Reality Check: uShip CEO Matt Chasen Shares ‘Shipping Wars’ Backstory

Some of Shipping Wars’ most iconic shipments.

uShip CEO Matt Chasen re-invented the shipping industry 10 years ago by allowing shippers and transporters to connect through uShip.com to ship large or unwieldy items. The concept opened itself to shipping anything – cars, boats, animals, freight; even a giant doomsday bunker.

And now every week millions of viewers watch the action through Shipping Wars, the A&E reality show that features unusual and oversized shipments from uShip and the larger-than-life transporters who move them.

On the heels of the Season 6 finale (Aug 5), Chasen talks about uShip’s involvement in the show’s origin, what it’s done for uShip’s business and his thoughts on its development.

How did the idea for a reality show featuring uShip come about?

The idea came from a producer at Megalomedia Inc. who used to share office space with us when we were first getting started. He noticed uShip had grown and had interesting stuff going on, so he had the idea to create a show. Megalomedia, which had an existing relationship with A&E, filmed the pilot and pitched the show. We weren’t involved in the pitching at all.

What was your biggest concern getting involved with the show?

The conflict between dramatic reality TV and our product positioning. Our transporters’ level of service quality is fantastic, and over 98 percent of the time they get positive feedback from customers. Naturally the show likes to highlight when things don’t go right.

Has that been a major issue, now after six seasons?

We haven’t had any major issues around production or significant adverse impacts to our brand, so largely it’s been good and the show has evolved nicely. The truckers come out as the heroes most of the time.

How did you prepare the company for the show’s debut?

We really didn’t know what to expect, in terms of site traffic, so the information technology team scaled all the infrastructure, servers and bandwidth. In season one, there were significant spikes with up to hundreds of thousands of concurrent users, and we had some downtime. We identified some things that we wanted to fix to make the system more scalable and put those fixes in place for season two, and things have gone a lot smoother.

How much say do you have in the production of the show?

We occasionally preview episodes and provide input, but we have no editorial control.

Is a lot of your time consumed by the show?

We have certain team members that support the show in various ways, but it is not a significant part of my day.

How much of uShip’s business is the really unusual stuff you see on the show?

About 10 percent. About 90 percent of the stuff is freight — large but not highly unusual — that goes business to business. We really are the only solution for people with the highly unusual, almost completely unshippable items that most of the other companies won’t ship.

What has been the best thing to happen as a result of the show?

Other than general awareness, it’s increased our cool factor. It’s hard to be cool in the shipping industry. I recently spoke at a transportation industry conference, and all anyone asked me about was the show and if Roy really has that cat with him on the road.

What has been the worst result of the show?

Some transportation industry people try to point out issues with our service providers or things that they don’t think are being done professionally or properly. We had to remind them that it’s reality TV and not a how-to instruction manual for shipping.

uShip recently expanded into Mexico and South America, and the show started broadcasting in Latin America. Are these two related?

Well, it wasn’t a complete coincidence. We had been planning to launch a number of sites in Mexico and South America, but things just got massively accelerated. We had very limited advance notice that South America markets were airing the show, so we scrambled and got the sites up within two days of the show airing. We didn’t want to miss the opportunity to convert those viewers into uShip users.

At the end of Season 5, cast member Roy Garber passed away. How did that impact uShip and the show?

All of us–the uShip family, the production team, the network, the fans–lost a one-of-a-kind personality that day. It was really shocking for everyone and the outpouring of support by fans was incredible. Most people saw Roy’s gruff, no-BS side, but at uShip, where he visited often, we were lucky to see his softer sides.

What advice do you have for companies that will be featured on a reality TV show?

Good luck. It’s a very unusual circumstance, and we were lucky to get involved in the show. As an entrepreneur, I wouldn’t focus a lot of energy toward it because pitching shows to networks will probably end up fruitless. But be opportunistic if something comes up.