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Scaling Your Business On Amazon with Liran Hirschkorn
I have a special guest, Liran Hirschkorn. Liran, how are you?
I’m doing well. Thanks for having me on.
I do have to say you’re one of the good guys in the industry. I’ve met you at a bunch of conferences. I know you know your stuff, Amazon. We’re going to talk all about that. You’ve been working online for the past several years. Before selling on Amazon, you were a pioneer in selling life insurance online. You’ve been selling on Amazon since 2014. Over the past few years, you’ve successfully built not one but two, seven-figure private brands by understanding keywords, search optimization and sponsored ads with Amazon’s A9 algorithm and helping other sellers do the same. We can find you helping other Amazon sellers in the Amazing Freedom Facebook group and the Amazon Seller Podcast, which I was on. You live in New York with your wife and two daughters. Thanks so much for being here.
I’m excited to be here and excited for FreeeUp, the podcast you have.
It’s fun being on the other side of it. It’s like learning a whole new animal. I’ve been on upon a bunch of podcasts, but now I get to host. I want to talk a lot about Amazon. I want to go all the way back before life insurance, before Amazon. Growing up, what kind of a kid were you? Were you a straight-A student? Were you a rebel? Did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Growing up, I was a good student. I was like B plus, A-minus type of student. I didn’t necessarily get 100s in everything, but I did well enough. I always had some subjects that I did better than other subjects. I always worked hard and tried, but I also always like to have fun. I had some friends that were always studying and some friends that would be out on the field playing baseball. I always like to have a balance. My first realm into knowing what I wanted to do was when I was around ten, eleven years old. My dad had a good friend that was a day trader. He was a retired entrepreneur guy at the time. He would be trading stocks. This was right before the 2000 or the ’90s, the stock market was on fire. It was the dot-com era also. This guy would buy 1,000 shares of any stock. He would buy the stock at $20, 1,000 shares, $20,000. He made half a point or a point. He would sell it and make $500, $1,000 a pop. My days off from school, I would sit next to him and watch them trade. At the time, you have to call your broker. He would call his broker and CNBC was on. It was so exciting.
I wanted to do the same thing. I ended up starting out my career as a financial advisor. It was that inspiration from being a little kid and seeing the excitement of stock trading. That was my inspiration growing up as a kid to want to be able to do that. I achieved that which was cool and moved on from there. The guy also had a great story. He was an immigrant to the US, which was like my family. I was six when we moved here from Israel. He started out his career in New York City by owning hotdog stands. He made a ton of money. He turned that over into a catering business. He made a ton of money in that. He retired and did stock trading. Seeing that entrepreneurial effort definitely inspired something in me to eventually want to become an entrepreneur also.
Selling life insurance, you’re pretty much an entrepreneur. You have to find your own clients. There’s a lot that goes into it. How did that transpire or relate to your Amazon business? You’ve got stocks. You’ve got selling life insurance and you’ve got selling products on Amazon. Did it match up at all or is it totally different in learning new things?When opportunity knocks, you have to evaluate your options. Click To Tweet
There are a lot of similarities in a lot of it. One side of it was that in 2008, I got into this network marketing company, which is probably not something I would do again but was a great opportunity. It was a young company. They didn’t market anything or you didn’t market anything online. It was all person to person. I had this idea to go and build a website to drive leads. I didn’t know anything about it. I have somebody on Upwork at the time. It didn’t have FreeeUp. I hired somebody on Upwork at the time to build a website for me and generate leads. Through that, I became the number one enroller in the company. That’s where I learned internet marketing skills. That was a side hustle.
When I was in financial services, I started asking questions for the companies that I was associated with. I was an agent for MassMutual. I said to them, “Can I start a blog?” The way to get clients was on networking. You would go to your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, BNI and all these events and you would network. That’s how you’ll get clients through referrals. I wanted to do it differently. I wanted to get people coming to me. I saw the opportunity for the internet instead of chasing people to have leads come to me. When I came to MassMutual and said, “Can I do a blog?” They said, “Sure, write up a blog.” It takes a month to get it approved by compliance.
At that point, I went online doing some research and found this insurance forum online. I found a mentor who helped me get started by setting up my own independent life insurance agency. I left MassMutual. I went to represent 20 or 30 different companies. I did it as an independent agent and built up that business. That was a lot like this Amazon game where it’s a lot of marketing. It’s knowing how to drive inbound traffic to you so that you don’t have to go chase people to sell them a product. They’re coming to you to buy your product. The combination of doing network marketing and insurance marketing online is what got me on the path of looking at opportunities to make money online. That’s how eventually I found Amazon and started out as a side business and eventually sold my insurance business when Amazon started to take off for me.
How did you come across it originally? I’m always curious.
I originally even got on Facebook in 2008 as a way to generate leads for my network marketing business. I started the insurance business independently myself in 2010. I was doing that successfully. In 2014, I saw a Facebook ad for an eCommerce drop shipping course. That’s how I got started. I got started by building out like a Shopify site and doing some eCommerce. I had some level of success with it and saw as the opportunity. From there, I learned that there was a thing called Amazon FBA. I started out with doing some arbitrage before learning that there was a thing called Private Label. It was through a Facebook ad that I learned about the whole world of eCommerce and selling physical products online instead of insurance or digital products.
What year was that about?
That was in 2014 when I took that course. I had my first Q4 in 2014 with that Shopify site. Sometime around December 2014 is when I discovered FBA. I’d missed the Q4 for the opportunity that year and got started with it in January 2015 was when I started with Amazon. By the summer of 2015, I started with Private Label.
Let’s talk about that first year because I always feel like the first year of being an entrepreneur is always the craziest. I’m sure you went through a lot. You learned a lot. You probably had some failures. Walk us through that first year, what it was like and what you took out of it?
It was definitely exciting starting out because it was suddenly this business where you made money while you sleep. I started out going to stores and buying products at a discount and shipping them into Amazon. It was a lot of work. It was peeling off those price labels off products and shipping them into Amazon. I was doing this at a New York City apartment at that time. You can imagine the amount of space that you have also, having to drop stuff off at UPS or pick up. It was very exciting though to start sending products in and you would see them selling and making a profit. It was this whole world out there and there’s huge potential because there’s no limit to the amount of money that you can make. That was eye-opening for me because with the insurance business, I was limited to the number of people I could speak to in a day. I generated inbound leads. I had to speak to people on the phone to sell them. With this business, there was no limit to the number of products that people would buy online and no limit to the amount of money that I could make doing it. That was eye-opening for me.
There were a lot of mistakes made early on and learnings. Each time you make a mistake and I made a mistake, we learn something from it. With Private Label, it’s the same thing. When I got into it, my first product did fairly well. My second product didn’t do well at all. It was understanding that one, a learning curve, that it made sense to learn from some other people that have done it before me and learn from their mistakes. Also that no matter what, I would make mistakes along the way. Each time I made a mistake, I felt like I got something from it. I learned how not to make that same mistake the second time around. One of the first products that I launched were these baby moccasins for babies. I was trying to bring this premium product to the marketplace.
Most of the competitors were selling these moccasins anywhere from $10 to $12. There was maybe one big brand selling for more. I was hoping to sell for $18 with premium leather. I realized when I launched a product that wasn’t smart. I didn’t have any proof of concept that people were spending that much money, especially on a brand that they don’t know. It was too price competitive on Amazon. I learned that price is one of the major driving forces in a marketplace like Amazon. You need to be very conscious of it. You need to be able to understand the data when it comes to Amazon. Since then that’s also a lesson for me.
Sometimes the biggest sellers that I see that are not making money are sometimes the smartest people, the inventors or the people that have this idea for something but don’t realize that there’s no demand for it on Amazon. If you have this disruptive type of products that’s maybe a Kickstarter or Facebook ads or better, trying to put it up on the marketplace like Amazon where there’s no search volume for keywords around that product. I’ve learned over the years understanding the data when it comes to a marketplace like Amazon and being able to analyze it is the best way to make decisions.
I want to talk more about the data. First, you complete that year one. I’m going to turn the tables on you because the number one question I get asked is, “Who is the first person I should hire for my Amazon business?” For someone that has built two big brands and has a large Amazon business, who was your first hire?
My first hire initially were people that were college students that helped me prep and ship products into Amazon. They would go with me to local stores to help shop because I initially started out with arbitrage. My first hire was scaling my time. I would bring all these products to initially my apartment then the house, my basement but it would take a lot of time to prep those products and ship them into Amazon. My first hires were for that purpose. It was to physically help me out with hires. My hires, once I got into Private Label were more around things that were more important around the Private Label business. A VA that would help me with customer service was one of my first hires. A VA to help me with graphic design so we can optimize my images and also be able to do some stuff for social media. I hired a full-time employee in my office that now manages those VAs. One of which is a full-time VA. We have from FreeeUp, who my assistant now manages. My initial hires were more on the physical labor side, eventually more on to how to save my time when I’m doing Private Label.
Are there any big hiring mistakes that standout or horror stories?
The good thing about VAs, which is what I started with initially is that if you hire the wrong person, you can also quickly fire them. If you realized it’s not a fit, it’s not the same as hiring an employee to work as a W2 employee in your business and in your office where you’re training them for a month. You have this more personal face-to-face relationship that it’s harder to let that person go. With VAs, I feel it’s a little bit less personal starting up. If you make that hiring mistake, it’s also a little bit easier to let them go and also knowing that they’re a VA and this is what they do. They a lot of times have these project type jobs that are two, three months, four months. It’s not always like they’re expecting to be a freelance type of employee somewhere for four or five years like a regular type of job.Doing the wrong thing can help you generate a lot of money quickly except you're not going to have longevity. Click To Tweet
How many people do you have now?
It depends on which business line you’re talking about. In my own personal brands, I have a one full-time US assistant that manages two VAs. That’s it for two brands. We also have an entire services line with Amazing Freedom. In that business, we probably are managing between a few key US people and VAs in the Philippines, probably somewhere around 40 people.
Any tips for managing that many people for people reading this, they’re building a team and are scaling a team?
Some tips are promoting and being able to try to bring up the initial VAs that you have that do a great job for you, to try to build them up to be a leader in your organization. If you have a VA that’s been working for you for a year and you trust them, to try to build up that person to raise them up within your organization, to become a manager where you’re no longer managing every single VA that you have. You have other VAs that have become team leaders or some management position where if you want to build up a team, you can have multiple VAs. You can’t have them coming to you with every single small question or problem that they have.
It’s definitely going to happen because when you are outsourcing, let’s say overseas to the Philippines, I find that Filipino VAs are excellent at following directions. When there’s something that’s outside of the box, they don’t always know what decision to make nor necessarily should they. They should come to somebody else initially to ask that question. Being able to train one of your trusted VAs to become more of a managerial role where your other VAs go to them first before they come to you is the way to build up an organization and be able to free yourself up from doing more things. For example for me, my US assistant is that person who I only deal with. I don’t even deal with the VAs unless there’s a major issue.
That frees up my time to deal with her directly, give her some tasks and instructions for what needs to be done. She gets it done with the help of the VAs and she manages the VAs. It’s the same with our services business where we have a lot of Vas. One, we have a few key people in the US like stay-at-home mom types that help us manage the VAs. We also have a couple of key VAs in the Philippines that are more of in a management position where they’re managing the tasks that the other VAs do. We’re more dealing with a few key people rather than day-to-day dealing with every single VA.
That’s very similar to how I structure FreeeUp. I want to talk about business partners because I was very fortunate to find Connor, my business partner, early on. I know you work with Andy. At least from the outside, it seems like you guys get along great and work together. He’s a great guy. I’ve met him a bunch of times. I don’t know what other business partners you have. How important is finding that good business partner? How do you keep that strong relationship year-after-year?
Andy Slamans and Nate Slamans, who is Andy’s nephew, are my partners in the business with Amazing Freedom. We have an amazing relationship. We get along well. I find that we each have different strengths in the business. One of the blessings that we have in the business is that Nate is amazing with SOPs and systems. Nate leads up this division of managing all the VAs and setting up SOPs, processes and systems with them. That’s been amazing because I don’t think for me that’s one of my strong skill set or not something I’ve taken a lot of time to focus on. Nate is amazing at it. He leads our operations in terms of a lot of the backend services that we have. Nate leads the role of making sure that we have systems and processes in place. Having a partner that has some complementary skill sets to what you do that you get along with can be a total game changer for your business.
Talk to me a little bit more about creating a community because back in the day when I was a seller, I have that to say, “Do I help other people sell? Do I keep it more private and help myself?” Going back, I probably would have made a different decision. I want to know what made you say, “I’m growing these brands. I could keep doing this. Let’s give back. Let’s teach other people how to do that same thing,” even though the outside person might look at that as competition.
I would say I put myself in a position where the opportunity came to me. The first way I put myself out there was when I was still doing arbitrage. I was doing these flips from Amazon. I would buy products from Amazon, buy the amount of stock. Sometimes Amazon drops their price for no reason that you can understand. It’s within their algorithms. I would buy out their stock and resell those products on Amazon. I joined this group that I paid for that would post certain fines. At one point, I said, “I have these awesome opportunities for products that I can buy and resell. I can’t buy all of them and resell. Let me post them in your groups.” Eventually, they paid me to do that. At some point, after I started my own group where I saw this opportunity to be able to help other sellers because I couldn’t possibly take advantage of all the opportunities. I didn’t have the capital to take advantage of all the opportunities that presented itself. I thought, “I can monetize that knowledge of how to find those opportunities and present them to other sellers.”
I started a group, which was an amazing group. I shut down that group when I started moving more towards Private Label because I didn’t find it to be congruent when I myself wasn’t buying those deals to tell other people to buy those deals. I shut it down. A lot of people were upset because it wasn’t a very good group. At that point, I had already started to network in the community. I had met Andy. First, I was at Andy’s course. I met him face-to-face at a conference. We started networking. Andy said to me, “We’re running this retreat. Why don’t you come for free?” Eventually leading up to that retreat, I had helped Andy with some of the content for it. After the retreat, Andy handed me a check and said, “I want you to be a partner with us.” First of all, there are not a lot of people that I would partner within this industry, but the way Andy treated me from the beginning was gold. I realized that he would be a great person to partner with.
The opportunity presented itself to me. When opportunity knocks, you have to evaluate your options. I saw this opportunity to be able to help people from what I knew and teach people without necessarily it being competition because Amazon is such a beast that there are millions of millions of products. As a small business with two small brands, even doing seven figures, that’s small on Amazon. How can I realistically think that I’m competing with other sellers when there are literally millions of products being sold on the website? I didn’t see that as a conflict. I saw it as an opportunity to build another stream of income while doing something that I enjoyed because I found that I had this knack for being able to explain things to people. It was definitely a satisfaction/ego boost when you can see yourself helping someone. It translates into success for them. You get this level of reward from it that you don’t get in your own business. That’s why I said yes to the opportunity.
That opportunity fills multiple buckets for me as far as like it makes sure that I’m always on top of everything that’s happening in Amazon. That translates into help for my own businesses and because I teach also, I network a lot. I learn and I go to a lot of events. It helps my own business, but also helps me do what I do. It keeps me on my toes. It is an additional stream of income for me. It’s a level of satisfaction that I don’t get because nobody else has seen what’s happening in my own business other than me. Whereas when I can see another seller post something and they’ve gotten success because of something that I’ve helped them with, it is tremendously rewarding. You can say in a number of ego, whatever self-fulfilling ways, but that’s what it is.
How do you manage your time because you’ve got the services side? You’ve got your Amazon business. You’ve got Amazing Freedom. How do you go about balancing that as an entrepreneur?
I would say that it’s not always easy. I don’t have a magic answer. I do work a lot. Also having some of these systems and processes in place definitely helps. For my own brands, my assistant pretty much operationally runs those brands. I focus on some marketing but operationally she runs those brands. That runs smoothly. I focused on new product development and marketing. I focused on the Amazon advertising side, like ranking and launching new products and product development. She does everything else. I don’t feel like somebody with my brands would necessarily need a full-time US assistant. I do all these other things so I hired a US assistant who can run more of the day-to-day operations of those businesses, lead customer service with the VAs. I don’t need to even manage the VAs.
On the services side, I would never be able to do it if I didn’t have two great partners in that business, who each took on different roles. We have a VA help to run a lot of the backend support for the things we do because we have services. There’s no way people can come to me for customer service on our services. I don’t have time for that. A lot of that helps. Do I also believe that there’s this perfect world of life-work balance or personal life-work balance? No, sometimes I’m answering an email at midnight and sometimes I’m able to be out of my daughter’s school event at noon, in the middle of the day. I get to do both. Is this like the perfect balance that for me that at 5:00 I shut everything down and only focus on my family and frolicking in the grass somewhere as a video might portray? No, it’s not the reality. The reality is I put in a lot of hours. I sometimes work weird hours. Sometimes I’m answering stuff at 1:00 AM. Sometimes I don’t start my day until 11:00 AM. I run it the way I want. For me, that’s a balance.There's enough business for people who are doing the right thing to be in business. Click To Tweet
I follow you on social media and one of the things that I love about you is how passionate you are about helping people. You’re always giving out good content. You’re pretty quick to correct people if you think people are doing it the wrong way. You have no problem calling people out if you feel like they’re teaching the wrong thing or delivering the wrong message. Without naming any names because I don’t want to do that in the show, what are some things that you think the gurus out there or certain people out there are teaching that Amazon sellers should be aware of that is not correct or that you would do differently?
For example, some things that I see other courses or other trainers do is they’ll sometimes share these lists of top 100 Amazon Private Label products, hot product opportunities you can get into for your business. It sounds amazing from a marketing standpoint. Getting people to download this, give you their email address and get on your marketing list or retarget them on Facebook once they do that. At the same time, if you’re sharing something like this with not just thousands but tens of thousands or 50,000 or 100,000 people that are on your email list. Only a small percentage actually take action on it, some of those products can become supersaturated competitive and the price is probably going to tank six months down the line once there’s a lot of competition on those products.
For me, that list becomes a do not product list of product opportunity. Teaching a little bit of a contrarian approach also to what other people are teaching is something that I like to do because it makes sure that you don’t necessarily get into the wrong products. A lot of the things that you’ll see me calling out more so on my wall are things where people are trying to do like scam sellers. When people are straight out lying to their audience when they care more about extracting as much money in the shortest period of time from an audience as opposed to doing the right thing. To me, doing the right thing makes a lot of sense business-wise if you want longevity in the business. Doing the wrong thing can help you generate a lot of money quickly except you’re not going to have longevity.
I don’t think it’s a good idea anyway besides my personal ethics of not wanting to screw over people. When I see something like that, that’s when I get upset. That’s when I’ll post on my wall. I did a whole podcast episode on guru bashing on the Seller Sessions podcast, which a friend of mine, Danny McMillan runs. We had this discussion about is it not a good thing to call out other people and stuff like that? I only do that to protect my audience from falling into the traps of unscrupulous people in this industry. In any internet marketing game when there’s no regulation around what you can say, what you can tell people and you’re using the most influential psychological levers to influence people that it can be a little dangerous.
There is no self-regulatory body. There’s nobody telling people, “Watch out for this,” other than people telling themselves. As an influencer in this small Amazon niche, I feel like it’s my responsibility. It’s like in New York City they say, “If you see something, say something.” That’s part of my role in what I do for the community. It’s selfish in a way, in a sense that I get to be this hero that calls people out. At the same time, I’m doing it for the right reasons. I’m doing it for people not wanting to get screwed over. There are plenty of other people that have courses and offerings that I’m happy to promote or when somebody emails me and says, “What do you think of this guy’s stuff?” I’ll say, “It’s good. Go for it.” Even if it competes with me, I don’t see it as a threat. There’s enough business for people who are doing the right thing to be in business. It also brings a level of authenticity with my audience that other people maybe are afraid to call out. I have this personal relationship with an audience that appreciates the fact that they hear like it is.
I respect it a lot. I’ve been in the place where I’ve either been screwed over by different people or I know that they’ve screwed over people. I take a step back and stay out of it completely. To me, that’s a business decision I’ve made. To have someone that does it, it’s definitely something that I respect a lot. Let’s move to Amazon. For people that don’t know the A9 algorithm, tell people more about it. Where do you think it’s going? Amazon is constantly evolving.
The A9 algorithm is basically Amazon’s search algorithm. The website, A9.com, lists out not everything that’s in the algorithm but will give you some more information on the A9 algorithm. Essentially, you can think about the A9 algorithm the same way you think about the Google search engine algorithm. When you’re searching for a product whether it’s Google or Amazon, there’s a way and there’s a hierarchy of how Amazon decides to show products that you’re searching for around keywords. Understanding the A9 algorithm is trying to figure out what are those influencing factors, what are those ranking signals that are important within the Amazon algorithm? If you can understand what those signals are, what Amazon is looking for when they’re trying to decide if they’re going to put this product ahead of product.
If you can understand that, you could try to reverse engineer, “How do I position my products? What do I need to do in order to get the best opportunity to be visible ahead of other products?” This is something that small Private Label sellers have done an amazing job at over the last few years in killing big brands because big brands are not paying as much attention to Amazon. They have other distribution channels. They have their own websites. They have brick and mortar. They have distributors. They have a global worldwide presence. Small sellers, who are launching products on Amazon are solely relying on that platform for their success. They need to understand it. It’s either make it or die on that platform. Small sellers like myself have had to figure out what it’s going to take to be successful on the platform. How do you beat your competitors who are sleeping at the wheel and not paying attention necessarily to Amazon? How do you get ahead of those competitors? What does Amazon look for? What is it going to take for Amazon to put your product ahead of somebody else’s? That’s what I’ve been learning and what I continue to learn. Amazon is constantly changing. The question is, what’s coming?
This was great content for my audience. Where can people find out more about you? Tell them more about your group. What are you excited about? What have you going on? I know you put on different events.
Our website is AmazingFreedom.com. We have a free Facebook group called Amazing Freedom Amazon Sellers. We also have a podcast called the Amazon Seller Podcast. As far as what we do, we put on a variety of different types of training. We started for an entry level of training called the Amazing Freedom Academy, which is at AmazingFreedom.com/academy. It’s an entry-level way for you to get your feet wet with Amazon and learning. We have a more advanced group. We call the Inner Circle Group. We do different fun things that if you follow us, you’ll see we did a retreat in Orlando, Florida where we rent out a mansion.
We bring in a private chef. Everyone stays in the same house. We do a small group like ten to fifteen people training from A to Z on Private Label with Amazon. We are taking a small group to China to source products. We’re going to the Canton Fair in China. We’re going to be doing masterminding and workshop before that. We do a variety of training. If you’ve never heard of us, see if you find value in the free content we offer. Listen to our podcast, join our free Facebook group and you’ll see if you like the content and the information. I’m on Facebook. You can always find me and follow me there. If you want to email me, it’s Liran@AmazingFreedom.com. You can see what we’re doing across a lot on Facebook and through the podcast.
Thanks so much for coming on.
Thank you so much for having me.
- Liran Hirschkorn
- Amazing Freedom Facebook group
- Amazon Seller Podcast
- Liran Hirschkorn on Seller Sessions
About Liran Hirschkorn
Liran Hirschkorn has been marketing online for the last 10 years. Before selling on Amazon Liran was a pioneer in selling life insurance online and has been selling on Amazon since 2014. Over the last 3 years, he has successfully built 2 7 figure private label brands by understanding keywords, search optimization, and sponsored ads within Amazon’s A9 algorithm and helping other sellers do the same. You can find Liran helping other Amazon sellers in the “Amazing Freedom” Facebook group and on the Amazon seller podcast. Liran lives in new york with his wife and 2 daughters!