Benjamin Pipat, a computer science engineer, co-founded Seelk with Raphael Guedj Pignol, a former Amazon manager. As like-minded people, both men saw that the “landscape of e-commerce had shifted and was now focused on a handful of platforms that had become marketplaces.” This trend enabled brands and manufacturers to “connect directly to consumers around the world, totally disrupting the way people do business.”
This trend also opened up a need in e-commerce, which Benjamin Pipat and Seelk filled. The company knows that brands “need seasoned experts who know their platforms back and front, and the right tools to allow them to understand their brand’s performance in real time.”
So, in 2016, Benjamin Pipat and Seelk arrived to provide e-commerce business exactly what they needed. The company had the mission to provide brands with “specialized strategies and technology dedicated to Amazon.” In turn, Seelk is “accelerated by BPI and Plug & Play.” The company won the Fevad competition in 2018, and joined the Jellyfish group in December 2020.
Benjamin Pipat and Seelk want to “empower global brands and help them bridge the widening gap created by Amazon and its likes.”
At Seelk, Benjamin Pipat helps to “train and educate executives and brand managers, and provide them with the technology & expertise to fight on equal terms on global platforms.” They also employ a team of Amazon experts who are “at the forefront of e-commerce change to shape the future of leading global brands.”
We knew we were ahead in Europe and that the market was moving in our direction, we just had to stand strong and push through. Benjamin Pipat, co-founder of Seelk
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Benjamin Pipat: I’m a lifelong geek with a MSc in Computer Science and Renewable Energies, but I switched to the dark side after my master’s in management at the London School of Economics, which led me to join a London-based management consulting firm for two years.
I quickly felt the urge to get back to coding and came home to France to launch my first eCommerce startup: Vinify. It was a subscription-based wine business where everything was about customer centricity and customization: curated selections, recommendations, tailored frequency. Handling the entire value-chain from sourcing wines, acquiring customers to optimizing assortment and automating delivery was both exhilarating and an amazing way to discover the ins and outs of managing an eCommerce business.
After a long M&A process, I became a tech consultant on recommender systems with a few startups before meeting my future business partners in 2016.
Jerome Knyszewski: What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Benjamin Pipat: I was approached by Fast-Up Partners, a French consulting firm and startup studio led by former P&G execs, who were seeing Amazon come up in an increasing number of board-level discussions. This is where I met Raphaël, a former Amazon exec who was looking into the subject and we decided to start this journey to help brands successfully address new eCommerce platforms with a mix of consulting, operations and technology.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Benjamin Pipat: Our initial model was to help brands deploy on all eCommerce platforms around the world (Amazon, eBay, Zalando, Rakuten, Harvey Nichols, Cdiscount to name a few). This meant we had to build tech on all these platforms with mostly unstable and ever-changing APIs, as well as understand the ins and outs of every single one of them. At that time e-commerce represented less than 5% of brands revenue, and each platform less than a tenth of that. We were exhausting ourselves to generate a few thousand dollars on each platform while over 90% of the business was made on Amazon.
Mid-2017, we decided to pivot and focus solely on helping brands perform on Amazon globally. Bringing operational focus and clarity in our offering was a game changer, at the same time that Amazon was beginning to become unavoidable. We knew we were ahead in Europe and that the market was moving in our direction, we just had to stand strong and push through.
Jerome Knyszewski: So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Benjamin Pipat: Things did indeed move quickly at the end of 2018 when a lot of network agencies began to look to build or acquire their own Amazon capabilities. We were approached by a few but decided to join Fimalac with whom we set out to build a global leader in consulting & technology for Amazon. We had no plan to sell but Fimalac’s inspiring entrepreneurial approach was the best of both worlds: strong autonomy and the means to scale globally. The latest news is that at the end of 2020 Seelk has become a part of Jellyfish, which is another step-in line with our vision of supporting brands globally with experts and technology.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Benjamin Pipat: I wouldn’t call it funny, but I had a realization a few months in launching the wine business. Given the strong constraints of sending wine bottles by post, we were only making around 1€ profit per bottle sold. Sounds silly, but that meant selling a million bottles to make a million in profit, and we were the ones doing the pick & pack in our warehouses. Two lessons there: unit economics and choosing what to outsource.
Whether it’s on your own website or on a platform like Amazon, it’s all about optimizing each step of the customer journey.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a few examples of tools or software that you think can dramatically empower emerging eCommerce brands to be more effective and more successful?
Benjamin Pipat: Whether it’s on your own website or on a platform like Amazon, it’s all about optimizing each step of the customer journey. An advanced setup of Google Analytics with all own and paid media can go a long way in understanding how customers buy your products.
When it comes to Amazon, once you reach seven figures and start managing multiple countries, you can’t afford to spend any time downloading and consolidating data from multiple sources. That’s why we built the Seelk Studio, our analytics platform to bring actionable insights on all your Amazon business across the globe.
Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies an eCommerce business should use to increase conversion rates?
Benjamin Pipat: Again, I’ll talk about conversion on marketplaces like Amazon. These platforms focus on making the customer journey as seamless as possible, with some purchases taking less than four clicks.
Once the customer is on your product page, that likely means they’ve made a price and brand vs. generic decision on the search results page. From there, two other aspects will drive their decision: content and availability. The latter is straightforward: the product is either in stock or isn’t, so an easy way to drive conversion up is by having a highly efficient inventory management strategy.
When it comes to content, energy should be spent on building compelling product visuals which answer customer questions no matter what device they’re browsing from.
Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that an eCommerce business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?
Benjamin Pipat: Your products, packaging and overall shopping experience should speak for themselves and leave customers feeling the urge to recommend you. Be truthful and don’t oversell anything (product features, shipping times). Interact with the customers who mention your brand on social media and try to always go the extra mile to make them want to share your response. Hint: A handwritten postcard in your first thousand packages can go a long way (I’ve been there).
Your products, packaging and overall shopping experience should speak for themselves and leave customers feeling the urge to recommend you. Be truthful and don’t oversell anything (product features, shipping times).
Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful e-commerce business? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Don’t underestimate customer acquisition costs. Driving relevant traffic to your website is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive, and we don’t all have the chance to have as many Instagram followers as Kylie Jenner. Test and learn.
- Beware of hidden unit economics. Returns, damaged products, lost shipments, tax discrepancies and small variables we usually don’t consider when building a business plan, but added up they can be the doom of your P&L.
- Make the customer experience as seamless and efficient as possible, whatever the device. Leverage quick checkout like Apple Pay or Amazon Pay. Setup strong analytics and A/B tests to understand where customers drop out. And if you’re creative, go the extra mile to make them smile at one point in the process.
- If you go on Amazon, go bold with a clearly defined strategy (assortment, fulfillment, pricing). Build compelling and trustworthy product pages, match Amazon’s logistics standards and drive growth by leveraging an agile mix of Amazon’s media levers
- Once you hit five figures in monthly sales, become obsessed with data. Invest the necessary time and tools to have a clear view of where you should spend your time and money.
Finally, look for help when things are going well. Having a strong digital partner will be key to getting to the next milestone.
Jerome Knyszewski: What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Benjamin Pipat: I wish I could say something as fun as TikTok but I’ll go with good old Linkedin.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!