Recently, our CEO, Alasdair McLean-Foreman, was fortunate enough to be interviewed from Nasdaq MarketSite in Timesquare. In this discussion, Jeanne Yurman of Business Rockstars sits down with Alasdair to discuss how Teikametrics is using helping sellers optimize for profitability using data!
Don’t miss the full transcript of the conversation below!
Jeanne Yurman: From the Nasdaq MarketSite in Time Square, this is Business Rockstars. I’m Jeanne Yurman and our guest today is Alasdair McLean-Foreman. He is the founder and CEO of Teikametrics. Nice to see you, thanks for coming in.
Alasdair: Thank you, Jeanne, for having me.
Jeanne Yurman: So, tell us about your company. What do you guys do?
Alasdair: So, we use data science to help thousands of brands grow and be more profitable on Amazon.
Jeanne Yurman: On Amazon? All right. So, you’re helping sellers and third-party sellers. I was doing my homework, and I understand that third-party sellers are actually more than half of the sellers on Amazon.
Alasdair: That’s right. Yes, there are about 58% more than the lion share of all of Amazon’s volume. And I was actually one of those, the early third-party sellers back in 2003. So, to have an opportunity to talk about this 16 years later is really amazing.
Jeanne Yurman: Initially, you didn’t set out to start this company. Initially, as I understand, you were trying to pay for textbooks. You were a student at Harvard, studying economics. So, tell us about that.
Alasdair: That’s right. So, I came over from the UK. I realized how expensive it was to get through college. I started finding a way to really get through college and pay for my textbooks. I started selling goods from my dorm room. Amazon reached out to me and said, “Look, we’ve got this vision of a marketplace.” They had just done a project with Toys R Us. And they were really interested in what I was selling. At that time-
Jeanne Yurman: What were you selling, by the way?
Alasdair: So, I actually started selling sports watches. I was running on the Harvard track team, so I had a watch that was given to me by the British Olympic Team, as I was a member of that team as a junior athlete. And the watch actually broke. I ended up calling the manufacturer and on the auto attendant, it was an automated message. And it was, “Press one for consumers”, “Press two to be a dealer”. And I pressed two and said, “What does it take to become a dealer?” And ended up getting a loan from Harvard to buy a laptop, but I ended up buying the inventory instead. And just started selling products from my dorm.
Jeanne Yurman: How did you do it without a laptop, though?
Alasdair: Well, that’s true. I did already have a laptop. So, I might be breaking the rules by telling you this. Glad it’s a long time ago.
Jeanne Yurman: I’m just giving you a hard time. Okay. So, you started selling these watches, but then you’re approached by Amazon. And then, how did it evolve from there?
Alasdair M.F.: Back then, it was really just a book website. And I ended up seeing this journey unfold as Amazon released things like Amazon Prime. You know, just became the dominant factor that it is today. But it took a long time. And over the years, what I ended up seeing is the data indicating that there was more and more consumer demand from Amazon.com compared to our dot com website.
Jeanne Yurman: So, at what point did you kind of decide, I’m going to just go whole hog, I am just going to focus on this 100% and actually make this a business?
Alasdair: I was at a party with a friend, who asked me, “Isn’t the technology, isn’t the idea to use data science to optimize on Amazon, actually, more valuable than selling goods myself?” And I ended up just building a simple marketing website, putting out an ad to offer the same technology that we were using. And that was our first customer. We bootstrapped the company all the way to 2017. At the end of 2017, we ended up taking investments. And today, we have 80 employees. And we’ve grown really quickly. But again, sort of bootstrapping from the early stages.
Jeanne Yurman: What has been the biggest challenge about growing this business?
Alasdair: Well, it’s really interesting. I think it’s just taken quite a bit of time. If we were having this conversation five years ago about selling on Amazon, it would almost be “Is that a tiny little thing?” And what’s happened now, is there’s this tremendous tailwind as Amazon represents 50% of US e-commerce. So, it really is just in the early stages. You know, trying to work with investors who understand that Amazon is a big opportunity.
Alasdair: I think there’s a big shift in investment thinking. The idea that it is actually possible to build a potentially, billion dollar company on top of a network. And that’s a new notion. If you tried to build the next Amazon or the next Facebook or the next Google, it would be very difficult to do that today. But you can build with a data science company on top of a network like that. And it’s taken a while for us to get traction with that idea. But now, it’s super exciting to see the sort of, the tailwinds and the momentum.
Jeanne Yurman: What about managing people? How has that been for you? Does it come naturally? Or, do you find that to be a bit of a struggle?
Alasdair: Well, I was doing everything in the beginning. I was designing the products. I was selling. I was the customer success team. And now, we have 80 employees. Some amazing members of the leadership team that have had much stronger corporate backgrounds than myself. And I think, as a CEO, one of the most important things that I recognized, and I’m still learning. But is to change your mindset to focus on hiring the best possible people. And that’s been pretty difficult.
Alasdair: You know, I was so focused on the product itself, and of course, I was a user of the product, the first user of the product. So, it really is all about the people. I mean, as I tell people on our team, it literally is just people and laptops.
Jeanne Yurman: If you were advising an inspiring entrepreneur, what is your best advice, now that you’ve been at this for a bit?
Alasdair: Well, don’t be afraid of failure. Be open to take risks. Recognize that it’s nonlinear. And what I mean by that is, you know, in the very beginning, it’s not a direct path to performance. It’s not a direct path to fundraising. It’s not a direct path to getting thousands of customers. It’s by definition, pretty risky. But, if you think about the ups and downs, and then sort of, think about that noise, you’re going to start to get really stressed out and you’re going to find it hard to stay focused. But if you think about the longer path over time, really, there is no definition of failure.
Alasdair: So, that’s what I would encourage other entrepreneurs to think about, that sort of longer path, the fact that it isn’t a straight line to success.
Jeanne Yurman: That is excellent advice. Alasdair, thank you so much. It’s been such a pleasure talking with you.
Alasdair: Thank you so much, Jeanne.
Jeanne Yurman: I’ve been speaking with Alasdair McLean-Foreman. He is the founder and CEO of Teikametrics. From the Nasdaq MarketSite in Time Square, I’m Jeanne Yurman and this is Business Rockstars.