Laura Behrens Wu is a co-founder and the CEO of Shippo, an enterprise shipping platform. Laura co-founded Shippo after personally experiencing the obstacles businesses face when setting up shipping operations for her own ecommerce business. Today, Shippo powers shipping for platforms, marketplaces, warehouses, and ecommerce businesses. Through one platform, businesses are able to instantly access multiple shipping carriers for real-time rates, shipping labels, international paperwork, package tracking, and return logistics. Companies of all over the world trust Shippo to power their shipping.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you? What underlying characteristics do you see in successful entrepreneurs?
Laura: It boils down to three things.
1. Staying determined
When we first raised our seed round, we pitched 125 investors and got 115 no’s. That was hardly a sign to give up. We worked tirelessly on gaining traction to prove that Shippo was a service that our customers needed. Determination is one of the most important characteristics for entrepreneurs to have.
2. Being flexible
Startups move especially fast and changes happen quickly. This could come in the form of company size, organizational restructuring, and in what is expected from its founders. The ability to learn fast and keep up with changes is essential. We found that having mentors, supportive board members, other founder friends, and getting coaching have helped us significantly along the way.
3. Focus on the customer
I would also advise any entrepreneur to focus relentlessly on their customers, as a way of guiding the business and company culture. Our customers are why we started the company, and are why we are here today. We continue to be grateful that they continue to rely on us to help get their products to the doorsteps of your customers. We are excited to continue our work with them each day.
What are you most proud of having accomplished?
Laura: While there have been many positive milestones on Shippo’s journey, I am relentless when it comes to reaching the next company touchstone. Whenever we’ve reached a significant milestone, I’m already looking to to the next, so it’s hard for me to identify a single accomplishment that I’m proud of.
If I had to name something I’m proud of today, it would have to be our team—now a wonderful group of 60 people (and rapidly growing) My co-founder and I are thankful and privileged to be surrounded with such talented people who share our vision and and are working towards the same goal everyday.
Tell us about an instance when you went against the flow to achieve your goal.
Laura: Working hard to gain customer traction is a great example of “going against the flow” when we were first trying to get Shippo off the ground. At one point in our early days, we could have easily folded against the pressure of long enterprise sales cycles working against us. But instead, we fought to keep Shippo going. We needed our shipping volume to earn revenue that would make Shippo sustainable and allow us to gain credibility with enterprise companies.
Soon, we dropped enterprise pursuits for the time being, and turned to the small-medium business market (SMBs)— going against the common wisdom of landing blue-chip clients before focusing on the long tail. Today, we serve over 10,000 business of all sizes that rely on Shippo to make their business successful.
What drives you? How do you measure success for yourself?
Laura: Being a startup founder means that you learn and experience a lot career-wise in a compressed amount of time. The opportunity to constantly learn drives me each day.
Personally, success means being surrounded by people who are smarter than me, who can teach me something at every turn and help me grow. Personal growth both personally and professionally are important for me. I never want to be in a position where I later regret not pursuing an opportunity.
What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
Laura: I started in tech as an intern and adopted the approach of taking any opportunity I could get—and then working hard to make the most out of it. I recommend this approach to others as a way of getting their foot in the door.
Over the years, I’ve learned that building your network is important, but it is equally important to not waste your time at superfluous networking events. If you want to be a founder, my advice would be to build something that resembles “painkillers not vitamins”—sage advice my former CEO once gave me. You’ll want to solve a real problem, rather than just build something that’s “nice to have.”
What advice would you give to your 22 year old self? What do you know now that you wish you knew back then?
Laura: Again, it’s hard to pinpoint a single pearl of wisdom as a catch all. I’ve taken a wide spectrum of advice from mentors before me—and to them, I give my thanks:
Painkillers not vitamins—smart advice I got from my former CEO.
It’s better to have a hole in the organization than a a**hole
Stay optimistic, work hard, and don’t give up
Fake it until you make it. Perception matters but you’ll have to actually make it later on
Hire slow and fire fast.
Building a strong culture is will be a driving force of your business.
A good co-founder is invaluable
Follow Laura at @LauraBehrensWu, check out the other interviews in Going Against the Flow series at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/charu-sharma/ and join this movement to empower 1 million female entrepreneurs on goagainsttheflow.com.