Struggling with scaling your Amazon store to 6-figures and beyond? John Cavendish reveals how he got started on Amazon, what he learned, and things to avoid when scaling.
First off thank you for taking the time today for this interview.
We started messaging each other recently because we had started a coaching program with Health Evolved (interview with Emil coming soon). Soon we discovered that we had actually met very briefly in person in Bangkok in December 2019. We were having dinner after a conference at an amazing food and drinks place called Art Box.
Back then I never knew what you did, but after a few calls discussing how you guys run an agency that focuses on cementing brands within the Amazon ecosystem.
So, I am super excited to discover more about how you help established brands on Amazon, your journey in this space, and how you ended up living in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.
So, John, let’s jump straight into this with my first question.
- 1 It would be great to get a little background information from where you were born to where you live today. What’s your back story?
- 2 I am a huge fan of living in SE Asia. How are you finding working in Vietnam and what’s your typical day-to-day routine like?
- 3 Wow, sounds like you’re super busy. Before we jump into Amazon, how are you getting on with the Health Evolved program?
- 4 How did you first get into Amazon, was it successful? Are you still running the store today?
- 5 When first jumping into Amazon, what do you see as being the main rookie mistake made by new brands onto the platform?
- 6 We jumped on a call recently to understand the process of getting a new account started on Amazon. It’s clear that unless you’re incredibly lucky it takes time to get profitable. How long do you recommend to clients to start seeing profitable months?
- 7 We often see fancy bidding strategies or targeting audience groups on other platforms as the secret sauce to scaling. How about on Amazon, how do you reach those 6-figure months?
- 8 There are a number of Amazon agencies out there, what would you say makes you guys stand out from the crowd?
- 9 You have recently joined forces with another Amazon Agency, was this growth to fuel demand or for other strategic reasons?
It would be great to get a little background information from where you were born to where you live today. What’s your back story?
Cool. So, I was born in Nottingham in the UK, and now I live in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Back in September 2015, I left the UK to come to an event called DCBKK in Bangkok. From the group of people at that event, I built a friend network, and I’ve kind of been based in Southeast Asia ever since!
But first, let’s go back to the beginning!
When I was in the UK, I was originally based in Nottingham. I went to university in Birmingham and then got a job in Derby. For anyone that doesn’t know the UK, Derby is just a third or fourth-tier city by Nottingham – it’s not all that bad.
I was a mechanical engineer working on trains and I just wasn’t happy with what I was doing. So, my big shift and big change occurred when I started to try and make money online.
I found Amazon FBA as a thing that lots of people were pushing back then. I mean, I tried blogging. I tried all the other stuff and I’m (as proved by this interview!) not the greatest writer.
Then FBA clicked and I saw it like, “this is the path, that could get me from here to there”, so I started at the end of 2014.
I immediately tripled my salary overnight when I was like 25, which was great, but I still wasn’t happy.
I was still working as an engineer, doing the same thing, due to the fact that I got a contract on with the same job – I grew quite a lot over that first year from the end of 2014 until September 2015.
However, something finally just clicked. I was making enough money that I thought, OK, now is the time, I’ll skip the country and go to this event in Bangkok! From there, the rest is history.
I am a huge fan of living in SE Asia. How are you finding working in Vietnam and what’s your typical day-to-day routine like?
I’m also a massive fan of living in Southeast Asia. I think anyone who’s spent time in a “developing country” for a while realizes that it’s the same as developed parts of the world.
We have amazing restaurants, high‑end bars, and even high‑end co‑working spaces, which weren’t here initially (6 years ago), but are popping up all over the place now! It’s pretty much how you have it in the West, but in general, it’s a lot cheaper.
People are super friendly and it’s a really good quality of life, as well as being super convenient.
Anything that you need can be delivered to your door within an hour, literally, almost anything – whether you want home appliances, food, or a maid! Pretty much anything you can think of can be delivered here, which is pretty cool!
My typical day‑to‑day routine in Vietnam is that I get up pretty early, around 5:30 am since I’m running an agency still.
Then, I hop on calls usually at 6 am/6:30 am and talk to people in the US until around 9 am/10 am.
After that, I’ll get some food and head to the gym (when gyms aren’t closed due to COVID), and I’ll spend the afternoon working.
When I first moved here, I was new to working from home and I didn’t like it at all, so I used to go to coffee shops and co‑working spaces. However, that changed over the past couple of years and I’ve really started to love working from home, so I spend a lot of my time at home!
I will often work into the evening until I realize I’ve been sucked too much into work, which is when I will then stop!
My biggest challenge is balancing my work and life. However, in general, I love living here and the routine I have.
Most weekends, we take trips. For example, tomorrow we’re going on a trip to an island we love, which is pretty cool.
Wow, sounds like you’re super busy. Before we jump into Amazon, how are you getting on with the Health Evolved program?
I met Dr. Emil around a year and a half ago, although I’ve seen his posts in the dynamite circle (DC) for quite a while – I think he’s grown a lot through the DC group.
His funnel is super long and super slow, but because there are always people joining the DC and getting into it, I think it works well for him.
Anyway, yes, I talked to him a year and a half ago because I wanted to make a change. My aim was to get into a certain weight, and it didn’t happen. I then made a bet with my friend that we could both get into shape by Christmas – we both failed, and then we just decided to go all-in and join the program.
We’re both doing The Health Evolved program right now, and, so far so good.
How did you first get into Amazon, was it successful? Are you still running the store today?
I first got into Amazon because I was looking for ways to make money online and I was listening to all those Piper podcasts, “earn money from home”, that type of stuff!
I remember listening to a guy called Daniel Moran talking about making money on Amazon. Interestingly, he was an affiliate for an amazing selling machine. So that’s how he was making money at the time, as well as having his own brand. So I was thinking “wow, I could do this”.
I understood it enough to actually make money (from listening to this podcast episode and doing other research) and I was able to start ASM. However, I thought, if I can do this, I must get some extra value from it! So I paid the money, I joined it and then had a few terrible ideas.
When I started out, I started doing all sorts of different stuff, like selling different physical products, all from China, and finally, I settled on my final product.
We originally launched in Europe thinking it would be a test before we went into the US. However, Europe did really well for us!
This was before Amazon was pushing anyone to go into Europe and there was no real infrastructure in place. For the first year, I started to make some money. In the first couple of months, I was making maybe eight to ten sales a day, which at the time seemed like a lot, you know, I was making maybe four pounds per sale. So I was making 40+ quid a day and checking my sales every day. And I was like, “yeah, that’s great but I want to make more”.
So, I launched more products. Then, at the end of the year, I pushed more and more into Europe, which was a pain in the ass to do! Nothing was set up, and it took a long time and a lot of effort, but it started doing really well.
We scaled over and over month after month, and at the end of the first 18 months, we were doing around a million a year run rates, which was awesome. It was actually really interesting because it was the first time I made any kind of real money and I was really driven by security at the time.
So, at that point, I just tried to make as much money as possible out of the business, which is a completely different way from how I’d run a business if I was starting again right now. Although, I think that’s a really big change in how you see things as you mature, as well as when you get some more money behind you and more security.
So yeah, I ran that business, and it kind of stabilized and did very well for a couple of years.
I made around $1.5 – 2 million a year in revenue. Then from there it kind of started to drop off because the competition got really, really aggressive.
The other thing was that during that time, somebody offered to buy the business after two years of me running it. I thought, “ah, yeah, amazing, I’m gonna make a load of money”. With this mindset, I took my focus away from running the business, as that sale was supposed to go through, but in the end, it failed.
One of the big lessons I learned at that moment was to never assume things are done until they are actually done!
I’d already looked at the agency and looked at other work, and all of that was starting to grow. So I kind of automated the business – it wasn’t in a growing niche at all! In fact, I still run the business now. I’m actually possibly going to do a deal soon and have somebody acquire part of it so they can take care of it since it’s not my main focus currently.
When first jumping into Amazon, what do you see as being the main rookie mistake made by new brands onto the platform?
When jumping onto the Amazon platform, it really depends on whether the product is being produced just for Amazon or whether it is a product outside of Amazon that moves onto the Amazon platform. If it’s a product outside of Amazon, it’s going to have some traffic already and you’re going to get some traction on Amazon too, which is awesome.
That is by far the best way to launch a business if that’s possible.
The reality is though, a lot of people design products specifically for the Amazon platform. If you’re designing something for the Amazon platform, what your really looking for is a marketing opportunity, and then you have to reverse engineer – this has to be done for a product-market fit.
The number one piece of advice I have about it is that it’s all about defining the product for the platform.
The biggest freaking mistake is not doing enough research, not having a really good market fit, and not having some kind of advantage over the competition. Just launching a product that has nothing differentiating it is not a good idea simply because you’ve seen that 30 other people have done that and everyone’s launching the same product at the same time. If you do this, it’s just a race to the bottom.
Then, pricing goes to zero, profit goes to zero and that’s not great for anyone!
My example of that was actually one where I was early to a market that then got saturated. My friend wanted to do weighted blankets maybe 6- 12 months before weighted blankets got popular. He owned a viral new site, made a video and it got like 36 million views.
So he was like, “we have got to do this”, but I was not very excited about it and was pushing back. I was thinking, “do we really want to drop a hundred grand into this product?”. But, we did.
In the first two weeks, we sold a hundred thousand dollars worth of product – in two weeks!
We rented a stock first container in a month because we ran out of stock and then we were waiting to be restocked – we made some decent money out of it as a project and then we managed to exit it accidentally by selling out. But it was not a long‑term business because it would have turned into one of these cash grab “me‑too” products. However, it was a great few months initially!
We jumped on a call recently to understand the process of getting a new account started on Amazon. It’s clear that unless you’re incredibly lucky it takes time to get profitable. How long do you recommend to clients to start seeing profitable months?
Yeah, that’s a great question – it depends on the product and the margin, and to be honest, many different things.
I would always say 3-6 months before you see any real profit. The reason I say that is just building stability and building rank – unless your product ranks already, it’s going to take time to build rank on the Amazon platform. Plus, you don’t want to be so aggressive that you waste a lot of money in the first three months.
Do not throw as much money as humanly possible at it.
That is the strategy.
So it’s going to be slowly increasing. You have to bend so that we can spend more, break even, and then take your foot off, then make a profit.
So yeah, it could be three months could be six months with a plan.
However, recently it was nine months. The product the brand was selling was quite a seasonal one, so they ranked by Christmas, then in December, they did a hundred, then something like a thousand, growing to 20,000 in December after. Now that the product is ranked it is making really good money. So, it really depends on the brand.
We often see fancy bidding strategies or targeting audience groups on other platforms as the secret sauce to scaling. How about on Amazon, how do you reach those 6-figure months?
Hmm. Yes. So it’s all about ranking the products and about the percentage of page one that we can take for each particular scheme.
So, if it’s a relatively competitive niche and with a medium number of reviews, and we think that we can get to that number of reviews within say 6 – 12 months, we might be aiming for 10% of page one volume for that particular scheme. So if page one volume is a million dollars that SKU may do may be able to do, 100,000 a month by the end of the year.
Usually, that’s not the case.
Usually, it takes longer to rank.
Looking at average sales, the top five sellers make approximately a million dollars, then when you get to a hundred, it’s possibly up to $100,000 a month.
The quickest way I’ve seen brands building Amazon presence really fast is by having a product development team or leveraging their current suppliers to do as many different products as they can.
There are a number of Amazon agencies out there, what would you say makes you guys stand out from the crowd?
I mean, there are lots of Amazon agencies out there. I would say what makes us stand out are our systems and processes and the fact that we’re ready and results-driven.
We’re going to set expectations and we’re gonna support our clients in getting there – we’re not going to say it’s going to happen really quickly. We’re going to say “this is what we’re aiming to do, this is how long it’s going to take, and this is the chance that it’s going to be successful”. We’re here to be the long-term partner. We’ve had clients for the entire length of our agency’s existence, and that’s what makes us stand out as an agency.
We also have our productized version of our service, which is called Seller Candy.
The thing about Seller Candy is it can really work for any Amazon sellers, and that’s where we differentiate ourselves.
We’re trying to help every Amazon seller do better in their business by getting them out of all the day‑to‑day stuff – we’ve all run agencies and different businesses that sell different products, and it’s really easy to get bogged down in the stuff that makes us busy. That doesn’t actually add value to the business on a day‑to‑day basis.
So with Seller Candy, it just lets you get all of those small little tasks off your plate. Then, if you want to move up to full management in the future, you can do that.
You have recently joined forces with another Amazon Agency, was this growth to fuel demand or for other strategic reasons?
After building my Amazon agency for two years, I realized that I was getting better and better at the business development side of it, but I didn’t feel like I was getting fulfilled by that day-in-day-out delivery and management of the team.
So rather than having to take on a management team and growing it that way, I met this guy, Daniel Fernandez from amzclever.com/, who’s awesome and is a really amazing Amazon manager.
He’s been running his agency for a couple of years longer than I have. So I said, “you know, do you want to partner up, we’ll work together while closing business, you’ll manage the delivery team?”. He said yes, and since then it’s been amazing.
We’ve basically 4X in size in the last year and we’ve done it scaleably.
Like we’ve still retained all our clients – churn has been extremely low and it’s been a really, really great experience.
To be honest, that’s kind of where I see myself moving with any project again, involved in working on the business development and the idea. The ideation and the growth side of it and having a partner to also do the technical part, as you know, is really a way of supercharging!
I’ve never worked with a business that’s growing as fast as this and I think it’s because we have our own focus on different parts of the business and it’s hard to be focused on everything at the same time.
Due to the success of our sales, I’ve done some sales consulting in the last year, too. I worked with one another DCR on his agency and we went from like 30K a month to 60K.
Also, I guess I’d like to outline Seller Candy, as you know, I really love the full-service management and we’re gonna continue growing and it’s an amazing service. However, the way I think we can impact so many more people on the Amazon platform is through Seller Candy!
People that started out selling on Amazon themselves, want to grow a team, but they don’t necessarily know how to hire people – they don’t want to manage people, it would be a real pain to train people and get people who are actually experts in doing things. So, what we do is we basically rent them, a kind of virtual assistance, but they don’t work for them. They work for us.
So we have a platform, you enter the outcome you want, you want listings merged, you want things fixed, you want reports run, you want inventory projections done, you want to get money back from Amazon for their messed-up returns, you want us to fix this as a pressed listing or suspense-dependent, suspended listing – we have our team do that for you!
We sort the team, we train them and things get taught and done much faster than if you were to hire them.
So that’s why I’m super excited about growing. It’s also eventually a channel for our full-service management as well.
So, if you are an Amazon seller, we’d love for you to join our Facebook group. it’s called Amazon Seller Central Problem Solvers, and it gives you access to our team of problem-solving VAs.
If you have a question, you can just go in there and post it and one of our agents will answer and try to guide you through how to fix the problem. This is really just to give back and help people who want to get better on Seller Central.