EPISODE 27

Fulfillment Methods for Ecommerce, Featuring Waleed Shahzad of ShipHype

Waleed Shahzad is the founder of ShipHype, a third-party logistics provider for ecommerce that offers product prep, fulfillment, and storage. In this episode, he joins Kunal to pull back the curtain into the world of logistics built around ecommerce. Amazon FBA has long led the way, but third-party providers are finding innovative ways to add new value. Shazhad also shares how the coronavirus impacted fulfillment methods for ecommerce, including the emergence of smaller logistics providers to service local areas as national networks struggle to meet the sudden rise in online shopping.

 

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EPISODE 26

Starting an Amazon Business

Mark Lewyn, author of “The $500 Start-Up on Amazon,” joins Kunal to discuss his own experience with selling on Amazon. Lewyn worked as a journalist for USA Today and Business Week in the ’80s and ’90s before venturing into digital spaces, eventually discovering the rich potential of an Amazon FBA business. In this episode, Lewyn recounts how he started selling on Amazon with a humble budget, then used a data-driven approach to eventually create a seven-figure Amazon business. You can find a copy of Lewyn’s book. “The $500 Amazon Start-Up on Amazon,” on Amazon.

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5 Steps to Creating an Aligned Company

Originally published on Forbes.

In today’s global and fast-paced world, information flows at the speed of light. It’s also widely available, so new competitors appear very quickly. To survive in this landscape, companies must be able to react to new information quickly and strategically. In short, they need to be “agile.”

Agility is a social process. It comes from how individual employees and teams operate on a day-to-day basis. However, fast responses put a company at risk of internal teams becoming siloed and falling out of alignment. When teams fall out of alignment, the company loses its agility.

In the tech industry, one of the most critical yet common disconnects in alignment is between developers and external-facing teams. In this article, I’d like to share five steps that company leaders can take to keep their teams aligned and company agile.

1. Regularly Remind Employees About Your Value Chain

Creating and maintaining clarity on the value chain is the first step toward alignment. The value chain is how a company delivers products and services to customers. Each employee should understand, at a basic level, the components, how the company delivers value and their role in that.

For example, a software company may break the value chain into four main components: build, sell, onboard and operate. Of course, this is a simplified view, but what matters is that each employee understands the overarching premise of the company’s value chain because they can then think about how others affect their work and how their work affects others.

2. Structure Your Company To Support Alignment

The next key to alignment is organizational structure. The divisions, departments and teams within a company should be arranged vertically and horizontally in a way that promotes strong communication between employees who should be influencing each other.

This may not map one-to-one to the value chain — and in many cases, it shouldn’t. Take our previous example of four components. If one division is mapped directly to one component in the value chain, it becomes siloed, and that can impede alignment and agility.

Instead, I recommend companies map out their organization in a matrix, placing the teams in charge of creating products or services on the y-axis and the teams in charge of delivering value to customers on the x-axis. Place teams with intention so that each intersection identifies two units that should be regularly communicating. This structure can enable economies of scale and scope.

3. Promote Consistent And Predictable Company-Wide Operations

Creating a matrix also helps visualize and facilitate the third step: predictable company-wide operations that balance between strategy and operations horizontally and constant communication vertically. Divisions, departments and teams should work collaboratively and in unison. Employees, managers, directors and executives should communicate frequently both up and down the chain. That could mean anything from daily standups to monthly business reviews to biannual planning sessions. Keeping teams aligned and productive is a balancing act between too few and too many meetings, so workshop it until you find what works for each team.

By keeping operations predictable and consistent, the company can maintain alignment and confidently plan its future strategy, progressing toward even greater achievements.

4. Everyone Operates In Teams

So far, I’ve discussed from a top-down perspective how to assemble a value chain, organization structure and operating procedures with the aim of aligning back to a company’s mission and objectives. While a top-down perspective is useful for discussion, at the end of the day, it’s the employees who execute and make the vision into reality. How does one ensure that every person in the organization stays aligned as they perform their day-to-day job, make decisions and so on?

That’s where the team framework comes in. Teams are the foundational unit of how companies operate, not individuals. Everyone operates as part of one or multiple teams, no matter their seniority or role. They may work largely independently, but their work still contributes to a larger vision and is therefore part of the team. Effective teams communicate openly and regularly about objectives, plans to reach them, obstacles and timelines.

For example, you may have a team focused on delivering a software product. Members of that team would include representatives from the development, product, marketing and sales teams all coming together with the common goal of producing, optimizing and selling the product. Where there was once misalignment between siloed teams, there is now a unified team aligned in its understanding of what’s needed to drive success.

5. Teams Have Communication Networks

As I touched on in my last Forbes article, working well together within a team is not enough. Leaders should guide their companies a step further and ensure that teams are also working in unison with other teams.

Teams have stakeholders that care very deeply about the outcome of the team (because their goals could be dependent on the team’s results), even if the stakeholders aren’t part of the daily execution. It’s critical that teams maintain a constant two-way flow of information with their stakeholders so they avoid siloes or bottlenecks.

It sounds great in theory, but the reality is never so simple. To accelerate the adoption of this framework, each team should:

  • Identify stakeholders. Which other teams depend on them? Which other teams do they rely on?
  • Identify the best way to communicate consistently and predictably with those teams.

In short, go deep with your team and wide with other teams.

Live It Every Day

Creating an aligned organization is a daily effort. When you work on a project, ask yourself: Are you part of a team? Are you following the team framework? Who are your stakeholders? Are you communicating with them and how? Adopting these five frameworks can be key to creating and maintaining alignment throughout your company. Their success starts with you. 

EPISODE 25

How to Identify & Address Unauthorized Sellers

Kunal is joined by Richard Taylor, one of Kaspien’s Account Managers for SaaS products. Since 2017, Richard has overseen Perispect, Kaspien’s price & seller tracking software. As a result, he’s grown into an industry expert at identifying and resolving issues with unauthorized sellers. In this episode, Richard defines what rogue sellers are and the problems that can come from them. He then delves into both reactive and proactive strategies for keeping unauthorized sellers out of your Amazon listings, before broadening the scope to discuss how unauthorized sellers differ in other domestic and foreign marketplaces. 

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Kaspien 2020 in Review

2020 has been a year like none other. As we approach its end, I want to take a moment to review all that we’ve achieved in this remarkable year. None of it would have been possible without our partners, who trusted us to get through this year together. Thank you for your partnership. Here’s to growing together in the new year! 

What We Planned 

In December 2019, I shared a blog post recapping my first 90 days at Kaspien and our vision for 2020. In that post, I outlined six goals: 

  1. Scale our platform 
  2. Grow our retail division 
  3. Grow our agency and software divisions 
  4. Increase automation and operational efficiency 
  5. Improve our customer experience 
  6. Revitalize our focus on our employees 

 

What Actually Happened 

While 2020 went in directions that we could not predict, I’m proud to say we delivered on all six fronts.  

We’ve brought more services into our platform, grown our net revenue, grown our subscriptions business, improved operational efficiencies (in large part through automation), invested in our customer experience lifecycle, and added more programs and benefits for our employees. 

In fact, even as turbulent as the year has been, we saw many successes in 2020: 

We Raised $30.2 Million 

We started our 2020 fiscal year with a bang. On February 21, 2020, we secured $25 million in new financing to expand and enhance our offerings. In April, we raised another $5.2 million in funding as our parent company, Kaspien Holdings, shifted its entire focus to ecommerce. 

  Kaspien Raises 25 million dollars

Kaspien Raises 30 million dollars

We Successfully Adapted to Remote Work 

On March 16, 2020, our corporate office shifted to working from home. Many of our employees took desktops and monitors home, but left belongings on their office desks with the expectation of being back in a few weeks. Oh, how little we knew then.  

Kaspien Office March 2020

But we adapted, quickly and efficiently. We left the office on a Friday, and by end of day Monday, we had 150 employees working from home while maintaining their duties and delivering results for our partners.  

Kaspien Work From Home

We had our share of bumps along the road, and remote work certainly came with a learning curve for us as an organization, but I am very proud of how well and how quickly our employees adapted.  

We Launched our Amazon Ad Management Software 

In late 2019, we launched our Amazon campaign management software, AdManager, in beta. In April 2020, we launched our full release.  

AdManager originated from internal needs – over our history, Kaspien has served over 4,000 brands as their ecommerce partner, which means that our advertising portfolio quickly grew. To successfully scale, we had to automate that process without sacrificing performance.  

We spent over 4 years and over 5,000 manhours developing AdManager, refining and enhancing it to better meet our internal teams needs. We built AdManager into something truly remarkable, and eventually, we realized that others might like this software too.  

We Defined a New Leadership Principle 

Even faced with a pandemic, this year saw protests across the nation drawing attention to violence and racism that still haunts our country. In late June, we added a seventh “leadership principle” to guide our company culture and vision:  

We believe in the power of diversity and teamwork. 

While Kaspien has always welcomed diversity, it was done too passively. With the addition of this leadership principle, we made attention to diversity part of our company DNA. It is shifting from a passive welcome to a conscious consideration that permeates our culture and work.   

We Rebranded from “etailz” to “Kaspien” 

On September 3, 2020, we announced our rebrand from “etailz” to “Kaspien.” Rebranding was exhilarating, full of opportunities and potential risks. We had built our reputation as etailz, but we had also outgrown the name as our company evolved to offer so many more services than just online retail. It was a risk, but one we believed worth taking.  

Three months later, I’m proud to report that our team didn’t miss a beat. Operations and business expansion continued uninterrupted, and our marketing department did a phenomenal job implementing the rebrand across all our assets in one fell swoop.  

We were Named One of the Best Places to Work 

In October 2020, we had the honor of being named as one of the best places to work in the Inland Northwest by the Journal of Business and Best Companies Group. 

This award recognizes our progress toward the sixth goal I designated at the end of 2019: renew focus on our people.  

Kaspien Work From Home

In the past year, Kaspien has instituted many new employee engagement programs, such as a Charitable Contribution and Giving Committee. This committee is focused on giving back to our Spokane community, and recently organized a diaper drive for the local Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery after the committee became aware that the nursery was unable to host the annual diaper drive themselves due to COVID-19. 

We Beat Financial Targets 3 Quarters in a Row 

The fourth quarter of our fiscal year is still underway at the time of this post’s publication, but we’ve published our earnings for the first three quarters of FY20. In each quarter, Kaspien exceeded our target EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization), testifying to our strong operating performance. 

In the third quarter, we reported a 36% in net revenue year-over-year and our Gross Merchandise Value (GMV) increased 127% year-over-year. Before that, in the second quarter, our total revenue increased 23.5% year-over-year and our GMV increased 46% year-over-year.  

We have been continually improving, and it’s showing. 

We Expanded our Offerings 

Over the course of the year, we continually expanded our offerings to include more self-service and managed service software solutionsUS Tax compliance for online sellers, and an unauthorized seller removal service. We also expanded our FBA warehouse network to include 7 facilities across the US and were among the first approved users for Walmart’s new FBA-like service, Walmart Fulfillment Services (WFS). 

What Lies Ahead in 2021 

As we’ve alluded to in our quarterly earnings reports, 2020 was all about building a strong foundation by centralizing our services into a platform. We’ve made tremendous progress on that initiative.  

As we look ahead to 2021, our focus shifts to scaling everything we’ve developed. We will expand to new markets and marketplaces, upgrade our existing software and services and release new offerings, and serve new clients. Kaspien is becoming the industry leader in Marketplace Seller Services.  

11 Strategic Themes 

Like last year, we’ve outlined our goals as a list of strategic themes we will focus on throughout the year: 

1. Centralize our Platform 
We will continue creating a centralized location for brands to access everything they need to flourish in online marketplaces, including reporting and management for sales, inventory, marketing, and more. 

2. Expand Our Platform 
We will increase the number and quality of features, products, and services in our platform, making Kaspien truly a one-stop shop. 

3. Continue Improving Tailored Offerings 
Each brand has different circumstances and different goals, so a “one size fits all” approach is simply a disservice. To be the ultimate online growth partner, we must continue to enhance our ability to tailor strategy and services for each brand.  

4. Build Upon Our Category Expertise 
As part of offering tailored solutions, we will focus on deepening our expertise in key categories so we can deliver ever greater results for our partners. Kaspien has and will continue to serve brands of every product category. We are not diminishing our breadth; we are deepening our knowledge. 

5. Expand to New Marketplaces 
Amazon is the dominant marketplace in the US, but other marketplaces offer immense potential that should not be ignored. We will continue expanding our offerings on other major marketplaces, including Walmart, Target, and many more. 

6. Expand Globally 
New marketplaces are springing up around the globe. To better meet the needs of current and future partners, we will expand our operations into additional markets to become the global leader in marketplace services. 

7. Expand through Inorganic Growth 
As we continue to scale, we will seek opportunities to grow Kaspien organically and inorganically. We will consider strategic partnerships and acquisitions that enable us to improve our existing offerings, add new offerings, and serve new audiences. 

8. Create and Enhance Automations 
We seek to empower brands through automation. By offboarding repetitive, manual tasks, we free brands to focus on more ambitious projects and strategy, without sacrificing quality. 

9. Optimize Our Value Chain 
We will continue to refine our internal structure and processes with the end goal of accelerating progress and improving outcomes for initiatives that add the greatest value for our partners.  

10. Diversify Our Value Chain 
We intend to support multiple corporate partners and tool providers on our platform, cultivating a robust ecosystem of brand services that delivers even greater value to our partners. 

11. Continue Operational Control Focus 
We’ve been EBITDA positive for the last three-quarters, which means we’re maintaining profitability and sustainability. We will continue increasing operational efficiencies across our business. 

Our goals are built around adding value for our partners. You’re the reason we come to work every day. We have seven leadership principles, and two of the most important are being partner obsessed and delivering results. 2021 will be all about continuing to uphold those principles. 

EPISODE 24

Laying the Foundation for Sustainable Success on Amazon

Kunal is joined by George Reid, founder of The Listing People, an educational platform focused on the Amazon marketplace. They help sellers navigate through the Amazon jungle by providing training and a community. In this episode, Reid talks about the three fundamental pillars to achieve sustainable success on Amazon: operations, branding, and advertising. Reid discusses in detail why you need a wide and deep “brand moat,” why communicating with end consumers is paramount, and the inverted pyramid theory of advertising.

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EPISODE 23

10 Tips for Satisfying Amazon Compliance Requirements

In this episode of Master the Marketplace, Kunal is once again joined by Jed Nelsen, Director of Compliance at Kaspien. In our last episode, Nelsen discussed how to reinstate a suspended listing or seller account on Amazon. In this complementary episode, Nelsen shares 10 tips for how brands and sellers can ensure they are compliant with Amazon’s policies. In Nelsen’s words, “This is the 30,000-foot view, and it’s a good place to start.” The tips range from how to acquire and safeguard intellectual property rights, to how to hinder rogue sellers with product packaging tricks, to the critical importance of seller feedback and your order defect rate.

 

Download the 10-Step Compliance Checklist to protect your account against listing suspensions.

 

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EPISODE 22

How to Reinstate a Suspended Amazon Listing

In this episode of Master the Marketplace, Kunal welcomes back Jed Nelsen, Director of Compliance at Kaspien. Kunal has one big question for Nelsen: what should you do if your listing or account is suspended on Amazon. Nelsen utilizes years of Amazon compliance experience to offer a detailed plan for reinstating a suspended listing or account. Nelsen touches on the most common reasons suspensions occur, how to write an effective plan of action for AHS, and vital information needed before you can get back to selling.

Download the 10-Step Compliance Checklist to protect your account against listing suspensions.

 

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EPISODE 21

Cultivating a Culture of Connectivity

Staying connected with friends and coworkers can be challenging while working remotely, yet remaining connected is important for both our emotional well-being and our company’s success. In this episode, HR Generalist Holly Johnson joins Kunal to discuss the upsides and downsides that organizations face when adapting to a remote workforce. As Johnson puts it, this isn’t just working from home; we are at home, living through a crisis, while working from home. This important shift in framing the topic opens the door to further conversations about what employees and managers can do to protect their well-being and help each other to ultimately create a culture of coaching.

 

 

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EPISODE 20

Keywords, Branding, and Becoming Number 1 on Google

Kunal is joined by Autumn Ledesma, Search Engine Optimization Specialist at Kaspien, for an in-depth and technical discussion about the myriad nuances and processes that go into reaching page 1 of Google. Their conversation is packed with advice, best practices, and exploration of the building blocks for a competitive SEO strategy. Drawing on over 5 years of Google SEO experience, Ledesma breaks down the advantages of combining paid and organic advertising, how to convince Google that you have the acronym EAT, and so much more.

 

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EPISODE 19

Resolving Compliance Issues on Amazon, Featuring ‘Amazon Sellers Lawyer’

CJ Rosenbaum of Amazon Sellers Lawyer and Kaspien’s Director of Compliance, Jed Nelsen, come on the show to talk about how manufacturers and sellers can address IPR violations and counterfeit goods on Amazon. Their conversation is packed with actionable advice, including how to handle cease & desist letters, how to handle accusations of price gouging when external factors increase your costs, how to prevent your products from falling under the First Sale Doctrine, the importance of general liability insurance for ecommerce sellers, and so much more.

 

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EPISODE 18

A Crash Course for Selling on Amazon, Featuring ‘My Amazon Guy’

Steven Pope, founder and CEO of My Amazon Guy, joins Kunal to share proven tricks and tips for selling on Amazon, as well as predictions for what Q4 will bring this year. They start at the beginning: How do you launch a new product on Amazon successfully as the marketplace enters the mature phase of its life cycle? Pope shares strategies for SEO, off-Amazon marketing, and on-Amazon advertising, and how each needs to support the “honeymoon phase” of a new product launch. Next, they turn to another common question: How do you restore a suspended seller account? As Amazon tightens their restrictions and enforcement, it’s all too easy to find your account inexplicably blocked. Their discussion concludes with a prediction that Q4 sales will grow 100% year-over-year on Amazon, and if it’s true, how brands need to prepare for it.

 

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