Erika Ottela is the co-founder and COO of eBrands – an ecommerce aggregator. We asked Erika about her journey with eBrands, the importance of Amazon and other ecommerce marketplaces, and her advice for entrepreneurs in the industry.

Erika Ottela
Erika Ottela, COO and co-founder at eBrands

Tell me about eBrands – what was the motivation behind starting the company and how does it operate?

There is a long-standing joke that Finns and other Nordic people are good at innovation and very bad at commercializing it – especially in global markets. Therefore, the idea of a Nordic brand house, that could purchase consumer product brands directly from entrepreneurs and help them to scale globally, was immediately appealing to our founding team.

Based on our combined brand and sales experience, we felt we could make a real difference by enabling innovative products to reach a worldwide audience. As a brand house, we firmly believe in promoting the Nordic values of sustainability, durability, and practical design. Together with the innovators who have brought these brands to life, we are on a journey (as stated in our vision) to make the world feel better.

Amazon is the undeniable leader in global ecommerce marketplaces, so we initially invested in some Amazon-native brands to start building our processes and to expand our know-how. With the operational experience and scale that we have built in the last year, we are now moving our focus to Nordic innovation-led brands – and leveraging our expertise to quickly scale the new brands on Amazon as well as other channels.

How important is a marketplace strategy today, and what are your tips for retail brands to be successful in this space?

The importance of Amazon in growing a consumer business is difficult to overestimate. Amazon’s marketplace revenue exceeds the size of the entire global SAAS business, and, despite its challenges, it is still one of the fastest ways to gain access to an enormous number of consumers. However, for eBrands, we view Amazon as a very important sales channel rather than the sole focus of our business. For some of our more innovative products, Amazon’s share of 2022 sales will be small compared to e.g., the product’s own website or physical retail sales.

Many articles have recently emphasized how much more difficult Amazon’s seller business is becoming. Even though that is true, I don’t think the fundamentals of success have changed. The key advice remains: Choose the right product! It all starts from product selection – and you can only find the right product through rigorous data analysis. This may not be a novel or glamorous answer, but it is the truth. Over-investing in the product research part of the process is critical – with the correct product, the rest falls into place with significantly greater ease.

Additionally, one growing trend that you should not ignore during your product research is sustainability. Sustainable product searches have increased by over 70% in the past few years, and interest around the topic will only increase. This does not mean you need to focus only on products that are titled “sustainable” but make sure to analyse your product’s durability, material usage, packaging, and shipment methods as part of your selection process so that you can maximize the sustainability of the product you do choose.

Sustainability is a thread for us that goes through everything we do – from brand acquisition criteria to operational decisions. Even small initiatives can create significant benefits. For example, a packaging redesign for a single product removed four tennis-courts worth of plastic from circulation. Some of our products are more sustainability-focused, e.g., reusable paper towels that are manufactured using only solar power. However, by making smart material choices, you can improve the environmental impact of almost all products.

My co-founder, Robin Bade, says that “sustainability isn’t the opposite of profitability”. I firmly believe in this idea and that’s what ultimately gets me excited about eBrands – having the chance to grow a viable, growth-driven business that does good in the world.

eBrands focuses on categories such as sustainability, wellness, sports, and lifestyle products – how does this align with your company values?

Active lifestyle, nature, and investing in your living environment are strongly present in the Nordic values I spoke about before. These values are also gaining increasing importance in retail sales globally.

As a company, we have narrowed our focus around these categories to build real expertise on customer needs, optimized distribution channels, and the right partners to enable fast growth. This allows us to maximise the returns for every action we take because the relationships we build and the skills we acquire our scalable across our entire portfolio.

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from previous roles, and how has this shaped your approach to your current position?

The most important aspect of building a company is to hire and keep the best people. And the only way to do that (long-term!) is to build a company that those best people can be proud of. “Company culture” is sometimes considered a fluffy concept, but anyone who has worked in a company with a good culture and one with a bad one knows the difference.

The challenge is that you can’t build a good culture by telling people what it is. Consistent role-modelling and practical day-to-day decisions show people what the company really values – whether that is in line with the value statement or not. I have been lucky in my life to work for two companies with a very strong value-base: Amazon and McKinsey. You can agree and disagree with the values themselves, but as an employee, you always know what you are expected to do. And you always know how you will be valued for it. With a strong value-base, you can take out a lot of micro-management, as you can trust everyone to do what you would’ve done. That in itself makes work more enjoyable – and more efficient.

One of the first things we did after setting up the company was that we had a long chat with the founding team and defined what values are the most important to us. They center around continuous learning, a bias for execution over ideas, and being creative in finding opportunities (Think like a Pirate!). It has been a lot of fun to build a company around them.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs, particularly in ecommerce?

Don’t over-analyse. No matter how long you think about any decision, you will not get a ‘100%’ answer. Do a simple exercise of writing out “what would I need to believe for this to be right” and then go out and test it. A ‘50%’ idea that is implemented is more valuable than the ‘90%’ idea you were too late with. You will be wrong occasionally, but then you can iterate, learn and do it again. This applies to product development, channel choices, strategy choices, and everything else you need to decide.

And as a by-product of that: Don’t judge failure – your own or that of the others. Only judge what people learned from it.

Following a recent $50m injection of funding, what’s next for eBrands?

The funding will enable us to further accelerate on our current path. We have barely scratched the surface of what is possible, so I expect the current funding to enable us to get closer to our mission of “building brands that will improve the physical, mental and environmental well-being of a billion people.”

“Ecommerce is mostly marketplaces”: Colin Lewis on how brands can seize the marketplace opportunity