For the November 2021 SV Angel Founder Profile Series, our team is proud to feature Dhruv Saxena and Divey Gulati, the co-founders of tech unicorn ShipBob. ShipBob is the leading cloud-based logistics platform designed for small and medium-sized businesses to provide them access to best-in-class supply chain and fulfillment capabilities. Read below for their insights on scaling, finding product market fit, hiring, and giving back to the community.
Names: Dhruv Saxena and Divey Gulati
Hometown: New Delhi, India
Company Name & Brief Description Blurb: ShipBob is the leading cloud-based logistics platform designed for small and medium-sized businesses to provide them access to best-in-class supply chain and fulfillment capabilities.
The ShipBob platform provides merchants with a single view of their business and customers across all of their sales channels, and enables them to manage products, inventory, orders, and shipments, and leverage analytics and reporting to run their business effectively.
Founded in 2014 out of Chicago, ShipBob was launched through Y Combinator by co-founders Dhruv Saxena and Divey Gulati, two entrepreneurs who saw a need for more efficient shipping for ecommerce businesses.
Today, the company has raised $330.5 million in funding and operates a global logistics network with 29 fulfillment centers across five countries, including the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, and Australia. Learn more by visiting shipbob.com.
Q: Tell us about the moment you decided to start ShipBob. Was there an Aha moment?
We were running our own small ecommerce company and realized that shipping and logistics were making it very hard for us to scale due to the size of our company. At the time no logistics company was accepting small businesses as customers. We would spend hours standing in line at the post office just to ship our products, which is where we met many other small business entrepreneurs who were struggling with the same ease of shipping issue.
In line at the post office is really where we had our “aha” moment and realized there needs to be a space for small-medium size businesses to ship easier and faster than standing in line at the post office.
Q: ShipBob has a great founding history with a story of you both convincing business owners walking into post offices to take a chance on your product. Can you tell us about that time and what did you realize about your customer? What were some early lessons on conducting user research?
I wouldn’t call it user research as much as I would call it customer acquisition tactic, we often did things that weren’t scalable for us just so we could learn from our merchants needs.
Once we saw there was a market of merchants that needed our help shipping to their end customer and built that trust with them, they started asking us to store their inventory for them. This was a major turning point for us, as this gave not only our merchants the ability to scale but also allowed us to scale by growing our customer base.
Q: How did you think about product market fit and when did you realize that ShipBob could be a category-defining company?
The ecommerce market is massive and there are millions of ecommerce merchants that need help. We weren’t looking so much at the size of the merchant because product market fit is more about number of customers using you vs size of the customer as you can always customize your service to match needs of a customer but for you to build a product, it has to be scalable. So we focused on the number of shipments but also the number of merchants using us.
Once we were able to break the barrier of onboarding customers in matter of minutes vs weeks, which is what our traditional competitors were doing, we realized that we could scale this faster than a traditional logistics company.
Q: What’s a really difficult part about being a founder that no one talks about?
Making tough decisions without a lot of data to help.
We knew the importance of making those decisions fast as slow decision making at an early stage can kill companies as you always need to be able to adapt. Then being able to take conviction and ownership over those decisions was important as they can be wrong.
Q: When you started ShipBob, there were strong incumbents in this space already. Was there an insight or key moment that propelled you to start ShipBob despite the competitive landscape?
When we began ShipBob, all incumbents were either retailers ie Amazon, or were only targeting the top 100 ecommerce brands, whereas the SMB segment of ecommerce was ignored and underserved. Which is why we started the company to serve the massive SMB segment that were shipping products themselves in line at the post office.
Q: Did/do you have a mentor and how were they most helpful?
We always tried to surround ourselves with people smarter than us including our own hires and other subject matter experts. We learned a lot from those we believed to be the best and are still learning from those people today! Our early investors also played a big part in mentoring us and connecting us with really smart people.
Q: Was there an unexpected piece of advice, or something you heard or read, that stuck with you or reframed your thinking as you built ShipBob?
Listening to and understanding the customers needs is key in being able to help plan a roadmap.
And you don’t have to come up with a 10 year vision of the company on day 1 but after listening and understand your clients, they should help define your product roadmap.
Q: The fundraising environment is changing rapidly with much more capital and many more investors. How should founders think about choosing which investors to work with?
Work with investors who can add value and not just capital.
They should have a thesis on the space/industry and product focused investors help with long term alignment.
Also looking at the portfolio size of the partner investing to understand the mind share you will get. This will vary from stage to stage as your needs will vary.
Q: Why did you choose to partner with SV Angel?
SV Angel had a thesis that resonated with our vision. They were more focused on the market and product vs only the financials and metrics. They added value before investing in us via introductions which helped us a lot!
Growth and sector:
Q: How do you see ecommerce changing over the next few years?
We are expecting to see a continued shift from physical retail to ecommerce and more brands will be selling through multiple channels which will create a need for them to have access to faster and cheaper shipping domestically and globally as they continue to scale.
Q: What will ShipBob look like ten years from now?
A platform where ecommerce merchants can find tools and data to grow their business.
If you order on Amazon, you get a good on-time delivery experience, if you order from a brand with ShipBob delivery- you get a personalized package but in the same amount of time or better than Amazon.
Q: What were some of the biggest considerations when scaling internationally?
We looked at our merchants’ needs as their customers were/are buying from around the world. Cross-border shipping became harder during covid so it made sense for us to open up international locations to help ease this pain for us and our merchants!
We also had International brands that were using ShipBob in the US but knew they needed a better solution locally to continue to grow their business.
Team & Culture
Q: Can you share any valuable lessons about recruiting and scaling a world-class team?
During our hiring process we always look to hire for culture additions and not just culture fits. And we always try to hire the person that is smarter than us.
Q: What are your favorite interview questions?
One of our core values is being resilient as we are always learning, growing and changing. So we often ask candidates: Tell me about a time you were given a task that you knew very little about. How did you approach it? What did you learn? What was the outcome?
We are looking for the candidate’s ability to dig in and stretch themselves while also seeking the help and guidance of others. As well as show resilience in explaining how they are willing to challenge their own thinking and perspective by being willing to adapt and evolve in an environment like ours that is full of changes.
Q: How did ShipBob adapt during the early days of COVID-19?
Our top priorities were and still are our employees and merchants.
We made sure all of our employees had access to PPE as well as setting up a new childcare resource in some of our FC’s through a new initiative we named KinderBob. We didn’t want any of our employees to not be able to show up for work because they didn’t have access to childcare. In our home office, we were able to quickly pivot into working remote which allowed everyone to work from the safety of their homes.
We launched the ShipBob Giving Fund to give to those experiencing financial hardship by unexpected tragedies during the pandemic. This fund raised $53,000 for those working through issues including schools shutting down, businesses closing, and health concerns. This fund will remain in perpetuity long after COVID-19 to support associates who need to bridge that financial gap through extreme situations. We have already provided over 75 grants in excess of $30,000.
We knew for our merchants it was important for us to not raise prices on them and we focused on opening up new FCs where we prioritized shipping essential items but still helped ship all other goods.
We also began making industry trends public for our merchants so they could see how each industry was performing week over week. Which was very helpful for them and pivoting their businesses
Q: Is there a social cause or organization that you’re particularly passionate about?
In 2019, we began our partnership with giveNkind, which is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that matches any of our merchants’ unwanted inventory with nonprofits. This partnership has allowed our merchants an opportunity to easily donate returned, canceled, or surplus inventory for those in need. As of today, our merchants that store inventory with us have donated a total of $790,000 + worth of goods.
We are proud to partner with an organization that cares about the community and the environment and allow our merchants to easily do the same.
Q: What are you reading, listening to, or watching for inspiration right now?
Q: Quotes you live by?
~The best view comes after the hardest climb~