Kunal draws on past leadership experience at Microsoft, Amazon, Groupon, and tech-centric startups to help brands drive online growth. He has an MBA from Chicago's Booth School of Business and an MS in Computer Science from Clemson University.
How Kaspien Plans to Use Their New Raised Equity Funds
Join CEO, Kunal Chopra and the executive team of Kaspien, as they discuss how Kaspien plans on using the new equity funds raised in March. The team will discuss how Kaspien intends to deploy the funds to fuel growth, what the e-commerce platform will look like in the future, and the new phase for Kaspien.
How to Deal with Unauthorized Sellers in the Marketplace with VantageBP
Derick Manlapeg is the co-founder of VantageBP, an online brand technology software that automates the enforcement of gray and black market products for some of the world’s largest brands. In this episode, Derick joins Kunal to discuss unauthorized or counterfeit sellers in the marketplace through Amazon, Walmart, eBay, and more. Unauthorized and counterfeit sellers are some of the most damaging and challenging issues brands face when selling on Amazon or in the marketplace. They will discuss how brands can leverage over these sellers and how VantageBP can be a strong solution to stop these sellers from stealing your brands’ profits.
Amazon Global Logistics: Benefits, Risks, and Best Practices
Kaspien’s COO, Director of Retail Operations, and Director of Purchase Order Management join Kunal to discuss Amazon Global Logistics (AGL). AGL is an Amazon program that allows sellers to direct-import from China into different markets. Typically, importing from overseas requires multiple stops and multiple service providers, creating a lengthy and costly chain. AGL streamlines the process, reducing touch points and costs for sellers. However, there are risks to using AGL, especially if sellers become overly dependent on it. They also discuss best practices, including which product types benefit the most from using AGL, how to leverage economies of scale, and how to navigate Amazon’s quantity limit.
I’m excited to announce that Kaspien has raised $13.5MM in equity funding from the public markets through Aegis Capital. This fundraising round comes at a pivotal point in our journey as Kaspien transitions from our “Growth” phase into our “Scale” phase.
As CEO of a mission–driven company, I like to start my conversations with our mission statement, which is to optimize and grow brands on today’s leading online marketplaces, such as Amazon and Walmart. This fundingtakes us one step closer to that mission.
Here is how Kaspien intends to deploy the newly raised funds to fuel our growth:
1. Continue to Invest in Kaspien’s Marketplace Growth Technology Platform
Omnichannel Distribution Infrastructure
The future of eCommerce is digitally native brands managed through an omnichannel approach across multiple distribution channels – marketplaces such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, etc., online shops through platforms such as Shopify and WooCommerce,and brick and mortar. I look forward to the day where brands are managed in a centralized manner across various distribution channels, as opposed to the manual aggregation of performance from multiple channels.
Although there are advantages to be gained simply by diversifying, there are even greater performance gains found inholisticallymanaging inventory across multiple ecommerce sales channels. Why keep inventory at Walmart that’s not selling when you might run out of stock on Amazon?
Global eCommerce Expansion
Secondly, the future of eCommerce is global. More international brands are seeing demand for their products in the US and vice versa. The distribution problem extends beyond multiple marketplaces. Instead, it should really be called “Global Distribution Channels Online and Offline.” This is true omnichannel.
Supply Chain Diversification
Finally, this diversification extends beyond demand generation channels. The future of eCommerce is supply chain diversification through multiple warehousing and logistics solutions. COVID reminded the world of eCommerce that putting all your eggs in one basket is never a good idea. Amazon might restrict you, your carrier might be backlogged, a manufacturing facility might close due to a COVID case, etc. You need to be able to seamlessly shift between Amazon’s warehouses, to 3PLs, to potentially your own warehouse to keep up with the pace of demand. The future of eCommerce is managing supply demand in as real-time as possible, across distribution channels, andon a global scale.
Kaspien’s Technology Platform
All that I’ve mentioned above is almost impossible to do (especially at scale), without the backbone of a strong technology infrastructure that utilizes the power of data, prescriptive insights, automation, and artificial intelligence to efficiently manage the entire value chain. Deciding which products to sell, managing demand through ad management tools, managing a diversified supply chain, recovering lost dollars from Amazon, managing pricing andunauthorized sellers – all of it requires a strong technology infrastructurethat fuels growth and efficientoperations, thereby giving you an edge in a fragmented and competitive market.
That’s where Kaspien comes in. Kaspien’sMarketplace Growth Platform of software and tech–enabled services is built to help brands scale. Our platform– powered by data, insights, artificial intelligence, and automation – provides all the applications needed to run a marketplace business in a one–stopshop. More importantly, it is vertically integrated across the entire value chain and fully extensible to multiple service providers, providing the only solution needed to build aglobal omnichannel business.
Our platform also lends itself to network effects. The more brands we have on the platform, the more data and insights we collect; the more data and insights we collect, the more services, marketplaces, and service providers we can onboard; the more we do that,the more brands come onto the platform, and the flywheel continues, benefiting all our customers.
A big part of our investment will be continuing to fuel this growth platform, making it more automated, more intelligent, and utilizing data and insights to both optimize and grow our customers’ presence on multiple marketplaces globally.
2. Expand to a New Business Model:Brand Acquisition
The beauty of running Kaspien’s various businesses on top of our Marketplace Growth Platform is that it gives us the economies of scale required to build next generation brands on marketplaces. Our strategy of diversification across various business models empowers us to capture more GMV and better leverage our assets for profitable and efficient growth. In 2020, we introduced three business models that sit on top of our marketplace growth platform.
Retail as a Service: In this model, Kaspien buys inventory and sells it on marketplaces, such as Amazon, Walmart, and eBay, as a third-party seller. Additionally, wesupport dropship integrations with various suppliers and distributors, as well as incubate our own brands. At the end of fiscal year 2019, Kaspien had a total of 6 incubated brands:JumpOff Jo, Brilliant Bee, Big Betty, Domestic Corner, Coy Beauty, and Keto the Great.
Agency as a Service: In this model, Kaspien serves as an extension of a partner’s eCommerce team, providing full service and managed services for inventory management, marketing management, creative services, brand control, tax, compliance, and other marketplace growth services. Kaspien charges a subscription fee and receives a percentage of the revenue generated.
Software as a Service: In this model, Kaspien provides partners access to software through its platform of proprietary technology to empower partners to self-manage their marketplace channel. Kaspien charges a subscription fee and receives a percentage of the transaction.
Today, we’re excited to announce thefourth pillar of our strategy –brand acquisitions, once again utilizing our platform of software and tech–enabled services. As part of brand acquisitions, Kaspien will deploy capital to buy brands and grow them via the Kaspien platform.
Brand Acquisition FAQs
What’s in it for brands?
We work with brands throughout their lifecycle,including helping founders exit via our brand acquisition arm.
Founders/employees get to participate in the upside of a liquid stock through a public company.
Employees get a new home with a company that is partner-obsessed.
What’s in it for Kaspien?
We make better marginswhen we work directly with manufacturers.
We expand our selection through more SKUs and exclusivity.
We acquire capabilities that we currently don’t have(e.g., new marketplaces).
Why is Kaspien well-positioned to acquire brands?
We are Operations First. We have the tech. We have the services. We know how to optimize and grow brands on marketplaces.
We are Already Working with 1,000+ Brands. We already have a pipeline. We can look into our own portfolio and bring them in–house, thereby controlling the entire supply chain. Brands would prefer to work with someone already managing their operations.
We are a Public Company with a Liquid Stock. Brand owners/employees can get access to a liquid stock and share in the upside of the business.
3. Grow Our SubscriptionsBusinessEven Faster, Organically and Inorganically
In 2020, we operationalized our Subscriptions business, which includes our Agency, Managed Services, and Software segments. 2021 is about fueling that business. We’ll be adding more resources to grow the topline of the business, increasing the lifetime value of our customers while also continuing to reduce the cost to acquire new ones. In addition, we’ll acquireother service providers that complement our value proposition to brand partners.
We’re excited about this new phase of Kaspien’s growth, and we look forward to sharing our results as we continue down this journey of optimizing and growing brands on today’s leading online marketplaces. Welcome to “Scale.”
Amazon Brand Acquirers, featuring Ryan Gnesin, CEO of Elevate Brands
Ryan Gnesin is the founder and CEO of Elevate Brands, a company that buys and grows brands selling primarily or exclusively on Amazon. As of March 2021, over $3 billion have been invested in the Amazon brand aggregators space. In this episode, Gnesin shares his perspective on how the Amazon marketplace has evolved over time, becoming an incubator for successful brands. This has paved the way for companies like Elevate, and some sellers are taking advantage of the model to repeatedly build and sell Amazon-exclusive brands. Gnesin also discusses how brand aggregators are managing the brands they buy and the professionalization of the third-party ecosystem on Amazon.
At the end of 2020, Amazon boasted a $1.6 trillion valuation and employed more than 1.1 million people. In a blog post by Jeff Wilke, Amazon’s former CEO of Amazon Worldwide Consumer, Amazon reportedthat they delivered over 1.5 billion products worldwide during their biggest holiday season ever. According to Marketplace Pulse, nearly 200,000 new third-party sellershopped onto the Amazon bandwagon in 2020.In 2020, investors sunk over $1 billionintocompanies focused on acquiring Amazon-centric brands, such asThrasio, Heyday, and Perch.
With Amazon’s scale and the shift toward consolidation within the marketplace, brands not yet on Amazon may be wondering if they’ve missed the boat. Is 2021 too late to enter the Amazon game?
No.But, the boat isvery crowded. Gone are the days when you could “build the plane on the way down.” In 2021, you have to enter Amazon ready to hit the ground running.
My company has served over 4,000 brands and helped launch thousands of products on Amazon. Drawing on that experience, here are5 critical steps that I would suggest your brandtake before you’re ready to start selling on Amazon in 2021.
#1 Select Your Catalog
The first step is deciding what you want to sell on Amazon. How you decide may differ depending on whether you are expanding an established brand to Amazon or launching an Amazon-exclusive line.
Ifstarting with an established brand, you could take your top sellers and evergreen products to Amazon. Alternatively, you could differentiate your Amazon offerings from your other sales channels, listing different colors or sizes than what’s available elsewhere, online-exclusive bundles, or new products. Youcould even use Amazon for liquidation, selling end-of-season products and excess stock.
If you’re launching an Amazon-exclusive product line, then you can take the traditional route of researching consumer interest, competition, and costs to identify which products and features offer the greatest potential.
#2 File Paperwork
Perhaps the least glamorous step, filing the appropriate paperwork is nevertheless critical for success. As soon as you’re able, you shouldfile for a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, as it takes around 6 months to complete. While you’re at it, also file for a patent, if applicable. Having a trademark will enable you to enroll in Amazon’s Brand Registryprogram, which provides access to additional marketing services and brand protection tools.
You should alsoobtain universal product codes (UPCs or colloquially, bar codes) for every product in your catalog through GS1.
Last but not least, you must conduct safety and product testing. Amazon’s compliance requirements are often stricter than federal requirements. In my company’s experience, the most restricted Amazoncategories are Baby, Beauty, Health & Personal Care, and Grocery.You should have your product tested in a reputable lab, such as Intertek, UL, CTT, or Bureau Veritas. Such labs often provide a regulatory analysis that can help you determine all relevant compliance requirements for your product.
#3 Determine Inventory Logistics
Next, it’s time to map your supply chain. Connect with your manufacturers to discuss lead times and material accessibility so you can account for it in your demand planning.
From the manufacturer, the product’s next stop is a warehouse, which means you need to secure a warehouse solution that can store inventory and take returns. The obvious choice here is Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), but as 2020 showed us, it’s dangerous to keep all your eggs in one basket. You’d be wise to create secondary solutions that can supplement FBA in the event of Amazon-imposed shipment restrictions to FBA warehouses. This may involve creating a dropship solution or using a third-party fulfillment provider.
#4 Create an Amazon Account
You’ve selected high opportunity products, filed the necessary paperwork, and planned your supply chain. Now, you’re ideally positioned to create an Amazon Seller account. Though they are infamously easy to ignore, you should take the time to read Amazon’s Terms of Service so you understand your rights as a seller.
Once your account is created, you can start creating product listings on Amazon. Create these listingsin advance, but don’t publish them until your first round of inventory is in stock.
#5 Prepare a Marketing Strategy
As you near the finish line, it’s time to focus on your marketing strategy, which is essential to your success on this crowded marketplace.Start with the basics: Research 5-15 competitors on Amazon, then perform a SWOT analysis to identify opportunities. What features do they highlight in images and copy? How many reviews do they have and what do they say? What are their prices? Are they running ads?
Once you understand the landscape, create content that highlights your differentiating factors. Amazon is only growing more saturated, so you need high–quality images, videos,and search engine optimized copy to stand out. A+ Content and Amazon Stores are also helpful assets. To help generate brand awareness quicker, you should create an active social media account for audience engagement.
You should also allocate a sizable marketing budget for Amazon advertising. Sponsored Product Ads are the highest converting ad types on Amazon, but Sponsored Brand Ads and Sponsored Display Ads are also useful for increasing brand name recognition. Using a mix provides the best results for new brands, in my experience.
Success Takes Time
Launching on Amazon is exhilarating, and you’re likely eager to see some immediate results. But still, be patient; building relevancy for SEO and advertising takes time. Amazon is a flourishing platform that hasenabled tremendous growth for many brands. Starting with these five steps is a great way to become another one.
Lessons from Amazon featuring Stefan Haney, Creator of Seller Central
Stefan Haney is the managing principal of Vantage international. Haney worked at Amazon from 2003 to 2019, witnessing firsthand the creation of Amazon Prime, Kindle, FBA, AWS, and more. Haney notably led the development of Seller Central from 2009 to 2016, where he learned what makes great sellers great.
In this episode, he joins fellow ex-Amazonian Kunal Chopra to discuss mental models for running successful businesses. They also review the rise of Amazon-only brands, which are now being bought up by brand aggregators, like Thrasio, Heyday, and Perch. They briefly explore how Amazon is responding to Walmart’s and Shopify’s success in 2020, before returning to their shared roots at Amazon, sharing their most important leadership lessons and how to successfully apply Amazon’s models to new businesses.
2020 accelerated the adoption of online shopping by as much as 10 years, according to experts. In this episode of Master the Marketplace, Kaspien’s CEO, General Manager of Retail, and Vice President of Business Development discuss how 2020 changed the Amazon landscape and the future of ecommerce. They discuss the surge in Chinese-based Amazon sellers, shifts in consumer shopping behavior, the importance of brand building for omnichannel, lessons for fulfillment strategy, the rise of BOPIS, and more.
The State and Future of Payment Processing, Featuring Adi Ekshtain of Amaryllis
Adi Ekshtain was part of the dotcom boom that created the precursor to Apple Pay and Google Pay. Over his career, he has created numerous award-winning payment systems, before eventually co-founding Amaryllis, a company that provides a modular, scalable, and feature-rich payment engine to enable business growth for companies in all sectors. In this episode, Adi joins Kunal to discuss the complexities of payment processing as companies adopt omnichannel strategies, including the importance of data synchronization for multiple methods for purchasing, returns, and chargebacks. Their conversation delves into how payment processing solutions can accelerate merchant onboarding, the use of blockchain and AI in the payment ecosystem, Amazon’s progress toward a global marketplace and the implications thereof, and much more.
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.
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.
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.