Seller Spotlight: Former MiLB Pitchers Find Success on Amazon Right Off the Bat
Big league talent, first class humility, and a knack for e-commerce… you have just read the ingredients for one very interesting interview! This week, Helium 10’s own Karyn Thomas sits down with former AAA baseball pitchers David and Ryan Ledbetter.
Not only do we get a peek at what life is like for twin brother pitchers in the MiLB but also a rare glimpse into the early success of a new Amazon venture. Diversifying strategies, goal-setting revelations, Helium 10 Certification study tips, 100 mph fastballs… this one has it all.
Karyn: I’m so excited for today’s seller spotlight. I’m joined by Ryan and David Ledbetter, who are not only brothers, but twins, best friends, business partners, and confidants. How are you Ryan and David?
David: Doing well, how are you?
Karyn: I’m doing amazing. You two are my favorite twins of all time.
Ryan: You need to expand your twin selection if we’re your favorite twins!
Karyn: I’m not just saying that! You guys are salt of the earth, genuine, inspiring people!
David: *Takes a breath, inflating his ego*
Karyn: And with a great sense of humor!
Ryan: We are so thankful to be here and so glad that you reached out. I don’t think you realize how big of fans we are of Helium 10 and what Amazon can do for people who are not only buying products, but selling products.
Early Innings – David & Ryan’s Background, Pre-Amazon
Karyn: Before we get into your Amazon journey, do you guys mind sharing a brief background of what you were doing before selling on Amazon?
David: Ryan and I both went to a small, Christian school and we both ended up marrying our high school sweethearts.
We ended up getting drafted in the MiLB draft of 2013. We got to play professional baseball for about five years. Ryan retired in 2017 and I retired in 2018. Ryan is now a financial advisor with Edward Jones and I work with a startup company that invests in minor league baseball players.
We also do Amazon part time because we wanted to pursue some entrepreneurial endeavors. A friend of ours became successful through Amazon and ended up leaving his job for it. He told us “You gotta get in on this.”
Karyn: What position did you guys play?
Ryan: We were both pitchers. David was a starting pitcher and I was a relief pitcher. I come in to close the game. David has been a starter since high school. We had some cool success in high school, winning two state championships. Then we went to a small Christian university in Ohio. We were what many called “late bloomers” – played a little high school ball like everybody, then started getting bigger, stronger, and throwing harder. Everyone was like “What? What happened to these kids?”
Karyn: Wow! What’s the fastest you’ve ever thrown?
Ryan: I was clocked at 100 mph by one gun and 99 on another. But that was literally one time!
David: Ryan. If you hit it once… it counts.
Ryan: It’s true. But the faster it goes in the faster it goes out, remember that. If they (the batter) can get a piece of 100, it’s gonna leave the park real fast.
David: Those were our past lives! We don’t play baseball anymore, we just teach it.
Covering All the Bases – Amazon Mentor and Diversifying Business
Karyn: So you touched on how you got into Amazon – you had a friend who was doing it and he kind of tested the theory that you could indeed make money being a seller on Amazon. Can you tell me when you got started and your journey from then until now?
David: 100%. So, our friend was doing retail arbitrage. Most people try to teach the three ways to sell on Amazon: retail arbitrage, wholesale, and then private label. He started doing retail arbitrage for about a year and was finding success, but it just requires so much time. It requires a little bit more in the way of logistics. You have to go buy this stuff. You have to know what’s on sale and then resell it. Then it just becomes hard with Amazon, as they kind of cracked down on needing to disclose where you bought the item so that they know you can officially sell it. So he kind of left that bottle, went to wholesale, and started doing really well.
He also had a strong margin. He’s a very smart guy, we trust him a lot, and I’m glad we stayed in touch. But he told us we really needed to dive in. Ryan and I had wanted to be doing something together and this just happened to be what we started.
I feel like our company was founded, you know… you gotta be a “founder” to be a millennial these days… in late 2018, but we really didn’t do anything with it until probably March of this year (2020).
Ryan: Yeah, COVID. Whenever COVID hit. We were like, shoot. We need to be doing something online.
David: So we decided – “Hey, we’re going to start pursuing this. We’re going to reach out and we’re going to find good products.”
And of course, we found those products through none other than Helium 10, the greatest piece of software that any Amazon seller could use. It really is the truth. I don’t know how anybody does anything without Helium 10.
We started growing our sales and since March, we’ve added a bunch of products. We’ve hit 100K in sales this month and have been steadily increasing. We sell about $16,000-$20,000 on average a month now. So it’s just cool to see the trend go up. Will that continue forever? Probably not. We don’t want to do wholesale forever.
We want to work on a non-linear scale. So, how many ways can you make income through selling on Amazon? One of those ways is wholesale. It’s a great intro because, “Hey, I know I could buy this, I can sell it at a certain amount, then all I need to do is really manage my cash flow well.” But we’d like to move into private label. Now what we’re doing is partnering with brands using Helium 10. That’s why we got Helium 10 certified!
We want to partner with brands, bring them into what we’re doing, and market their product for them. Basically say, “Are you non-existent on Amazon? Because you should be on Amazon. Or are you just existing on Amazon and not thriving? We want to help you thrive on Amazon.”
So that’s kind of where we’re moving. Now we have two or three relationships with some great brands, great people. We’re much more relationship-driven individuals. So we see that as more of the long term value we add.
Karyn: It’s so smart that you guys are doing it the right way, where you’re not just putting all of your eggs in one basket.
Just from experience, I started out selling on Amazon one way with private label, which is great. It’s a fantastic way. But I have learned that it is really important to have multiple eggs in different baskets. Also, like you were saying, it’s so important to manage cash flow.
You know, as a millennial business owner, just thinking, “Ooh, I’m making money on Amazon. I’m going to really just love life.” It’s like, oops, you also have to keep buying inventory, invest in marketing, etc. You guys are really smart to do it the right way from the beginning.
David: It’s definitely a testament to our friend. He’s helped us tremendously. He’s a very by-the-book guy. He was an accountant previous to leaving his job. So, I would say we need to give it all to Rob Nesteroff. Gotta give him the credit.
Karyn: It really helps having a mentor. Somebody that can give you personal advice, has proven the model, and can kind of say, “Here’s what we did well and here’s where we made mistakes.” Then you can kind of do even better, right? When you know the pitfalls to avoid.
A Team Sport – Doing Business as Brothers
Karyn: Can we just touch on the fact that you guys do this together? Ryan, can you tell me a little bit more about your relationship and how you guys do this business together as brothers and best friends… how does it work?
Ryan: So we’ve always done everything together. I mean, we were married on the same day, one year apart. Getting into this business was just an excuse to hang out more and then have something that we can do with our time that’s profitable as well.
The way that businesses evolve is communication. “What is the goal? What is the vision for this business in the first place?” Some people ask if it’s money that drives us. You dive into those things and you go, “How much is enough?” David talked about non-linear income streams. We talk a lot about finances and all that stuff, especially with me being a financial advisor, blah, blah, blah.
But we want to make sure that we have different streams that we’re sending up and then come back to pay you over time. Those streams are enough to basically pay for your lifestyle. And that’s real freedom.
That’s when you really get to: “I can spend time with my kids today and not have to worry about all this other stuff that I have to do.” So that’s kind of where this was born from. Let’s set this up and build something, then keep going and learn new skills that will help in the future. Also we love spending time together. So it’s pretty fun.
Keeping Your Eye on the Ball – Business Goals
Karyn: Let’s dive a little bit deeper into what you mentioned about business goals. What might that look like? Is it once you have five clients that you’re helping on Amazon? Is it when you have five privately owned products? Or is it hitting $100,000 a month?
Ryan: So that five client thing was a big one for the brands we help. We only want five clients because we feel like that’s when you can really get to know someone and you can literally say, “Hey, it’s just me, my brother, and another guy that we work with as well, but it’s just us three. We are going to make you the highest priority possible. You won’t get this level of service anywhere else. We don’t have 120 other clients that we’re looking after. It’s literally you. If we’re not doing a good job, tell us what we’re doing wrong, because we want this to be fun for both of us.”
In terms of private label and wholesale, we don’t really have a number. It’s more of how much time we want to spend packing products or marketing. So it’s more based on how much time we have available. That’s how the business grows. All the goal settlers probably hate hearing that, but I mean, it is what it is!
Karyn: No, I get that. I’ve gotten to know you guys a little bit over the past few weeks and I feel very much that you guys are people driven – that you really care a lot about giving back and serving your family and your community. That was really incorporated in your goals a lot.
Can you explain maybe a little bit more David, what your vision is like? Let’s say when you’ve made it. You’ve hit your goals. What is your ultimate desire to give back to your community?
David: Ryan didn’t mention it, but our first goal was just to pay off our homes. Like, this business literally just exists for us to pay off our houses. Then once we achieve that, what else is there to do? Again, how much is enough? I deal with young, minor league ball players who think they’re gonna make a hundred million dollars. I have to be the one that tells them, “Is that going to make you happy making a hundred million dollars? Because if it is, you’re going to have a really sad life.”
That’s the biggest reason for the businesses. Let’s do this, but we like to do it together.
If you can win as an individual, that’s fantastic. That should drive you. But it doesn’t support anybody else, but yourself.
That’s why I think we’ve enjoyed moving to this “agency” kind of idea. The wholesale model is very similar too. Our goal, right now, is just a means to an end. But eventually, we can ask ourselves, “Can we start hiring young adults who also have that entrepreneurial drive?” Maybe they just want to make some extra cash and we can be, hopefully, good examples for them. We can teach them the way to go.
So we would love to be those examples for these younger kids. So that’s kind of where the wholesale model is. But we don’t see ourselves doing that on a really grand scale.
Then private label. Obviously we would just love to have our own products and our own brand that we’re able to eventually sell. That can maybe pay for our homes or whatever we want. And we can give it to somebody else when we’re done.
The goal of a business is not to just make yourself ridiculously rich. It’s to give back, in whatever capacity that is.
I think that’s that’s the long term. We don’t really know the future. There’s only one man that knows the future, that’s God. But while we’re here, we’re doing this right now. Our goal is to figure out how to best assimilate our knowledge to others to help them reach their goals.
Students of the Game – Helium 10 Certification Program
Karyn: You’re looking at trends and you’re assessing what you can do to both achieve a great lifestyle, to be able to work together, to generate an income, and to pay off your homes. But also to plan for the future. It’s amazing to me that you started back in March and saw where the economy was going with COVID and the shut down. You saw this opportunity with our Helium 10 Certification Program.
Can you explain more your thought process behind that, David? And also what the certification process was like. Was it hard? Was it no big deal?
David: It was just like going back to school! When I retired from baseball, I was halfway through my MBA. So I finished that and I was like, “I have no idea what I’m going to use this for,” but I knew it was important. I knew that I’d already spent money on it. When I start something, I want to finish it. But with the Helium 10 Certification Program, it was kind of a similar mindset. I was out of school, but I had just been there. I knew like, “Hey, this is how school works.” You have to study. Ryan and I had been using Helium 10 a ton, and we were getting questions about how we use Helium 10 to find good products.
As we got more questions, we learned there are people who don’t know what they’re doing on Amazon, but they’re trying to sell on Amazon. There’s a need for people who have this knowledge.
Apparently the Helium 10 Certification Program hasn’t been out that long. I did not know that. I thought it was just an absolute, no brainer. I was like, “Oh, Helium 10 has a Certification Program! We gotta get that.” So I just started studying and it probably took me a month – going through each module, watching each video. That’s why, Karyn, you and Brad… you guys are celebrities. I’ve seen you guys so much…. Now, I’m like, “Oh dude, they’re talking to me!
Ryan: “They’re real people, what?!”
It’s not just a measure of past success. We needed Helium 10 today because we don’t have a huge track record with brands that we partner with yet – we just started. But now I can say, “Hey, I know what I’m doing. I’m Helium 10 certified. How many people do you know that are Helium 10 certified?”
Also, I had no idea how extensive the suite of available tools are at our disposal. It helps knowing what you can actually do with the software as opposed to just knowing the basics of Xray or the Helium 10 Chrome extension. Like yeah, that helps. But there’s so much more.
Karyn: Many people don’t have the time to learn, but sometimes they also don’t have the desire. It is tricky, right? That’s why degrees are valuable in a lot of ways, because it shows you are a master of something.
Calling Their Shot – Favorite Helium 10 Tool
Karyn: What is your favorite Helium 10 tool?
Ryan: I say Scribbles, every time!
Ryan: It’s the colors! But really, it makes it fun to optimize listings. And who thought optimizing listings would be fun?
Karyn: Are you good writers?
Ryan: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t think so.
David: Ryan is a great writer.
Ryan: I just try to put words in there and find the good keywords.
David: Didn’t you guys just introduce the tool where you can use X-ray and then move it into Cerebro too?
David: That’s why, again, back to the Helium 10 Certification Program, if you know how to use Helium 10 as a collective tool, instead of just little bitty tools, you are capable of so much more in the Amazon marketplace. Imagine the ability to decipher data from Amazon to a point you can say, “I know exactly what market I need to be in. I know what products I can sell in that market. I know how to sell them. I can track how well they sell. AND I can do PPC! There’s no end to it!
Karyn: That was a mic drop moment! Right?
Ryan: He’s the copywriter.
David: I had it written down…
Karyn: Haha! I want to ask, what in your life experience like brought this out? Like you’re obviously really good with people, you’re really smart to see the trends, and you work well together.
Major League Motivations – Faith, Humility, and Inspiration for New Sellers
Karyn: Was there an “Aha!” moment in your life or was this just how you were raised?
What made you guys who you are?
David: I just follow Ryan around.
Ryan: That is a hard question. The Lord, that would be number one – his sovereignty in our lives has been unmistakable. It’s his glory that we’re here for in the first place. So I always have to recognize, any profit that we can ever have comes from our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
I would also say our dad and mom have been very, very strong influences in our lives. Just teaching us: What does work look like? What is work ethic? How do you learn something? How do you adapt to change?
Sports was big too, because when you’re failing in front of 10,000 people and they’re all looking at you and you can’t make an adjustment… you’ll remember that moment. Which has happened!
David: Ryan, I think that’s so true. I want to build on that too, about our faith. You can be Christian and not be humble, right? But that will quickly lead you to humility.
I think understanding how small we actually are in the picture of this world and this life – it helps you realize we’re all just learning and we’re all just a part of the same thing.
We’re all just walking through this life together, trying to figure out the best way to live. But it’s hard when you’re not living according to the word. I think our faith plays a huge part in that. That’s directly influenced by our parents who have taught us, “Work is your best friend. Learn to love the whole journey.”
Baseball taught us that too. Ryan, even building on that failure…. You want to get a laugh? Look at my stats from 2015. I pitched the whole year and still had a 7.5 ERA (earned run average). I gave up, I think, over 30 home runs… just got trampled on! But the point is that I finished the year – I picked up the ball every time I needed to. And we still made AAA.
That doesn’t mean drive your head into the stone wall until you black out. But it does mean: adapt, be smart. Look ahead, keep your head up. Don’t get too down on yourself.
Karyn: In closing, can you each share your biggest piece of advice to someone just getting started? Someone who was where you guys were six months ago… and give them advice on how they can have success in this fun, crazy world of selling on Amazon as a business owner?
David: First, the hardest part in the marathon is that first step. So choose to do something. If you don’t like the way that your life is going right now, or you don’t like what’s happened in your life, or are you looking to make income… or are you just trying to have fun! Just start with one thing. Recognize you want to make a change. Make that change right now.
Then two, like I just said, keep picking up the ball. It’s not going to be easy.
Anything that is worth doing and enjoying is not going to be easy.
The easiest thing to do is sit on the couch and watch TV. Don’t do it. Learn as much as you can.
If you need help, reach out to us!
A special thank you to David and Ryan for taking the time to sit with us and share their inspiring journey. Authenticity seems like it’s harder than ever to come by these days and you guys were such a refreshing (and charming!) look at the industry. We hope the both of you continue to knock it out of the park!
Reach out to David and Ryan Ledbetter at www.betterledconsulting.com/