Right before last week’s Prime Day (which accounted for roughly $12B in sales over two days), Amazon announced a new training initiative aimed at helping people with the right mix of experience and skills start their own delivery business. The Road to Ownership (RTO) program is an extension of Amazon’s Delivery Service Partner (DSP) program they started in 2018, which has allowed Amazon to grow and work with a network of local small businesses to get more Amazon packages delivered within their own ecosystem.
To learn more about the program, During a recent LinkedIn Live conversation I had the opportunity to speak with Karena Scoggin, Senior Program Manager for the Amazon RTO Program. Also joining us in the conversation is Marvin Edgar, a recent graduate of the initial RTO cohort, to share his experience with the program and how it led him to pull up stakes from Florida to start his new delivery business in New Mexico.
Below is an edited transcript of a portion of our conversation. Click on the embedded SoundCloud player to hear the full conversation.
Amazon Delivery Service Partner Program and Road to Ownership
Brent Leary: Could you tell us about RTO and how it fits with the Amazon Delivery Service Partner program?
Karena Scoggin: Road to Ownership (RTO) is a 16-week accelerated training and development program that we’ve designed to prepare the most promising Amazon delivery service partner employees to become small business owners within Amazon Logistics.
Amazon’s Delivery Service Partner Program, our DSP program, just celebrated our fourth birthday. We bring in ambitious entrepreneurs who want to build their own delivery company and they receive support from Amazon’s technology and infrastructure and then they’re coming in building teams, hiring delivery drivers. I think the latest I saw there were over 3,000 DSP owners globally. And so, those DSP owners are responsible for hiring their team of delivery drivers, and then they have support staff as well.
Fostering business acumen
Road to Ownership is a program in which we’re fostering business acumen. We’re teaching these individuals the essentials of leadership and entrepreneurship that they would need to be their own Amazon DSP. Across the 16 weeks, these participants engage in virtual classroom instruction, there’s on demand learning modules. And I think one of my favorite things about the program is they’re paired with a mentor, an experienced DSP who’s guiding them across the 16 weeks and providing support.
Our goal is to help these individuals be able to own and operate their own small business as an Amazon delivery service partner. It’s a very fast paced training program. They’re still maintaining their roles. If they’re a delivery driver, they’re still delivering packages and then they’re coming in for 16 weeks and doing training as well.
Removing financial barriers to entry
One of the things we knew as we were building the program, there could be a barrier to startup funding. So Amazon also invested for this program $1 million. And for everyone who comes through Road to Ownership and graduates to become a small business owner as an Amazon DSP, they’re also getting a $30,000 grant so they can go and help them launch their business.
Brent Leary: Can you talk about maybe the importance of this to Amazon? Give us a broader look at just how important it is to have this kind of last mile piece to the puzzle and infuse it with people who live in the right areas, can really benefit from building their own business, but also it helps with customers getting their stuff.
Flipping the script, logistically speaking
Karena Scoggin: What’s interesting about the program is, today if someone’s interested in becoming an Amazon DSP they can go through the standard process. And a lot of times these individuals, they have a lot of business experience, they’ve probably managed a PnL, they have experience leading and growing a team, but they may not have experience in logistics. Road to Ownership really flip-flops it. We’re bringing in individuals who have a lot of logistics experience, they’ve all been employed by their DSP for over a year. So what we focus on in training is building business acumen and helping them become a future leader in the organization.
When we started Road to Ownership we were getting feedback from DSP owners, there’s a lot of communication that happens, feedback that’s given where they have employees who have a lot of potential to grow their skillset or want to do more. And maybe there was this need for up-skilling, like what else can we do to give them those opportunities? Road to Ownership came as a result of that feedback. But also knowing that our Delivery Service Partner Program is growing tremendously and so’s the need for future DSPs. And this was just a great opportunity to do both.
Brent Leary: What does success look like, feel like? What do you want it to look like maybe a year or two from now?
Karena Scoggin: We have a lot of excitement around the quality of people that we’re bringing into this program. Our goal for Road to Ownership is really focused on development and up-skilling these individuals, giving them an opportunity for career pathing. Even if they choose not to pursue business ownership as a DSP after this, we hope that the skills that they’re learning during in training is absolutely helping them become better leaders, become better in their role, and they’re able to take away what they’re learning and apply it to whatever role they choose next.
Baking in diversity
Brent Leary: You’re actually looking to do some outreach to bring in some underrepresented business owners, some people of color, women, other folks who maybe traditionally felt left out to some of these things.
Karena Scoggin: Absolutely. Diversity is incredibly important. If you look at our first cohort, there is just so much diversity among gender, among roles, education background, not everyone has a degree and that’s okay. The first day of training, like those things don’t matter. We’re looking for people who have aptitude, who have good potential and they get into training and we’re all on the same page and it’s all about the path forward. And so all backgrounds aside, everyone is very diverse in what they bring to the table, which we’re really excited about, and then if startup capital was a barrier to some, which we know it is and maybe that’s why they’ve not pursued it before we’re able to fill that gap.
RTO Participant Perspective
Brent Leary: Marvin can you share your background before entering the program?
Marvin Edgar: Yeah. It’s kind of funny how life works out sometimes. I’m down here in Southwest Florida, I’m originally from Arizona and I had moved down here to Southwest Florida about three years ago to be a little bit closer to my family. I got a job in the travel industry, I worked for a big rental car company that y’all would know. Was climbing the ladder and then COVID hit. I don’t think I have to explain to you how that impacted the travel industry, and I decided that I wanted to make a change. And quite candidly, I was at the time just kind of looking for something to do. There was a Amazon delivery station that opened about four minutes from where I live. And I said, you know what? I like to be outside, get some exercise, try and figure out what my next move is. I got a job there with a delivery service partner down here in Venice, Florida. The owner there is tremendous.
Like I said, I just kind of started out as just kind of looking for something to new. And then the more that I got into it, I was like, hey, I kind of like this. And then the wheels started turning for me a little bit and my owner who has been [inaudible 00:07:10] told me “you could do this, you should really think about doing this”. And then I’m like, yeah, yeah, I want to do this.
I started thinking about it [inaudible 00:07:19] and then big announcement from Karena and her team, that they were starting this new program. And my owner called me – the process is that the owners of the existing companies [inaudible 00:07:33] are involved through the whole process. I believe 900 people [inaudible 00:07:37] were nominated and they pick the top 30, I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the top 30.
it was absolutely tremendous. The support that I received, the training that I received and most importantly, as Karena touched on, the mentorship portion was absolutely fantastic. So yeah, I’m here. I’m actually getting ready to move from Southwest Florida to New Mexico to launch my first week September, couldn’t be happier.
Mentorship and support
Brent Leary: Wow. Okay, cool. So talk a little bit about the relationship you had with the DSP you were at. It sounds like they were encouraging you to take this step.
Marvin Edgar: Yeah, absolutely. Everybody has a chance to work for a few strong managers or mentors, as I would like to say. I’ve got a couple and this individual’s definitely one of them. He recognized the potential I had, and he certainly encouraged it. And quite candidly, we talked about that. He’s like, “I’m losing my best guy but I couldn’t be happier for you”.
My final day was last Saturday, I had an awesome send off. It was actually a little more emotional than I anticipated, but incredibly supportive. And as part of this program, as Karena touched on, they partnered you with a mentor. I got kind of lucky, I actually have two. One the owner that I worked for and then the mentor that they partnered me within the program as well, fortunately for me was local. I spent probably four times the amount of required time with them, talked to them all the time still.
Through this program, of course, they taught you everything that you need to know to run a business and specifically a delivery service partner business. But most importantly, they gave you a support network. Karena and her team, as well as these mentors, I’ve got a class of 30 different peers that I can reach out to. And I would argue that was probably the strongest thing that this program taught me.
A community to grow with
Brent Leary: It sounds like you not only have a new business, it feels like you have a new community of folks that you can actually grow with as you grow your business.
Marvin Edgar: Yeah, absolutely. The cool part about it is, as Karena was touching on, we have people from all different types of life experiences and backgrounds and getting their take on things can really help you to eliminate blind spots as you’re looking to grow your business. And really just for that support, hey, I rented this. What are you doing for this? How do you handle this? Oh, that’s a great idea. We still have a active chat, it’s going crazy every day. So, absolutely that support, honestly can just save you a lot of headaches. Trying to figure out, hey, how’d you do this, how’d you do that. You can try to figure it out or you can call somebody that knows.
Lessons learned from the program
Brent Leary: That’s awesome. Were there any surprising aspects of the program or maybe things that you learned about yourself as you went through this process?
Marvin Edgar: I think one of the other things that I really gained from this program was I’ve got over 15 years of leadership experience in various retail logistics operations, I worked for companies you would know. What this program really helped me to realize was to gain the confidence in myself to know that I could do this. That all of that experience I had up until now prepared me for this. So, that confidence is something that I really gained from this program. And through the support of my mentors, Karena and her team and everybody, they definitely set me up for success.
Brent Leary: Let me go back to Karena for a second here. Talk a little bit about the community aspects and who are the types of people and the role models or the figures that go into this program that hopefully will make it as successful for everybody else as it feels like it’s been for Marvin.
Karena Scoggin: This first cohort just exceeded all of our expectations. When we launched the program, you have to be nominated by your DSP and so I was going into it and I was like, man, it would be awesome if we get 200 nominations. And I think Marvin hit on this, in three weeks we got 900 nominations and we had to get that down to just 30. The individuals in this program, it’s okay if they’ve never managed a business before, it’s okay if they have not managed these large teams. Those are the things we want to teach them. We are looking for people who have customer obsession. We look for people who are good problem solvers. People who have potential to be leaders, maybe they’ve mentored new employees, maybe they have led team meetings.
What are some of those things that they’ve done to show they have the potential to do that? We are looking for DSPs to nominate people like Marvin, who they feel knows what it takes to be a small business owner and who they feel could fit that mold – who really have that grit because it is not for everybody. Those are the kind of people, like Marvin and his cohort members, that we’ll continue to look for if we move on to future iterations of the program.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it’s an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.
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