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Ben Jones: “Don’t be limited by prescriptive rules”

Don’t be limited by prescriptive rules. If you want to do or create something that hasn’t existed before, then get to it! There isn’t a “right” way of doing anything. Lots of people will give you advice, but you have to follow your own path and vision. As part of my series about the leadership lessons […]

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Don’t be limited by prescriptive rules. If you want to do or create something that hasn’t existed before, then get to it! There isn’t a “right” way of doing anything. Lots of people will give you advice, but you have to follow your own path and vision.


As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Jones.

Ben Jones is the Founder of Ohi, the next-generation e-commerce fulfillment solution enabling e-commerce brands to offer their customers a premium, environmentally responsible, same-day delivery experience through a data-driven inventory management platform and micro warehousing.

Jones started his career in Sales and Trading at HSBC, where he built a $20m annual revenue business from scratch and quickly became a rising star in the industry. Everything changed after a serious back injury, which left him temporarily paralyzed and requiring a major spinal operation. During the 16 months recovery that followed, Jones was unable to walk far or carry anything heavy and therefore became increasingly reliant on e-commerce. The frustration of having to wait 3–5 days to receive online orders vs. being able to get them same-day in stores made him realize that e-commerce was increasingly falling behind Amazon. In order to bridge this gap, Ben left banking to pursue his dream of solving that pain point.


Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you into the fulfillment industry?

In my mid-20s, I suffered a serious back injury that left me paralyzed. Throughout the 16 month recovery, I was very constrained and unable to walk very far or carry anything. With physical retail completely off-limits, I became reliant on e-commerce.

One of my biggest frustrations during that time was that Amazon could get me orders the next day (I was living in my home country, the UK), but every other brand — the ones I really wanted to purchase from — took nearly a week to send me their products. When you’re stuck at home all day and reliant on delivery to get everything, a week feels like an eternity!

The need for these brands to catch up with Amazon was obvious. I became passionate about helping all e-commerce companies to offer the same amazing shipping speed as Amazon. Once I recovered, I quickly got to work developing Ohi, a micro fulfillment company that enables brands to offer same-day, sustainable delivery, whilst keeping control of their brand and data.

Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first became CEO? What lesson did you learn from that?

Being a sole founder is tough, especially given I’m not a software engineer. When I started Ohi, I realized I needed three things — all equally important and interlinked: customers (or at least a letter of intent from customers), teammates, and money. To get customers, you need a team; to have a team, you need the money; and to get money (from VCs), you generally need customers! It was a slog to pull all those three things together to get the business off the ground.

The lesson? Find that customer that really needs what you are offering, and jumps at the chance to work with you. Once you have the demand for your product, the funding and team will fall into place.

What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?

As a startup, Ohi is still very much on our growth journey. I won’t consider Ohi a success until we are supporting a world where anyone can buy anything, anywhere, at any time — and have it delivered in less than an hour. That said, we have made some pretty amazing strides towards that dream over the last six months, with tens of thousands of orders being delivered across New York, LA, SF, and San Diego, and close to 50 brands signing up to offer their customers free, two-hour delivery using Ohi.

There are a variety of factors that have played a pivotal role in our success thus far, one of the biggest being our team. Bringing in a group of high performing people, who also work collaboratively, has been key. It’s been awesome to see how the business gets stronger with every new hire we put in place.

Timing has also been important; the retail and e-commerce market is changing rapidly, and the Ohi platform solves a number of pain points that have been heightened for brands in this new retail environment. Ohi has therefore been at the forefront of that change.

Lastly, remaining focused and fostering close relationships and community are the other two factors that I believe have helped us on our journey to success so far. Having a clear vision and focus on an end goal ensures that every decision made is pointed in the right direction. And in the e-commerce / direct-to-consumer (D2C) world, everyone knows one another. Our team’s ability to build genuine relationships with our customers has helped us grow, largely through referrals.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.

Your team is the biggest asset and hiring the right people is your most important job.

Building a growing startup can feel like a constant battle. While there are many exciting aspects to starting a business, leading a startup can also feel like jumping off a cliff and building the plane on the way down.

While you should have a thorough understanding of what’s happening in all areas of your business, you can’t know everything. Get comfortable with letting go of control.

Time off is important. Take holidays — and preferably somewhere without the internet!

Don’t be limited by prescriptive rules. If you want to do or create something that hasn’t existed before, then get to it! There isn’t a “right” way of doing anything. Lots of people will give you advice, but you have to follow your own path and vision.

What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

We have a generous holiday allowance at Ohi, where everyone gets twenty-five (25) vacation days a year and is expected to take them. Our team works incredibly hard, often late into the evenings and over the weekends. It’s important to recognize the hard work and dedication of the team and to give them the opportunity to switch off, relax, recuperate, and come back ready to go.

It’s also important to foster a team environment that enables employees to enjoy their work. At Ohi, we talk a lot about our “Zone of Genius” — which is when your potential is being fully realized and work doesn’t feel like work at all.

Understanding how to support employees to be in that Zone, and ensuring that they’re spending as much time in that Zone as possible, has been critical so that the team can be enjoying work while also avoiding burnout.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

We certainly couldn’t be having the success we’re having without our incredible customers.

When starting a business that touches physical inventory on behalf of someone else, it’s very hard to start in a scrappy way — businesses need to trust that you’ll do a good job and manage their inventory correctly. In particular, we are grateful for Tina Hedges, Founder and CEO of LOLI Beauty, who was our very first customer and took the leap of faith in us that helped get the Ohi ball rolling. Tina and I met while working out of the same startup space — Grand Central Tech in NYC — and it was her trust in the Ohi platform to help us get off the ground.

What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?

We are focused on continued growth and expansion in 2020 and beyond. This includes securing additional clients, expanding our network of micro warehouses throughout the U.S., and continuing to innovate the product so that every customer is “wowed” by the Ohi experience.

One thing we’re particularly excited about for the rest of 2020 is scaling out to further locations within the San Francisco Bay area and LA. We see some great opportunities to serve brands in unique ways in these markets.

What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?

The Ohi vision is to build a world in which consumers can order anything, anywhere, any time, and receive it in a matter of hours. This move towards instant commerce will change how our cities look. There will be minimal need for stores, and those physical retail stores that remain will be much more experiential — places to engage with brands rather than shop and walk out with product.

The way that e-commerce orders are delivered will also change. Micro warehousing reduces the need for delivery trucks within cities, reducing congestion and pollution. Space previously used for retail will be converted to new uses, from housing to entertainment, and streets that were once clogged by delivery trucks will have many more bikes. My hope is that what Ohi is building doesn’t just change consumption, but makes our cities greener and healthier places to live.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

I’m passionate about us living in a more sustainable world. In recent weeks, we’ve seen how COVID-19 has had a drastic impact on our economies and lifestyles. Climate change will have similarly severe implications for our children and grandchildren, and I’m passionate about making sure we build Ohi with sustainability and environmental consciousness at our core.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/benjones250/) and Ohi at (https://www.linkedin.com/company/11258296/admin/)

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