This month uShip celebrates its 10th anniversary. From the first shipment of a bed and two dressers to the multi-faceted platform that is uShip today, CEO Matt Chasen reflects on successes, his hopes and dreams for uShip, and the future of the platform.
It’s February 23, 2004 and VP, Engineering Nick Parker has just informed Chasen that uShip has gone live. Despite what Chasen described as, “An amazing feeling of creation,” he laughed, saying he couldn’t help but think, “I hope somebody actually uses this!”
Days later the first shipment was posted. Going from 0 to 1 back then was infinite growth. The future looked bright.
Chasen and his team were new to the shipping industry but were shocked at the variety of things being shipped. “When we launched the site we had a vague idea there was a market for people shipping larger than parcel goods based on buying and selling on eBay. We were pretty naive about the broader freight and logistics industry. One of the most surprising things for us was to see the diversity of things people were listing on uShip – ranging from a warehouse full of baseball cards to a 6 foot high pink flamingo sculpture….it was really anything UPS wouldn’t move.”
So they organized the site around shipping categories.
“We had to get our heads around the different markets we were in. Amazingly, there’s a whole industry for people who move pets. We started the long journey of building each of our verticals by getting both shipments and carriers engaged on the site.”
Since uShip’s inception, the core values of the site have mostly remained the same. As a marketplace, “We believe in creating a level playing field for all the participants in the shipping industry to compete in an unbiased and fair place,” said Chasen. “The smallest owner operators against the biggest trucking companies. We break down all those barriers and give shippers the ability to review feedback. We really empower the little guy, which is exciting.”
However, to truly ‘empower the little guy,’ – you have to make sure the shipments are out there. “When we launched uShip the customer had to name an offer price and the carrier had to submit a trip. The idea was that there were vehicles travelling with excess capacity. We quickly realized without a lot of shipments it’s very unlikely to get a match between those two.”
It became evident that making shippers name prices was too limiting. They needed to allow service providers to place bids at whatever price they want – uShip’s iconic auction style bidding format was born.
uShip prides itself on having a unique culture like most startups. Chasen, along with Mickey Millsap and Jay Manickam, the two other cofounders, were friends first. “We’ve always had a very open, friendly culture where we really value each other as people and as friends. I think that has endured over these 10 years. I think people really think of this as more than just a workplace.”
Chasen knows culture runs deeper than friendliness, beer on Fridays and a company-wide love of ping-pong. “We are ultimately about the business as the relationship with our customers and the relationship to one another. We believe that trust is critical. We like to empower our people to make decisions and give them latitude to succeed or fail.”
Chasen notes passionate people, undying enthusiasm, and genuine care as hallmarks of what has pushed uShip onward throughout the years. “We have a pretty unique culture. We are engaged in the mission of the company; to empower our users to build and win and grow their business on the service provider side. On the shipper side, how to solve real world problem about getting things from A to B. We’re all passionate about solving problems – that passion defines our culture.”
A lot changes in 10 years. In the first part of 2004 there was no Facebook, no iPhone, and TiVo was the new hotness. When trying to redefine an industry, “You gotta be fast or you’ll get left behind,” said Chasen. “Major changes have taken place like mobile. Those change are redefining industries. If you’re successful that can lead to complacency. Someone’s gonna come out of nowhere and eat your lunch.”
In the beginning uShip was a singular vertical, desktop-only company with one shipping option. Today, in addition to the desktop interface, uShip has a fully mobile platform with multiple shipping options and is completely verticalized on a global scale.
Finally, Chasen reaffirms adaptation as paramount to success in the tech world. “If you build something that’s successful in technology, it’s not good enough. You have to constantly be innovating or you’ll be a relic. We really value innovation here. We reward risk taking and don’t overly punish people for trying things and failing because we know that’s how you ultimately innovate.”
Long-Term Vision: To Be the Largest Platform Worldwide for Shipping Anything
Chasen has lofty goals for the future of uShip. “We have a very widely applicable business model and we’re applying it to different parts of the industry and different regions of the world.”
However, in the short term, simplification is key.
“Shipping can be really confusing. I’d like myself, and us as a company to drive towards much more simplification and by necessity, focus. We want to do fewer things and do them better; execute better, build better products….We have some good ideas, and we’re getting more good ideas from folks on how we can create a dramatically better user experience.”
The five year plan is to be the dominant marketplace for truckload transportation. According to Chasen, “It’s the single largest segment of the industry – 300 billion dollars.”
10 year plans revolve around truly shipping anything – maybe even parcel and local deliveries.
Currently, uShip is in the process of reinventing itself around mobile. “I don’t think it’s ever easy for a company that was built and launched prior to mobile. It’s a tough transition to pull off – we’re doing it, we’re excited about it. By the end of this year we will do more business via mobile then we will via web.”
What’s Chasen’s favorite shipment he’s ever seen on the site? “The first one,” he said laughing. “We knew it worked! And at $900 it was ten times greater than the average shipping price we had assumed off the bat.”
That first match was March 5, 2004 – exactly ten years ago today. 3.5M listings later, there’s plenty more to come.