Founder Genius: Andrew Vagenas – “Turning Competition into Partnership”
Kauffman Founders School series feature Powerful Presentations with Nathan Gold, Intellectual Property with Peter McDermott, Founder’s Dilemmas with Noam Wasserman, Entrepreneurial Selling with Craig Wortmann, Startups with Steve Blank, Surviving the Entrepreneurial Life with Meg Hirshberg, the Lean Approach with Steve Blank and Entrepreneurial Marketing with Anita Newton.
Sometimes the race to become the best seems to be the only option for up-and-coming entrepreneurs. When first starting a company, it can seem there is only one option–eat or be eaten, but in this vibrant age of entrepreneurship, sometimes joining forces with a competitor can be as viable an option for success as anything else.
When Andrew Vagenas took his then mom and pop pharmacy and turned it into an idea for an e-commerce venture in 2010, he knew the company would need to work with a larger entity in order to be seen by enough customers to make the company a success. From this idea, Pharmapacks.com, which sells wellness and beauty products online, began with background knowledge in pharmacy but little understanding of how an e-commerce business really worked.
“It was new to me, and we didn’t understand how it all worked,” Vagenas said. “Basically, we started to say, listen, we need technology in the back end to try and do this right. So we built a platform tying into all our distribution networks and that’s where we get our merchandise, and our front end is a model that we can plug into other companies [and retailers].”
Vagenas knew he wanted to go to Amazon from the start. Instead of trying to compete with the e-commerce giant, Pharmapacks could team up with them instead, working to become their largest retailer and eventually able to reach more customers than working on their own.
“You know, when you’re a small seller on Amazon, you really don’t get too much recognition,” Vagenas said. “I kept hounding some of the reps there and constantly trying to find out what we had to do and what we didn’t.”
The hard work paid off. As Vagenas and his team continued their persistent hounding, their reputation started to grow, eventually getting to work with some of the top reps at Amazon.
“And now Amazon is treating us like a partner,” Vagenas said. “The fact that we’ve gotten so big, they’re now trying out some of their pilot programs with us as well—like Amazon Prime.”