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EPISODE 414 54 mins

The Future of E-commerce M&A: What Big Buyers Don’t Want You to Know! → Ben Leonard

About the guests

Ben Leonard

Kunle Campbell

Ben Leonard is the classic millennial entrepreneur. He built a business on a laptop, in a cupboard, in his spare time. The difference? Ben grew an international 7-figure business and successfully exited after 3 years; the business holy grail. Ben has been featured in various press including Forbes. Ben is a sought-after eCommerce consultant and international speaker. Meanwhile, Ben's brands are used by international athletes and A-list Hollywood film stars and are featured in multiple national press publications. Now, Ben is doing it all over again with new brands, and helping others to do the same with his eCommerce consultancy and eCommerce brokerage. Ben is the antidote to gurus.

On today’s episode, Kunle is joined by Ben Leonard, Co-Founder of EcomBrokers and eCommerce consultant helping brands build their identity, preparing owners for their silky-smooth exits from their businesses.

Sometimes, the best things happen unexpectedly. Ben was inspired by his hometown in Aberdeenshire and worked as an environmental advisor until he fell ill in 2016. The drastic changes that his heart condition created affected him mentally and physically. However long it took and with the help of his family, Ben eventually found the silver lining in his situation. He is great at doing eCommerce.

Fast forward to three and a half years later, Ben was able to grow his business to an annual revenue of $6 million through his brand-first approach. In the process of selling his business, he was met with grueling tasks in the acquisition process which led him to co-build EcomBrokers. A big believer in brand identity himself, Ben and the EcomBrokers’ team work to preserve the brands’ identity while opening more doors of opportunity for the business and smoothing the acquisition process for both sellers and buyers.

It’s an insightful episode as you’d hear Kunle and Ben talk more about brand-building, Amazon and different channels, the future of emails, EcomBroker’s M&A processes and deal sizes, and Ben’s new book.

Here is a summary of some of the most important points made:

  • Ben has a brand-first approach to his first business, Beast Gear.
  • Quality products and brand identity are what’s going to help you scale and attract buyers when you decide to sell or exit your business.
  • Creating a podcast for your brand is a phenomenal way to remind your customers that you exist.
  • Email is not dead. Email marketing, if done right, can drive your revenue up.
  • Ben wrote a book entitled “Quit Stalling and Build Your Brand” which is a “roadmap of timeless business principles applied to eCommerce.”

Covered Topics:

On today’s interview, Kunle and Ben discuss:

  • Ben’s Path to eCommerce
  • Turning Hardships into Opportunities
  • The US Market
  • A Brand-First Approach
  • Building Your Brand in Amazon
  • How to Get Customers to Buy Again
  • On Loyalty Programs, Email, SMS, and Direct Mail
  • The Inspiration Behind EcomBrokers
  • Deal Size of EcomBrokers
  • Green Flags in a Deal
  • Buyer Profiles
  • Aggregators vs. Brand Building
  • Ben’s Book


  • 01:28 – Ben’s Path to eCommerce
    • Ben lived in Aberdeenshire, a beautiful countryside. He became interested in the environment.
    • He worked as an environmental advisor to oil and gas companies in Aberdeen, the oil industry capital of the UK.
    • Ben got sick in 2016 with a heart condition and had to stop his work and his fitness hobbies.
    • He started a fitness brand as a hobby and grew it to a point of $6 million in annual revenue.
    • He is now consulting and building brands as well as helping eCommerce business owners plan and execute their exits.
  • 05:05 – Turning Hardships to Opportunities
    • Ben’s heart condition had a big impact on his physical and mental health.
    • He had his idea for his first brand in 2012 called Beast Gear but did nothing for four years as he was stalling and making excuses on why he couldn’t start.
    • His wife and parents encouraged him to work on his idea.
    • In February 2016, he started his multi-channel (Amazon and their own website) business. His brand reached out to the UK, mainland Europe, Australia, and the Middle East.
    • He had his first sale in June 2016 and sold his company in the Halloween of 2019.
  • 12:01 – The US Market
    • Ben’s excuse for not expanding to the US market is that at the time, he had no business experience, no product development experience, and no marketing experience at the time.
    • “I don’t regret starting in the UK because that made a lot of sense but I do regret not expanding to the US before I exited the business.”
    • The buyer of Ben’s business expanded the business market to the US.
  • 19:26 – A Brand-First Approach
    • You can make money if you go brand-first.
    • The brand-first approach is more effective because “you’re building the foundation on a much stronger basis in terms of longevity and sustainability.”
    • Quality products and quality brand identity are what’s going to help you scale.
    • Brand identity and quality products are also what’s going to attract buyers when you want to exit your business.
  • 22:44 – Building Your Brand in Amazon
    • There are pros of selling on Amazon such as easier communication with customers and it is “a bit more forgiving in the kidneys of content of the emails and the attachments.”
    • “Amazon’s tools for brands back then were not as comprehensive.”
    • Amazon now has brand registry where you can build and protect your brand.
    • The brand experience will hook your customers to dig more about your brand.
    • Ben encourages people to make podcasts for their brands as it is “a phenomenal way to constantly remind your customers that you exist.”
  • 28:32 – How to Get Customers to Buy Again
    • Providing value to improve the life of your first-time customers so that “your brand becomes synonymous in their mind with an improvement in this aspect of their life.”
    • Customers buy your product as a solution to improve their life and that is an opportunity for your brand.
    • “Now, when you provide them with helpful, compelling, engaging, useful, and free information on the channels where they are, you need to show up where they are.”
    • “There’s no use posting on a channel where your audience isn’t present.”
    • In the book, Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, Gary Vaynerchuk notes that “if we give, then we can ask,” and that “helpful and valuable information constantly improves their life and occasionally asking for the sale.”
  • 31:12 – On Loyalty Programs, Email, SMS and Direct Mail
    • Ben is a huge fan of email.
    • “E-mail is the most profitable opportunity for eCommerce, which so many people overlook because it’s not shiny and new, it’s been around for so long.”
    • “With email marketing tools like Klaviyo which has an SMS built-in feature, email is not going to die.”
    • Set up automation in your email marketing to cross-sell or upsell the products to remind customers to replace or refill.
    • If email marketing is done right, it should drive ⅓ of the website’s revenue.
  • 36:24 – The Inspiration Behind EcomBrokers
    • When Ben exited his first business, it was “slightly north of two and a bit million,” and had a two-year earnout.
    • EcomBrokers started after Ben sold his business.
    • Ben worked with a large North American firm after selling his first business. At the time, selling eCommerce businesses was not “mainstream” yet, and “there weren’t many channels through which to sell an eCommerce business.”
    • With the help of his accountant, Allison, they were able to straighten up the processes and all the QAs that the buyers wanted. This gave Ben the idea to “create a better experience for eCommerce business owners who want to plan and execute the exit of their brand.”
    • On the other side, buyers get a better experience buying a business if everything about it is ironed out.
  • 40:53 – Deal Size of EcomBrokers
    • EcomBrokers deals with businesses from “a few million up to the high teens of millions.”
    • Smaller businesses with high quality that are growing and have lots of growth opportunities can be sold as well.
  • 42:01 – Green Flags in a Deal
    • 20% or better SDE margins and 20% or better year-over-year growth
    • Legit brand identity with intellectual property and has a real connection with its customers.
    • Full understanding of its supply chain and the credentials of its suppliers.
    • Well-documented
    • EcomBrokers doesn’t have a definite number of deals quarterly as they look more into putting their attention to businesses that deserve it.
  • 44:41 – Buyer Profiles
    • Buyer profiles are changing as some of them have stopped buying or others collapsed.
    • “North America is picking up speed again.”
    • “We’re seeing quite a lot of these little micro roll-ups, high net worth individuals who want to do their own little roll-up perhaps more sustainably and with more attention to detail, and more attention on brand than these larger organizations.”
  • 46:06 – Aggregators vs. Brand Building
    • Many of the aggregators would buy brands and change them to the point where the brand loses its original identity which made it attractive in the first place.
    • “The buyer of my business was guilty of this and I offered multiple times for free to teach them how to do what I did.”
    • Ben talks in his book about how entrepreneurs are nimble, can try new things, and can switch directions quickly (also called speedboat marketing).
  • 50:11 – Ben’s Book
    • Ben started writing a book in early 2022 entitled, “Quit Stalling and Build Your Brand.”
    • “It is a roadmap of timeless business principles applied to eCommerce.”
    • He took 16 months to write the book.
    • Ben hopes that his book will be a helpful guide for people who haven’t started but already have an idea or those who need support and guidance in building their brand.


  • Quality products and brand identity are what’s going to help you scale and attract buyers when you decide to exit your business.
  • “You asked about what comes first, Amazon or brand, it’s a two-way street.”
  • “I don’t regret starting in the UK because that made a lot of sense but I do regret not expanding to the US before I exited the business.”
  • EcomBrokers are all hands-on deck with every business that they work with.
  • Most aggregators buy brands and change these businesses to fit their criteria and the brands lose their original identity which made it attractive first.

Links & Resources:



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Welcome to the 2X eCommerce podcast. In this episode, we have Ben Leonard. Ben is a friend of ours. I have crossed paths with Ben several times and they’ve been all quite high-quality interactions. If you followed our journey up until now, I’m a co-founder and co-partner at Octillion Capital Partners and we acquire good-for-you food and beverage and beauty brands or beauty skincare brands. Ben is in the ecosystem. When the opportunity to speak with Ben came to my table, I was like, “Let’s do it.”

I’m going to give you a little babble about who he is. Ben is what you call the classic Millennial entrepreneur. He’s built a business on a laptop, a cupboard, and spare time. The only difference is that Ben grew an international seven-figure business and successfully exited it in three years. Not only that, he’s gone on to found an eCommerce consultancy called BenLeonard.pro and also EcomBrokers. This is how we cross paths. They are an eCommerce brokerage for the sales or sale of businesses or eCommerce brands. Without further ado, I’d like to welcome Ben to the show.

Good to be here. Thanks for having me, Kunle. It’s great to speak with you again.

I probably haven’t done your intro sufficient justice. I would like you to give us an idea of who Ben is and then we’ll talk about what you do a bit later.

As you said, I’m in the ecosystem. eCommerce wasn’t somewhere I Imagined I might end up, it was a bit of a strange path. I’m based in Aberdeen, which is the oil industry capital of the UK, probably the country, or probably the whole continent. Aberdeenshire is a beautiful place, a fantastic countryside. I became interested in the environment and I ultimately ended up working in oil and gas as an environmental advisor. It was my job to stop the oil guys from throwing chemicals in the sea or help them comply with the rules was my job.

I got sick in 2016 with a heart condition and I’m fine now but I had to stop work for a while and I had to stop my fitness hobbies for a while and that’s when I started a fitness brand as a hobby. It turned out I was quite good at it and, ultimately, I quit my job, grew that brand to a point that we were doing about $6 million in annual revenue, and sold it. I’m consulting now, I’m still building brands now, which is important because it’s important to have current lived experience of what’s going on in the ecosystem for me to help people. You mentioned EcomBrokers, I help eCommerce business owners plan and execute their exits. Those are my two hats, consulting, brokerage, and building my brand is my third hat.

First off, I’m glad you’re better, and you’re all right. They say, “I’m still as forged in fire.” It takes those moments to change the trajectory of your life. I want to get into the fitness story. From several conversations we’ve had in the past, this is my first time hearing about your ill health at the time, and how that gave you the energy to build out a fitness brand. Where else would you get that fuel from? Do you want to speak to the first year and how you were battling with illness and how that balanced out on the other side by creating something?

It was a strange time and a difficult time. What happened was I got unwell not just physically but that impacted me mentally because I was feeling useless. I wasn’t working. My then-girlfriend, and now wife, was busy studying. I couldn’t partake in my fitness hobbies, which was my way of de-stressing. I was incredibly anxious to get better. Of course, the more anxious I was to get better, the worse things got mentally and probably physically too.

In entrepreneurship, people sometimes wait for the circumstances to be perfect before they take action and do something and that’s what I had been guilty of doing. I had the idea for my first brand, which was called Beast Gear, back in 2012, and I did nothing about it for four years. I was stalling and making all these excuses about how I don’t have the experience or I don’t have the funds. I believe that entrepreneurs were other people because that’s what society generally has told us, entrepreneurs are these other clever people and not us.

I was kicked into action. I was moping around at home, unable to work, tidied out my gym bag, looked at the training gear that I wasn’t using, and remembered my idea from four years ago that I had while I’d been training for a fitness brand called Beast Gear. I started developing these products as a distraction to give me something to get my teeth into and as I got better, my wife and my parents encouraged me to do that. Over time, I discovered I had these entrepreneurial genes that hadn’t been turned on. The more and more I took action, the more I learned by doing. I became ingrained in this entrepreneurial lifestyle and it became my passion. Ultimately, I ended up quitting my job to pursue that passion.

What was, at the time, your daily routine like? How did it alter given the fact that you couldn’t train anymore? What sports were you involved in? What was your fitness regime prior to falling ill?

When I was at school, I was the nerdy asthmatic kid who was last to be picked at PE. I was not remotely sporty. It was when I went to university that I got interested in boxing, CrossFit, and weightlifting. I continued these things and that is what I had been doing. When I was unwell, I couldn’t work and I couldn’t train.

At first, my daily routine was to sit on the sofa and feel sorry for myself. As I started to work on this idea, my daily routine was to drink a lot of coffee, sit in front of my laptop, and get fired up about this. Eventually, I was able to get back to work. I would work my day job. Evenings, weekends, and lunch hours, I was grinding away at this vision that I was assembling. People often talk or think that eCommerce is some sort of easy get rich quick scheme and it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a grind.

Over time, I would sneak little bits here and there during my day job, which, of course, I shouldn’t have done. Finally, the tables turned and I quit my job. It was all-consuming. I was fortunate that my girlfriend was understanding but also, she was studying at the time so she was super busy. She was constantly in the university library and at work because she was working and studying at the same time. That meant that I was off the hook, unable to crack on and knuckle down on the brand.

Perfect timing. What were the timestamps from the start to the sale of the business? You said it was three years. From an actual year perspective, when did you start, and when did you sell?

I started in February 2016, I remember because I’d been in hospital again, and I’d been moping around the flat. I had the idea and I started researching. Ultimately, I sold my first product on the internet to somebody in June 2016. Three and a half years later, on Halloween 2019, I sold the business. It was a whirlwind three and a half years from nothing to an annual revenue of $6 million.

That’s incredible. Was it entirely DTC or multi-channel?

It was multi-channel. We were selling on Amazon and on our own website. This is negligible but it’s important because it speaks to the connection we had with our audience. There was a small proportion directly into gyms because gym owners had picked up our brand. The way that we were connecting with people on social and through our DTC website, they then reached out to me personally to place orders. It was on those channels and it was in the UK, mainland Europe, and a little bit in Australia and the Middle East as well.

That’s incredible for those numbers given the fact that you hadn’t even touched North America.

That was a mistake, which I sometimes still think about and regret. If I had gone to the US, perhaps say a year and a half or so in, for the same amount of effort, instead of doing $6 million a year, we would have been doing more like $12 million a year.

The more and more I took action, the more I learned by doing. Click to Tweet

Probably more. I was speaking with the folks at Conjura. They’re a data analytics platform. They have hundreds, if not thousands of back-end stores in their database. One of the things they said was when you expand internationally, from the UK that is, and you do America well, the UK tends to be 25% percent of revenue. That match some of the data I’ve seen if America was doing well. When you look at it from a statistics standpoint, like this podcast for instance, 60% of our audience is the United States but then 20% is the UK. It’s five times bigger from a population standpoint in the States as compared to the UK. It makes sense.

The excuse that I tell myself for not going to the USA was a fair excuse. we have to remember that I had no business experience, no product development experience, and no marketing experience at this time. I started this thing as a hobby that potentially I would sell products directly into gyms and then I realized that was a silly idea and I could sell on the internet. It felt like the normal thing to do. I came at it from a brand-first perspective, not an eCommerce-first perspective. By that, I mean I was building a brand to solve problems for people like me, to basically create better fitness equipment that was affordable.

It seemed completely normal and straightforward to me that if I was going to sell, I would sell to people first of all in the UK because that’s where I was and that felt familiar and a sensible place to get my feet wet. I don’t regret starting in the UK because that made a lot of sense but I do regret not expanding to the US before I exited the business. That said, the carrot on a stick for the buyer was the prospect of taking the brand to the US, which indeed they did. Swings and roundabouts.

You took a brand-first approach and that could have been the single most important strategic decision you made toward growing and scaling Beast Gear if I’m not mistaken. Do you want to unpack that for the audience? Not many people who sell on Amazon or people who start out in eCommerce think about the brand first. They’re thinking more about Shopify dashboards. Sometimes, they don’t even think about the bottom line, they’re thinking about the top line initially. To be a total newbie and focus on brand is quite unique in that sense. Could you break down why, how, and what your approach is, please?

In my view, the mistake that many people make, and particularly my competitors made as I began to beat them, is that rather than taking a brand-first approach, they’re taking a make-money-on-the-internet-first approach. If you go brand-first, you will make money on the internet and you’ll make more of it, in my opinion. With no real strong brand and branding approach, there’s no hook, there’s no passion, there’s no connection with the customers, and there’s no customer eagerly awaiting the launch of your next product and choosing not to buy a competitor’s product because they want to have all of yours.

There’s no customer placing their order and eagerly waiting for the postman to deliver their product. There’s no tribe of raving fans who will buy all the new products that you launch, which means there’s no longevity in the business. A lot of people fall into a trap perhaps it’s because of seeing “gurus” on the internet that can source products, slap a label on them, run ads, and sell them perhaps on a Shopify site or on a marketplace like Amazon, these days, there’s Walmart as well in the US.

It’s true that you can do that but you can do that and take a brand-first approach, which, in my view, is far more effective because you’re building the foundation on a much stronger basis in terms of longevity and sustainability. Ultimately, what is going to help you scale is quality products, which market themselves because of their quality and a quality brand identity, which people connect with and are eager to share. That’s ultimately also going to be incredibly attractive to a buyer when you come out the other end a few years later and you want to exit the business.

You’re speaking to the choir here. I fully agree with you. I love your point on creating a brand that delivers the hook. There’s an emotional hook there that links to high-quality products on the back end. How’d you do that in the world of Amazon with restrictions on communicating your soul or your brand essence to customers where it’s moving products from their warehouse out to customers? Where does the brand building start on Amazon, off Amazon, or on Amazon? Can you break it down, please?

There are a lot of different things to think about here. It’s important to go back in time after when I started because there were pros and cons of selling at that time. The pros were that Amazon made it easier to contact customers. For example, in follow-up emails, customers didn’t have the option to choose not to get them for instance. Amazon is a bit more forgiving in the kinds of content that you include in those emails and the attachments that you could attach.

Having said that, Amazon’s tools for brands back then were not as comprehensive.Now, Amazon wants us to focus on brand. There’s brand registry, which is how you can protect your brand on Amazon. There are branded storefronts. There’s even now a feed of images that you can post called Amazon Posts. Amazon wants us to build brands on Amazon, it recognizes the importance of brand.

These days, Amazon wants you to build a brand, they give you opportunities to market your brand, and to talk about your brand in terms of a branded storefront. A branded storefront differs from the rest of Amazon in the sense that the rest of Amazon is a supermarket where you have to be content with the fact that your product is on the digital shelf next to somebody else’s but Amazon’s branded storefront allows you to have your own mini website there. You asked about what comes first, Amazon or brand, it’s a two-way street.

Let’s imagine a hypothetical customer, Dave, who hasn’t heard of your brand. He just has a problem that he wants to solve so he searches on Amazon for a solution to his problem and your product stands out because its main image is compelling. Arguably, that’s to do with branding so he clicks through. Your listing is compelling, the information on there is helpful, the images are compelling and effective in conveying the features and benefits of your product, and the enhanced brand content is compelling.

He then looks at the reviews and they’re strong because you have a quality product because ultimately you can’t out-market a crap product. He decided to buy your product but he hadn’t heard of your brand before this. Now we have an opportunity to use Amazon as a top-of-funnel to acquire a customer like Dave and make them know, like, and trust our brand. The next time they have a problem, instead of just searching Amazon for a widget that solves that problem, they’ll come back to your brand. Maybe on your own website or maybe on Amazon doesn’t matter as long as they come back to us and we can do that by connecting with them. Dave receives his product, it’s a quality product that solves his problem.

Because of the way you’ve packaged the product, because of the insert material you’ve put in there, and because he has a positive experience with your product, he feels compelled to seek out more touch points for your brand. It could be your website, your newsletter, your social media content, or your YouTube channel where you provide helpful information that improves his life and makes him remember your brand or even a podcast.

I encourage people to make podcasts for their brands these days, that can be a phenomenal way to constantly remind your customers that you exist and your competitors are asleep at the wheel in this sense. That’s my approach to acquiring customers on Amazon and using it as a top-of-funnel in that way. I can then choose if I want to ask Dave to buy from me again on my own website or Amazon. Depending on the activities of my brand at that time, maybe I’m launching a new product on Amazon, I want to rank it so I’ll ask Dave to buy there. At this point, I want more margin so I’ll drive him back to my website.

What I took away from your answer is one of the most important metrics for measuring the effectiveness of the brand is the portion of customers you have as repeat customers, people who have been awed or satisfied with their first interaction with your brand at so many levels, whether it’s a product image. social proof, unboxing experience, and the actual utility of the product that triggers them to say, “I trust this brand. When I’m in the market for this or anything similar to this that they have, I will come back to them.”

That’s what it’s about, it’s about trust. It’s almost a stereotype, this phrase now, but it’s become deep-ridden in our dialogue as eCommerce entrepreneurs, this whole idea of making people know, like, and trust you. It’s true, we do need to make people know, like, and trust us or they’re not going to buy from us.

With that in mind, we get into the territory of retention. Let’s step out of the Amazon ecosystem here and look at a brand as a brand like a digital native brand as a brand wherever you sell whether it’s Amazon, DTC, or any other partner marketplace or through affiliates. How do you get more people buying over and over again from a brand?

I’m going to say know, like, and trust you again because that’s what’s so important. Once they bought from you the first time, you have an opportunity to provide them with value to improve their life so that your brand becomes synonymous in their mind with an improvement in this aspect of their life. Let’s make up a hypothetical example. You have a brand of knitting accessories. They bought a product from you, it could have been on Amazon or your own website, purely because they wanted a solution to their problem and they trusted you enough to do that.

Now, when you provide them with helpful, compelling, engaging, useful, and free information on the channels where they are, you need to show up where they are. There’s no use posting on a channel where your audience isn’t present. When you do that, whenever they think of knitting, they think of your brand because you’re showing up everywhere. You’re top of their inbox with your high-quality email content. They’re subscribed to you on YouTube so they’re getting a notification every time you produce another high-quality informative and helpful video.

They might even be subscribed to your podcast if you’ve got one where you’re not pushing your brand, you’re just providing helpful content, but you’re mentioning your brand gently. You get the idea. You’re obviously on their Instagram and TikTok feeds as well. When you do that, they are far more likely to buy from you. It’s almost cliche now to talk about this but it’s true. Gary Vaynerchuk wrote about it in Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook. If we give, then we can ask. Helpful and valuable information constantly improves their life and occasionally asking for the sale. That is the principle upon which repeat custom is built.

If you go brand-first, you will make money on the internet and you'll make more of it. Click to Tweet

What’s your take on loyalty programs, email, SMS, and direct mail?

I’m a huge fan of email. In my view, email is the most profitable opportunity for eCommerce, which so many people overlook because it’s not shiny and new, it’s been around for so long. Every so often, something new comes along and people say, “Email is going to die.” It happened when chatbots came along and I don’t mean AI chatbots, I mean Facebook Messenger chatbots, they came along and people said, “Email is dead.” WhatsApp chatbots then came along and people said email is dead.

Now, many of these email marketing tools, let’s say Klaviyo, have SMS built-in as well and people said email is going to die and it simply isn’t. People’s inboxes mean a great deal to them. If you can make them trust you enough to be in your inbox, not the spam folder, and not the promotions tab, then there is a good chance that they’re going to buy from you again.

With the power of some of these tools like Klaviyo, being able to set up automation once and then pretty much forget about them to cross-sell and upsell your products to remind somebody to replace a part or refill. Perhaps you know that the product is going to be worn out after fourteen months or whatever. To email them, it is incredibly powerful what you can do. If you get it right, you should be able to drive 1/3 of your website’s revenue from email, in my view, and about 1/5 of it set and forget automated. That’s what is possible. Some people are even doing much better than that.

Good point on how overlooked it is because it’s all tech and people are not necessarily enthused about it. There’s something magical about email, sometimes it serves as a second search engine, particularly if you use an email provider like Gmail. Sometimes you’re trying to research whether it’s old coupon codes or whether it’s communications with a brand that has been sending you emails but you’ve not been ready to buy. When you’re ready to buy, you might go into Gmail, search for that brand, and then click through. Sometimes you completely forget the brand name but you know that they’ve been sending you emails about a particular thing.

Let’s say it’s phone cases and you type off phone cases in Google because that brand had sent you so many emails in the past, you latch onto it. It’s top of mind. Email is great for storytelling and for keeping people on with what you’re up to internally. It’s a good hub for other media. Let’s say you have an active YouTube channel or you have a podcast, you could all put that media, whether it’s a newsletter, put it in, and give using Gary’s Jab, Jab, Hook analogy. Use it also for the transactional bits of selling or eCommerce. What’s your take on SMS working with email though? Do you think email on its own is good enough? Is there an overhype with SMS at the moment?

Email on its own is good enough. I must admit I haven’t done a huge amount with SMS but here’s what I have done and I found it to be effective. I tend not to do SMS in tandem with email. Of course, what you can do is you can have an email flow, for instance, and have a sister SMS flow that sends SMS messages to the same person. If you choose, you can only send the SMS message if the email isn’t open and things like that. That can be clever and powerful.

However, a simple approach to SMS that I love and it’s for Shopify is plugins, there are plenty of these, but there’s a great one called SMSBump. The actual app is free and all you are paying for pretty cheap is the text messages. It’s simply an abandoned cart but by text. I found that the ROI on that was phenomenal and more effective than abandoned cart emails. I’m a huge fan of that. The conversion doesn’t even necessarily come through phone. They get the text, they might click through and go and complete the order on their phone, or they might be like, “That’s a great reminder.” They’re on their computer and off they go.

That’s a good tip worth testing. EcomBroker, your experience in the fitness industry is admirable. What did you exit for?

The exit was slightly north of two and a bit million.

Was there an earnout component to it? What was the structure like in 2019?

There was an earnout component, it was a two-year earnout. I’m pleased to say it was hit in its entirety, which is not something that has been common in the last couple of years in eCommerce. There’s one fairly infamous lawsuit in particular, which your audience may or may not be aware of where a seller sued the institutional buyer of their business because they felt that they hadn’t met their part of the bargain to run the business properly to even give it a chance of hitting its earn-outs. They were successful, which had significant repercussions for the way that deals are structured and the language used in share purchase agreements now. Interesting times.

That’s interesting given that they won. With what you do at EcomBrokers, why did you start EcomBrokers?

EcomBroker came to exist after the experience I had selling my first brand. The brokerage firm that I worked with, a large North American firm, in hindsight, I shouldn’t have chosen to work with them. Here’s why I chose to work with them. It was early 2019 when I made the decision to sell. You have to remember that eCommerce years are like dog years, that was a long time ago. Selling eCommerce businesses was not mainstream at the time.

People looked at you like you were crazy if you wanted to buy an eCommerce business because it didn’t have a roof or windows or doors. There weren’t that many channels through which to sell an eCommerce business. I had a friend who sold two relatively small eCommerce businesses through one of these listings or flipping websites. In hindsight, I should not have done that. My options were relatively limited but they treat your business like a commodity rather than giving it the attention it deserves. They made a catalog of errors, the worst of which would have cost me £500,000 if I hadn’t spotted it. This was all the way through their QA process, they were ready to go.

My accountant, Allison, and I tidied up the mess. Allison saved the day. She’s got close to 30 years of M&A experience as well as being a specialist eCommerce accountant. after we got everything fixed and we got the deal done, we did the classic entrepreneurial thing seeing a gap and fixing it. We decided to create a better experience for eCommerce business owners who want to plan and execute the exit of their brand. By extension, it’s a better experience for buyers as well because we are only sending them quality businesses that have been through a process to get them where they need to be to be an attractive acquisition opportunity.

It’s more like à la carte service.

We’re a boutique firm.

It makes sense, it’s not a mass market. You’ve got to give us a hookup for Alison.

Sure. MintAccounting.co.uk. I get nothing for saying that. They are phenomenal in terms of their eCommerce capability. What we come across at EcomBrokers and I come across with my consulting all the time are people who are working with decent accountants. Those accountants, even now in 2023, know how to work with the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker but they don’t understand eCommerce, diddly squat especially if it’s complicated and you’re on multiple channels and selling across multiple countries. Without hesitation, I’d say go check out Mint Accounting.

I can plus one what you just said with regards to having that specialist eCommerce expertise to provide you with clean data, which is essential for navigating your business towards the path of growth. Been there and done that. Thanks for the hook-up there. Going back, EcomBrokers, what’s your switch spot with regards to deal size at the moment?

Deal size tends to be a few million up to the high teens of millions. That said, we’ve sold smaller businesses than that. Smaller businesses are harder to sell, however, if they are a high-quality business that’s growing and has lots of growth opportunities, they can be sold. I appreciate that sometimes people have circumstances that mean that they’re not willing to or ready to or able to keep growing and they do need to sell it sooner rather than later. We will take a look at smaller deals as well. If the circumstances are right, we’ll do our best to help.

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What are the green flags when a deal comes to your table? What would you like to see in a deal?

We like to see a business that has 20% or better SDE margins and 20% or better year-over-year growth that has a legit brand identity with intellectual property around that brand and has a real connection with its customers, people who want to continue to buy from that brand, and also a business that has a full understanding of its supply chain and the credentials of its suppliers, which is a well-documented business where we can uncover every stone and look in every nook and cranny to deeply understand it because the buyers certainly will be when they’re conducting due diligence. That’s what we’re looking for, something that is built on a strong brand, is profitable, growing, and has growth opportunity.

How often do these deals come on your table now in 2023?

The state of the market now compared to how it was during COVID times has changed. We’re now doing a few deals a quarter, sometimes one, and that’s fine. We’re working with great brands to sell them to the right buyer. What that means is that we’re very much able to be all hands on deck on these deals and give them the attention that they deserve to get them where they need to be. For some people, we’ll work with them over a long period of time, over a year, to get them in the shape that they need to be. For some people, it’s a much faster process and we’re ready to go to market very soon.

It’s just high quality. It’s quality versus quantity, that volume there. In the COVID days, the aggregators are either consolidating or shrinking.

That’s our approach. We’re not a listing site or a flipping site. It’s a mature M&A process.

Who are the buyers now? Has the buyer profile changed over the years?

The buyer profile has changed in the sense that many of the institutional aggregators stopped buying for a long time, some of them collapsed, in fact. We’ve seen another one, Benitago has filed for bankruptcy. However, some of the sleeping giants, the likes of Thrasio, are waking up. We’ve seen a lot more buying activity in Europe rather than North America. Although, North America is picking up speed again now, which is great. It’s not just aggregators, there are strategic buyers who want to bolt your business onto their existing setup.

There’s what I call big boy private equity buyers, private equity directly buying businesses as opposed to just investing in the aggregators to do it. There are acquisitions by your competitors. We’re seeing quite a lot of these little micro roll-ups, high net worth individuals who want to do their own little roll-up perhaps more sustainably and with more attention to detail, and more attention on brand than these larger organizations. They’ve let the canary go down the coal mine, they’ve seen the mistakes these guys have made, and now they’re doing a better job of it. That’s the buyers that we’re seeing.

Going back to what we started this conversation around, which is all about brand and looking at the approach most of the aggregators took, they were numbers first. They were consolidating PNLs and balance sheets. These were cashflowing assets that they put a value and they assumed ownership and operated it just as well as the founders. Hopefully, some of them will bring it even better. From that perspective, are they also starting to be a bit more brand-focused or is it still that numbers game? In fact, the term aggregator speaks to the point I was trying to make.

It frustrates me the way so many of them are. They would find a brand and they would buy it and then everything that the original owners did to make it an attractive brand that was a success in the first place and that made them want to buy it, they would let go. It would fall by the wayside, which is a real shame because they had a tremendous opportunity to learn from the original founders and cross pollinate their portfolio of brands with all the effective strategies and tactics that were working.

The buyer of my business was guilty of this and I offered multiple times for free to teach them how to do what I did. I was fortunate that my earn-outs were all hit because the flywheel that I had got spinning for my brand kept spinning. Plus, we had a bit of a spike from COVID. Eventually, there wasn’t enough to keep that momentum going in that flywheel and it fell to bits because they were not nimble enough to do what I had been doing.

I write about this in my book, I talk about how, as entrepreneurs, we have an opportunity to partake in what I call speedboat marketing, this chance to be nimble, try new things, and switch direction quickly. Whereas, these huge behemoth bureaucratic organizations struggle with that kind of thing, with building relationships one-to-one with customers with trying new tools, with turning on a sixpence when something isn’t working. It takes them half a day to turn around. They’re like a cruise ship or a speedboat, we can change the direction however we like.

Fortunately, many of these buyers have improved. They have learned the lessons and they’ve spent a lot of time looking in the mirror and reflecting and getting better.They’re still not perfect and they’re not going to run the organization as nimbly as you. Hopefully, they’re going to have a ton more brute force than you. When they buy your business, they are going to be able to take it on as they promised they would and take it to the moon. I’m seeing a lot more of these buyers now get creative with how they bring the original owner in either formally or informally and pay them for that to ensure that the original spirit of what worked for the brand remains.

The essence of the brand is walk off the brand to sellability in the first place. Why not retain that core while you start to figure out other cogs that can potentially continue to give the flywheel enough velocity to scale and eventually grow these brands? That’s a good point. You did mention a book.

The book is called Quit Stalling and Build Your Brand. I’ve taken about sixteen months to write this. I started in early 2022. It is a roadmap of timeless business principles applied to eCommerce. What it isn’t is it’s not a sort of a how-to guide to using a platform like Amazon or Shopify that’s going to go out of date in a few months. It’s a roadmap from ideation all the way through to product development, brand development, product launches, growth, and ultimately exiting from someone who’s been there and done it.

It’s my hope that this will be a helpful guide for someone who’s either got an idea and hasn’t started or who is going along with their brand and building their business but needs some support and guidance and perhaps to come back to the basics from someone who’s been there and done it. I want this to be something that’s going to sit on every entrepreneur’s bookshelf and they’re going to take it down and it’s going to be battered and beaten because they’re going to take it off their shelf frequently every year.

Quit Stalling and Build Your Brand, it’s full of examples from what I’ve done with my brand and the new brands that I own and clients. It comes out on October 10th, 2023. If people go to QuitStallingBook.com, they can get a chapter, a free entrepreneurship mini-course, and a free eCommerce hacks ebook. In fact, if they go to QuitStallingBook.com/2XE, that’s the best way to get those bonuses.

“Unleash Your Dream Ecommerce Brand Now”. It looks good. I love the cover with the cranes, “Build your brand.” Nice one. Ben, we could go on and on. I can bet we’ll go for the next three hours talking and chatting about M&A, eCommerce growth, and brand. It has been a pleasure having you. I’m being respectful of your time. For people who want to find out more about you, EcomBrokers.co.uk. Are you active on any of the platforms that you’d like the audience to connect with you on?

I love connecting with people. My handle on all social media channels is @BenLeonardPro. I’m on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook. I’m on LinkedIn, Ben Leonard. If you go to BenLeonard.Pro/YT, you’ll find my YouTube channel. BenLeonard.Pro/pod, you’ll find the podcast. If you want to email me, it’s Ben@BenLeonard.Pro. If you are looking for support to plan your exit, that’s EcomBrokers.co.uk. The book is at QuitStallingBook.com.

Ben, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the 2X eCommerce podcast.

Thanks so much.

About the host:

Kunle Campbell

An ecommerce advisor to ambitious, agile online retailers and funded ecommerce startups seeking exponentially sales growth through scalable customer acquisition, retention, conversion optimisation, product/market fit optimisation and customer referrals.

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