. And those that were trying to optimize were not doing it as well as me and didn’t provide amazing customer service in the local language and all the extra miles that I went.

[00:29:41] So that one thing, jumping through those hoops so I could get onto the Pan EU program, it doubled my sales there and then, but the compounding effect of that was incredible. And so I grew very quickly to doing about $6 million in sales after three years only selling in the UK and Europe, wasn’t selling in the US.

[00:30:00] I kind of wish I’d gone to the US as well, probably would’ve doubled or tripled that. And that was a huge inflection point. And the lesson I think from that is jump through the hoops because when you do, you emerge on the other side in much greener grass. I kind of liken it to, imagine you’re leading your caveman tribe over some treacherous pass, but when you get over the treacherous pass into this lush valley of resources with no competition, you will thrive. So that was huge for me.

[00:30:31] A.J. Lawrence: It’s so funny you say that cuz having lived in Europe for a while, I now refuse to ski in the US. I always go to the Alps. You read history where so often it’s like these trenches, the armies go up these path. But then it’s like you reach a crescent and then it’s like this open, smooth, you can just roll down the hill and be fine. Where you had to do so much work to get through. But bureaucratic hurdles are little known moat opportunity.

[00:31:05] Ben Leonard: Oh yeah. I love them. Every time I come across one of these headaches, now the first thing I do is just go, oh, another thing to do. And then I say, excellent. Another thing that I will do and other people will not do – and that is going to set my business apart from others. And I’m seeing it now with my new businesses. There’s always gonna be new opportunities for those of us who are willing to go the extra mile can take advantage of.

[00:31:28] And I see it with exits, right? Then with our clients. Because those who are quite short termist and just will say, right, I wanna sell my business in three months versus somebody who says, right, I’m gonna take the time to plan this and get it ready so that I can sell it in a year or 18 months or 24 months. The gain that you get, it comes back to your previous point about this long-term thinking and patience, right?

[00:31:52] It is remarkable, what happens. And I think that comes from treating your business like a big boy growing up business, and treating with the respect it deserves. Because I think a mistake or the trap that we fall into, being involved in the digital world is this, it’s both part of what makes e-Commerce so great and part of what makes it a potential trap.

[00:32:12] So what makes it great is there’s an opportunity for everyone now because of all the availability of free tools and easy marketplaces and platforms like Shopify, so that any idiot like me can build a website, right? That’s amazing. But because it’s so easy and so accessible and we do it on our computers, it almost feels like a game.

[00:32:31] It feels other. It feels remote and separate from our real day job cause we probably start our business when we have a day job, and it feels so easy and so gamified that we don’t treat it like a real grownup business. And we fall into this trap. So then, instead of planning our exit properly for instance, or making the mistake of trying to register our own trademarks, rather than working with an IP expert, we fall into this trap and we don’t take it seriously. And we’re gonna pay for it later, either in ways that we know about or in unknown ways. Cause we just don’t know what we would’ve been able to achieve if only we’ve taken it seriously.

[00:33:07] A.J. Lawrence: Yeah. And it is so true. I see so often, and I’ve seen it for almost every phase since the early 90s all the way through. I had a client in 2007 when Vidia, when Zigzag, I can’t even remember. One of the first sort of animated video protocols was getting popular. A very conservative wholesale distributor, we had a meeting with the CEO and the Chairman, and we had this plan.

[00:33:45] We were very like, all right, let’s get analytics in place, let’s get the SEO, all this. Then the chairman says, no, no, no. This is not the way. I have the idea. We need to do a video of dancing naked grandfathers.

[00:34:00] Ben Leonard: Okay?

[00:34:00] A.J. Lawrence: And I was just like, but you’re a wholesaler that sells to dollar stores and charities. I don’t understand. So I’ve always called it, you know, like home run swinging.

[00:34:17] There are great businesses that are built on home run swings or, yeah, sorry, Americanism, on the long shot. That one, let’s take this big one shot. But the vast majority of every success are lots of incremental foundational efforts that then build upon it and build upon it, and then take a big shot because they can either absorb a myth or be even more importantly, take advantage of a large, successful event where most businesses, even if they do get one big flash in the pan, it’s gone. They can’t absorb the traffic. They don’t know how to keep it. Sugar rush, it just disappears. So I love your, I call it foundational focus. But it’s that similar approach, like do the right things for the right reasons. Being deliberate as I mentioned, sort of as you talked about your future. You’re very deliberate.

[00:35:21] So now, what do you think that transition’s going to look like in 10 years or so when you do go out? And what do you think could help you the most make that effective?

[00:35:34] Ben Leonard: When I leave e-Commerce you mean?

[00:35:38] A.J. Lawrence: Who knows if you’re leaving it, but when you move to an environmental entrepreneur or a B-Corp or whatever that type of structure maybe.

[00:35:48] Ben Leonard: The levers that I think that I can pull to have the biggest impact will be being able to apply that entrepreneurial perspective to topics, which to date, have not received that kind of attention. So to come back to the Anders Povlsen example, before him, nobody from a commercial point of view was thinking about how do we take ecosystems which have been destroyed by mismanagement and return them to their former glory and how can we make that work? Possibly from a commercial point of view. Actually, I don’t think he’s interested in making any money out of it.

[00:36:29] From the other side of it though, how can I continue to have my feet in the e-Commerce space and still make that work. Big hinges move big doors. No, little hinges move big doors. Whatever the phrase is, right? It’s pushing the right buttons. You don’t necessarily need to be pushing all of the buttons.

[00:36:49] And what I mean by that I think is that over the time that I’ve been in this space and the experience that I’ve acquired so far, I’ve learned how to identify the critical few things that can really make a difference for a business. And that comes from experience. So let me give you an example. I was chatting with a guy the other day, he’s a mentee. We have this program with eCom Brokers where people who aren’t ready to sell will actually, and often they want to sell but we’ll tell them their number to sell. We’ll actually mentor them a route to an exit. And there was this guy. He’s a great guy. He’s got a cool brand but he’d been struggling with profitability and also cash flow. And he hadn’t been thinking about all the opportunities available to him to reduce his cogs, and he’d neglected a pretty basic principle of negotiation.

[00:37:48] And it was just the experience that I’ve had as well. I’ve been in the position you’ve been where you’ve been placing these orders. The volume’s getting bigger, you’re bringing in this great business for this supplier, it makes total sense now that you are in it. You’ve got the power now to negotiate. So that one change for him significantly reduce his cogs, which meant he now had the ability to spend more on marketing to compete with his competitors.

[00:38:12] At the same time, he hadn’t thought about how can he make this a win-win for his supplier. And so we were able to then build out forecasts as to where his business was going. And we built out a low case, a middle case, and a high case as to if his supplier was to offer him better payment terms and also agree to store portions of his shipment and not charge him for it until it’s shipped. So basically zero down and zero when it was finished. Just zero until they ship it. In fact, it was then further net 60 days after shipping.

[00:38:45] Yes, of course that would improve his cash flow flow position and allow him tons more money to spend and grow. But we were able to then use that to then say, Hey supplier, if you do this, this is what we’re gonna achieve. And the numbers of this is the order volume we’re gonna be ordering from you. And it was just those two things which made an enormous difference to him.

[00:39:07] So going back to your question, when I’ve extricate myself from more of what I’m doing these days, and I see myself probably sitting on boards and advising brands and sitting on boards and advising in conservation organizations, having the eye for the situation and being able to see right in this situation, this is the lever you want to pull. And in that situation, that is the lever you want to pull.

[00:39:33] And in many cases, that’s still gonna come from experience that I haven’t yet had, cuz I’m still planning to do this for another 10 or 15 years. Right? So who knows what experiences I’m gonna have between now and then and mistakes that I make, which is great. You wanna make mistakes cuz mistakes is how you learn.

[00:39:54] A.J. Lawrence: I always say you wanna make mistakes in forward planning and you wanna have mistakes in past experience, but you don’t wanna be in the middle of experiencing mistake.

[00:40:06] Ben Leonard: And somebody says to you, if you’ll look back on this, it’ll be a good learning experience. And you just say, shut up. Cause right now it sucks, right? But yeah. You wanna try and make a mistake as fast as possible so that the impact of the mistake is as small as possible. But the lesson from the mistake is big as possible.

[00:40:26] A.J. Lawrence: And sometimes those are like the best forward opportunities, as you have said multiple times, I do think come from major mistakes, just getting through them. I have one last question for you because you are talking about 10 to 15 years and then even further transitioning, boards advisory both corporate and not for profit, and yet you have one, the cutest sounding, off camera, young voices offering you cookies, right?

[00:41:00] Ben Leonard: Yeah.

[00:41:01] A.J. Lawrence: How are you as the entrepreneur, not your business interest and et cetera, but how are you as an entrepreneur defining success and how are you going to evolve that definition of success as you move forward?

[00:41:15] Ben Leonard: That is a very great question because to me, this may come across sounding corny, I guess success is that you are healthy and happy and secure. So when I sold my first brand, I made the decision to sell it because it gave us security. I didn’t have to sell it and potentially I could hold onto it and sell it for more later. But at the time, it was the right decision for me and my family.

[00:41:38] It gave us security. It was the right thing. Now I have different projects and I suppose I would define success for each of those projects differently. I have goals for what I want to achieve with the baby brand. Yes, numbers goals, but also impact goals. So that baby brand, we we’re developing products that are a 100% environmentally sustainable. Our first product is made from plastic bottles recovered from the ocean. You can see a theme here, right? Of what I’m into.

[00:42:05] A.J. Lawrence: No, that’s great.

[00:42:06] Ben Leonard: And so my goal there is to change the conversation on consumerism. Because at the moment, I think too much of our effort is placed on trying to get consumers to change their behavior, but they’re not going to. So we just need to change supply chain so that by default, products are environmentally responsible. And not enough companies are doing that yet. So I’m trying to do that with parents because we can market it that way. We can say, Hey, you wanna leave a better planet for your kids? Well, put your money where your mouth is and buy our product. Right?

[00:42:35] So success for that business is defined both on numbers goals that we’ve got, but also on changing the conversation. How do we define that? Like how do we know when we’ve changed the conversation? We’re not sure yet. Right? We’ll figure that out.

[00:42:47] On the other hand, I have other goals and I don’t know quite how you define success there. I’m launching a book later this year. I know that I want to sell a certain number of copies in the first year, and then certain number of copies in years two and three, so those are pretty easy to define. I guess what I’m trying to say is sometimes it’s easy. There are qualitative targets. Sometimes it’s more quantitative, and sometimes it’s more just a feeling. And although I have a scientific background where all is about numbers and stats, I do believe that there’s a lot to be said for just defining success on, okay, this feels good and it feels done

[00:43:22] – which is how I felt when I made the decision to sell my first brand. It wasn’t like, oh, we’ve hit this number in revenue. We’ve hit this number in profit, or we’ve hit this number in valuation. It was, okay, those numbers generally stack up. This feels right. And that’s a perfectly legitimate approach, and sometimes that’s what my clients in eCom Brokers say to me. This feels okay, and that’s fine.

[00:43:44] A.J. Lawrence: No, and that’s I think the fun. I think what would be interesting, and maybe not even answering now, but maybe in a future discussion is how are you evolving that? Because what I’ve noticed sometimes is there’s one, success breeds expectations of more success, both legitimately and then sometimes ego-based. And it’s that fine line. Like, a foundation allows you to do more. You can play in a bigger playground and et cetera, et cetera. But then sometimes, as I fell into with the last business, we were bigger, so therefore we had to do more and I had to have more of a voice, and then all of a sudden it was like I got my ass kicked and had to rebuild it brick by brick before I could sell it.

[00:44:30] So it’s like lesson learned. It’s like ego is not the best driver of future effort. But it would be interesting. Like do you look at time, the things that impact then the movement of your cultures. You have little kids. I know my business focus changed. First two children were born, they were born 20 months apart. My son started it, but definitely my daughter fulfilled. It was like, I was no longer building a quick business. I was building something that would grow and become something much bigger that could potentially be that like generational-type business.

[00:45:19] I lost track of it and I had to regroup, but that was such a big impetus. So I wonder how you look at that success cuz you are looking at that lovely qualitative and quantitative mix, if that changes over time for you. But cool thing is you’re in a great position to experience that. You’ve done so much cool things, so more experiences to be had.

[00:45:45] Ben Leonard: Yeah, I think so. And like you said, these things are dynamic and the definition of success and the goalposts and the targets are constantly changing. And that’s because life is not linear and these things don’t go in straight lines and you don’t know what curve ball might be thrown at you.

[00:46:03] A.J. Lawrence: First, for someone who has an e-commerce shop, Amazon, etc, where should they go to check out eCom Brokers?

[00:46:16] Ben Leonard: Sure. Yeah, ecombrokers.co.uk. It’s a UK domain, but we’re international. We have a deal director sitting in the US, John. He’s in Chicago and we work with clients all over the world as far away as New Zealand. So that’s ecombrokers.co.uk.

[00:46:31] You can look at my site, which is benleonard.pro. All my social handles are @benleonardpro, and if you wanna check out my YouTube channel, it’s benleonardpro/yt for YouTube.

[00:46:46] A.J. Lawrence: All right, cool. Well, Ben, thank you. Personally, I had to almost force myself not to be like, as you were talking, start writing notes earlier. But thank you for sharing your experience. There’s so many cool things you’re playing in and it’s such that sometimes it feels like, oh, everyone’s doing this. Yet, as you mentioned, when you take that step back, you realize we are so early into what is happening and what is possible.

[00:47:23] Ben Leonard: Oh yeah.

[00:47:23] A.J. Lawrence: Thank you so much for sharing with us today. That was very cool.

[00:47:28] Ben Leonard: Really enjoyed our chat.

[00:47:29] A.J. Lawrence: I’m gonna have to get you back on and maybe we can dive into some of this, into deeper details.

[00:47:34] Ben Leonard: Yeah, that would be fun.

[00:47:35] A.J. Lawrence: Thank you. All right everyone. Thank you so much everyone for listening and we’ll have some more stuff coming soon. All right. Talk of everyone soon. Bye.

[00:47:48] This episode of Beyond 8 Figures is over, but your journey as an entrepreneur continues. So if we can help you with anything, please just let us know. And if you liked this episode, please share it with someone who might learn from it. Until next time, keep growing and find the joy in your journey. This is A.J., and I’ll be talking to you soon. Bye-bye.

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