Narrator: Hello and welcome to Keeping Innovation Alive, hosted by Bill Nottingham of Nottingham Spirk. Sit back and dive in with us, as we speak with corporate innovators and founders that are driven to keep innovation alive.
Bill Nottingham: Amazon. Many of us our customers, especially during the pandemic, but few of us know how it works from the inside. Today's guest, for our very first episode, is Kyle Walker an experienced digital brand builder and ex-amazonian that created and helped launch over 10,000 brands on Amazon. Since leaving the company in 2020, Kyle founded the lab consult - a consulting practice helping brands scale - efficiently online, and The Foundry, which acquires, builds and grows brands.
And next we have Tyler Wallace. He's an e-commerce strategist and general manager. During his seven years at Amazon, he led various retail and marketplace teams, launched and scaled multiple product categories and programs, and ran multiple billion dollar P&L businesses such as heading up Amazon's Canada marketplace. Since leaving the company in early 2021, Tyler joined the lab consult with Kyle and hosts the Think Like Amazon Podcast. I'd suggest you subscribe to that one.
Thanks for Joining me guys.
Let's start with Tyler. How were your innovation efforts challenged during your career at Amazon?
Tyler Wallis: Yeah. Well, thanks for having us on the show Bill, This is great to be here. You know, it's a great question because I feel like - for me at least - innovation was challenging in many different ways at Amazon. Amazon moved really fast. But one of them was in... so Amazon runs very lean, and we were all given a lot of ownership in our roles. And one of the things that I learned in my time there is that there's a difference between working on something, that's impactful versus something that's strategic.
The businesses that I was involved in were these really big businesses. You mentioned that, you know, some of them were billion dollar businesses. It's really easy. In those portfolio businesses to just focus on the movers and shakers. But what I learned is that in doing that every day, you really just focus on the same dials, the same levers of the business, and you can ignore other opportunities.
I love, Clayton Christensen's book, "The Innovators Dilemma," where he talks about, It's often times the disruptors that start as kind of the bottom of the competition, you know, and then they carve out this big space. I found that to be so true. It was often having somebody on my team assigned to a project - that today might be a ten thousand dollar project within a billion dollar business - but dedicating resources to actually focusing on the customer experience of that and seeing how big it could become.
So that's one of the lessons that I found myself coming back to repeatedly in my time at Amazon and really helps lead to some of these category launches and initiatives that I was proud to have been involved with.
Bill Nottingham: Wow, you know Tyler it's interesting when you think about - when you work for a billion dollar company - it's hard to transform that to a small start-up even. So I can totally see how the lab consult was born.
Hey Kyle, could you share some insights around that concept and maybe your perspective?
Kyle Walker: Thanks for having us. I'd probably stick with what you were mentioning there about scale. I think the one thing that I remember really stood out when I started was that there's so many opportunities around you, even in a big established company like Amazon, there's so many opportunities to go do things. And one of the biggest challenges is finding a way to quantify, what you think the impact is going to be. So that, you know, we can prioritize that next to thirty, fifty, a hundred other ideas, that all are equally valuable. Right? Or seem at surface level to be as valuable.
I remember pitching a project one time and, I'll leave out dollar figures, but I remember saying, "hey, we could do this and we could drive X more millions of Revenue." And I remember thinking after I said it, this isn't even going to be worth our time. Because I think, you know, part of the culture of Amazon is to think about things at scale. And so there's there's millions of ideas where you could go do it one, ten, hundreds of times, but the real home runs and - really where we created big programs - was thinking about how we do this 10,000 times without having to always make a manual decision. Or, yes, it's great to do one thing for one seller on Marketplace, but wouldn't it be better if that was an automated tool that 5 million sellers could use tomorrow? And so challenging yourself to think through the scale of those manual decisions that eventually are going to have to become at least partly automated to reach that scale. That was always a constant challenge.
Bill Nottingham: It's interesting that you worked with a different division, but somehow you guys came together to create something that was truly solving a pain point for companies that just can't seem to get a break on Amazon.
So now you guys are doing some things together how are you keeping innovation alive today?
Kyle Walker: There have been a couple of ways. I think obviously you mentioned that both of us co-founded the lab. Tyler's working on a lot of that stuff today. And I think you know, one of the biggest things that we add or try and add every day and design our work to add more of is, how can we have an impact on somebody's journey to make their life just a little bit easier?
I think, you know, on the surface, a lot of the things that we did, inside of Amazon to work backwards from the end result, to walk through our decision-making process, to evaluate all the different alternatives; I think that it's a characteristic that kind of sticks with us within, you know, the consulting business.
As far as my time with co-founding Foundry, so much of what we do as a start-up is having to prioritize what activities make the Most sense immediately versus, some things that we still need to do but can be pushed out a little ways. And I think in a start up, it stresses that exact same muscle that is strained at Amazon. You have all these opportunities, you want to do all of these things all at once, but you also have to be able to go out and search for the data points that are going to substantiate what the best use of your time is.
And one of the things that I find fascinating just about innovation, in general, is I never considered myself to be innovative at all. Like, I'm not, I'm not creative. You know, I don't play an instrument. I've never, you know, dreamed up a new products like all the things that you traditionally, think about in innovation. And I remember having a conversation with my wife one time and she goes, "Can you believe you've just created this out of the blue?" And I was like, "No, I didn't create something out of the blue. I listened to my customers. I looked for options. I found an option that worked and to me it was a very straightforward linear process to develop this new project."
Like to me every signal that was possibly there was there and I was just going down a path. I think if there's one thing that I would say to everybody listening is innovation happens in a lot of different ways. It can be combining things that already exist into a new way. It can be a different way of thinking about a very traditional problem. It can be something net new. But I think often times we categorize everything. As in order for it to be Innovative, it has to be this big project that just comes out of nowhere like this imaginary light bulb that comes out of the sky... and that's not really the case. Most successful innovations happen from very ordinary things that people put together in a new and exciting way.
Tyler Wallis: Yeah, and I'll just add to that Bill and say, one of the key things that I really liked that Kyle mentioned was working backwards. And that's something that was really drilled into us at Amazon. There's this working backwards mindset. And to me, that's really stuck with our work today at The Lab as well. In the way that, you know, Amazon, we use this working backwards concept as Kyle mentioned. It's really thinking about the customer experience and what that ideal customer experience in a future state should look like and getting super, super clear on what that is. and then working backwards to understand, "Okay. Now what needs to be true or what needs to be built in order to bridge to that future state?"
In contrast, that with the innovation, that I think a lot of businesses do, which is more of a product forward innovation. Today, our work is very similar. We work with these brands that are selling on Amazon and might be three or five-million-dollar brands and they come to us because they're looking to grow to become a 10-million-dollar brand or 15-million-dollar brand. And the mindset is about, how do I solve these issues directly in front of me? Or maybe what parallel or ancillary products should I be launching in my category to make incremental growth?
And I think one of the things that we've been able to do to help add a lot of value, is to step back and look at the processes needed to become a hundred-million-dollar brand or a two-hundred-million-dollar brand, which are going to be, you know, out of reach for that company today. But really in thinking about, now what do you want to be in five years? And what does that size of a business and that complexity of a business need to have in place in order to survive and thrive?
And then what from that ideal state, can we start to build or implement today? And I feel like that's where a lot of the innovative ideas, get unlocked. You're really going to find that when you talk about making one more dollar. You find that when you start with the future state and you work back. So, just emphasizing that point. I think it's a one that's, you know, stuck with us from our Amazon days.
Bill Nottingham: Hey guys, thanks for joining me today. For the listeners here, don't forget to listen to the Think Like Amazon podcast. And Tyler and Kyle, have a great rest of the day.
Narrator: Thank you for listening to this episode of Keeping Innovation Alive. We hope this conversation empowers and inspires you. If it did, please feel free to share, leave a review, and visit NottinghamSpirk.com for more content.