While Malik McCray worked as an Amazon reseller for manufacturers in the United States, he immersed himself in the Amazon seller community and quickly tapped into a universal problem: search advertising. McCray graduated last year from Poole College of Management with a degree in business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship.
“To be successful on Amazon, you have to drive eyeballs to your products – and that makes search advertising essential,” McCray explains. “But it’s not so simple. Utilizing search advertising consumes a lot of a seller’s time and effort, but often produces marginal results.”
Sellers with limited experience, resources and budget often struggle to find success on the platform. “Amazon is a marketplace that is free-to-play but is absolutely pay-to-win,” McCray says.
Today, he is a co-founder of Simpliworks, a company that aims to make effective online advertising accessible to businesses of all kinds and sizes. Utilizing smart-technology, Simpliworks helps Amazon sellers automatically launch scalable advertising campaigns to get their products in front of thousands of customers and scale their brand – with just three simple steps.
“Our mission is to make selling on Amazon as easy as buying on Amazon,” McCray says. “Our tool requires zero experience to use, eliminates management time and maximizes a seller’s return. We hope to bridge the digital gap between great products and customers that demand them.”
When he first began to recognize Amazon sellers’ frustration with search advertising, McCray was also beginning to realize that he could only effectively service a handful of clients himself. While he could manage effective advertising campaigns, he was using six different third-party tools to do it.
“What I really needed was one tool that served all my needs and allowed me to better scale my time, but it didn’t exist. So I decided to build it,” McCray says. “Living the problem made it much easier to think about how to solve it.”
After mapping out an initial concept, he took his idea to fellow NC State classmate Udeh Onwuka. With a unique ability to process problems and create solutions, Onwuka became Simpliworks’ computer scientist and lead developer. They tested a few ideas and then recruited Keith Jenkerson, a friend McCray had worked with on a previous venture, to head Simpliworks’ operations.
The team then considered how to make effective advertising solutions accessible to a wider audience – and how to free sellers up to refocus on bringing value to their customers. They experimented in the live market for several months and worked to develop an algorithm that could manage itself and win in any search market.
“When one of our client campaigns outperformed Amazon itself in just four weeks, we knew we had something,” McCray says.
Pursuing a one-size-fits-all solution for any company, whether a small business with a handful of products or a major enterprise with thousands of products, is no easy feat – but Simpliworks believes it has done it.
“There are a lot of alternative solutions designed for Amazon search advertising offered out there, but many of them over-promise or only work well for a specific type of business,” McCray explains. “We have a solution that is both differentiated and universal.”
Now, Simpliworks is working to package that solution in a compelling way.
In pursuit of further growth, Simpliworks applied for the Andrews Launch Accelerator, a 14-week summer program offered by Poole College of Management and designed to help NC State entrepreneurs take their startups to the next level. The Accelerator also allocates equity-free seed capital to startups that complete the program.
“Through the Accelerator, we hope to acquire the knowledge, skills and resources necessary to bring our beta product to the mass market,” McCray says. “It will provide a great opportunity to gain valuable experience and stress test our business model.”
As McCray looks ahead to the Accelerator, he also looks back on his experiences at Poole.
“Having the opportunity to apply the things I was learning to my business in real-time helped me solidify important concepts and avoid some costly mistakes,” McCray says. “I also cannot speak highly enough of the Entrepreneurship Clinic, as it provides real-world experience that is hard to simulate in a classroom.”
This post was originally published in Poole College of Management News.