Why I Joined Forum Brands
Our VP of Brand Growth, Jon Derkits, tells his story.
Let me introduce myself. I’m Jon. I’m a husband, a dad, an ecommerce operator, and more customer obsessed than I’d like to admit....
I joined Forum Brands in November 2020 after spending nearly a decade in management consulting followed by a career-marking tenure working both at Amazon and within its ecosystem. My transition to Forum Brands marks a new, exciting chapter in my professional life. After a successful career at established, global companies like KPMG and Amazon, I would have thought the decision to join a small, seed-stage startup would require a difficult period of thought and consideration.
But, in meeting the team at Forum, the decision was obvious. Six months later, I’m even more energized and excited by the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead of a company that is revolutionizing the CPG industry as we know it.
Why did I make the leap? The team and the vision.
In my 14 year career journey, I have realized that a job is just a job unless you work alongside a team that inspires you, supports you, and motivates you to do your best work.
On paper, the quality of the founding team was undeniable. Alex, Ruben, and Brenton bring a wealth of combined ecommerce, Fortune 500 consumer, and private equity experience perfectly suited to our model. But the principles and ethos they have injected into Forum is what makes them, and the company, so special.
Forum Brands is led by our shared commitment that a great company starts with outstanding people. The mantra to our team building strategy is, "First Who, Then What." We believe that if you begin with “who,” rather than “what,” you can more easily adapt to a changing world. We apply immense rigor in making people decisions, and take seriously our responsibility to develop our people, because we know that it is our people that will take us, and the brands we acquire, from Good to Great.
Speaking of those brands...
During my time at Amazon, I saw firsthand the struggles of building a successful business on the platform. I worked with entrepreneurs to solve problems and give them guidance as they navigated their brands through periods of growth. The relationships I built with these entrepreneurs are with me to this day, and I joined Forum because it gave me the opportunity to build a team of individuals who are just as passionate about building brands on Amazon as I am.
That’s how it started. But how’s it going?
Through no accident, we’ve brought together a team of Builders and Explorers; people that genuinely believe that the only way to get the future we want is to build it. We’ve also brought together a team of people for which “exciting and delighting” customers is their highest calling -- the sort of people you’d actually enjoy speaking to on the other end of a customer service helpline.
But perhaps most important, and for purely selfish reasons -- we’ve brought together people with unique backgrounds and diverse perspectives. I’ll share with you a little life hack: surround yourself with people that are better than you in some dimension. Not only does it accelerate your personal and professional growth, but it’s also just more fun. Right now, I look around and see team members from management consulting, private equity, technology, and operations, as well as fellow ex-Amazonians and even ex-Amazon sellers. Sitting in the same room with these people, I simultaneously have moments of ‘imposter syndrome’ and feel excited about the future we can build together.
I’m going to make a statement that is somewhat controversial: It is harder to take an Amazon business from 1 to N than it is to take it from 0 to 1.
I managed 25k+ sellers while working at Amazon, and worked closely with a few hundred each year. And, surprisingly, there was a lot of churn in those few hundred that drew my attention. Getting to the top on the Amazon marketplace is easy; staying there year-after-year is hard. The sellers that I’ve worked with that have been able to maintain their positions at the top of the mountain share a single distinguishing characteristic: fast, data-driven decision-making. How do they make fast, data-driven decisions? Early and aggressive investments in technology and data science.
So, as I contemplated a career move into the Amazon FBA acquisition space, I knew that I not only needed to be surrounded by the right team, but also that this team had a “technology-first” vision for building brands.
I had entertained job offers from other Amazon FBA acquirers before joining Forum Brands. My answer to all of them: “Thanks, but no thanks.” As I learned about their growth models, it was clear to me that they were just building large Amazon agencies. They would maybe acquire 100 brands over the next several years, but they’d have to hire 700 people to run those brands. The economics of that model didn’t sit well with me.
Enter Alex, Ruben, and Brenton again.
One of the things that set Forum Brands apart for me from the very beginning was their vision for a technology platform that scales. One where a single team member can build 10 brands, versus the non-technology enabled model wherein 10 new people have to be hired with each brand acquisition. The Forum founding team had already thought about, and built, a technology platform that would enable us to scale efficiently..
They also had a vision for a company where data science would be core to our DNA; where we’d let the data tell us stories of how our customers engage with our brands, and how our team delivers on promises to our customers. Coming from Amazon, a place where employees only operate based on data, this vision resonated with me. When they communicated that we’d be using deep and expansive metrics to build a culture of accountability, experimentation and, most importantly, customer obsession, I was hooked.
A FINAL THOUGHT
I’ve been fortunate. I’ve had the privilege of working with Amazon entrepreneurs as their “Amazon insider” since 2016. I’ve witnessed first-hand their cleverness, scrappiness, and sophistication. Hearing horror stories of their bad experiences with Amazon always motivated me to do better; to find ways to ensure that their sacrifices didn't go unrewarded. Now, as a buyer and operator of those very same businesses, I'm in a position to give them something back. I’m on a mission to help these entrepreneurs build long-lasting legacies of exceptional products and brands that are in every household for years to come. And that’s why I joined Forum Brands.