Regardless of your personal opinions of Amazon, the corporate entity, one thing is undeniable — the Amazon platform has offered access and opportunity to entrepreneurs and inventors in a way that possibly no other company before it has.
A decade ago, most of the third-party sellers on Amazon were resellers (people selling other people’s products, either aftermarket or otherwise), Dharmesh Mehta, VP of Worldwide Selling Partner Services at Amazon shared during the 4th annual Amazon Accelerate conference for sellers. But in the last 10 years he said that has changed dramatically — now most of the sellers on Amazon are brand owners.
Indeed, while Amazon sometimes has a reputation for being cluttered with brandless products from overseas, and there are certainly still a fair amount of those more commodity-focused sellers, an increasing number of thoughtful, homegrown brands are now building and scaling their businesses on the platform.
Diving into the individual stories of those brand owners provides a view of Amazon that is somewhat contrary to media headlines about FTC lawsuits, union fights and congressional hearings. They are stories of opportunity sought and found. Stories of underserved communities being seen and served. Stories of the realization of the American Dream and a new kind of small business that isn’t always as appreciated as its more traditional counterparts.
Amazon Sellers That are a ‘Force for Good’
There are the practical ripple effects of the businesses built on Amazon — those companies created more than 1.5 million jobs in the U.S. alone in 2022. But there are also the less measurable, yet equally impactful effects of small businesses that channel their success back into their communities.
That is one of the key stories Amazon wanted to tell during Accelerate. “When independent sellers like you succeed in creating thriving businesses selling in an Amazon store, you not only create business success, you also drive a number of other positive benefits in your local communities — you fuel economic opportunities, you create great jobs, you give back to local organizations and nonprofits, you help create a more sustainable future for all of us, and so much more,” said Mehta at the event. “The partnership between sellers and Amazon not only benefits customers, small businesses and Amazon — it’s a force multiplier that benefits people from your hometown and across the country.”
Amazon honored three of those “force multipliers” at its event this week: companies that showcase not only the way Amazon has facilitated entrepreneurship, but also how some of those brands are taking their success and funneling it downstream to invest in the future success of others.
The three “Force for Good” honorees — Hustle Clean, Nyssa and Gifts Fulfilled — are each pursuing their own unique mission, but are all giving back to their broader community in the process. In recognition of their efforts, each were given a surprise grant of $50,000, awarded on stage at Accelerate, to put back into their business.
“We didn’t put any parameters around what they [can do with the money] and based on their stories I have a feeling they’ll invest back in this ‘Force for Good’ notion because the mission of their businesses is so aligned with that purpose,” said Claire O’Donnell, Director of Selling Partner Empowerment, Communities and Trust at Amazon in an interview with Retail TouchPoints.
Hustle Clean: A Business Built on the Sidelines
When Hustle Clean CEO and Co-founder Justin Forsett and his partners started the business, Forsett was playing professional football for the Baltimore Ravens. Life in the NFL doesn’t leave a lot of time for a side hustle, but Amazon provided him the platform to build the foundation of what has now become his full-time job. “I started this business while I was playing in the NFL, and my business partner was a firefighter,” said Forsett in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “We had very time intensive jobs, so we needed something turnkey, a platform that was going to give us the information we needed to build and scale.”
The idea for the business came as many do — with the recognition of a gap in the market. Forsett and his partner met as athletes at UC Berkley, where they realized there was no brand serving their unique needs. “In the athletic space, we talk a lot about self-care, but at that time, there was nothing that really resonated with us,” Forsett recounted. “If you go into a locker room, you see Gatorade for hydration, for supplementation there are brands like Muscle Milk, for apparel there’s Nike and Adidas. But when it came to self-care, like body wash or deodorant, it was always a brand that would have a side product for athletes, like a sports version of Right Guard or Old Spice. Those brands weren’t authentically from the sports or athletic space.”
And so, Hustle Clean was born. The brand’s core product is a disposable, antibacterial body wipe to help athletes freshen up on the go, of which the brand has now sold more than 1 million. Now Hustle Clean has a full range of hygiene, wellness and recovery products designed for athletes that, in addition to Amazon, are sold on the brand’s DTC site, Target, REI, Orangetheory Fitness and soon Dick’s Sporting Goods.
Hustle Clean is paying that success forward through its Free Play scholarship program, which helps athletes at risk of being “priced out” of their sports by paying for registration fees, equipment, travel and more. The brand’s giveback program, Shower 2 the People, also donates hygiene products to victims of crises like Hurricane Maria and the war in Ukraine.
“My business partner Wale and I, we both came from very humble beginnings, so we’ve spent most of our lives trying to give back to the younger versions of ourselves,” said Forsett. “At one point growing up I was living out of a motel with my family, just praying for better times, and I knew that if I got the chance, I was going to try to be the answer to someone else’s prayers. We see our brand not as a company with a mission, but a mission that just happens to be a company where purpose is just as important as profit. We’re all here for more than consumption, so let’s have impact while we’re doing it.”
Nyssa: Reimagining the ‘Unmentionable’ but Momentous Junctures of Womanhood
The birth of women’s wellbeing brand Nyssa started with CEO and Co-founder Eden Laurin’s own birth experience. “After I gave birth, I was shocked and pretty mad when I found that the products they gave me for recovery were kind of a sham,” said Laurin in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It was one-size-fits-all mesh underpants and an ice pack that was like something my father would use for a picnic or tailgating. Culturally, we’re just expected to grin and bear it [through that post-partum experience], and for centuries we’ve been doing that. But I started talking to doctors and doulas and midwives and asking why we have the products that we have, and I discovered that those mesh underpants that we all receive were designed 70 years ago by a man.”
Laurin set out to reimagine the post-partum experience, and in the process has built a brand that aims to innovate for women’s needs at all the pivotal, yet rarely discussed moments of the female experience, which she has termed “the unmentionables.”
“There are so many times in our lives that women’s bodies are just not part of the design, that our needs are not considered, and our voices are kind of squashed,” said Laurin. “Culturally, we’re now talking about it and seeing it more, but there’s still so much room to grow.”
In addition to an expanding line of women’s health products that combine therapeutic function and comfort, Nyssa also has teamed up with medical professionals to educate women on what to expect throughout their health journeys, and to donate products to women in need.
“Our repeat purchase rate is a KPI that we really celebrate, and it continues to increase,” said Laurin. “It tells us that we might be meeting a lot of women in that post-partum moment, but then they’re coming back when they get their period again or they’re purchasing for other people. That is really indicative of where we want to go — we want to be partners with women for life.”
Gifts Fulfilled: Offering the Gift of Place and Purpose
Kim Shanahan’s path to creating Gifts Fulfilled also started during pregnancy. Because of her age, Shanahan’s pregnancy was considered a higher risk for birth defects, and while that didn’t end up being Shanahan’s experience, she couldn’t shake the idea of “what if?”
“I was thinking, ‘Okay, if my child has a disability, what does that mean? What happens when my child turns 18?” Shanahan said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “And one of the things that really jumped out to me was, what about a job? For most of us, our job is where we make our friends as adults, it’s what gives us a routine and a purpose. I had a gift company, so I knew that business really well, and I just thought, this is one thing I can actually do, I can figure out a way to take what I know about the gift industry and create jobs for people that have disabilities. My baby was born without a disability, but the thought had come to me, and I just knew that’s what I was meant to be doing.”
And that is exactly what she’s done. Gifts Fulfilled now employs people with disabilities to assemble its assortment of more than 40 kinds of gift baskets and care packages for occasions like birthdays, baby showers and holidays. It took some time to establish processes that would work for the differently abled, but Shanahan said she realized through that effort that “we can adapt everything, everything is doable, it was just about figuring out how to also make it efficient and profitable. I am a for-profit business and that matters because I want to pay my employees the same rate as everybody else.”
Amazon gave her the freedom to focus her energy and money on those aspects of her business rather than marketing and finding customers. “The key for our growth was that Amazon allowed us to enter the market at a low cost,” she explained. “It allowed me to spend the money on the employees, the products and the systems instead of marketing and brand building. Those are important things, and they’re coming on full force now, but launching on Amazon allowed me to decide where those first dollars should go. When you’re starting you don’t have a ton of dollars and you have to stretch every one as far as possible. It’s a tradeoff. Yes, Amazon has fees, but they have the customer base, and they have a built-in system for serving their customers.”
The Multiplier Effect
The stories of these Amazon-built brands are incredibly personal, just as many entrepreneurs’ stories are — ideas formed through personal experiences and then turned into action. And Amazon provided the space and opportunity to bring those ideas to life.
All three of these founders knew they were going to be recognized for their work in front of their peers at Accelerate. They didn’t know, however, that Amazon was planning to also give them a little boost to continue and grow their efforts in the form of a $50,000 grant. That moment was saved for a surprise on-stage reveal and was met with shock, joy and even a few tears.
“There are so many great sellers out there on the platform, and to be a part of the three that they chose for this is just unbelievable,” said Hustle Clean’s Forsett directly after the big reveal. “I’m not normally speechless, but when it happened, I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is real.’ I’m extremely blessed.”
It’s clear from the winners’ reactions that, just as Amazon’s O’Donnell predicted, the money will be used to continue the cycle of force multiplication within the small business community and beyond.
“I am so amped up and excited because this money is going to go toward growth,” said Gifts Fulfilled’s Shanahan. “It is so incredibly humbling to receive this award and to be recognized as a force for good.”
“I’m still processing,” added Nyssa’s Laurin. “It was an incredible surprise! I want to emphasize how meaningful this is as a small business. Every dollar is important, but to have not only the support and the resources of Amazon, but to also be recognized and seen is unreal.”