Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:00:15] Dr. Jeremy Weisz here. I’m founder inspiredinsider.com [where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders like the founders of P90X, Baby Einstein, Atari, and many more and how they overcome big challenges in life and business. This is part of the Skubana e-commerce mastery series where top sellers and experts teach you what really works to boost your ecommerce business. Skubana is a software platform to manage your entire e-commerce operation.
[00:00:40] I’m excited today we have Brandon Checketts. He is co-founder of Seller Labs with Paul Johnson. They make awesome tools for e-commerce sellers including Feedback Genius, Snagshout and Scope, which he will talk about and what they do and how they help sellers. He also founded bookscouter.com that’s responsible for tens of millions of dollars of book buy back sales annually. Brandon, thanks for joining me.Brandon Checketts: [00:01:06] Thanks Jeremy. It’s great to be here.Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:01:07] I’m excited and I love the burly beard. It’s a little intimidating but that’s cool. There’re so many things I made notes of that we should talk about because you have a huge team of real developers working on real problems to help ecommerce sellers. I want to dig into that, but first I need to hear about some of the big takeaways of how you increase sales from BookScouter because you started from zero and it’s grown tremendously.Brandon Checketts: [00:01:36] BookScouter is a combination of good timing, good SEO, good product at the right time. That was started back in around 2007. My wife actually had a friend who was blogging about how she was trying to get out of debt and she was selling some of her old college text books in order to pay off her student loans and bills. I had a little bit of background in writing something similar to that and so I threw together a thing over a weekend or two that allowed her to compare her prices from I think five or seven sites at the time.[00:02:10] She wrote about it on her blog and it kind of spread nicely. I was able to keep growing that and the timing was just right where people found that it was really, really easy to sell inventory and it became difficult to acquire and buy inventory. It was a good timing in respect that people knew to acquire inventory. There was a lot of these new sites that were launching that were offering to buy books and so the price comparison that we did on BookScouter became really valuable and has done really well.Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:02:37] From e-commerce standpoint, what should people be doing now that you did or used when you created BookScouter?Brandon Checketts: [00:02:47] What should people be doing now that I did?Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:02:48] Yeah.Brandon Checketts: [00:02:49] Tactics have changed a little bit but a lot of time I spent a fair amount of attention on SEO and site performance to make sure the site ran really well. Actually looking back at the old design, it was incredibly simplistic. I think they had a total of seven images on the site in order to make it look fast. It was really just optimized at the time when Google started to place some emphasis on page feed and user experience and so that by make helps when we are trying to gain traction and actually do better than our competitors as well.Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:03:24] You cutoffs are very modest. You said, you know I did a couple of things in the past like this but when I was looking at your back ground, it says like maintained over 400 Unix based servers. You had this really technical background to create this. As far as BookScouter goes, you also had a warehouse too, right?Brandon Checketts: [00:03:46] I’ve done a lot of things. I really started when I was like 16, fixing computers in a computer store, sort of evolved into working at Flying J at the time, the truck stop company. I worked in their helpdesk where we were maintaining their printers, computers, registers, and even the pumps. Some of the hardware that would run out on to the carburetors and the pumps and all that kind of stuff.[00:04:11]That sort of led me from doing the support for that into doing some programming. From the system administration, I started to do some development and programming in order to make our tasks there a little bit simpler. From there, it’s really been more and more about development than actually writing code that does interesting things. Pulling together separate systems and data from here and data from there to do something that hasn’t been done before.Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:04:35] I want to talk about some of those days but what’s interesting is, from an e-commerce to a software company, you see a lot of trends in the industry. What are some, obviously you created some of these software that fill a need and you’re really cool infographic, people can check it out on sellerlabs.com\about. Tell me about the 2010, you and Paul were selling stuff together online. What did that look like?
Brandon Checketts: [00:05:05] It sort of came out of BookScouter. BookScouter was starting to do well and I figured that people were using BookScouter in order to buy and resell books to make money so I should probably use my own tool to make some money, right?
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:05:18] Exactly.
Brandon Checketts: [00:05:20] Paul knew of a place in Atlanta, it’s called Mail Recovery Center where the USPS takes all the things that are lost in the mail and they sell them off there by the pallet. I had a fair amount of experience with books so I bought…the first time there I was somewhat intimidated by the auction and how expensive things were but our second time there I bought a pallet of books for I think it was like $4000.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:05:44] How many books come in like a pallet of books?
Brandon Checketts: [00:05:48] It’s been a while since I actually did the math on this. As I recall, it’s about 900 pounds in a pallet. They call it a gale order. It’s a big brown box. It’s the size of a pallet and about three feet tall. It has about 800-1000 pounds of books in it and each book’s around a pound. So you might say it’s 700 to 800 to 900 books in there.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:06:06] I’d be scared too. You buy this pallet for 4000. You have no idea what’s in it, right?
Brandon Checketts: [00:06:12] No idea what’s in there. Other than there’s 40 other people that bought a pallet of books for about the same price. They think its worth about that.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:06:19] Social proof.
Brandon Checketts: [00:06:20] Social proof. If I’ve got some knowledge about books that I think these guys don’t have maybe I can do about what they are doing there. It’s somewhat of a risk but we did that and we did it fairly well that first pallet we bought from there.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:06:32] What is the opening process? What did you actually find? What was in the pallet?
Brandon Checketts: [00:06:37] Well, they have it somewhat sorted out. It’s actually really fun, if you ever have a chance. Actually the auction used to be live at the USPS facility in Atlanta. They are now done online at govdeals.com. You can actually go through and browse those.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:06:52] That’s really cool. Do they have anything else besides books?
Brandon Checketts: [00:06:58] They have tons of stuff. The books are pretty sorted out so it’s pretty easy to [inaudible 00:07:01] a book. They have electronics, they’ve got Legos, they’ve got any kind of household…
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: This is amazing. I never knew about this.
Brandon Checketts: [00:07:10] Ships can be lost. They actually had gold jewelry. Bars of gold would be sold and lost. All kinds of jewelry. Everything you can imagine was for sale there.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:07:17] That’s crazy. We could stop the interview now Brandon. That was interesting enough. It’s done.
Brandon Checketts: [00:07:25] I think they have an auction every two weeks now I believe. There’s usually one going. If there’s not one, it’ll be up in a week or so.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:07:32] So you want to wrap this book, tell me what process of actually selling all these books.
Brandon Checketts: [00:07:43] I did it out at my garage the first time. Found out that was somewhat successful. I rented a storage unit, I got a 200 square foot storage unit. We’d buy the pallets of stuff at the auction. We’d get a box truck that we’d rent and deliver 4-5 pallets back to our warehouse. Had a laptop or computer with a bar code scanner set up in there.
[00:08:05] I wrote some custom software that was sort of based on BookCcouter that would take all the BookScouter prices since I had pretty ready access to those. It would then look up a lot of the information from the Amazon’s APIs and then it’d make a decision and say that it’s probably better for you to sell this on Amazon or it’s better to sell this to the BookScouter vendor.
[00:08:23] We found probably 10-15% of the stuff would go to a BookScouter vendor and those would go in a pile. At the end of the day we’d box those up and ship them off. Then 80% of the stuff would be worth more on Amazon. This is at the time before they had FBA storage limits. We’d just put those in another process, put an FBA sticker on it and put it in a box to go to Amazon, to FBA. All that stuff would go to FBA at the time. We were able to run a decent size book selling operation there out of a 200 square foot storage units by shipping everything to FBA. So that’s the early days.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:09:01] Did you ramp it up though, the storage unit or the facility?
Brandon Checketts: [00:09:05] We did. We actually had I think 17,000 books at FBA at the time. Then we had that nasty email from Amazon that says we are introducing Amazon FBA storage limits and you are only allowed to have 10,000 items at FBA. I think by that time we had a couple of storage units but we’ve got thousands and thousands of books in here that we can no longer send to FBA. We made a decision at that time to go ahead and pursue it.
[00:09:28] We found a 4,000 square foot that was really an old veterinarian’s office that we turned into a makeshift warehouse. Then we started putting in the shelves there and all that kind of stuff in order to warehouse and fulfill those things ourselves.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:09:43] I want to hear about this because obviously you were not, at the time, an expert at warehouse management. What systems did you find worked for people out there listening who may be ramping up their storage facility or maybe just want some insights in how it should work?
Brandon Checketts: [00:10:00] The technology that we had available at the time is nothing like it’s available now. Back then I think Monsoon was probably the biggest facility for books. Monsoon did a lot of stuff. There was a lot of stuff about it we didn’t like. A lot of stuff that we wanted to build into it. Specifically FBA was brand new and Monsoon didn’t have anything to do with it. That was a critical part of our business.
[00:10:20] We looked at probably three or four other vendors to try and find something that would do what we want but didn’t find anything that did what we want. We figured, how hard can it be to put stuff on a shelf and find it again? We started building that software ourselves. Every book essentially had a bar code on it, every shelf had a bar code and we’d just scan stuff, we scan the books, scan the bar code and we’d know where it was when we had to find it.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:10:46] You still own BookScouter, right?
Brandon Checketts: [00:10:49] That’s right, yeah.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:10:51] Because when someone looks at the home page, it’s just like searching ISPN number and you just easily search it. What did the first version look like? This is a really clean, good version. Did it always look like this?
Brandon Checketts: [00:11:05] No. You can back on to archive.org and see what it looked like. It started up with a sort of blue and white checker board looking pattern. It was ugly. The next version was a big white screen with a logo that’s up and a menu bar and that’s about it. I think about two years ago we launched the current version.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:11:22] How did you meet Paul?
Brandon Checketts: [00:11:24] I met Paul originally when we started buying books. I met him through a church group here. I met him through there, we became friends. I was impressed with Paul because he was the guy that could just get stuff done. He was running a guitar store at the time. He was running a discount guitar warehouse. He was selling guitars on his own website and then on eBay. We started doing the book thing together.
[00:11:49] We found some other opportunities at the auction. We started buying some used electronics, batteries. I think they called them at the time it was cords, modems, and remote controls is what they were selling. It was basically a big huge tangle of cords, batteries, and remote controls all thrown into a big…you can imagine a big…
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:12:09] I think I have one in my closet that looks like that.
Brandon Checketts: [00:12:11] One of those big huge tubs. It probably weighs about 200 pounds when it’s put on a pallet, all folded up or just filled with cords and all the stuff tangled together. We found that we could actually buy those for like 200 bucks because nobody wanted to deal with them. We bought one or two of them and we found like it had all these, I think they were Xbox power supplies in them. We’d find 20 or 30 Xbox power supplies in there that were worth 40, 50, I can’t remember, 60 bucks at a time. So we paid $200 for this pallet and we’d pull out all the Xbox power supplies and sell those to make it a profit and then go recycle all the copper out of all the other stuff and it’s come out pretty well.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:12:48] What were you doing at the time? Were you still doing coding and technical stuff?
Brandon Checketts: [00:12:54] I was writing a lot of the software and trying to make the system work. Then I was hiring people to actually do a lot of the picking stuff out of bin, scan it, put it on a shell. I had another thing that we started at the time that was possible at the time, to try and watch Amazon inventory levels and some other interesting stuff. Mostly still development at the time and then still trying to work with Paul.
[00:13:21] Paul had different needs as far as the inventory that he was getting. Most of that stuff wasn’t suitable for Amazon and so we were writing connectors for eBay to do that kind of stuff. We were using ink fraud at the time to list a lot of that. He still had a lot this problem that ink fraud didn’t do inventory location so we had to still use the inventory management piece that we’d written for the book business. It was hacking together all these different systems and trying to break it up.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:13:46] Brandon, at what point were you like, “Okay, I want to develop a software more for just everyone who’s doing e-commerce?”
Brandon Checketts: [00:14:01] I’d say it probably came when we started going to trade shows on behalf of BookScouter. There’s particularly the show in Seattle, The Seattle Conference for Online Entrepreneurs, SCOB. We went to that probably five year ago as BookScouter because historically there’d been a lot of booksellers there. We’d gone there one or two years as BookScouter but started looking around looking for inventory management type of stuff for our new book business that we were trying to do in our liquidation business and not finding any really good solutions there and kind of deciding that our stuff actually is little more compelling in ways than these are.
[00:14:37] We put a little bit more effort into making the stuff that was highly specific to our business and our environment. A lot of stuff had been hard coded for our pricing rules and whatever. Started to generalize that a little bit more, make it more generally available so a user can subscribe to it and sign up. The real genesis of that was just going on the trade show and deciding that, with a little bit of work, our stuff could be competitive with what’s already out there.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:15:05] At what point do you decide I am not going to buy any more pallets of books and just focus on software?
Brandon Checketts: [00:15:13] That really came just after just realizing the opportunities available in software I suppose. With an inventory based business, the amount of money that you can make is really dependent on the amount of money in the business. If you have X number of dollars in the bank or available in the business, you can make as profits some percentage of that. The inverse is more true with software. If you put a large capital investment up front to develop software and support but the potential for that is…
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:15:46] The infrastructure is there.
Brandon Checketts: [00:15:47] A much bigger upside. That’s kind of why we switched over.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:15:52] The first product for Seller Labs was Feedback Genius.
Brandon Checketts: [00:15:57] That’s right. We were actually in the middle of running all those inventory management stuff between me and Paul and our warehouse that we were trying to run. Paul went on a vacation to the beach one weekend and I figured I was going to act together this idea I’d thought up a while back to try and pull in all the Amazon order information from Amazon and then cross-reference that with shipping provider data from UPS, USPS, and FedEx. Try and send a message to my customers like on the day it was delivered. Nobody was doing that yet.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:16:25] What made you think of that? Why did you want to do that?
Brandon Checketts: [00:16:30] The main reason for that was to make our feedback score get better. We were a relatively small book seller in a market place and we wanted to be more competitive and get better Buy Box placement. We’re at one of those things where we know we’re at 96/97%, if we had 98 or 99% maybe we’d sell more. So that was one of the original reasons for it.
[00:16:50] The other thing that we found was, one of the things we were buying at the USPS auction was loose mix media and it was essentially DVDs. You can make it like Netflix discs that were lost. Just the disc, no art work, no case for it. We’d buy a 200 pound box of these things. At the time they had 5000 discs in it. We’d be identifying those trying to ship them off.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:17:11] Let me ask you about this. So there’s no identifying information on the outside of it?
Brandon Checketts: [00:17:15] You have the cover of the disc but there’s nothing that would say…the majority of the stuff actually just has the name of the movie on it, the name of the artist on it. Wouldn’t have the case or the art work that comes with it. Just discs, fairly heavy plastic.
[00:17:36] We’d create listings for these. We’d put them in a case, we’d put the listing up on Amazon and say that this item is for the disc in a generic case only, it doesn’t include the artwork but we found that we’d have a lot of complaints from those. We’d ship them out to people and people would leave us negative feedback because they didn’t contain the artwork. Even though our listing said that, we found that Amazon wasn’t very good at conveying that information. It wasn’t always available on Amazon.
[00:18:02] One of the other reasons we wrote Feedback Genius was to send messages specifically for those particular SKUs and we wanted the message to the customer as soon the order was placed, as soon as we possibly could and mention to the buyer that this item does not contain the artwork or the original case. If that’s not what you were expecting, please cancel it right now before we ship it you because after we ship it to you you’re not going to get it back. That was sort of the two main cases for why Feedback Genius was launched initially and why we kind of have that initial feature set.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:18:36] You’re at that initial feature set, at what point do you think other people are going to want this, I am going to try and release this to others?
Brandon Checketts: [00:18:42] If I recall right I built a really primitive hard code version  of that in a week or two and actually found that it works. We actually had fewer people buying or returning and complaining about the defective discs and found that our feedback as a percentage of the number of items we shipped, we were getting more feedback for it. I was like well this actually works. I think there’s value to that, let’s put a little bit of time into it and make a nice page for somebody to sign up and be able to customize this stuff. That time I had an inclination of that’s where it’s going to go and so it didn’t take a whole lot of time to make that hard coded version work in a more general purpose for other people.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:19:24] I want to talk about scope at one point. Right now you are in beta and when this comes out people will be able to get it, but what did the beta look like in Feedback Genius?
Brandon Checketts: [00:19:36] I would say it looked uglier than it does now. We hired a designer later while we were developing that actually made it look a little better. It actually really looks similar to what is on there right now. After we got that first skin change so it looked decent.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:19:56] How do you release it? How do you get the word out?
Brandon Checketts: [00:20:00] I think I ran an ad on BookScouter. So I had BookScouter. Quite a number of people were using that. I think I started initially with some people and some contacts I had there. Just put an advertisement on the side of that. It grew really fairly organically from just being a part of a couple of mailing lists, a few things like that, going to the trade show. We actually went to the trade show the next year as Seller Labs and got people to use it from there. Got a couple of people just talking about it and word spreads fairly quickly.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:20:29] What’s best practice for using Feedback Genius or staying in touch with your customers that you’ve probably learned from using this software? Because there’s a lot of features, there’s not just an email, but you can customize different messages, there’s different features of the software itself.
Brandon Checketts: [00:20:53] We actually thought that we find we might have named it the wrong thing because I’s not just about feedback anymore. It’s more about proactive customer communication, it’s a flexible messaging tool. You can use it in any number of ways. We’ve got people for example, that just use it to send an attachment to the buyer. Maybe they have a product that has some complicated instructions or a common misuse or a common complaint about it, they can send some messaging with Feedback Genius just to set the expectations for how this is supposed to work.
[00:21:20] People obviously use it for feedback and for product reviews fairly extensively. It does very good at that. Since you can’t customize that based on what product the person bought, you can customize that message content to really target on the specific product that they bought. The other thing that we find very successful is to make it sound that you are a person and not just some corporation asking for feedback. I gave some personality to it, some humor or something to mix that a little bit.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:21:48] What have you found works best?
Brandon Checketts: [00:21:50] Depends on your brand. If you are selling a very serious product…if you are selling medical gloves to a hospital, maybe a different tone comes through.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:22:01] Like…yeah. I’m not even going to say a joke for that.
Brandon Checketts: [00:22:07] People are selling all kinds of things. I remember a lady talked to us, she was selling, what are the things cheerleaders throw up in the air?
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:22:14] Pom-poms?
Brandon Checketts: [00:22:15] Yeah, the brand for that sounds drastically different than does a brand for a medical device or something. You can communicate your brand through there both through like an image, through logos, and stuff like that.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:22:28] What are other mistakes Bran people make with communicating with their customers?
Brandon Checketts: [00:22:35] I would say, we see a lot of people that try to encourage I think too much communication. As an Amazon shopper, if I go on to Amazon, I buy a cellphone case for seven bucks I don’t expect to get six emails about that. I would like [inaudible 00:22:48]
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:22:49] Do people send six emails?
Brandon Checketts: [00:22:51] I think we’ve seen people send as many as six or seven. I would encourage you to send something that’s appropriate. In most cases that’s probably one or two messages.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:23:01] One or two.
Brandon Checketts: [00:23:02] One or two, I would say for most cases. In general I’d say less expensive stuff, under $10, under $15 should, it probably be one. If you are selling something for $200 or $300 you can probably give some more instructions, some more messaging around that as well. That’s one component out of many that you might use the price of the item.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:23:25] Yeah, because I can see some people take it to the extreme and like abuse it.
Brandon Checketts: [00:23:33] We certainly don’t want to see that. There’re tools beside Feedback Genius out there and they hurt all of us as a whole if you over message your customer, like it’s something you don’t want to see. Try to encourage people to be more realistic about what…if you are an Amazon shopper how many emails would you like to receive about this?
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:23:52] Put yourself in their shoes.
Brandon Checketts: [00:23:54] Probably not more than one or two for most people.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:23:58] Again, you see a lot of different businesses, what are some other cool stuff that you see people selling online that are using your services? Like you said the pom-poms. What else?
Brandon Checketts: [00:24:09] I’ve see everything you can possibly imagine people selling. I probably can’t name any specifics because there are our customers. Obviously there’s still a lot of people that still sell books and DVDs and that kind of stuff but lots of kitchen gadgets, lots of pet supplies. All kinds of things.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:24:27] Any popular trends you are seeing lately that are working well?
Brandon Checketts: [00:24:32] As far as products? I don’t dig into stuff enough to know what products are popular I guess or what specific things people are selling.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:24:39] So Feedback Genius, you release it, people are using it. What was the next software product?
Brandon Checketts: [00:24:47] It’s kind of funny because even though we released Feedback Genius, I think it was April 2013 or so, I’d have to go back and look and see.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:24:55] April 2013, yeah.
Brandon Checketts: [00:24:57] We started charging for it in August or so and all this whole time they were still working on inventory management system trying to make sure we figure we’ve got something pretty good there. We actually spent the next year or so still writing inventory management software. We kind of got to a point where we thought it was ready to go and then tried to sign up some people on it and found that it was way too complicated and they only wanted this feature and that feature but not that feature and then try to get people to change their whole business.
[00:25:27] The inventory management is a software product that people use all day, every day. So they have various specific ways in which they want to use it. What we had didn’t meet all those needs and it was hard to go in and modify it. We went back and basically scraped it and started over with an API, sort of API first approach. We could do it in a more modular way, but then Feedback Genius just took off. We kind of abandoned the inventory management piece of that and still use some of that API stuff that we wrote on our back end in order to pull data in from Amazon but we don’t do any of the inventory management stuff.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:26:02] You and founder of Skubana should trade war stories at some point. That’s probably why they went into All-in-One E-commerce because it probably doesn’t work in any other way unless you include anything in there.
Brandon Checketts: [00:26:14] I’ve talked to Chad a little bit about how some of that stuff works and he describes some of the stuff that we are doing. That’s a good way of doing it. Probably how I would do it if I was [inaudible 00:26:22]
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:26:24] So Feedback Genius took off but you are not one to sit on your laurels, right? You are always creating. What was the next thing you created? Was it Snagshout?
Brandon Checketts: [00:26:36] Like I said, we spent a fair amount of time doing inventory management. At the same time we started hiring other people for developers and for customer support people. All that stuff was internal trying to get that stuff off the ground. I remember I sent an email to Paul a while back, I don’t know the dates on it. We found a lot of our customers were trying to get in to get more product reviews, essentially. They were trying to use Feedback Genius to get product reviews, which is a natural reason to use it. We still found even our best case people get maybe 10% of the people that buy their products leave a product review.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:27:11] Probably less.
Brandon Checketts: [00:27:13] In most cases much less. Ten percent is very high. We started brainstorming on how do we get more product reviews. That’s when we came up with this genesis of the idea of Snagshout, giving products away for a discount in exchange for a product review and sort of how that whole thing evolved. Paul started on that I think was probably around January 2014. He started working on that with a couple of people and it really took us most of that year in order to get a product that worked. We were very part-time at the first of the year but by December we had something that we were ready to release. We started using that internally with a few of our friends and family type of stuff, people we knew really closely to start using that and formally launched that in January this year.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:28:02] With Snagshout, what did you want it to do originally? Obviously as you get feedback, what has changed and improved?
Brandon Checketts: [00:28:13] Initially it was all about trying to get Amazon reviews. We found that it’s a very compelling product because of the sales velocity you get in the product reviews. You kind of get a two for one there. You get sales velocity on Amazon which helps you sell more and you get product reviews, which helps your conversion rate, social proof aspect of it.
[00:28:35] It kind of started with that and it’s really taken off to be much bigger than just Amazon too. All of the stuff that we are developing now is to start marketing your product and your brand on social media throughout a lot of that. There’s still a lot of ways we still can go to change how we want Snagshout to be working, what exactly we want it to be in the future. We’ve got a pretty good roadmap on where we want to go in the near future but in the long term there’s still a lot of different things we can do there.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:29:03] What I like looking at the software is obviously when you create it you are filling your own need and a lot of customers’ need and so it makes me think of exactly what people should be doing for their business. That’s important. One, they should be communicating with their customer,s hence you created Feedback Genius and also getting reviews and kind of amplifying that with Snagshout. How are people using Snagshout? Maybe explain it a little bit because I’ve browsed a little bit so I know but just for people listening.
Brandon Checketts: [00:29:37] The obvious use case is for people who are launching brand new products. There’s a big trend now of people starting their own brands, taking their products, and making it their own. It does very well for just trying to get a product off the ground. From having zero reviews to having your official product reviews, to seem relevant with your competition. It does very well for that. There’s also another use case, is the little less obvious I guess. It’s in trying to take a part that’s already being sold in Amazon and sell it more or to use Snagshout, the sales velocity you get from Amazon helps you to rank better on Amazon search. Amazon naturally wants to show things that the customers are most likely to buy. One of the Amazon’s best signals for whether somebody is willing to buy something is how many have sold in the past, especially in the recent past. The sales velocity you get from having a campaign on Snagshot helps your product to rank better. That’s a fairly temporary type of thing. In a lot of cases if you are not selling very many and you do a large campaign that’s going to give you a bump  for a very short period of time. If you use that on the longer term it helps as well.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:30:16] Like consistent basis you mean?
Brandon Checketts: [00:30:52] Yeah, on a consistency basis. That comes into a little bit why we’ve done so much work on Scope as well. It’s all about how you rank in comparison to the competitor products. If you are selling a product and there’s three or four competitors that are very similar or very likely to buy, it’s important to know how many products your competition is selling so you can sell an equal amount or to rank equivalent or similar to them on Amazon. That’s a lot of the stuff we are trying to build into Scope to help you decide how much you should use Snagshout for instance.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:31:29] Is there a best practice with Snagshout? Let’s say I have a shampoo, like a natural shampoo or something, like I go on Snagshout, what would I do?
Brandon Checketts: [00:31:43] As a seller you would go on there, you’d sign up. If you haven’t got an account it’s pretty simple to create an account. Sign up, put in the email address and password and I think we have to put your credit card number before you can create your first campaign.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:31:53] Because there’re different tiers, right? At least I was looking at it.
Brandon Checketts: [00:31:57] For pricing?
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:31:58] Yeah, like is that a Snags the amount of product?
Brandon Checketts: [00:32:04] It’s all about how many products you have Snagged. So the more Snags you have the less it costs.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:32:11] So if I wanted to release 100 units of the shampoo, that will be 100 Snags.
Brandon Checketts: [00:32:18]100 Snags. We only charge you when somebody actually Snags it. The billing is done, what do they call it, in retrospect or after the fact. We don’t charge you upfront, we just charge you for the products we are able to give away. I know it’s important to note on Snagshout that we can’t guarantee that all you products are going to get Snagged.
[00:32:37]The users and the buyers on Snagshout have choice on what they want to buy. In a lot of cases you don’t have to give the product away, in most cases we are trying to get people to actually sell the product at a discount but not at this huge steep discount.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:32:51] I see, so they’re not giving away the product necessarily. Although obviously if they did, they’d probably get more Snags and more reviews.
Brandon Checketts: [00:32:58] That’s what comes down to. If you’re selling a product, it’s normally $20 and there’s 400 of those on Amazon, we see that a lot of vitamin supplements because a lot of people are doing vitamin supplements. So in order to have a successful campaign with us on Snagshout, you practically have to give them away because everybody else, there’s so many choices there. If you have a product that’s very differentiated, it’s all about the perceived value. If the price on it is normally $50 and you can do it for $30 on Snagshout, you might be losing money, you might be breaking even at that price. If there’s is a $20 perceived value you’re getting from Snagshout, you’re going to be more likely to sell it than if you only add the $5 discount or something .
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:33:41] I see, best practice is when you get reviews is just try discount it as much as you humanly possible, if that’s the actual end goal.
Brandon Checketts: [00:33:49] It depends on how many you want to promote also. So if your goal is to give away a 5 a day you don’t have to use discount, but if your goal is to give 100 a day you need to have a steeper discount on that.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:34:01] You are saying with Snagshout, it’s more in a consistent basis where you see people flood it at a onetime thing, Snagshout people you want more of a consistent amount of sales over a period of time because that looks more natural.
Brandon Checketts: [00:34:15] It’s really both, it depends on what you need. It obviously works well for product launchers that require some maybe you give away 50 or 25, whatever that is to make you relevant for your product. If all your competitors have 700 reviews, you’re probably going to do some more giveaways or discount of products in order to get closer to 700 reviews. While if all you competitors have 15 or 20 reviews, you don’t need to do as many. It’s really about how you rank and how you fit in with competitor products that are there.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:34:51] Brandon, what else have you seen will help people sell more? Obviously, getting more reviews, you have a couple of posts on the death of super URLs. You want to talk about that?
Brandon Checketts: [00:35:06] It was a hot topic months ago, I guess.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:35:10] People are still probably using though.
Brandon Checketts: [00:35:12] Let’s see, how complicated and technical do we want to get real quickly?
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:35:17] It’s complicated as you think it needs to be.
Brandon Checketts: [00:35:19] All right. I would describe a super URL does not begin with www.amazon.com, that’s a commen conception. A super URL begins with a URL that starts with some link shortener or whatever. What happens is the super URL service will take a short link and it will expand it out to an Amazon link that begins with www.amazon.com, and a part of that URL, it manipulates certain parts of the parameters in that URL to make it look as though the shopper just searched for something on Amazon when in fact they did not. So, that’s the part that’s little deceptive about it which we think is not good and Amazon will…it’s easier for them to catch onto.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:36:00] Can people use, if they search on Amazon, let’s say shampoo, and they grab that URL and then they click on their link from Amazon and grab that URL, that’s and amazon.com with the “search by keyword, shampoo?” Is that okay to use for people?
Brandon Checketts: [00:36:19] Certainly, yes. That’s the way people have been doing it for many years, and I would say there is no reason to think that that would be a problem.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:36:25] So the problem is if someone uses some kind of shortener that then manipulates it.
Brandon Checketts: [00:36:30] Yeah. The problem is the shortener then changes those parameters every time somebody clicks on it, it generates a different URL to make it look as though there was multiple searches that occurred even though nobody actually searched for. So that part is manipulative. I think it’s clearly manipulative when we talk about it in this context of we’re changing these parameters to make it look like a search actually occurred. The intent there is certainly to manipulate Amazon’s algorithm. Whether that actually still works or not, some people say it does, some people say it doesn’t, we say it’s certainly an intent to manipulate.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:37:06] Your articles say, “Why even risk it if you can get banned?”
Brandon Checketts: [00:37:09] Why even risk it? Most of our customers have a large percentage of their sales on Amazon. If your Amazon account gets suspended even for a few hours, let alone days or weeks that it sometimes takes, that’s a [inaudible 00:37:25] of your business, right?
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:37:26] Yeah. It’s a huge blow.
Brandon Checketts: [00:37:26] Why risk it for something that may or may not work?
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:37:31] What else should people be thinking when they want to boost sales? Reviews, obviously keeping in touch with customers with specific emails, what else?
Brandon Checketts: [00:37:39] I consider there’s no magic bullet. If there was one magic bullet, I would say…
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:37:44] It’s Scope. No, I’m just kidding.
Brandon Checketts: [00:37:45] It’s have a great product. That’s the best thing you can do to have sales on Amazon, is have a great product. So if you can have a product that’s fabulous, you’ll sell more.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:37:56] That’s good advice, we often forget about that. Scope, what is Scope? You’re in beta now, maybe when this releases it’s going to be out of data so what did you create in Scope?
Brandon Checketts: [00:38:08] What we are doing with Scope is we had a product called Search Rank that was a while back that we had some initial people sign up for, we pulled back on it because it did this…one of the features in it was this super URL building type of thing. But at its core like the real functionality that we liked that of it was its ability to watch where you product ranked on Amazon Search and so we want to pull that functionality into Scope.
[00:38:38] Scope is all about, the name of it really came from thinking of it like a microscope or a telescope, like you’re trying to look into and see in details about how something works on the inside of it and try to analyze that. The idea of the name Scope is supposed to be for you look inside of a product and figure out what makes it tick and all the different components about how it works and what makes it successful.
[00:38:59] We’re trying to build a lot of that data the Scope so we’re doing a lot of things to try to pull data from Amazon’s catalog, from Amazon’s search results, from all these different sort of data points we have to help you understand what people are looking for when they buy your products. And then how you products compare to other competitor’s products, and then to give you ideas on…it’s used to look into the products you are already selling and see how you compete there, and also to give you some idea of products you are not selling yet or you may be considering bringing to market or sourcing.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:39:40] Yeah, which is really important.
Brandon Checketts: [00:39:41] Yeah, it’ll give you some idea of what you can expect out of it like just using Amazon data you don’t know if I should buy 20 of these or I should buy 30 of them. So, the common question like, “If I buy X number, how long is it going to last? How long is it going to last me?” Try to get answered some of those question about some of this data that is hidden in Amazon. Some of the information that you should be able to get at Amazon catalog that you can’t, so we’re trying to make that service a little bit easier.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:40:13] Yeah. This sounds like a complicated task, what’s the best way to do a UI for something like this? What do you find that sellers are looking for, what’s most important to them when they look at the…let’s say they get into the Scope platform area, what are they looking for, what do they want to see?
Brandon Checketts: [00:40:33] A lot of times people approach it from what am I selling right now and how does it do it, how does it work in a comparison or how was the performance this week versus last week. So, trying to look at and point to that data that we had as far as tracking your position in search. Maybe if I’m selling an apple slicer like I was ranked number four this week and no I’m ranked number three, hopefully that equates to some boost in sales. And then also tying that back like, “Okay. If I was ranked four last week and I’m ranked three this week, what did I do? How do I keep doing that? How do I repeat that?
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:41:07] It’s hard to track that.
Brandon Checketts: [00:41:09] There’re all these different variables that are going on in any given time so it’s hard to say just because apple slicers are busier this week because it’s a holiday or it’s a different season or did I do something with my listing, or did my competition’s price go up, what changed for me to rank better? So trying to nail down some of that data to get your visibility into what’s might have happened there.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:41:30] If you heard anything…I don’t know if you’ll ever answer this Brandon…from people using Scope in beta, what ideas have people gotten or generated because of using it?
Brandon Checketts: [00:41:40] I’m actually not directly so involved with Scope so it’s little hard for me to answer some of that, what ideas have people gotten?
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:41:51] Because I can see the people that I talk to spend a lot of time on new ideas, they want to expand their catalog, they want to expand their SKUs, and they’re constantly thinking about what else should I be getting.
Brandon Checketts: [00:42:07] I guess one of the really cool things we have in there is the… and this operates sort of independent of Amazon’s suggestions and stuff but we have an ability to look at similar products. So when you’re looking at a specific product, a little bar on the right shows similar products that might be either people that bought this, bought that, also it might be tie-ins that way, it might be competitive products. You get some idea of what people might be seeing that you might not normally consider. Maybe that’s products, if you’re really going to niche in a specific category or like a little facet of some brand, maybe there’re some similar products there that you may be able to source or manufacture.
[00:42:50] The other one would be like sometimes they’re different keywords that you don’t realize, maybe I’m selling a product that sells because I have this really obscure keyword. I didn’t realize that people are actually searching for blue toe nail clippers and they are buying my product even though I didn’t know that was a major thing that people are searching for, trying to surface some of that information and say, “Oh, you’re actually getting a significant portion of sales because of this term you didn’t realize.” So maybe you market that product differently or you create a new product based on that knowledge.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:43:22] What’s also interesting about software for e-commerce like yourself is you can step back and see the whole scope of everything. We talked about the Feedback Genius, what mistakes people make, what do you see mistakes people making in e-commerce in general that’s hindering them?
Brandon Checketts: [00:43:43] I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of people trying to do this private label thing and sell like the product they make them sell. I think a lot of times people underestimate how much work that is and how much money it takes specifically. It’s fairly capital-intensive.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:43:57] Yeah. What have you seen?
Brandon Checketts: [00:43:59] I would say it depends on the product, it depends on…but it takes $10,000- $20,000 to try and launch a product, to try and get the product here manufactured how you want it to, to be able to promote it right, and get it selling. You can try and cut some corners there but you’ve got to a lot of more stuff yourself or it takes a lot longer sometimes.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:44:19] Big mistake people…they think they’re going to get rich and just put this private label together and it takes a lot more time, energy, and money is what you’re saying?
Brandon Checketts: [00:44:29] I think a lot of time it does. Sometimes they have high expectations and without doing all the stuff… it takes more money a lot of times than more people need
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:44:40] Yeah. So what else? What are the other big mistakes you see? Sellers, yeah.
Brandon Checketts: [00:44:43] Big mistakes. A lot of times I think people have a lot of products, a lot of times people try to get a lot of products and a lot of that products aren’t actually making them any money. They get some of the big thing, not necessarily huge thing but sometimes I think I see some people have 500 SKUs but there’s only 20 of them that matter in the business. So, the ones that they are selling the most of, all this other stuff if they were to actually maybe take a step back and look at it and say if I actually ditched all these and didn’t have to spend the time, the money, and have the money tied up in capital and inventory, I may be able to use that better in a different manner on products that are actually working.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:45:22] I’m just really curious because I know you’ll see all these sellers and I’m just wondering which one you is shaking your head at you and like, “No, they are not doing the right thing here.” What are some other things you shake your head at when you look at some of the people using your platform?
Brandon Checketts: [00:45:37] I guess one of the other things I didn’t see a lot of is people not differentiating their products a lot. If you’re again, private label, trying to market your own brand like you if don’t have something differentiating your product significantly, it’s hard to differentiate and make your products stand out. If there is not something compelling about it that’s different than your competitors. Sometimes what a lot of people end up doing is differentiating based on price. So, making you product cheaper, which doesn’t…
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:46:04] Horrible.
Brandon Checketts: [00:46:04]…it’s anti, it’s not what you wanted to go with that but a lot of times you do that to be competitive. Find something to differentiate your product and a lot of times that requires more than just putting a label on it that’s the same product that everybody else can get. You have to actually do work and do some innovation to make something different or something new that hasn’t been done before.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:46:25] That’s great. I constantly think of the USP, the unique selling proposition, is huge. Oftentimes we don’t think of that all the time.
Brandon Checketts: [00:46:32] Yeah. What do you do to drive value? People buy stuff because of its valuable for them. What do you do to add value to either the product or the supply chain or something like that? A lot of times the value the people add is not much more than just some capital, to buy a product and make it available at a convenient time. If that’s the value you’re adding, you need to understand the economics of that, it has to be a high volume business in order to do that because it depends on what your business model is. Some people prefer the high volume, little margin type of stuff like that, and some people would prefer to put the extra effort in the specific products and do the extra marketing of stuff to have a higher margin.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:47:14] What were some of the big mistakes you made when you were selling the books or buying those pallets?
Brandon Checketts: [00:47:19] We definitely underestimated how resource-intensive it was as far as labor.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:47:24] Labor-wise?
Brandon Checketts: [00:47:25] Labor-wise, we felt like we had a fairly good amount of automation there but it still required a lot of labor. Labor was almost as expensive as the product when we were doing it. Depending on what you’re doing but there is a lot of labor involved and some of that is just hard to avoid. That’s the main there, I think I learned how running some of the stuff was that the labor requirements, just to do stuff it takes people. People are relatively expensive so to hire somebody and to pay their benefits, all that kinds of stuff.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:48:01] What other challenges did you face with the e-commerce side, with the books and selling?
Brandon Checketts: [00:48:09] We didn’t know anything about running a warehouse and doing all that kind of stuff, so we basically did all that stuff from scratch. We tried to do stuff very economically so we were building our own shelves out of…we were buying 2×4 in plywood and building our own…
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:48:23] I’m surprised you still have hair in your head, I’d have pulled it all out.
Brandon Checketts: [00:48:26] We got at the other guys who were working with a hammer and a screw drill.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:48:31] What would you have done now if you’d do it over?
Brandon Checketts: [00:48:35] I don’t know. I had a good time doing, it it is always fun, so I can’t say there was anything bad about that, but we probably did that longer than we should have. We should have gotten out a little bit quicker, adjusted all of our software quicker.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:48:49] What’s been the biggest challenge on the software side of things?
Brandon Checketts: [00:48:54] I would say probably it has to do with the people trying to develop a team and trying to get a group of people, a body of knowledge, not just one person. A lot of the stuff, a lot of the original Feedback Genius product I wrote myself when I was the main guy in charge of that. When we’ve developed these other software projects, we’ve been able to do that with the team of people that’s worked out much better. Now trying to take Feedback Genius off my hands and go back and make few people involved in that is a little more difficult.
[00:49:30] So just trying to get that knowledge out there so that other people in the company can support us so that I’m not the only that has to do everything on the very technical staff, so that other people can understand, can maintain it, can make improvements to it, and support it, and all that kind of stuff. It takes a lot of good people in order to do that. We’ve done a fair amount of work with trying to make sure we’re having the right people, good people want to work here that have a good understanding of the industry and they are very skilled. We’re very proud of the team we have that’s pulled together to do all that.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:49:58] I’d work there. I saw one of your videos and it showed a lot of good food.
Brandon Checketts: [00:50:03] We do a lot of stuff. Food is definitely a big part of our culture.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:50:07] I was like, “I’m a going to drive, I’m going to come down in Atlanta and work there.” Because I just saw the delicious food on the video, signed me up.
Brandon Checketts: [00:50:16] We have lunch provided every Friday and pretty good snacks the rest of the time and then we do stuff fairly often.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:50:23] Tell me about this because I think this is an important point, Brandon, about the team. It’s not like you are one or two people, you guys have…I think I counted there was like 10 different developers alone.
Brandon Checketts: [00:50:38] I’d say we’re probably up to 15 or something now.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:50:39] Fifteen, wow. Tell me about, because this is a real development software company, how do you run the meetings and how do you get everyone on the same page when it comes to this?
Brandon Checketts: [00:50:50] We try to divide things into separate projects. We have essentially Feedback Genius, Scope, and Snagshout teams, and as well as our new products. We try to guide those with the product managers in charge of the products and then developers that all work on the product in the futures we are working towards.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:51:10] Is it like a Scrum methodology type of?
Brandon Checketts: [00:51:13] Yeah. We do the daily standups, we do try to create sprints of the future you want to look after. From there software development scrums.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:51:20] Tell people a little bit about it because I think people can use this to manage many different things and I found it fascinating.
Brandon Checketts: [00:51:27] It is a little bit interesting…I don’t know if we’ll do it all 100 %, I don’t know if there’s a right way of doing this but in general the agile software development mentality is to have a…we have daily we tell them at standup meetings that are intended to be short meetings. They call them standup meetings because they are only supposed to be 5 and 10 minutes long. In the standup meeting, you’re supposed to tell everybody in the group that’s working on the project, and the team should probably be no more to 5 to maybe 7 people.
[00:51:59] The team should each day in their standup meeting talk about what they were working on yesterday, what they did yesterday, what they plan to work on the day. And then any blockers if they’re waiting for somebody else to complete something. That way the team knows what’s going on and 5 or 10 minutes each day, they get some idea of what everybody else is doing and where they fit in to the picture.
[00:52:20] Once a week we have a longer meeting, a longer version of one those where we sit down and look at what we want to accomplish this week and is this a realistic plan? How are we going to accomplish this week? Probably every other week or so we have maybe the longer term one to figure out like where we want to be next month from now, like what do we want to have to do? What do we need to plan for and have prepared so that we don’t have to wait on it when we’re actively working on a project.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:52:46] I find it very valuable even like talking to some software developers and I listen to audio or [inaudible00:52:52] or whatever it is by the founder of Sutherland. I do have a trouble board with to do, doing, and then done, and I do use the Fibonacci sequence…do you guys do that like technical. No?
Brandon Checketts:[00:53:08] I don’t know Fibonacci thing but basically they call it a work board, a Scrum work board .
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:53:11] Yeah, exactly.
Brandon Checketts: [00:53:12] This is the spread that we are on right now and these are the tasks that we want to accomplish in this spreads. The spreads are going to be done by this date, and we just all work until we get that done by that date as much as we can.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:53:26] Do you find with the developers you have on, are they unbowed with this, are there objections about I have to have daily meeting? This seems crazy. What are some of the objections you get?
Brandon Checketts: [00:53:37] Like I said, I guess we hired good people, because we don’t have a lot of objections. A lot of times, I guess our biggest complication with that is a lot of times people aren’t in the office.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:53:48] Working remotely?
Brandon Checketts: [00:53:49] We have essentially a results-only work environment for the most part, so people might be calling in…sometimes this happened with Google Hangouts, sometimes it happened in just our Slack communication channel, depending on the size of the team, the team’s only got two people on it that might just be able to coordinate on Slack with a couple of messages back and forth. Larger teams have a Google Hangout every day or whatever. They’re doing it in different ways but the result is to get on the same page and make sure we’re working towards the same goal.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:54:20] Brandon, what other big trends are you seeing? I know you a have a strong opinion about these super URLs, what else do you have a strong opinion on in e-commerce that people should or should not be doing?
Brandon Checketts: [00:54:34] I don’t know, strong opinions? I don’t know if I’ve got a great answer to that one.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:54:41] Just looking your blog post, I figure you have strong opinion because you wrote two blog posts on super URLs and the rest are fairly technical about Amazon AWS permissions and…
Brandon Checketts: [00:54:55] I guess I have to add on that a little bit. I feel like on the technical side, I’m obviously a very technical person. On the technical side Amazon AWS is their name of the API, program used to communicate with the Amazon seller accounts. I actually put out a petition six months or year ago to try and get Amazon to list those permissions that people… list the companies to which sellers are granted access to their account inside Amazon because up until that point, a user might have subscribed to listing service A, re-pricing service B or whatever, and then stop using the service and they never had any way to take away the permissions.
[00:55:36] Companies still had permissions a year later or two years later, and so if that company got hacked or had internal problems or whatever, you still could be affected by that. I put a blog post, a petition about that a while back and that extra feature was released by Amazon earlier this year, probably two or three months ago. They have the ability now to go into your seller central account and go down to the user permissions and you can see who you granted access to, revoke access to that if you want. So that’s been a big deal, I’ve really liked for Amazon to make that more granular permission.
[00:56:09] As a software developer, when you grant access to any third party, access to your AWS account, they have access to do everything, you can’t limit what the access is [inaudible 00:56:20]: to create listings, to pull reports, to change prices…I’d like that to be much more granular permission that you could say, “I’m subscribing to re-pricing service and they have permission to change my prices but nothing else.” Or, “I’m subscribing to Feedback Genius and they have permission to deploy my orders but not change my prices,” that doesn’t exist right now. The seller really has to rely on the software developer, the third party…
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:56:43] You have to trust them.
Brandon Checketts: [00:56:45] You have to trust them, no other way. I think that the seller should be able to limit that a lot more and Amazon will be a better platform if they can grant more granular permission.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:56:49] That’s a good reason you’re doing the interview because they’ll see your face and trust you after hearing you. If they don’t trust you after this interview, they should go to your blog…I don’t know, I’m assuming this is you. It’s a Brandon Checketts blog and they should trust you because I don’t understand one word of one of the titles because it’s so technical. It’s like [inaudible 00:57:28] validator.com
Brandon Checketts: [00:57:29] That’s a tool that you might use to check if your email has passed some spam checking stuff.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [00:57:36] No, I’m just saying, whoever it is…this is the founder, you’re dealing with very technical people. On that side of things Brandon, what types of software do you think are essential for people to use in an e-commerce business, obviously Seller Labs software, Feedback Genius, Snagshout Scope. What else out there should people be thinking about?
Brandon Checketts: [00:57:58] It depends on your business model. If you’re doing a business where you’ve got a lot of SKUs, you certainly need some sort of inventory measurement software. If you are in a business where you only get one or two SKUs, you can probably do without it an inventory measurement software an you’re probably looking more into marketing type of software or analytics type of software. It depends on where you want to go with it.
[00:58:25] We like to break down businesses based on how they source products. This might go really long, I have no idea but we describe four different of ways of sourcing products. One of them would be…we call it a scouter sort of products. You might find deals either in person from arbitrage opportunities, retail stores, or online, sort of scouting for one-off deals, trying to find good deals to buy and resell. That’s certainly one very popular way of buying and reselling products.
[00:58:59] The next one passed out will be wholesale relationships with buyers, product manufactures, or distributes. The skills and the business operations change very drastically. If you’re doing this scouting business model, all of your time and energy should be towards optimizing how efficient am I when I’m scouting and trying to find opportunities. You want to be as efficient as possible as because usually time is your limiting factor.
[00:59:27] If you now take a step over to this business model where you have whole sale relationships with people when you are ordering maybe hundreds of products at a time, then a lot of times your limiting factor in that case is more capital-intensive. How do I first deploy my capital? If I’ve got a choice of all these 400 different products, how do I buy the right combination of products that gives me the bets return of my capital investment? That’s another one.
[00:59:53] The other one we talk about a lot of times is like a liquidation business model, which we actually have a fair amount of experience in that, where I’m just going to buy a trail-load of stuff, I don’t know what’s on it but now I get to figure out how to process that and list it in the right way and try to make some amount of money on that. That’s where I personally found this very… we talked about labor intensive like, “How do I go through this? How do I unload  a trail-load of stuff in an efficient matter, try and get it, try and go through it to weed out the stuff that should be garbage, put that in the thrash. Find the stuff that should be sold and make sure you created a good listing.
[01:00:26] If I’m spending way too much time creating a listing, how do I optimize my time in that case? And then there is some capital component with that, how do I make sure that I get a return on the investment in a reasonable timeframe.
[01:00:40] The fourth sort of model for source inventory becomes as manufacturing, labeling, and creating your own product. That one is very much more like how do I market my product correctly? How do I create the right copy and the right packaging and all this sort of stuff, like how do I make my products stand out. That’s another completely different business model that you have different tactics [inaudible 01:01:01]
[01:01:02] We divide the world into those sort of four sourcing methods and the tools and the way you think about the world depends on which one of those you fall into and a lot of people are a combination of several.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [01:01:09] Brandon, I want to take a second and give a quick plug for the sponsor because we are talking a lot about software obviously. So, I will say imagine if you could combine all these software tools you currently use to run your e-commerce business besides Seller Labs into one centralized cloud platform for fraction of the cost, would you use it? Of course you would. Now Skubana does all that, I personally use them actually, what I love most about them is sort of what you mentioned Brandon, which is let’s say you have a certain 10 or 20 SKUs and you know exactly which ones are profitable and which one are not profitable. You should probably stop selling the ones that are not profitable. So they actually have that feature which I can search my profitable SKUs and not profitable SKUs and start eliminating those. As well as obviously you talked about inventory management, which is a hard problem to tackle, which they’ve done. Brandon, I appreciate your time and I have one last question from you. And people should just check out sellerlabs.com, there’s a wealth of information on your blog, and then sellerslabs.com\apps which has the Feedback Genius, Snagshout, and Scope.
[01:02:27] My last question is about your daily rituals. You run multiple companies, RoundSphere, which I didn’t mention, Seller Labs, we already talked about BookScouter, and you’ve run several marathons, half marathons. We didn’t talk about you have a wife and four kids, right?
Brandon Checketts: [01:02:49] That’s right.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [01:02:50] How do you manage all this, what does your daily routine look like?
Brandon Checketts: [01:02:54] I would say that there is not like a specific…sometimes it’d be nice to have a specific I wake up at this time and then I go to work at this time and a lot of that stuff is very much in flux because of all the stuff I’ve got going on. Generally, when the kids are in school, I try to wake at 6:30, 7:30 get them off to school. During the summer, I like to go for a run in the morning, during the winter, it’s a little harder to run, it has to be in the evening when it’s a little warmer out.
[01:03:24] Go to work for a good chunk of the day in the middle, a lot of my days are with meetings with other people trying to make sure we’ve got everybody doing the right things and all the businessy stuff is going on as it should. I take off usually each day at about 4:45 or so, so I can get home at 5 and spend the evening with the family, have dinner all that stuff.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [01:03:48] Any certain things you use in your daily activity, like tools or apps or something that make you extra productive or efficient?
Brandon Checketts: [01:03:55] I don’t know if there’s anything fantastic…I’m big fan of Slack I guess. If you’ve never used Slack before for communication in the office, that’s very useful, it cuts down the number of emails going back and forth and consolidates information there. I’m still searching for the perfect email/to-do list/life pointing calendar, haven’t found that yet.
Dr. Jeremy Weisz: [01:04:20] You seem to be doing pretty well overall. Brandon, this has been hugely valuable. I really appreciate your time, people should check out sellerlabs.com. Thanks again Brandon.
“[Switching to developing software] really came just after just realizing the opportunities available in software I suppose. With an inventory based business, the amount of money that you can make is really dependent on the amount of money in the business. If you have X number of dollars in the bank or available in the business, you can make as profits some percentage of that. The inverse is more true with software. If you put a large capital investment up front to develop software and support but the potential for that is… a much bigger upside. That’s kind of why we switched over.”
“One of the other reasons we wrote Feedback Genius was to send messages specifically for those particular SKUs and we wanted the message to the customer as soon the order was placed, as soon as we possibly could and mention to the buyer that this item does not contain the artwork or the original case. If that’s not what you were expecting, please cancel it right now before we ship it you because after we ship it to you you’re not going to get it back. That was sort of the two main cases for why Feedback Genius was launched initially and why we kind of have that initial feature set.”
On Customer Retention emails: “One or two [messages], I would say for most cases. In general I’d say less expensive stuff, under $10, under $15 should, it probably be one. If you are selling something for $200 or $300 you can probably give some more instructions, some more messaging around that as well. That’s one component out of many that you might use the price of the item.”
On URL Shorteners: “Yeah. The problem is the shortener then changes those parameters every time somebody clicks on it, it generates a different URL to make it look as though there was multiple searches that occurred even though nobody actually searched for. So that part is manipulative. I think it’s clearly manipulative when we talk about it in this context of we’re changing these parameters to make it look like a search actually occurred. The intent there is certainly to manipulate Amazon’s algorithm. Whether that actually still works or not, some people say it does, some people say it doesn’t, we say it’s certainly an intent to manipulate.”
“Big mistakes. A lot of times I think people have a lot of products, a lot of times people try to get a lot of products and a lot of that products aren’t actually making them any money. They get some of the big thing, not necessarily huge thing but sometimes I think I see some people have 500 SKUs but there’s only 20 of them that matter in the business. So, the ones that they are selling the most of, all this other stuff if they were to actually maybe take a step back and look at it and say if I actually ditched all these and didn’t have to spend the time, the money, and have the money tied up in capital and inventory, I may be able to use that better in a different manner on products that are actually working.”
“I guess one of the other things I didn’t see a lot of is people not differentiating their products a lot. If you’re again, private label, trying to market your own brand like you if don’t have something differentiating your product significantly, it’s hard to differentiate and make your products stand out. If there is not something compelling about it that’s different than your competitors. Sometimes what a lot of people end up doing is differentiating based on price. So, making you product cheaper, which doesn’t…”