Sept. 7, 2022

Finding Disruptive Opportunities with Mark Richard Adams


I have been in the e-commerce space since 2016 in a variety of roles. I have been on both sides of the Amazon platform and have gone from having no choice but to be resourceful and scrappy to working with large teams and significant resources to grow sales and streamline operations.

In July, I will begin managing OnePlus’ Amazon Retail account for the United States.

I have:
- Launched a successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo
- Lived in China to source from factories and validate production
- Owned and operated a Seller Central business originating from the crowdfunding campaign
- Worked at Amazon as a Vendor Manager, overseeing two multi-million dollar P&Ls
- Sourced PPE and Professional Medical Equipment for Amazon’s Medical and Covid Rapid Supply Expansion Task Force
- Consulted for Sellers and Vendors at an Ecommerce Agency
- Managed a multi-million dollar brand for Razor group, an e-commerce aggregator

What are some questions and topics you enjoy talking about?:
- What vendors get wrong about Amazon
- Interesting developments in the E-commerce space
- Amazon Seller vs Vendor Central
- Amazon culture and understanding Amazon's priorities
- How Amazon has changed over the years
- What its like being on both sides of the Amazon platform
- Common mistakes I've seen sellers or newbies make
- Crowdfunding advice
- My experience in China visting factories and sourcing new products
- Amazon's Covid-19 response and the Covid-19 Rapid Supply Task Force


Transcript

Josh Wilson
 On today's show, we're going to have a conversation with one of our allies who has an incredible history from traveling the world and living in many different places, building hackathons, being featured on TV shows, and building some really cool stuff. One of the this that we want to talk about here is on acquisition of ecommerce business. This guy has been involved with a lot of different ecommerce buy and sell side stuff, so we wanted to learn about that and so we might as well ask some questions about that with Mr. Mark. 


 Josh Wilson
 Welcome to show, man. 


 Mark
 Hey, thank you for having me. 


 Josh Wilson
 All right, so let's start with this. In your world of deal making and you've been a part of a lot of different sides of the coin for ecommerce businesses, right. How did you get your start how did you get your start into ecommerce, into the ecommerce world? 


 Mark
 Yeah. Well, ecommerce was a natural extension for me from my childhood back when I was growing up in Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. My father was a diplomat who was posted there, but I happened to just have easy access to Pokemon cards from America, so I was able to flip them. Actually for a while, I think Pokemon card trading was banned because of my sales. When I was out of college and actually a startup that a couple of friends and I had founded and received angel funding for random funding, I was kind of at a lost what to do, but I really wanted to get into crowdfunding, and this was back in 2016. The ecommerce landscape is changing almost year to year. Definitely the crowdfunding landscape has changed significantly. I would advise Crowdfunding Today a Kickstarter indiegogo in the way that you were seeing things like the pebble watch those kinds of successes. 


 Mark
 Passes are not really as viable because you're going to get for lack of better word, ripped off by folks in Shinzen who can iterate on it in under a month. Right? That's the amount of time that your campaign is going to take. That's the amount of time that your product is going to hit the street. I think the most visible example of this, the most number one, was the Fidget cube. Before the fidget cube campaign had ended, it had already been reproduced in a much lower quality. But that's not the point. They weren't first to market. Not only that, they were certainly not the cheapest, they were the best quality, but there were some issues there. Back then I wanted to get into ecommerce crowdfunding. I was a big phone head, I guess you call it. Big Android fanboy, just tech enthusiast. I wanted to create watch bands for the Apple Watch android where platform. 


 Mark
 I showed it to my phone, had friends, they loved it, did a crowdfunding campaign, and at the time for a kid out of college, got a lot of money, I raised about thirty k and given the cost of materials and all that, so my special sauce was I was doing wooden watch bands for the Apple Watch andrew were that had not been done. I was forced to market. That's why my crowdfunding campaign was able to get off ground. I was able to get PR a lot easier than I had because it was unique. It was unique and novel and those ecosystems were not as saturated as they are today. If you were to look at the watch band category on Amazon, first off, it is a bounty for the customer, it is wonderful, but it is also extraordinarily saturated, very hard to break into, extremely low AST, and you'd have to find some unique and novel way to approach the market that I think would be almost impossible at this point. 


 Mark
 Almost any factory city in China is going to be able to produce against any kind of material and any kind of variations and alterations. At the time it was a lot easier for me than it is today. But got $30,000. My margins were really good, so I was able to effectively double my crowdfunding order. That meant I could take it back from China and launch a storefront on Amazon. I hadn't had an FBA storefront up until that point. Maybe I'd been selling books or something, just on the side, trying to get rid of used items, but nothing serious. Definitely nothing that could support someone full time. So, because I had that margin, let's be clear with that $30,000, I was able to go live in China for about four months. Part of my background is I'm half Chinese and I lived in China for about nine years. 


 Mark
 For three of those years I was in Guangzhou. Guangzhou is in Guangdong province, which is where shanzan and Hong Kong and Dongwan are now really we care about Shenzhen and Donghuan, right? Those are the factory towns. Shenzhen is less of a factory town now. It used to be, but Dongwon is the factory town. Shenzhen is what a factory town becomes, which is more of like a sprawling market to connect buyers with agents and sometimes factories, but a lot of agents, even amongst Chinese people. Like I said, I had fantastic margins. I could double my production run. I came back, found some novel applications of logistics in China. To get the stuff back, I did a packet and things like that, but the other piece was in being able to sell to my backers, Amazon. Amazon FBA has this three PL functionality. It's called multi channel fulfillment. 


 Mark
 Basically you just send them a spreadsheet. Of course, you must have your products barcoded. You send them a spreadsheet and they ship out your product. For a lot of crowdfunding backers up until that point, crowdfunding creators, I should say, they would do it by hand, right? They would say, okay, here I am, mailing this stuff off, and I had nine SKUs of three colors. Nine SKUs three sizes, right? The odds of me getting this wrong are way too high. Plus, I'm just not going to go to the mail zoom every day and package myself. I'd rather do it in bulk. So Amazon offered me that opportunity. It's a fantastic one. Very few businesses out there provide the scalability and accessibility that ecommerce, more specifically, Shopify and Amazon can provide. If you're going to be an accountant or banker in terms of scaling capital, scaling your income, yeah, I guess you could start an agency and hire other guys, like to manage them, but you're limited by the people and their capacity. 


 Mark
 With Amazon, it's like, well, how much product can you get? And there's an infinite warehouse almost. I mean, it felt like it at the time. There's an infinite warehouse and infinite pickers and packers, there's a credit card fraud, all these things, right? A channel for marketing. It was an opportunity that would not have been afforded to me had I been born, like, ten years earlier. Just would not have been possible. Especially for a young kid, like out of college. How do you do that, right? You get your own warehouse. No, you can do all these things by hand, but you'd run yourself. Bragging so there was a lot of, I guess, the marriage of digital scalability with the physical realities of running a commerce based business. It just so happened that Amazon has all these digital interfaces that allow you to treat a warehouse as almost like a virtual machine, right? 


 Mark
 You're saying like, okay, I'd like to have two day shipping and things like that. I brought that stuff back and I had this crowdfunding base, and I had a novel product and PR contacts from the campaigns earlier in the campaign just ended. It was very easy for me to transition to, okay, well, maybe you missed the crowdfunding campaign, but guess what? You and your friends, your relatives or anybody as a backer, right? Do you want to get some of your friends for family? Do you want other colors or sizes? Come to Amazon, leave me a review. That helped me gain rank organically. Same thing with news articles and things like that. I did that for about two years. I was not living rich, but as a guy out of college, kind of living the dream, working from home back in 2016 until 2018, before a lot of people found out how great it was, right, a few years later. 


 Mark
 After that I had some stuff with family. I moved up to Seattle and went to join Amazon. Very natural transition. I was on boarded as a category manager, a vendor manager. My category was Professional Dental, which is truly unique category out there. What I would say is there are very few industries that I know of. That's the thing, I know what I know, but I don't know what I don't know. There are very few industries out there that are, shall we say, stuck in the past or stuck in their ways, which happen to be anti consumer. I'm using the term consumer loosely here at Amazon philosophy. I don't think we always upheld, but everybody was a customer. I as the vendor manager and the customer of my instagram manager, right? I am the customer of the people who created these internal tools, right? This mentality of like, okay, sure we sell stuff to people, but you are in turn responsible for all these other stakeholders, right? 


 Mark
 I talk about the Dell industry, specifically the distributors, shine Patterson, Benco I mean, it's changing, right? The way of doing business is just completely foreign to how ecommerce is done. There's no pricing transparency. If you are as a dentist, you want to go out and purchase, I guess I'm going to plug this because I thought it was so cool. It was called the Carry View, which, I forget the brand. It's a well known brand. They make the Itero machines gosh I'm blanking on the name. Anyway. The care of you. Spectacular device. Put it in your mouth and it provides almost like a black light or false negative of your teeth. But it shows the cavities. To dentists, they don't call them cavities, they call them carries. Hence the term Carrie view. It's not quite spelled. C-A-R-I-V-U-E. Really? The brand name is so well known. How do you think somebody would purchase this, right, in an ecommerce meeting? 


 Mark
 Fairly straightforward. I go to Amazon.com and if I want to buy a toothbrush, there's the price. I'll go and there's ads for other toothbrushes, I'll be recommended similar toothbrushes. I might be recommended toothpaste. Right? It all makes sense. It's very consumer friendly. You can compare pricing, your shipping times. There are reviews that's so fundamental. There's reviews, photos from customers, there's a lot of trust signals. You talk about trust signals and ecommerce, there's varying degrees of trust signals, some of which are harder to fake. As time goes by, certain trust signals become effectively mood, right? For the longest time, professional stock photography back in the 2000s was a mark on your website that you had money and therefore it could be trusted. Right? The proliferation of stock photo websites meant that every website could have stock photography. Now this trust signal is gone because it's $10. 


 Mark
 What we saw was this move towards I forgot what the style is called, the corporate minimalism. I don't know. It's the style you see today. From Grubhub to Google, people are rendered as shapeless inoffensive blobs, right? They are blue, they're very rounded, very inoffensive. More importantly, a graphic designer created these and that is another trust signal. The trust signal is someone with an eye for design, for things like the golden ratio and how things are formatted and placed together created this graphic. This graphic is specific to our business. Therefore we have money. You can trust us. Other trust signals on Amazon, the ones you're going to encounter more often, right? You'll see reviews. Those are being threatened, you could say, right? People have complained. There are news articles which have spoken to the fact that in the past, sellers have purchased reviews. In the past, people left negative reviews. 


 Mark
 They're confused. They're leaving a review for Amazon's delivery promise and not actually the product. It's all just arrived two days late. I get that it's not related to this product. Back to the carrier and what I saw in this dental conference, think about the way in which you buy things today. Even the things you buy in store. You have a very clear picture of how that's supposed to go. Anything that departs from that is a little suspicious. You go buy a car, right? And that's changing certain things. Certain startups like Carvana and the like make price transparency. They have carvana has spectacular like 360 camera department. So they have an. SOP they wheel the car in to a garage and then it's 360 taking photos. They open the doors and so you can take your inspection without actually having to go and physically see the car. 


 Mark
 Like I said, there's very few things in our own personal lives where we're going to encounter things that depart from the norm. I think everybody prefers price, basically. I think everybody prefers the Amazon.com shopping experience, right? You go to a hospital, you don't know what you're going to pay, right? You think your insurance has got your back, but let's say you didn't have insurance. Try to navigate that world, right? Well, how much is this procedure going to cost me? Right? They'll give you like an estimate and it'll be all sorts of opacity. In that room, I was at a dental conference. It was like young millennial tennis something down in Las Vegas. I mean, I learned a couple of things about down the street. A salesman comes out and he talks about the care of you. He has 510 minutes. I forget. At the end he's like, okay, carney salesman. 


 Mark
 Like just like a carney salesman. Just like you're selling timeshares or just any high pressure sales tactic. Okay, now how about all this for $3,000, right? But what if you got two? But only in this room right? Now. I cannot offer you this deal. There is no price transparency, right? You are in a conference room. This deal that the sales rep is offering you, he gets everybody, right? The other clue, if you look at the photos of these sales reps kids, they're very expensive, kid. You look at the family photos saying, okay, this guy is clearly living an upper middle class life, right? The sales reps are making fat commission. The premise, though is that, well, Dennis, take a note of money. It's fine to up charge and engage in these kinds of tactics, but the dental history is just so very different and is in desperate need of disruption. 


 Mark
 Amazon is providing that. Dental service organizations are providing that. DSOs are effectively they're buying clubs is the best way to put them. I mean, they're obviously very formal buying clubs, but they provide reduced pricing for their members. The only reason team Chat exists is because of Henry Shine, Patterson, and Benco, who collectively have close to 80% market share, right? Three operators have like close to 80%. That's going to distort CRE marketing. Henry Shine, all of them, but Henry Shine, most of them all, I believe is settled lawsuits in every single state. And it continues to sell lawsuits. I don't think it loses them, but it does settle them. It's around things like price fixing and things like that. So remember, they've settled them, right? There's a pattern there where maybe they're pushing it. At the very least, the plaintiffs are group with legitimacy, like the dental association of Colorado or whatever. 


 Mark
 Just going back to the example, it was nuts. I remember thinking of the room, I was like, what? How do you guys tolerate you let a used car salesman come into your living room? Are you serious? Like you like this part of it. They're trading off of expertise, off of credentials, right? They'll be like, oh, famous Dennis approves of this, right? Or this location or these papers and things like that. Again, you go back to this point of like, wait, this is how you buy stuff. A used car salesman tells you about what to do, you're not shopping around. They can't. If you go to Henryshine.com, you go to Patterson Combenco.com, no prices are available. Right. You log into your portal and then you find out what prices are assigned to you. It could be that the prices you're getting are different from the dental office next door. 


 Mark
 There's a lot of varying things there. Man, the dental industry is so different. Same to education, right, in terms of procurement, when you think about how they do procurement for the education industry, yeah, there's this purchasing cycles which are, of course, tied to school seasons. In terms of how they go about buying things, they're like, well, we love our physical catalog, so any kind of ecommerce player should come prepared to give physical catalog because that's kind of where the customer is right now. Like I said, I have a background medical that's professional medical. It's less, shall we say, severe or worse as what I saw in dental. Dental was truly like the strangest ecosystem I've ever seen. I hope that changes because I'm not saying they're taking advantage of dentists, but this is part of the reason why perhaps dental services aren't as cheap as they could is the presence of distributors who make dentists lives easier, and they pay for that convenience in money. 


 Mark
 The dental industry operators do a lot of cool things for their dentist, but if you cancel it out, the math doesn't quite work. One of the things is your rep comes out and they restock your shelves. Oh, it's like having an extra employee, I guess. Right? I mean, the margin that they're making, the commission that they're making is allowing for this. If you think about it, I'd much rather own a business where my office admin is just going on a website and they're just filling their cart with the stuff that we always buy and they can shop around. Not so with the distributors. That's just changing a lot of millennial. Dentists started saying, not doing this right. I'm going to net 32. I'm going to go to Amazon. I'm going to go to my DSO. I'm going to join a DSO to get that purchasing power. 


 Mark
 But, yeah, we kind of got on this trust signal tangent, but yeah, I know. The demonstration is a fascinating piece. Gosh, I'm not sure how I got started on that. I guess I started talking about it. I started as a vendor manager in professional dental. Yeah. I did that for about a year. Just one year? Just one year. You realize how strange the industry is. AI transcription to corporate dentistry is another thing that's unfortunate. You're probably going to read about that. Articles come out already, but there's this sense of, like, trying to meet quota of pitching services. People still think of their dentist as a doctor in the sense of somebody who is there for their benefit? Who is there looking after their Internet first? Do no harm. They're not thinking of this guy as like a car mechanic who maybe wants to throw in a couple of things to get a little extra, get some money on the side. 


 Mark
 I'm not saying the doctors don't do that too, but there's more of a push for that on the dental side to be like, hey, what about that? What about Whitening or the Daunting. We can do this, we can do that. Just more of a quota numbers push, which moves away from treating people to selling customers, right? So that's at least what I'm seeing. The down street medical is not so much. Yeah, I did dental for about a year with Amazon, and you can get dental products on Amazon.com. Some are not available to you. They're available with prescription only, meaning you must have a dental license or you must be affiliated with a business. I mean, some of the stuff you should not have, right? You should not be allowed to buy it. Some of the other things are just like it's just regulatory. It's like, well, okay, this is a screw, right? 


 Mark
 This is literally a screw. And this screw goes in your teeth. It's just a screw. Technically you need a dental license to purchase it. It is absolutely just a screw if you've showed you right, okay, well, this is a special screw then. Yeah, I did that for about a year and then two years. In 2019, I joined Professional Medical, and I'm in Professional Medical for two years and for about a year, professional Medical is standard, right? At least for professional health care. Professional health care is relatively new to Amazon. And then 2020 comes along. I can't go into too much detail, but there are a lot of regrets from that time. One of them was not putting two and two together and being like, wait a minute. Well, if China is buying up Chinese customers, right? Not the Chinese government, but Chinese customers like folks in Hong Kong, if they're buying up all this PPE and weren't even using the term PPE. 


 Mark
 We call them masks and gloves. That wasn't a this were just like, man, what is Kobe thing, huh? You remember SARS, right? We had all these scares, but were there, man, we're going out of stock. It's like, well, we got to get the Chinese customers what they need. And I wish I had gone back. Wait, stop. Wait a minute. Stop. Hold on a second. What if we are going to need this? That wasn't really a thing. If you recall, everybody got caught flat footed. Maybe there was a business or two, a distributor or two that they were like, oh, yeah, we saw this, right? We've got the gowns, we've got the nitro gloves. If they were, then they must have charged a premium and made healthy profits. It would have been the traditional stall worth, like Ranger and McKesson and whatnot. I feel like everybody got caught flipflowed. 


 Mark
 Everybody's like, wait a minute. Our historical forecasting models have never seen this. Are you sure? It's like, people are buying this. Right? It turned out like, we needed a lot more than what the models would ever predicted. Right? Like, the models were never built for this. They were never built for the exponential growth of the virus. Right? They were never built for that. That's effectively what we're seeing. Exponential growth in demand for PPE mirrored the demand for Covet. Actually, in retrospect, I wish I'd looked at it would have been cool to see the data on state by state while I was at Amazon. It would have probably matched what we knew, which is like, okay, this is where covid testing is high. That's where the PP is being sold. That was a very unique time. We transitioned at Amazon from your traditional corporate, kind of boring PNL management negotiating with vendors, talking about margin selection to all hands on deck. 


 Mark
 Your jobs have changed overnight. You are now being asked to procure as much PPE as you can in this almost start up like environment. Right. We're also working from home at that point. If you recall, Seattle was ground zero. That was where the nursing home outbreak occurred. Now, was that where Covet first landed? No, but that was like the first instance publicly in the news. That's where COVID first showed up in America. First tested and reported was in a Seattle nursing home. Amazon shut down real quick because somebody at Amazon got it. And then the next day, were closed. We were just working from home, but were all working from home, but engaged in what was effectively a charitable endeavor. Amazon was going to sell PPE at Cost to a whitelisted group of customers. That was hospitals, NGOs, charities, anybody event name sense to ride PPE to, other than some guy in the street. 


 Mark
 Sorry, but like, hey, doctors need this, right? That was in contrast to some of the other players in the space. These players have been like medical distributors previously. They sold at a profit. Okay, well, Amazon didn't. It's weird that it wasn't covered in more detail. I'm not saying that I'm an Amazon fan, but I was like, oh, weird, amazon could have made a profit. They chose to, but they chose to sell a Cost. They did that for some time. It's called the Amazon Covet Supply Store or something. I forget. It's no longer available, I don't think. Certainly not at Cost. We did that for quite some time. For a long time, actually. That was with some wild times because there were a lot of charlatans, a lot of people just coming out of the woodworks telling me, hey, I got a warehouse full of N 95. 


 Mark
 And they do. Okay. Now we got to go to the list. Right now we got to start asking, okay, where is the certificate, the providence? I need to know all these things. There are other times where it's like there is no time. This reputable source, we've known to be reputable for some time. They have nitroglobes. They just downloaded them on the dock in California. You are a potential customer because I was among many folks who could buy. I'm a potential customer because Amazon can instantly give you money, right? Of course they can find a higher bidder, right? Absolutely. The time, the convenience, the risk, it's just like, no, if Amazon's on says they're going to pay you for it, the truck is going to be right. There money's in your pocket 90 days from now, maybe 120 some time from now. It's a very bad payment term, some long payment terms, should I put it that way? 


 Mark
 It's a very cool part of my life, and then part of that I won't go into too much detail, but because I was in professional medical in contrast to some of my peers, in part of this organization I was in was called this business Industrial Scientific Supplies. It's a publicly known part of Amazon. It's still less or traveled one. Everybody knows about wireless toys. Business. Industrial scientific supplies is boring, right? It's cruise, right? It's fasteners. It's aerospace grade lubricant that cost like $5,000 for a tube this size. It is Amazon's vision of the everything store, not personifying, but what if you could buy everything? When I say everything, I mean the nuts and bolts that go into Boeing 747. Or how about the ones that go into the hanger when you put the hanger? What about that? That's the everything store where you can buy everything. 


 Mark
 Everything. I had all these other folks, not a professional medical background, but with some colleagues, were tasked with working with some medical manufacturers on DME and CME, durable medical equipment, capital medical equipment. That was stuff like ventilators anesthesia machines, because anesthesia machines can be repurposed as ventilators. A couple of other things too. It was just all hands on deck. Like we need anything because America was desperate. There was just so many shortages everywhere. Went back to business as usual, right? Things wound down and the crisis passed. At least the PPE crisis passed. If you recall, we look back those waves, there was a time where we kind of thought, great, we're in the lull and vaccines are coming, and everything is going to be back to normal. Here we are in the Omaha wave, right? Things didn't quite pan out that way anyways. I'd had my fill of corporate life. 


 Mark
 Things went back to normal after I went through almost a life changing event. I thought, what, it's time to go back to. My roots. I didn't want to be a seller off the bat because I really started to enjoy the security of a stable job and a monthly, weekly, bi weekly paycheck. I went and joined a consulting firm in e commerce, the Stable. They predominantly what they do a lot. They actually just got acquired by Accenture, and that's actually been happening a lot. There's been a lot of consolidation in the agency place, which I would have expected a year ago when money was cheaper. I'm not sure what's driving it now, but I guess rates aren't that high. It's still easier than I would have thought to get money to go acquire things. Either way, the Stable does e commerce, whether that be Target, Walmart, or predominantly Amazon. 


 Mark
 There I advised both sellers and vendors on their ecommerce presence. I was then recruited by the founders of Razor Group, an ecommerce aggregator, and they wanted me to come aboard as a senior brand manager and give me what I was dreaming about, which is my own PNL, except it was on someone else's dime. That's the key, right? I get to run my own brand, get to run my baby, do all these cool things. If it doesn't work out, well, I'm not losing the shirt off my back. There are a lot of things I learned in my time there from scaling. It's a start up, too. Hyper growth startup. You're going to encounter hyper growth problems. Very recently, last month, the OnePlus reached out to me, the smartphone company, and wanted me to manage their Amazon presence in the United States. Today of all days is the launch day of the One plus ten t. 


 Mark
 So check it out. The midrange phone predominantly for gamers, and anybody wants actually the fastest charging phone in the world right now, don't quote me on this, but I think it's like zero to 100% in 20 minutes. Yes, it is. It's 20 minutes. Yeah. In the EU, it's 19, because were only allowed to go to 125 watts in America. In the EU, we go to 150 or other parts of where we go to 150. Maybe not the EU, but the point is that 25 watt delta, it's a minute, which is not that big a deal. Right. Still pretty fast. Charge go from 19 minutes to 20. That's still pretty d*** fast. So, yeah, that's 10ft. That just came out. I've only been there a month. I really haven't had a chance to I mean, we just came out Prime Day Two. I joined the day before Prime Day. 


 Mark
 There's a lot of things going on, but I'm now settling into this role in trying to figure out the strategy, moving forward for their brand and their presence on Amazon and their relationship, their retail relationship with Amazon. That's kind of my background in that I kind of took a tangent there on professional dental. It's such a fascinating world of people you don't get to see behind the curtain. You don't get to go and see the teacher's lounge. Right. It's always a jarring experience to see these people as people other than a teacher, as adults, as people. Right. To be able to get that behind the curtain, dental and medical and then of education too, was fascinating. Still ripe for disruption. They're being disrupted, especially dental. But there's still opportunity. Absolutely. 


 Josh Wilson
 With your background and the things that you've shared about from starting one, amazon business started in crowdfunding, which is super interesting. I never thought of it this way, with crowdfunding today, indiegogo and those kind of things, by the time your product launches, it's being potentially ripped off by another company, could go to the market a lot faster. So, super interesting of how an industry disruptor has come in and evolved very quickly, but you really got in at a very opportune time and build your own brand, then got to work with Amazon and you got to see massive disruption in the world through covet and big companies response to it, but also the opportunities and all these things. So you've seen a lot. Let me ask this question for ecommerce investors, you've been an aggregator and you've worked in acquisitions of these groups for industries that are ready for disruption, for investors, for deal makers. 


 Josh Wilson
 What are some things and we've got a few minutes left what are some things that you would look for in a disruptive industry? Where can we benefit from an industry that needs massive disruption like that in the world of ecommerce? 


 Mark
 Yeah, the time I spent on Amazon, I was at Amazon for three years, but it was a very formative experience for me. It was the very first corporate job that I really had, and it was a job that afforded me a lot of responsibility and pressure, too. A lot of companies have a culture. They put on a whiteboard or not a whiteboard, but they put on a notice board. Some of the values that Amazon espouses, I felt, and one more keenly than any other, was customer obsession. I know this is going to seem kind of obvious, but industries that are right for disruption, in my mind, are ones where the customer experience is just poor, it's just worse. Team chat you'd expect to see in your normal life. When were talking to dental industry operators, even other dentists, there was a point in time in your life when maybe you wouldn't have bought clothes online. 


 Mark
 Right. I'm definitely not going to buy a car online today. Car on Amazon, maybe you can buy it from carvana. They've approached the problem in a different way and I think they've addressed the customer pain points better than Amazon is doing right now. I think you can buy a car on Amazon, but not in the way that carvana does it, which is like, no, this is all we do. Because we're specialized, we're addressing everything you can think of that you could address in an ecommerce setting. There was a time we wouldn't have bought clothes. Right. You had to earn that trust over time, but also feature sets. Pain points had to be addressed, too. When I'm thinking about industries that are right for disruption, any of them, and it's still so trivial, or just find the pain points, right, but think about any of them where the customer experience is just poor, it's like, why are these people putting up with it? 


 Mark
 In a lot of cases, because they don't have any other choice. The industry is too small, so it's been captured by one or two companies which have the scale to provide whatever solution it is. A lot of them have been disrupted. Right. Traditionally, if you were talking about inspecting windmills, not windmills, electric windmills or electric turbines, it was a guy, right? I wouldn't say there were monopolies or anything like that, but there was a pretty heavy cost. If you were sending a guy on right now, it's drones. Given the cost of drones, the barrier to entry is a lot lower. Also, the pain points you're addressing, are you're addressing the pain points a lot better? Right? Because you can program the drone that flies around on a set loop. It can go on a consistent interval and provide even more data. Obviously, it's not there with its hands, right, doing something. 


 Mark
 That's an industry where it's like, oh, wait a minute. You need to tell me that a guy goes up a tower by hand and takes photos when we have miniature robotic helicopters that cost $20. Really? The cost has gone down over time. There's still a lot of industries out there which are old school, not even necessarily in America, right. There are industries around the world which are in different states of maturation. They may not necessarily be using some of the standards and practices we encounter here in America and vice versa. Right. The way in which healthcare is billed and charged for in America is very confusing. That's a really big pain point. So certain startups have risen up. Good RX. Mark Cuban's cost plus drug. Very transparent pricing. It's just 15% margin. But more importantly, it's the pricing upfront. Again, a lot of industries need transparency. 


 Mark
 Pricing transparency huge. Whenever you don't see pricing transparency, in my mind, there's an opportunity for disruption because usually the reason they're not telling you the price because the customer base is small enough that the customer base is small enough and the supply is small enough that they don't have a lot of choices and you can get them in there with a salesman. Once the industry becomes large enough, the category becomes large enough, you have no choice but to actually disclose your prices because the other guy is disclosing his and just nobody likes that experience, right? Think about times in your life where you've probably had to push through a web page or a shopping experience where they were not telling you the price, where it's like, oh no, leave this to your email and we'll give you a quote, we'll come back. You just know this is not going to be a good time, right? 


 Mark
 You just don't want to do it. Versus Sasses, which are just like, no, you're our pricing tier. Yeah, there's a tier at the end which is call us. Most of the time I'm going to try you out at the price points. I know. So yeah, customer obsession. I mean, really think about interviewing customers. This is all pretty straightforward, but I would think about the industries that you interact with on a daily basis, but also just understanding how they do business because you might find out that what they're doing is completely nonsensical. Truck booking. Booking freight for the longest time was bizarre. It still is. Freight for trucks, freight for cargo ships. Two startups came up to deal with that. There are two startups that are big in this space because of how they approach the convoy for trucks, for freight routing. Right? Uber does it too. 


 Mark
 Convoy for trucks and then freight. OS there's another one like Freight OS, but for booking ocean freight, at least for Freight OS. Ocean Freight. It was such a terrible industry. You'd go through a freight agent and they will get you a good deal. But the pricing transparency is not there. You cannot just simply I have 1000 want to take it from this part, of this part. How much is that going to cost me? You got to call a guy for your email. No, Fredo. I was like, no, you just pop it in and they'll give you a rough estimate. Sales will reach out to you. The point is that they've addressed one of the pain points, which is like they've addressed a really big piece of friction, which is like, why am I here waiting for you to tell me something? You should probably tell me upfront, right? 


 Mark
 Why can't you just tell me the place? I'm going to go somewhere. Fred OS convoy, that's the biggest thing. Customer. Everything. Amazon is done. I mean, Amazon does a lot of things, but when they focus on customer experience, they get money every single time. Every single time they bring every single time. I've been internal and I've seen what they've been working on or even externally outside looking in. Actually, that's key. Amazon does not compete on price, right? Amazon prices will be the same as Target and Walmart. They want to computer on the customer experience. It's a losing battle if you're fighting a price, right? If you're competing on price and the other guy is too, where you can't end up with no margins. You're better off differentiating yourself with all these other costs you can control, that being the two day delivery promise, all these other things. 


 Mark
 Right. I've really seen this customer experience piece is just being so fundamentally key. Chewy, in my opinion, is eating Amazon's lunch. Now, their customer experience is hard to replicate, but if your dog dies, a rep will send you a painting of your dog. Right? That's not going to happen on Amazon. It's a nice customer experience. I don't know if that's really changing any friction or stuff like that, but everything related to customer experience. In my time in ecommerce, I've been really surprised by how being nice to people just pays off in sales. Just being nice. Being nice and upfront and friendly. I thought I was going to get ripped offering returns and stuff. Every return is like, it's a thief right in my door. He definitely got that package. He's not clicking. No, you give him the return. It's like, what is this out of your PNL? 


 Mark
 It's not that much. Okay, it's probably 25%. You treat people in this way and you do get returns. You get positive reviews just to focus on the customer. It just sounds so simple, and yet, I don't know. Not every company does that. You can focus on the customer, and then once you capture the customer, sure, you can do whatever you want to get there. First you got to focus on the customer. That's what I've seen in ecommerce, customer focus. 


 Josh Wilson
 You have shared a crazy amount of information in golden nuggets in the ecommerce world and some of the experiences that you've had. Let's do this. We are completely out of time for people who want to connect and maybe have a conversation with you about the history of ecommerce or maybe even take a look at their specific business or product that they're trying to do on ecommerce. What's a good place for people to connect with you? 


 Mark
 Yeah, well, look me up on LinkedIn and reach out. I greatly enjoy I view some ecommerce problems as puzzles, so to speak. I'm certainly very interested if you dis challenge is certainly within Amazon from a technical perspective. I know quite a bit about how things work. I was exposed to that in great detail because of my time with COVID. This is the way it was. We had to learn new systems and how they really work. Yeah, if folks have just general questions about e commerce or more technical and obscure and specific issues related to Amazon, please reach out to me on LinkedIn. More than happy to help. Not really looking to do consulting per se, but I think if there's a project that comes along, it would make sense more often than I think. If you have a question for me that it's just I can answer in a sentence or two. 


 Mark
 I'm more than happy to answer. That sounds good. 


 Josh Wilson
 All right, Mark. Well, I appreciate you coming on the show. Fellow deal makers in the audience. I hope you learned a lot. If you have some topics or something that you'd like to run by Mark, his contact information will be in the show notes below, so you can click on that, connect directly with him. Now, if you have a deal or a deal type that you'd like to talk about here on the Deal scout, head on over to thedealscout.com fill out a quick form, maybe get you on the next show. Till then, have a great day. Talk to you on the next episode. 

Mark Richard Adams Profile Photo

Mark Richard Adams

Amazon Strategist

I have been in the e-commerce space since 2016 in a variety of roles. I have been on both sides of the Amazon platform and have gone from having no choice but to be resourceful and scrappy to working with large teams and significant resources to grow sales and streamline operations.

In July, I will begin managing OnePlus’ Amazon Retail account for the United States.

I have:
- Launched a successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo
- Lived in China to source from factories and validate production
- Owned and operated a Seller Central business originating from the crowdfunding campaign
- Worked at Amazon as a Vendor Manager, overseeing two multi-million dollar P&Ls
- Sourced PPE and Professional Medical Equipment for Amazon’s Medical and Covid Rapid Supply Expansion Task Force
- Consulted for Sellers and Vendors at an Ecommerce Agency
- Managed a multi-million dollar brand for Razor group, an e-commerce aggregator