One of the hottest types of businesses to sell right now are e-commerce stores that do business on the Amazon platform. While investors used to overlook these one- or two-person third party sellers, now some in the investment community have recognized that the best-run among these shops can be very profitable—and that aggregating a stable of them and managing the back end of the businesses for greater efficiency can allow backers to create a very profitable juggernaut. This approach has been gathering steam slowly for the past few years but has become more popular recently now that Thrasio, a “unicorn” company, has embraced it, and Anker—a brand of portable device chargers that sprung up on Amazon—has gone public. Another big factor is the growth of e-commerce since the pandemic.
Marketplace Pulse, an industry publication, found that nearly $1 billion in new capital was committed, in a mix of debt and equity, to firms looking to acquire Amazon sellers and brands. “2020 is the year it became popular to start buying Amazon businesses,” says Ryan Gnesin, CEO and majority shareholder of Austin- and New York City-based Elevate Brands (formerly Recom Brands). It was only around 2018 that Amazon allowed someone to own multiple accounts, Gnesin says.
If you’ve built an ecommerce store on Amazon and are looking to sell it, how do you get in on the action? I spoke about that recently with Gnesin, one of the investors who has been on the hunt for e-commerce properties. His firm announced in February that it had raised a $55 million fund in a Series A round from a group of fintech and global business leaders. Elevate Brands announced it had raised another $12.5 million in early April, as it got set to acquire its 20th Amazon brand. The firm, which has been an Amazon operator since 2016, acquired its first Amazon business more than a year ago. Its goal is to acquire 100 of these brands by the end of 2022.
Gnesin recently shared with me some of the factors his firm is looking for when it is on the hunt for deals. If you’re aiming to position your e-commerce business for sale, here are some tips on what to emphasize in your marketing to investors and acquirers.
Recognize that investors are data driven. Investors who know Amazon will want to compare your business other similar ones, so it’s important to have your financials and other key data very organized. Gnesin and other investors in the space are looking for about 25% earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization EBITDA. Therefore, a business with $4-5 million in annual revenue might need about $1 million in EBITDA to be attractive. Ideally, an e-commerce store will have two years of trailing history but one year may suffice in certain cases, he says.
Makes sure you’re selling the right product. Investors aren’t interested in every Amazon third-party seller right now. “We like to see products that are a leader in a category,” says Gnesin. “We like to see a product that has hundreds of reviews.”
Practical categories tend to be attractive to investors. One of the first brands Elevate Brands acquired was from a couple in their eighties who sold silicon breast forms to women who have had a mastectomy.
Josh Dittrich, a father of five from the Minneapolis area, recently sold a private-label ecommerce store that mostly marketed cleaning solutions and liquids to Gnesin’s firm. “The market got hot pretty quickly,” Dittrich says. “Rather than hiring a broker, I called 30-plus Amazon aggregators and e-commerce buyers and drummed up a bunch of interest. The timing seemed to be pretty impeccable.”
Now he’s investing in other businesses and working on two other ventures that serve the industry—BrandedSeller.com, which creates product videos and content for sellers’ Amazon listings, and PlanTell, a provider of software for eCommerce sellers that are scaling up. Elevate Brands was their PlanTell’s first customer.
Watch out for dealbreakers. Like many investors, Gnesin looks out for red flags with any deal. “A dealbreaker would be a product that is not a good quality product,” he says. “No amount of great branding can turn a crappy product into a good business.” Breaking Amazon’s terms of service is also a no-no.
So what happens after a firm like Elevate Brands acquires a third-party seller on Amazon? Generally, the former owners simply cash out—often because they want to work on their next Amazon store—though it is possible they may stay on for a few months for a smooth transition. “We take over their Amazon account and swap out their ownership entity details with our details,” Gnesin explains. Elevate Brands’ integrations team connects the business to the firm’s software and then begins running the brand, bringing in brand managers and product managers. “Then we have teams that get to work on growing the business,” he says. Just because these businesses are small now, it doesn’t mean they’re doing to remain that way.