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Carl Lewis: Welcome to the Connected Enterprise Podcast. I’m Carl Lewis, your host from Vision33, and my guest is Jeff Ross from ShipStation. Jeff, welcome to the podcast. Please tell us about yourself and your work.

Jeff Ross: Thanks, Carl. It's great to be here. ShipStation is in the shipping and ecommerce world – we help consumers receive their goods through merchants. We drive more efficiencies in the shipping process through our brands, including ShipStation, ShippingEasy, ShipWorks, and ShipEngine. We have numerous solutions to help people ship more efficiently.

Carl Lewis: That's awesome. Are your solutions industry-specific or based on business size? How does that work?

Jeff Ross: It's typically based on the type of business. Every business has different warehouse and order fulfillment requirements. On-premises versus the cloud, batch processing versus single shipments, etc. That affects which solution we encourage them to adopt.

Carl Lewis: That's interesting. People talk about industry trends regarding shipping and automation, but what impact has the pandemic had on the atmosphere?

Jeff Ross: It's highlighted the need for efficient shipping processes. With people avoiding brick-and-mortar stores because of the pandemic, there's an emphasis on small parcel fulfillment. Many companies are accelerating their digital adoption, whether that's moving to the cloud or adopting new ways to do things.

They’re also focusing on the user experience and how users interact with shipping and their brand. Are you showing them rates in the cart? Are you offering flat-rate shipping? That's the Amazon effect of everything consumers expect from ordering goods online. Then multi-carrier solutions. You need a diversity of carriers you can ship from to ensure you reach all your consumers, no matter where they are and how quickly they want the product.

Carl Lewis: Have you seen a big uptick in people trying to make their shipping processes efficient?

Jeff Ross: Absolutely. There's a big emphasis on that because it's sink or swim. If you don't have a good ecommerce fulfillment solution, it’s hard to reach consumers and get repeat buys. We’re seeing a lot of activity. New customers are coming in to replace legacy technology and drive more integrations; existing customers are reaching out for guidance, asking, "What else should I be doing? How can I be better? Am I using the right technology?"

Carl Lewis: But even with increased effort, the technology means it's never as easy as we want it to be. The outcomes are great when we finally get there, though. What are the biggest challenges people are facing regarding making their shipping more efficient?

Jeff Ross: Proper alignment across the organization and an initial scoping to identify areas for improvement are significant challenges. Often, people look at technology, buy it, try to implement it, and figure those things out afterward. We encourage everyone to dig into their process, understand where the pain is coming from, and then figure out how to apply the technology.

Carl Lewis: Everybody is looking for a silver bullet, but a lot of the success is the work you do upfront to discover the problem you're trying to solve.

Jeff Ross: Yes. And having the flexibility to meet different business requirements. That's the beauty of the stamps umbrella and the brands we have. If you want something out of the box and quick to deploy, we have it. If you want something custom fit to your workflow, we have it. It's about offering options to be more flexible and adaptive.

Carl Lewis: There are a lot of changes in technology these days. Everyone is talking about AI, machine learning, virtual reality, etc. What's the next biggest thing over the horizon as it relates to shipping for businesses?

Jeff Ross: A continued focus on efficiency and flexibility. If you’re doing thousands of shipments a day, every millisecond you save in your fulfillment process can save hours when you break it down. Upcoming is a drive for more automation, more flexibility, more efficiency. I also see AI and predictive intelligence having a big part of that. We get requests from users who say, "Why can't you just tell me the best way to ship? I know it's going here, and the date is there."

Carl Lewis: Yes. I imagine there are ways to do that. It used to be just the access to the data, right?

Jeff Ross: Yes.

Carl Lewis: And nothing was integrated, so it was difficult to automate anything. It was human intervention all the time. Look at the list, who has the best rate, etc. Is it on our account? The customer's account? It seemed like a very manual process, but I can see where technology like AI could be helpful.

It’s great to hear you have solutions for many businesses. I wasn’t aware that it’s customizable to do so many things businesses want. Because it seems like the instant they get a solution, they want to modify it, especially with the daily, in-and-out logistics like getting packages out the door.

Jeff Ross: I agree.

Carl Lewis: On a more personal note, Jeff, we've seen a lot of changes in communication. I’m sure things have changed for you and your organization during the pandemic. It has for me, too. Everything is virtual. How have you adapted and used technology during this period as it relates to communication?

Jeff Ross: Our leadership has been great in helping our whole organization adapt to our new world. Zoom is king now. Every meeting, we encourage people – coworkers, customers, and prospects – to turn on the camera and be face to face. Having that camera creates the direct personal connection we’re missing from not meeting in person.

And Slack is huge for us. We use Slack internally and for some external partner communications. It’s a great way to keep a large group of people updated, and there can be fun groups where everyone can enjoy themselves while they stay connected. And you can't discount the good old-fashioned phone. It's making a comeback now because people are at home, available, and looking for work to do. We encourage our team to pick up the phone, dial, and develop relationships that way.

Carl Lewis: Were you ahead of the game for having systems for people to adopt or did you scramble a little to get everybody the right stuff throughout the whole network to make it work?

Jeff Ross: There was a little adapting – making sure people had proper computers and technology to be efficient at home. Many of us took our desk chairs and monitors home, which was helpful to make us comfortable in our new work environment.

Carl Lewis: I was just fighting part of that battle. My wife and I are working at home, and we have my son and two grandchildren here. And we counted – there are 30 to 35 devices connected to our broadband. It's not working as well as I’d like. I'm sitting right next to the gateway, so I'm fine, but my wife is in the far corner of the house, and she’s struggling.

Jeff Ross: Wow.

Carl Lewis: And with video conferencing and other things, you need the right bandwidth, or you're in trouble. I’ll have to do some wiring to accomplish that more easily. Jeff, you work with a lot of companies and their customers. Whether their primary partner is the third party or you are, what are the main challenges when implementing a shipping system and working with a partner to do so?

Jeff Ross: It's aligning expectations, ensuring everyone understands the goal, setting metrics to benchmark them, and knowing how to analyze/measure the technology’s success. Asking, “Have we identified the proper pain we're solving?”

Then communication. The more, the better – especially with third parties. And where things can get misinterpreted, it's essential to have an open line of communication with that third party to ensure things are being deployed correctly and efficiently.

Carl Lewis: I agree about communication. We’ve let email be weekly reports or project progress notes for too long. It’s so easy to misinterpret information because you miss a person’s tone and inflections. If we’re doing weekly reports virtually, we’re using Zoom, Teams, etc., right?

Jeff Ross: Yes.

Carl Lewis: We probably have fewer problems understanding one another face to face on camera than via email. I think that’s a side benefit of our strange situation.

Jeff Ross: Yeah, and it's tough when you have the sales process, somebody buys the technology, and then has to transition to the implementation phase. That kickoff is increasingly critical because we can’t walk over to the desk and say, "Here's what's going on." So, as prospects transition into being customers and start deploying technology, we ensure everyone on our side knows what that customer does, why they're working with us, their contacts, etc. That’s critical.

Carl Lewis: Yes. We thought we always had to be there for kickoff conferences and the like, but we’ve been successfully doing them virtually. We were always on site to take a customer live on software, but we've discovered we don't have to be. And that does great things like reduce travel costs and save customers money.

We've discovered working remotely is possible most of the time. Tell me what you think – is there a chance we might learn too much, overdo it, and remove all personal contact by trying to do everything virtually because we found success with it? I don't want to forget we're humans and like to be with others.

Jeff Ross: Yes. Human interaction is still key. I think we’re sensing that more because of the pandemic. As we slowly get out and see more people face to face, we remember how energizing it can be. You can’t get that energy through Zoom. And we always laugh when people are doing sales pitches via Zoom and being like Vanna White, where they highlight something behind them and gesture at it or have interactive things.

I see us going there. But I've been impressed with our teams. People have adapted, and the numbers everyone is hitting are phenomenal. Our leadership team has felt good about remote working because of how hard everyone’s been working and the success we’ve had. It will also reduce our carbon footprint if we can find a balance.

Carl Lewis: For sure. Do you think your company will be more open to working from home than they were?

Jeff Ross: I get the sense we will be. We like a balance – and it's probably similar in a lot of tech companies – of a few days in the office, a few days remote. We've found that in each environment, people can thrive in certain tasks, so it’s essential to have that balance of being with your team in the office, having that comradery, but then also being in your home space where you can focus and have time to yourself.

Carl Lewis: I agree. I've been working from home for four and a half or five years, and I’m efficient – I have everything I need. There are a lot of benefits, like no commute. But I miss being in the office. The comradery, the laughter, the “management by walking around.” Once the newness of working from home wears off, you realize there’s something missing and you have to find other ways to have it.

Jeff Ross: It'll be interesting to see how the office dynamics change as people start going back because we were big into the open office space with everybody connected and no real barriers or walls. I don't see that continuing. I can’t wait to see how the office has evolved.

Carl Lewis: You'll have more privacy. I always had it, but I was in a hybrid situation.

Jeff Ross: Yeah, we're going back to cubicles.

Carl Lewis: I think we had cubes. And some on the management level had private offices. But onto another topic: Has your company done a project in deploying new technologies recently?

Jeff Ross: We're always evaluating our technology, refining it, adding to it. If we look at specific examples like our CRM, we’ve added artificial intelligence to drive efficiency. There are always things to evaluate. Business is changing every day, and people have new requirements, different pains. Our customers are changing. So, we continuously evaluate our technology. How can we serve our customers and employees better?

Carl Lewis: Right. And it sounds like parts of your business are looking at digital transformation from a strategic, long-term perspective, right?

Jeff Ross: Absolutely. With the rise of ecommerce and how this pandemic has changed the world, some things will never go back. We want to be with that change, so our technology stack must evolve. Many of our customers are in the middle of changing their legacy technology stacks, too, either because the requirements are changing or because they're also always evaluating how to best serve their employees and customers.

Carl Lewis: How are your projects going? Are they successful? Challenging? Have things been harder than you expected?

Jeff Ross: It's always a challenge because as we continue to grow, there are more voices in the business. Making sure we hear everyone, understand the pain points, and not have too many levels between that is our big thing. It's a constant work in process to refine and perfect what's required. But getting that feedback from everyone and having everyone included in these changes is tough as we grow.

Carl Lewis: How do you advise businesses to measure/track the effectiveness of a new technology project?

Jeff Ross: Benchmarks. With shipping, we ask, “How many shipments per hour? Per day? Per month?” Those are direct numbers we can use to measure our effectiveness or efficiency. We talk to customers pre-ShipStation and again post-ShipStation to help them measure that.

A good third-party technology company should help with that. They should lead you down the path of improving your business and say, “Here's how we can manage that,” so you don't feel like it's all up to you. If you partner with a good technology company, you’ll get that.

Carl Lewis: I used to have a rule of thumb when I was working with companies. Many smaller businesses had no shipping integration. And the question is, at what point does it pay you to do that?

Jeff Ross: Yes.

Carl Lewis: I used to say it was 200 packages a day that made someone throw up their hands and say, "We can't do it this way anymore." Because you can work hard all day and probably get out 100 packages, but that's about the limit, right?

Jeff Ross: Yep.

Carl Lewis: But you can put in a shipping solution and easily increase that tenfold without too much effort.

Jeff Ross: Yes, and it's the economies of connectivity behind it all. That's a big piece we deal with with our customers – integration. They have an ERP, a CRM, a website, a technology stack, and then they want to fit in the shipping piece and understand where the flow comes from. ShipStation shines because of those integrations. We're making it easy for users to have that economy of scale and economies of connectivity.

Carl Lewis: That's great. Well, Jeff, thanks for being with us on the podcast. I hope we'll keep track of what ShipStation is doing. And maybe we can have you back later and find out how things turned out after we get through the pandemic.

Jeff Ross: I'd love too, Carl. Thank you.

Carl Lewis: Absolutely. Well, everyone, until we hear from you again, stay connected.