The thought of starting a company in your 20s, to some, feels intimidating. After all, our 20s are when we're establishing our careers, striving towards financial stability, and most importantly--learning. In a way, we're in a 'coming of age' state as we establish our professional identities. Even those of us with entrepreneurial "instincts" may think that we're years away from taking the jump. But for me, entrepreneurship came from an unexpected push and calling. And it happened fast.
Back when I was 22, in business school, my co-founder (Simon) and I decided to launch an e-commerce store as a side project. When that venture unexpectedly took off, we were literally scrambling to the post office, boxes overflowing in our arms. As our business grew, so did the shipping chaos: we found ourselves wasting time, money, and resources on process. It was a logistical maze. So we solved our own problem by building a unique piece of technology that makes it easier to choose shipping carriers.
When we made our way to Silicon Valley--our then-advice givers, now investors, mentors, and board members--convinced us that if we put our minds to it, we could transform the tech that we had built for shipping into a high-growth startup. Without second-guessing ourselves, Simon and I moved to the U.S. from Europe. Four years later, that vision is now a 60-person company with $9 million in funding, and more than 10,000 customers of all sizes shipping who ship over $2 billion gross merchandise volume (GMV) annually.
Despite the progress we've made, every so often (or more often than we like), we'll be in a situation where we're surrounded by experienced executives. And the inevitable, unspoken question comes up: "what have you done to earn your seat at this table?" For one, we're fierce learners, but more importantly, we don't view limited experience as inexperience, instead we embrace inexperience and creativity to carve a new path.
Here are the biggest lessons we've learned along the way:
Can't find your seat at the table? Build your own.
When I talk to people who have been in the shipping and logistics industry for a very long time, I come across acronyms that I don't understand and have never heard of, for that matter. But for me, that's completely fine. We explicitly say that we're not a shipping company. We're a tech company. The ins and outs of shipping are less critical in our work as the need to understand the operational tech that powers the space.
If you're not a tech leader? Hire people from whom you can learn.
I'm not an experienced tech leader. I haven't built a lot of technology myself. But what I have is curiosity, and it's this innate desire to learn that continues to drive our organization forward. Since day one, Simon and I have made a commitment to hiring leaders who are more accomplished experienced than ourselves. We have an engineering leader, a business leader, a marketing, leader, and teams of people who have been in the tech space for 10+ years. Our team is our lens into the market. And with their expertise, Simon and I can focus on what we do best--problem-solving our way and self-directing our path to our next milestone.
Feeling belittled? Deal with it and drop your ego.
Yes, people belittle us, and yes, I can tell when experienced leaders doubt our capabilities. But I'm fine with it. We don't have egos and would be the first to admit that we don't know what we don't know. In situations where our youth is less-than-welcome, we're are fine observing from behind-the-scene, focusing our attention on listening and learning.
Embrace fresh eyes as a leadership trait.
We don't need to know everything--or do everything well--to perceive ourselves as leaders. Experience doesn't drive execution. But action does. Despite what we don't know, we're still the individuals setting direction for the company. We're responsible for upholding the vision and seeing it through. It's up to us to determine how we'll reach our end goal. We define the objectives for our company, giving our experienced team the space they need to shine.
The biggest lesson I'd tell an earlier version of myself is to embrace who you are. When it comes to building a profitable, sustainable business, there is no "faking it 'til you make it." You started your company for a reason. Your curiosity and hustle will take you far.