What does it take to stand out in one of the most critical eCommerce channels, Amazon? For many businesses, the Amazon marketplace can be tough to crack, especially if you have no control over your brand. Helping hundreds of brands thrive in this platform, William Fikhman founded Amazzia. In this episode, he sits down with Cameron Herold to talk about his journey from flipping products on Amazon to growing into a multi-million dollar business. Working with family members, he then shares some familiar scenarios that can be quite challenging in this setting and how to overcome them, telling us more about their different roles and responsibilities in leading and managing the company and handling family issues. William then defines the kind of leadership roles they are looking for in the company, how they are utilizing DISC assessments, and learning to separate what it means to be an owner and an employee.
Our guest is William Fikhman, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Amazzia. Amazzia, based in Los Angeles, California, assists brands in navigating the complex and highly nuanced world of the Amazon marketplace. This is to ensure their clients maximize revenue, retain full control of their brand integrity, and improve customer experiences. For over sixteen years, William has dedicated his career to helping hundreds of brands thrive on the most critical eCommerce channel by developing services and programs that adeptly utilize the platform. William has managed over $200 million worth of product sales on the marketplace and on average, achieved a 35% year-over-year revenue growth for brands in partnership with Amazzia. William holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from California State Northridge. William, welcome to the show.
I’m looking forward to this. I’ve coached a number of companies that have been in the Amazon space. I coach a client, Wishing U Well, that is fairly similar to what you do as well. I’ve coached guys from Viva Naturals, Nested Naturals, Jacked Factory, and a couple of other ones that are in your space. How did you get involved in the Amazon space?
I know those guys, Wishing U Well. I’ve definitely seen them at some of the Amazon conferences over the years. The other guys, I don’t know if they’re a private label or brand managers. That’s how the market breaks down on Amazon. It’s our third iteration of the business inside of the same corporate shell. We started originally with franchised eBay drop-off stores where people were stuck. We were a master franchisee of that back in 2004, and then a couple of years in, that business model was not working. We were always searching for, “How do we keep our head above water in this existing franchise business?”
One day, a guy walks into the store with some skincare products and goes, “Can you sell these for me on Amazon?” It wasn’t just a consumer. He had cases of them. At the time, I was like, “I don’t see these doing well on eBay, but Amazon might be a good market.” This is ‘09. I’m like, “Let’s try it on Amazon instead.” I’ve been selling on Amazon before that for probably another 4 or 5 years of personal books and stuff, so I’ve been familiar with selling on Amazon. At the time, there was not a market on Amazon like we know of it now.
I threw up the cream on Amazon and overnight, I sold a couple and got another case, got another ten cases, and then I got another twenty, I flipped it. It kept going. Quickly, the guy started bringing us other brands, and soon, we had twenty different brands we’re managing all through this one guy. That’s how it started, and then we started going to market and getting our own brands. That was version two. For the next five years, I probably built up a $20 million business just flipping stuff on Amazon.
In 2016, I changed it to Amazzia. I started formalizing this business and offering a whole lot more service to brands than we did. Back then, there was no such thing. From 2004 to 2009, if you went to any brand and said, “I want to sell your stuff on Amazon,” it was like, “Get out of here. What is Amazon? We don’t care about Amazon.” Brands started realizing, “I should pay attention. What is this Amazon anyway?”
How does Amazzia select the brands to say yes to? I would imagine you’ve probably got more client demand than you won’t even.
We get a lot of brands that come to us wanting to build their brand. We get a lot of CBD brands that want to come. To be honest, we always say that 0 to 1 million, we’re not great. We’re good when your brand’s got a little bit of awareness in the market and you want to accelerate it and grow it, that’s when we can come on and help. In the beginning, we’re not that, only because now on Amazon, unfortunately, you’ve got a dirty market. There are lots of blackhat hackers doing tricks that we can’t compete with. Unfortunately, Amazon allows it to continue on. Not intentionally necessarily, but it’s too hard to control, so we just choose not to compete in that because we try to not play on the blackhat side of the market.
You’re similar in the types of companies that you work with to the ones that I coach. I don’t coach any early-stage companies. I already need them to have a proof of concept and a management team, and then I help them scale it. I’m terrible at knowing if it’s a good idea or if it’s going to sell, but once you know what’s going to sell, then you can help it. Do you have an industry that you like or specific niches that you like, or is it just as long as there’s a business that isn’t yet on Amazon?
Half of our portfolio is beauty, skincare, and healthcare-related still. It’s because that first guy that walked in our store had those skincare and eye care products and we kept in that industry for all those years. We understand beauty better, but now, we’re in sports, automotive, and beauty. It doesn’t matter. We realize like, “What’s in the box doesn’t matter.” At the end of the day, it’s how do you market it? Who’s the customer? What are the keywords have to look like? What does the imagery have to look like to make this brand?
How do you charge? Do you take a percentage of revenue or you pay them a monthly fee and a percentage?
We are in a partnership model, so we become the Amazon distributor. We’re taking a percent ultimately of the retail sale, but it’s in the margin. They’re selling to us, and then we’re selling for more on Amazon. Let’s say they sell it to us for $1 and we sell it for $2. Amazon takes a fee off that $2 as well.
Are you selling them to the Amazzia brand or are you selling under the brand that you’re selling, under whatever is on the package?
Our model is unique. We run a retail distribution model, so we don’t sell under the Amazzia brand name. We work with many other retail parties that end up being the retailer on Amazon, but Amazzia serves as the distributor in the background, making it happen and orchestrating the positioning of a brand on Amazon. We don’t do the actual end consumer retailing.
I coach a group out of California called GiddyUp and they do all direct-to-consumer, but they don’t do anything on Amazon. That’s a similar model to how they do. One of the things that I hear about in your industry, and it’s almost similar to anyone in digital marketing, is you work hard at the beginning to get the customer up and running, on the platform, performing, and getting reviews. They’re like, “We’re going to take it in-house now.” How do you prevent that? Is that a problem with you?
We have that conversation upfront. We know brands are going to itch for that or have that desire when they get into the several million range on Amazon. Once you’re doing $2 million, $3 million, $4 million, or $5 million on Amazon a year, you start to think, “What’s my margin on this business? I can essentially build a whole in-house team.” If you’re doing on Amazon well, you need at least five full-timers. You need a copywriting person, image person, strategy person, and ads person. There are these different disciplines and someone that knows ads well does not know how to do graphic design well.
You need five disciplines to run a legit business. Not out of the garage operation. When brands are in the several million ranges, they start to get that itch, but we have brands significantly higher than that, that is not going anywhere. They’re like, “We realize you’re good at what you do. We’re good at making products, developing new products, and pushing out new skews, and we want to focus on that. We don’t want to focus on being the Amazon retailer or distributor or manager essentially.”
In the franchising world, when I was building 1-800-GOT-JUNK? I used to tell franchisees at their interview when we were awarding a franchise, “At some point, 6 months to 1 year out, you’re going to think we’re idiots and you’re going to be pissed off you’re paying a royalty. At the two-year mark, you’re going to think you could do it better. Around year 3 or year 4, you’ll realize that if we hold hands and run, you can grow this thing because we’re going to be great partners.” They would get to those stages and we’d remind them. Is that what you’re doing with your customers as well? Do you let them know that these are the feelings they’re going to have? You say, “By the way, remember I told you two years ago you’re going to have this.” Are you there now?
In our case, every brand has a unique journey. I can give you the opposite of that story. We have a brand that is doing, let’s say $100 million business and they’re doing a couple of million on Amazon. It’s being run internally by essentially one Amazon employee in their business and suddenly, they discover that guy was double-dipping. He was working for two brands at the same time, running both their Amazon businesses. They’ve got a full-timer that they think is a full-time, but he’s running a whole another job separately.
They end up firing him and now it’s like, “Who’s going to run the Amazon business now?” They decided to outsource and give it all to us, and then we run it and elevate it. We take it from there and grow it. It’s not always someone thinking, “What’s the soonest I could leave Amazzia and do this on my own?” Sometimes it’s, “Who out there is good at doing this? Who’s the best at doing this in this category that could help us build this business or run it while we’re busy doing other things in our business?”
You don’t have to be the best in the world at all things.
I always say we can’t do everything. We all know how to cook, but that doesn’t mean we stopped going to restaurants.
You were one of the Cofounders of Amazzia. How many cofounders were there?
We’re three brothers and three partners since day one for more than sixteen years now. In the corporate entity, we’re cofounders, but the Amazzia concept, I pivoted the business in 2016 from a pure reselling on Amazon business to a more brand management business, which is what we’re doing now. One of the other key specialties that exist is the brand protection part. One of the specialties we’ve developed that allows for brand management is this concept of brand protection. If you’re brand partners with us, we help them clean up the whole market and kick out the bad guys that shouldn’t be selling the brand.
Only then can you start to grow your brand. You can’t grow your brand if you have people you don’t know that are getting in your way, ruining the content and messing with different things. That’s an important part of what we do. We’re three cofounders, but I single-handedly pivoted the business in 2016 and said, “We got to go this way. The market is changing. This is what brands want.” We pivoted that, but we are in the Amazon business already.
What do your two brothers do? How do you divide up the roles and responsibilities between the three of you?
Especially in a family-oriented business, let’s say, the roles do blend. We’ve worked hard over the years to get them straight. We are scaling up companies. We have a coach and we have been doing that for a couple of years. That’s definitely helped in dividing the roles and getting clear on everything. Some people think the oldest is automatically the CEO. It’s not the case. I’m the baby. The middle brother is the CEO and our structure, operations, and finance reports up to him. I’m chief strategy officer, so to me, it’s sales and marketing of the Amazzia brand out there, but not to be confused with marketing on Amazon because we consider that an operational function.
The overall strategy, development of new products, what business model we’re in, how we’re charging for it, and how we go to market that goes to me, and then our oldest brother, George, is chief corporate services officer. He serves as the controller. Although the finance team reports up to the CEO, he still serves as a controller, so he has a final push button on money, but also HR and any corporate services like IT, compliance, documents, and all that stuff. I call it all the boring stuff, but important. We have a culture committee, which is a committee assembled of different people inside of the business that puts together events and all the fun stuff and keeps the culture going in the business and he heads up that committee.
The boring guy gets to run the fun stuff, too, to balance it out.
It’s not cut and dry like you’d expect in the typical corporate structure. There are lots of different things that happen in battle, where you jump out of one role into the other.
What I wanted to ask you about was the battle. I grew up in a family business and family enterprise where my brother and my dad were running the company. My brother bought my dad out and it was amazing to watch the battles that they would have. They’d be able to go golfing together the same day and I’d be like, “I thought you’re going to kill each other this morning and now you’re best buddies and lining up each other’s putts. What gives?” How do you work through the natural frustrations that we have in business as executive members? How do you work through family issues as well? You are good at it and you have to be at this point.
It is not easy. We’re still together. We still talk and we’re all close on the family side. I’m close to my nieces, nephews, their wives, and vice versa. It’s not always been perfect. There have been times of period where it was not necessarily pleasant. The business trumps that personal relationship. The scaling up has helped get clear in the roles. Before that, each of us was doing anywhere from 2 to 7 jobs. When something didn’t happen, it was like, “It’s your fault.” “No, that’s your fault why didn’t that happen.” “You’re in charge of that.” “No, you’re in charge of that.”
Scaling up and getting clarity on who’s in charge of what has certainly helped in that regard. As part of scaling ups, we have a regular meeting rhythm, so we have daily huddles, the three executives and we have a couple of others in the business. We’re forced to meet regularly and talk through issues. We have a daily huddle, weekly, monthly, or quarterly meeting. There’s a lot of infrastructure in place to get topics out and not let them fester and turn into personal issues, but it’s not easy.
It absolutely still happens every once in a while. Somebody says something. The other thing is we try to be careful in meetings, even with our other employees and team members around, “Are we having a business conversation or are we having a brotherly conversation right now?” That’s a difficult thing and we got to catch each other. Sometimes, it’ll be like, “Is that how you would talk to a direct report, or is that how you talk to your brother?” Vice versa.
That’s mindful that you identify that as well because you’re right that they’re different.
You can jab your brother and you can say something that’s not professional in the normal professional world, so we had to work on that.
You’ve been scaling up for a couple of years?
When we pivoted to the Amazzia model in ‘16, for the first two years, we were figuring it out. It was a business inside of the big business, and then it became the business. For the first year, it was just a test pilot. It was like, “What is this new business model? Can it even work?” The second year was like, “It’s working. Clients are staying in year two. We’ve got recurring revenue that’s growing here over and over again. Maybe we ought to start formalizing it.” That’s when we did the whole scaling up thing and realized, “We’ve got to scale this model.”
Who’s your scaling up coach and how do they work with you? What value do they bring to the table?
Our scaling up coach is a lady out of New Mexico. Her name’s Patricia. Before the pandemic, we are having quarterly meetings or monthly meetings or Zoom calls, but the value is getting clear on, “First of all, what is the business?” In ‘16, I was the champion of the Amazzia business model. I was trying to build this inside of our business. It took two years for the whole team to get aligned and be like, “This is now our business.” The biggest value is getting the team, which is my brothers, other executives, and other managers we have all aligned around, “This is our business model. This is the market we serve. This is how we go there. These are our values. This is our mission.” Getting all that stuff clear and it’s changed over the years has helped.
For example, values, just that alone. Even those have evolved. That’s probably draft three from when we came up with it. We had 1 or 2 that went away and 1 or 2 new ones that came in as we realized because we started scaling and hiring new people. You test them against the values and you’re like, “Is that what we meant when we hire them?” For example, we still have a value called have fun, and then we realized, “Did we mean have fun?” We replaced it with be passionately engaged. If somebody shows up and they’re drunk at work having fun, are they what we want? No, they’re meeting the values, but they’re not what we wanted. If they show up, care about their job, and want to deliver good result, that’s exactly what we want.
I like the way that you’ve iterated and talked through them and evolved. You said something that was interesting, which was that you interview people against them.
They’re right in our conference room, so downstairs, we have what we call the teal conference room. We name every conference room by the main color of that room. Right on the big wall, there are all the big values. When we interview, we’ll point to it and be like, “Which one means the most to you and why, and then how would you prioritize these values?” There are five of them, there’s no order to us. It gives you a lot of information in the interview like, “How would you sort these five values and why?” Someone’s sorting and giving you some of that information. You’ll learn a little bit about them.
I love that you’ve named them after something that is easy to understand but also doesn’t get weird. We had a company years ago and the meeting rooms were named after planets, which sounded good until Dwayne called you into Uranus, and then it was like, “What? I’m not meeting the CEO in Uranus. Pass. I’m going to go to Pluto.” Each of the meeting rooms was the furthest away from his office. Pluto was the meeting room furthest away from Dwayne’s office.
We just went simple, colors.
Colors are easier than trying to figure out which one’s were.
In the middle of a pandemic, we terminated an employee, but the value helped us get there. We hired him and he was running a business. We always knew he was going to read this blog, but it’s okay. It’s a true story. On the side, we knew he was a marketer. In the pandemic, we were having a strategic off-site meeting. Either through screen share or the chat, it became apparent then in our strategic off-site, he’s working on his business. It became that obvious, then we said, “Is that person passionately engaged? Can you be passionately engaged here at Amazzia when you’re running a whole another business on the side?” Probably not. It became easy to say, “That’s not a fit, even though you might be delivering good work, doing great things, liked, and culturally fit,” is he passionately engaged? No way.
I’ve said that for years as well. The real test on core values is, are you willing to fire people who break them? If you’re not, then they’re aspirational values, they’re not core values.
That story is relevant because it happened during this quarantine.
It sounds like it’s become part of your DNA that you’re used to hiring based on it. You don’t have to fire on it very often.
I never thought about it that way, but you’re right on that.
Do you bring them up in terms of praising employees and reinforcing them? Do you reinforce them with daily huddles and your weekly meetings? How do you reinforce the core values?
We’re doing a lot of it and it’s still not enough. We have something called the Exceeder program. It’s essentially an employee of the month program in not sexy language. Your peers vote for you and fill out a little card. We used to do it in person on paper. Now we’re all doing it digitally and submitting a Google form that essentially says, “What value does this person demonstrate and why?” “Cameron demonstrated continuing learning and growing because we got this new software and he learned it all within two weeks. He implemented a bunch of cool stuff as a result of that.” We nominate and go through a process of selecting an Exceeder every two weeks in all companies stand up huddle, and then everybody gets their cards back. Not only does the winner win a gift card and a gold trophy, and some other stuff, but everybody gets all that positive feedback of all the other cards that people submitted for them.
A lot of our readers have used scaling up and I’ve been around it forever. How do you take the systems that the coaches working with you on the one-page plan or the daily huddles? How do you iterate them and make them your own? How do you bend them a little bit without breaking the system?
It’s not perfect. We have not implemented every part of scaling up in the years we’ve been doing it. You’re supposed to have the whole one-page strategic plan filled out and honestly, we don’t have every line or that thing filled out.
It’s a big one-page. Now it’s almost like a tablecloth.
There’s a lot in it. We’ve got a clear company purpose and we’ve got values. We have a clear BHAG and three-year plans. Some of those evolved. We developed our BHAG and it took us almost two years. It’s also because we were going along figuring out what this business is and where we want to go with it.
BHAG is Jim Collins’ Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal and it’s supposed to align companies. What’s your company BHAG and how do you use it?
Ours is to 10X the business wherever we were at last year essentially in everything, revenue employees, and every aspect of the business. We start to make decisions on that. I was in a meeting one time and we’re looking at the way we currently do something, a process that relies on some software. It’s like, “Can this work at 10X in the existing system?” “No way. It won’t even work at 2X.” We already know, “If that’s not 10X-able, let’s start to make decisions that allow us to 10X and meet our BHAG.”
You’ve also got up behind you on the wall your DISC profile. I’m curious, first off, what is your DISC profile? Secondly, how do you use personality profiles internally at Amazzia?
I am mostly on the sales side inside of our business, so I am using DISC when talking to prospective clients or prospects to figure out their style, and the approach. Some people think of it as a manipulative way to get into your brain, but it’s not. It’s the way to be heard and it’s the way to have a better, more productive conversation. For example, I’m a high D with some influence as well. High D is when you talk to them, they’re going to sound like assholes on the other end of the line, but they’re not. They want the brutal facts. “Get to the point. Don’t waste my time.”
I’m in 98 D.
D will have a random question out of nowhere. Any other person, you could say, “Don’t worry. We’re going to get to that in the presentation in just ten minutes. Hold your questions.” A high D is if you don’t answer that, they’re not listening to the next ten minutes.
You’ve lost them for the rest of the presentation.
You have to be aware of that. Some people are more stabilizing. We have internal people here that maybe are highly cautious.
Your older brother would probably be the High S then.
You’re right. Sometimes a high D can come across as demanding and bullying to that type of personality. We don’t mean it that way, but you’ve got to be aware of it and communicate differently.
Do you use personality profiles internally with your leadership team and managers? Do you do profiles and teach each other how to work better together at all?
We’ve tried different parts. Different managers use the 16 Personalities task or DISC or Myers-Briggs. Everybody has their own way they do it that maybe they’ve done on prior jobs that they apply, but we don’t have a company-wide personality profiling process that’s robust.
As a company scales, I used to do one personality profile per year. We would take the whole leadership team through DISC one year, and then the next year, we take them all through Myers-Briggs. The next year, we take them all through Kolbe. It was a way to get them to learn more about each other and understand each other more to work better together. We can’t change William and make you less of a D. Being such a high D doesn’t give you the ability to steamroll over people. It’s like, “That’s who William is. We understand him now. We know how to work with him better.” You learn how to work with others. I love that you’re using it on the sales side though.
I try to use it internally, but high Ds have a hard time remembering them. It’s like a steamroll.
We remember D, and then we move on.
It’s all that matters in the four personalities.
Talk to me a little bit about meeting rhythms. I wrote a book called Meetings Suck. I’m especially interested in meeting.
Meetings do suck. We have a lot of them, especially now. There are double meetings now than there were pre-pandemic because you don’t get the water cooler meeting like, “When do you think you’ll have that report?” “I’ll give it to you by Friday.” “Cool. See you.” “I was stuck. Do you know how to do that pivot table?” “Yeah, let me show you real quick.” “Thanks. That was helpful.” You don’t get some of that when you’re remote. Everything takes intention and scheduling because everybody’s committed to other meetings. Either client-facing people are committed that way. Operational people are committed internally to a bunch of meetings to make stuff happen.
There are definitely more meetings now and everybody’s definitely complaining about too many meetings and not enough bandwidth. There’s a lot of that happening, so we’re trying to solve that. At the same time, when we don’t have enough meetings, it’s like, “Why wasn’t I told about that? How can you change that and I didn’t know about that?” “I wish I was involved in that decision.” You get that stuff when you don’t have enough meetings. Our meeting rhythm is the standard scaling up rhythm, so daily huddles.
Start at the end for me. Start out to your annual or strategy meetings and work back towards the daily.
There’s a two-day session executive team off-site, which is essentially on Zoom now. We bring into that off-site the leadership level of our business, so we’ve got C-Suite directors and managers, and then every department has a lead. We call them a lead and you might call it a supervisor, a department leader or whatever different companies call it. We bring in the whole leadership team, about fifteen people in total. You have all the department heads and their managers, directors, executives, and everybody. We do off-site.
Our executive team is five people. Six people if you include the in-house counsel. It’s a key role for us. In-house counsel is on the executive team as well. Normally, it would be a key executive team for two days, and then for a half-day, we bring in the whole leadership team. If there’s anything that needs to be discussed with a wider group, it gets discussed altogether. If there’s something that needs to be decided by the executive team, then we do it that way. That’s two days annual, then every quarter is about 1.5 days.
We used to do 1.5 days in-person. On Zoom, we’ve been doing three half-day sessions to not Zoom-burn everybody out and give time to other work that has to happen for everybody. There’s a weekly meeting, and then a daily huddle. Different people sit on multiple teams. I’m on the executive team, but then I have a sales and marketing team that I directly manage. Everybody has that. My brother, Mike, the CEO, has the executive team that he’s a leader of, but then he’s got a finance team, for example, that he’s running there.
Do you waterfall your team meeting after your leadership or do you do your leadership team meeting after your functional meetings?
In the week?
Yeah. Let’s say that you run your leadership team meeting on a Monday. Do your functional business areas come first or do you do those after the leadership team runs?
All departments are meeting on their own on Mondays, and then Tuesday is our executive meeting.
You wrap up from the functional meetings then.
Yeah. On Wednesday, we have what’s called a game plan meeting. It’s the same leadership team, but we’re looking with the focus of how are brands doing, who’s winning, who’s losing, what’s working, and what’s not working in managing the actual brands. In between there’s one-on-ones and stuff like that.
The whole purpose for me writing the book Meetings Suck was that meetings don’t suck. We suck at running them and nobody knows how to participate and attend them. You have got the right rhythms. The next level is to get to know how to run them, how to participate in them, and how to collaborate. The higher S and the highest Cs, how do you get those people to contribute more and to participate more in meetings? Do you have any systems for that?
Let me answer the first part where you said about Meetings Suck and all that. I used to be at that camp. I would always say, “Why do we need these meetings? Let’s just do work. Let’s get customers and sell stuff. It’s real simple.” I was against too many meetings, but then when we went to work from home, on a Thursday we decided and on Friday, we were working at home. We almost seamlessly went from 60 people working together in an office to working overnight at home. As you look back, there are no hiccups that happen. There were no clients we lost as a result of it. There were no people that quit because it was so terrible. There was nothing drastic like that. For me, it was like, “That is the system. That is what’s running the business. It is all those meetings.”
You saw the value of meetings when you were remote more than you did when you’re in the office?
Yeah, it was seamless. It might be because we’re in the Amazon business. We’re fortunate not to be a restaurant or a salon. We’re on the right side of this pandemic. Amazon’s growing and everybody’s buying there. Either way, there was still a lot of change. Even for us to be on the right side of the pandemic, there’s still a lot of change to manage during this period. There are new processes, things that aren’t working, trade shows aren’t happening, and all this other stuff to manage. The meetings are helping us manage through all that.
Do you think you’ll go back to the physical office space? If we roll the camera ahead of June of 2021 and we’re all allowed to go back to work, are you going to go back to everybody present on-site or do you think you’ll run more as a hybrid?
In this pandemic, we’ve started to hire more people in other geographies because we could. We already know. My brother, Mike, talked about this. He’s like, “Even if we wanted to bring everybody back, we already don’t have room for them.” The answer is we are forced into either being a hybrid or going to another building. Going to another building is not an easy thing. You pick up anew. We already have my direct assistant, Sandy, moved to Vegas in this process and she had those plans regardless. Before the pandemic, we were always talking about how she might test working from home in May, and then it happened and she moved. We hired a sales rep in Indiana and we hired another lady and she happens to specialize in brand protection. She’s up North in San Francisco.
We have about a fifteen-person team over in the Philippines, so we’ve already had some remote work happening. We definitely have other American employees that are in other cities and they’re not going to move back. We have some that I’m sure have realized, “This is nice.” It’s probably split. Half of the people are like, “This is nice.” I have one other lady on my team, Sydney, and she’s like, “It’s nice. I could get off work at 5:00 and be at the gym at 5:05.” That part is nice, and then we have other employees who are like, “This sucks. I’ve got kids crawling all over me and I can’t wait to get the work to escape the craziness that is at home.”
You’ll be mindful of both of those it sounds like and allows it to evolve.
At the same time, this pandemic is allowing us to hire true experts and narrow niches that we otherwise would not have been.
There’s no way they can all be a 30-minute drive from our office. It doesn’t make sense. I spoke to one of our new COO Alliance members. They’re the second-in-command for AARP, the American Association of Retired People. They’ve got 4,000 employees and they said within three days, all 4,000 employees were remote. He said, “If you’d ever told them they ever would have been a remote office, they would have thought you were smoking crack.” He’s like, “There’s no way. We could never be remote. There’s no possibility.” He’s like, “It’s working well.”
A lot of other things work out for that to happen. Zoom had to increase its bandwidth. If Zoom was not reliable suddenly, we would have said, “Let’s bring some people back.”
Imagine this happening before Skype and Zoom even existed, we would have been dead in the water.
A lot of other things had to work. Zoom had to work right. We’ve got lots of tools like Asana and Slack. There’s a lot of other things that had to be in place for this to work out.
I wonder if that’s why we’ve allowed it to go so long is because we’re able to do it with the tools that we’re not pushing back. If we didn’t have any of those tools, I wonder if the push back would have been harder many years ago.
I look at my social circle, my friends and there’s some that are in a business directly affected. Let’s say, a restaurant or a salon or a gym or something. No doubt, they’re affected and they’re suffering, but most of my friends that are in some office work are not at all effective. I’m sure if all of a sudden, their income was in jeopardy and losing their house was on the line, then you start to make different decisions.
A couple of more questions. You mentioned you’ve had three different iterations of the company over the years. How have your skills had to change over the years, as the company’s grown and as the businesses have changed? Where have you had to grow as a leader?
I’m not grown up. I’m still an infant in that regard. One of our values is to continue learning and growing. I still have a lot to grow. You start in the beginning and you’re a solopreneur. You have what I call a couple of helping hands, which is a couple of guys in the warehouse shipping stuff or stuff like that. You’re essentially the smartest one in the room and you call the shots. “Take this box. Ship it there. Do this. Do that. Call this person. Say this.” That model doesn’t scale and you start hiring people that have opinions and are right a lot of the time and stuff like that.
For me, the biggest learning has been the Amazon part of our business, which is now our whole business has been my baby. Some of the processes that run now, I invented those processes. Some of the software that I put in place years ago are still running in conjunction, working and doing things now. It’s my baby. I wove that fabric, so stepping away from that has been challenging, especially for me. That’s even more challenging than it is for my two brothers. I don’t think it’s something they could even fully understand other than a parent-child relationship. It’s literally your baby.
That’s been hard because we’ve started to hire other people that are now running and making decisions and doing things with that. It used to be where I would run into someone’s office who was 2 or 3 levels away from even reporting to me and not even in my chain at all. You’d be like, “Why didn’t you ship this there? Why didn’t you see this? What’s going on with that?” It was like, “I must do that because he’s the main boss.” The other thing is separating the owner and employee role like, “Am I an owner, or am I a person in a job role doing a job?”
That’s hard to separate because it’s like, “Of course, I’m the owner. I could walk into your office and tell you exactly what to do and how to do it now. I’ve undermined your boss and their boss that all probably hate me now and are wondering how they’re ever going to do their job with me doing that.” That still happens today. I’m not perfect at it. My employees will laugh when they read this, hopefully. I’m still in there on some things, unfortunately. As I grow, I let go more. There are some things or some processes that I haven’t looked at in six months and they’re just running. There’s been more than a year that I’ve never even touched them or looked at them, but they’re running and they’re doing well.
That’s been the biggest growth, separating the owner, the employee-leader hat, and then stepping away from the baby. The founder is something different. Being an owner of a business is even more personal when you’re the founder of it because you can be the owner, hired a bunch of people, and they ran that business and built it for you. When you’re the founder and you’re building those things in the beginning and laying that foundation, it’s personal.
It’s tough to let go of those. Final question. If we were to go back to the 21-year-old William, you’re graduating college or you’re just getting started on your career, what advice would you give yourself back then that you know to be true now but maybe you didn’t know back then?
I’m a big fan of Gary Vee. He always talks about how young people are giving themselves shit for not being successful quickly enough. I was always worried like, “I’m 21 and I’m living at home. I have no money. I’ve got to figure this out.” I didn’t move out of home. I moved out and bought my first house at 28, but when I was 21, I thought that would be much sooner. I expected that when you go to college, you move out and you buy a house. That’s all normal. My life didn’t go that way, but as I look back, it was like, “What’s the rush?”
The advice I would give is, what’s the rush? If it takes you an extra year or 2 years or 5 years, that doesn’t mean anything. When you’re fifteen and you compare yourself to a twenty-year-old, there’s a big difference, but when you’re 35 and you compare yourself to a 40-year-old, it’s not much difference. The more years that go by, the less that difference matters. The advice I would give is don’t rush. Just learn it all. The other thing is you can fail a lot more and a lot harder when you’re younger. When you’re younger, you have no real responsibility, no real family to support, and no kids.
You don’t have to worry about saving for retirement. You could double down and you could take big legal risks. I’m not saying sell drugs on the street and come up fast. I’m saying take real smart business risks. I always tell my friend, “If I had to start this business all over again as a 36-year-old married with two kids, I don’t know if I would do it. There’s so much more on the line.” It’s scarier now than it was at 21. You could fail and you’re still living at home.
No better time in your life to go bankrupt than 21 years old.
What do you have? $100 and now you’re going on your own? There’s way more on the line. Maybe some of the risks I took earlier on, I wouldn’t have been able to. That’s what I would say. Take your time, fail, and take big risks, but learn from them a lot.
William Fikhman, the Chief Strategy Officer from Amazzia. Thank you for sharing with us on the show.
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About William Fikhman
Amazzia, based in Los Angeles, CA, assists brands in navigating the complex and highly nuanced world of the Amazon marketplace to ensure that their clients maximize revenue, retain full control of their brand integrity and improve customer experiences.
For over 16 years, William has dedicated his career to helping hundreds of brands thrive on the most critical eCommerce channel by developing services and programs that adeptly utilize the platform. William has managed over $200 million worth of product sales on the marketplace and, on average, achieved +35% year-over-year revenue growth for brands in partnership with Amazzia.
William holds a Bachelor of Business Administration (B.B.A.) from California State University-Northridge.