Nathan Resnick of Sourcify is here today to talk all things China. We dive into a lot of interesting aspects of China since Nathan travels there frequently and has a ton of knowledge to offer on the topic. We’re covering everything from the environmental policies being put in place to the ways you can export your own product to sell in the Chinese marketplace.
- The Chinese perspective into current trade wars
- Why Americans still don’t understand China
- How branding your product has to be different if you plan to sell there
Andrew: Welcome to “The eCommerceFuel Podcast,” the show dedicated to helping seven-figure plus store owners build incredible businesses and amazing lives. I’m your host, Andrew Youderian.
So good to have you with me today. And today on the program, I’ve got Nathan Resnick from Sourcify, a company that helps store owners manage their sourcing, and design and development, and really collaborating with overseas factories to help streamline the process and help them pick the right factories for their design products.
And we’re talking about China. Nathan has a ton of experience. He spent time over there in high school in terms of learning the language, getting to know the culture. He travels there, you know, half a dozen times or more per year, really understands that country. And we talked about some of the misunderstandings between, some of the mysterious things that the Westerners have toward China.
We talk about some of the environmental policies that are going enacted over there, and discuss selling products into China, and if you’re a luxury brand, if it’s feasible to try to export products from the U.S. to China, which I always just thought had potentially been an interesting area of opportunity. And of course talk about it as well, but interesting perspective on China from someone who knows it very well.
Thanks To Our Sponsors!
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All right, let’s go ahead and get into my discussion on China with Nathan.
Nathan’s Incubator Tale
So Nathan, we wanna dive into everything sourcing-related, China-related. But I have to indulge my inner geek because you went through your back by Y Combinator, a leading, one of probably the most popular incubator in Silicon Valley. Can you talk about what it was like going through that process and getting funded by them?
Nathan: Yeah, I mean YC is incredible. You know, for the listeners that don’t know Y Combinator, it’s basically the most successful investor in the world. They’ve backed Airbnb, Dropbox, Stripe, you know, a bunch of billion-plus dollar startups. And Sourcify went through the winter 2018 batch, just graduated about five months ago.
And, you know, really, I think the beauty of going through YC and then Accelerator in general is just the network and community around the startup that you now have. So for us, I give you an example, you know, every batch is split up into groups.
At one of our group meetings there’s this guy I didn’t recognize, you know, asking all these incredibly smart questions, went up to him after our meeting and, you know, chatted with him for 15 or so minutes and just learned so much about what we were doing.
And, you know, after talking to him, my buddy comes up and he was like, “Nathan, do you know that was?” and I was like, “No, who was it?” he’s like, “That’s the founder of Gmail. That’s Paul Buchheit, that’s, you know, PB. That’s the guy that’s worth over half a billion dollars and has backed and been a part of so many incredible software tools that, you know, hundreds of millions of people use every day now.”
So, you know, YC is really an incredible experience. I definitely recommend any startup apply or at least, check it out.
Andrew: If you’re a solo founder, right? I think it’s pretty rare for them to take you so it’ll be like saying, you know, multiple founders on a team.
Nathan: Yeah. I mean, you know, being a solo founder is always a challenge. And, you know, with YC, I had two buddies that went through YC before me and they said, “Nathan, you know, as a solo founder, that’s not technical. There’s a very, very low, you know, likelihood that you get accepted.” And I said, “Hey, you know, I’m just gonna try and see what happens.” And, you know, I ended up getting in, and it was incredible experience and still is to this day.
You know, just this past Sunday I was at their alumni demo day where they have, you know, the newest batch pitching their startups to the alumni, and it’s just an incredible network.
Nathan’s Interest in Chinese Culture Began in High School
Andrew: That’s cool, Nathan. Well, congrats on getting in. I mean, you’ve got your background in China, I’m guessing is a huge part of the reason why they backed you. You went to high school there, went to a language school in China. You speak fluent Mandarin, correct?
Nathan: Yeah. So, you know, for me I started in China about 10 years ago. And, you know, I really made the decision to start over there in high school. I was studying Mandarin in my freshman year of high school, and then when I was 15 years old, I decided to move over there and live with a host family that didn’t speak English, attended a local Chinese high school.
And, you know, the real reason I got that opportunity was my neighbor did a merging program that I did the year before me called, “School Year Abroad,” and they run merging programs around the world. And, you know, I had a older sister growing up in Maryland and knew what I was gonna do in high school and figured hey, why don’t I try something new? I was always adventurous and still in to this day, and said, “Let’s go to China and see what it’s like over there.”
So, I really started manufacturing products there at a early age, and it was incredibly eye-opening experience that has, you know, obviously, a huge effect on what I do today with Sourcify.
The Chinese Perspective on The Tariff Rhetoric
Andrew: Yeah. And you’re over there super frequently. You know, you said, before when we were talking offline, you’d been over there six times already this year. You know, we haven’t seen so much trade war rhetoric like in the U.S. with tariffs like, you know, Trump slaps on tariffs or threatens to slap tariffs and then, you know, China comes back and threatens with their own.
How is this whole thing being viewed on the Chinese side, you know, from the Chinese perspective? What were their thoughts on all this?
Nathan: Yeah, I mean, you know, trade awards are pretty crazy right now. From the China side, it’s not good either. You know, basically, now that every company that their HTS codes are being affected by these hiked tariffs, they’re now having to pay more to import their products, so they’re either having to reflect increased costs on the buyers or on the factories. And when it’s reflected on the factories, it means the factories need to have a lower, you know, unit cost, and so it’s a lot of pressure on the factories.
And then also companies now are definitely looking to produce more and more outside of China. You know, you see a huge shift in production to Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, you know, all across Southeast Asia. And so it means that now these Chinese factories are having to compete even more so with factories outside of China.
And then internally, you know, from their perspective, what the government has been trying to do is actually lower the value of the renminbi, so they’re saying, you know, the renminbi right now is at a 13-month low, and the dollar is at a 13-month high compared to the renminbi, so it’s making their currency even less valuable than it usually is.
An Uptick in Chinese Factories Selling Direct to Amazon
Andrew: One of the big trend I’ve noticed over from last year to, especially this last 18 months, it seems like is factories in China are selling directly via Amazon to end merchants, or to end customers in the U.S. You know, they get the sale on to Amazon, they ship through epacket. And a lot of times people don’t know.
The factories that you work with, what percentage of them are you seeing actually do that? And of the ones that aren’t, like is it something that’s on pretty much every factory’s radar like, “Hey, we can just list directly and cut out a lot of potential middlemen”? Is there more friction points than maybe you would guess for factories to do that?
Nathan: Yeah, it’s a great question. I mean, I would say there’s definitely more friction points than people assume. I mean, basically, factories are set up to be a B to B company, you know, they’re reselling and manufacturing their products for other companies that are then selling those products directly to consumers. And so if a factory wants to then go sell on Amazon, they’re having to put cash in inventory, and for them especially if they don’t have a lot of working capital, it’s very hard for them to allocate this cash in the inventory.
And then on the logistics end, a lot of these factories aren’t set up to ship in, you know, the B to C model. And so even though they can, you know, ship product over to FBA, this still means that they’re having to carry cash into, you know, in the inventory. And so at the end of the day, especially as a factory that’s doing well in the B to B world, it really doesn’t make much sense for them to go sell directly on Amazon just because now they’re competing with their B to B customers.
You know, any customer that is producing in a factory and sees them sign directly on Amazon and competing directly, it’s not gonna, you know, make you happy as a ecommerce entrepreneur that’s now competing directly with your factory on the same sales channel.
The Factories That Are Competing Directly
Andrew: Yeah, so do you have an idea of, you know, it sounds like reputable factories who have really strong relationships with their partners is likely to make sense for. Who are all the factories? Is there a picture you can paint for us of what type of factories are the ones that are…because there’s definitely a lot of people, a lot of Chinese factories flooding out. Who are they, and what’s their mold there? Or what describes them best?
Nathan: Definitely. Definitely. I would say they’re smaller scale factories, they’re definitely factories that aren’t working with bigger brands, and a lot of trading companies, you know, a ton of trading companies that say, “Hey, you know, we’ve got this direct factory relationship. We know the factory’s P&L. You know, we know we can increase our margin going direct to consumer via Amazon, or Shopify,” or whatever sales channel may be. And so that’s the route that they’ll take as a trading company.
But larger factories that are working with more established brands, you know, at the end of the day, number one, there’s a huge hurdle to actually brand these products. I mean, I’ve been in dozens of different factory meetings where, you know, a factory boss will pull a product and it has a Chinese name on it, and it’s not gonna, you know, work in the American market because the branding isn’t right.
And so there’s actually a lot of hurdles that Chinese factories have to overcome to, you know, sell directly on Amazon. But I would say also for, you know, any Amazon sellers that are listening in, if you’re doing your FBA prep at your factory, then you are teaching them how to sell directly on Amazon.
Americans Don’t Know China
Andrew: That’s a really interesting point. You had tweeted I was stalking you before we got on to this interview. And on your Twitter, you tweeted an article, I think along the lines from Fortune called “Americans Don’t Know China,” and really, the gist of it was that Americans largely have ignored China, haven’t traveled there, haven’t learned the culture in anywhere remotely asymmetrical way that the Chinese have learned and adopted the U.S. culture and language, and keep up on current events in the U.S.
Do you think that’s still true? Do you think it’s changing a little bit? And if it’s not changing, if that still holds true, do you think that is something that could be problematic for us in the future in terms of western entrepreneurs?
Nathan: Yeah. I mean, I’d say it’s definitely true. You know, you see the rise in the ability of Chinese companies to sell a new America. That a lot of time stems from the amount of people in China that, you know, have been to America, that have studied at American University, and that understand our market. And then you look at the other end when American companies go to sell on to China, very few have success because they don’t really understand the market.
And so a lot of this actually stems from, you know, student exchange and students that are coming to American universities from China. There is probably 10 times the amount of students that come from China versus American students that go to China to study. And, you know, it also shows just there on the street in China.
When I was first there 10 years ago, you know, you walk the street and people would look at you, they’d, you know, point fingers and say “Oh, you know, laowai, laowai,”you know, very just curious and excited that you were a foreigner there. Whereas now, you know, even if you speak good Mandarin people don’t even aise their eyebrows. It’s really just, it showcases how globalized China has become and how much of an understanding they have on America.
Why Americans Fail To Get Traction Selling in China
Andrew: You mentioned that Americans don’t understand, and a lot of times they fail to really get traction in China, I’m sure for a number of reasons. But if you can, like pick maybe one or two of the big things that they get wrong in not understanding the culture, and the language, and the landscape, where do Americans really botch it when they try to make inroads into China?
Nathan: Yeah, I mean, I would say number one it stems from their actual branding in sales channels. I mean, I know for example, one of the biggest ecommerce watch companies in the world, Daniel Wellington, you know, they do well over $100 million in sales a year. When they entered the China market a few years ago, you know, they really focused on their branding and who they align their brand with on the ground floor.
And that actually turned into a huge influencer marketing campaign on, you know, Wechat and all these other platforms in China.
And so it’s, you know, when an American seller, you know, that per se, let’s say isn’t even doing that well in America all of a sudden thinks, “Oh, I’m gonna go and expand my market and go into China,” it’s a completely different branding and sales strategy. And there can be so much complications with logistics that, you know, at the end of the day, I tell companies, I say, “Look, focus on your home market.
Get to a point where you’re confident in it and then move to scale up internationally.” Because if you don’t have any success in your home market, it’s gonna be even harder for you to have success internationally.
Bringing Luxury Goods Into China
Andrew: I’ve always thought, and probably with much less evidence-based reason than you’d be able to bring to this thought process. I’ve always thought that exporting luxury goods from the U.S. to China would be a pretty compelling albeit complex opportunity if you can find the right product. Thoughts on that? Like, do you see any smaller brands? You mentioned, you know, just a couple of seconds ago, like really getting your home market hammered down first.
But let’s say someone has a premium brand at the U.S. They feel like, you know, they’ve seen diminishing returns and they’ve got it covered in the U.S., do you think that’s something that a small brand, like say, the mid to seven figures could be able to pull off in China?
Nathan: I mean, they could, definitely, but they’d have to invest in it. And here’s the thing, when you talk about luxury goods selling into China, there’s definitely a huge, huge market for luxury goods in China, but the luxury goods that are being sold, that volume are all of the international brands that, you know, everyone’s heard of like Gucci or LV or whatever it may be.
And so even if you’re a luxury product here in America, if you’re still a small brand doing even seven figures in sales, that’s maybe one or less than 5% of what these big international luxury products are doing. So I think it still stems from your brand and actually, you know, driving brand recognition internationally now, and it’s something you’re gonna have to invest in, especially from like a logistics standpoint, but also just from a marketing standpoint.
You know, you see a lot of companies that are having a lot of success through influencer marketing in China, and, you know, I think where the opportunity is for companies in America is actually around, you know, medicine, or vitamins. I mean, there is a huge amount of fraud and a huge amount of people that are scared of buying local medicine in China for fear of it basically being produced the wrong way in damaging their body.
And so a lot of Chinese people buy medicine internationally, or buy vitamins from abroad, and so there’s a lot of companies now that are selling even cosmetics here in America and now transitioning to sell into China, because, you know, that’s really a point that these Chinese companies just haven’t been able to have a strong grasp on because they don’t have that trust in their brand that a lot of American companies have with their products.
Environmental Changes Are Afoot…Kinda
Andrew: What have you seen on the environmental front? I mean, in the last 10 years, obviously, it’s a lot of pollution issues in China with production and all that kind of stuff, but it seems like the last year or two, the government has started cracking down, or at least it sounds like they have, is that actually happening? Like, is the government actually cracking down on factories? Are they having to change, or is it mostly rhetoric that has come out of the government?
Nathan: Yeah, I mean it’s a great question. I would say the government is definitely trying to crack down a bit, but at the same time a lot of it is just, you know, PR. It looks good on the government, and the people think it’s a good move for them. But I’ll tell you, you know, pollution is really a problem on the ground floor in China. And really, I think at the end of the day, it stems from, you know, the government crackdowns also are affecting these factory rates.
You know, all of these companies now not only are the labor wages going up in China but, you know, if they have these environments or crackdown, it means that these factories now also maybe have to adjust their process which will increase your price to produce products there.
Helping Merchants Find a Factory
Andrew: Would love to learn a little bit more about Sourcify. So you, you know, Sourcify in general, helps merchants who are designing a product find a great factory. So, let’s say for example, I wanna create a backpacking backpack and I’ve got some designs, some sketches, but I’m not sure who to go to make that for me. You, coming into that process, find out what the person is doing, what their goals are, what they’re designing, and hook them up with a ideal factory, is that right?
Nathan: Yeah, basically at Sourcify, we’re the fastest growing B to B manufacturing platform. We help hundreds of companies produce products around the world, so not just in China, but also in Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, you name it. And, you know, for us, we typically deal with companies that are doing at least a million in sales.
And really, a lot of it what it stems from is that, you know, 90% plus of companies in the world right now are using email and Excel to manage production, and so there’s so much back and forth. There’s very little visibility.
And so we go, basically, create software for factories to better manage production, which enables you as a company to have more insight into what’s going on as your production, as your products are being produced.
Andrew: Cool. So, can you delve in that a little more when you say, because I know exactly what you mean with Excel and email, and having back and forth in terms of production schedules and, you know, even designs, things like that. How does the software streamline the communication between, you know, a western company and their factory in Asia?
Nathan: Yeah, totally. So, it stems from number one, like, product management, basically these companies use a clear timeline so you can understand what’s going on step by step through the sampling and manufacturing process. You know, basically, if you’re just starting out with us, you would go to our website, just try sourcify.com, submit a product that you wanna manufacture.
That would get sent out to our partner factories in that product category, who would then submit back a price quote. You would see, you know, typically, an average of two or so price quotes from our partner factories, and then sync up to start sampling and manufacturing the product.
And really, the beauty is, you know, we actually don’t charge companies upfront, we actually make our money from our partner factories. We’re their best source of business. And so it’s, you know, win-win, where these factors get to focus on production instead of, you know, going on a big open marketplace or trade shows and having a whole sales team trying to qualify those leads.
Andrew: Got it. On your side, is the biggest…I’m guessing you value both places, but if you had to pick one, do you add more value through the software that allows you to really manage the process well or through the vetting of the factories that are really well-suited for a certain type of production?
Nathan: It’s both. You know, I would say it depends what your goals are. I would say if you look at supply chain, you know, from a bird’s eye view you’re talking about you want to improve lead times, you want the best price, and you want the best quality. Well, it’s very hard to get all three, right? And so for us, we really try to create the best balance and say, “Look, you know, what’s the biggest fly in your supply chain right now?
Is it your supply chain is too long? Is it your price isn’t competitive? Or is it that the quality of your products, are there, you know, a ton of defects in your products?
And so that’s something that we talk to the buyers that use Sourcify and really try to analyze what’s the best approach, and step forward.
Andrew: And then for pricing for merchants or for people who are, you know, on the design or the sales side of things, not the factories, how does that work? Do you pay this like a monthly fee? Do you pay as a percentage of the production runs? How does that work?
Nathan: Yeah, the factories basically pay us a percent of the production volume that they’re doing through Sourcify. So, we don’t, you know, charge companies, we make money from our partner factories.
Andrew: Okay, very cool. If someone’s starting with a brand new product, you mentioned like your seven-figure sellers are probably your bread and butter, best fit. If someone’s gonna start from scratch with a brand new product, is Sourcify a good fit for them, or is it really more for more established sellers?
Nathan: It could be either. I mean, we work with big enterprise companies that are doing upwards of $300 million in sales and do a few, you know, steers for them. And then for other companies, a lot of it is just stemming from price visibility. You know, they’ve been working with one supplier for the past five years and wanna see, “Okay, am I actually getting competitive rates on these products that I’ve been producing for a while?”
Because, you know, a lot of times too if you’re single sourced, let’s say something happens to that source, then you’re gonna be out of inventory for three months. I mean, there’s a lot of risk that companies overlook in their supply chain.
Choosing To Manufacture in China Vs. Other Asian Countries
Andrew: Yeah. I wanna dive into something you mention a couple of minutes ago. You work with factories in China, in, you know, Vietnam, a bunch of different countries.
And I’m gonna ask you kind of stereotype here, which is maybe a terrible way to start a question, but if you had to really just speak to those countries and their manufacturing abilities why somebody would pick China versus Vietnam versus Cambodia, and maybe the five, you know, maybe just talk about the five most common popular places that manufacture in Asia, what drives those decisions at a high level?
What competitive advantages and disadvantages do maybe those top four-five countries have over one another?
Nathan: Totally. I mean, I would say number one, the first thing that companies look at in a supply chain is price. You know, the products have to be competitive. At the end of the day, ecommerce, I think besides your brand is a numbers game, and so if you look in China, really price right now stems from labor rates for a lot of these products, and really, the infrastructure. The infrastructure in China is incredible.
You know, number one, there are so many fabric manufacturers or raw material manufacturers around China where it’s very easy to actually get the raw material to produce your product to your assembly factory. And, you know, the transportation costs are not high.
Number two, it actually stems from the freight. You know, if you’re shipping dozens of containers a month from Guangzhou to Long Beach, or whatever it may be, you know, your freight rates are actually probably gonna be more affordable because it’s more of a popular line.
But let’s say you move production to the Philippines and you’re doing FOB Manila. Well, now let’s say your factory is in the south, in Xinjiang or something. And now you have transportation costs for the raw materials to get down your assembly factory, and then you have transportation cost for the actual finished product to get to that FOB destination. And then freight rates from Manila to Long Beach or wherever your warehouse is will probably be very different than more competitive freight line or more popular freight line.
So, you know, really a lot of it stems from infrastructure and also raw material. I think a lot of ecommerce entrepreneurs actually overlook how their unit costs come about. And really, all of it stems from raw material. You know, you look at…a good example is watches. You know, what goes into producing a watch? It’s your watch case, your watch straps, you know, your watch hands, or so many little components.
And most of the time, you know, you’re dealing with the assembly factory, and all of those little components are produced at specific component factories that your assembly factory has a good relationship with.
Andrew: So, may be making some assumptions here. I’m guessing China is gonna have the best infrastructure.
They probably have the most raw goods just given the size of the market. I’m guessing their labor is probably a little more expensive than some of the other places, so is it fair to say that China would be, you know, if the components or the transportation element is a huge part of the cost, China is gonna be a better bet, but if labor, if you’re building a product where labor is gonna be the biggest component of the cost and cost of that product, maybe a place like Vietnam or the Philippines would be a better bet?
Nathan: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I can speak on the Philippines specifically just top of mind. You know, I was there three weeks ago. The labor rate in the Philippines right now is about on average, one third of what the labor rate in China is for factory workers. And so if labor is really a big cost to make up your product, then chances are you might be able to have a more affordable unit cost in the Philippines or Vietnam.
And even, you know, on my flight back when I was flying from Manila back to Guangzhou three weeks ago, you know, I was sitting next to a factory boss from China who had just opened up another factory outside of Manila because the labor rates were much more affordable.
Andrew: What are the top five…it doesn’t have to be the exact five, but maybe just, you know, off the top of your head, the five biggest manufacturing companies in Asia, or countries rather, in Asia?
Nathan: I mean, in terms of export volume, you know, definitely, China number one. I would then probably say a India or Vietnam at number two, and then probably Cambodia or the Philippines at number, you know, three, four, five.
The Lightning Round!
Andrew: Man, it’s obvious you know a ton about this. It’s cool to pick your brain on it all. Before we wrap things up, are you up for doing a quick lightning round?
Nathan: Yeah, would love to.
Andrew: Awesome. And feel free to just shoot out, you know, fast answers, per the name. What’s something you’ve changed your mind about recently?
Nathan: That’s a great question. I would say top of mind, vertical integration. You know, at Sourcify we’ve, you know, been transitioning from more of a platform to actually potentially going out and making joint ventures or opening up our own factories around the world to enable companies to completely control their supply chain and have complete visibility into their production.
So, top of mind recently is definitely considering, you know, does actually owning and operating our own factories around the world make sense?
Andrew: What are you currently spending too much money on?
Nathan: Good question. Probably rent. Rent in San Diego is really going up a lot.
Andrew: Saw that you had a pretty sweet place, though. What’s something you’re not spending enough money on?
Nathan: I would say fun. I’ve always wanted to buy a boat, so maybe I’ll try to get a boat at some point.
Andrew: Nice. Maybe those two are interconnected there men.
Andrew: Ditch the apartment and just live on the boat.
Nathan: That would be awesome.
Andrew: What’s something on your bucket list? One of the top three things on your bucket list that you’d like to do before you die?
Nathan: Ski Japan. And I actually just booked tickets last week to go in January, to do skiing in Niseko in Japan.
Andrew: Nice. I’ve got a good friend who is gonna be uber jealous when he hears that. It sounds amazing. If you had to identify the number one thing you’re trying to optimize your life for right now, what would it be?
Nathan: Time. I mean, you know, time is the most valuable asset that we have. And everyone has the same 24 hours in a day, but how do we make the most of it?
Andrew: And then finally, what’s your favorite city in Asia?
Nathan: Favorite city has to be Hong Kong. I just love how international it is.
Andrew: Very cool. This has been fun, man. And if you’re listening to this and you’re either selling stuff and wanna be able to streamline your operations with factories, or if you’re looking for a great factory and a great platform for helping you manage that design, integration, sampling and production run process, check out Nathan’s company, sourcify.com, a very cool tool. And obviously, Nathan knows what he’s talking about here.
So, Nathan, thanks so much for coming on, and sharing. Really appreciate it, man.
Nathan: Thank you.
Andrew: That’s gonna do it for this week, but a few important things to know about especially if you’re a store owner before you go. First, if you’re looking to hire for your ecommerce business, make sure to check out the eCommerceFuel job boards. We’ll get your job in front of thousands of qualified job seekers to find you the perfect candidate.
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If that sounds interesting, you can learn more and apply for membership at ecommercefuel.com/forum. That’s F-O-R-U-M.
And a big, big “Thank you” to the two sponsors who make the show possible. First, to Klaviyo, who makes email marketing automation incredibly easy and powerful. If you’re not using them for your store, you’re leaving money on the table. You can get started for free at ecommercefuel.com/klaviyo.
And then secondly, to Liquid Web, the absolute best place to host your WooCommerce store anywhere online. If you want a rock solid store that can scale with you when you need it to, check them out at ecommercefuel.com/liquidweb. Thanks so much for listening, and looking forward to seeing you again next Friday.
Want to connect with and learn from other proven eCommerce entrepreneurs? Join us in the eCommerceFuel private community. It’s our tight-knit group for store owners with at least a quarter of a million dollars in annual sales. You can learn more and apply for membership at ecommercefuel.com.
Thanks so much for listening, and I’m looking forward to seeing you again next time.
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Flickr: sagar sharma