Ryan Mulvany – Secrets of the Amazon Whisperer – Opt Out

Ryan Mulvany – Secrets of the Amazon Whisperer

2 months ago · 1:09

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It started with used books. Then new books. Then toys. And games. And foods. And soaps. And beauty products. And yes, even Justin Bieber pillow cases.

Our guest is Ryan Mulvany. He’s a self-proclaimed Amazonoholic, or as we’re calling him, the “Amazon Whisperer”. Joking aside, Ryan has been selling products on Amazon for nearly 10 years, from his garage to the C-suite of his own 8 figure business. That business (Quiverr) grew into San Diego’s 3rd fastest growing company, and Amazon awarded it with Platinum Seller Status. In 2017, Quiverr was wholly acquired by one of the world’s largest CPG brokers, Advantage Sales and Marketing.

But where does this story begin? With the right college degree? Or the perfect job with a trajectory to the top? Nope. Ryan’s background in engineering, and his graduate degree in film didn’t play a role. As the kids like to say . . . Alexa, play the Opt Out Life.

Highlights from Episode 15 with Ryan . . .

(18:00)
On how Amazon’s algorithms favor sales volume over anything else . . . 
“Their search algorithms, it’s like Google and you’re a big Google guys so, [00:18:00] I’m preaching to the choir here. It’s a black hole as to what actually determines what they’re going to show up, but a lot of it drives back to sales, and then from there, a conversion rate, and higher conversion rates come from better content and reviews. So, if you’re going in that price game, you still need to have a product that’s going to review well because if it doesn’t, you’re not going to get conversion, you’re not going to get sales, or you’re not going to continue to climb up the search ranks.”

(27:30)
Some advice for business owners who have so far stayed away from Amazon because they fear being “found out” . . . “So, if that product is not currently offered on Amazon, or there’s not competition [00:27:30] to that product on Amazon, I would try to be the first to market so that you can be the one that gets the reviews and build out the more, otherwise someone else’s going to do it. They will find you. If you get big enough, they will find you and if you’re not doing it there, they will.”

(51:30)
Some of his philosophy about selling a business when you still have energy . . . 
“It’s funny because you all of a sudden I feel like I have people behind me ready to step up and fight if something happens. You feel like you’re flying solo. I think the big key is and I tell my dad this because he’s a veterinarian practice and he’s owned it since I was a kid and just getting through it and he’ll sell it at some point. I’m just telling my dad, “You [00:52:00] can’t get to that place of when you’re going to sell your business exhausted. Because, it’s going to remove your ability to negotiate if know, you’re just out day one.” And they’re probably going to want you there because you’ve offered value here for 30, 40 years. So, getting to that finish line and realizing there’s probably another marathon on the other side of it, I think puts you in a good head space to continue that race if that’s what you want to do.”

(1:07:30)
How Amazon may be heading to more “social” shopping in the future . . . “The challenge with Amazon is its endless shelf space. When you go to a grocery store, there’s like five ketchups, and you go to Amazon, I don’t know if ketchup’s a good example, but there could be 100. And deciphering down which is the best one when you’re not seeing it is challenging. So, I think there’s opportunity from a social perspective like, “What did you buy?” There’s no social component to Amazon of what did my friends buy, or what did this celebrity [01:07:30] buy, and I think that that’s what they’re trying to do with their spark app, which hasn’t really taken off the way they wanted to but making that shopping more social I think would allow you to then … I want to know what my mom buys, and then I can make my decisions based off of that. That might be a little easier than seeing 1000 options for something.”

Transcript

Nate Broughton: This episode of the Opt Out Life podcast from the Opt Out Media Network was recorded here in San Diego, and is the opt out life story of Ryan Mulvany.
Speaker 2: Welcome to the Opt Out Life podcast, the no BS guide to living the modern good life. Hosted by subversive millionaires Dana Robinson and Nate Broughton. The Opt Out podcast explains exactly how creative hustlers are turning side gigs into real income and taking back [00:00:30] control of their time.
From their studio in sunny San Diego, the Opt Out Life welcomes guest who are solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, travelers and creatives who are proof that you can choose a lifestyle over money but still make money too. If you feel like you’ve been chasing your tail, running the rat race or stuck in a system that’s rigged against you, we’d like to offer you an alternative here on the Opt Out Life podcast.
Nate Broughton: It started with used books, then new books, then toys [00:01:00] and games and foods and soaps, and beauty products, and yes, even Justin Bieber pillowcases. Our guest is Ryan Mulvany, he’s a self-proclaimed Amazon-aholic, or as we’re calling him the Amazon Whisperer. Joking aside, Ryan has been selling products on Amazon for nearly 10 years from his garage to the C-suite of his own eight figure business. He’s young, charismatic, and a master of a platform that has taken over e-commerce, books, audio, video, drones and our homes.
Dana Robinson: Ryan’s early days as an intern [00:01:30] at a digital agency combined with his curiosity as a young entrepreneur led to the launch of a business called Quivver. Quivver spawned its own products and brands to sell on Amazon, and then quickly expanded to offer a service that ran the Amazon store fronts for some of the world’s largest companies. His business grew into San Diego’s third fastest growing company, and Amazon awarded it with platinum seller status. In 2017, Quivver was wholly acquired by one of the world’s largest CPG brokers advantage sales and marketing.
Nate Broughton: But where does the story begin? [00:02:00] With the right college degree or the perfect job with the trajectory to the top? Nope. Ryan’s background in engineering and his graduate degree in film didn’t play a role. Instead, he hacked together jobs and hustle to make a buck with businesses that must have been missed by his guidance counselor.
Dana Robinson: How did he know he could sell a book on Amazon when his girlfriend asked him to? He simply said, “I sold a truck on eBay. Dammit. Of course, I can sell a book on Amazon.”
Nate Broughton: As the kids like to say, “Alexa, play the Opt Out Life.” [00:02:30] Today on the Opt Out Life, we have a little segment called Stories from the Amazon Whisperer with our friend Ryan who’s joined us from North County, and he is a much more diverse and interesting person than being the Amazon whisperer. But given the dominance of Amazon in our world today, we’re going to have to talk about that a little bit if you’re okay with it, sir.
Ryan Mulvany: I’m good with it.
Nate Broughton: Okay.
Dana Robinson: Such a good whisperer.
Ryan Mulvany: Say Amazon.
Nate Broughton: Yes. Amazon needs [00:03:00] no introduction and your dominance of it probably needs little introduction, but we’re not too big on the chronological path of your life, we like to bump around and tell cool stories. But why don’t you tell me a little bit about the Amazon world and where you’re out with it today, and why I might call you said thing here today on the Opt Out Life.
Ryan Mulvany: Well, I think you’re too kind to say that I’m dominating Amazon. I don’t think anyone dominates Amazon per se. It’s sort of rolls and you have to go with the flow and [00:03:30] a lot of people try to fight against it, a lot of industry tries to fight against and you get tired out. But yeah, we’ve been doing it for about 10 years actually selling on Amazon.
Had a business around it for about five and it’s been really fun to watch the way that it’s change and I’m going to try not to too many river metaphors here, but to watch the current change direction and twist and turn in its own way. It continues every day there’s something new and something to pay attention to that has relevancy.
Nate Broughton: I mean it is so dominance in [00:04:00] our world. There are probably people out there who don’t know how to buy anything other than on Amazon and you can buy everything on there. Just give me a quick rundown of the things that you’ve sold or helped sell on Amazon.
Ryan Mulvany: Oh man. Well, it started with a textbook, my fiance at the time handed it to me and I was unemployed and she said, “Look,” my girlfriend she just finished college. “My girlfriend just sold this on Amazon, can you do that?” I was like, “Of course I can do that. I sold a truck on eBay dammit. I will sell a book on Amazon.” So, I threw it up there [00:04:30] and didn’t really think anything of it and about an hour or two later, I got an email from Amazon that it sold which was awesome because I didn’t have a cog on it.
So, I’d made 50 bucks, of course gave it back to her. But I was at her parents’ house at the time. So, I looked around, there was books everywhere. So, I just haphazardly listed all those books, went to bed and had sold off half their book collection overnight and realized that there was more to this thing than just flipping random stuff.
So, I ended up partnering with a library who, sweet [00:05:00] little old lady, she was getting a ton of book donations and couldn’t keep up with it. So, she would call me saying, “Ryan, I’ve got more books, do you want them?” And, I’d go through them and if they sold, I’d give her a third of the proceeds and she kept calling me and then the Kindle came out I thought my whole model was blown up, no one’s going to read physical books anymore.
So, at that point, I continued to sell some books but I expanded out and started finding items. It was like the early days of retail arbitrage. I could find something on one website that was selling for more on Amazon, and [00:05:30] would connect the two dots. So, I sold Justin Bieber backpacks, pillowcases which who doesn’t want to cuddle with Justin, bamboo fences, slip and slide like you name it.
What was cool about that process is, I started understanding the data side of Amazon and you could distill down what was going to sell well at what price points. So, all you need to do is basically find that product, which I then realized created a lot of havoc for brands because I was this rogue person that was [00:06:00] just finding their products and flipping them vicariously through the channel.
So, I ended up working at tech startups, that was my way of subsidizing my salary, and then ultimately landed at an agency and they had brands coming in that didn’t really know much about Amazon. So, I came out of the shadows and was like, “Look, I can help you sell product on Amazon but I’m going to do it with your authority and your approval.” So, we span up a business under that model.
Nate Broughton: Yeah. You’re sitting in the office chair like, “Did someone say Amazon?” Little do you [00:06:30] know.
Ryan Mulvany: No one said it five years ago and if I did say it to a brand because of rogue sellers like that, it was a dirty word, no one wanted to pay attention to the channel. So, I saw that as an opportunity to be like, “Look, I’ll be your advocate as opposed to your adversary within Amazon.”
Nate Broughton: Oh yeah. I’m curious to hear about how the channel has matured for sellers and for brands. But before we even get to that, you’re talking about your fiance asked you to list a book, you did that. What were some of the technical things you had to do early on to list some of these products, [00:07:00] and were these products that you were warehousing in your apartment? I’m curious because people want to know how you get started. I’m sure that some of these things might come across as hurdles, but I want to know how curiosity drove you through them, I suppose.
Ryan Mulvany: Yes. So, like I said that was 2008. So, I was fresh out of college and was trying to figure out having that quarter life crisis of like, “What am I going to do with my two degrees that I’m not currently employed in the trades of?” I don’t know what I actually did [00:07:30] when she handed me that textbook other than go to Amazon or search on Google sell something on Amazon. But the immediate see it which it sold was the trigger to me of like, “I just need to get more of this.”
So, it really came down to … I wasn’t the savvy guy with numbers, but I came up with the calculation. It was like my burrito fund. If I could make 50 cents per unit after I ship the item to a customer, that was like a third of a burrito. So, I would sell it. And so, I would get those books. [00:08:00] I was living at my parents’ house at the time which afforded me the opportunity to explore this and I’m so blessed that I had that.
I didn’t have to pay rent, my mom made good meals every night and so, I didn’t have to buy food and I could focus on this. All the while I did have a great job at a tech start up where I wasn’t getting paid, and so I wanted to subsidize it somehow. It gave me that chance to learn it. So, yeah. I was getting books, storing them at the house. I had the Ryan Dewey decimal system which worked like 70% of the time but sometimes [00:08:30] I’d sell a book that I didn’t actually own or I couldn’t find in my Ryan decimal system.
So, sometimes I would go to the library to see if they had it, or I’d go to Barnes and Noble and just buy a new one and ship it to the customer even though they bought a used one, because you’ll learn this if you talk to anyone that sells anything on Amazon that you do not want to do anything to make Amazon mad, and that would be like canceling orders or not delivering on something that someone’s expecting to get. So, you bow down to whatever it is they want.
Nate Broughton: Okay. Dana, first break in here [00:09:00] with Ryan who’ve jumped right in talking his Amazon hustler stories, couldn’t resist getting right down to it with Andy here. Not only his story and how he got to where he is, but where this all started. I wasn’t surprised to hear that he was selling everything out of his house on Amazon. There’s some other stories, there are pretty cool. The seminal one with his girlfriend ask him if he could sell a book, and two hours later, it’s sold and the money’s in his account.
Then him scrambling to sell half the books at his girlfriend’s parents house overnight. [00:09:30] It’s a classic hustler. He’s the right personality, the right curiosity at the right time for finding this platform, but that part is just the side story of who he really is. He’d be hustling selling lemonade or pet rocks or whatever, there’s kid’s addicted to it.
Dana Robinson: Yeah. He found his niche for sure. That’s a pretty cool story of the confidence I think that some people think, “Well, how?” And instead of asking how, he just said, “I can do that because I’ve done something else that means I sold something online.” [00:10:00] I also think it’s cool that we talk a lot about side gigs, and what he was doing in the beginning is pretty good side hustle. I mean low stress, you’ve got a book, you list it, you sell it, you ship it, you’re done. It fits all of our side gigs metrics basically.
But, this company just sold to one of the biggest players in the market. So, it’s a cool story to show that not all side gigs need to stay small. There’s a lot that goes into that growth, and there’s a point at which you pivot from side [00:10:30] gig to company. But I think it’s good to point out to our listeners that side gigs can go big.
Nate Broughton: Yeah. This would make a great TV episode intense in the future actually think of him a 20 something with an internship where he’s not getting paid, but he’s enjoying it for the experience and at night, he’s finding stuff to sell, going off someone’s just notion that could you sell this. He figures it out, sells it and then he goes to a library and cuts a deal with the lady there and takes some of their donations and sells their books on Amazon and gets [00:11:00] I think a third of the money.
He doesn’t have some schematic plan on how this is going to lead to him creating a business that’s going to win some awards and have a nice exit, and we’re going to talk more about that. Is his business Quivver that we don’t really talk about by name early on in the episode, but I want our listeners to know that’s basically the outgrowth of his hustling as an Amazon seller into selling their own brands, and then ending up doing it for agencies and big companies who need help learning how to sell on Amazon. He’s got quite [00:11:30] the wild ride but we’re getting some of the early points here selling Bieber backpacks and things like that.
Dana Robinson: To put this into perspective, here’s a guy that 10 years ago figured how of sell one book that his girlfriend had, and by the time he sold this company 10 years later, he’s telling America’s largest companies how to sell stuff on Amazon. So, I’ve messed around a little bit with the Amazon system just in the last year. I found it pretty cumbersome and complicated and I think a lot of people don’t really understand how do you sell on Amazon, and there’s a couple of ways.
[00:12:00] There’s the fulfilled by US merchant and then there’s fulfilled by Amazon, it’s different fees structures and all of that stay with mechanics for a little bit and help the person that’s thinking, “Heck, I want to sell something on Amazon. Can you walk me through that?” I know enough to be dangerous and I know enough to actually know that it seemed complicated although your story makes it sound really easy.
Ryan Mulvany: Just go get a book. And there’s been a lot of literature and content put out there about how to sell stuff on Amazon. So, it’s a lot easier [00:12:30] to access that information today where 10 years ago. The way that it evolved, the general way that most people started signing on Amazon if you’re doing it 10 years ago, is you were reselling other brands products.
Dana Robinson: Used or whole sale [crosstalk 00:12:43].
Ryan Mulvany: Used or wholesale or you were a brick and mortar and you were just moving stuff on Amazon. So, you just had a store. Over time, people realized that there’s a lot of volume opportunity and it’s not always easy to get the approval of a brand to sell their product. So, a lot of information came out about how to [00:13:00] create your own product on Amazon. If you look at some of the best and most trending passive income podcasts out there, they’re really about Amazon and how to go out identify an opportunity within the channel and then source it and sell it on Amazon.
So, tactically some of the things that they do differently now that they didn’t do 10 years ago, there’s different requirements now in order to get into certain categories, you have to prove authentication of certain products that you want to sell. So, there’s definitely more red tape around it, but there’s also a lot more information about how to do it.
Dana Robinson: [00:13:30] Right. Precious metals that you have to get certified or allowed to sell, rights? So, jewelry; there’s gold, there’s silver.
Ryan Mulvany: And jewelry was locked off for a long time. It’s called gating. So, they’ll lock down a category, they lock the gate for it. So yeah, jewelry is one that I think it’s still approval only, and I’m not sure how many they’re letting in obviously because they don’t want people sending out fake gold and that’s all right.
Dana Robinson: And in terms of brand approval as I understand it, Amazon will let anyone put a product up, but if the brand feels that you’re reselling [00:14:00] something that maybe reflects badly on them, or that they can’t warrant the note, they’ll shut you down for that.
Ryan Mulvany: It’s a sticky point because at the in the day, that’s the marketplace component which creates very competitive offerings for customers. So, if Amazon comes in and starts saying, “Yes you can sell this,” or “No you cannot sell that” sort of the whim of the brand, it removes that price competition element which then brings your prices up. So, it’s a very delicate topic [00:14:30] and there’s a lot of law firms spinning up into this wing of monitoring your sellers and authenticating who can and can’t sell your products, and then if you fall on the side of your not allowed to sell.
Escalating legal letters and infringement notifications to Amazon to try to get you to move on. What ends up happening in most of those situations is you’ve got your general call mom and pop type sellers that are just listing products on Amazon and they go away. It’s just a hobby thing, but they’re [00:15:00] traditionally not the ones that are doing a lot of volume. Then you’ve got the more sophisticated sellers that like I said earlier, they’re very good at finding product and putting on the marketplace, and they’ve been sent these letters before. So, those are the ones that will dig their heels in and potentially come back at you legally and say you can’t do this for this, that or the other reason.
Dana Robinson: Right. In that sense is that, that business that you did well and commoditized and competitive and the new margins so you think it’s better to focus on a totally novel product it’s not someone [00:15:30] else’s brand.
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. That’s the thing you have the most control over, and about four or five years ago, I could just take these headphones and start selling them on Amazon, put my own brand on it and be good to go. If you look today obviously you’ve got the big competition like Beats but then you probably have a good handful of private label guys. And I call them that because it’s just they’ve taken this model and put their brand on it and put it on the marketplace.
Those are the people that are competing in a different area. So, if you look at it like a traditional brand like Beats [00:16:00] for instance, they’ve got infrastructure and licensing and all sorts of things that they have to bake into the cost of their item, whereas I can look at that model, run a business out of my garage, take less margin, put my sole focus in on that specific skew, drive reviews, drive advertising, really double down on it, and make good money at it.
As that process has been more vetted out more information out there about it, there’s a lot of people out there doing it now. So, just slapping your brand on something and put [00:16:30] it up on Amazon that doesn’t work anymore. To me, where it’s going is back to where it was. There was a shortcut, you could just do that. Now you have to come up with a good idea that’s innovative, that’s defendable so people can’t just slap their logo on what you’re doing, and really start a company and not just a product that you want to flip on Amazon.
Dana Robinson: Right. So, you can’t just go on Alibaba, find somebody that’s making generic headphones, order 500 of them, and make any money at that anymore.
Ryan Mulvany: In my opinion it’s a lot harder, and [00:17:00] I think the biggest threat to that is there’s a lot of information now about how manufacturers can come straight from China into the US. So, Amazon wants prices to be competitive, and if you’re manufacturers like, “Wait, where are all of your orders going? To the Amazon?” Well, I can put a brand up and guess what I can take smaller margins than you, and we know how important price is on Amazon. So, I think it’s harder, it’s a lot harder.
Nate Broughton: Yeah. I wanted to ask about price, we danced around it a little bit. But in that example that you were just describing, I’ve read articles about people [00:17:30] who have basically the exact story you told that you get some headphones that look just like the Beats ones and you just make them 10 bucks cheaper. How much is price driving their algorithms three years ago and today? Can you hack that system just on price? Because, even if you’re competing on now quality, you have to check the boxes as you say to create a quality product or real company. Now do you end up in a price war? How does Amazon deal with that now?
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. Their search algorithms, it’s like Google and you’re a big Google guys so, [00:18:00] I’m preaching to the choir here. It’s a black hole as to what actually determines what they’re going to show up, but a lot of it drives back to sales, and then from there, a conversion rate, and higher conversion rates come from better content and reviews. So, if you’re going in that price game, you still need to have a product that’s going to review well because if it doesn’t, you’re not going to get conversion, you’re not going to get sales, or you’re not going to continue to climb up the search ranks.
Nate Broughton: Well, let’s then talk about reviews. Let’s hop to that one because there have been stories [00:18:30] of people and services getting axed for trying to publish fake reviews. There are professional Amazon reviewers who have made this a career. It’s a whole ecosystem in and of itself. How much do reviews matter? How do you facilitate good reviews? What’s your experience in that with managing so many products and brands yourself?
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. The review obviously a hot topic and one that’s changed a lot over the past year and a half really. So, the good old days of getting reviews was facilitating these [00:19:00] review networks. So, they had this pool of people that wanted to get samples for free, and in exchange for that, they would give you their feedback.
Nate Broughton: And these are private companies, this is not Amazon? Other people [crosstalk 00:19:09].
Ryan Mulvany: Right. And the way that works, the old T&C, terms and condition that Amazon had for reviews in place was you cannot incentivize or pay anybody for a review. So, the way that these companies sprung up was; pay us a service fee, pay company a service fee, and then we’ve got a pool of reviewers over here that you can send product to. [00:19:30] So, that allows you to not be paying them direct. The challenge with that is those reviews and there was this full report about it maybe two years ago, the reviews that come in when someone gets a product for free are traditionally going to be a lot higher than the ones that don’t.
Nate Broughton: That make sense.
Ryan Mulvany: And you had communication with those reviewers. So, Amazon came out and said you can’t do incentivize reviews which overnight shut down those companies, these pools. That’s notorious for Amazon, changing the rules and there’s fall out because of it. But I think that [00:20:00] those companies had to know that they were in the gray already, and that something like that could happen.
Now the way that it works is you cannot communicate with a customer pre-transaction about a review. You can follow up with them post-transaction and ask them for their feedback, but before they actually get it, you can’t ask them for any feedback. The only other way that you can really get reviews is if you guys ever order a product on Amazon or you get them a lot around Christmas time, you order something and then like a day or two later, you get an email from [00:20:30] the seller says, “Thanks so much. We’d love to hear your thoughts,” and that’s their way of driving reviews. I assume at some point Amazon’s not going to allow you to do that either.
Dana Robinson: All right Nate. So, I’m always looking for the practical that our guests can deliver. So, I want to know what are they doing that somebody might be able to immediately turn into a side gig of their own, and unfortunately, we’re learning from Ryan that maybe it’s not the right time to repeat what Ryan did in the past. There’s a change, and the maturity of the platform means it’s not going to [00:21:00] be as easy for someone to jump in and just do what Ryan did 10 years ago.
Nate Broughton: Yeah. I think that’s right. Listening to him talk about the past of two to four years ago, and when you could probably compete with an off branded product that you came up with, or if you could maybe try to gain reviews in some way or pricing. I wanted to ask him these things because I was curious too. I know a lot of entrepreneurs and side gigers who have sold things on Amazon, but I do think that in 2018, the ship has sailed a bit in the form of it being easy [00:21:30] money and a platform that is let’s say, not mature. It is by far mature these days.
Dana Robinson: But what you can do is you can offer unique products. What you could have done say six years ago is find a way to make a product there or buy wholesale or buy at a discount and just compete on price. These days you need your own product with your own skew that you’re bringing in and then you have to market that and cross promote and get that selling, and it’s not the same game it was.
Nate Broughton: [00:22:00] Yeah. I think to some people, that’s going to sound hard and sad. But there’s a lesson here. What is the lesson you think?
Dana Robinson: I think there’s two lessons. One is that there are always early markets. So, Ryan’s lesson here is when there’s an immature market, something that’s a new opportunity, there’s going to be the ability to bring arbitrage to that. The other lesson is that it’s perfectly okay to enter a market like this and not feel like you need to make a fast buck, the platform works but you need to set up a store and make it work the [00:22:30] long way.
Nate Broughton: And it foreshadows something we talk about a little bit later too. See, he was considered crazy or at least he felt a little crazy in his mind to focus on Amazon at the time that he did. It’s very hard I think for any of us to think of a time where Amazon was anything less than dominance and ever present and easy. There’s no fear in buying something off Amazon. Prime and your app on your phone and Alexa in your kitchen.
It’s frictionless and ever present and that’s where everybody buys everything. [00:23:00] But the early market Amazon, well, you took a little bit of cavalieness, a little bit of cowboy playing around, and if you want to be in those markets, you need to be playing in those markets or on those platforms at a time when they’re on their early stages.
Dana Robinson: Yeah. The wild west.
Nate Broughton: That’s right.
Dana Robinson: Now, speaking of Amazon, can I do a shameless plug.
Nate Broughton: It’s time.
Dana Robinson: Opt Out the book, is on Amazon. So, I’d like you to just ask Alexa to ship you Opt Out immediately and just deliver that [00:23:30] to your digital device or to the paperback or the hardback and reviews are important in the early stage for a book like this.
Nate Broughton: And let’s not also forget to mention that if you go to optoutlife.com and get on our email list, we will give you a free digital copy of set book too. So, you’re going to want to own this thing in paperback or hardback and put it on your shelf, but if you want to quick taste, come to optoutlife.com and your email. You can hear this amazing book that we’ve been talking about for 15 episodes now.
Amazon so ever present not only as [00:24:00] a brand and in our lives, but in the search results too. If you are selling a product that’s in a certain category and you have any desire to try to rank for category terms these days, you’re going to be competing with Amazon. To go step further with that, we’ve had a few people on the show who have e-commerce websites. One was a jewelry company, another one was a kids’ clothing company.
Neither of them sell on Amazon if I’m on the brink of that, and when we brought it up to both of them, it seemed like something that they were intrigued to do because of obviously the big customer base, but there were certainly some [00:24:30] hurdles to them getting on there, and they didn’t necessarily go into what those would be. But if you’re a small e-commerce player even like a mid-size e-commerce player with the brand that’s not yet on Amazon, what are you facing and what do you suggest for those people to do?
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. I think looking at the competitive landscape for your category on Amazon is a healthy way to start. If you’re going to come in and be priced much higher than where your competition would be, again Amazon is driven predominately by price and [00:25:00] then review count. So, if you’re going to be sitting up a lot higher from a price perspective without reviews, it’s going to be a slow burn in you’re going to need to do stuff from an advertising perspective, or an influencer perspective to drive that awareness and that conversion.
It’s easier than ever to start selling stuff on Amazon, which has created that competition, but I respect the hell out of people that have built businesses that aren’t reliant on Amazon, because then you get Amazon knocking on your door saying, “Hey, come sell direct to us or get us in your exclusives program.” [00:25:30] They have a program called launch pad and that’s what they built. They looked at what Kickstarter was doing, they looked at these innovative products coming through Shark Tank, and they needed to create something that was going to allow them to be the everything store and take those brands on.
So, I think the more momentum you can get outside of Amazon, if you can funnel that right, there’s an opportunity there. Then develop the strategy out. Have a dot com strategy, have an Amazon strategy, do things on Amazon that you should not do on your site, and really use the two [00:26:00] to better each other. Because, a lot of times it’s like, “I’ve got one person focus on Amazon, got another person focus on my dot com,” they don’t see eye to eye because they’re both fighting for sales and customers. If you have someone go on your website to buy your product, that’s a certain type of person, cultivate that and just know that a lot of people aren’t going to go to Amazon too to buy it, and that’s a different type of person.
Dana Robinson: I’ve had some friends that have hesitated to go on Etsy and Amazon because what they’ve learned is that if you’re successful [00:26:30] then you become a target for those that are just better at hitting that same demographic with a similar products. So, it’s fear of being copycatted and so they just do focus on their web direct sales, and they stay off from the big platforms. Have you seen that?
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. It’s funny. If you ask me what products that I’ve sold before I forgot, I actually sold women’s legwarmers with a little lace so it would hang out the top of your boot. This is like eight years ago. So, my idea was [00:27:00] look at trending products on Etsy and bring them over to Amazon. I worked with girl out of Utah and she’s a sweetheart. As soon as it did land on Amazon, you definitely saw competition pop up.
So, I think back in the day, it wasn’t as prevalent as it is today, but I could totally see that concern. But I think my bigger concern for that type of person is if you’re not defendable on marketplaces, what do you actually have? Because, if you go to retail, same thing’s going to happen. So, if that product is not currently offered on Amazon, or there’s not competition [00:27:30] to that product on Amazon, I would try to be the first to market so that you can be the one that gets the reviews and build out the more, otherwise someone else’s going to do it. They will find you. If you get big enough, they will find you and if you’re not doing it there, they will.
Nate Broughton: It’s a shame to hear you describe it as a moat because it’s a metaphor that has been used for things like Google Ad Words campaigns as well, because you build up account history and it makes it harder for people to come in and compete with your CPC’s and conversions, and it sounds like that’s the exact same thing that happens on Amazon, and I guess that’s kind of intuitive. [00:28:00] Because, if you’re aggregating reviews and building this account history, you’re in the pole position at least from a perspective of Amazon trusting you and knowing that you’re a good seller, and someone who comes in and even tries to cut you down on price, their algorithms are smart enough to at least give you weight and not let those guys just leap frog you on day one.
Ryan Mulvany: Well, at the end of day comes a sale. So, the sales are what are going to give you the momentum, the sales will give you visibility into the best sellers list, and the sales will also allow you to maybe get higher MOQs going [00:28:30] through your manufacturers to drive your costs down which allowed you to be a little more aggressive on the advertising front. So, it’s just utilizing all that. If we wanted to jump in and start selling these headphones today, and we said, “Well, we’re going to compete on price,” you’d have to know that that best selling headphone that isn’t Beats and it’s that private label person is doing potentially tens of thousands of units a month, and they’re coggan, it’s going to be infinitely less than what we’re doing, and they’re going to have more budget then to allocate to advertising.
So, being that first [00:29:00] to market on Amazon for your category, I think is a huge thing. But I can see you waiting out until you have that momentum and then if it’s a consumable product for instance that your friend has, it’s creative thing to drive him over to Amazon. You don’t have to get it to your whole audience, but you already know they like your product and you could use that as momentum to get going on the Amazon, start building up your review count and that sort of thing.
I think the thing a lot of brands don’t understand is, people go to Amazon, people to your website, and if those two things are in parity and they want convenience, [00:29:30] maybe they’re going to go with Amazon, but if they’re in parity from a price perspective, they might just order from your website to support you guys or because you can offer something different. So, I think there’s still an opportunity to do both.
Dana Robinson: I know Amazon’s got a brand protection registry now. So, in some sense if you are first to market and you’re worried about those with better economies of scale competing with you, if you’ve got your trademark registered at that point, if the trademark is what people are looking for then you might be able to keep your [00:30:00] turf despite the competitors.
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. They’ve got a program called brand registry, it’s been out for a couple years. We call it brand registry 2.0 now, and it’s an opportunity for a brand to come in and say, “Hey, we are the authoritative stance on this content and these trademarks, and if someone wants to change them, you need the [rabbit cording 00:30:19], you need to come to us for approval.” It’s not perfect but it’s certainly an indication that the Amazon’s getting serious about protecting the rights of brands.
It does allow you to file [00:30:30] infringement notifications in going out there, but what it doesn’t allow you to do is you can’t just say, “I don’t want this person selling my product on the channel, therefore I’m going to submit a claim or this is really close to my patent or my trademark,” but unless it’s the exact infringement, they’re not going to take it off because again, it’s competition, it’s good for the end user as long as it’s authentic and just.
Nate Broughton: Well, Dana and I are infinitely curious about this, and we could go on until we’ve said Amazon 7,000 times. To book end this part of our conversation, [00:31:00] maybe give us a few resources that you would suggest people check out whether it’s to learn how to sell on Amazon to keep up with what’s going on on Amazon, and maybe even plug yourself because I know you’re starting to publish content consistently on what you know about Amazon. But what are a couple of links we could shoot out to folks to say, “Here’s a place to go learn more if you want to start, and here’s a place to keep up with what’s going on on this big old platform”?
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. If you’re looking to get into the private label game, I took a course five years ago through the guys [00:31:30] from amazing.com, and it seems like every six months or a year, they have new content that they’re putting out there about how to sell stuff on Amazon. If you’re looking to just learn more about the industry, there’s great content being written every day by firms like L2 which is a market research company that just puts out really good content about all things e-commerce related.
[Profitaro’s 00:31:51] another one that puts out really good content, they have a good podcast too. That’s more if you’re a sales executive, a business and you’re trying to learn more about the industry. So, I think it’s just figuring [00:32:00] out where you want to learn and what you want to learn, and then there’s a whole slew of resources on the podcast, on YouTube, and then just in print too.
Nate Broughton: Cool. I like that you mentioned Amazing because I was on there, I saw your customer success story video they made of you, and I think it’s a nice seg into some other things about you because you’re on there explaining that it was a great resource as you just did, but they showed a picture of you and your lifestyle and your wife and your kids and what becoming an Amazon maestro and actually being an entrepreneur [00:32:30] and just competing and doing well in this niche has done for your life. Tell us a little bit about that. Let’s talk about the lifestyle side of this and why you’re an Internet entrepreneur for lack of a better term.
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. I don’t have any affiliation with those guys other than they’re my friends now because we’ve had some fun together. But from a monetary standpoint, no affiliation here, they put out a course five, six years ago that substantiated some of the assumptions I had. I tinker with stuff like my Ryan decimal system and some stuff work, most stuff doesn’t work. [00:33:00] But when it comes to selling on Amazon, I just really wanted to get into the weeds, I wanted to learn every facet of it, and then I wanted to learn more importantly where I thought it was going to go.
So, when I saw the material that they were putting out there, it’s was like, “Oh, you can’t do ACO on Amazon,” and, “Oh, this impacts your visibility within the catalog.” And ultimately, watched their model of selling stuff private label grow, and then realizing like, “Well, I could probably apply these same tactics to brands [00:33:30] because I work at an agency, and we’re going to carve out our own area.”
I don’t know who said, it’s one of the presidents, he said, “If you find yourself on the side of the majority, you need to stop and reconsider.” And maybe because it’s I grew up left-handed, but I’ve always tried to not do what everybody else is doing because it just doesn’t resonate with who I am. If you look at Apple’s, isn’t Apple’s tagline think different? They’re giving it to you right there, and when you think different, it allows you to see things differently, it [00:34:00] allows people to see you differently, and then really carve out the life you want for yourself because you’re the sort of novel free thinking person as long as you can keep it in perspective.
Nate Broughton: Price, we’ve got more of Ryan’s story and I have to apologize a little bit although not too much about the intense Amazon conversation for the first 30 something minutes of this podcast.
Dana Robinson: The Amazon whisperer.
Nate Broughton: The Amazon whisperer. I think it’s worth it. We talked way more than we actually are even leaving in here honestly about Amazon, but it’s such a big part of our lives [00:34:30] and for any entrepreneur, it’s a consideration I think no matter what type of product you’re selling and even some service providers. Amazon is there, it’s there to stay, it’s half of the Internet to some people.
So, we wanted to give it its due and get as much out of Ryan as we could. Hopefully, there were some good tidbits in there that you can apply to either yourself as an entrepreneur or even just as an Amazon consumer, I think you’ll look at it a little bit differently after hearing his story. But Ryan’s told us one of my favorite things. He said one of his maxims I guess is that he [00:35:00] likes to tinker with stuff. I envision you Dana tinkering in the garage, and I think you two share this in common, this trait.
Dana Robinson: Yeah. I think it’s inherent in mechanical people. I was raised with a wood shop in a garage and taking apart the lawn mower and making it work again, sometimes making things work again, many times not. Working on a computer as a kid, these are tools not to become a programmer, not to become a woodworker, not to become a mechanic but to satisfy our curiosity and that leads [00:35:30] to other things. I think that’s tinkering is a curiosity that marks many entrepreneurs.
Nate Broughton: Yeah. He’s telling us that he wants to get into the weeds as soon as he realizes he’s fallen in love with something; a platform, an idea, a product, whatever and he won’t stop until he learns every facet, and that personality trait plays well for him and a lot of our guests. I don’t think it’s a prerequisite for you to live the opt out life in any way, shape, or form or to be a successful entrepreneur but, it [00:36:00] certainly doesn’t help that he’s out there trying to find courses that he can take on this, and he’s saying yes to any opportunity even if it’s something he has no idea how he’s going to fulfill. He gets on, he tinkers and makes it work.
Dana Robinson: Yeah. In fact you and I are working on the Opt Out blueprint, that’s going to be a great educational product that we launch pretty soon. I’m putting together the outline for the perfect side gig. A lot of the things that you can do when you’re thinking how do I find a site gig has to do with exploring your curiosity, becoming [00:36:30] curious and testing platforms and watching videos and learning and tinkering.
Nate Broughton: Right. And the book in the Amazon conversation, not that we’re not going to talk about it here a little bit more, but we wanted to give a few resources. Ryan listed a few out there in the conversation. The course he took on amazing.com as well as some content from a firm called L2, and also Profitaro I think you mentioned as a podcast where you can learn more about how to sell on Amazon.
So, we will link all of those up on optoutlife.com, our [00:37:00] new and improved website. Go to the episode page there to check for those if you want to learn more and you want to be a tinkerer and dig deeper into every facet of Amazon. That’s coming straight from Ryan who’s probably one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable people on Amazon. So, I think those are worth a look. So, we’re going to get a little bit more from Ryan on how he skyrocketed Quivver, his business around Amazon. We’re going to talk more about some of his personal life and some of the things he’s done lifestyle wise, and now we’re going to hear a quick story about another funny thing that he sold on Amazon around the [00:37:30] 2012 election.
So, you’re tinkering, you’re looking around online. Amazon’s just one of the things you’re tinkering with, and you went further with it because you started to see how it might give you that flexibility and all the benefits of what you have today basically, right?
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. I mean if we want to rewind, I like we’re not going in chronological order, but I’m at a tech start up, the presidential elections’ coming up, and my buddy and I were like, “Let’s start selling presidential masks on Amazon,” that was the first like our own product.
Nate Broughton: Brake [00:38:00] style?
Ryan Mulvany: It was actually this really cool technology that allowed you to print an actual image on a mask. I kind of want to revive it because it was a pretty cool product. So, I could wear the face of like Barack Obama. I didn’t have to have eye holes in it, I could see through this material, this was mesh. So, I could walk around and look just like Obama. So, we were doing Obama, Romney masks, and I swear Romney was going to win the election based on sales.
Little did I know there was way less competition for Romney keywords than Obama, so [00:38:30] we had a lot better visibility. So, the election came and went and it was perfect because it was Halloween too. So, it was like this perfect storm of Amazon amazingness. Then I want to say I’m going through this process and I’m a PM at a tech startup at the time, and the guy who’s mentor to me came to me he’s like, “Look Ryan, you need to decide what you’re going to do with your life, and you need to specialize in something because right now you’re a generalist.” And I was. I was a PM, I could do a lot of things but a jack of all trades and master of none. At that point I was like, ” [00:39:00] I’m going to own Amazon.”
Nate Broughton: How old were you at this point?
Ryan Mulvany: I would’ve been 10 years ago. So, I’ve been 23. So, dumb enough to believe that I could do it.
Nate Broughton: It’s perfect age to take that advice and do something.
Ryan Mulvany: That’d be like … I’m trying to think what I could say. It be like telling you to double down on just something today that just doesn’t seem like it’s going to work. It’d be going all in on like, I don’t know. There’s-
Nate Broughton: Crypto?
Ryan Mulvany: I don’t know. There’s people smarter than me. I don’t know.
Nate Broughton: Maybe.
Ryan Mulvany: I feel like [00:39:30] all things about [crosstalk 00:39:33].
Nate Broughton: Alexa? That’s a platform play for the giant, but doubling down on voice devices and the potential commercial applications and advertising platforms that will be around them possibly.
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. AR, something like that. Even those today sound like more substantiated than what Amazon … Amazon was like eBay back then. It was like fret’s list. You’re like, “Do I really want to put my credit card on this website? I’m I going to get [00:40:00] I want like?” Prime revolutionized that, but back in the day, it wasn’t this just like, “Oh yeah, just one click and I’m done.” So, he tells me to specialize in that facet, and I was like, “Okay, I’m a double down on that.”
Then I want to say within like a month or two, I got laid off from that job. It was a tech start up funding, the high burn and I respected it, like I get it. Then after that within two days, I got a call from my other buddy, and he’s like, “Hey, can you sell mattresses online?” And [00:40:30] I was like, “Yeah of course. Of course I can sell mattresses. I sold a truck on eBay dammit.” So, I ended up going over and it was this guy who owned an agency that also owned this inflatable mattress company.
Not just camping mattresses, sleep train. I think they’re called sleep train. The sleep number mattresses. So, I applied everything that I knew about selling books and Bieber backpacks and fences to yes I can sell your product on … It was Amazon and eBay and then I got that job. He’s like, “You want to [00:41:00] be a climb under too for SEO?” I said yes because I’ve always wanted to learn more about SEO.
Nate Broughton: You’re saying yes to these opportunities and that’s a common theme we get from our guests and we have from our lives. I don’t know expunge on that my friend.
Dana Robinson: I think a lot of people think that those that land in some successful place planned on it. The opt out story is usually a combination of willingness to say yes to crazy ideas, audacity to reach out, the confidence [00:41:30] to say yes to things they have no idea what the hell they’re doing. Like this, “Of course. I can sell mattresses. I’ve sold a truck on [crosstalk 00:41:37].” And the beauty of serendipity these times where someone says something and you believe it and then life presents you with those opportunities and you seize those.
Ryan Mulvany: I couldn’t agree more. I think it’s yeah, having that foolishness in a good way to believe that you can do it, but then believing in yourself and knowing that, ” [00:42:00] Look, I’m going to fall down eight times, I’m going to get up nine times. I’m just going to keep going and going until I figure it out, and once I get there, I might need to go another 100 feet this way, 100 feet that way, but just not stopping until it’s yours.”
Nate Broughton: Yeah. That confidence in yourself and that foolishness in some way, it all comes down to being willing to tinker. I like the way that you use that term. We might start using it more because we’ve had these conversations and it’s like just google it. You say yes on the phone, you hang up, you get on Google, then you Google whatever it is. [00:42:30] You take a little bit of notes that you have and you start figuring it out.
It’s how I figured out how to record this podcast which is a minor accomplishment, but I didn’t know how to do it before, now people think that I’m a podcaster. I think we all share that trait and I’m starting to become very interested in that moment that happens after you say, “Yes,” what’s that next action that you take?” Because, I feel like it’s the confidence, willingness, and specificity of that action that a lot of people lack.
Dana Robinson: I think they prevent themselves from taking those opportunities [00:43:00] for a lot of reasons. One of them is this idea that they should be on some expected career path, social pressure, what’s my wife’s going to say, what are my parents going to say when I start selling Bieber sheets online?
Nate Broughton: Yeah. Ryan, you have two kids that are probably about the same age as mine. You’re somewhat along the path to success we’ll call it right now when you probably had those children, but you got married and what was going on at those times? Was there ever like, “Ryan, I don’t know what you’re doing man.” Or was it just [00:43:30] a blind faith? What was going on in your head?
Ryan Mulvany: Oh yeah. My wife, we’ve been together now for 12 years. So, she’s seen the craziness. We knew each other in college when I was getting a film degree, while I got an engineering degree. I was like, “I’m not going to do that. I don’t look like an engineer. I’m going to get a film degree.” So, she watched me go from the engineering mindset to “I’m going to write 60 screenplays and pitch TV show ideas for team Green and getting 100 nos until I get a yes.”
So, she knew this [00:44:00] crazy like, “Oh, it’s the weekend but he’s working,” or “It’s night and he’s working.” So, I already primed her for what I would become. The challenge I ran into was, I was putting all that in post-college making no money and then she still blindly supported me which was the most wonderful thing ever. She worked as a waitress and made pretty good money in tips, so we were able to subsidize our lifestyle.
I was like, “You just got to believe in me. I’m a stock. I’m a long term investment. I’m not a crypto investment here, I’m a long term [00:44:30] blue chip stock that over time will pay off.” I really did believe that deep down, it was in the short term where I’m like, “Oh man, the market’s going to crash on Ryan here and I’m going to have to figure some stuff out.” But it wasn’t blind faith where it was like, “I’m just going to quit my job and go all in on this,” I always had something, my something just it didn’t pay a lot.
Dana Robinson: Yeah. But those side gigs gave you a little bit of leverage to tinker. If you knew you could make a little money, then you could spend some time investing [00:45:00] in start up, or another side gig that might scale in way that hedged your bets.
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. And she was really nice about telling me like, “You’ve got a thousand things going on. Why don’t you concentrate that effort into one or two?” I’m an entrepreneur, I’ve got ADD, I chase butterflies. That comes with it. So, hearing that from her and the reminder of that and then like, “Okay, going to be Amazon which can then open up all sorts of things. It’s going to be me sourcing a product to sell on Amazon or helping a brand out to sell on Amazon.”
It [00:45:30] was funny because as soon as we started my company, it was the first time in my life where I felt like I was in a relationship with a business, and I’m not looking outside of that business anymore for new opportunities. It’s a weird head space to be in, but it’s comfortable, feels good.
Dana Robinson: All right. So, for our listeners who don’t understand what it means to have an earn out, means you’ve sold your company and they’re not going to pay you all of it until you meet some benchmarks. We generally don’t want to ask our guests the confidential information regarding [00:46:00] the acquisition of their business, but it’s always exciting when we have an entrepreneur on that’s pretty close to having closed a sale.
Nate Broughton: When it’s not uncommon for a deal to be structured that way, you just jump in there and say that you know what, and that now means you’re not getting all the money right now, give me a little sad face. But no, really. First of all, all of Ryan’s story is a grand success story, it’s catching lightning in a bottle especially the speed at which this happened and how young he is. He’s 33 years old, and [00:46:30] his meteoric rise from intern to a successful exit is pretty cool.
It’s really hard to make those deals happen. So, I am very happy for him and his partners who I’m friends with that they have pulled this off. But what I’m more happy about is to hear that how excited he still is to do it. We’re going to have people who come in to the afterlife podcast and tell us about their exit, and if they’re going to be honest with us, they’re going to tell us that it didn’t go too well. I’m sure they’re happy they got some cash, but they bailed on the earn out, they didn’t stick around, they don’t like the new owners, the promises [00:47:00] that were made to them didn’t happen, and it’s …
Dana Robinson: We just did that interview with one of our guests who was completely exhausted and burned out by the time he got his exit. That’s anti-climactic to get to the end and be so burned out, but you didn’t sense that from Ryan.
Nate Broughton: No, not at all. He’s got new audacious goals that he feels like he can accomplish with this new strategic partner still at Quivver. So, I think he’s got a lot of unfinished business, and I think it fits his personality a bit. But yeah, just generally happy for him to have a situation work out the way that it did.
Ryan Mulvany: Quivver’s [00:47:30] been around now for five years. It was the thing that spawned out of the agency, and we started to sell our own products on Amazon. That was the goal and we launched a couple products that we still sell today under our own brands, but we realized that applying what we knew to brands was just a better model for us. We had relationships with the brands, we had cashflow, I had partners that could cash flow the inventory requirements to buy and in and stuff like that.
So, we grew that business to become one of the Amazons’ [00:48:00] platinum sellers. So, they’re top tier of sellers within the channel. Then in 2017, we were acquired by a very large strategic partner that had the resources for us to continue to grow this business, and now my role, we’re in earn-out which is a funny head space to be in again. Like I said, I was in a relationship and when you sell your company, “I’m I still in that relationship?”
And he’s like, “Yeah, I am and I’m more committed to it than ever because there’s more opportunity than ever.” We’ve got a goal to beat within Amazon’s top [00:48:30] 10 sellers on the channel. If you lump in everything we do, we’re probably at top 100, but I want to be at top ten, and I think there’s a good opportunity for us to get there. So, that’s the new shiny thing I’m chasing.
Nate Broughton: That’d be cool.
Dana Robinson: So, the business model for Quivver you started by getting your own products and selling them and you shifted to selling major brands products directly or as an agency?
Ryan Mulvany: Directly. So, what we realized is, “Oh, cool. We have all these products that we sell that we created that actually takes to management like we can’t just [00:49:00] scale that business and scale our helping brands business at the same time.” So, what we do is like I said five years ago when we came up with this idea, we would say Amazon the brands, and they’d be like, “No, we don’t want to touch it.”
So, we said, “All right. Let us do it for you.” So, we would buy the inventory from them, we would prep it so it could go to the filming centers, and then we would make money by selling the product and then we’d reinvest that money into updating the content, monitoring rogue sellers on the channel, driving reviews, running advertisements, all that sort of thing. [00:49:30] So, under that model, we became a profit center for the brands instead of the cost.
So, it’s cool, it’s funny I’m really adverse even to this day for charging fees. I’m like, “Well, let’s make this performance based. How do I eat what I kill because I want to go out and hunt for you?” So yeah. It was a good model for us to go with. As the marketplaces evolved and as brands don’t always want us selling their products within the channel, we’ve evolved too. So, we do have an agency side to it now where we just service, but I prefer to sell. I like selling.
Nate Broughton: It’s one of San Diego’s better success stories of the last [00:50:00] five years and it’s a very short timeline from initiation to exit to continuing along. So, first of all, congratulations on that. That was pretty hard to ride that wave no matter who you are, where you are, or what you’re doing. So, enjoy it and it sounds like it’s going really well too. It’s cool to hear about an exit. I know you’re still in the middle of it.
That’s been almost exclusively positive experience because there are so many entrepreneurs who sell their business and not necessarily regret it later on, but end up in a no-not situation that’s negative, or it’s not all [00:50:30] butterflies and rainbows. But it sounds like yours is and it’s still interesting to you, you’re still excited about it, you’ve got big goals, there giving you a platform to chase those goals, it couldn’t be any better.
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. We were lucky. I had the experience of partners. I joke to this day like if I hadn’t been working at this agency, I would have launched a product and sold on Amazon out of my garage and it would probably still be in that garage. You could make decent money doing that, but you’re defensibility and what you’re actually building, [00:51:00] it’s not much there. So, when we had the growth that we had over the first couple of years, we realized quickly if we wanted to continue at this clip, we’re going to need financial support to take the inventory position that we need, and we’re going to need an opportunity to get into some of these bigger brands and story.
So, that’s what we were looking in a suitor, and we’re lucky enough to find it. We got approached by a couple of different offerings and the one that we went with was the one that just resonated with us culturally. There’s always going to be some disconnect between little [00:51:30] startup and big company, but they’ve been nothing but what they presented to us. And yeah, we feel like we have the resources.
It’s funny because you all of a sudden I feel like I have people behind me ready to step up and fight if something happens. You feel like you’re flying solo. I think the big key is and I tell my dad this because he’s a veterinarian practice and he’s owned it since I was a kid and just getting through it and he’ll sell it at some point. I’m just telling my dad, “You [00:52:00] can’t get to that place of when you’re going to sell your business exhausted. Because, it’s going to remove your ability to negotiate if know, you’re just out day one.”
And they’re probably going to want you there because you’ve offered value here for 30, 40 years. So, getting to that finish line and realizing there’s probably another marathon on the other side of it, I think puts you in a good head space to continue that race if that’s what you want to do.
Nate Broughton: Yeah. That’s a really good lesson and a lot of business owners should hear and hopefully take the heart. Some might not be lucky enough to be able to get to the finish line with much energy, but [00:52:30] we’re sitting in an office that is a mergers and acquisitions private equity office, and it’s a whole another business, it’s a whole another life cycle outside of the business that has to run parallel to it.
It’s like having two jobs, it’s like running two big processes at the same time. Often, it can become exhausting because it doesn’t end in a deal, it doesn’t end happily, it doesn’t in this transaction, and a lot of people have been burned by it. So, it’s cool that you guys were thoughtful about the opportunities that were presented to you, and you ended up choosing a right strategic partner I think, and that’s some good advice. [00:53:00] I hope people hear it.
Dana Robinson: All right. So, I’ve got a question. A lot of people get into a startup that grows its scales, it grows they get funding, it grows some more by the time they get their exit, they get their millions and they’re completely destroyed personally because in the last 10 years, they deferred all gratification, burnt the candle at both ends, really leaned in the whole time, and on top of the fact that in that exhaustion, you got to do your earn- [00:53:30] out, stick around for a year or two years and finish that cycle. Please tell me as someone who appears have gone against the grain throughout your life, that the last decade has been wonderful for you.
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. My whole life’s been wonderful. I’m so blessed to been raised by the parents I’ve had, to be born in San Diego. There were definitely cards stacked in my favor for all of this. But I’ve seen that before where you get to the end of the race and you’re sitting on a pile of money, you’ve nothing to spend it on and no one to spend for. Just no one cares. [00:54:00] And so, when I was at the tech start up, I was working there with great people but I realized that their life was going to different direction.
Their lives were just different than mine. Single, not wanting to have kids, and that’s fine, that’s your thing. When I landed at this agency, the owner of it, he had kids, he had a wife, he hung out with, he really liked them. He’d go on these RV trips for like three weeks a year.
Nate Broughton: He’s notorious for that.
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. Which is a funny side story. So, when I originally started selling books on Amazon, it [00:54:30] was called One Love Books, and my shtick was like, I’m going to sell books to fund a honeymoon that was this whole thing that I started, and I made enough money to fund the honeymoon. So, of course when I get to the honeymoon, I’m going to put my store in vacation mode so I can actually enjoy the honeymoon.
So, I put it in and on the plane fly over, I’m picking my fingers, I’m getting all nervous, I land, we’re in Belice, I have to go to get the wifi so I can turn my store back on, because I went 24 hours without getting sales. So, I realized [00:55:00] when I got this agency that, “Oh, here’s a guy that has a family that can take three weeks off.” I still can’t take … I don’t think I’ve been away from my inbox for more than an hour in the last 10 years.
But I’m like, “That’s the person I want to model myself after, and go in that direction.” So, I think it’s tough because I got really lucky in meeting him and our other partner who we started with that they’re just down to earth good people.
Nate Broughton: All right Dana. As we’re getting a little bit closer to the end with Ryan, I wanted to break in one more time and just comment a [00:55:30] bit on his humbleness, the line that he said where he said, “If I hadn’t met my partners, I could still be selling stuff out of a garage,” not that he’d be unsuccessful.
Dana Robinson: No. He’d be making pretty good money, but not the meteoric rise.
Nate Broughton: A different level of success. It’s cool for him to acknowledge that. It’s also cool to hear someone who was in his mid 20s working at an agency who had this kind of peculiar interest and skill set and to have the owner of that agency come down and basically be like, “Let’s build a business together.” To recognize [00:56:00] that talent, to be willing to invest in it, and to have it be such a success story is just kind of the cherry on top.
Dana Robinson: Yeah. We’re going to have that agency owner on at some point. So, we’re going to get his take on this as well. But I think it’s a great story of taking two different people with different skill sets. You have an agency owner that had a lot of experience and had actually grown and sold multiple agencies that identified this kid with amazing skills, and made him a part of something big that could leverage that and [00:56:30] basically leverage each other.
Nate Broughton: Yeah. They both knew each other, you’re right. They were both at a point in their lives where … I mean Ryan’s capital was his still set and his work ethic, his willingness to push through. On the other side of the coin, you’ve got someone who’s 15, 20 years older, has had success, has capital but still has that entrepreneurial drive. I love seeing that marriage come together because it reminds me of my own story and things that I try to replicate too and things that we try to suggest to people for the Opt Out Life.
The whole mantra [00:57:00] of go find someone that you want to be like and work for them for free, and so many words is kind of what’s happened here. Ryan was working for free as an intern at an agency and led to another job, and he didn’t know where this Amazon skill set was going to lead, but it led to a person that could add fuel to the fire and make this business a big success.
Dana Robinson: Yeah. Big win for everybody.
Ryan Mulvany: And like, “This is what we got to do, and that’s fine.” He’s like, “Okay,” or they try to change the rules and like, “All right. Actually you don’t get this, you don’t get that, you’re out.” [00:57:30] I just got really lucky with them.
Dana Robinson: So, you answer a lot of email and the most of us are guilty of that vacation. I answered email for 15 months in Bali, I just did it differently. But about the entrepreneur lifestyle, tell us a little bit more about the personal life.
Nate Broughton: Yeah. Because it sounds like, you just said, you’ve never spent an hour away from your inbox in several years. You’ve got an internal drive that’s very strong, you work hard, you work a lot of hours but you certainly don’t come across as someone who’s stressed out, unhappy about it. You just said that the last 10 years [00:58:00] of your life has been wonderful. It sounds like you have a nice balance there, but it’s not struck by necessarily doing the three week RV trip. So, how do you strike that balance?
Ryan Mulvany: I think the biggest difference between owning your business and being an employment in a business, or being an employee in business where you’ve got vested interest, is why are you doing the things that you’re doing and who are you working for? So, I flat out love working. It could be on silly things, it could be on serious things, I live [00:58:30] to work and I just enjoy it. So, because of that when I’m putting in the late hours or I’m not sleeping much, I’m right where I want to be.
Because that’s the thing, I feel like I can out work people, or I can tinker more than them. But with that, there’s obviously … I have a family. I’ve got two kids, I’ve got a wife and so you have to find that … I don’t like the word balance because I’m a total extremist, but I find balance by doing polarizing things like serving in opposite. So, it’s like work a lot and then [00:59:00] come home and try to get as much time with my kids as I can get. I’m still not good at that and I still don’t feel like my family always gets the best of me because there’s a lot going on, but at some point, I might slow down. I don’t know when that’s going to be because I get so jazzed up by working.
Dana Robinson: I love that. Having too much fun to slow down.
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. What are you doing that’s going to keep you up at night or get you up in the morning? It’s been work, it still work for me. That’s not always sunshine and roses and work is stressful and all that, but I think you know that you found something [00:59:30] that you like when it’s not good that you’re still enjoying it.
Nate Broughton: Where does the future lie for you? I’m kind of curious because we had a phone conversation, we caught up after a while. You mentioned you were publishing content frequently on Linkedin related to Amazon and your expertise. I’m sure there’s something you’re tinkering with there. I know that you spoke last week at Interactive Day. I think you have the personality and the face and the energy I think to cash in on that somehow someway, and certainly the technical knowhow [01:00:00] and the background to do something like that’s. So, what do you tinkering with for five years down the line?
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. For the near future, it’s just positioning myself in a place where I get viewed as a thought leader in e-comm, but more importantly Amazon because for that, it opens up a lot of opportunity for back to Quivver. The more that I can do, the more I get comfortable with it, and stuff like that. I’ve never done podcast before, I don’t even know how to put the headphones on, you guys can see. If people want to listen, I’ll speak. And so that’s why [01:00:30] Interactive Day was fun. I love speaking I was a class clown in school. So, it’s like my vicarious way of not getting chewed up as a comedian, but I can say bad jokes and sometimes people laugh.
Nate Broughton: I kind of feel that way about it too. I spoke at UCSD on Monday, I’m like, “This is my shitty standup routine basically and they have to listen.”
Ryan Mulvany: They have to laugh. You can quiz them on it.
Nate Broughton: Right. There’s usually some other guy in a suit. I’m like, “If I come in and say one bad joke, he’ll go that guy’s all right.”
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. Be relatable. What I do know that I like is I like spreading knowledge about Amazon [01:01:00] in the way that the industry is shifting, like how selling products in general is shifting. The thing I get most excited about is when I meet an older season person that is very successful in something and they don’t know Amazon. It’s just like I was with my original founder. He didn’t know Amazon but he was this very successful guy that I could teach.
I still enjoy that component of it. So, I think it’s just getting comfortable doing stuff like this, and trying to do a post on Linkedin every day that isn’t just like, “Here’s what I ate for lunch.” It’s [01:01:30] actually like some content there. I’m challenging myself in that regard because I know that putting content out there is a very important thing to do, or so I’ve been told. I think I’m just going to keep doing that for now, and all roads funnel back to Quivver for the near future.
Nate Broughton: Yeah. That makes sense. Symbiotic for your current project, we’ve still got a lot of upside and certainly a topic that people are insatiably interested about, and one that has news coming out all the time. I think I saw a post about was it like there’s a kid version of Echo now that came out. I saw you wrote about that. Was it Echo? [01:02:00] What’s it called? Alexa …
Ryan Mulvany: Echo dot for kids.
Nate Broughton: Echo dot for kids.
Ryan Mulvany: And we could use that. I was on a phone call on the way down here, and it cut out and then literally like super loud punk rock music started blaring. So, my son has figured out two things, he’s six and a half. One, every morning he says good morning Alexa, which is just weird. This is odd to me because I’m like remove technology but I’m sort of in technology, and then immediately within like 30 seconds of that, it’s Alexa play no effects, which if you guys are [01:02:30] familiar, it’s like …
And he tries to get to play the Bruce if you’ve heard that song, no one on this podcast have any clue what I’m talking about. So, anyway the Echo dot sends you the content, put time limits on it, there’s only certain apps they can access. So, I certainly need one of those things. We have three in our house right now.
Nate Broughton: So do we. We’ve got three story house, we’ve got three Alexas, and I was curious if you had some kid stories about them because I certainly have some. Last night my son said something like, “Alexa, you’re mean,” and she like, “I never tried to be mean.” She said right [01:03:00] back to him and he’s like, “Well, whatever.” Before I came over here, I’m like, “Gaze, what time is it?” She walks over there, “Alexa, what time is it?” Comes back, “It’s 12:11pm dad.” It’s crazy man.
Dana Robinson: Funny story. We were talking on this podcast about how Alexa wasn’t recognizing Opt Out when you’d say, “Alexa, play Opt Out Life.” Then my brother texted me about three weeks ago and he said, “Alexa came on while I was listening to your podcast because the podcasts use the word Alexa.”
Nate Broughton: Happened to my dad too, [01:03:30] he said Alexa just started playing Shakira in the kitchen while he was listening to this, because I don’t know how, we’re talking to the salty Cali girls about music and somehow I said you just tell Alexa.
Ryan Mulvany: You should probably stop saying her name right now.
Nate Broughton: I know. This is going crazy.
Dana Robinson: This is going to raise make everybody’s household a little wild.
Ryan Mulvany: Don’t say like Alexa, what are baby diapers?
Nate Broughton: Stop.
Ryan Mulvany: That was a thing, it was some commercial and it ordered these play houses to people’s homes or something like. At Interactive Day actually, they have this cool skill for Alexa [01:04:00] now that allows you to program Q&A. So, I did Q&A with her.
Nate Broughton: Did it work?
Ryan Mulvany: It did work.
Nate Broughton: No shit. Awesome.
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. It did work. It was pretty cool and you were saying, “When do you double down on?” I think voice is a huge thing to double down on. Not in the fact that you’re not going to see anything, more in the fact that you’re going to interact with things with your voice, because you don’t have to look at things to … We’re always looking down at our phones, it’s not good. You should be looking out of the world and looking at screens when you must look at screens. So, there’s so much that could be done through voice that [01:04:30] it got forgotten about because it was like, “Oh, it’s radio,” and then look what podcast I’ve done. I see voices as this voice/visual experience that there’s a lot there.
Nate Broughton: And the adoption of the kids with it too. They’re growing up with it, they will use it to get answers for everything. My one year old is not far from asking it to sing happy birthday because he likes it so much. But just for anything and everything like functional. I know that he would walk in and say Alexa. It’s so funny hearing him say good morning Alexa too.
Ryan Mulvany: If she says good morning on this day in history, like this, this, and this [01:05:00] and I know that I think on the kids’ version, there is a manners app where they have to say please and thank you to get things. I was at this conference and everyone was being like, “Why do we rank can get our products to get more visibility and more … Have Alexa suggested it that this is a thing to buy.” I said, “Guys, that’s important but you have to realize like …” And then you got the other constituent that like, “I don’t want this device in my house, it’s always listening.”
I was like, “If that thing that’s always listening to you could detect on a monitor that you’re now wearing on your wrist that you’re having heart palpitations, [01:05:30] you’re going to want that in there.” Again, nobody wanted to buy things on Amazon back in the day or e-comm because it was weird and something always listening to you and monitoring you, it could be a very good thing. Obviously it could be manipulated and there’s bad thing that could happen, but-
Nate Broughton: Just like any technology.
Ryan Mulvany: If it can detect things that you don’t know about yourself from a health perspective, I think that’s huge. I was sleeping and I was coughing like next to it. I was like, “Someone’s downloading this.” I’m like, “Prime Now me cough drops.” You cough three times, you’re like, “Would you like cough drops?” ” [01:06:00] Yeah, I would. Thank you. You know what? Give me a notification when it gets here.”
Nate Broughton: Yeah. For sure. I can’t imagine where it’s going and I am curious because our mind is so trained by search and search results and choice right now, and sorting through that and it seems like voice becomes like this winner takes all scenario where it’s hard to come up with examples because you’re like, “I need a loan,” well, here’s the loan. I guess they could come through and say, “Here’s three options, here’s the rates. What do you want?” But you feel like there’d be less browsing to do and more of being told what the solution [01:06:30] is. Who knows? When we listen to this in five, we’ll be laughing at myself.
Ryan Mulvany: I was on Amazon yesterday, and they have this new part where you can like or dislike products. Like Pandora based on what you like, they’re going to serve up a different product. So, I think around your shopping behavior, I think they’re going to be able to start targeting what they’re suggesting. Right now it’s based on where things show up in the search results. So, if you say, “I want this glass,” Amazon’s going to give you the one that they think is the most relevant.
Nate Broughton: A categorical question they’re just going to take the one.
Ryan Mulvany: That one. [01:07:00] And they’re also pushing the private label brands more heavily than others.
Nate Broughton: I would too.
Ryan Mulvany: So, I think though over time filtering … The challenge with Amazon is its endless shelf space. When you go to a grocery store, there’s like five ketchups, and you go to Amazon, I don’t know if ketchup’s a good example, but there could be 100. And deciphering down which is the best one when you’re not seeing it is challenging. So, I think there’s opportunity from a social perspective like, “What did you buy?”
There’s no social component to Amazon of what did my friends buy, or what did this celebrity [01:07:30] buy, and I think that that’s what they’re trying to do with their spark app, which hasn’t really taken off the way they wanted to but making that shopping more social I think would allow you to then … I want to know what my mom buys, and then I can make my decisions based off of that. That might be a little easier than seeing 1000 options for something.
Nate Broughton: I have to have you back for part. Do something like [crosstalk 01:07:51].
Dana Robinson: We want to be at your celebration when you’re sure you’ve made the hurdle.
Nate Broughton: When you get the old watch.
Ryan Mulvany: There you go.
Nate Broughton: [01:08:00] So, yes. The Opt Out Life siren has sounded, cameras are dead, candles burning low, and now we’re talking about surfing. It’s probably a good time to call it a day.
Dana Robinson: All right.
Nate Broughton: Thanks for coming our way Ryan.
Ryan Mulvany: Yeah. It was a blast thank you guys for that.
Dana Robinson: Thanks Ryan. Good to have you.
Ryan Mulvany: See you.
Nate Broughton: Thanks again for listening to the Opt Out Life podcast. If you liked this episode or any of our episodes, we’d love to have you as a subscriber. Click the subscribe button on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast. Then, [01:08:30] head over to optoutlife.com. There you can enter your email address to get on our email list so you’ll be the first to know about new podcast episodes as they come out, including hand-picked highlights, links to resources we mention, and top quotes from each episode.
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Our Guest

Name Ryan Mulvany
Website www.quiverr.com

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