Jack Simms of HomeValet: “Not everyone will see your vision”

Not everyone will see your vision — stay the course and have faith in yourself. Big ideas take time. I feel like this is probably a shared experience with a lot of founders. When we were first talking to people about pursuing HomeValet we heard a lot of “It’s too hard.” Reading between the lines, I’ve come to […]

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Not everyone will see your vision — stay the course and have faith in yourself. Big ideas take time.

I feel like this is probably a shared experience with a lot of founders. When we were first talking to people about pursuing HomeValet we heard a lot of “It’s too hard.” Reading between the lines, I’ve come to realize that they often meant “it’s too hard for you.” At first, it’s really difficult not to listen to that message because, yeah, it is hard to start a business and HomeValet is really big idea. But particularly when some of those people are your trusted friends or valued connections. Are they right? Maybe, but if you never even try, you’ll never know.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jack Simms of HomeValet.

Jack Simms is the co-founder and COO of HomeValet, an emerging leader in contactless home delivery, overseeing the business and product development of the company’s next-generation, consumer-first home delivery platform, secure, temperature-controlled Smart Box appliance and subscription service. His expertise in software development, and years of experience in operations and management, has strengthened HomeValet’s business model and continues to support the company’s rapid growth.

As an experienced software executive and designer Simms brings extensive knowledge of IoT systems and SaaS solutions to HomeValet. For eight years he was VP of Product for a SaaS software company managing the development of five web-based software products, each of which generated new revenue streams. He led a cybersecurity team tasked with PCI Level 1 compliant systems to manage high volume financial transactions over the web, which processed over 1B dollars online. Prior, Simms was founding CTO of a highly trafficked startup news website which aggregates original reporting and republished news content.

Simms is a graduate of Tulane University and currently resides in Arlington, VA with his wife Caroline and three children.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I’m a software product designer by trade and have worked primarily in web applications, SaaS, IoT, and data security throughout my career. In the early years of my career I worked for a SaaS software company overseeing over five web based software products, I led cybersecurity task teams, and served as a CTO of high trafficked news startups, all of which contributed to my interest in using technology to create modern day solutions to meet consumer needs. Given my professional background, it might sound odd to hear that when I attended college at Tulane University, I majored in Music Theory and Composition. Some may not see the connection between the two disciplines, but I have found them tremendously parallel. Music theory’s use of logic, structure, rules — many of which can be broken from time to time — but more importantly, creativity and originality are many of the same core values that I bring to software and technology.

My father, John, had been thinking up HomeValet since the late 90’s, so it was always a product I was excited about and intrigued by the possibilities for, but didn’t know at the early moment we’d become a true father-son duo to bring it to life. After working together for a number of years with him on another project, I was eager to join him to launch HomeValet when the time was right. At that point, my years of experience in tech, and expertise in product and software development left me well prepared for my role as Co-Founder at COO.

Please tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Our mission at HomeValet is to solve the last yard of delivery with solutions made for the modern consumer. We are reimagining the current e-commerce delivery supply chain with our patented API-based SaaS platform, subscription app, and consumer-first Smart Box solution. Connecting consumers, retailers and couriers, we are enabling automated delivery of packages, groceries and other goods in a seamless, contactless way. Our Smart Box is a consumer owned, internet connected, climate-controlled, electronically-locked appliance that keeps packages secured, fresh, and is equipped to disinfect exposed surfaces of all deliveries.

What really matters though, is that we are allowing consumers to take charge of their unattended delivery experience in the most efficient and safe way. To put it briefly, HomeValet has the power to be the catalyst for a major shift in giving back the control to the consumer. We aren’t just a lock box that sits outside on consumers’ porch. We are enablers of consumer freedom, convenience, and peace of mind with an end-to-end solution that makes it all possible. By not only addressing the needs of retailers and couriers but also putting the control back in the consumers hands, we are reigniting our economy allowing for rapid e-commerce expansion.

Share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ll tell a story about when I first started managing people. This occurred several years ago before we started HomeValet and taught me a lesson about people that has impacted how I’ve recruited talent going forward.

I once hired a young recent college grad to help with some entry level design and marketing work. Pretty simple stuff, really. She was taking longer than I wanted to get up to speed, wasn’t really completing her work at the quality that was expected, and, perhaps more tellingly, was not asking me any questions about the work that I had assigned her. I provided guidance and examples of work that she could try to emulate. Every week we’d chat about how she could improve and what I expected. She’s inexperienced and needs a mentor, right?

This went on for several weeks before a summer vacation that I had planned with my family. I made sure that I had laid out the week for her before I left. She had plenty to do. One more chance, I thought.

I returned only for one of the other VPs in the company to report that she had been absent from the office much of time I was on vacation. She was in for a few hours one day. Two hours another. It was a real breach of trust — way worse than doing work poorly, in my opinion. Needless to say, we let her go. I came to find out after that, not only was she not coming into the office, she was spending some of her time sunbathing at the pool at the motel adjacent to our office! Other staff could even see her down there. Unbelievable. It wasn’t funny at the time, but I laugh about it now because it’s so absurd.

I learned a couple lessons from this experience. Not everyone can be motivated and sometimes you have to cut people loose and move on. Now, I look for people who are motivated by the company’s mission from the start. As a result, we’ve recruited a really talented group of people at HomeValet.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I think my answer will ring a little cliché, but 🤷. It’s my parents. I credit them with instilling me with the values that made me the person I grew up to be, the confidence to seek challenges and never settle, and the support to get me through hard times.

Professionally, I’ve had the opportunity to work professionally with my father, which is a privilege that most do not get in their life. The wisdom that he has been able to provide me has been a guide throughout my career.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Today, being disruptive certainly has a positive connotation, as disruption can really have great impacts on the future. It’s 2020 and there are so many systems still in place that were created decades ago which inform various industries as we know them today. Oftentimes, innovators build upon those age-old systems, so disruptive companies play an important role in pushing change in a positive and new direction. That said, sometimes abandoning age-old systems is not fully needed. As my team has learned, innovation within delivery and e-commerce has completely changed the global supply chain often serving the interests of larger companies and efficiency for retailers and putting consumer needs second. At HomeValet what we hope to do is reimagine early traditions, like deliveries from the milkman, to improve upon our current supply chain to meet the needs of not only retailers and couriers, but consumers as well. To succeed in making an impact, or disruption, understanding the target audience and evaluating their needs is necessary. We have conducted multiple studies and surveys at HomeValet to truly evaluate and understand the purchasing habits of our targeted consumers and have properly structured our business model to reflect them.

While some may view what HomeValet is building as disruptive, we see ourselves more as establishing a solution and category that doesn’t yet exist. We like to refer to the company and our vision for the future as a next-generation solution that has been needed for decades, but only recently is primed for mass consumer adoption. What we are doing is not “disrupting” categories, but rather “reimagining” systems and norms to meet consumer needs and create a more sustainable future. At HomeValet, we are creating our own category while building upon ideas and systems existing within a variety of industries including grocery, supply chain, courier services, e-commerce, etc.

Can you share three of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please provide a short story or example for each of the three.

Not everyone will see your vision — stay the course and have faith in yourself. Big ideas take time.

I feel like this is probably a shared experience with a lot of founders. When we were first talking to people about pursuing HomeValet we heard a lot of “It’s too hard.” Reading between the lines, I’ve come to realize that they often meant “it’s too hard for you.” At first, it’s really difficult not to listen to that message because, yeah, it is hard to start a business and HomeValet is really big idea. But particularly when some of those people are your trusted friends or valued connections. Are they right? Maybe, but if you never even try, you’ll never know.

We often use the example of Fred Smith who founded FedEx when rationalizing this type of doubt. If you haven’t had a chance to read about the beginnings of that company, do it. It’s a remarkable story about believing in oneself and bucking the doubters. Like Fred Smith, we pushed forward and now have built a company with some really great talent, built some really cool stuff, and are about to enter the market in a big way. So, we got this far. We’ll see if the doubters were right. I doubt it.

If it’s really not working, pivot.

OK, so I’ll admit this is a bit contrary to my first answer, but they are not mutually exclusive. When we first started out, although we had always conceived of a complete, climate-controlled, feature-rich Smart Box in our patents, we thought the MVP (minimum viable product) was going to be a simple package security lock box. Our first prototypes reflected that. Turns out that, not only are there several different versions of that concept on the market already, they are generally overpriced for the value proposition they provide to the consumer. Don’t get me wrong, package security is a problem. But it’s really not a huge problem for the consumer. It’s more of a problem for the retailers who spend 5 Billion dollars annually to replace stolen packages. Expecting consumers to spend several hundred dollars to solve a problem that’s not truly theirs is the wrong place to start.

You know what shifts the value prop from retailer to consumer? Great user experiences do. Statements like “Never go to the grocery store again” and “Eliminate the delivery window” really resonate with consumers. When we figured this out, we decided to pivot hard on our MVP market entry solution. We invested heavily in refrigeration engineering and figured out how to incorporate a small-footprint cooling engine into our Smart Box solution. We knew that if we could solve for grocery, the most difficult challenge in e-commerce delivery, we can address all the other issues in the last-yard, as well.

Build your own hardware. At least at first.

We always conceived HomeValet as a platform company. The thing that’s going to enable this new delivery solution in the last-yard is not a single lock box product. The enabler of this solution is a central platform that can manager a multiplicity of hardware providers and connect them with the retailers and couriers that benefit from their use. Trust and ease-of-use on the consumer side are equally important and a market full of disparate software + hardware solutions won’t work at scale.

So, in the beginning we went to work on the platform and sought hardware partners to build out that side of the solution. Frankly, they didn’t exist. There were package delivery boxes, chest freezers, doorbell cameras, and the rest, but none encapsulated what HomeValet really needed. In addition, large appliance makers were simply too big to pay attention to a business in the concept stage.

We knew we had to do this ourselves and that choice has paid dividends in our ability to innovate. We have been able to engineer our products to do exactly what they need to do without haggling with another company with different motivations. Controlling that process has enabled us to build a product that will be an example to other hardware manufacturers of what the consumer will expect from a HomeValet connected device.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

At HomeValet, we will continue to meet the needs of its consumers allowing them to manage, protect and control their online purchases at their home. In the future, we hope to expand our partnership clientele with retailers, couriers and manufacturers and build out an ecosystem for home delivery to allow us to continue to be steps ahead of what consumers need and want. We’ll succeed when we have some version of a HomeValet enabled secure delivery appliance installed at the homes of the majority of e-commerce shoppers and are able to convert current brick-and-mortar shoppers to e-commerce through the gained confidence and convenience that HomeValet offers.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

As I’ve taken on more responsibility in my life, personally and professionally, I’ve come to realize how difficult it is to manage my time and goals. In the shuffle, it’s easy for things to fall through the cracks or to not evaluate things properly before moving to the next thing. One book that has been helpful in understanding better strategies for setting goals for myself and our business has been Measure What Matters by John Doerr, which was recommended by a friend of mine. If you don’t know who he is, he’s a prominent venture capitalist and chairman of Kleiner Perkins who had early stage investments in some of the world’s largest tech companies. His book is all about how you set and measure actionable goals using OKR — Objectives and Key Results. Essentially, setting realistic, achievable goals for your business that have known (or at least expected) results.

While I admit I haven’t instituted all the learnings from the book into our business, it’s full of wisdom that I try to draw on in creating our own company culture. We’re still in the process of building this early-stage company’s culture and it’s a great reference guide for anyone trying to build with rapid-growth and large-scale.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Set a good example; others will follow”. I’m in position of leadership as COO. The title alone does not shape healthy and productive behaviors of the many people who work with me. They want to know what is expected of them by seeing what I expect of myself.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

In a way, we’re trying to do that with HomeValet. By enabling new dynamics in a market poised for change, we’re creating new ways for communities to solve existing problems. With scale, HomeValet creates an opportunity to remove huge amounts of waste from a very wasteful supply chain. You can also imagine how technology like HomeValet’s can aid in the reduction and elimination of food deserts by expanding opportunities for grocers to more conveniently serve the fresh food needs of lower income communities. At the micro level, if HomeValet allows people to recapture 2 hours per week as “family time”, a great deal of human capital would accrue. We believe HomeValet can delivery two or three times that time saving every week. As we grow, we’re going to try very hard to incorporate these principles into HomeValet’s business model.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow HomeValet on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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