Ep. #1145 - Scaling Globally Tips for Success
In today’s episode of Startup Hustle, join Andrew Morgans and Stef van Boekel, Founder and CEO of Marketplace Distri. They talk about tips for success in scaling globally and why businesses need to think internationally. Listen to the challenges they encountered in overseas Ecommerce logistics. Also, they share why entrepreneurs should learn to embrace changes and see the margins.
Covered In This Episode
Scaling an ecommerce business globally can get pretty complicated. Marketplace Distri offers seller and vendor management services for Amazon and B2B e-commerce marketplaces.
Listen to Andrew and Stef as they discuss why scaling is the key for any business, how to think internationally, and expansion opportunities. They also exchange their experiences with the challenges of ecommerce in the US, especially during the pandemic. The key takeaways of the conversation center around embracing the changes and knowing the margins.
So what are you waiting for? Join the conversation in this Startup Hustle episode now.
- Steph’s entrepreneurial journey (2:44)
- How he got started in Ecommerce (7:34)
- The opportunity for international expansion (11:26)
- Thinking International (13:55)
- The challenges of Ecommerce in the US (20:18)
- Logistics and customer experience challenges (22:47)
- How Marketing Distri came to be (25:28)
- The uphill battle of going scaling globally (33:42)
- You need a team for Ecommerce (35:57)
- The pandemic and other challenges (37:09)
- Embracing the changes and knowing the margins (38:48)
- Scaling is the key in any business (43:19)
- Where to follow and contact Stef (47:58)
Most people, they just jump into a business, because whatever they got familiar with the work of the company can be stopped, they want to continue or whatever. If you have a certain expertise, you’re sort of creating your own SWOT analysis and your own funnel. Nowadays, when a business opportunity comes by, you run it by your own secretaria funnel. So you start recognizing, and I recognize the risk and recognized opportunity.Stef van Boekel
A lot of learning is by doing or you learn little bits and pieces as you go as an agency. You get all these opportunities because of the different brands you’re working with. You know, where are they and what are they doing and, you know, getting to kind of like win or lose on their dime, you know, as you learn as they’re pushing you to try new things.Andrew Morgans
I love getting away a little bit from the gamification of things in regards to just like, Okay, if I do PVC on this keyword, and then I switch it here. Now, let’s just sell the best products, you know, with the best stories, the best content, the best Whenever there’s a challenge, like it’s cliche, but that is the opportunity. If you’re looking for opportunities, well, when things are changing, and things getting harder is the opportunity you’re looking for.Andrew Morgans
I think scalability is the key in any business concept. You need to look at creating leverage, leverage, leverage, leverage, leverage. So I think that should be fun. 2% of your time is looking at your business where you’re able to scale it because when you can scale it, you can make some money, if you don’t scale, if you don’t create leverage, you’re gonna work as hard today, or next week, or in two years. So now you need to start creating leverage, then you’re gonna create some value for yourself and value also for your company, and you’re gonna be able to also see progress on all angles.Stef van Boekel
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Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!
Andrew Morgans 00:00
Hey, what’s up Hustlers. Welcome back. This is Andrew Morgans, founder of Marknology, here as today’s host of Startup Hustle. Today we’re going to be talking about scaling globally and tips for success. And before I introduce today’s guest, today’s episode of Startup Hustle is powered by FullScale.io. Hiring software developers is difficult, Full Scale can help you build a software team quickly and affordably and has the platform to help you manage that team. Visit fullscale.io. To learn more. Today’s guests, we actually met in through partnership within within our agencies, and we’re just discussing, you know, the best ways to bring brands overseas international scale, scaling internationally. And just picking each other’s brain really talking about how we can help and service our brands the best and I knew I needed to get him on the show so we could get to know him a little bit better. And really just talk about the opportunity that is out there for brands to scale International. So without further ado, Stef, welcome to the show.
Stef van Boekel 00:58
Thanks, Andrew. Nice to Nice to be here. I’m happy to talk to all those Hustlers out there grinding every morning. I mean, every night trying to make some money. I’ve been there, done that still doing that. So it’s cool to be guest in this also local cost
Andrew Morgans 01:16
Stef is tuning in tonight from the Netherlands. And is actually it’s 9:30pm there so thanks for being on the show. I know our listeners love getting a you know a lot of the guests that ecommerce is able to pull in from all over the world because ecommerce is something that unites a lot of us, you know, it’s something that you can be doing it in the UK or the EU or the Netherlands or, or Australia or Canada, US a lot of the same strategies. You know, bring us together the network’s really, really pretty small when you get get around to it. So, Stef, you’re with a company called Marketplace Distri. Am I pronouncing that right? Are you guys? Correct? Okay. I like to get it right. You know, do my best to try to try to pronounce things right. And I already avoided…
Stef van Boekel 02:02
You avoided pronouncing my name already. Good. So that’s the biggest achievement.
Andrew Morgans 02:06
Okay. Okay. Stef van Boekel. Okay, we’re close. So, no, you know, Marketplace Distri. Before, we will get into that a little bit later, but really an agency that helps us Amazon sellers and brands really expand internationally and into Europe. But like myself, I’m sure you have a story and how you got into this type of position, helping Amazon brands and helping them scale? Where does your entrepreneurial journey start? Like, did you come out of uni, knowing you are going to be a businessman or a marketer, or like, you know, how did you fall into the Amazon world? Where’s your where’s your journey began?
Stef van Boekel 02:44
Well, it didn’t start with Amazon. Surely also not going to end up with Amazon. Actually, my I was not too ambitious. When I was young at school, I was not, let’s say, you know, doing too well, let’s say with almost at the moment, I don’t know, something tweeted me and I became ambitious. But mostly not. Actually, it’s actually a fun story. It wasn’t as full of
Andrew Morgans 03:13
talent as detailed as possible. It’s
Stef van Boekel 03:15
a little bit a little bit embarrassed, but I was like 20, and then a friend of mine got in a network marketing and business. And from that moment on, I thought, okay, apparently everybody can make money, I can also drive a Ferrari. And that’s sort of sparks something. And that basically never run away. Now, 20 years later, let’s say or 80 years later, never made any money in that business. Like basically nobody, but at least stimulated me to start thinking and started my own business. And first business actually launched was a tree nursery. Okay, so a friend of mine, and with whoever was in school international business, he wanted to start a tree nursery and I just basically said, Okay, let’s, let’s join, and
Andrew Morgans 04:05
What year was this? What year was this?
Stef van Boekel 04:06
This was, I think, 2006 something like that, around that area. So that was actually the first business but the business actually I saw like a big accident or something that doesn’t have work with the genius who basically you you grow trees, and and after certain years, they are mature enough to be sold against a higher price. So basically, you sell out. But what I didn’t like about the business was not scalable. It was very labor intensive job at the AVI know, when the sun was shining, you need to go out there, making sure that the fields were valid, let’s say and so it was a very labor intensive job. It also keeps you very local, unable to move. So, obviously, ecommerce has always been The reputation that you can do whenever ever in any form of shape. So then shortly after that I actually went into the E commerce business. I’ve been in the marketplace industry already for for 12 years.
Andrew Morgans 05:14
Okay. Okay, so talk to me about the tree nursery. Had you ever worked with plants or trees? Or like, you know, some of the stories, so you’re just like, Okay, I’m gonna start a business. Yeah, well,
Stef van Boekel 05:28
he knew, and I just wanted to work. So I didn’t really basically, if he said, I basically didn’t get what I was just, I just saw an opportunity to make some money. And so didn’t have any preference also did because I think I was actually discussing it a few days ago with actually also CEO of one of a very large ecommerce company in Southeast Asia. Most people, they just jump into a business, because whatever they got familiar with the work that the company can be stopped, they want to continue or whatever. If you have a certain expertise, you’re sort of creating your own SWOT analysis and your own funnel. Nowadays, when business opportunity comes by, you run it by your own secretaria funnel. So you start recognizing, and I recognize the risk and recognized opportunity, can I protect the margins? Is the business that I like, do I have the right capabilities to get there? Is that a need? Do I want to find those capabilities, so also a certain years of experience, you’re much better position to start judging where and how you can make money. And also, it’s also recognizable in the reviews and the margins you’re making? Or year over year? In the beginning, when you start working as a business? Basically, nobody makes money? Or one year, yes. Or the year? No. But if after a certain number of years, you start to recognize, okay, and starting having one year old, you have one year officer record, okay, I have no five years all on one year, of course, obviously, and that no business is always going to be profitable, right? It’s almost impossible. I think that’s the learning curve that you that you go through
Andrew Morgans 07:19
100% Okay, so the tree nursery business is done. You’re moving on if you’re thinking ecommerce, because you want geographical freedom, you want to be able to move around and not be localized. Me,
Stef van Boekel 07:34
it actually started that was quite interesting. I was working in a company in sales. And that was one of the investors was a trader. So like, he was buying bulk stuff for your company goes bankrupt, he buys down some old stock and sells it and, and I was actually a client of Groupon and a lighter product. So I was telling a friend and a friend says why don’t you just put on my coupon? My note. So basically, I called coupon and said, Hey, bag, gang coupon, keep in mind was a daily deal site where you can only get activities, right? Only if I gain or experience exactly, that on a certain moment, they launched one product per day. That’s it. Nowadays, there are vendors, it’s a marketplace. So basically call them and say okay, I have a product that was a air purifier. Are you interested in buying it? And then they said, Yeah, we can. But you are responsible for the logistics and customer support and the landing page. Okay, she I don’t have the experience. But I mean, how difficult can it be?
Andrew Morgans 08:41
How hard can it be? Yeah, exactly.
Stef van Boekel 08:43
So basically, so they put the proposal line and my wife came back from work. And my apartment was a warehouse. That’s, that’s how I got rolled into it. Then I immediately also started the improvements active in the Netherlands, but also in Germany, France, Italy, Spain. So I thought I was not thinking about all the complexity with the Internet. So I just called also faulted in Spain. And they said, Yeah, why not? You were successful in the analysis. Why don’t you also sell it in all the other countries. And that’s basically how the whole international operational setup started.
Andrew Morgans 09:24
As you navigated kind of just like how to ship how to handle the logistics like how to get set up in those countries to sell. It really started with Groupon.
Stef van Boekel 09:33
Groupon, I was actually for for two years, I was one of Groupon Europe, one of the largest providers. So what I basically did, and that was quite interesting given I look back, and he deals a 24 hour deal. And our viewpoint needs to be to be transparent. So I was constantly continuously scouting for brands and products that that on one hand, I could get lost. vanities will get good payment terms, and also get a good discount. But obviously you need to go have give big discounts to 2%. And to discount that apartment to Groupon. So you started becoming, let’s say quite quickly picking the feet when it comes to convincing brands to start thinking internationally started investing. So that also helped me gaining knowledge in how to steer brands also start thinking International.
Andrew Morgans 10:32
For me, you know, I’ve been in the Amazon space 12 years, was was one of the very first even in a roundtable at Amazon, and they’re in Seattle, for international brands. Amazon sellers are selling internationally, I had one brand. At the end of it, we started about 500,000 a year, we ended up at like 17 million across all of our Amazon channels. We were in 11 different countries. So you know, very early on was looking for opportunities and ways to expand some because of just the clients I was like this particular client I was working with was open to it, we only had three skews with no real barrier wasn’t like a food item or something like that. It was like it was a cleaning product. So it was hot, great reviews, good price point. And expanding internationally just made sense. We were on Canada before there was a unified account, that created a nightmare for anyone that knows Amazon just having separate and old grandfathered in Canada account, things like that. But I saw early on early, early on the opportunity for international expansion on Amazon, and the options it gives you and the ability to try things on your US account because you have stability and these other accounts, you know, you can be just more maneuverable and try things. And so, you know, obviously as the aggregators have come in the Amazon space, anyone that knows our arena that we play in, you know, if you’re if they’re talking to a US brand, they’re they’re thinking, okay, what are the opportunities, and a lot of that is internationalization. Right. But that was something I knew way before, just from having a taste of it seasonality in Australia, for like, you know, winter brands here, it was a different seasonality. The German market was a big one, you know, just just launching there. And in the early days, you could just send product to Germany or the UK, and it would, you know, distribute across. But these were things like that, for me. I knew way, way before I knew how to communicate it. Like I knew it was a great opportunity, I just couldn’t speak to all of the different things that went into like VAT and taxes. And, you know, things were changing fast where I think at one point in Germany or UK, you could just ship right into FBA. And then soon after you had to have a warehouse, you had to have a business there, changed a lot of things, a lot of pivots. And not to take us down a rabbit hole. But just like, you know, a lot of learning is by doing or you learn little bits and pieces as you go as an agency you get you get all these opportunities, because of the different brands you’re working with. You know, where are they and what are they doing and you know, getting to kind of like win or lose on their dime, you know, as you learn as they’re pushing you to try new things. So I was definitely a Groupon customer. Back in the day, like I love Groupon. Talk to me how like, you know, just a little bit of the details how it went from a warehouse in your, in your apartment, you know, with your wife or girlfriend at the time, and that’s your wife at the time. To You know, now you’re selling in these Groupons of these different countries around you and maybe even trying to get us product into Europe to sell on Groupon, I’m not sure. Talk to me how that started to evolve for you.
Stef van Boekel 13:55
Well, you touch already some very interesting topics. The old, the thing she’s discussing, a lot of people don’t really understand is that Amazon, Netherlands, Amazon, UK and Germany amazon.com is still the same platform with the same type of consumers. But let 99% of Amazon sellers in the US don’t sell on a Pan European level. That’s crazy 99% I believe in that a business should be run without boss, and that are going to answer your question. But I think it’s a really interesting thing to really understand. Before the internet long, long, long, long time ago. If you had a business, you would have a company for example, selling TVs, and you were selling TVs in one city. And if there will be a competitor sitting 50 kilometers further or let’s say 100 kilometers further, no issue because you could just start doing your own area than Internet game. And then there was one entrepreneur that was smarter and that was basically removing all the clients from all those brands, because he they were he was smarter than the rest. So you’re competitive field and lost quite quickly because he didn’t look at the competitors and, and 50 miles area we’re looking at, you know, hundreds of miles area. But nowadays, the businesses that are much more operational solutions to start thinking because both so now you have a global competitive fields. So and that’s I think a big shift that we are on are now recognized specifically or in Europe is that you can be a local hero, but it’s temporary, if you don’t start investing immediately or international level, on a certain moment, you’re gonna get eaten away by the big place. Because if you start working internationally, you’re going to generate more resources, and along with more resources over time is gone. But just as a small point, and I also want to touch the aggregator field, a very interesting field. So how does it basically go. So I immediately started thinking international because I had a good relationship with Groupon, Groupon was active in multiple countries. The difficulty with coupon is this is just a 24 hour deal. So you make money for 24 hours. And then you know, the next days you have nothing, you have to fight complex to start continuously find the new Trump product. And then obviously, there are competitors. And it was just one deal. So you can imagine it was quite a hassle. That if a product was successful in one country, they are most of the times also successful and the other countries, so it was more easy to find one product and then just started launching it in 10 different countries. So to give a bit of an insight, the consumer in general wants to have a local experience, then the consumer has the idea that buying something outside the country is going to impact the conversion rate, the customer experience, etc. So that you learn through the hard lessons, let’s say that you learn through to experience
Andrew Morgans 17:07
I would say not to interrupt, but I just to add some color, I would say like the one exception to that, at least as a US guy that orders from internationally is oftentimes I might get a custom product from Etsy or something like that from your like, and that for me is like a, this is a custom made thing from Europe, it’s more like actually see that as a positive. And I’m willing to buy it without it being local or like Made in USA, because I’m like it’s a custom item from Europe. It’s unique, I can’t get it here. It’s something special that I want. Anything else I think falls under that bucket of what you’re saying this like I get a little bit this. In franchised with something that’s International, if it’s coming from China, or it’s coming from somewhere else, and I could get it locally, I’m going to try to get it locally.
Stef van Boekel 17:57
So it’s true, you need to be revealed like and love to prod and then the experience that is crafted in a certain area, you get a sort of romantic idea. But van is not that emotional by then you look at more practicality and then you just basically get scared to be like our product can ever turn it cannot contact the customer support. Do they have a bank account where I can transfer money to a sniper for adults, specifically, when you focus on the mass market, you want to avoid such stinking so involved quite quickly from that. So but nowadays, you can go from Java to large, for example, to UPS or DHL. And you say I want to have an international logistical contract. Back then that was impossible. So I need to fly to Paris to talk to La post I flew to UK to talk to Royal Mail, I flew to Scandinavia to talk to bring and basically you make local arrangements. But then also you learn that per country, the service level is completely different. And just to give you a very simple on practicals shitty example, I made an agreement to bring and bring it to them the largest local shipping contract company, but I didn’t really look at the terms. So one of the terms was that they the newest post office doesn’t have to be closer than 100 kilometers. So that’s, you know, that’s a really, really thank you because in the Netherlands, the borders for left and right is just 100 kilometers. And then as you know, 60 million people living there. So there are post offices everywhere, but then immediately to start managing customer support because people have to drive on the kilometers or whatever to I don’t want to call it anymore. So then if you have a client that you’re paying back, you have stuck in Norway or in Finland or Sweden that you’re trying to get back then they say we only ship back once for three months. So it’s a very cash capital base
Andrew Morgans 19:55
as that sounds like that could have been the first learning lesson on that one could have been caught
Stef van Boekel 20:00
See? Exactly. So what’s the problem with with the operational business? What you want to avoid a viable cost that you can control and these are costs that you are unable to control. So if you don’t understand, don’t understand how it works. You for sure don’t want to make money.
Andrew Morgans 20:18
I’ll tell you, because, you know, Americans, we have 50 states, like all our states, you know, we might have like 10 Different countries here in the US technically, like as far as like the, the way that the states are and how they run and we have got Montana and Wyoming. A lot of places like that are just lots of land and far apart from, you know, other, like something like Jersey, where we’ve got, like, a lot of cities together. Thinking about I took a trip and this like, I remember it vividly. Like I took a trip with my mom 2019 I took her to Italy, it was like a goal of mine to take my mom on a trip.
Stef van Boekel 20:55
Because I actually live in Italy. Okay, so
Andrew Morgans 20:57
they, they went to Rome, I went to Madrid, okay, they did the Rome thing. I was in Madrid with my friend. And then I went to Valencia, and then I met them in Venice. So we did Venice, and then Milan, okay. And I met them in Venice, beautiful city. For me, I mean, it’s, I’m just love history. So being there in Venice, I love that just for a little color, like, the city was bustling. But there was no cars or streetlights. And so it was like quiet. And it was just to me, that was just beautiful to like, kind of see people moving around. And in a big city, you can hear people talking, because it’s not it’s like honking and, you know, starting and stopping of cars and motorcycles. And it was just kind of beautiful. But my point of telling that story was, I’m in Italy, I’m seeing things for the first time, you know, and in Venice, everything is by by boat, you know. And I seen just this, I don’t know what you call those, like canoes, you know. But, uh, I saw one full of Amazon packages. And, you know, it was just for me to think about like, the last mile, like, how do these products actually get delivered here in Venice? Yeah, probably a lot like other cities that are just have their challenges to them. You know, it was it was literally a guy on a boat, like, you know, with his stick paddling his way through the canals delivering the packages, and I’m just like, wow, they’re reaching every corner of the world, right. But we’re talking about Groupon before, before your Amazon story begins and talking about some of the challenges there like in Norway and Sweden and things like that. And having to deal with all the different carriers. I can imagine, you know, some of my biggest mistakes in E commerce in an Amazon even for other clients have been logistical mistakes, you know,
Stef van Boekel 22:47
where is logistics? It’s all about the also from the customer experience. It’s about logistics. If you look at the complaints, it’s almost about the product was delivered too late or was I was not aware that it’s going to be delivered or so ecommerce is operations is logistics for sure. Okay, so
Andrew Morgans 23:06
keep going. You know, you’re you’re dealing with, you’re flying to these countries, you’re making arrangements with the, with the distributor, or the distributors or shipping providers or postal services in each of these countries. Still doing those one day sales on Groupon? Have you have had you evolved at all at this point, like in regards to like maybe selling on other channels, or no,
Stef van Boekel 23:29
actually what what was happened, we were very much specialized in doing big volumes. But it was becoming quite a complex business, because you would forget a capital intensive business with low margins. So actually, after, I think three or four years of scaling it from, I don’t know, 410 to within the last month, I was doing 600k In one month, it was no longer profitable. So I decided to actually close the business. And it was quite a difficult thing. You know, I like 25 FTE back then that I basically had to call them all and say Hi guys, it’s the market is changing smoking competitors, that is demands are too low. So basically, we closed the company to avoid actually going into the minus and go bankrupt and leave, leave people with the depths was to combat that something that I didn’t want to do. That was in 2014. Okay, and then what I then did, but I had obviously my network and my experience so what I started doing is okay, I was hiring myself as a consultant to say if you want to start selling internationally, and I was not only doing Amazon so I was doing a Groupon I was doing multiple ecommerce sales channels by done so I started with I started with Goldman interim manager, basically be working inside companies from six months to a year to set up that international operation. So I was looking at the warehouse, the warehouse management system, their customer support, there’s language that they speak to logistical providers is had there, but what the terms? So basically working inside and making the company scalable to start selling on the international level?
Andrew Morgans 25:22
And was this European businesses going to the US? Or was this US businesses or international business
Stef van Boekel 25:28
expo launched a few businesses in the US, especially company and a German company in a Dutch company, but also helped a lot of us brands coming to Europe. Actually, the reason why I started Mark registry is because American company was sitting at the Amazon headquarters to for them set up the because they’re quite successful on Amazon, like 7 million amazon.com sites that scopes and they basically hired me disabled the European operation also to start working with, with Amazon, that I was talking with Amazon, after doing years of this consultancy type activities, and Amazon was saying, Yeah, but we have a big problem. All the brands have an issue of working with us because from an operational and contractor point of view, you cannot compare Amazon with any other sales channel. So then I was actually flying back and I was like in the airplane, I said, Okay, instead of going from project to project to project, why don’t the design the complete infrastructure around this massive sales channel, because Amazon, Italy, for example, and rest of euros or 50%, of the total ecommerce market, and offered as a service. So I call it is Amazon infrastructure as a service. We have the whole shebang in house from the warehouse logistics, the customer support translations, everything that we do announce. And from that moment on, that was the 2018. I basically launched marketplace, district and vanta company saying, okay, Amazon is the largest sales channel, you are not operational capable to work with them. But so you’re missing the opportunity, we cannot invest in your own in house setup, because it’s going to take a minimum six months, a couple of 100,000 Euro. And still you’re not going to be on the professional level. So why don’t you just let us organize it and you’re immediately working with our borders and our professional level. And that’s how it basically got started.
Andrew Morgans 27:29
I love that I love that solving, not just using your experience from one leapfrogging into another consulting for four years. And then ultimately building your agency and honestly, my journey of
Stef van Boekel 27:40
agency be an operator? Correct? Because, because what you again, I don’t blame you, obviously. But in the US, Amazon’s all about performance, brand development, brand reputation. While a Europe if you don’t control the local operations, you there is no brand development, we are an operator. And actually, we work with agencies like yours, like yourself to develop a brand. And to that,
Andrew Morgans 28:10
I love it. I love it as an agency, so I’m a bit of a hybrid. And I think that’s where my terminology can get confused. Because we’re doing multiple things here, like Knology, I’ve got my 10 Plus brands of my own that I’m building, and we have warehousing, and we’re doing the operations and fulfillment and branding and marketing and the full nine yards. You know, as an agency, we have to depend on on the brands that we’re working with to cover the operational side, right, we’re dependent on their inventory supply chain, you know, fulfillment partners, we’re dependent on all those things to our success as their agency. Even on the US side, even without going internationally, right, there’s a level of it. And there’s others that have been built like pattern would be one that I think of that they buy the product from the brands and then control everything. But there’s a lot of brands that want to be able to do that in house and manage their their branding, their content, their their customer data, their PPC, all those things. So there’s always going to be, you know, multiple types of customers. But if you told me the number one thing, you know, we we started something a couple years ago, we were just like, tired, exhausted here as a team, you know, we were just like writing on the whiteboard. And we wrote the 10 commandments of Amazon. And you know, the first three were inventory inventory inventory, right, because they only do so much if brands can handle their supply chain like nothing else matters, right? Operationally and and depending on where you are, the US can be even kind of lacks, you can think that Amazon is tough, but I’m telling you go to some of these other countries and try to sell they’re in don’t fall in line, don’t get your operations right and they’ll be shut down in no time. You know, and if you know anything about Amazon, one count, being in trouble can make the others in trouble and it’s just You know, it’s a domino effect. Before I jump into our next set of questions, finding expert software developers doesn’t have to be difficult, especially when you visit Full Scale that I O, where you can build a software team quickly and affordably. Use the Full Scale platform to define your technical needs and see what available testers, leaders, developers are ready to join your team visit full scale.io To learn more thankful for our sponsors, stuff back to you. Okay, so 2018 and, and I was just comparing to that, because for years, my technology is technically going on our ninth year as an agency. Since I created the LLC, I started hiring and building my team. But really, you know, the first three or four years were really project the project, being a consultant, being a contractor, being a freelancer, the industry hadn’t developed. And I was just gaining experience, much like yourself, taking on products, taking on brands, trying to get my name out there trying to learn about e commerce and business on the go along with brands. And I would say it’s really like, you know, 2017 1819. And, you know, these are the years that really like, we started being an agency, a legitimate company, knowing what our model was, knowing what I was trying to solve for knowing who I was trying to help. So, you know, the glory years of 14 through 18, on Amazon, where private label sellers were crushing it and millions were made, and millionaires were made more millionaires than, than anywhere else. Those were the hot years, those were the years I got all my experience. So I wasn’t building my own brands at that time. But in that time period, where it was the entrepreneur, The Four Hour Workweek guy trying to come and build something quickly and get out or build something to not have to work a lot. I think, from 1718 on has been where more of the legitimate, not that anyone else is not legitimate, forgive my words, but where like more established brands are taking Amazon seriously, and saying, Hey, we need help with this, we need to go into this, we need an agency or we need a partner to help us, you know, facilitate this. And that’s where Mark Knology really got some legs, when those brands really started coming to the platform. So knowing we’re on kind of the same timeline in regards to just like, being in this space, and then bringing legitimacy to our company and really offering that service and knowing what we’re really offering because we were really pioneering the space there was, you know, there was no even partnership with Amazon till 19 or 20. Right that that was their first partnerships. And we were we were on board then. But those didn’t even exist until 19 or 20. So they weren’t even thinking about agencies or partners or anything like that before then it was just a bunch of consultants, contractors, freelancers, you know, out there doing our thing. So we’re like, at this time, I guess like you, you create marketplace distri you know, like what you’re offering is and how you’re going to offer it and you’re like look, let’s just get them out of the way we’re gonna make sure that we hit all of these things. To me, that’s somewhat what Amazon is, in general is a marketplace that forces you to hit these operational goals like or or you have to go talk to me about what happened next was it like you know, has it been an uphill battle for me being first in the Amazon space in regards to services like it was an uphill battle trying to get brands to understand why they needed our help and how we could help and those types of things because they weren’t hearing it from other sources it was in all the news it wasn’t in all these articles and things like that now it is a lot easier conversation. But what was it like for you there in Europe you know, kind of taking what you had as a consultancy into the next level?
Stef van Boekel 33:42
Well, I think the the podcast called hustle so I started listening to the max basically using my Groupon experience with talking to brands every day you should start thinking internationally you need to because back then I did like 3000 complaints that are hundreds of different suppliers. So I got quite experienced with explaining brands that the future is ecommerce, the future our marketplace and the futures is cross border. So once I got out of the consultancy business and I started recruiting brands, again for Amazon versus picking up the phone calling calling calling calling calling in and become in a very short term one of the largest catalog suppliers in Europe we have over 330,000 agents right now a life yeah crazy crazy. So that was really hustling to the to the max getting as much brands in as possible. And now if we look back in this learning curve over these last last years is that I mean I told I understood and I but I didn’t write the product that we were offering was not fine tuned enough to, on one hand, serve my needs within serve the needs of the brands. So it’s been quite a ride. Not only for me, but for the whole team. And also within the management team, we are on a completely different way in the business than than four or five years ago. So you start off with an idea as a former causal perspective to think you have something all figured out. But during the way you are realizing, okay, this is a scene, then that within running a business is like a moving puzzle, you continuously need to pursue the market developments, competitors that are coming up, prices are increasing specifically in the last two years. But that’s also a bit I think, the fun and the challenging part of running a startup.
Andrew Morgans 35:57
No 100%. And I think that’s what’s if you’re not looking to AB test, and try new things, and continue to innovate and learn, ecommerce is just not the right business model for you, you need to be somewhere else because, you know, it’s one of the most exhausting things about being an expert, I guess, if you want to call yourself in that space is that the demand is, you know, 20 years ago, 30 years ago used to like, if you worked 20 years at something, you were a pro you knew it inside and out, you’re gonna do that job, you’re gonna grow trees, make them you could diagnose them see the disease on the leaves, like, know what they needed, know what they weren’t getting, you could just you know, you’re gonna do that every single day, you’re gonna get amazing at it, and you’re gonna be a pro. In E commerce, you could take your foot off the gas, or stop learning for two years and be done. Exactly. The old news, you know, so it is something that’s stressful to anyone that’s an industry expert, I think it’s also why it’s so important to have a team because a team can learn in different areas all the time and continue to bring that knowledge back to everyone and why, you know, you can’t have just one man or woman in your team running ecommerce, Amazon for you, it’s just too hard for them.
Stef van Boekel 37:04
There’s no such thing as a mobile muscle managing them, then there’s a plan to plan to show you for sure.
Andrew Morgans 37:09
Tell me tell me just a little bit about, you know, the idea you guys started out with versus where you guys are today. And last time about like, the what were some of those major hiccups that you had to like, kind of pivot through and change the model? I guess, you know, I think there’s no better test to what you guys built then continuing to run during the pandemic, right? Like, you know, those years. were true, I’m sure trial years that everybody, you know, pivoted in some ways, but what are some of those key things that you guys are doing differently today?
Stef van Boekel 37:38
Well, I think the key is mostly the attitudes. Because I think you need to be happy that things change. I used to be always thing or no, the requirements are more difficult to compliance there, the delivery window is shorter. And you will take I just finally set up the operation to work smoothly, and then I needed adjusted again, nowadays, I’m happy that happens. Because Amazon has 10 and a half million companies selling to them. And this is not only Amazon is everywhere, right? So there is a law of continuously merging a complicated, probably becoming larger, because what more complex, and it is the one that is most adjustable that wanted to go over this famous quote, but that’s actually the one that is going to survive, you need to be able to adjust. So you should as all the blue thing. Okay, good morals more complex? Yes, because you’re gonna push out the competitors that are not thinking formed from that perspective, and are lazy
Andrew Morgans 38:39
or that are too heavy to pivot, you know, like a boat in the water, it’s got too much weight, it can’t turn quickly. Exactly. The art of the pivot. Right.
Stef van Boekel 38:48
So and I think so that’s, I think the biggest learning that you can have within a company. So you know, I’m Brett, embrace the change one and I think secondly, specifically during the pandemic I’ve had, no, I mean, it’s been a very rough way of running a business because supply chain issues, price increases, price increases, we have like 100 brands, suppliers that we work for, in all kinds of categories. And we will use that get an average of twice price increases per year. So okay, that’s doable as vans have never nice have obviously, but during the pandemic we have always every month price increases and they’re not with two or 3%, sometimes even 20%. That requires it’s almost impossible to steer on that. So the only thing that you can see is crunching the numbers. And I’m saying oh, you know, I understood though I now know what it is. It was also you know, painful lessons than a lot of have expensive lessons to learn that. You know, your p&l your cost price analyzes your knowing any costs basically is the most important thing. To be able to steer with any market developments. So I think those are the two main things. One is embrace the change. Secondly, know your margins too. So you can at least steer, make sure you don’t have to be profitable. But at least as long as you’re not burning money during a happy moment, that’s I think the number one key
Andrew Morgans 40:23
couldn’t agree more, I literally went live with a on YouTube with another Amazon expert today. And that’s really what I was bringing to the to the table was evaluating a p&l a p&l of a brand and really being able to look at one that was looking badly in the red red all over the place, and where to make adjustments, how to view it, you know, and something that even as someone that plays somewhat of the CFO role here at Mark knowledge is still something that used to be a sense or an area of insecurity, for me was really digging into the numbers. You know, I was good at a at an overall like, you know, as long as things are good, like, I’ve been good with a budget, but really getting into the nitty gritty, have been something that’s taken me years to get just confident around and, but something that used to be my weakness is not my strong suit, in a lot of ways. Because I just knew how important it was and, and can’t say that enough to brands is one yes, when the pandemic was happening, I’ve got I got excited, not because of the danger of the pandemic, but being an E commerce. You know, I felt like it was going to jump us forward, which it did. And I’m somebody from the bottom with, like, you know, I’ve had to create and carve out every opportunity I’ve ever had as a person. And so, for me, I’ve always liked the hard stuff, because the hard stuff was where I could make gains on everyone else. Right? Just you know, not saying I’m the smartest in the room, but maybe the hardest working I work really, really hard. I hustle hard, right? And I would see these opportunities as like, look, Airbnb, Airbnb, you know, short term rentals, Airbnb, do you know? Do you have those? Okay, cool. So Airbnb just changed the laws here in Kansas City, making it a lot harder for people to host they have to have like, they’ve had to have permits, but now they have to have permits have to be in the certain areas. Like, you can’t do it like this. You have the permission from the neighbors. There’s just all these rules and regulations now. And people are in an uproar. Well, I’m smiling. You know, honestly, I’m not excited that they’re that they’re struggling. But as somebody that that has my own, that the market has gotten hard. I’ve done everything the right way, I did all the hard work ahead of time. And I will continue to do that. And so same thing with EECOM, Airbnb, whatever, whenever there’s a challenge, like it’s cliche, but that is the opportunity. So it’s true. If you’re looking for opportunities, while things changing, and things getting harder is the opportunity you’re looking for. Right? You just have to lean into that. And I can go on with you forever. I want to I want to give you like a couple minutes here at the end of the show. Talk about where people can get in contact with you. And then two questions for you. One is, what is something you’re excited about that marketplace distri is doing and 2023 something you’re excited about in the business, and then something that you’re working on or excited about in your personal life and stuff.
Stef van Boekel 43:19
Okay. That’s good. So, exactly quickly inform you who we are what we do. So we Amazon Marketplace operators, we have a complete in house team, we act as important bracketry as merchant of Racket, basically, we make sure that any brand from us or any at all, from Europe or outside Europe, is able to enter the up market in a matter of weeks, against a fraction of the cost of a fraction of the time. So we basically run Amazon and to and against a retainer business with a success fee. That’s where we are what we do. I think the most exciting thing that we are now busy about is that we work a lot with agencies, why do we like to work with agencies aged over, they have relationships with brands. So instead of me talking to 50 brands, I can talk to one agency that manages 50 brands. And the he stays within their comfort zone because they focus on the brand development activities, the brand performance activities while we’re on the background with all the boring stuff. So everybody stays within the comfort zone. But everybody can enforce more than brands because we’re opening up nine countries, the agency because they’re extending their marketing services through nine countries without actually having the local knowledge because we provide the local support. And we obviously by basically pushing more volume to SR infrastructure. So that is for me the interesting why because I prefer to work together with an agency. Being able to obviously, from a scalability perspective, this is much more interesting and convincing 50 brands or convincing one agency that brings on 50 bands is from a scalability point of view, obviously be very nice. And I think also, that’s as a tip towards all the listeners here. I think scalability is the key in any business concepts, you need to look on creating leverage, leverage, leverage, leverage leverage. So think that should be fun 2% of your time is looking at your business where you’re able to scale it, because when you can scale it, you can make some money, if you don’t scale, if you don’t create leverage, you’re gonna work as hard today, or next week, or in two years. So now you need to start creating leverage, then you’re gonna create some value for yourself and value also for your company, and you’re gonna be able to also see progress on all apples. The thing that I personally excited about is I’m actually busy with recruitment of the managing director along with the founder and the managing director, and I’m going back into the business development role. And I think there’s also a big lesson is not all what roles suit you. For me, the managing director role suits when it was a startup, because you know, you do a lot of thing, energy. And sales, obviously, is super important. But then you reach a certain level, you get a mansion team, and they need to be stimulated, etc, you need to be good in that. If you don’t, if you’re not good, if you don’t have the right capabilities, you’re danger to your business. If you if you want to grow, you know, 10 20% per year, and you’re happy with that, you know, then you know, keep setting where you are. But if you are very ambitious goals, they, obviously to be critical also to ask yourself, so mostly about yourself, because you’re your own anime. So I’m excited to also set a moment to say to people, Hey, sorry about my problem, talk to this new guy. So I can actually do again, the thing that excited me five years ago, as you know, business development and recruitment of new brands and thinking about concepts. That’s, it’s what makes me excited.
Andrew Morgans 46:58
I love it. And I’m someone that’s gone through that same phase myself, last couple of years have been very much scaling, management, improvement, optimization of the system for scaling. I don’t love it. I don’t love picking areas, I like thinking about growth and relationship and like new ideas. You know, that’s what got me into this in the first place. It’s definitely what I enjoy, I get more fulfillment out of things like this being on a podcast, building relationships, you know, putting feelers out there. But you do what you have to do, you have to do what you has to get done. You know, that’s what Hustlers do so, but it’s good to know that and be like, Look, I’m going into this role for a year, two years, whatever I have to do to get it done. But as soon as I can, I’m going to try to get somebody else in this spot, or promote someone within or train someone within. So awesome. I’m gonna have all of Steffes contact links in the bio, but stuff just quickly here verbally? Where can people get in contact with you follow your journey, learn more about Marketplace Distri?
Stef van Boekel 47:58
Well, find me on LinkedIn, Stef van Boekel it’s good that you’re going to put it in the links because you’re not going to be able to recognize it. And obviously to our website, marketplacedistri.com.
Andrew Morgans 48:11
Awesome, thank you so much. Thank you, Hustlers for tuning in. It’s been an awesome episode, really just learning about an opportunity that is, you know, scaling globally, and what it can mean for businesses and as business gets hard, I’m telling you guys, international expansion is where it’s at, it takes time to get going with stuff, it really cuts that time down, you know, find something that’s doable, that’s by sizeable for you in 2023. And I think going into Europe is there there’s a whole lot more that comes into selling globally, outside of operations, which is, you know, really getting the marketing messaging down, you know, you can’t sell the German, the German market the same way you can to the US market, you got to localize you got to learn some of these things, translations, you know, and the different nuance that goes in between the different marketplaces like demand, but operations is 100%, the most important and stuff this has been a great, a great hour really chatting through, you know, how long it’s even taken you to learn about those things to then be able to build a business to help others. So absolutely awesome.
Andrew Morgans 49:15
And thanks again to our sponsor, FullScale.io. Do you need to hire software engineers, testers or leaders let Full Scale help when you visit FullScale.io. All you need to do is answer a few questions and let the platform match you up fully vetted, highly experienced team of software engineers, testers and leaders at Full Scale. They specialize in building long term teams that work only for you learn more when you visit FullScale.io. Steph, thank you for staying up late with us. And thank you for all your knowledge. We’ll see you next time.
Stef van Boekel 49:41
Thanks, Andrew, it was nice. Nice meeting you