Getting to Know Perch: Mike Wolner
Role: Brand Management & Growth (Category Management)
Hi Mike, can you tell us a bit about your professional life before joining Perch?
Sure. Before Perch I worked in management consulting with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and also with a private equity firm here in Boston. When I left those roles, I was looking to get involved with an operational role, optimally in e-commerce.
How did you and Perch cross paths? Also, when did you join the company?
I came onboard last October 2020. Actually some people in my network spoke highly of Perch, as they knew I was looking for an opportunity that enabled me to work with a credible and talented leadership team. From what I heard, I thought Perch would be a good fit, and those expectations definitely turned out to be true.
That was fortuitous! Can you elaborate on why you decided on Perch?
Well, my own long-term career goal is to own and operate my own business. I saw the opportunity here at Perch as a great chance to spend some time working hands-on with entrepreneurs who had done incredible jobs building their businesses as well as spending time with a leadership team that had proven credibility. I found those two aspects incredibly attractive about coming to work at Perch.
I understand that you work in Category Management. Can you tell us about your role?
Sure. I work in Brand Management and Growth, and Category Management is a part of that. This means that my colleagues and I are focused on building brands to grow and be successful post-acquisition. We work with many different types of businesses here, so there is a wide variety of categories represented by entrepreneurs who have built their businesses from zero. We try to take what works for 1 business and 1 entrepreneur, and then leverage pattern recognition to help take other businesses to the next level.
I see, so how do you categorize these different types of businesses in terms of brand management?
After we acquire a brand, we take a strategic approach to their overall success. I like to say that we put our management of brands into three buckets: maintenance, incremental advantage, and opportunity acceleration.
We start by maintaining all the current practices that made the business successful in the first place. This often involves maintaining a promotional calendar, content strategy, and on & off Amazon marketing strategies. We need to understand, inherit, and then take forward.
Our next step is to take small, low-risk opportunities—that are worth pursuing—in order to attain incremental advantages for our businesses. Examples might include updating content to meet best standards, finding new advertising channels not currently being used, and finding new channel partners.
Lastly, we take measures designed to accelerate opportunities for the business. This means taking big swings—often with an expectation to fail—in order to succeed on 1 or 2 things that can bring transformational change to the business. Examples include investing heavily in a 2nd hero product, investing heavily into a new type of advertising, or pursuing a major channel partner.
I love the strategic approach, Mike. So in your role, what aspects do you find the most challenging?
There are two massive, and perpetual, challenges.
The first is dealing with Amazon — the company is constantly changing. We work extremely hard to remain savvy about how Amazon works. In our experience, there are even people in Amazon who don’t know the whole picture! The challenge is to figure out what Amazon’s algorithm is trying to do and what the human teams at Amazon are doing. All of this has a strategic importance to our business and the businesses that we acquire. Remaining on top of this ever-changing landscape requires a lot of time and attention.
Secondly, we acquire a wide variety of businesses and every entrepreneur runs their business a bit differently. We take a lot of time and care in understanding exactly what it is that made that business work for that entrepreneur. Post-acquisition, our priority is to ensure that we’re not taking away the unique aspects that made them successful. We do have standards that we apply to newly-acquired businesses, but we have to balance that with maintaining the light & spirit of the business that we’ve acquired. We want to maintain the core of what they built while also being able to make changes to scale the business.
Mike, what do you find the most rewarding aspect of working at Perch?
We see the entire spectrum of businesses and acquire a wide variety of them. Acquired businesses often fall into two types: those that are price-driven, meaning that their advantage comes from offering lower prices, and those that offer a premium product in their field.
The level of variety is really amazing, especially in terms of the different business models, marketing campaigns, entrepreneurial tactics, etc. In order to deal with this, we build playbooks for the various types of businesses that we see. I find it rewarding to learn about these different industries & sectors that, ordinarily, I would have never been exposed to before.
And lastly, what do you think has surprised you the most since working at Perch?
What has surprised me the most is seeing how such a large variety of strategies can work on Amazon. Here at Perch we see such a large number of varied businesses, all of whom seem to implement unique marketing and PPC campaigns — high spend, low spend, very targeted, branded, unbranded — I think we’ve seen them all. All of these varied approaches have the potential to bring success based on the care with which they are executed and the value that the product brings to the table.
Our advantage at Perch is that these experiences enable us to build a variety of playbooks so that, over time, we know what strategies work and what doesn’t work given the situation. We are guided by our goal of maintaining the integrity of the business, but augmenting it so that we can take it to the next level.
Thank you for your time Mike, it was great getting to know you!