ShippingEasy’s path to being acquired didn’t seem like a path at all as recently as 2013. The company, founded by Australian serial entrepreneur Mark Helvadjian in 2011, had just hired Katie May, a University of Texas graduate who founded a startup in Australia, to become its CEO.
Almost as soon May moved ShippingEasy to Austin, she found its primary product was heading nowhere fast.
The company had created software that integrates with online checkout systems to give simplified shipping options. Only it wasn’t so simple, and it was tanking badly.
The company couldn’t go on as is. May considered giving $2 million back to investors and scrapping the company. Instead, she gathered her team, refocused and decided to work as hard as possible for three months on a revamped product based on customer input.
“We learned again and again that customers are eager to share and guide the development of a product they will use daily,” she said.
Last week, ShippingEasy announced it had agreed to be acquired by Stamps.com for $55 million. Austin Inno wanted to know more about ShippingEasy’s journey from a near flop to a lucrative exit. Prior to becoming CEO at ShippingEasy, May worked as a consultant at Booze & Co., as an executive at www.seek.com.au and as the founder of www.kidspot.com.au. She knows startups, but ShippingEasy was her first time leading a company as CEO.
Here’s our email discussion about ShippingEasy’s unlikely path to acquisition.
Austin Inno: Congratulations on the forthcoming acquisition. From what I see, it wasn’t an easy path, and you had to basically rebuild your product from scratch a few years ago. I read that your team really got in touch with customers to find out what they need to rebuild a successful product. How did you organize that input and make a plan to create the right product?
Katie May: Because we had a small group of customers using version 1 of ShippingEasy, we had a readymade focus group. They were eager to see improvements in the product they somehow managed to use – and we were eager to scrap it and wholly deliver in line with customer needs. It started with summary buckets of “grievances” where we were tallying the feedback on a daily basis. Then, we would isolate the key themes and summarize for our product/dev team. Eventually we had new page designs and hypothetical workflows that we could show to existing and churned customers on a screen share. Again, we listened for themes in the feedback that would help us to evolve our thinking and ensure we hit the mark with ShippingEasy v2. We learned again and again that customers are eager to share and guide the development of a product they will use daily. We feel enormous gratitude towards our customer base for the input and involvement all along the way.
Austin Inno: How much capital did ShippingEasy raise leading up to this deal? And how was the company able to create significant revenue with relatively little funding?
Katie May: As a privately owned business (until recently), we’d prefer to keep that information private. But, I can tell you it was more than $5M and less than $10M.
Austin Inno: In the Forbes piece, you noted that ShippingEasy is doing the work that many e-commerce companies don’t want to deal with, calling it the “ass end of e-commerce.” How was your company able to win over so many big customers in a niche space where many other big logistics companies operate?
Katie May: In our view, it all comes down to one word – “easy.” When I first came on as CEO of ShippingEasy, I realized the product wasn’t where it needed to be – the brand name made me cringe. I was forever listening to customers tell me it was “anything but easy.” Our team set out to change that. We became maniacally focused on making every part of our app and the service that supported it… EASY, in every sense of that word. The design is deliberately simple without overwhelming the new user with features they may not need. The feature set is comprehensive but users naturally discover things as they grow and their needs evolve. Our sales and service teams understand the tedious nature of shipping and fulfilment and every step of the experience is delivered to combat the pain. We receive emails daily telling us we’ve changed lives, allowed business expansion, saved thousands of dollars – but most of all, made their day easier. That is our aim and we had the confidence to rely on that single point of difference for success.
Austin Inno: What has been the single most pivotal moment in your time with ShippingEasy and what made it key?
Katie May: The decision to completely scrap version 1 of the software and start again. It was key because that decision led to some of our best hires (Barry, Nick & Theo – that’s you!), gave confidence back to our sales team (that we listened to customers and ultimately put them first) and set us on a path where we were in charge of our own destiny. Once we made that decision there was nowhere to hide. We no longer “inherited” something that needed to be fixed – but instead were starting from scratch where we were accountable for every decision. That moment supercharged the team and made every one of us feel like owners of the brand, the play and ultimately the success (or not!) of the business.
Austin Inno: What’s next for ShippingEasy? And does the team have any plans to celebrate the acquisition once it’s complete?
Katie May: Solving more pain points for online sellers. ShippingEasy started with the toughest bit– shipping. Next we will tackle inventory management and then continue working our way up and down the value chain. Our vision will not be realized until we have fully streamlined everything that happens around an online order.
In terms of a celebration, we’re not a fancy team. We’ll probably rent the Cherry Bomb bus, head to an outdoor bar on Rainey Street, play a few games, have a few drinks and a simple toast. Oh – and some of the more extraverted team members will for sure sing Karaoke! Definitely not me.