Women in Business Q&A: Laura Behrens Wu, co-founder and CEO, Shippo

Laura Behrens Wu is a co-founder and the Chief Executive Officer of Shippo, a shipping dashboard and API for businesses to ship better. Laura co-founded Shippo after personally experiencing the obstacles businesses face when setting up their shipping operations for her own ecommerce business.

Today, Laura is most excited about building a world-class team at Shippo, growing the company, and helping businesses realize the potential of shipping. Laura works closely with business partners and investors. Under her leadership, the company now processes millions of shipments per month for more than 10,000 customers including some of top brands in ecommerce such as Memebox, GoDaddy, Weebly.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

After an eye-opening upbringing traveling the world and growing up between Germany, China, Ecuador and the US (my father was a German diplomat), I’ve learned to be both flexible and fearless—which has imminently guided the way I live and work now. When I was age six, my family and I moved to China. Seeing poverty as prolific as it was there, at a young age, made me realize how privileged my life had been so far. It made me want to make the most out of it.

I have a younger sister. Being an older sister has put me in a leadership role in the family.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Shippo?

During my time in university, I thought it would be an easy side hustle to run an ecommerce store. Then the orders started coming in, and I needed to go to the post office every day. I didn't realize how much of an expense shipping is; not just in terms of cost, but also time. It sucked. I’ve since worked tirelessly to help solve this problem since I can 100 percent relate to the hurdles that affect our customers every day.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Shippo?

I can’t underscore enough the importance of determination. When we first raised our seed round, we pitched 125 investors and got 115 no’s. We didn’t give up, and worked on gaining traction to prove that Shippo was a service that our customers needed. I believe that determination is one of the most important characteristics for founders to have.

No one tells you how hard it is be a founder. From the outside, everything looks like an overnight success and everyone is always “crushing it.” But it’s simply not true. Success is a rollercoaster, and the ride doesn’t end. We found that having people to talk to and relate to has shown us that the the emotion ups and downs are normal.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

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.” I would also advise anyone to focus relentlessly on their customers, as a way of guiding the business and company culture.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

Again it’s hard to define the singularly most important lesson. Some good ones have been:

● Painkillers not vitamins—smart advice I got from my former CEO

● 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

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I think it’s important to transition out of the work life balance conversation to focus more on work life integration. Work life balance suggests you need one to balance the other out. I genuinely love my work and I try to find a way to integrate my life into it. The two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

Having a routine has been incredible helpful for me too. Work is constantly changing, and I value having routines in my life–which include what time I get up, what I eat for breakfast, meditation, work-outs etc.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

It’s hard to define the single biggest issue for women at work. One challenge I recognize is that not all women always have a good mentorship network at work. All of my mentors are male but I have built a strong network of female peers.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

Startups move fast and changes happen quickly— from company size, organizational restructuring, and in what is expected from founders. The ability to learn fast and keep up with changes is essential. I have found that having mentors, supportive board members, other founder friends, and getting coaching have helped me significantly along the way.

Talk to people who can relate and who listen without judging you. Founders have always appear as if they have all the answers. You can let that guard down among fellow founders that you trust—and that’s very refreshing.

I think the that, by far, the best reason to have a mentor or a coach, is because I’m still figuring out who I am and on my own journey of self awareness. That said, the expectations of a CEO aren’t lower because I’m starting my career and still learning. And conversely, being a good friend or finding personal growth shouldn’t take a backseat because of my role as a executive. Having a mentor or a coach really helps me in seeing both these aspects clearly.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Mathilde Collin, CEO at Front App, is an awesome peer and we are able to relate on the challenges of founding a company.

Ida Tin, CEO of Clue. I admire her for driving femtech forward, and for building a really strong mission for her company.

What do you want Shippo to accomplish in the next year?

We have some pretty ambitious goals for the company in terms of both product enhancements and growing the team. Scaling is definitely top of mind, and we’ll be hiring across all departments this year. And of course growing our shipping volume—whether that’s through new partnerships with platforms and marketplaces or with retailers directly. We’ll definite have a global focus this year, and plan to add global carriers in Europe, Asia and and Latin America to support customers in different markets.

Overall, we think that our platform is so much more than “just shipping”. We want to help customers become shipping experts and get value with our product, without investing a ton of time. It will be interesting for us to see what we can accomplish with giving our customers better insights into data and shipping analytics. We want to make shipping more transparent.

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