The ecommerce giant that is Amazon can intimidate many small sellers. Malik McCray, though, walked straight into the belly of the beast.
McCray is the CEO of Simpliworks, a Raleigh-based startup that is participating in this summer’s Andrews Launch Accelerator at NC State. (We wrote about the accelerator last summer.) Simpliworks makes it easy for small- and medium-sized businesses that sell their goods on the Amazon platform to advertise like the big boys—and it’s just now emerging from stealth mode.
“Our goal and our mission,” McCray said, “is to make selling on Amazon as easy as buying on Amazon.”
The end-to-end Simpliworks platform—McCray calls it the first fully automatic solution on the market—uses automation and AI to offer advertising solutions to its customers. Simpliworks taps into the concept of search advertising, or helping brands advertise for the exact search terms that a customer would use on Amazon.
“The name of the game is to essentially drive as many eyeballs to your product as possible,” McCray said, “but our job as advertisers is to try to predict what you as a customer may search.”
The Simpliworks platform launches automatic campaigns for brands in three steps: Users upload the product information and their budget into the Simpliworks system, select an advertising objective—currently sales growth, product launch or profitability—and then click ‘Launch.’
McCray says it can be difficult for sellers to create successful advertising when there are tens of thousands of ways for customers to find products. But, he says businesses can find opportunities to sell when they start with an understanding of how the platform works.
Side gig gone right
McCray got to know the Amazon platform himself during his senior year at NC State in 2018-’19, when he was working as a leasing agent. In late 2018, as a side job, he started buying wholesale products from manufacturers and reselling them on Amazon.
“I was in my dorm room, with the laptop, never touching inventory, and still selling products because of the model and infrastructure that they built,” he said.
Manufacturers and small businesses started asking McCray to manage their online presence on Amazon and promote their products. He discovered the huge time commitment that comes with managing multiple clients through several third-party services.
“I would use these separate tools to do it,” McCray said, “and it was possible to do, but it was very unscalable. So I tried to find a way to systematically program that and leverage technology to solve this problem.”
By January of 2020, Simpliworks was born. McCray has worked on the startup full-time since graduation, along with his co-founders Udeh Onwuka, lead developer, and Keith Jenkerson, head of operations; and a small development team made up of some former and current State students. A UK-based data scientist is helping improve the algorithm that Onwuka developed.
McCray used debt financing when he was selling physical products online, and a friends and family loan helped get the startup off the ground. The co-founders then reinvested money they had made from the retail operation into Simpliworks. They’ve been bootstrapping for the past eight months, but they hope to raise a seed round by the end of the accelerator on Aug. 28 to bridge them to a Series A in 2021.
McCray says he hopes to make successful advertising on Amazon accessible for everyone.
“A lot of great products don’t get the opportunity to be great,” McCray said, “because there’s such a barrier to entry, especially online. We want to bridge that digital gap between great products and the customers that demand them.”