In today's episode Idan based in Israel joins us to share how he was able to build a 7 figure ecommerce business selling on Amazon.com when English is his second language.
Idan has an interesting approach to the way he picks the products for his business and the relationships he builds with his suppliers as he shared in this episode. The amazing part about Idan's business is that he leverages the skills of others he's hired through UpWork to help with the aspects of his business that he isn't an expert on such as product listing creation. When English isn't your native language it doesn't have to be burden for you to get started selling on Amazon.com and as Idan shows it can in fact be a strength.
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Get involved and ask a question about selling on Amazon and Chris may answer your question live on a future episode of Sellercast. Also, if you think you'd be a good guest for the Sellercast podcast feel free to tell us more about you and your company here.
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Intro: Hello everyone, Chris Guthrie here, host of Sellercast. And in today’s episode, I speak with Idan, who’s currently based in Israel, has been selling on Amazon since the middle of 2014, so about a year and a half as of this recording. And he’s got a seven-figure ecommerce business. He’s been selling about $90,000 per month on Amazon. And after we finished our recording, he actually mentioned he was shooting for $200,000 per month by the end of the year. So he’s doing very well. And the great part is that English is his second language. So he leverages the talents of others, specifically people that are based in the U.S., to help with his listing creation, some content writing for him, and everything else like that, so he can focus on his strengths that he brings to the business, such as finding new products to expand and grow it. So overall, I really enjoyed this conversation with Idan. And if you aren’t yet using the talents of others to help grow your business, you’re trying to do everything yourself, hopefully, this will inspire you to consider working towards that direction. All right, let’s start the show.
Chris Guthrie: Hello everyone, and Chris Guthrie here, host of Sellercast. And in today’s episode, I have Idan, all the way from Israel, on the show. Thank you so much for joining us.
Idan: Most welcome. Thanks for being here.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, it’s great. I’m excited that you’re here and thankful that you’re able to make the time zone shift and you’re here live. So let’s get into this. We’ve already talked about your name. How long have you been selling on Amazon for?
Idan: I’ve been an Amazon seller for seven years now.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. I’m sure we’ll get to it, but what were you doing before you started selling on Amazon? I want to come back to your Amazon sales experience and talk about that a little bit as well. But what were you doing before you started selling on Amazon?
Idan: I finished my masters degree in Australia back in 2007. And me and my wife were keen to come back to our paradise in Israel to raise our future kids. In Israel, I worked as a content manager for a well-established publisher in central Israel. But since me and my wife prefer the rural lifestyle over the urban lifestyle, we decided to move back to my birthplace. It’s a small town, Kibbutz, in northern Israel just by the Sea of Galilee. One of the projects running for that company was to establish their e-commerce business. And this is actually how I was introduced to Amazon.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. So your work experience led you to some exposure to Amazon’s platform. So that’s kind of how you got into doing it for yourself, eventually.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. So then is that what made you decide to start selling on Amazon, like you saw that there was potential because you were working on it for that company? Or is there something else that kind of triggered you to get going?
Idan: I started to sell on Amazon for that company. But at one point I was not comfortable with the long hours I spent on the road, driving from where I live now to central Israel. So I had to find something that will make me income without the need to drive for hours for work and then back. So I opened the merchant account on Amazon and eBay, with the hope that this will be a secondary income for me. A few years later, today, Amazon is my only source of income, independently.
Chris Guthrie: That’s fantastic. We’ll talk about your sales numbers as we get along here. For how many years now that you’ve been selling on Amazon full-time?
Idan: Full-time, five years, but really started to make serious money just in the last one and a half years.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great, okay, cool. So then if you’ve been selling on Amazon for that long a period of time, I’ve got to assume that you were doing other things besides just selling private-label products. Were you also re-selling other products?
Idan: Yeah, well, I used to have over 7000 listings on Amazon. I used to resale products using drop-shipping services, and income was just not enough. Only after I joined a course one and a half years ago, income became serious. Today I still have over 600 listings, but only 10 private-label listings are making more than 97 percent of my entire Amazon business income.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. So 10 private-label listings doing vast majority. Have you thought about just trying to get rid of those other listings as well? Or is it just an inventory thing where you just have them and you’re letting them slowly sell out, and then you’ll be done with those?
Idan: I got rid of most of my previous listings. I just kept the listings that are sold by a reliable merchant that I can trust to ship on time and everything. But all those drop-shipping listings are time-consuming because I have to check all the time what’s going on with the packages and everything. Therefore, now I’m trying to sell only using fulfillment by Amazon.
Chris Guthrie: So as you move forward into this 2016 year, are you looking at potentially shutting those listings down over time or not? I guess it just kind of depends on if you can get them switched over to FBA.
Idan: I’m not going to switch them to FBA because the volume is not great, but still going to keep it because I have drop-ship suppliers that are very reliable, and they ship on time, and everything is good. So basically, I don’t want to touch it. It’s an extra $300 a month. So I don’t want to touch it, just keep it there.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, okay. So what are the goals for your business? You’ve been exposed to the platform selling on Amazon years ago, but now you’ve been doing this full-time on Amazon or have been selling full-time for the last five years. And Amazon is your primary income source for roughly the last year and a half. But what are your goals for this business then?
Idan: Look, the main reason I started this e-commerce business was because I don’t like to live in the city. And I had to find a creative way to make some money without giving up on the lifestyle I wanted for me and my family. So today I’m doing this for a reason, actually. One is being able to spend more time with my family. I have a wife and four young kids. The youngest is a one-year-old. The oldest is an eight-year-old.
The second reason is to be able to live anywhere in the world without the need to be close to where I actually work. The third reason is being able to travel with my family and still take care of my business. For example, this year, from mid April to mid May, I’m going to take my family to Italy, to a small village in southern Italy. We’re going to Santa Maria di Castellabate.
And the fourth reason is for the money. My main goal is to live the lifestyle that I wish for myself and for my family. It gives me a lot of independence. I think independence is my main goal.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. So you’re doing well. You’ve been selling now for a while. How much time do you spend on your Amazon business every week, not that it’s your full-time thing? And then maybe you can talk about some of the parts that take up the most time for you.
Idan: Yeah, well, currently I spend about 30 hours a week on my Amazon business alone. I can tell you that 80 percent of the time is dedicated for business development, like finding new products, being inspired by other Amazon businesses, to educate myself with Amazon’s readings etc. So about 30 hours a week is what I spend in this business. And all the rest is spent on my family. It’s demanding.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, that’s four kids, I’m sure. So 80 percent of your time on business development. So you’re still primarily focused on just growing your overall business size. Is there a point where you feel like that time might switch to more maintenance mode? Or do you feel like because the market is always evolving and changing, you need to be able to launch more products a lot. And that’s kind of the goal, just keep making sure you have new products. So are you still going to keep that split on your time, 80 percent of it going to business development?
Idan: Yes, yes. I think it’s not about the quantity. It’s about the quality. So I’m trying to find the right product to work well for me. I really like the fact that I spend 80 percent of the time on business development. If the product is not good and it sells well, then 50 percent of the time will go on customer service. And I don’t think customer service is my goal. So I’m really trying to find reliable and good products that will meet expectations of the customers, to provide them all the data that they need to know about my products and everything. So I’ll be focused on finding new products rather than taking care of problems or logistics issues, things like that. So yeah, 80 percent of my time is spent on finding new products and being inspired by other Amazon businesses.
Chris Guthrie: I like that. So it’s really very much focused on… You want to make sure you get the right products – I love that part – so that you don’t want to sell a product that you end up having to do a bunch of customer service work because that’ll mess up your time where you have a split like this. And that’s how you’ve been able to get to those products as you have now. So that’s great.
Okay, let’s talk about your order volume then, maybe the size of your business. Did you time commitment increase linearly as you added more sales? How did things look as you grew? You have 10 products now, but where are you at today? And can you talk us through a little bit how that worked along the way?
Idan: Yeah, today I’m running a one-million-dollar business annually. It’s roughly $90,000 a month. I have to tell you, it’s less demanding than my previous drop-shipping $150,000-a-year business. If you do things correctly with fulfillment by Amazon, then more sales is not necessarily more work.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. So $90,000 a month roughly now and less work than you had. I’m assuming that would be the case. I think you mentioned 6000 listings before you were doing drop-shipping.
Idan: Yes, at one point, I even had 7000. But there’s a lot of variation in things like that. I used to sell a lot of oil paintings. And I used to sell a lot of gun holsters. So there was variation. But it’s not a quantity of the listings. I mean I had 7000 listings, and I had a $150,000-a-year business. Today I have a one-million-dollar-a-year business. And it’s less demanding, and I have a lot of time to invest back in my business, rather than doing customer service and checking all the time what’s going on with my orders and what’s going on with the products etc.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. What were some of the biggest mistakes that you made along the way? You can talk about your past experience. You can talk about now when you’re doing private labeling. And maybe you can share what you’ve learned from those mistakes as well.
Idan: The first thing I have to say is do not waste your time doing drop-shipping. I mean it’s good. It’s fun. If you find the right supplier or provider, it’s okay. It’s excellent. But if you want to take it to the next step ... And really, the basics in everything in life are learned from the people who know what they’re doing. Don’t be alone in this business. Always ask questions. The owners of many e-commerce businesses are trying to do everything alone. They become loners. I know a few that became loners. They tried to struggle with many, many tools. But the main thing is to learn from people, know what they’re doing, and always get the right consultant when needed. And that’s it, ask, ask, and ask other people.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. Let’s talk a little bit about you’ve discussed earlier some of the strategies that you used for finding products and how a lot of the time you spend on business development. And you’re using that time to try and find products that are really good, that aren’t going to end up taking a lot of customer support time once you start selling them. So I think that part was interesting.
What about when it comes to some of the other particulars of finding products? Do you have a specific category that you’d like to sell in? You don’t have to mention if it’s a category in which you’re selling or not or anything like that. But is there a specific BSR range, anything else that you can talk about?
Idan: I can tell you that personally, I’m a great fan of home improvements. I pick up only those products that I believe to have the potential to be good for the customers. When I’m trying to search products for a specific keyword, I think that the main products for the specific keyword should be in the range of 1000 to 2000. Secondly, the sales should be in 3000-6000 Best Seller (BSR) range.
Chris Guthrie: Okay. Is there anything else that you do when you come up with those? Are you only looking at those three metrics? Or are you looking at other types of things when you’re trying to decide on new products? Since you spend so much of your time looking at new products, what else are you doing when it comes to looking on Amazon? Or is it really just a lot of it coming down to, okay, now that you’re in that category, you’re looking at just everything possible?
Idan: Yeah, everything is possible. And as I told you before, I’m looking for products that will not require me to provide a lot of customer service. I mean this is one of the main things. So first I’m trying to see what products are doing well on Amazon, based on the Best Sellers Rank. And then I’m trying to see what products will be reliable and will be useful. If it’s a product that is actually used on a daily basis, then I think it’s very important as well – products that people use all year round and not seasonal products. That’s it. That’s mainly it.
Chris Guthrie: So what made you decide in this category? Were there other categories that you tried out before, and then you eventually stumbled upon and just started to focus on this one? And then maybe as a follow-up, are there categories that you tried before or just from your experience in the past that you recommend others to avoid?
Idan: I think electronics should be avoided because you don’t want a product that has a short lifespan in terms of technology. But if you find something in that category that doesn’t require customer service or an update every now and then, then it’s okay to go. All categories are good. I also sell a lot in the outdoors category.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, that’s great. That was one question I actually had. Are you only focused on the one category? Just now you mentioned you’re focused on two different categories.
Idan: Yeah, currently I’m selling home improvements and sports and outdoors.
Chris Guthrie: Okay. And then how are you distinguishing your products from your competitors’?
Idan: Well, I’m trying not to look at what my competitors are doing. I’m trying to look at myself. I’m trying to be the best in what I’m doing. I’m selling something. I’m trying to sell the product that I know will be good for my customers, will give good value for the money, and that will meet the customer’s expectations. That’s it.
Chris Guthrie: If you’re still focused on finding products and making sure that they’re high-quality – since that’s really been the recurring theme of the conversation we’ve been having – you’re obviously going to be spending a good chunk of your time sourcing products and getting a lot of samples. Are you using Alibaba? Or do you have other types of sourcing strategies? And what do you do when you’re trying to find these reliable suppliers?
Idan: I think I’m just trying to speak with them first. I think a conversation is the best way to assess the manufacturer that I’m after. I talk with them, I ask for samples, and that’s it. Most of my products go to my photographer before I get it, and that’s only if I need to ship them to Israel so I can touch them. But I think I have a good quality control, even if I’m not having the products with me.
Chris Guthrie: Interesting. Is your photographer based in China then?
Idan: No, in the U.S.
Chris Guthrie: Okay, so you have the samples still sent to the U.S. But then your photographer can check them.
Idan: Yes, it is so that I can see the product in good resolution. And this is the photographer that I trust. And we have a relationship that goes beyond. He’s not only my photographer; he’s also my quality assurance executive.
Chris Guthrie: You don’t have to share who your photographer is or anything like that, but how did you actually find your photographer? Was it just connection through a friend, and that’s how you found him? Or was it a photographer service that you tried out? And then you asked them if they could also help with some of the quality control, just to look and see what the products look like as well?
Idan: Most of my staff, most of my working group, I find them on Upwork, what used to be Elance. I found my copywriter there. I found my video editor over there. And during the time, if I think they’re good, and if we find a new way to work together, then I consider them to be my team.
Chris Guthrie: That’s good. I like that. Not a lot of people talk about using Upwork to find people that can help with their business. Well, they don’t mention it as much on this show, I suppose. But that’s great.
What are some of the learning experiences that you came across when you’ve been working with these different suppliers?
Idan: Well, most of the suppliers, it’s very basic. I tell them what I need, and we just have a small conversation about the quantities and expectations. And it’s very straightforward. If I give it a go, then most of the time, it’s a product that I’m going to stick with. I never had a mistake or something. So it’s a business relationship with them.
Trust is a key factor. You cannot buy it. American suppliers tend not to trust me for my foreign accent when I give them the first call. But after a few months, with the growing purchases, they trust any word I utter from my mouth. Really, in the very start, it was hard for me because English is not my first language. When I speak with American suppliers, for example, it’s very hard to build a trust over the phone. But now I give them examples and references of other companies that I’m purchasing from on a monthly basis. And it’s easier for me today. But trust is something that should be built over time.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. Now that you’ve been working with other companies, you’re able to then just say, “Hey, can you voucher me for this other company? Because I’m looking at working with them as well.” How many different primary suppliers are you working with now? And are you always looking for new suppliers? Or are you trying to just get more products from the suppliers that you have at this point?
Idan: Well, that’s a good question. I’m not trying to find new suppliers all the time. I’m trying to find new products all the time. There is one supplier that happens to manufacture in a niche that is very desirable for me. And therefore, I have six different SKUs from the same supplier. So when that happens, it’s like a gold mine, i.e. if you find a supplier that can manufacture many products for you. So I think also, finding the right supplier is a gold mine, really. If you find a good supplier, you want him to be able to manufacture according to your specifications and as many SKUs as you can.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. How are you controlling the quality? It sounds like you have your photographer in the U.S. that’s able to look at them. Are you using any other types of inspection services? Or is it just the photographer that helps with some of the quality-control check?
Idan: I also read reviews if it’s on Alibaba. I think the reviews are very helpful. Also, I’m trying to find the same products that I find in Alibaba. I’ve tried to find the same products on eBay or Amazon or other e-commerce websites to get the idea about their quality by reading the buyers’ reviews. But sometimes I just trust the manufacturer and trust the specifications. And I send the products to Amazon. And then I trust Amazon’s buyers and reviewers. For example, if there is a product that I used to get bad reviews on, I neglect it. And I try to find a better version or a different product.
Chris Guthrie: I like that. That’s a cool strategy where you’re able to find the products that are being offered on Alibaba, then find them being sold on Amazon, and look at the reviews to see…
Idan: Yes, if you don’t have to stick to large quantities, then I think this is actually a very smart way to assess your product.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, okay. Let’s talk about some of the launch strategies. You launched your first product in the middle of 2014, right? Or is it 2015? No, you’ve been selling for a year and a half, so yeah.
Idan: Yeah, it is July 2014 when I launched my first product.
Chris Guthrie: Then what strategies did you use to try and launch it? Then maybe how has that strategy changed now that you’re launching newer products and you’ve got 10 now?
Idan: In the beginning, I really tried any possible trick I knew or a trick that I’ve been taught. I’m talking about using Amazon ads, Facebook ads, social network campaigns, email tools, promotion tools, press releases, giveaways, and everything, really. But now I have a contact list of Amazon top reviewers that are purchasing my products for review with promo codes. And I use an email tool, a promotion tool, URL booster tool that I found. Mainly, those are the tools. I tend not to use all the tools. I’m trying to use just a few tools and to be good at them.
Chris Guthrie: Great. So what are some of the other challenges that you’ve run into when you’ve been trying to build this business? I think that the experiences you’ve had from selling in the past and also managing so many different listings have prepared you well for being able to sell just 10 products and have them do the bulk of your million-dollar business in sales. But what are some of the problems you’ve run into that you might be able to share with others so they can keep that on their mind as they go along?
Idan: The main problem, I think, in this business is to be in stock. I’m still learning how not to be out of stock. It’s almost impossible if you are dealing with limited budget because what happens naturally is that on Amazon, if a product sells well, then you know that the next order should be larger. It happens sometimes that I launch a product and it does even better than I thought it would. And then I’m out of stock because I’m not going to buy a lot of … is to make sure that you’re always in stock.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, okay. It’s always a similar problem I hear when I talk to people that are selling. If you’re doing well, if that’s the problem you’re having, then that’s a good problem to have – where the primary problem is just not running out of stock.
Do you have anyone working with you at this point of time? You’re doing $90,000 a month or so now in sales. So do you have anyone else that’s helping you out besides your photographer?
Idan: Yeah, just getting the photographer is an example for how I do my quality assurance. My wife is a webmaster, is a designer. And she’s my accountant, actually. In addition, as I told you before, I use Upwork, previously known as Elance, to find locational freelancer. Currently, my freelancer team includes a talented photographer, a copywriter, a video editor, and a content writer. So I have this team along with my wife that are helping me run my business.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. You mentioned before that English is your second language. So the content writer that you hire, as you hire through Upwork, did they help you with the listings that you create as well, just to double-check the English?
Idan: Yes, I found a very good copywriter. I just give him the specifications of the product. I give him an insight of what is the competition and what are the highlights of the products. And he builds the listings. And then he writes the draft, and I go over it. And I give him corrections, until we get to the right content.
Chris Guthrie: Oh yeah. I said content writer, but I meant to say copywriter. But that’s okay. So that’s how you’re able to help come over that barrier. I think that’s inspiring that you’re based in Israel. You’re selling in the U.S. When you need freelancers, you hire through Upwork. And then they help fill in the gaps where your skills lack. Or you just don’t want to focus your time on that.
Idan: Yeah, absolutely. I think that is very good for me to know my limits. I know that I’m not speaking good English, and I will never be a good copywriter in English. I mean in Hebrew, I’m perfect. People can hire me. But since I’m not selling on Amazon in Hebrew, so I always prefer other people to do the professional work for me.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, that’s great. We’re close to wrapping up here, but I wanted to ask just a few other things you have at the time. I do want to ask you too if you’re using creating any websites for your brand. Do you have a website for your brand? Or are you just currently focused on Amazon?
Idan: I have two websites for two different brands.
Chris Guthrie: Okay, great. Are those driving any sales right now? Or are they just mainly there for branding purposes, in case people search for your brands on Google?
Idan: Currently, my website is being used only for Checkout by Amazon. But it’s a good place for my customers to go and find all the information they need, to find the database they need, to read the news. But the checkout is by Amazon alone.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. And then I guess the only other question I have is if there’s anything else that you wanted to add to wrap things up.
Idan: I think that my advice to other sellers is not to be alone. If they need any information, they should ask. They should also always learn from other people. And the beautiful thing about this business is that there are so many talented people out there. Use their skills. I don’t know how to write a good listing, but I know someone who writes amazing listings. I don’t know how to take a photo, but there is someone else who’s doing that for me. So actually, I’m a manager of many freelancers. And this is how I built my business now. I’m not trying to do things on my own. I’m trying to hire the right people to do it for me.
Chris Guthrie: That’s an excellent takeaway. So if you’re listening here, and right now you’re still doing everything in your business, take it from Idan and don’t continue doing everything yourself. So thank you again so much for coming on and sharing with us.
Idan: Yeah, thank you so much for having me, Chris.
Outro: All right, and that was the episode with Idan. I think I’d like to just reiterate what Idan had to say throughout the conversation, i.e. he’s leveraging the skills of others that he’s hired through Upwork to make up skill gaps that he doesn’t have himself. And I think that even if you can do everything in your business, you really shouldn’t be doing everything in your business. So you’ve probably heard it before, but if you’re in that space right now, this could be another call for you to get going and trying to get serious about hiring people to help grow your business.
So hopefully, you enjoyed this conversation. And if you have been enjoying these, please leave us a review by going to Sellercast.com/itunes. You can leave us a review there. If you’re listening somewhere else, leave us a review on that platform as well. And thank you again so much for tuning in. And we will see you on the next episode.