As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Zack Leonard, Founder of Gembah.
Zack Leonard is the President and Founder of Gembah, where he has helped e-commerce brands, Amazon sellers and promotional products companies create new products that have sold for seven-figures in revenue. Zack lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and two dogs. He was on the ground-floor of the unicorn company Instacart — helping build the Texas markets from $0 to seven-figures in weekly Gross Merchandise Volume, built the national supply forecasting system, and fostered partnerships with grocery store giants like Whole Foods, Costco and HEB.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. 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?
My career path started in consulting and moved into same-day logistics working on the ground floor at a company called Instacart. I was in charge of managing the Texas Markets and ultimately moved into a role in forecasting the supply/demand for the entire company. After that, I ran strategy for another same-day logistics company called Dropoff.
During my time there, I started researching further upstream in the supply chain, as I was only hyper-focused on the last mile. With my research, I found there was a considerable lack of talent and resources available for Small to Mid Size Businesses to have a trusted provider/partner for all things related to overseas manufacturing.
The solution my co founders and I came up with was Gembah. As we continued to test the market for our services on sourcing and production management, our customers continued to ask about doing design work.
We did more research and found again; there is a lack of a centralized place where these same SMBs could access top talented designers/engineers. The result was — hiring top talent for those roles and offering more value higher up the product creation chain.
Today — Gembah is the first Product Innovation Platform offering designers and engineers that have worked at places like Under Armor and Weber Grills and on products like the Tickle Me Elmo.
Upon completion of designs, we bid those products out to our network of over 700 vetted factories in seven different countries.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
On one of the first orders we made, we sent the factory dimensions of a toy product in inches. Since the factory was in China and used the metric system, they thought the dimensions were in centimetres.
When we got the sample back, we noticed that the sample was significantly smaller than we anticipated, to a hilarious degree. The reason being, the factory thought our dimensions were in centimetres.
Moral of the story — make sure to provide all dimensions of the product in the unit of measure that your factory understands!
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
An oldie, but a goodie — The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This book helps frame humans to think, act, and do on their terms. It’s a compelling message and one to which I frequently return.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
The purpose we continue to drive towards is to enable the creative spirit of the human race. As humans, we are inherently creators — it’s what separates us from the rest of the species on Earth.
The vision is to create a customer-centric experience where anyone in the world is inspired to create a product, they can bring that product to market in as little as 100 days.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Always be mindful of the needs of others.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
In early March, my cousin was diagnosed with COVID-19. Thankfully, she recovered without any long term issues. I also have the fortune of having all of my grandparents still alive. It has been challenging not being able to see them in person due to the heightened risk for that demographic.
We set up family Zooms to check in with each other and keep everyone’s spirits up — especially the grandparents.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
My company has offices in the USA and China. We had a unique position in that we saw an impact on our team and operations in China first before it impacted us in the USA.
For the China Team, it was making sure they stayed safe and took extra time after Chinese New Year (CNY) to ensure a safe return to work. China took the approach of shutting down the entire country for an additional two to four weeks — depending on the region — beyond the scheduled four week CNY break.
Since March, our team has been back to normal due to the extra precautions taken by us/their government. Now, a lot of manufacturers in the Cut-And-Sew industry are shifting their focus to PPE instead of their original product catalog.
One of our manufacturing partners, who has always had a focus on disposable gloves, is seeing one of the most significant demand surges yet. For us to remain top of mind for their production lines, we just visited their factory in person to continue to build the relationship and show we are long term partners. We firmly believe that maintaining a great relationship with all our factory partners is paramount to the success of our customers.
The impact has now shifted to our US offices. We’ve been on a work-from-home regimen for over two months.
With that, we lose the ability to have in-person meetings and get quick answers to questions. Part of our culture is to be collaborative, as we cross-functional, multinational teams.
We’ve now implemented daily focus meetings where we share our wins, opportunities, and anything blocking us from achieving our goals.
It has made our team closer, more aligned, and created a culture where we can openly express challenges and work together to solve them quickly.
Trade Shows were a part of our lead generation efforts before COVID-19.
As a result of our inability to attend these, we’ve shifted our focus to SEO/SEM for our lead generation efforts.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Mental and physical health is of the utmost importance at a time like this. For mental health, we’ve emphasized taking time away from your daily activity to reflect, meditate, take a walk, or something, in a scheduled manner, will help stay focused long term.
Humans crave interaction and connection — we’ve been setting up Zoom game nights with friends and family to make sure we feed that human need.
From a physical health standpoint — we’ve found a bunch of free classes to take online as well as bought a Peloton. We send out invitations to our family/co-workers/friends to join both the classes and our rides. It’s pretty awesome to work out with people you usually wouldn’t be able to due to the distance.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
What has transpired over the past couple of months was a flash-forward into the future by about 5–10 years. E-Commerce will continue to boom as people start to realize that you can find better prices and same-day delivery while shopping online. Retailers are going to have to evolve or shut down — just look at Pier 1 and JC Penney over the past couple of months for example.
With that comes a ton of opportunity for product companies to diversify how you engage an audience. For example, a product company that primarily sold into Retail might now be able to expand and spin up an e-commerce store, Instagram handle and engage a new audience they didn’t know they had before.
I believe virtual workout classes will continue to grow as more companies may change to a more relaxed view on working from home.
With more people working from home — in the short term and possibly long term — we have and will continue to see an increase in goods related to home offices, workout equipment, and home cooking/kitchenware.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Potential changes depend on the length of the impact. Short term, more people are going to be hyper-aware of their surroundings and protect themselves with masks, gloves, and other PPE. Long term, I believe we will be much more appreciative of our time. It’s the one thing we do not get back, and times like these prove how valuable every moment is.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Our positioning is to ride the e-commerce boom, so we’ve grown our business during COVID-19.
We plan to continue this growth and hopefully get back to in-person interactions like having the team in our office, attending Trade Shows, and being able to see our team in China.
When we are allowed to travel to Asia/South America, we plan to continue our growth by expanding our Factory Network and operations to more countries in those regions.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
If you are struggling, scrutinize your P&L as much as possible. Find ways to maximize your bottom line.
If you are not struggling, find ways to hire people that will make your business grow. There are a ton of talented people looking for jobs right now. Take advantage of that and bring on your next A Team player.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
How can our readers further follow your work?