When Cash Riley Jr. first started his company, locals in his home town of Dallas loved his product. But as time went on, he wondered how to scale his business so he could share Earth Water, his alkaline - and nutrient - rich hydration drink, to more people. That’s when he discovered Amazon Marketplace, and his sales took off.
“We went from being small in Dallas, to being all over the U.S., to now launching in 27 new countries,” he told the crowd of about 50 at a lunch briefing titled Leveraging Ecommerce to Empower Minority-Owned Small Businesses, hosted by Amazon. “You own your opportunities when you operate online and you get to control your brand, which is a beautiful thing.”
Riley and the other panelists at Tuesday’s panel discussion on Capitol Hill – including Kezia Williams (The Black upStart & United Negro College Fund), Carl Brown Jr. (DC Small Business Development Center) and Molly Young (National Federation of Independent Businesses) – discussed how black and minority entrepreneurs can take advantage of ecommerce to grow their businesses and reach more customers.
“We’re in the middle of a black entrepreneurship renaissance fueled by the internet and ecommerce,” Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-IL), co-Chair of the Diversifying Tech Caucus, said. “Companies like Amazon have reduced the barrier to entry and made it easier to sell goods, products and services online. And black entrepreneurs have taken advantage of this opportunity and are chasing their dreams.”
But, as the panelists discussed, chasing your entrepreneurial dreams is often easier said than done, and it’s important to take advantage of the tools that are available, they said.
Williams, whose company, The Black Upstart, offers training to black entrepreneurs, spent months hauling products to the Post Office, standing in line and tracking packages herself before discovering services like Fulfillment by Amazon. She encouraged the audience to take advantage of FBA to free up time better spent on marketing and customer service.
Young echoed a similar sentiment: “Young people need to learn from businesses that were around before technology,” she said, stressing that it starts and ends with people. “Focus on the customer,” she said.
The panel discussion was a great reminder of how growth in ecommerce empowers small business owners and creates opportunities for people of all backgrounds, but our work to ensure these opportunities exist for everyone is not finished. That’s why Amazon is committed to working with Congresswoman Kelly and organizations like the ones represented on this week’s panel to encourage more people to start businesses, get those businesses off the ground, and then help them grow their customer bases and mature into lasting companies for years to come.
“Last year, e-commerce sales totaled nearly $400 billion, and this number will only grow,” Congresswoman Kelly said. “Let’s make sure that our black entrepreneurs get a piece of this pie.”