It was 2011 when Ethan McAfee officially launched what became Amify. What began as a side hustle in his Virginia townhome has now grown into the leading Amazon-as-a-Service platform with gross merchandise volume over $110 million – a staggering 600% growth year-over-year.
To celebrate Amify’s 10th anniversary milestone, our CEO, Ethan McAfee, reflects on the past 10 years – how it all started, the teamwork behind the company’s success, lessons learned, and his vision for the future.
Q: What was the genesis of the business idea for Amify?
Ethan: I have always been interested in how technology can change the world. When I graduated from Virginia Tech in 1998 it was at the beginning of the dot com area. I took a position as an investment analyst at T. Rowe Price covering the internet stock sector. There were a lot of overvalued internet companies in those days that didn’t have a viable business model, but Amazon struck me as one to watch. Even after the dot com bubble burst, and its peers had crashed and burned, the online retail giant was growing fast and redefining how people buy, connecting buyers and sellers in ways previously never imagined. My years as an investment analyst made me realize we were still in the early innings of Amazon changing the way retail work.
Like many Amazon sellers, I didn’t know where to start. But I was young and seized the opportunity, figuring I’d work it out as I went along. I had a product in mind – pickleball paddles. My parents played the sport, but could never find the equipment in stores, so I knew it was a niche market. It proved to be a winning strategy and the project grew fast. By 2013, I diversified into other sports goods, moved out of my home-based business, and began hiring people. Within a few years we were one of the largest Amazon sellers in our space.
But success didn’t come easy and knowing that others were going navigating the same challenges that we had already overcome, we saw an opportunity to share our secret sauce. To help brands win on Amazon, we evolved Amify into the first Amazon as a Service company.
Today, our solutions help Fortune 500 brands as well as emerging brands optimize their presence, margins, and sales on the Amazon Marketplace.
Q: What differentiates Amify then and now?
Ethan: Amazon currently dominates U.S. ecommerce, accounting for 45% of online spend, but selling on Amazon is difficult. This has created a glut of “five guys in a townhouse” service providers dedicated to helping companies start and grow their Amazon channel.
What separates Amify is that we were sellers and brand managers ourselves for many years. Many of our employees have decades of experience working with large brands in ecommerce strategy, direct-to-consumer marketing, analytics, and operations and are integral to helping our clients launch, grow, and most importantly, win, on Amazon. Unlike other competitors, we are also led by executives who have run major brands, managed P&Ls and most importantly, understand what it is like to be on the brand side. That early and renewed investment in talent gave us a head start, honing our skills before Amazon became the ecommerce powerhouse it is today. We now have 70 employees, a number that is expected to grow to more than 100 by the end of the year.
Another differentiator is that early on, we recognized the potential of Amazon’s Third-Party (3P) Marketplace.
While other competitors were focused on helping brands with their 1P Amazon sales, where the brand acts as a wholesaler and Amazon as the retailer, we steered them towards the 3P model. Why? Removing middlemen retailers allows our clients to capture the full margin on their products, control their brand, and own their data. Today, the Amazon 3P Marketplace is driving Amazon’s growth, growing by 50% in 2020.
Of course, selling direct on Amazon takes know-how and resources. That’s why we’ve scaled our business to help our customers do it right, adding new services that continue to drive their Amazon strategy forward.
Q: What do you see as your biggest accomplishment in the past 10 years?
Ethan: When I started Amify, I was having fun and never anticipated we’d experience the growth we have. But with a vision and a great team we’ve built a company and culture that I’m incredibly proud of. We call it the “Ami-fam.”
That success is validated by our clients who comprise some of the top brands in the world. Knowing that they trust us to help them sell on the fastest growing retail channel is a testament to that family.
Q: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned on this journey?
Ethan: One of our core company values is “Embrace Change.” Everyone says they embrace change, but in reality, it’s very difficult – particularly when you are part of a company that is experiencing rapid growth in an industry that waits for no one. Tough decisions must be made and that’s not easy. This is where team is everything. They, together with a guiding vision and a business model that has kept us ahead of the curve, are key to helping us embrace change and execute decisions that always move the business forward.
Q: What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Ethan: When you start a business, you play many roles. You’re CEO, COO, CFO, and CMO. But as the business grows you must decide what you’re good at and what you’re not. This requires a degree of humility and surrounding yourself with people who can fill the gaps in your skillset. People who also align with your cultural values.
A philosophy that was instilled in me early on is to view the company as a sports team. We all have our positions but to score a goal or a touchdown, we must work as a team to accomplish that. This means hiring and nurturing team players rather than individual contributors.
“The team lost but I scored the only goal,” is not an attitude that goes far in a business like ours. It’s about “we” not “I.”
Q: Where do you see Amify 10 years from now?
Ethan: We’re at an exciting juncture. Ecommerce is a massive and rapidly growing market but it still only accounts for 20% of total retail sales – which means there is an enormous opportunity for growth. As that slice of the pie keeps growing, Amify is well positioned to continue to evolve our position as a leading Amazon-as-a-Service player.
To borrow from Jim Collins’ seminal book, Good to Great, after years of hard work and investment we’ve achieved the “Flywheel Effect”, turn upon turn building momentum and accelerating growth. To keep that Flywheel spinning, we will continue to invest in the technology, the team, and the culture, that drive value and bring increasing returns for our customers and our business.