While doing a CrossFit workout a few years back, Ben Leonard heard someone at the gym say, “We totally beasted it today.”
That was how Leonard named Beast Gear, an e-commerce store for people who like to lift heavy weights that he founded in 2016. He sold Beast Gear for a seven-figure amount in late 2019. Before the sale, Leonard, based in a small town near Aberdeen, Scotland, ran the business with the help of three freelancers—two who handled customer service and one who did social media—keeping his team organized with a tool called ClickUp.
Leonard is one of a growing number of one-person business owners around the world who have broken $1 million in revenue with no employees. The business was bringing in 4 million British pounds—the equivalent of about $5.6 million—in annual revenue when Leonard sold it and was profitable. The brand served Europe, Australia and the UAR when he ran it and is now about to launch in the U.S.
“There was a lot of meat on the bone for the buyer,” he says. “They could see the business was growing. They realized they could copy and paste it, and do it in the States.”
Since selling Beast Gear, Leonard has started an e-commerce brokerage, EcomBroker, with his accountant Allison Walker. In doing so, he’s making the most of a fast-growing trend in which equity investors are buying up e-commerce stores in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, with many consumers shopping online. As Marketplace Pulse reported, more than $7 billion in capital has flowed to firms acquiring Amazon businesses alone since April 2020. Leonard believes that the experience of being an e-commerce-shop owner will help him. “I’ve learned how to build a brand into a valuable asset someone wants to buy,” says Leonard.
Leonard, 30, never expected to be an entrepreneur. “I’m a professional dolphin nerd,” he says. He studied ecology and started his business in 2016 while working as an environmental advisor to the oil and gas industry for a consultancy. “It was a good job,” he says. “I liked it. But the big picture was I was a small wheel in an enormous machine, not having much impact.”
When Leonard suffered a heart problem that forced him to limit his fitness activities (he’s recovered now) he created Beast Gear as a diversion, working on a laptop from a cupboard in his home. “I didn’t know I had an entrepreneurial interest in me,” says Leonard. “It may be one of those things you have in the back of your brain somewhere, and it takes a spark to ignite it.”
Two years into his experiment, the store was taking off. “My scientific background really helped,” he says. “I applied that to the learning process.
He realized it was time to go full time and approach his boss to give notice. “That’s a great idea,” she told him. “Don’t quit. I’ll give you a year’s sabbatical.”
Leonard kept his job, to be on the safe side, but it turned out he never needed to go back, though, he says, “She was the best boss ever.”
Beyond the brokerage, Leonard, who is a father, is also in the process of launching a brand of baby products with business partner Mark Jennings (more on that in a future column). “I enjoy the whole process,” he says.
Making any e-commerce store a success, he believes, depends on both strong branding and marketing. “Branding is how you make people feel about your brand,” he says. “Marketing is how you tell people about your product and why they need it. They won’t feel anything about your brand if they haven’t heard about it yet.”
Fortunately, he’s found there are many ways to build a brand in a way that elicits passionate followers. “If you’re an introvert marketing in an introverted way to people who are also introverts, that’s going to work,” he says.
He’s applying the mindset that helped him “beast” his first business to both his brokerage and his new e-commerce business. “I need to fulfill my entrepreneurial spirit,” he says.