Instead of a short bio, let us know what are your top 3 books everyone working on digital business needs to read and top 3 tech gadgets one needs to have?
The 3 books I recommend are:
- "The One Thing“ by Gary Keller with Jay Papasan. It’s a great reminder of the value of focus and clarity of your priorities for achieving your goals. (In German, in English, in Spanish)
- "80/20 Sales and Marketing" by Perry Marshall. This book will give you several ideas on how to be more effectively in your job or business. (In German, in English, in Spanish)
- "No B.S. Direct Marketing“ by Dan S. Kennedy. A great introduction to direct-response marketing, which is the foundation for all things B2C in the internet economy. (In German, in English, in Spanish)
3 Tech Gadgets:
- My MacBook Pro. Couldn’t work without it. (In Germany, in the US, in the UK, in Spain)
- Bose QuietComfort Noise Cancellation headphones. They help you to concentrate in loud environments and to relax while traveling. (In Germany, in the US, in the UK, in Spain)
- Trello (a free software application) for managing projects. An excellent tool to organize all your tasks. Forget to do lists and use kanban cards instead.
You quit a successful corporate career at Unilever to build your own company. Why? And do you mind telling us more about
I spend 9 years in marketing and sales at Unilever, one of the largest consumer goods companies in the world. It was a fantastic learning experience, but the corporate world was never meant to be my final destination. Right from the start I was planning to use a big, professional company as my learning environment and to get to know all the ins and outs of the business world before moving on to work on my own business. Initially I had given myself 5 years to do so, but I ended up needing more time to build my business on the side, while working full-time as well.
Freedom of time was a big driver for me to make the transition from my job to my business. The freedom to choose what projects to work on and how to spend my time are important to me. The higher you get in a corporate career, the larger the share of time spend in meetings and with political decisions. I realized this was not the best use of my time. In your own business, you are also able to separate your income from your time. Instead of selling all of your time, you spend your time building products and processes that can generate income for you even if you are not around. This idea fascinated me and lead me to build my company around this premise.
My business is a premium dog products company called Schnüffelfreunde (Link). I started out selling the products on the Amazon marketplace, making use of Amazon’s wide range of services like warehousing and sending out the products. This is an enormous help for small companies like mine to start out, as you don’t need a complicated logistical set-up and you can focus on creating great products and selling them.
Is there a secret sauce to successfully build up a own business - especially on Amazon? What could start-up founders and corporate managers learn from that?
As in most businesses, there is no secret sauce. Instead, the main success factor is persistence. It’s easier than ever these days to start a company and to start selling your products directly to consumers through the internet. In fact it has never been easier technologically to do so than now. One of these amazing new tools is the Amazon marketplace that gives you instant access to millions of users that search for products there. And you can list your products in this catalogue as well - with just a few clicks.
However, the same basic business principles apply that already applied a century ago. You need to provide value to people. This is usually done by finding out what problems they have and providing a solution for it, and offering this solution to them at a fair price. It’s a simple formula, yet not as easy to implement. How do you find out which problems they have? Which solution is the best fit? How do they find out about it? What price should you sell it for?
The key is to experiment a lot. You have to start out with something, anything really. It could be a survey to a target market to find out about their needs. It could be the development of a prototype that you then try to sell. By starting out and experimenting, you will inevitably learn a lot about your (potential) customers, their problems and the products they are looking for. Don’t expect this to be a success right away, but start and improve from there. Through continual Improvement by testing and tweaking you will find out what works. But it will take some time, patience and effort. Don’t bet all you have on one idea, but start. With all the tools of the internet, it is easier than before. Yet you still need to do the work. It comes down to persistence and the willingness to experiment.
This is also what corporate managers can adopt easily. They can be more courageous to try new approaches and embrace the changes that the digitalization of their industries and their tools bring. Allow your teams to freely experiment and see what new ideas and concepts will come out of that. You will be surprised what new insights just a few well thought-out experiments and the ok to let people play around a little will generate about your customers.
You focus on the German market How do you estimate the scene of professional amazon sellers in Germany and Europe.
There are roughly 50.000 sellers on the Amazon marketplace in Germany. These are the sellers that you will see on Amazon under the product name where it states: „sold by…“. Roughly half of these sellers are German, the other half are international sellers. Some have started out in the US or other European marketplaces and expanded to Germany, others are the often-feared Chinese sellers who hope to shortcut the traditional wholesale model and sell their goods directly to European consumers.
In Germany, a community and a whole eco-system of services have evolved around the Amazon marketplace. There are several large events now where the community exchanges ideas and best practices, like the AMZCON, the Private Label Days, or the the Merchant Day. As Amazon is growing in importance, so is the community of sellers that is interested in selling in this ever-growing marketplace. The eco-system will further professionalize and the entry-barriers on the marketplace will increase over time.
You follow the development in the tech industry closely. In your opinion, what will be the next 3 tech trends that will shake up industries? Do you see already promising use cases?
The mega-trend digitalization of traditional businesses will be expanding further and further into different industries and will also change more traditional industries that are currently often thought of as „immune“. This notion is of course misled, as new technology will be employed by innovative companies in any segment of the commercial world. As an example, Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions are taking over more and more processes of brick-and-mortar stores, for example online applications for scheduling appointments at a doctor’s office, or to book a table in a restaurant, or software for reminder emails for your next bi-annual auto-service check up.
Another trend is convenience models. Currently we see the start of a completely new segment of voice-controlled devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. These change the game, as they can lead to a winner-takes-all system. On a voice-controlled device, you might not browse through ten different product options as you do on your laptop or phone, but get a suggestion of only one product, the current top-seller. Other examples of convenience models with a winner-takes-all effect are Amazon’s pre-programmed reorder button or subscriptions models.
The third big trend I see repetitively is the decentralization and fragmentation of markets. In my field, in „the old days“, big companies would spend a lot of money on advertising, mainly television ads, to establish their brands. These would then be bought in stores or online. Nowadays, this model is slowly disappearing. Today, everyone has access to the tools that only big companies had access to just a decade ago. Anyone can create a their own brand, find suppliers internationally to source their products from, and utilize the Amazon marketplace to put your offer in front of millions of potential customers. And with Facebook advertising, you can specifically and cheaply talk directly to your target market without wasting money on broadcasting to a wide range of people as is the case with television. This leads to an ever-increasing fragmentation of markets in all industries, as more and more smaller brands provide better solutions for each individual sub-segment than larger one-size-fits-all brand can do.
You also have close contact to traditional companies and worked a long time for them. What do you think are the biggest chances for incumbents to use the digital transformation as a chance? What are the biggest hurdles in your opinion?
There is still a lot of power accumulated in these larger companies, both in the form of great well-known brands, and their financial capabilities. But the way these companies should utilize this power is changing. For example, they can use their financial power to create smaller, more targeted brands themselves for more specific audiences, which they can then sell directly to consumers online. Also, they can use this power to generate initial sales and therefore push a product to bestseller status on marketplaces like Amazon. Once a top-seller, they can reap the benefits in form of free exposure in bestseller lists, better rankings in search results and being recommended by e.g. voice-controlled devices such as Amazon Echo or Google Home, which tend to suggest the bestselling item when asked for a product. These market opportunities might still be small compared to the traditional business fields of larger organizations, but the early mover advantages that are up for grabs by such large players with aggressive growth strategies in the digital field are not to be missed out. This is the big business of 2019 and beyond.
The biggest hurdles big companies face are their tendency to defend the status quo and to be protective of traditional models. This is partly by good intention, and a rational approach when business results are measured by the month or quarter, but nevertheless a costly decision in the long run. Also, a lack of vision and courage of the senior leadership to invest aggressively in new fields, and the resulting lack of resources for these endeavors is a problem. The larger the companies are, the more important is a top-down commitment to embrace change and to embrace new disruptive technologies and business-models.
You build a profitable company from scratch. What are the top 3 Do’s and top 3 Don’ts you advise people dreaming of leaving their corporate career and setting up a business like you?
My top 3 DO’s:
- Start small on the side, and continually build up. In today’s world, there is no need for a sudden cut and switch of careers. Test the waters and build from there.
- It’s a continuous process, and never an overnight success. If you notice a new star, he or she has probably been working on it for years before suddenly being noticed. Prepare to work on your ideas and products for a while.
- Try to sell your product or service as early as possible and get some feedback from the market. Then improve it based on the feedback after your launch.
My top 3 DON’Ts:
- Don’t wait for the right moment. It will never come. There will always be some reason why it’s better to wait, or some factor that is not optimal. The Chinese proverb is right: "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now." There’s a lot of truth in that.
- Don’t wait for anyone’s permission. People often tell me: I’m not an expert, I want to learn more, I will take a course or training, I want to do more research. You become an expert by doing and applying ideas, not by reading or hearing about other people’s ideas. There is a time for learning of course. But the time for applying the newly learned knowledge should always follow suit.
- Don’t stay in your comfort zone.
After his studies at the Münster University Tobias started out in his corporate career in 2008 at Unilever where he worked for 9 years in various leadership positions in marketing and sales. His roles included the strategic marketing lead for the Dove brand in D-A-CH, as well as being responsible for achieving Unilever’s sales targets and negotiating the terms with some of the biggest drugstore chains in Germany. In 2012, he started to venture into the online marketing world by creating online courses and selling them through his own websites. This led him to discover the Amazon marketplace and its various services, such as Amazon’s warehousing and fulfillment program. These tools gave him the means to create my own consumer products brand in 2015, Schnüffelfreunde, in the dog products niche. He is passionate about the dog products market, as he loves dogs and has grown up in a household with dogs. Here, he can leverage his experience in product development, brand management and sales, and apply it in a completely new segment. In 2017, Tobias quit my corporate job to focus entirely on building my business. With a partner, I also support and consult companies on how to be successful on the Amazon marketplace, and coach individuals in their journey to become entrepreneurs.