E171: Ben Leonard

How He Built, Scaled and Exited A £6 Million eCommerce Business

ben leonard headshot in black and white

eCom@One Listen on Spotify

Podcast Overview

You don’t need to be technical to start, grow and scale your business to seven figures. WHAT? 

That’s right. Ben is testament to this! He found success in selling products on Shopify and Amazon which led him to generate £6 Million and exit successfully after three years. 

He shares his experience in building a brand, scaling, maximising his valuation and exiting at the right time. Listen in to find out how you can achieve this too!

eCom@One Presents:

Ben Leonard

In this episode Ben Leonard, Entrepreneur, Ecom Consultant, Founder, Author and Speaker of a multitude of businesses, discusses how he started a business from a laptop in a cupboard, grew it to a seven-figure brand and exited after three years. And he shares how you can do it too! 

Ben shares a wide range of topics from manufacturing in Vietnam, maximising valuations and the importance of timing when exiting your business. Find out the challenges he has faced during his career journey and he overcame them. 

From manufacturing and branding to the intricacies of selling a business, Richard and Ben share valuable insights and key takeaways for anyone in eCommerce. Listen to the full episode now! 

Topics Covered

0:23 – Ben’s eCommerce journey from start up to sold for £6M

06:08 – His successful exit after strategic business development

08:12 – Desire for growth, profitability, and brand development

12:12 – A brand is a problem-solving group of products

16:26 – Experts in bonsai trees encourage sharing knowledge.

18:32 – Overcoming imposter syndrome is key to success

21:28 – Missed US expansion, learned from past mistakes

26:48 – Consider economic and internal factors for exit

28:53 – Sold before COVID, grateful for timing

32:09 – People exit portfolios for profit and personal wealth.

37:59 – Book valuable for all business levels, mindset shift

Richard Hill [00:00:04]:
Hi there. I'm Richard Hill, the host of eCom@One, and welcome to episode 171. In this episode, my host Ben Leonard, exited founder, consultant, speaker, and author. In this episode, myself and Ben Talk about maximizing valuations, timing your exit, and how to kick start growth when things may have stalled, and, of course, so much more in this episode. If you enjoyed this episode, hit the subscribe or follow button wherever you are listening to this episode now. Let's head over to this fantastic episode. Hi, Ben. How are you doing?

Ben Leonard [00:00:38]:
I'm good. Thanks. It's great to be on the show. Thanks for having me.

Richard Hill [00:00:40]:
No problem at all. Looking forward to getting stuck in. So Before we do, I think it's always good to introduce yourselves to our listeners, and how you got into the world of ecommerce.

Ben Leonard [00:00:50]:
Sure. Yeah. Well, my name is Ben Leonard. My path into eCommerce was a little unconventional and unexpected if I'm being nice. I'll try to give my whole life story, but, I'll keep it brief. So I I live in northeast Scotland, Aberdeen, and that is oil town. So inevitably, I ended up working in the oil and gas industry. But I was in kinda, like, the green side of it.

Ben Leonard [00:01:10]:
I was an environmental adviser. So I didn't imagine I'd get into eCommerce, but I got very ill, back in, 2015, 2016, I had a heart problem. I'm fine now, but for several months I was signed off work. I couldn't do my fitness hobbies. I was pretty miserable. And I picked up on an idea that I had done nothing with for about the last the previous 4 years, which was to start a fitness brand and sell the products into gyms. And it was a disaster. Jims did not want my stuff.

Ben Leonard [00:01:37]:
But I found out that I could sell online to people I meet, through websites that I could easily build Despite not really being very technical, on platforms like Shopify and through marketplaces like Amazon. And so, yeah, I developed this fitness brand Beast Gear, which, you know, the customer avatar was me, so I found that I was selling to to people that I knew I understood how to sell to them, how to market to them, how to develop products for them. And before I knew it, I quit my job. I scaled the business. We were doing $6,000,000,000 a year when I sold the business in late 2019, And here I am. Why not, sir? So in

Richard Hill [00:02:12]:
a couple of years from 0 so not knowing anything about eCom signing online or ad obviously, you're probably buying online, but not you hadn't built a site or been involved that side of things at all, built the site. 2 years later, scaled the £6,000,000, sold it.

Ben Leonard [00:02:25]:
Pretty much. Yeah. I I was one of those people that Didn't really under you know, I had no understanding of eCommerce. You know? Mhmm. I thought about you know, I knew I knew you could buy stuff online. I knew that I could use Amazon. I was one of those people who thought when you bought on Amazon, you're always buying it from Jeff. I didn't know that other people could sell on Amazon.

Ben Leonard [00:02:41]:
I didn't know that platforms like Shopify existed. But I just learned I learned by doing. I had no choice but to do that. You know, I think we live in a time when you can virtually learn and do anything you want online. And I I Googled and YouTubed and podcasted my way through it. Figured it out on the way, sort

Richard Hill [00:03:01]:
of thing. Yeah. Yeah. It's amazing, isn't it? I think, You you can maybe spend 4, 5, 6 years at uni doing your degree, your masters, and whatnot, but half a dozen good courses and maybe a 100 pound on Amazon books. I'm a big believer that, you know, half a dozen bugs can probably push you, like, 6 push you further. In terms of in an area, you know, a £100 spent on Amazon Just gonna keep it in a minute. Don't don't get me wrong. I'm not saying don't go to university and whatnot.

Richard Hill [00:03:27]:
You know, they're definitely, reasons to go. But in terms of, like, learning hardcore skill, there's nothing like getting stuck in and learning a certain discipline in in a book or having an hour of somebody's time to to discuss something and yeah. So brilliant. So, so everything, where's the best place to go? So you set up very, very quickly. 2 years sold it. Now I think, let's let's touch on the exit then. So how much do you get for it?

Ben Leonard [00:03:57]:
Well, I'll yeah. I I can talk about it. So the business was doing about 6,000,000 US per year. Mhmm. It was late 2019. So the I now work in a co a co owner mergers and acquisitions, firm specializing in ecommerce, But this was before that. So it's late 2019, which was right before the eCommerce, M and A bubble really exploded, but I've heard whispers from people within the industry that ecommerce businesses were becoming more valuable And that for those who weren't wanting to acquire them, it was much easier to get the funny to do so. Because previously, if you tried to get funny to buy an e eCommerce business, it looked at you like to Etz because the business was seen as not a real business.

Ben Leonard [00:04:43]:
It doesn't have windows at a door at a roof. Right? Mhmm. Mhmm. But now all this money was pouring in through private equity to acquiring these ecommerce businesses. And I sold my business to a private equity firm. The multiple was around about 3 x, Which was quite interesting because, you know, not long before that, multiples would have been more like 2 x. So two x your EBITDA.

Richard Hill [00:05:05]:
Of to EBITDA or is there a way to turn over EBITDA? Yeah.

Ben Leonard [00:05:08]:
Yeah. EBITDA. And not that long after I sold my business, and, of course, I didn't know that this was going to happen, but, of course, COVID came along. And everybody went online shopping crazy, and multiples went crazy. I reckon if I'd sold the business maybe 6 Later, I probably could have got perhaps double for it. Mhmm. But I don't I don't generally think about that or or regret selling what I did. It was the right thing for my My family and I just sell what I did.

Ben Leonard [00:05:32]:
You know, we were we were living in our little flat, Aberdeen. Baby on the way, Wanted to move house, became aware that I've seen an asset that could be worth a lot of money. I didn't know when that bubble would burst, but it was the right thing for us to do at the time. Yeah. It was crazy, crazy time. I was, the process of selling it took longer than we wanted. And, we'd already planned this trip to go interrailing around Italy, my wife and I and our and our new baby who who'd been born and starts pounding the streets of Venice by day and having due diligence Calls with the buyer in in in budget hotels by night.

Richard Hill [00:06:08]:
So the guys that are listed in now then, are we thinking, well, okay. You know, that sounds great. You know, started and within a all almost in a heartbeat, 2 years later, 24 months later, you know, you got a three x Back on EBITDA, which is gonna be a nice payday for a couple of years work. You know, obviously, it's not that simple. I know you just spend a lot of time thinking things through and, Yeah. Life experience layered in and so forth. But in terms of, obviously, that was a successful exit. For those that are maybe thinking of going down that route of of, existing their business and building that business to a certain valuation, what advice would you give them? I guess there's a few things there.

Richard Hill [00:06:42]:
So maybe firstly, you know, trying to get that business into a saleable position. What advice would you give there?

Ben Leonard [00:06:50]:
Yeah. And that that it's a great question because that's what we come across much is people coming to us saying, can I sell my business? And the answer is not yet because you got work to do to get it where it needs to be.

Richard Hill [00:06:59]:
Mhmm. Mhmm.

Ben Leonard [00:07:00]:
And I think the easiest way to, think about this is Put yourself in the buyer's shoes and actually say, you know, take a take a step back, look at your business, and say, well, would you buy it? And very oftentimes, the people I'm Speaking with well, you know what? Yeah. Actually, at the minute, I wouldn't because and then there's a a variety of reasons, perhaps. The margin simply isn't there. You know? We want to have, an a margin of, You know, at least 20%, bot bottom end fifteen. We want year on year growth Of at least 20%, ideally 30 or more Yeah. We want a strong brand identity protected by property because it was possible to just sort of sell a mishmash of stuff online and make bank, but that's not sustainable. People, you know, I teach people to build brands that solve real problems for a real group of people that they are passionate about, that people can identify with, resonate with, become a fan of, and that's what buyers want. They want brands that, will last into the future and that, You know, they're gonna have a a tribe of fans who will continue to support that business.

Ben Leonard [00:08:08]:
Mhmm. So, you know, it's asking yourself, really, What does the buyer want to see?

Richard Hill [00:08:12]:
And that's what they want to see, growth, profitability, and a path for future growth, whether that's adding more products or perhaps moving to, more channels or expanding internationally. Yeah. Yeah. So year on year, look, somebody's looking at maybe looking to buy a specific eCom business to looking for growth in terms of turnover and margin, and making sure and that that may might mean as As the owner, to maybe take a reduction in your drawings, your salary, your lifestyle, if you're gearing up to sell as opposed to having that new car every year or whatever it may be or, You know, obviously, it's all it's all gonna be shown on the on the account, isn't it? But ultimately showing the growth side of things, which sounds quite straightforward, and, you know, obviously, Straightforward in terms of, trying to achieve it. But, obviously, actually achieving it can be a bit more challenging depending on, you know, if something comes along. But in terms of the brand, you know, you know, we're a massive believer in the agency and the podcast about investing in brand. You know, what sort of, ideas would you give to our listeners about So really establishing your brand that gives you that more potential longevity, stand out, etcetera.

Ben Leonard [00:09:20]:
Yeah. This is an interesting interesting one because I work with people who have been brand first from the start, but I also work with people who maybe have an established ecommerce Business, but it's not really represented by a legit brand identity, and it doesn't look and feel and behave like, quote, unquote, real, consumer brands do. You know, the brands that we know and love in our own lives. So it's about that. It's about Treating your business like a big boy grown up brand and asking yourself, well, what do real big boy grown up brands do? Well, they have a distinct brand identity that revolves around a central purpose. And they resonate with their audience by connecting with them on the things that they're shit about. They create helpful, compelling, engaging, useful content in formats that the customer or the audience wants, And they show up in the places that they are. And when we do that, people are so much more likely to build a relationship with our brand.

Ben Leonard [00:10:22]:
I'm a huge fan, actually, of the owner of the brand becoming the face of the brand. Mhmm. You know, some people might say, well, hold on a second, Ben. If I do that, will I not I won't be able to sell my business because it'll be all about me? To which I say, well, not necessarily. You can make your business You can be the face of your brand as long as the brand doesn't depend on you. So for instance, extreme example here, Tesla is not called Musk Motors. If Musk left Tesla, sure, pretty certain the share price would drop. But I'm also pretty certain that they'd be alright.

Ben Leonard [00:10:58]:
They've got enough talent, and they're big enough and ugly enough to keep getting talent. They'll be just fine. Having said that, I wonder if the same could be said for an organization like James, like Dyson. Now 2 enormous organizations, And, most people listening to this don't have businesses anywhere near as big as those or in fact, any people listening to this, but, you know, you get the idea. I'm a huge fan of making yourself the face of the brand. And the reason for that is that people buy from brands but they connect with people. And they need a central figure. People like to be led.

Ben Leonard [00:11:30]:
People like to have somebody to follow who they know, like, and trust. And, you know, I did that with my first brand, with Beast Gear, and it worked a charm. So, average averagely fit bloke with asthma is face of fitness brand. Why why did that work? Well, it worked because we were positioning ourselves against the status quo of the fitness industry, which is all about the the the fittest, the strongest, the fastest, the musliest, the thinnest. And I was saying, well, actually, hold on a second. We're selling products to people just like me who aspire to all of this, but they're not there and they know they're not there. So if I make myself the face of the brand, people will connect with someone just like them and want to join in. Mhmm.

Ben Leonard [00:12:12]:
So that's that, you know, that's that's kinda what I'm getting at with With brand, you know, to to me, a brand is a and there's lots of different debates about what a brand is and isn't. And I think, generally, they're all getting at the same thing. To me, a brand is a group of products that solve problems for a group of people, and your branding is how you make them feel. Mhmm. So So it's asking yourself, well, how do your favorite brands make you feel? Maybe you feel maybe they make you feel, loyal. Maybe you you fiercely defend your favorite brands. Maybe you put off by a product from a competitor until your favorite brand's product is back in stock because You have to have everything by that brand and you'll wait by the door in anticipation for it to arrive. Take all that, bottle it up, and apply it to your business and Start treating like a real brand and and and, I believe it makes a huge difference to the top and bottom line.

Richard Hill [00:13:02]:
So I think a lot of listen a bit like, warm. Yeah. It's alright you're saying that, Ben. You're a very confident man, chap. You know, and and, but obviously, a lot of business owners like to be maybe in the shadows a little bit and, you know, they're very smart people doing their thing. So what would you say to those guys about sort of put again, putting themselves out there, you know, maybe the first steps and what what, you know, to sort of encourage them to, you know, be the face and their brand, to show themselves whether that's on video, you know, us maybe a step in the you know, Step ahead or 2. But I'll just show you appearing on podcasts like this. You know? It's Yep.

Richard Hill [00:13:40]:
Actually quite straightforward to do.

Ben Leonard [00:13:42]:
Yeah. I think the first thing I would say is, Give it a go, but don't worry because, ultimately, you don't have to do it. You can make it work. Like, for example, I've got a couple of friends who are have got a fantastic brand of, this is great. They sell accessories for people who own, chickens. So that all all to do with rearing chickens. And these guys have never even touched a chicken, Right. Let alone owned 1.

Ben Leonard [00:14:04]:
But what they've done is they've partnered with key people of influence in that industry to make it work. Ideal world, I believe you should build a brand that you are personally passionate about. They didn't and they're making it work. You know, I I accept that. And so there are ways that you can do this without ever becoming the face of the brand, but people dig authenticity. So if you are, perhaps a bit shy, Not necessarily very outgoing. The the word for that is on the tip of my tongue. It'll come back to me.

Ben Leonard [00:14:38]:
If that if that's you, be you. Your customers will vibe with it because so long as less I don't know. Let let me let's just pick a random example. You make and sell accessories for, caring for bonsai trees. Right? On the you're twice Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. You're quite you're quite reserved.

Ben Leonard [00:14:56]:
Right. You you were quite quiet. But so long as you know your stuff and your customers can see that you know your stuff and you position yourself as an authority in your niche by creating content that positions you as an authority, whether that's video content or a podcast or, Articles. When you're writing articles, you don't have to appear on camera. Yeah. It makes a difference, and your customers will will will vibe with that.

Richard Hill [00:15:21]:
That's I I agree. I think, you know, if you know your stuff, you know, and you're genuine, and you and you've got a value to give, but, okay, you might be a bit shy and a bit worried about jumping on camera or speaking at an event or but I think, ultimately, if you know you're you know what you're talking about And and that comes across and you're passionate about and you're knowledgeable. Somebody said to me once, you know, when you when you maybe do a talk, you know, and you'll go to a room, there's a 100 people in there, You you know, and you it's quite a big thing if it's the 1st time you've ever done a speech. It's always a quite a big thing, I think, for, you know, doing public speaking and things like that for most people. But you turn up at a room and 20 people aren't even listening. You know? They're not even they're not even got their head up. Doesn't matter What room you're in potentially, you know, is why that element of people that just aren't they're just not paying attention. They're not present.

Richard Hill [00:16:10]:
They're on the phones. Yep. But then you got and you got the other 20 people that are like, yeah. That Ben guy is alright, but he's not my cup of tea. You know? It's just you know? And then you got the upper 20% thing, actually, yeah, this guy's making sense. You know? I I really like you know? Then you got that 40% left. I don't know. I really like Ben.

Richard Hill [00:16:26]:
He's really good He really knows his bonsai trees. You know? And then there's a 20% that go, I wanna what what Ben what's Ben's bonsai tree package? Because I really wanna buy, You know, and you find your people amongst the, you know, the noise or the crowd or the Yep. But, obviously, if you if you don't put yourself out there, obviously, you're not necessarily gonna, you know, get, But the opportunity, I think, to be able to present that yourself to so many people in this day and age, you know, whether that's on a on a podcast like this, you know, at a at a live event. You know, the opportunity can quite often get missed by, you know, maybe a fear of speaking and putting that knowledge out there. But I really I really do like to see, like, when I go to events, seeing people that maybe spoke for the 1st time. A lot of event big events do this now where they'll do a lot of first time speakers. They just think, do you know what? You're a bloody genius, but you've probably been hiding that away for the last 12 months or 12 years. And you think, wow.

Richard Hill [00:17:16]:
This guy oh, this girl So smart. She doesn't realize because she's maybe not had the confidence or not had the opportunity, you know, to push push forward. Yeah. It's an interesting one, isn't it? That's sort of, You know, I think, my imposter syndrome for, you know, a lot of people, you know, very, very much worry about, you know, their ability and, you know, what have you got any ad any sort of deeper advice more on overcoming you know, it's a bit of a controversial one then nowadays, I think.

Ben Leonard [00:17:41]:
Yeah. Well, so it's funny you mentioned impostor syndrome. So, yes, impostor syndrome can can stop ecommerce business owners from, perhaps coming more to the forefront as as themselves rather than sort of highly by their brand. But it's also common, I think, as something that does 2 things. 1 is it stops People who perhaps have an idea to get into, you know, entrepreneurship, in in this case, e eCommerce, and they don't do anything about it because they believe that, Mhmm. You know, entrepreneurs are other people. You know, that's how we grow up. Right? It's entrepreneurs are these other people, a little bit weird.

Ben Leonard [00:18:15]:
You know, you go to school, you might go to university, get a degree, go get a job, and then work until you die. And entrepreneurs, Right? There are these other people. They're inventors. They're people with ideas. They're people with tons of capital. They're people who inherited a business. But actually, that's not necessarily true. We need to give ourselves permission.

Ben Leonard [00:18:32]:
And I think that's one of the key stages to getting over impostor syndrome, whether that's stopping you from, creating your business or whether you from taking your business to the next level and you're just kinda staying very sort of you've put a ceiling on on where your your brand can go because of this Imposter syndrome that you might not even be acknowledging. And I think the first thing to do is to recognize it, and then we need to embrace it and start Putting ourselves out of our comfort zone and taking some more calculated risks. I used to be so risk averse because, well, I guess I just grew up that way. But as I've started to come Into my entrepreneurial shell, I take more and more risks. Obviously, they need to be calculated risks. I'm not suggesting people do stupid things. But as entrepreneurs, we are risk takers. I think that the other thing is is allow yourself to learn by doing.

Ben Leonard [00:19:19]:
Take these risks. Do something that you don't really know what You're doing build the plane while you fly it and as you keep going, you'll become more confident and, you know, you'll shed that that imposter syndrome kind of skin. And then I guess it's about surrounding yourself with other people like you, who are gonna support you. So whether that's going to events where you don't Speaking, but you could be just mingling.

Richard Hill [00:19:40]:

Ben Leonard [00:19:41]:
That whether that that could be, you know, 2 types of events. That could be ecommerce events generally where you're meeting other people who might have completely different businesses to you, but they're in eCommerce. Or it could be an event in your niche. Like, you have an e eCommerce business and, you know, you're you're in food and drink, so you go to food and drink events or whatever it might be. And and yeah. It's it's giving yourself permission to, take your career and your business where you want it to because, it's not up to anybody else.

Richard Hill [00:20:05]:
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Richard Hill [00:21:15]:
We do we do we do we do like to talk about the the learnings, the mistakes, that I made along the way. So what would you say was your sort of biggest mistake or maybe a couple?

Ben Leonard [00:21:25]:
Yeah. There's a few. On earnings

Richard Hill [00:21:26]:
that you've made you know, you had a crunch

Ben Leonard [00:21:28]:
when it's come your way. There's been a few, and I've learned from all of them, I think. So I think the biggest mistake in terms of consequences is one that I didn't really escape from, which is this which is not really a mistake that I recognized particularly quickly. So after I expanded the brand from the UK to mainland Europe, I made the decision to be to get into Australia and the Middle East. And what I should have done is gone to the US. And instead of doing 6,000,000, I think the business would have been doing 4 times that with Relatively not that much additional effort. Why did I do that? Naivety, lack of foresight, believing that I should be first in these emerging Opportunities rather than going and competing in an enormous fish pond, but I've learned from that. So I eComOne a brand in the, the boxing niche, now, which we have launched in the US.

Ben Leonard [00:22:28]:
I'm launching a a new baby brand, This coming spring, perhaps summer, we'll be launching concurrently in, Europe, Australasia, and the US. So Right. Learn from that. Right?

Richard Hill [00:22:42]:
So why why do why why did it maybe not work in those particular territories?

Ben Leonard [00:22:47]:
Why didn't it work in Australia and the Middle East? Young in terms of ecommerce, less mature, less less less adoption, and simply smaller economies, particularly Australia. I've yeah. I should've just gone straight to the US. It was a mistake. But, you know, that's HAILOR. Yeah. Yeah. But there there were other mistakes that I did have an escape from, which actually taught me quite a lot and were were were were great.

Ben Leonard [00:23:18]:
So, Here's 1. Pretty early on with the 1st brand, I knew I needed to trademark the brand name Enlop, And I thought I'm from Aberdeen. We like to save money. So I thought I could, save money by trademarking the brand name myself rather than paying an intellectual property attorney to help. Indeed, I did. And I was very smug when I got my, trademark back from the IPO. It cost me a couple of 100 quid. But about a year later, I was getting some free intellectual property advice at the library from an attorney doing some, you know, giving back.

Ben Leonard [00:23:49]:
And it turned out my trademarks were weak. They were flimsy. Right? I'd left the brand wide open and frankly had a lucky escape. So I coughed up and paid to have them redone professionally, and they were redone with a much more, broad and deep coverage of protection.

Richard Hill [00:24:03]:
Mhmm. Mhmm.

Ben Leonard [00:24:04]:
And that taught me an important lesson, which is that cheap is expensive and expensive It's cheap. In other words, it pays to invest in getting things right the first time. Mhmm. You'll save a ton of money and a bunch of headaches down the line. And I'm really grateful that I learned that lesson. It was, you know, on trademarks, but I quickly was able to apply that to a situation with patents Because, I got home from work one day, and I started my day job at that point, and a letter was on my doormat. It looked rather official. So I opened it, I couldn't read it because it was in German, but I could recognize, a photograph of one of my products which was a product called Beast Grips.

Ben Leonard [00:24:46]:
And I could see attached to the letter a copy of my competitor's patent, and it could read the numbers which said in big letters €50,000. So a series of expletives came forth. And, By this time, I'd learned that cheap is expensive and expensive is cheap. So I picked up the phone to my rather expensive, IP attorney, but she's expensive because she's the best. And we realized what was going on or she did. These guys were trying to bully me out of business. They knew I wasn't infringing on their IP, but they'd clearly done this before. Yeah.

Ben Leonard [00:25:18]:
So we took them on and I won and later was able to use my patents to stop others who tried to rip me off. So there was a happy ending ending to that one. Mhmm.

Richard Hill [00:25:28]:
Mhmm. Yeah. That's a big learning there, isn't it? Especially when you're working in different territories. Yeah. I I I think of another guest we had probably about two and a half years ago. He spent about 30 k every other year, I think, on his various IP, lawyers and Whatnot, for VARAD, but but to do with different territories, you know, he's got about 12 countries he works in. So it's it's not a couple of 100 quid like you say. It's, but but I know the sort of business he does, and it's, you know, it's a drop in the ocean now.

Richard Hill [00:25:56]:
But when you're starting out, I guess that's that's that's the challenge, trying to Trying to also be be, be be able to afford to pay for the the, you know, the 1,000 So that that might be needed for patents and for IP lawyers and that professional advice, you know, it's, sometimes they can be expensive mistakes because you can't afford to Potentially, you know, pay pay the bills, you know, around the beginning if you're dying out. So you think, well, you know, as you're bootstrapping an eCom store, how are we gonna figure this Oh, well, I've got a mate who knows a bit about IP. It's like, well, I got a mate.

Ben Leonard [00:26:30]:
I know. I it's Yeah. I'm all about bootstrapping. I'm all about saving money, but when it comes to IP, I Always tell people, if you're gonna if you're gonna prioritize your spend somewhere,

Richard Hill [00:26:40]:
put it there. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. No. I totally totally agree. So Timings around exit.

Richard Hill [00:26:48]:
I think, yeah, obviously, we talked about exit at the beginning, but I think, you know, there's Right and wrong times, all this there's, you know, obviously, the there's a lot of internal factors maybe as a seller based on, you know, where you are as a business, but ultimately, You got the economic factors there. So all over the place, I guess, at the moment. Depending on just turn the news off, I think, is the best option. But Yeah. In terms of, sort of timings around exit, obviously, you dis you decided, you know, like you did, you know, to sell your business. And I think you said, you know, I but if you'd hang on 6 months, but you didn't know there was gonna be this, you know, deeper Yeah. Pandemic challenge and whatnot. But in terms timings, what advice would you give to people about, exit and the timings?

Ben Leonard [00:27:32]:
Yeah. I'm gonna give people 2 types of advice here. I'm gonna give them some wishy washy advice And some some some more quantifiable advice. So in terms of the quantifiable side, it's you know, you wanna be selling on the way up When there, you have a a good balance of growth history and growth trajectory and growth opportunities to present to a buyer to tell that compelling story. Here's why you should buy my business. And here's why you should pay a premium for it because, actually, the way this is going, in another couple of years, you won't have paid a premium. You'll have got to buy a deal. Yeah.

Ben Leonard [00:28:06]:
That's part of it. It's also selling at, and this is the wishy washy part, The point of peak romance. And that was some advice I got from my dad before I sold Beast Gear and he got it from somewhere else. And it means this, you wanna time the exit so that you're at that point where there's this romantic notion that this could be something truly special Because that adds a lot of value to the potential buyer because they can see all of this upside, but also to you because if they do realize that you can structure the deal such that you can get some of that with the right type of earn out and back end part of parts of the deal. However, if it doesn't quite go that way, then you got out at the right time.

Richard Hill [00:28:52]:
Mhmm. Mhmm.

Ben Leonard [00:28:53]:
And I think I Pretty much nailed that with the exception of what then happened with COVID. Had COVID not happened, I think I got it more or less bang on. That But the fact is that COVID did happen, so if had I known, I would have hung on for another 6 or so months. But then if I'd hung on a bit too long, like more like 9 months, You know it's because supply chain, you know, really went went went to hell because, factories right across the Far East were shut, shipping prices were absolutely bananas, and suddenly, all these private equity backed organizations acquiring eCommerce businesses We're not acquiring ecommerce businesses. And so, the the bottom fell out, the market and multiples dropped. So It was a highly volatile time immediately after I sold this. I'm pretty grateful that I sold when I did.

Richard Hill [00:29:40]:
No. Sounds it. Sounds it. It's a tricky one, isn't it? Because it's it's always, easy looking back when something's sold or some you know, I try something's bought or sold and you know? But, ultimately, yeah, you need to when someone's buying it, They've got to see that they're scoped to scale and improve, so it can't be its absolute optimum and everything's completely they they wanna know they can come in, Layering x, y, and zed, whether that's their own marketing team or whether that's a new country they've got expertise in or it's a complimentary product sales. There's loads of reasons why. But that's gotta be there. So it's gotta be sort of on an upward trajectory is what we're saying, but then there's still lots of room for growth. Yep.

Richard Hill [00:30:19]:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I've been doing this a while, and I've sort of had a few scenarios where, we've been offered, large sums of money for different businesses I've been involved with and not I've not Take a bit, sir. I think, you know, there's been a few upsides and down downsides. I think, by 18 years now, 16 years ago, I got offered £8,000,000 for a business And then, a year and a half later, we closed it down.

Ben Leonard [00:30:40]:
Oh, mate.

Richard Hill [00:30:41]:
So that was a tough one. But we've had a few other couple of other little exits. Not that not that sort of scale, about 10 years ago or 12 years ago, I'd say.

Ben Leonard [00:30:49]:
It it it's a funny old world, the m and a world. Like, we had a client, just over a year ago. And we got him on the table the most phenomenal deal that he could've got for this business. It was $1,000,000, so not 8,000,000. His business was significantly smaller. For the market at the time, it was a cracking deal. The reason we managed to get that for him, It was just before year end, and the potential buyer really wanted to get this in before year end. And He said no.

Ben Leonard [00:31:21]:
And since then, his business has tanked and he really regrets it. Now Yeah. At 1, the moral of that story is not take the first offer that you get. Mean, it wasn't the first offer that he got, but the moral of the story is, you know, he was trying to squeeze he he was basically arguing over pennies, Right. And then and then sulked and ran off. And he's he's he subsequently apologized and said he was wrong. But but I think the moral of the story is there is no when enough is enough. Right now.

Ben Leonard [00:31:47]:
What what for him, he was arguing over something like an additional $100. Yeah. Yeah. And In the grand scheme of his his life, that would have made very little difference. Mhmm. But $1,000,000 would have made a hell of a difference, and now that opportunity is gone. So that's something that you know, that's always something I I try to tell people is is think about the the grand scheme of things.

Richard Hill [00:32:09]:
Yeah. I think, so I've had Quite a few conversations recently with different people that have exit exited or, well, yeah, exited various parts of their, portfolio. And I think, a lot of people sort of refer to it as taking x amount of money off the table, you know, so they might they may well have 3 or 4 or 5 brands worth x. Okay. But you might not necessarily have a mega cash flow or own personal wealth. But if you then sell one of those businesses, You know, so many years in or a percentage of that business and take whether that's you know, so it depends what you know, a few $100 or a few 1,000,000 quid, that's a huge amount of money when you're used to maybe Trading, you know, big big big business trading, but you're not necessarily making profit in your own personal bank. Yep. Whereas if you can whereas if you can take, know, whether that's a few $100 off the table or a $1,000,000, £1,000,000, 500,000, whatever it may be, obviously, that goes a hell of a long way on a personal scale as a as a founder, as As an investor in a business, if you're taking something off the table rather than maybe working for 20 years and then finding out that actually It's worth nothing or we should have sold or so I'm I'm seeing a lot of people doing that more, especially in, like, the I've got a lot of Connections and whatnot.

Richard Hill [00:33:17]:
They are in the eCommerce space. They've got multiple sites. They've maybe got agency, shares and different agencies and things like that. I've just come from the biggest SEO conference in the world in Chiang Mai. And a lot lot of the guys there are sort of flipping, you know, whether that's domains, Stores, sites, SAS businesses, but it's not quite often a lot of conversations are it's not their early business. They've got several other businesses, but they're I've been running 3 or 4 things, flipping 1, keeping 2 or 3 things running, but taking off a a very large sum potentially.

Ben Leonard [00:33:48]:
Yep. It's a smart way to do it. It keeps things diverse. It keeps things sustainable. You have that safety net. It's,

Richard Hill [00:33:57]:
it's a good way to balance it all out. Yeah. So what are you working on at the moment then, Ben?

Ben Leonard [00:34:03]:
Variety of things. I have Just published my 1st book. So shameless plug there. Yeah. It's called, Quit Stalling and Build Your Brand. The subtitle is, you don't need an MBA to crush it in ecommerce.

Richard Hill [00:34:20]:
We We all pretty much said that at the beginning, didn't we?

Ben Leonard [00:34:22]:
We did. Yeah. So that came out about a month ago now. It's on Amazon. Yeah. As you'd expect. There's a course that goes with that. That's there's a beta round that that we've got a bunch of beta, members in there just now and do a big launch of that in February, so that's fun.

Richard Hill [00:34:39]:
Yeah. Yeah.

Ben Leonard [00:34:41]:
That's called product empire. What else is happening? Oh, yeah. The baby brand. So I'm back out to Vietnam in April to visit my factory, And, we will live

Richard Hill [00:34:49]:
about some Vietnamese gang?

Ben Leonard [00:34:51]:
Well, I'm gonna I'm actually gonna travel through the whole country, because I'm teaching on this, there's a there's a sourcing trip that happens every year Called the Vietnam sourcing trip, funnily enough. And I'm teaching on that. But then my, you know, happy coincidence, my manufacturer is in Ho Chi Minh. So I went out there last time. I met them there, and I'm gonna meet them again, this coming April. Yeah. And and we hope to be doing mass production soon. We're about to start all the safety testing that we're required to do for the This first product that we're launching, pretty stringent stuff, which we need to make sure we do.

Ben Leonard [00:35:22]:
So did you purchase,

Richard Hill [00:35:23]:
you you were buying from Vietnam with the previous business? No. No. No.

Ben Leonard [00:35:28]:
I chose Vietnam for this one because that is where the technical Capability for what we're doing really lies. We found a Fantastic manufacturing partner in Vietnam. COVID meant that they then had to prioritize their big, huge clients, And, they couldn't finish the prototyping for us, but they were very helpful in finding alternative for us. And we we found a great little start up manufacturer in Ho Chi Minh They've got the the technical expertise to do what we need to do. And, and yeah. So, cool place to manufacture really I think manufacturing is really gonna take off there over the next several years. The only issue I think they've got is capacity because pretty much everyone in Vietnam is employed. So they they will struggle there a bit.

Ben Leonard [00:36:14]:
And so, you know, I have no problem manufacturing in China. I have a few concerns about some human rights issues in the, the West of China, but that's another debate. But, And I I I probably will manufacture there again for other projects, but I think it's nice to zig where everyone zags. And, you know, I'm pretty sure China's going invade Taiwan. And when it does, I'm I'd rather be manufacturing somewhere else. So right now, I'm manufacturing going.

Richard Hill [00:36:37]:
I was I was actually in Ho Chi Minh 6 months ago for a Oh, brilliant. Work A a work trip as well. Yeah. We're we're setting up different offices in different, countries, and, we're out at Ho Chi Minh, back in March, April for 2 weeks, Looking in. Cool.

Ben Leonard [00:36:51]:
I think it's a great country. Fascinating place, and beautiful as well, and and the food's amazing. Yeah. I can't wait. So currently manufacturing in Pakistan and Vietnam, and, yeah, I will probably manufacture in China again in the future as well. That's also a phenomenal place and I had a great time when I went out there Simon. Pre COVID in 2019. And so yeah.

Ben Leonard [00:37:12]:
Yeah. Book course, brands, speaking, coaching, mentoring, all of that. You know, I do enjoy speaking. Might have to do a bit less of it in 2024. We've got another baby coming in December. Oh. But, yeah, that'll keep you busy.

Richard Hill [00:37:29]:
Well, Ben, thanks for coming on the show. It's been an absolute pleasure. Pleasure. I like to finish I like to finish every episode with a book recommendation. Obviously, you've mentioned your own book Yep. Which will which will tag up in the show notes and link it all up to Alton. Do you have another book that you would recommend to our listeners?

Ben Leonard [00:37:44]:
I do. And I wouldn't be surprised if someone else on your show has recommended it because it's a classic, but I have to recommend it because it's so good. It's The E Myth Revisited by Michael e Gerber. To the 9th. Probably the 9th. Blimey. But it's just so good. Alright.

Ben Leonard [00:37:59]:
It wouldn't surprise me, honestly. I I read that I don't read it cover to cover anymore. Well, I have read it cover to cover several times, but now I I I flick through it very regularly and I think that that book is not just you know, it's great for beginners, but I think people doing 8 9 figures can get a ton of value from that book. Really teaches you how to set up your business in a very sustainable way, and it really shifts your mindset from thinking that just because I'm passionate about X Bonsai trees doesn't mean I can run a business on it or rather it does after I've read that book. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Richard Hill [00:38:37]:
There's a bit more to it. Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you, Ben. For those who wanna find out more about yourself, more about the different brands, maybe if you just wanna step through again, you know, the the book type Sure. The course, etcetera.

Ben Leonard [00:38:49]:
Absolutely. Book is called Quit Stalling and Build Your Brand. It's on Amazon. There are some free bonuses at quitstallingbook.com. The course, if you're interested in joining the waitlist, is at productdashempire.com. My website is benleonard.pro. I'm all over social. My social handles are ben lettered pro.

Ben Leonard [00:39:08]:
You'd get me on Leakten as well. I'm very chatty and approachable. Give me a shout. I'll see how I can help you.

Richard Hill [00:39:14]:
Nice one. Well, thanks for coming on the show, Ben. Maybe I think 12 months we'll get you back on and we can talk about, the baby brand that Yeah. Hi then. Yep. Yep. Your your adventures in Vietnam.

Ben Leonard [00:39:26]:
Absolutely. Let's do it. Thanks, Richard.

Richard Hill [00:39:28]:
Nice one. Nice to see you.

Ben Leonard [00:39:29]:
Cheers. Take care,

Richard Hill [00:39:35]:
If you enjoyed this episode, hit the subscribe or follow button wherever you are listening to this podcast. You're always the first to know when a new episode is released. Have a fantastic day, and I'll see you on the next one.

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