New Beginnings – October 2015

I first heard about AMZ Tracker from my friend Tanya back in 2015, she, being a member of AMZ Tracker saw a job ad on their website and informed me about it! I was looking for a meaningful break from Brighton and as this was in Bangkok, one of the places on my list to visit, it was perfect timing.

The application process was a three day event! I had to create memberships, make a video and have a Skype interview but I got the job . Yep, I was well happy but it meant saying goodbye to the band I was playing in and to my son Indio who at the time was 16 and was pretty much independent and had left school and got himself in to college to study film making. Still, its a big move for anyone starting out on a Digital Nomadic journey.

We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.Jeff Bezos

AMZ Tracker – Bangkok

I was the 5th employee of the company that was set up by Travis Jamison and soon to become a good friend!
Travis set up AMZ Tracker as an answer to  Amazon.com SEO shortcomings! He found an opportunity and changed how Amazon sellers could enhance their sales – And he did a fucking great job.! Travis along with An, an Australian-Vietnamese optometrist-come wiz-kid programmer created a monster!

I shipped out to Bangkok in October 2015 on a one way flight! Gave up my gym membership and said goodbye to my band, friends and son Indio! This was what I had been waiting for! A new challenge, a step up to a new form of web design and to finally get my ears back after 36 years of playing drums. I officially retired as a paid session drummer at this time so did my last gig with The Dark Country on the previous Saturday and was off. Thats a lot to give up for something three months later you’d find out would be sold off! I’ll cover this later in the post.

Amz Tracker Logo Brian Roe Blog
Amz Tracker Logo Brian Roe Blog

I arrived in Bangkok and checked in to an OK hotel in Thonglor, just one night as I had already arranged to look at a few Condo’s on the Sunday! I met Helen, a lovely Thai lady and who would later on be such a great asset to me as a friend. We took a short car ride and looked at a couple of mediocre apartments and ended up at the last call of the day at The Clover Soi 18 Thonglor (Soi is Road). I instantly knew that I found the right place to live, so paid my deposit (Which I got back in full) and moved in that very day! Next day was start day, I met up with Erik & Leanne in the Thonglor Soi 10 where we introduced ourselves and got aquatinted with each other! I had met Leanne and her lovely husband Coran on the Saturday when they invited me to join them at a street food event. Leanne, I have to say is not only sharp and quick witted but exceptionally brilliant at managing a help centre and keeping the education simple. It was an absolute pleasure to work along side her. Leanne showed me the ropes of AMZ Tracker and what I would be doing as a day to day job for the first 3 months!

Danny Flood, a dear friend and colaborator was my next door neighbour at the Clover in Thonglor.
We met when he asked me to look after his cat for the weekend.  We now work together on colaborative projects.
Danny Flood is one the best online marketing experts and authority in there is.

Thonglor Bangkok Brian Roe Blog
The walk to work – Thonglor Bangkok – (photo by Brian Roe)

This was not a new world to me as I had previously held a job at American Express as Help Centre Training Manager and then project manager linking  24×7 global – follow the sun – help center for AMEX but it was a steep learning curve! This was no conglomerate or corporate industry! It was a SaaS tech start up that was growing at an incredible rate and out-growing its competitors. We didn’t even have an office at that time – we did occupy a co-working space eventually, 3rd Place Thonglor Soi 10. I liked it there, it had a good and creative energy about it.

New Arrivals

We had other new intakes arriving by the day! Adam, Dan and Nav arrived in pretty much the same way as me. We soon established a great team bond and with Travis steering the good ship AMZ, very soon had it nailed. Erik was absolutely brilliant with on boarding us, along with Leanne, we soon established a solid work ethic and it was nose to the grindstone for all of us.

We set about building a new platform in tracking Amazon sales but wanted to create it as a free download so we went into lockdown mode and put on a big sprint to create Unicorn Smasher! Yep, I know what you are thinking? “What the F–K is Unicorn Smasher”? Yep, that is some strange name for a new SaaS product but we had so much fun creating “Hector” and the website! It was a great bonding experience for all of us and showed our competition that we really meant business.

It All Got Serious

AMZ Tracker had become a huge commercial online success! We had so many members signing up on a daily basis! We were having a ball. We worked hard though, for the first two months we were working 6 to7 days per week! Our friendships were blossoming too! We all had lunch together every day with Leanne being some-what of an expert in eateries, always found somewhere cool for us to go! This was great for team bonding and keeping the moral up and momentum going!

At this time I met a new girlfriend! Gift! A wonderful Thai girl from Burriram in the north! Such a lovely woman, she was married to a lieutenant from the Bangkok police force but he died of cancer 4 years previously! Yeah, a cool condo, a great job,  a beautiful girlfriend, a new set of friends and a new social circle… Then one day…! Read more about my time in Bangkok here.

The Sale

We all arrived at work one December day, just like normal when Travis stood up and said “I have an announcement to make”! Travis explained how he had been approached by a Chinese firm who had made him an offer for a controlling share in AMZ Tracker and that he’d accepted! We were all a little dumbfounded by this! none of us wanted it and it was a bit of a shock. What was going to happen to our jobs? Who was going to run the company? It turned out OK initially! We met Jerry, a 30 something Chinese entrepreneur who was not only charming but massively knowledgable about Shakespeare, UK and US politics and literature! Actually, a really nice guy! This put most of us at ease but some where not happy and voted with their feet.  For me, it was a time to accept and adjust and just see how it goes.

We also had a recruitment drive going on and had many applicants who wanted to work with us! We had decided to resettle in Saigon for the on-boarding and come January, all the successful applicants had relocated there. I kept my Condo and sub-letted it to a fellow Englishman called Joe! I intended to be back in Bangkok as soon as humanly possible.

Saigon

We had an office in Saigon located in the Dreamplex Workspace! The new guys had all shown up and were being on-boarded by Erik! I turned up a few weeks after most had arrived! I’d been in Saigon the month before and was not really looking forward to coming back. I did turn up, I got an apartment in Japan Town and got my head stuck into work.

The Team AMZ Tracker
The Team AMZ Tracker

The new intake were quite a talented bunch and some have turned out to be good friends! Some who are now working with me on the Ink Oil® project.
Erik did a great job with the recruiting process! We had some real talent on board with us. But the team was big now! Leanne had decided to leave which hit me like a bullet, she had been such a great person to work with and I know that not only me but AMZ Tracker would really miss her!  Also, Nav went on her digital-nomad adventures! Nav is such a lovely girl and it was a massive pleasure to have worked along side her. It was very fortunate to have two outstanding individuals to work with in the initial period of AMZ in Bangkok. I wish them both great fortune and happiness in what ever they may be doing .

We had a strong team! All sharp and focused on the immediate goals of looking after our members and learning the ropes! Some like me, had to make a big and life-changing decision to relocate to work with us and it was most appreciated! Would they have done the same knowing that AMZ Tracker had been sold to the Chinese? Some, I very much doubt it! Leaving a loved one at home and being in another country and starting a new job with complete strangers takes a lot of guts! These commitments made by some of the new guys did not go un-noticed. The new intake were and remain superb individuals and an inspiration to work with.

The New Intake

Most of the new intake saw me as a bit loud! Yep, that’s me in a snapshot! I am a punk rocker,  biker & rock drummer – this is what we are like, I am hardly a shrinking violet yes-man! I was also the oldest in the team, some didn’t take to me but most did! We all got on in the office though and made the best of it!

I can come across as a bit intimidating! Thats just me,
I am not going to apologise for my character, you either like me or you don’t. I’m not fused either way, I’m English and see through bullshit and will be vocal about if I am on the receiving end of it! That makes people feel uncomfortable, and that discomfort makes people wary of me!
I wont change to accommodate an individuals brown-nosing or be sycophantic just to get approval or climb the greasy pole! Just not me. I don’t like witnessing that behaviour from or around others either but it went on in and eventually caused divisions and resentments. I can only liken some activity to that of Worm Tongue in The Lord Of The Rings and how King Theodan was brought under his spell! Or in this case, laughing at their own comments and ‘jokes’ to win approval of the decision makers. Actually, thinking about it still pisses me off even now.

I began to miss Bangkok and was looking forward to returning! I got the go-ahead from Erik so come March 1st , I was off back to Bangkok! I would work remotely for AMZ and keep to my work schedule from BKK. It was a real Godsend! I ended up getting a second Condo at the Clover as Joe my buddy was still renting my previous one which I still had a contract on. It was so good to get out of Saigon.  Read all about my time in Saigon here.

Bangkok – The Return

Helen had arranged a new condo for me at the Clover, she always looked after me and got me sorted out with an apartment next to the swimming pool and gym. All the other team members were still in Saigon but there was a new development! The new owner of AMZ Tracker and Travis had purchased a majority share holding with Amazooka from our mutual friend Rus! Rus had taken on 2 new employees at the same time as us taking on the new intake in Saigon and I got seconded to work with the Amazooka team on 3 new websites they needed to take the business to the next level. Got to say that Rus did a superb job recruiting both Desirai and Saied! I liked both from the instant I met them and took on Saied to mentor in web design and project management! I made the right decision as he turned out to be absolutely fantastic at both and a true friend! Saied later on ended up working for AMZ Tracker as a Project manager and my web content manager for the AMZ Tracker Course  – Zero to Liftoff  

The Emporium Tower – Bangkok

The new intake, were skilled up by this time and had began to arrive and to settle in Bangkok, a few had done their statutory 3 months training and began their own Digital Nomadic adventures.
We took up a temporary office space in the Emporium Tower in Phorm Phong, this was Ok as an office, it had everything we needed and was a great location, plus the food mall next door was awesome!

There was however a them and us situation deveoloping between the camps of AMZ employees and I was very much the them!  that had the idea that they were running the show! I really dont like people looking down thier nose at me and thinking they are Christmas on a stick. Perfect way to piss me off.
There was an air of toxicity in the air and the empire builders amongst us had very much planted their feet firmly under the AMZ table.

This was not a good time. – August 2016 to January 2017 was particularly testing and sucked big time!
I had become a wage slave and was not enjoying my job at all! I looked forward to my Visa runs as a temporary escape but was still very dedicated to my job as I had been promoted to web & media team manager and had taken on two lovely Thai girls, a very talented graphic designer and a heavy metal guitarist; Illustrator, both still freelance for me on my Ink Oil® business. I also wanted to see the Course that I was building the website for completed and launched.

Third Place Bangkok Brian Roe Blog
Third Place Bangkok

It came to September and our temporary lease on the Emporium tower office space was up, so we moved about a bit, worked from home and eventually came back to 3rd Place in Thonglor and also The Hive in Phorm Phong.

The Shit Hits The Fan

Come October, we get the earth-shattering news that Amazon has changed its Terms of Service! Amazon had decided to head us, Jungle Scout and our other competitors off at the pass!  Basically, it would cancel Seller Central memberships of Amazon sellers who were using our services to offer cut-price promos for reviews.

This was seismic and a very serious game-changer for all of us! We had to think fast and come up with a plan to literally save the business! We were all in the same boat! Most of our membership had signed up to AMZ and our competitors to get the reviews for cheap goods! This exchange was good for the members and the reviewers, it was a win-win but Amazon had had enough and pulled the rug from under our feet! We were all in a daze as we had suddenly lost a 100’000 reviewers from our AMZ Review Trader site! It was suddenly redundant and a busted flush! It had no purpose anymore.

AMZ Review Trader Brian Roe blog
AMZ Review Trader Brian Roe blog

We spent and wasted 24 hours trying to come up with a press release and an announcement of our strategy going forward! All credit to Jungle Scout for coming up with theirs within a few hours! They stole the march on us and thus we saw a massive inbox flood to the AMZ Help Center and an haemorrhaging of our paying members.
We came up with an interim name AMZ Deals Community – This lasted about a week.

The Churn

The churn rate was bad and unsustainable, we came up with a plan to rename the AMZ Review Trader Club to something Jerry had as a promotional idea and probably the worst name for a website in history….! Vipon

Vipon for fuck sake! I did a little research through various Trademarking databases and discovered that a Swiss company had registered the name for a vibrating tampon! Well this was all we needed! It would take a magician to change the perspective of a brand associated with a sanitary product to a Amazon promotions site. And we had to sell this to our members to prevent the churn rate getting even worse.

AMZ Tracker Vipon Banner Brian Roe Blog
AMZ Tracker Vipon Banner Brian Roe Blog

Up until this moment, we had enjoyed month on month growth, a very low churn rate, a top 500 position in US  browser hits via AMZ Review Trader and a firm place as number one in our genre. The glory days were over and we now had no review Website, no take up in new members and of all the names in the world ‘VIPON’!! Was this a bad dream? was I going to wake up? NO! This was the reality that wee had to work on and that would eventually see the migration of AMZ Tracker being a Digital Nomad SaaS star and the envy of the startup world to a fragmented and toxic joke.


WHAT THE FUCK IS VIPON?


How Many CEO’s Does It Take To Run A Business?

November 2016 and the fall-out was being felt! We moved to a new Co Working space in Phra Khanong!
This was a very toxic and unproductive environment and the writing was on the wall for quite a few of us! Jerry decided to come to Bangkok and implement a damage limitation strategy, his strategy neither limited any damage but actually created divisions and the eventual dismissal and dismantling of AMZ tracker in Bangkok as we new it.

Mentioning no names, a good friend and colleague was first to be fired! This was not actually down to is good work but by the manoeuvrings of the previously mentioned Worm-Tongue. He got his way and my friend was offered a position at Value Link – our parent company in China, which he took up! He was first out of the door.

My staff had very little to do and it was not a sustainable situation to keep them on, so, sadly and with tears, they were let go too. Then it was announced that there would be a change in the roles of CEO! Travis had been bought back on board with his task-force for a 2 week interim period. Jerry at this time had also announced that all operations would be moved to Shenzhen in China and would incorporate AMZ Tracker into the Value Link family. Travis and the Task Force were busy trying to save the business, they did something right as the churn slowed sown and new members began to sign up again but at this time, Jerry and his sidekick Charlie began an interviewing process.
Jerry enventually took over as CEO! Thats three in one month.

Shenzhen Or Ship Out

We were offered our positions in the Shenzhen office at a pay-cut and longer hours! We were offered to either work the Chinese way or no way!
I had no intention of going to China and was ready to quit and to begin my entrepreneurial endeavours with Ink Oil® and my other company, Palm Tree Products. Additonally, I also own a web design company in the UK which I decided at that time to re-invigorate.
I had a plan to be out of there ASAP. And so I was in January 2017 when I left Bangkok and returned to the UK to begin consolidating my business plan and my future away from this toxic mess.
This not before Worm-Tongue got his marching orders and a few others went on their merry way back to Saigon to work on other pointless projects.

Everybody Out

Those who decided to go to Shenzhen were kept on, some had visa issues and couldn’t actually go, most of the new intake from December 2016 went! That didn’t last long though, eventually everyone was let go, fired or walked. Now, not one single AMZ Tracker employee from Bangkok, from 2105, from the Saigon intake or from the December intake is actually working for AMZ Tracker anymore. It is entirely a Chinese, Value Link operation now. (Although they are a billion dollar organisation, i dont actually think they have a website). I was offered the job but refused it. (

The lord of the web – Jon Meyers was on it for a short time!
Jon Meyers is a cool and decent guy who is in my opinion, the best web designer in the world. A friend and an inspiration. (big love to you dude – as always).

I am friends with most of the the guys from AMZ Tracker, we keep in touch, some are working on great projects and a few are working with me on my projects! You cannot just let talent like what we had drift off into the sunset. The Chinese did!
A foolish mistake by a person who is far from being anybodys fool.

Conclusion & Opinion

So, what would have happened if Travis didn’t sell AMZ Tracker to the Chinese? I suppose we will never know, I have my own ideas but either way, the TOS change from Amazon in October 2016 would have probably yielded the same result!
I do think Travis would have galvanised the team and come up with a much better strategy, I also know that he would never have entertained a name like Vipon for any of his projects. Yes, In conclusion, Travis would have saved AMZ Tracker and diversified it and steered it to a successful conclusion.

I also know that if Travis remained in charge charge, there would have never have been the animosity and toxicity that happened when he went his separate way! We all respected and loved the guy, he was a great leader, friend and visionary that we would have worked our guts out for. He was missed the instant he left! Travis was AMZ Tracker and without him, it was just a job for a wage, with him, there was a sense of pioneering, risk taking, excitement and a real sense of purpose. AMZ Tracker lost its soul when he sold up!
I don’t blame him for this, he is a brilliant and inspiring entrepreneur who did what any entrepreneur would do! His journey with AMZ was at an end and he wanted to move onto new challenges!

As entrepreneurs, we all need to grow, we need excitement, challenges and new pastures! Its a wonderful and gratifying feeling to create something that enables one to grow and thus gives others opportunities. But when you achieve and accomplish, when you overcome challenges and obstacles you have to move on or suffer stagnation and tedium.

We as entrepreneurs don’t do what we do just for the money, we do it for the connection to other like minded souls, we do it for the freedom of being our own person, we do it because it is the only life we know we will be happy living! It is our destiny to be like we are. To learn, grow, achieve and share.

 

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