EP 11 - Jeff Cohen - Expert Insights about the Future of eCommerce, and Leveling Up your eCommerce Game

Awesomers Origin - We'll talk to an Awesomer about where they came from, the triumphs and tribulations they have faced and how they are doing today. An Awesomer Origin story is the chance to hear the backstory about the journey our guest took on their road to becoming awesomer. These stories are incredibly varied and the takeaway is that awesomers come in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, creeds, colors and every other variation possible. On your awesomer road, you will face adversity. That’s just part of life. The question as always is how YOU choose to deal with it.
Jeff Cohen has spent the past 15 years growing e-commerce businesses from small startups to multimillion dollar companies. He was employee number four at Seller Labs. He was instrumental in transitioning the company from selling physical products to software. Recognized internationally as an Amazon expert, Jeff speaks at conferences around the globe. Prior to joining Seller Labs, he was CEO of Campusbooks.com. While at Campusbooks, he headed up and implemented the industry’s first SaaS-based comprehensive partner program. His work led to more than $10 million in new sales and increased profit margin contributions. Prior to Campusbooks, Jeff was the founder and general manager for Textbooks.com. He was responsible for the company’s aggressive expansion from $12 million in revenue to $100 million, while maintaining the same business team. He holds an MBA from Lindenwood University in St. Louis, Missouri and a B.S in General Studies from the  University of Missouri-Columbia.

Jeff Cohen spent the past 15 years helping grow E-commerce businesses from small start-ups to multi-million dollar companies.

On this episode, we learn more about  Jeff Cohen of Seller Labs. Jeff shares his knowledge and viewpoint about the E-commerce world. Here are more gold nuggets in this episode:  

  • Why your network truly is your net worth.

  • Today’s business is fast-paced and you need to embrace change.

  • How mobile is going to be hypercritical in the future.

  • And why he believes that retail stores are going to hit a point that stops and then come back.

So pay attention to today’s episode, learn amazing insights from Jeff’s leadership experience and find out how you too can level up your E-commerce game.

Welcome to the Awesomers.com podcast. If you love to learn and if you're motivated to expand your mind and heck if you desire to break through those traditional paradigms and find your own version of success, you are in the right place. Awesomers around the world are on a journey to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. We believe in paying it forward and we fundamentally try to live up to the great Zig Ziglar quote where he said, "You can have everything in your life you want if you help enough other people get what they want." It doesn't matter where you came from. It only matters where you're going. My name is Steve Simonson and I hope that you will join me on this Awesomer journey.


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01:15 sec. (Steve Simonson introduces today’s guest, Jeff Cohen.)

Steve: This is Awesomers episode number 11 and as always if you'd like to see the show notes and details we encourage you to go to Awesomers.com/11. That's Awesomers.com/11 and you'll find all the links and show notes and so forth there to help you navigate this episode and keep track of it without having to take notes. As you go through across, you're driving or flying or otherwise engaged, don't take the notes we'll take the notes for you. Awesomers.com/11 is how you find that stuff. Now today my special guest is Jeff Cohen and he spent the past 15 years helping grow E-commerce businesses from small start-ups to multi-million dollar companies. In fact, he was employee number four at Sellar Labs and was instrumental in transitioning the company from selling physical products to software. Recognized internationally as Amazon expert, Jeff speaks at conferences all around the world. Prior to joining Seller Labs, he was a CEO of campusbooks.com and they put together a very comprehensive SAS based program that helped put partners together with campus books and it was a very successful endeavor indeed. His work led to more than 10 million in new sales and increased profit margins. And prior to that Jeff was the founder and general manager for textbooks.com and was responsible to companies aggressive expansion from 12 million revenue to a hundred million while maintaining the exact same sales team. Now imagine that nearly 10 times the growth with the same sales team. This guy knows what's up. I'm a big fan of Jeff's and I've seen him at many conferences around the world and over the years and he's definitely somebody that Awesomer should pay special and close attention to.

Welcome back Awesomers. Here we go again. I’m Steve Simonson and today my special guest is Jeff Cohen. Jeff, how are you?

Jeff: Doing great Steve. Thanks for having me on.

Steve: Oh it's a pleasure. Jeff is already a legend and kind of the Amazon ecosystem. Between Jeff and his comrades at Sellar Labs, they have put together a massive impact in terms of all the different software offerings I have and I hope to learn more about that today. Let me ask you this Jeff, maybe you can give me a quick summary where are you living right now and then in broad strokes kind of what you and your company does?

3:30 (Jeff talks about Seller Labs)

Jeff: Yes. So I'm in Chicago Illinois. And Seller Labs is based out of Athens Georgia. Sellar Labs is a software company for sellers and brands on the Amazon ecosystem.

Steve: Yes, now seller labs as I recall has a number of different products. One of the ones that I have recommended for years, it's called Feedback Genius. This is where sellers can opt-in or can utilize that service to get feedback from their customers and so forth. What other types of products you guys have?

Jeff: Yes, so seller labs kind of focuses on three main areas of the Amazon ecosystem. Reputation management which is Feedback Genius. Amazon advertising management which is our tool ignite. And listing optimization management which is our tool scope. We wrap all those around the idea that you really need data, right? In any business that you run, you need to be making data first decisions and so our quantify tool is the is the data aspect of all of that. It helps you make the decisions about what to do in your business.

Steve: Got you. Well, I tell you any Awesomers know that once you gain experience, data is much better as a benchmark for decision-making then is your gut.

Jeff: Yes. I think that's something that's easy to stay but it's hard to put into practice, right? Because you and I have been sellers on the Amazon system for a number of years and there's so much data that we actually become a mute like paralyzed by some of the data that comes to us and I think it's a matter of you know we have a saying in our company which is “that you'll never have enough data to make the right decision”. So you have to use the data that you have to make the best decision that you can make. Understanding that as the data changes you may have to change your decision.

Steve: Yes, I just love it because it's relatively agnostic, right? It's not about well Jill really thought this or Sally thought that. It's like the data told us this it either worked or didn't work. Because the data is now showing you know whatever this new outcome is. And and we make decisions based on numbers.

Jeff: It takes the emotion out.

Steve: Yes, it's a better way to make decisions.

Jeff: I mean how many how many sellers have you worked with that will keep telling you that a product is going to work and you look at all the numbers and the numbers say that they should have dumped that product months ago. But they don't realize that they're caught up with the capital and all these other things that the product is doing that's hurting them because they're emotionally tied to the idea that it's supposed to be a good product, right?

Steve: Boy it is it's a lot number one and I regularly counsel people that we're not raising children here. These are not babies. We're not little (Jeff: Right) baby products we're going to try to send to college and have you know little grandbaby products. They're just products and when they don't work you’ve got to cut them and move on to the next one.

Jeff: Right. Exactly.

Steve: Failing fast is definitely something that Awesomers should be in the business. So very good advice. So let me ask you this, before we kind of jump into your origin story, how did the company Seller Labs get started?

Jeff: Yes, so it's kind of a fun story to tell especially for people that have been around in the space. So back in the 2012 time period, most of the selling on Amazon were resellers of product and so we actually were going to USPS auction to acquire products. You'd go to this big warehouse in Atlanta, Georgia. All the stuff that fell off the truck was at the USPS auction and we were big in the book business back then so we were buying a lot of books, mixed media things like that. But we bought Gaylords of fine jewelry, gold bars, Legos, all different kinds of stuff. We're running a warehouse of about... It started with everybody. Started in the basement. Thousand, two thousand, five thousand, up to a fifteen thousand square foot warehouse. We started kind of dabbling into wholesale. We had some wholesale accounts selling blenders and some other products on Amazon. Started working with some host sailors with exclusivity, getting into kind of owning our own brands. All throughout all this, we were developing software to run our own business. That's really where feedback genius was born. Kind of realized in 2014 that we really like the software side of the space. It wasn't nearly as competitive as it is now and kind of transformed the company in 2014 to really be a software-based company, not a seller based company. Shut down our warehouse. Some of us still kind of sell on the side but it's not our primary business. And really focused hard on how we can develop great software that helps solve people's problems.

Steve: Well and you guys have definitely done that. You know you have a number of people working in that organization and lots of you know good history in terms of delivering the goods to the people. In terms of you know not just the data piece but really good customer service. You not only guys make good software but you deliver a good customer service behind it which is always something that deserves to be called out.

Jeff: Thank you! I appreciate that. I've always as an owner in the business, I've always believed that people do business with people they like then you do businesses with companies that you like then you do businesses with products that you like. And so it's important to us as an organization. We've always.. For little things, we've always ran our customer support out of our office in Athens. We've never outsourced that. We've never brought it overseas. We always made ourselves available. People used to laugh because they would call up customer support and I'd be like “hey this is Jeff” and they're like Jeff Cohen? I believe yes. They like “you answer the support lines?” I'm like “yes, no one's here. The phone rang I need to answer it”. But the stuff that you learn from people when they call customer support is amazing! So the question is like what as a company can we do with all that knowledge that we gain? How can we put that into our processes to make our products better?

Steve: Well it definitely shows and that's a lesson for anybody out there who has any sort of customer service organization. The amount of information coming in from your customers directly to your service people is pure gold. Honestly, you can learn so many things about what's going right, what's going wrong. Where too lean into something good or where to you know prevent or eliminate something bad. Yet often we look at customer services kind of like somebody else is rounding you know the problem. You know we're done with all this... Just make it go away.. Don't get me wrong.

Jeff: Let's also take that to product reviews, right? I mean we're in the product review business. It's one of the software's that we sell but like the number of people who say I got a bad review. That reviewer is wrong. As opposed to I got a bad review, oh my god I might have an issue with my product. When you get one review that the quality isn't good, okay maybe that’s a bad reviewer. When you start getting two or three reviews that say the quality of this product isn't good, maybe you don't have a good quality product. And so you have to listen to the reviews. You need to not only listen to your reviews, you need to listen to your competitor's reviews. We analyzed there are lots of sites that review software companies and so we analyzed those to see what do they like and not like about other software companies. And that helps us kind of figure out what our customers are looking for out of us.

Steve: One of the best competitive analysis you can do is to look at your competitors read the reviews and figure out how to be better than that. And boy I tell you some of our best lessons have come from review feedback. We had a product that had a 25% return rate and we're like we don't understand. This is a very expensive keyboard. It's an electronic component and it's built really well and it turned out that inside the package, the instruction had the wrong model numbers like iPad one or iPad whatever instead of the right one, instead of just saying it works on any iPad. And people would just see that. They would read the instructions. They would see it immediately, it wasn't their model number and they would just send it back. And it's something that's small turned out it wasn't a quality issue but it certainly was our issue. We didn't have our documentation in a row and without kind of diving into those negative reviews, we could have gone on forever like that.

Jeff: Right and most people would have looked at it and just said oh what's wrong with these people as opposed to looking at it and saying what can I do you know.

Steve: Yes. I tell you at the end of the day, if a true customer’s having a problem, it's our problem. As the business owner, product owner, software developer, it's our problem that the customers are innocent and that you know we're supposed to make their lives better.

Jeff: Yes and it might be that you need better QA. It might mean that you need to send out an email that says “Hey, our up our insert was wrong. It works on the newest iPads”. There's just way. It might mean you just need to update your product listing. You know I think like it's a matter of taking the information, digesting it and then using that to make improvements. And whether that's a customer service team on a software company like ours, whether that's reviews for your products or whether that's your wife telling you something. It's just a good lesson to learn and to end to implement into your daily life.

Steve: Alright. Well, we're going to have to pump the brakes on taking wives. Hang on it.

Jeff: Took it to a new level.

Steve: Yes. Boy oh boy. We're going to have a lot of feedback on that one Jeff. No just kidding. Alright, I tell you what, we're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back and talking about Jeff's origin story. Be right back.


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Steve: Ok Jeff, we are back here at Awesomers and love having you on the show. It's really great to see and I've followed your work and your company for some time. So it's fun to be able to do this one-on-one with you. Let's start out as I like to do with kind of where you began. Literally, where were you born?

14:19 (Jeff talks about his background.)

Jeff: Yes, so I was born in St. Louis Missouri. I grew up, I didn't even realize it, grew up a Cardinals fan.

Steve: Wearing the colors.

Jeff: That's right. It's dangerous up here in Chicago to be wearing this but yes, grew up in St. Louis. Went to went to college outside of St. Louis at the University of Missouri. Kind of always been a Midwest boy. Moved to Chicago after college. Met my wife. She's a physician so that actually took us back to Missouri for her residency. Ended up in Milwaukee. Came back to Chicago so kind of bounced all around this Upper Midwest area.

Steve: Yes, definitely Midwest is the home. How about your parents? What kind of work were they in?

Jeff: So my mom was a teacher and really you know a mother, a stay-at-home mom. One of the best jobs you can have. And my dad was in residential construction. I like to say he was economically retired from the from the housing bust. He was just older when all that happened. He just said “you know what enough is enough.  

Steve: Well I tell you having many construction-related businesses and companies over time including online stuff, that 2008 meltdown or whatever number you want to put on, it was epic and something that was not normal.

Jeff: And definitely be taught in books at some point in time, right? Or probably is now.

Steve: Yes without a doubt. Just some of the craziness that went on is really remarkable but it definitely took a lot of jobs off the table but it also took a lot of wealth off the table at least for the first you know for that next five-seven year period. (Jeff: Absolutely yes) I think a lot of us recovered by this point but on a more stable basis in my opinion. How about any siblings for you?

16:09 (Jeff talks about his brother who has Tourette Syndrome.)

Jeff: Yes, I have one brother. He's out of Atlanta. He's an assistant school principal. I'll give you an interesting fact about him. My mom likes when I share this. My brother grew up with Tourette syndrome. So he makes noises and tics and he can't control. He wrote a book about his life that was featured on Oprah and People magazine. And was turned into a Hallmark movie called Front of the Class. So if you ever want to learn more about my life, it's is literally an open book and my brother wrote it.

Steve: I like that. Is the book also called Front of the Class?

Jeff: Yes, the book and the movie were both called Front of the Class. I think in front of the class is now on Netflix. It might be on either Prime or Netflix that you can get it.

Steve: Very interesting and did you get your IMDB credit for the Hallmark movie?

Jeff: So there are characters that play me but I don't think I have my own IMDB credit.

Steve: That's a shame. Alright. Well, that's okay. There's still time. Alright just for everybody paying attention out there, we will put those in the show notes. We'll link to the book and the movie if we can find it there.

Jeff: It's a tearjerker. It was a Hallmark movie so that should just give you a sense. It's a tearjerker and I'll make you cry.

Steve: I did the chick flick math on the Hallmark channel there but I still love you know understanding and seeing kind of those journeys because adversity makes people better so.

Jeff: Right

Steve: And how about your first job out of the university? What was your first quote-unquote proper job?

17:39 (Jeff talks about his first job.)

Jeff: Yes, my first job was I was the head, I guess I was technical, I was the only person in marketing for a wholesale distributor of specialty de-component parts. So I worked for a master distributor meaning that they represented 200 different product lines to original equipment manufacturers and they didn't really have a marketing department back in the day and I was kind of the start of their marketing department.

Steve: It's a fascinating specialty so a lot of people don't realize just how many distribution companies are especially in the Midwest.

Jeff: Yes there's a lot. I mean these guys, the way I always described it was if you took your washing machine and your washing machine or your refrigerator blew up all the little pieces, they would be laying all over the place are there specialty parts that hold it together, that's what we sold.

Steve: Yes. Again you know kind of alternative economy that exists at the wholesale level with all of these components and weird little parts that you never really think about, it's a really big business.

Jeff: Well it was a large part of the just-in-time inventory movement, right? Was the manufacturers didn't want to hold all of this inventory and so you know they'd use companies like ours where we would ship it out you know every Monday. They would get their parts that they need you to know for the week and so you know it worked out nice. It was a nice business. The owner did very well. He ended up selling it a couple of years ago. I still keep in touch with him you know all these years later. I interned for him while I was in college. You know everything's kind of who you know as much as what you know. That was a clear example of you know my mom was at lunch, met a guy who gave me an internship which led to my first job.

Steve: Talking about networking with everybody, that's a good example. Alright. So thinking about that original first kind of internship that turned into a job and then to kind of where you are today you know with you and your colleagues kind of running the company and help it in so many entrepreneurs. Literally, you know thousands of thousand entrepreneurs globally all the time, was there a particular defining moment or set of moments that put you on this road?

Jeff: Yes, you know when you look back at your life retrospectively, you can sometimes find I mean they may not have made sense when it happened but clearly the defining moment for the road that I'm on today was my wife and her residency. So when she started her residency, when we were dating, she had to apply for residency. So if you're not sure how residency works, it's this really interesting process when you're in medical school. You basically apply for residency and they're interviewing you and then you put down on a sheet of paper all the people in ranking order of the hospitals that you want to go to and the hospitals create a ranking order and then a computer system does for what's called a match and says you are going to go to this hospital for this residency. So you have a little bit of say over it but not a lot and when my wife was looking at that I was like well if we have to move somewhere for a few years why don't you put down the University of Missouri. It's where I went to school. It'll be kind of fun for me to go back to my alma mater as an adult with actually having money to pay for things. And that happened to be where she got her residency and when I got there I didn't have a job. And I was applying for a job, working for a wholesale textbook distributor and was hired as the head of their marketing department and really was a start of an introduction into this world of online selling because part of the responsibilities was to work with the team that managed the Amazon and eBay marketing channel or sales channel. So if I really trace back my like history in E-commerce it dates back to like 2005 when I was working with the team selling books and textbooks on eBay and on Amazon. I think in 2006 I attended my first IRCE trade show. In 2007 I started a retail website for the wholesale company called Textbooks.com and a year later I was considered an expert in the space of E-commerce because of what I had done the previous two years. And nothing I'd ever thought about or dreamed about or thought that's something I want to do prior to that point. So I kind of made the best of what I had at that point in time and you know turned it into something that has become a real passion and driver for what I do today.

Steve: Yes, no doubt about that. For those keeping score at home, the IRCE is the Internet Retailer Annual Conference that they put on typically in Chicago every June. Is that?

Jeff: Yes.

Steve: Yes, so you know not for nothing. One of the of the companies that I previously started and then exited, we were on the internet top, you know the internet retailer top 500 three years in a row which is kind of very tough to do to be a consecutive guy up fast growth and rankings. But the Internet Retailer magazine, if people are not already subscribed to, I highly recommend it for more of a broad vision of what E-commerce is about versus just the Amazon ecosystem or just eBay or Etsy or what have you.. It is the broad range wouldn't you say?

Jeff: Yes, they do some good in-depth articles. A lot of good statistics of kind of what's happening in the omni-channel, multi-channel type of world give you a little bit like you said a little bit of breath. If you're looking for breath outside of a particular subset of the industry, it's a great kind of step, a great basis to read from.

Steve: Yes, for me I always like to know. I show up at conferences and I'll talk to somebody and they only have their own website. It's not some you know the platform. It's just their own site. Maybe it's Magento or something like that but they're really controlling themselves and they're doing 50 to 100 million dollars a year on that and they don't have any idea how much business is happening on Amazon. And then I'll talk to a guy who's doing you know anywhere from 1 to 45 or 50 million dollars on Amazon and they're like there's no way you can run your own website and make sales right?

Jeff: Yes.

Steve: Talk to somebody else and they're just the eBay guy or the Racketan guy or whatever and everybody kind of gets into their own little zone and that's fine but it's a broad big world out there and Internet Retailer is a good way to get a glimpse of it.

Jeff: Yes.

Steve: That's fun. Yes, that's right. So how about, as you've kind of been on this journey is there a big lesson that really kind of strikes home for you that you care to share?

24:56 (Jeff shares a few life lessons he learned.)

Jeff: Probably there are two things that I think have kind of defined where I'm at today. One is when I told my wife I needed to get on the road more. That really changed kind of... My business it changed. Myself and everything. I really believed at that point in time that face to face conversations and communications would lead to something better for my business and I kind of took this whole new attitude where like I just said yes. And so a lot of people joke with me like oh you're everywhere, I see you everywhere. Well, the reason I'm everywhere is because I say yes to everything and I can make a one-day trip extremely worthwhile. I'll give you an example, a friend of mine called me up and said hey do you want to go to dinner on Monday night? I have a couple of people that I think you'd love to meet. Never asked who those people were. Just thought okay that'd be great. I show up to dinner, I'm sitting out at dinner with Clayton Mask who's the CEO of Infusionsoft and Perry Marshall who is considered as the godfather of Google AdWords. Had one of the most phenomenal dinner conversations. Don't know where it will go in the long run but had an opportunity to meet two people that if I had said no I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet. And so I think that putting myself out there, putting myself on the road, exposing myself has allowed me to to get to my second point of this which is always be looking to level up. How, what are you doing to get yourself, your business to the next level? That doesn't mean you have to ignore the people that are below you. You actually need them because they might be leveling up higher than you or faster than you. But what are you doing to surround yourself with people who are adding positivity to your life with people who are helping you grow as much as you're helping them grow and what are you doing ultimately just to level up in your life and in your business? And if you're complacent with what you're doing then you're going to get passed up. And so my previous business that I ran which was in the textbook business. It was in the book price comparison business. We were very complacent in what we did. We made a lot of money. We made a lot of money and we were complacent and what we did. The founder was constantly traveling. He was you know spending months overseas. We were having meetings maybe once or twice a year. I was making really good money and so I wasn't just motivated to like do things. The attitude we've taken since we started Seller Labs is that we constantly have people nipping on our heels. We constantly need to be doing better. We need to be creating better software. We need to be doing better for the community. So we're constantly looking to level up our business and it's shown by the growth that we've had over those years and so now we're kind of sitting at the top with people nipping at our heels but it's harder for them to catch us because we're constantly moving ahead of where they're trying to get as opposed to being complacent with what we're doing and watching people pass us by.

Steve: Very important lessons and there are so many examples that we could you know give that reinforce that lesson. You know a few of them in there that I would parse out is the idea of continuous improvement, right? You cannot sit static and just expect that the world will stay the way it is. It's dynamic and what we used to say in one of our organizations that you know somewhere, someone out there is practicing and when they meet you on the field we'll beat you. And so you better get back to practicing and stop by doing victory laps. I don't mind a victory lap occasionally but you can't just constantly run victory laps.

Jeff: Yes, you need to stop and celebrate the wins. You absolutely need to stop and celebrate the wins and then you need to get back in the office the next day and ask yourself now what can I do to get more, to take it to the next level.

Steve: Yes and again when that lens is always through, how do you improve the customer experience, how to deliver overwhelming value. You're on the right path and you know the second piece of that is the concept everybody says that the trite saying of you know your network is your net worth or whatever but it's absolutely true, right? That the more people that are around you, the more relationships that you have, they will help you to grow and everybody pushes each other to grow when you're around that positive you know (Jeff: Absolutely) forward thinking mentality. Very good lessons. So you strike me as a very optimistic guy, Jeff. No question, every time we've met in person, you are always you know outgoing and things are always you know looking up but has there ever been a time that you know you're really challenged or really had a setback that you're like man I just don't know if I want to keep doing this or you know not the sense of total giving up but just like I don't know if it's worth it.

30:03 (Jeff talks about challenges and doing what is right.)

Jeff: Yes I mean I almost want to say that I feel that on a regular basis. Not like in a negative sense but in a positive sense, right? I think the failures are what drive us to the deeper level of success. You know I'll go back to like one of the early lessons I learned in my first internship while I was in college. I was doing a mail merge and for the people that are younger, that's when you used to have to use Excel to merge your addresses into Word to make printing labels. And I did a mail merge, I mailed out a letter to like 2,000 customers and about three days later I had somebody in the office say “hey did you mail these out” and I was like yes and they're like “well you didn't print them on company stationery and you put the CEO’s name on it but you never signed the actual letter” and “she goes don't tell Doug he's going to get really mad”. Doug was the owner and I went back to my desk and I felt horrible, right? I felt horrible like I had spent so much time, I thought I had done it right and like I had these two major screw-ups and now I'm being told don't go admit that you screwed up. And I dug into this deeper and I decided internally I was like I can't do this, that's not what I want to do. So I went up to Doug's office and I said Doug I need to tell you I need to tell you that I screwed up and here's what I did. And he looked at me and he pulled an envelope out of his desk and he had that envelope, not the same envelope but he had another one and he goes “I already know what you did. I wanted to see if you were going to bring it to me”. He goes “by the way, you'll never get in trouble for admitting that you made a mistake but if you try to hide something like this from me, I'm going to fire you” and I said thank you I appreciate that. And I walked out of the office and I realized that I just learned this valuable lesson that like I was down in the dumps. I was feeling bad. I probably could have like quite right like I thought I was worthless. But I turned it into a positive. And as I look at my career and I look back at all the accomplishments that I've had, I clearly couldn't get there without the failures I had along the way. My first product that I brought to Amazon, a total disaster. I broke every rule that you were supposed to have in picking a product to sell on Amazon. And when it came down to it, I ended up liquidating the product. I probably lost a couple of grand you know all in all. But when I brought my next product, I was that much more knowledgeable and I didn't quit because I wanted to actually prove that I could do it and prove that I could do it successfully and now I'm not saying every product I bring is a success but I now have learned so much more because I think one of the things that we.. One of the challenges that we have is that when we listen to people. Whether it be you, whether it be me, whether it be Amazing.com, whoever it is that we're getting our knowledge from, we want them to draw everything out for us. We want them to tell us everything that we're supposed to do, when we're supposed to do it, and what's supposed to happen. But the reality is that that's not what drives success. What drives success is being able to take that knowledge, put it into yourself, and then come out with your own process that's going to help you be successful. I heard a speaker who talked about NCAA coaches and that the proper, that the NCAA coaches that are most likely to win and win champions are the ones who have three or more mentors along the way. You can't just become a coach without having other coaches and other methodologies to be based off of. You can't just become successful in what you're doing by figuring it all out on your own. So if you use mentors, you use coaches but you don't just take what they say is gold, you take what they say is gold but it's not gospel and you actually use it. And then as the world tells you that something different needs to occur, you listen to that and you adapt and you change and you keep moving forward. And so ultimately that's what I think drives me on a daily basis because I want failures because failures help me succeed that much better.

Steve: Without a doubt, the intellectual capital that we get to you know put in the bank every time we learn something. Whether it's a product failure or you know a bad decision or whatever, it is it doesn't really matter as long as you're learning something from it.

Jeff: Yes.

Steve: And I tell you that you know, I really do think it's a point worth hammering home this idea that you know our instinct. We're all wired to say “Somebody just give me the steps 1 through 10,  how I do this thing”. And that's fine, as you find those things they're good instructive and directional. But at the end of the day, everybody's kind of have their own kind of little tweaks to it. They all have to think for themselves at the end of the day. And that evolution from taking it from here's this framework,  ABC frameworks and now I've developed my own, such a critical thing. That's a weekly learning.

Jeff: Absolutely! Yes, very good point.

Steve: Jeff, how about one of those days when a victory lap was worthwhile. Do you remember one of your best day in your professional life so far?

Jeff:  My best day I don't know about my best day. I like to take victory laps on a regular basis. Last Friday was definitely a high five. Go get a nice glass of scotch moment. Seller Labs has been working on building our ad management tool to work not just for individual sellers but to work for agencies, who manage other people's ads. And we had a client that we have been working with, pretty much since December. Who had been given us a whole bunch of this is what we need to make this tool work for us and Friday was the day that they finally signed off on everything. They said that we've delivered everything that they need so that they can start putting their clients onto our system. And that was you know, because of I mean if I look back like if I really look back that relationship actually started at prosper two and a half years ago.

Steve: Nice.

Jeff: And through cultivation over time that led to... the dinner led to a friendship, which led to exploration into international growth of our business in China, which led to eventually us building out a tool that works for their agency and other agencies. And so it was like this huge victory lap of not just like the contract being fulfilled because that was awesome in its own right. It was also this victory lap of like this culmination of a significant effort, that led to something truly amazing that two years ago, I had no clue that, that's what we were actually trying to work towards.

Steve: Again, congratulations.

Jeff: Thank you.

Steve: Creating a great example of a victory lap, but I just love the whole story and this is the most important part of it. Something that started randomly two and a half years ago or whatever and a tradeshow, a prosper show being a great show led to you know successive conversations. And this is the whole point for everybody out there, you don't know where the next big you know incredible stroke of idea or luck or you know forward momentum is going to come from and that's why it's important to engage in these concepts of relationships.

Jeff: Yes, it's a tough fate in marketing, you always want to have a return on investment, right? But then ultimately when you have a return on investment, how do you have a return on investment when like.. What do I do, go back and credit prosper show from two years ago for the sale. You know what I mean like that's where I mean I take a leap of faith. That's where I mean that like I put myself out there because I know that entertaining people, that by going to shows that by... I mean I know honestly, I don't know if I would be on this podcast with you right now if I hadn't seen you at the amazing show three months ago. I mean you and I keep in touch but I think physically seeing each other after not seeing each other or talking in a long time, probably brought me back to the top of mind for you. That said oh, you know what I want to put Jeff on my list. And so it's hard to measure those things but I but I ultimately know that if I think hard enough, everything has a cause and effect relationship.

Steve: It does, it these intangibles are in particular difficult to put into a CRM and track back you know specific ROI is I'm with you a 100% but it is true that the cumulative effect right. We may have first face-to-face met in Austin, a couple years back.

Jeff: Yes!

Steve: And then you know probably here and there...

Jeff: That's probably actually where we did meet at that show. Yes.

Steve: Yes and so there's just all of this...

Jeff: Do we have lunch at that show?

Steve: We did!

Jeff: That’s right!

Steve: Yes. that's right.

Jeff: Caitlin or Caitlyn? Which way does she go?

Steve: I call her Caitlyn.

Jeff: Catlyn, right Caitlyn. Caitlyn said to me, “Do you want me to get a bunch of sellers together to go out to lunch”, and I was like “Oh my god, that'll be awesome”. And you were at that, see look you just drew it back, yes.

Steve: There you go.

Jeff: That was another one of those who came to the show, had a lunch and look where it led to.

Steve: Yes, again that's the same kind of thing so I'm a big relationship guy. I feel the same kind of you know, I don't know.. I always feel that there's a gravity that comes with relationships, right? And sometimes you're a little closer to the gravitational pull, right? That's when you're seeing each other these various trade shows and other times a little farther away, but the relationships continue and they exist in their own way and I'm a big fan of it so I think that's a great example.

Jeff: Yes. hey, thanks for helping me remember that ones.

Steve: Yes, see there we go I'd like to line up the dots. So before we take another break and talk about the future, maybe you could share either an app or a tool or a gizmo that makes your life better. Maybe you can set the Seller Labs product aside and just (Jeff: Yes) share something you think it may be helpful to others out there.

40:44 (Jeff discusses the tools he uses to make his life better.)

Jeff: So tools that I'm in on a daily basis, I use Active Campaign for our email management. I also use it for their CRM. I use Zoom which I know we're using for recording right now. It helps to have face-to-face conversations. It works a little better than Skype. We use Slack a lot in our office. I'm probably a coin flip as to whether I think Slack is a time suck or an advantage. There are definitely times that it is an advantage. I'm just like you said I'm a people person so pick up the phone and just call me. And the one that probably has saved me like in all honesty that sounds like super silly, the one that saved me the most time, I know you use this as well, I use a tool called ScheduleOnce. I think you use Calendar.ly?

Steve: Calend.ly. Yes, that’s right.

Jeff: The amount of back and forth I have with people to try to set appointments was nauseating. Just the other day I did it to see and it was like five emails back and forth to get a meeting with somebody versus sending out a link and them clicking making an appointment and being done. So if you have a lot of meetings or not even a lot of meetings but if you realize you're doing a lot of back and forth with people to try to set up phone calls, using a tool like Calendar.ly or ScheduleOnce are phenomenal time savers. So those are those are the tools I use kind of on a daily basis. I also, this is going to sound silly, I also love Google photos. I'm a huge Google photos fan. So I have Google photos. It's tied to my cell phone. Every one of my photos goes up there and they do these really cool things where they make movies for me. They make animations they make collages. So you know it's... I don't know I'm kind of a geek like that. I just think it's really cool. Those are the ones I use.

Steve: So I definitely... First of all, if we ask the CEO of Slack if it's a time sucker - time gain, he would tell you unequivocally, it's going to change the world and emails going to die. But I tend to agree that it could go either way in practice. But for anybody out there if you ever set appointments with anybody kind of on a consistent basis you know regular appointments phone calls whatever and not having one of these tools even Calendar.ly I don't know if the ScheduleOnce offers it but where there's a free option. And it's just the simplest thing in the world did you say hey just pick a time that works for you, click the button and it'll be my calendar, it's done.

Jeff: I mean it's literally like four or five emails back and forth with people to try to set an appointment and it's kind of funny how many people say to me like “Oh my god that's the best! Where did you get that?” I'm like it's not hard to look on the bottom.

Steve: Isn’t it crazy? I swear my fleet of attorneys and accountants and everybody like that when I encourage them to use it because they're like hey when can we get together and probably paying 500 bucks an hour to do this back and forth scheduling too. But they're a big fan of it as well. So I love those Jeff thank you for that. We're going to take a quick break and then talk about the future. Stay with us. We'll be right back.


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Steve: Okay, here we are back again, talking with Jeff Cohen from Seller Labs. And he's out in Chicago sporting his Cardinals colors today

Jeff: Yes.

Steve: What’s the status of the team? May I ask.

Jeff: They're not doing great this year but you know what, we'll see. You know baseball is such a tough sport. It's such a long.. I mean if you're really a baseball fan you get it. It's a tough sport. It's a long season and I honestly believe that baseball is the success of your season it all comes down to injuries. If you get too many injuries compounding at the same time, your season just goes the wrong way and they always try to blame it on managers but it's like that's the one thing the manager can't control. But I just love it. I love the game. I'm going to be at my kid's baseball game tonight coaching. So you know I guess I'm a glutton for punishment. It's going to be 95 tonight for a three hour baseball game.

Steve: Giddyup! That'll be.. See that's how you know a father loves his child because he loves to suck up the pain. So Jeff let's talk about the future a little bit and I always like to get people to just think ahead and prognosticate a bit about you know where will they be, where will their company be and maybe where will the internet be or Amazon be in five years. What are you care to lay on us?

45:29 (Jeff talks about how he sees the future.)

Jeff: Yes. Wow! Five years is like what 25 Amazon years. I think that what's driving change is the Millenials. I mean that there's no doubt about it. It's not your generation, it's not our parent's generation, it's the millennial generation that's driving change. And if you look at that, that tells us you know.. And then you look at countries like India, right? Where they don't own desktop computers. I think that mobile is going to just become more and more critical to the overall success of everything that's being done. I think they'll be holdouts that are still using PCs and desktop computers but Mobile is going to be hypercritical. I think that retail is going to hit a point that stops and then it's going to come back. The same thing happened in the book business, right? So if you actually look at the book, the book business saw some significant declines but if you look at the book business, the book business is actually on its way back up. And the reason why is because the book business changed to how consumers are interested in participating with it as opposed to trying to drive participation and so as malls and strip malls and such all begin to change with how consumer behaviors are changing. I believe that retail will come back up. I was with the CEO of Death Wish Coffee. I don't want to go into their story if you don't know it but I would say look it up it's a great one. I was with their CEO and him and I were talking and he looks at me and he goes “yes, what do you think about us having a flagship store?” and I was like What?! Dude, you're like a multi-million dollar like number one selling brand on Amazon. You just got your products into Walmart. Why do you want a store? And he goes “I just want a flagship store that people can... That the people that love the brand can go into”. He doesn't want a Death Wish Coffee on every corner, right? He doesn't want to be Starbucks. He wants a flagship store that used to say like oh I'm going to New York. I'm going to go check out the Death Wish store. Maybe he puts it in Soho or somewhere that kind of fits the vibe of what his business is. And you see that with a lot of brands and so I think that there's still going to be a need for touch and feel. That need for touch and feel just isn't going to exist the way that it did before. You're not going to go into Macy's or Bloomingdale's and have massive department stores. You're going to go into these smaller stores. You're going to get that look and feel. You're going to connect with the brand and then you're going to use the internet to expand your connection with that brand. And so as that starts to build out, the question is how do digitally native brands, brands like Death Wish Coffee, enter the retail world? And how do you retail brands enter the digitally native world? And so I think groceries going to change significantly within the next five years. Amazon is pushing that it's clear that pharmaceutical is going to change over the next five years as they start to get disrupted, right? Transportation has already changed. Housing has already changed with Airbnb and so we're seeing these transformations that are occurring but if you look at Airbnb, why did Airbnb change? Airbnb changed because they tapped into a group of people who were couch surfing and they turned it into a way for everybody to essentially couch surf but you get the whole house. And so that's what I mean when I say the millennial generation or even the generation after the millennials is going to be driving what that change is over the next five years and the one thing that I know is that change is going to come 10x faster than it's coming today.

Steve: Yes, the speed is... It just continues to accelerate. No question about that.

Jeff: Think about it, I graduated from college in 2007, right? So 30 years ago? Holy cow.

Steve: 2007 is only 11 years ago.

Jeff: No! Wait. 97. I'm 43. I'm not good at math. 1997. Internet dial up speed in 1997 was what, 56K? If you had a good computer?

Steve: Yes. If you were at the height of Technology, you're probably running 56K.

Jeff: Right. You're 248 or 56k and like think about where we're at today with internet speed and every time that we get new internet speed, it doesn't just like double it like quadruples, right? So the next system that's coming out the, 5g system and the gigabytes in your house so it's like the speed at which everything is happening is just happening at such a rapid pace that five years is an eternity from now. And you know I think it'll be great things. I think that all of these things are just make for better everything.

Steve: They really do. You know a lot of people.. They're naturally change resistant but when you start thinking about you know Blockbuster didn't die because Netflix you know somehow unfairly competed. Blockbuster died because it sucked, right? They charged crazy late fees and they you know you didn't rewind and so we're going to beat you, beat it out

Jeff: Well and they didn't survive because as the market changed they fought the change instead of... So look at the cab industry. The cab industry's response to Uber and Lyft is to try to get them banned.

Steve: You have regulation.

Jeff: So what most... I don't know if you realize this but most of any time I get into an Uber now, especially in New York they are all old cab drivers.

Jeff: Of course! Yes, they know where the winds blowing.

Steve: Right! So it's like you either sit there and resist the change like Blockbuster, like the cab business or you embrace it and that's what you're seeing in the in the grocery world, right? So the grocery world is embracing the change which is why Kroger and Shop and Save which you know are obvious they're national brands if you guys didn't realize it and then you have your own little brand at home that's part of the Kroger chain. They're adopting it with Click and Collect and these other methodologies but like I went to shop on Click and Collect the other day at our local store and I had to call the store I'm like Click and Collect doesn't work and they go well we turn it off at 8 o'clock. I was like what?

Steve: Yes because people don't eat or shop after eight o'clock Jeff. Come on.

Jeff: They're like well we turn it off at eight because at eight o'clock we you know are Click and Collect people leave. And I was like it's 8:15 and I want to order this for tomorrow morning. They're like okay great. Can you come back on at 8 in the morning and order it and I'm like well what?! So like they're still cheap then my other gray one is IKEA. I went on IKEA and I ordered a whole bunch of stuff and they had the ability for $5.00 they would pick it all for me and we'd be waiting at the store and if you've ever shopped at IKEA five dollars is so worth it and I showed up and this was four days later. I scheduled it four days later. I showed up and they said well half the items you ordered weren't in stock. I said well were you going to communicate that to me? And they're like well we don't have any way to communicate that to you so we just have to wait for you to show up to tell you and I'm like like what a horrible experience. So like if you're going to make the change and you're going to try to provide customers with something that's better than what they have now, you’ve got to do it right. Because if you do it wrong, you make it that much harder to do it right in the future.

Steve: Well it is so true and this is we're watching these lessons play on across so many industries, right? But the grocery, and the music industry, and the taxis, and the hotels, and this and that but the reality is all of those guys who are staying static, to your point earlier you got to keep moving, continuous improvement, they're the ones who are in jeopardy. They're the ones who are susceptible to losing everything.

Jeff: It wants to go disrupt if you want to be a disruptor.

Steve: Yes and again technology itself is not the disrupter, it's the being customer-centric that can win the day, right?

Jeff: Absolutely.

Steve: So you know there are so many opportunities there and this will continue to play on. I definitely agree with you. We used to have a saying a couple of our companies that you know days or weeks, weeks or months, months or years and years or decades on the internet world and that absolutely is true today. So Jeff as we wrap up maybe you could give us a hint how do we find, how do we find your businesses online now? What's the best way to look you up?

Jeff: Yes so I'd love to tell people to connect with me on LinkedIn. That's a great way to connect with me personally if you go to LinkedIn and type in Jeff Cohen, Amazon I show up. I also tell you that Seller Labs has a LinkedIn page, a Twitter page, a Facebook page and SellerLabs.com and you know that those are the best ways to find us. We can create a special landing page for people from your show. If you want we can go to SellerLabs.com/Awesomer and we'll have some additional information about our business and maybe a special deal. I don't know, you didn't ask for one so I don't know if you've been offering them but we’d be happy to set up kind of a trial of the software special deal for people that listen to the show that want to check out the software and you know ultimately for me it's about like give me some feedback like come on LinkedIn, connect with me in some way. Tell me that you heard the show, tell me if you liked it, tell me if I told you to something that enriched your life in any way, tell me that I'm a total fraud and you think that you know I should be talking about something different. That's how I get better is from your feedback and would love to hear it.

Steve: Excellent. We'll definitely get some of those in the show notes and the Awesomers out there, you don't know this yet Jeff but I don't do any kind of direct deals or any kind of things although we love to see offers for the Awesomers out there. We let all of that stuff kind of run through the Empowery E-commerce cooperative so any deals that may exist there will be shepherded through the system to make sure the Awesomers get access but we love what you're doing. We think that Seller Labs is a great company. I've had personally great experiences with it and I'm definitely somebody who thinks a lot of your outfit. So kudos to you and the whole team. You guys have a lot of people, right?

Jeff: Yes, we're over 50 employees so thanks, Steve. I appreciate you having me on and hope that you know we were able to deliver some good valuable nuggets for your audience today.

Steve: Without a doubt. And for Awesomers listen at home, we will be right back.


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57:24 (Steve shares his final remarks on today’s episode.)

Steve: Well we've done it again everybody. We have another episode of the Awesomers podcast ready for the world. Thank you for joining us and we hope that you've enjoyed our program today. Now it's a good time to take a moment to subscribe, like, and share this podcast. Heck you can even leave a review if you wanted. Awesomers around you will appreciate your help. It's only with your participation and sharing that we'll be able to achieve our goals. Our success is literally in your hands. Thank you again for joining us, we are at your service. Find out more about me Steve Simonson, our guest team, and all the other Awesomers involved at Awesomers.com. Thank you again.

Gosh, I am so thrilled by seeing another origin story and learning more about Jeff and kind of his path to becoming an Awesomer. And as always, it's gratifying to watch the journey of Awesomers because they influenced so many others. They helped and enable others as just part of a byproduct of being Awesomer and that's really one of the philosophies that we share is that you know you can actually, well actually we use the Zig Ziglar saying which is you can have everything you want in your life if you will help enough other people get what they want in their life. And in my opinion, Jeff and the whole team of Seller Labs lives up to this every day of the week. Be sure you take a minute and go to the Awesomers.com/11 so you can see the show notes and you can see the special links to get you access to some of the Seller Labs products at an insider price, right? As always, I don't do any personal affiliate programs but the affiliate programs or any partnership programs that are presented on Awesomers podcast are for the benefit of the Empowery nonprofit member owned cooperative. All the work that we're doing here at Awesomers is to benefit that cooperative and of course our other sponsors like Parsimony.com, SymoGlobal.com, and Catalyst88.com. All of these efforts are dedicated to empowering the lives of entrepreneurs around the world.