We place orders online and almost magically the items appear at our doorstep days later. For most of us, it seems easy like watching a pitcher throw consistently accurate 90 mph fastballs over several innings. Easy, that is, if we even think about it much. Most of the time, we just take it for granted.
Have you ever thought about what’s involved in getting your goods to your doorstep? Well, for small and medium sized online businesses startup ShipStation streamlines the process handling tasks such as order input, batch label creation, to communication with customers. It’s a robust solution that’s proven successful over time with a wide variety of business customers.
We had a chance to speak to ShipStation cofounders Jason Hodges and Byron Wier recently about how their experiences as entrepreneurs and how they handle the challenges of running a startup their successful company. Here’s what they share with us recently:
Can you tell me about how you first became interested in entrepreneurship?
Jason: I began my first business when I was 12 years old, mowing lawns for a handful of neighbors. The extra money was great!
My first software job was working as a technical consultant for an Austin company called Trilogy. Trilogy’s culture was perfect for budding entrepreneurs. Like many former Trilogians, I eventually left to start a company with some of my coworkers. That was the first of three technology companies that I co-founded, two of which are still thriving today.
Byron: My dad started his distinguished business over 35 years ago and still operates it today with passion and integrity. I’ve tried to follow his model in many areas of life and entrepreneurship is just one of them. I owe any grit, determination and adventurous spirit I have to his excellent example.
Over my career, I’ve worked for numerous startups and a handful of larger companies. In my mind, there’s no question of which environment I thrive in. I do my best work when my successes and failures have a direct and measurable impact on the business’ itself.
Starting out with ShipStation, what were the challenges that you hadn’t anticipated when you first had the idea for the startup and how did you address those challenges?
Jason: This has been my first startup where we actually built a product. My prior focus was on professional services – providing custom software solutions for other companies. The biggest challenge, by far, has been scaling customer support. Cloud technologies allow companies to easily scale operations from an infrastructure point of view. If only it were so easy for customer support!
Byron: The greatest challenge was staying ahead of the rapid customer growth. We quickly grew to a point that required everyone in the organization to shift their focus to customer support as their top priority.
With an emerging product, everything you do is fruitless if you can’t retain the customers you already have and make sure their experience serves as a testimony for others.
We’ve hired aggressively and even hired current customers that know the business and our product intimately. In an industry that requires broad domain knowledge, it’s important to find people that can communicate the concepts and value of your business to others.
Do you have a particular business philosophy or vision that you tell our readers about?
Jason: Look to customers instead of competitors when building a product. Don’t simply do what your competitors do. I think Henry Ford said it best:
“The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time.”
Byron: I try to treat customers, partners, and employees as I’d want to be treated (I wish I was always successful). I’ve learned to abhor the phrase “It’s just business”. Business implies trust, and trust is personal. Exploiting someone in the context of business is no different than exploiting someone otherwise.
We strive to treat our customers with empathy for the challenges they’re facing and give them the benefit of the doubt. I find that usually leads to them extending us similar grace.
In doing interviews with entrepreneurs off all types it’s been said that finding funding nowadays is relatively easy. Would you agree?
Jason: I wouldn’t know. We bootstrapped ShipStation, and have been lucky enough to not need outside funding.
How do you keep yourself motivated to addresses the tasks at hand?
Jason: I love what I do, but not all parts of the business are fun. As both a manager and developer, I know that I can only get to the fun stuff if I take care of the business stuff. That in itself is motivation.
Byron: When there are dozens of tasks that need to be addressed, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and get deadlocked over the absolute most important task. In those circumstances, I try to tell myself: “Just pick something and DO IT!” It may not be the most critical thing on my plate, but it’s one less thing to accomplish later, so it’s more fruitful than spending time churning over what’s most important.
What advice do you find yourself usually giving to others interested in launching a startup?
Jason: Consider bootstrapping your startup rather than immediately seeking funding. Create your minimum viable product on the side while you have a day job. If the tests go well, build your customer base to a point that can sustain you full time. You can always seek funding later, and you’ll be in a much better position to do so.
Byron: Be ready to make decisions that you’re not 100% confident in. Have tolerance for risk, because you won’t otherwise be able to keep up with the pace. You don’t always have the luxury of certainty that you’re doing the right thing, but rely on your gut, hold to your ethics, and be okay with making the wrong decision from time to time. Any missteps only make you more proficient at making decisions later.
When you’re not directly engaged with ShipStation, how do you like to unwind?
Jason: I spend all of my non-ShipStation time with my family. I try to do things that get my mind completely off of work. That could be playing a video game with my boys or watching a movie with my wife.
Byron: Family is the most important thing in my life. I have a wonderful wife and a lovely daughter that trump everything else. I strive to make time with them a priority and when I manage to get my work/life balance in harmony, I’m the most fulfilled. The three of us around a grill in the evening in the backyard is my idea of pure bliss.
Courtesy of startup founders | ShipStation