Judson Morgan is a Los Angeles-based actor and director. He owns an agency that creates films and other visual content. He’s also a successful ecommerce entrepreneur — with a purpose.
He told me, “I have zero interest in making money off of a random product. It’s just not interesting. I wanted to build a real brand that people could resonate with.”
That brand is Benevolence Los Angeles, an Amazon-focused gift boutique that donates a portion of each transaction to charity. He launched it in 2017. Fast forward to 2021, and revenue from Benevolence, a second ecommerce brand, and his agency has grown to eight figures.
I recently spoke with Morgan about selling on Amazon, managing three companies, influencer marketing, and more.
Our entire audio conversation is embedded below. The transcript that follows is edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: You have two ecommerce brands.
Plus, I have Butter. That’s my agency. We started out doing narrative films here in the Los Angeles area. We then moved into creating content such as video, photos, infographics — any visual stuff — for businesses.
Bandholz: The two ecommerce brands are primarily on Amazon.
Morgan: Right. But both have their own Shopify store. It’s probably 4 percent of total revenue. You probably could convince me that I should focus on those sites more.
Bandholz: When did you launch both brands?
Morgan: I have a Masters of Fine Arts with experience in Hollywood as a filmmaker, actor, and director. The creative side of building a brand was what interested me. I have zero interest in making money off of a random product. It’s just not interesting. So I wanted to build a real brand that people could resonate with.
In early 2017 or late 2016, I listened to Ryan Moran [the author and consultant] on a podcast talking about Fulfillment by Amazon. I had never heard of it. I put up a test product, an iPhone case, and it sold like crazy on Amazon. The case was a side project to my agency work. But sales took off. I thought, “This is a thing.”
So I created Benevolence in 2017. Every product is suitable for a gift. We donate to charity a portion of every purchase. So we scaled from me being an actor and not knowing the business to reaching eight figures in revenue in the last 12 months between all three of my companies. We have 12 people on the ecommerce side and seven on the Butter team.
Bandholz: What are those ecommerce folks doing?
Morgan: I have one team for both brands. There are pluses and minuses to that. There’s a logistics person for each brand and a logistics manager that manages those two. Running out of stock has been a major problem for us. Then I have a chatbot marketing guy. He’s a Minichat (video) expert.
There’s a customer service person. We have three people on our product health team. I made up that name. Once products are launched, the product health team has the responsibility of making sure sales grow. There’s a full-time photographer, a full-time retoucher, and a full-time graphic designer — all of them work on the three companies.
And then I have a full-time accountant. We outsource pay-per-click ad management. My agency does some video work for the two ecommerce brands.
Bandholz: The last guest I had on this podcast who focused on Amazon said the time for rapid growth on that platform has passed. Is there still an opportunity there?
Morgan: It is harder, no question. But we launched a product four months ago (going into Q4), and it went ballistic in a good way. A high-margin product. There wasn’t a lot of competition. We got all the algorithm juice. Amazon loved us, and we were making hundreds of sales per day.
However, we have had many more product failures than we used to. So it’s not easy. But neither is selling on our own website.
Two or three years ago, a seller on Amazon could fumble around and make some money — a lot of money. But that is gone. You can really lose your hat. You have to spend money to rank on keywords. Ninety-percent of sales happens on page one of the search results. You have to spend money to get on that first page. And then if your product isn’t great and doesn’t get reviews, you’re going to fail. So it’s definitely not as easy as it used to be.
There’s something called A+ content that you can add to your Amazon page. Plus, having an off-Amazon strategy for driving traffic is critical. We run Google and Facebook ads to our listings. We have many chat flows. We have external giveaways.
Bandholz: So there’s an advantage to send traffic to Amazon, knowing that people trust Amazon and they will convert easier.
Bandholz: How much investment does it take to launch a successful product on Amazon? Say you have a great product idea. You want to sell on Amazon — ramping up with advertising, generating reviews and inserts, and things like that. How much would that cost to reach profitability?
Morgan: It depends on the cost of goods. A product that costs $10 and sells for $40, that’s going to be expensive to launch, perhaps $10,000 to $15,000. But the upside is there.
You can launch a product that costs $2 and sells for $3 for $5,000 and get an idea if it’s going to work. We are getting better at ditching the losers.
Bandholz: Let’s shift to Butter. What kind of work are you focusing on?
Morgan: We do higher-end content. For Beardbrand, as an example, we would say you are ripe for a viral video. So we would come up with creative concepts for you and shoot a full-on commercial with the intention that it will go viral. We can’t guarantee that, but we hope it’s shared on Facebook, YouTube, that sort of thing. It’s a commercial, but it’s funny or wild, weird or crazy, or something that gets that shared.
Bandholz: Let’s circle back to Benevolence. You had a collaboration with Candace Cameron Bure, the actress. Walk us through that process.
Morgan: A benefit of living in Los Angeles and being in the industry for a long time — my wife’s an actress and a star of a TV show — is that I know many celebrities. Candace aligned with our brand. I had directed her in a movie. I reached out and said, “You want to do this? We’ll split the profit from your product line.”
One of the products she designed for us did quite well. The other two were okay. But we got a huge bump in our email and social media subscribers from her customers. Her photos are still on Pinterest. Two years later we’re still getting tons of juice from her being involved.
The right celebrity is crucial for an influencer campaign. We’ve done a lot of those that didn’t work. But we received around 15,000 email subscriptions in just a couple of months of working with her. Also, she got us on The View. We sold out of the products that we had on The View that day or the next.
Bandholz: Is the relationship indefinite? A long as you sell the products, you split the profit 50-50?
Morgan: No, it was for a year. We don’t pay after that. She is not promoting after that first year, either. We can continue using her photography and images. We have a handshake deal.
But these arrangements can get complicated. You get lawyers and agents involved. I was lucky that she was a friend, and we could do a handshake deal.
Have you done influencer campaigns with Beardbrand?
Bandholz: We’re in the midst of one now. It’s similar to your arrangement with Candace. I’m a friend of a well-known musician. He’s a fan of Beardbrand. I’m like, “Let’s do a limited-edition custom fragrance.” He’s said, “All right. I’m going to get my agent involved.” The agent is used to big brands and big contracts. We’re like, “We’re just a little brand here in Austin with 15 employees. If it gets too complicated, it’s almost not worth it for us.” So we hope to do something cool that makes sense for both parties.
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