Thursday night in downtown Austin, uShip CEO and Founder Matt Chasen was named Best CEO of 2012 in the Small Company Category. Matt was among six CEOs honored during the Austin Business Journal‘s second annual 2012 Best CEO Awards party.
Thursday’s private event was the culmination of a months-long process steered by a panel of esteemed business leaders. Judges evaluated all aspects of a CEO’s performance — from revenue to company culture. When it comes to uShip, Matt has led the company’s tremendous growth (both financially and as a business) and created a model company culture that keeps employees happy (Read Matt’s 8 Tips for Employee Retention on CIO.com)
Congratulations to the Captain of the ‘Ship on this terrific achievement!
To find out what Matt considers his best lessons, best advice received, reasons for success and experiences that prepared him to be CEO, read his Q&A below his pensive image:
[Via the Austin Business Journal]
Matt Chasen’s little shipping company in Austin has made a big splash, internationally.
Much of uShip Inc.’s recent and phenomenal growth can be traced to Chasen’s arguably risky decision to allow its operations to be chronicled on A&E’s reality television show “Shipping Wars.” The series gives viewers around the world an inside look at how uShip transports everything from antique boats to rare animals — and it’s tantamount to a 30-minute primetime commercial broadcast on one of the most popular cable channels.
But the show isn’t everything. Chasen has spent more than eight years refining his shipping business, and in the past year it made an ambitious move to go after high-volume commercial freight — not just one-off, odd shipments for Joe Consumer.
Chasen secured about $10 million from venture capital firms such as California-based Benchmark Capital to get the business where it is today. The company ships objects in five continents, employs about 110 people and reports generating more than $300 million in sales since 2004 by facilitating millions of shipments.
Chasen is a University of Texas McCombs School of Business graduate, was a finalist for a 2012 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, and last year received an Austin Under 40 award and one of UT’s Rising Star awards.
What’s the best lesson you’ve learned the hard way?
You can’t do it alone. Starting out, the success of uShip was dependent on how well I could manage and control the detail of the product, the business and the interaction with our customers. As uShip has grown, I’ve had to learn to slowly let go of control — and fortunately I’ve found a team of fantastic and highly motivated people to surround myself with.
The biggest risk is when you give up control to someone who is not ready or able to handle it, but ultimately you have to learn to trust others. I hired a director of marketing that was only on the job 10 days before it was clear he was not a good fit for our organization or culture, and I had to make a quick decision to let him go. Ultimately, you have to surround yourself with the very best people in order for you and your company to be successful.
What the best advice you’ve received that you continue to heed?
If you’re going to fail, fail quickly. This may sound a bit counterintuitive, but today it’s inexpensive and quick to prototype new businesses and business models, so it shouldn’t take too long to find something that works.
Second is that in today’s online world, I feel it’s important to live by the notion of a minimum viable product, or MVP. As an Internet-based businesses, we have not waited for a product to be perfect before launching, because you will likely just end up changing it. I’m a big fan of the MVP concept — build and launch only the bare minimum
necessary to get customer feedback and data.
Finally, it’s incredibly important to stay lean. At uShip we are continually revisiting our budgets, data trends, assumptions and strategy. Focus on niche markets that are big enough to build profitable businesses — but that also have very large adjacent opportunities.
Why is your team successful?
As a marketplace business — not unlike eBay — it requires a focus on two sets of customers: the sellers (in our case, the people with the goods to ship) and the buyers (the transport companies that move the goods). Both are critical to a business such as ours.
I feel we’ve had undeniable success in creating a product that has fine-tuned that chicken-or-egg balance. As the first and now largest online marketplace of its kind, we had to build this business from scratch, literally engineering it from the ground up. It wasn’t something we acquired, merged with or inherited. It all started with a
genesis of an idea and finding the original team that was willing to put in the necessary blood, sweat and tears to get the job done. We’ve lived through the highs and lows that come with any experience like this — our first customer, personal and family sacrifices, a Series A term sheet, heated disagreements, our millionth customer — the list goes on.
Today, the usual business challenges have changed, but the chemistry remains. We continue to be a data-driven business, basing key decisions on a sophisticated combination of charts, tables andanalysis.
Describe revenue performance during your time as CEO.
From opening our virtual doors in 2004 to receiving our Series A venture funding in 2005, we were solely focused on establishing and refining our business model and proving it was seaworthy. We vowed as a team that we were not going to be one of those Internet businesses that created a business around hype and then thought about the business model later.
And it doesn’t get any less sexy than shipping and freight logistics, but with such a huge opportunity available — transportation is one of the top sectors of our economy at over $2.2 trillion — we found the opportunity for revenue incredibly sexy.
To be sure, we as a team weren’t prepared to tackle the entire freight industry. We chose to focus on a small, niche part of a massive industry, allowed that to take hold for a few years, and then grew the opportunity. As things picked up steam in 2006, we began to see revenue grow modestly.
What has most prepared you to be a CEO?
My personality could be what you’d call tenacious. My wife calls it stubborn. But I’ve always said that tenacity is never giving up, while stubbornness is never giving in.
As an entrepreneur, tenacity has proved invaluable because people are always going to tell you no. As uShip has evolved, there have been many times others may have folded up the tent, but my perseverance and determination would never let that happen.