Rob Hango-Zada is the co-founder and co-CEO of Shippit; the Australian poster child of a startup success story. In our conversation I wanted to scratch beneath the surface, I wanted to know why countless others have tried following that same template and failed, what separates Rob and Shippit from the rest? And, was the journey all smooth sailing? This is an honest story about risk, friendship, sacrifice, self-awareness and a heavy dose of reality – with a tonne of lessons learnt along the way.
Rob Hango-Zada is the co-founder and co-CEO of Shippit; Shippit is a platform that powers the simpler delivery for online retailers; from automating their shipping and returns, to empowering the retailer’s customer with tracking information at their fingertips.
Australian Financial Review recently called Shippit, “The Australian poster child for the defence against Amazon”. It’s also, what many would call the Australian poster child of a startup success story, and it goes like this;
- Two good friends identify a glaring problem,
- They build a prototype while they had full-time jobs,
- They win a series of pitches, leave their jobs,
- Raise a few million dollars,
- Generate a few more million and now their product is being used by the countries biggest names in e-commerce, from Harvey Norman to Sephora and TopShop.
That’s the story we can Google… it sounds like a dream run. They followed the startup template to a ’T’ and it paid off. However, in my chat with Rob, we pull the curtains back and hear the true journey to present day triumph – a journey full of obstacles, risk and close calls.
- There were three key ingredients to Shippit’s early success:
- Critical in taking the idea of Shippit into reality was having a clear plan, deadlines and a partnership of mutual accountability. One tactic Rob and co-founder Will On would employ, was every Monday they would send an email to each other outlining the five tasks they would commit to completing that week, and then at the end of the week, they’d check-in on the status of their committed tasks. Without this accountability, the idea may never have got off the ground. As the company grew, this same process would continue, except now it would include other stakeholders – they would then need to keep themselves accountable to other stakeholders.
- Another critical factor to the early success of Shippit was the boys decision-making framework; there was never a shortage of ideas or opportunities, however, by applying a cost vs. reward lens over the top of these options narrowed down the breadth, then they would pick one single task at a time to dedicate their attention to.
- The last critical factor was expanding their network and getting the commitment from other people: “Getting the commitment from other people who are not just you, creates the momentum that you need to fulfil”. The two Co-founders cold called and messaged anybody and everybody who they thought knew something they didn’t to get their council, at the same time they reached out to storefronts asking them for an opportunity to partner or commit to trialling their platform, a platform that wasn’t even built yet! However, with that commitment in hand, the Co-founders had the momentum they needed to go and find a way to deliver on it.
- Unlike many startups, Shippit obsessed about the problem, not the idea – this has been a reason why they’ve been successful where others haven’t, but also why they’ve had to pivot several times.
- The Shippit business has been built on partnerships; the art of building a partnership comes down to understanding the problems your partner is trying to solve, and then delivering value that speaks to that pain. Rob never aimed to sell a solution in the first meeting with a potential partner, rather, he would simply ask questions and aim for a ‘design workshop’ to proceed. The workshops would allow the two parties to calibrate and collaborate; it gave Rob and Shippit an intrinsic look inside the motivations of their future partner and gave the partner a belief and trust in Shippit. Furthermore, being a marketplace, Rob would
- After raising funds and twelve months of being in operation, and growing the company headcount – Rob faced a significant obstacle; the business wasn’t actually making money; he had three months to turn around Shippit or it would close down. This pressure pushed the team to rethink their strategy, and as a result, they pivoted to being a SAAS platform, focusing on the software for retailers rather than being an on-demand delivery service. This pivot worked and allowed them to self-fund key future developments which led to greater growth and momentum.
- Beyond financial benefit; the greatest value raising capital can create is surrounding yourself with people who know the ‘unknown unknowns’. It’s important to realise that you as the Founder of CEO do not know everything, and the right counsel can make all the difference. Advisors work well, but having people with skin-in-the-game means they’re fully committed to seeing you succeed.
- Seed rounds are massively undervalued in Australia compared to what they are in the US. When seeking investment, the Australian market of investors with lower risk appetites often put a lower value on startups, as they did with Shippit. Unfortunately, never having raised funds before, Rob and Shippit didn’t think of challenging the appetite of the market and accepted terms which gave away more equity for fewer funds than they ideally would have liked. Although the investment came with a lot of experienced stakeholders who have been essential in Shippit’s success, this has been a key lesson to Rob. If Rob was to do it again, he said he would’ve invested more of his own money and retained more ownership in the company, and raised capital later in the journey.
- Realising what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are in business, early on, will ultimately lead to success. Rob’s self-awareness and realisation of his own limitations and best attributes, and that of his partner’s allowed the two Co-founders; to be clearly aligned, to perfectly complement each other, and to both know when to step-down from a task and hire a better person for the job. This self-awareness is also what allows Rob to bet on himself time and time again; he knows what he’s great at, where he can win and that makes him unique.
Find Shippit here
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