John Simms: “Be absolutely honest in your personal and business life”

Almost twenty years in the making, HomeValet is a next-generation contactless home delivery solution and network on a mission to solve last yard delivery with solutions made for the modern consumer. Essentially what we’ve created is a patented API-based SaaS platform, subscription app and consumer-first Smart Box solution. By connecting consumers, retailers and couriers, we […]

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Almost twenty years in the making, HomeValet is a next-generation contactless home delivery solution and network on a mission to solve last yard delivery with solutions made for the modern consumer. Essentially what we’ve created is a patented API-based SaaS platform, subscription app and consumer-first Smart Box solution. By connecting consumers, retailers and couriers, we are enabling automated delivery of packages, groceries and other goods in a seamless, contactless way.

As a part of my series about “Big Ideas That Might Change The World In The Next Few Years” I had the pleasure of interviewing John Simms, co-founder of HomeValet.

John Simms is a successful entrepreneur who has built and managed several thriving businesses over the past 40 years. As CEO and Founder of HomeValet, an emerging leader in contactless home delivery, John is dedicated to solving the last yard of delivery with solutions made for the modern consumer.

Applying over twenty years of research on logistics issues with eCommerce home delivery, Simms created HomeValet as a contactless, secure and reliable home delivery solution, improving the modern supply chain for all parties involved. His first patent for HomeValet was filed in 1999 during the eCommerce boom and was issued in 2005, making it the preeminent leader in contactless home delivery. Today, he has eight additional patents pending.

Prior to founding HomeValet, Simms made a name for himself as an entrepreneur using technology to create modern day solutions for out-of-date systems including his founding of CMDI, a CRM and compliance software company which remains dominant in several niche markets and has processed over 10.5 billion dollars and 70 million dollars transactions. He also served as CEO of Odell Simms, Inc., a marketing agency specialized in direct marketing (World War II Memorial, Statue of Liberty Foundation, Museum of the US Army, etc.), fundraising and corporate sponsorship (Pentagon Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, Gettysburg Battlefield Museum, among others), and international economic development (UK, Germany, China, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Chile and more). He was a strategic investor and member of the Board of Directors of Audience Partners, an online ad placement firm with patented television set-top box targeting capability, which was sold in 2017 to Altice.

Simms holds a BA in Political Science from Yale University and a JD from Emory College of Law.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Please tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’m a cliff diver. Well, not literally. Let me explain. Cliff divers take controlled risks. Sure, they have diving skill, but very few divers risk crashing on the rocks below. Understanding and assessing tides and waves, allows a cliff diver to time a dive and control for risk. Even still, it takes a certain degree of faith in their mastery the process. Some would say cliff divers are courageous, and others might call them foolhardy. I believe they are tenacious. The courageous and foolish don’t survive. My life is comprised of a series of controlled risks.

Whatever success I’ve had can be attributed to my tenacity. Determination, persistence, and continued existence define tenacity. I think most entrepreneurs are cliff divers. They take calculated risks, not foolish ones.

I’m a public high school kid from Biloxi, Mississippi, the first in my family to graduate from college. I tested myself in every way as a child, athletics, academics, politics, and had many disappointments and also my share of successes. My first really big risk was choosing a college. On a whim, my mother suggested I apply to Yale for college. No one from Biloxi had attended Yale, and I had never seen the school or even been to Connecticut. But I was admitted and arrived to register for classes without having visited or even been to Connecticut. That’s very scary at 18 years old. At the time it seemed like a big risk not to join my peers at a state university; but, I figured, if I wasn’t happy, I could always come home. True, but I would have considered that a failure. I more than survived, I thrived. Another world of possibilities opened to me.

After successful completion of law school and several bar exams, I tried my hand at politics. No, I didn’t run for office, but I helped others do so. It was while running a gubernatorial campaign that I realized politics was technologically in the dark ages. So, after my candidate lost, I moved to Washington, DC and began compiling computerized databases to better target voters for messaging and turnout. Working with freelance programmers on the overnight shift on timeshared mainframes, I became fascinated with database and system design. Some years later with the advent of personal computing and affordable remote networking, I imagined a SaaS platform (before it was called SaaS) to manage databases of political donors, to support fundraising processes, and to comply with federal rules for political giving and reporting. That business (and platform) was the first of its kind at scale and now supports the fundraising and reporting process of more than a third of contributions nationally at the federal level, over 5 billion dollars this year alone.

Working with new technology is fun and exciting. What I enjoy the most is creating new businesses utilizing new technology and sustaining the business over time. I’ve found that very few founders are also good managers. And very few managers will ever succeed at founding a business. My original tech business has thrived for almost 40 years, taking advantage of every new technology and adapting to changing client needs. Sustaining a business over many decades is challenging. Retaining talented management and staff is, too. Today most of my VP’s and managers have been employed by the company for 20 years or more. In fact, the person who wrote the first line of code for our SaaS system is still with us.

The concept of HomeValet occurred to me in the late ’90s Observing early startups like Peapod and Webvan, it was clear to me they’d ultimately fail to gain traction because the e-commerce market was not yet mature and their last-mile delivery was imperfect. I began ideating my own solution using nascent technology which became HomeValet. I wrote a business plan (which in large part is being implemented now) and filed patents for a platform to manage and monitor delivery to the home in order to be ready once the market matured.

Can you please share with us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

On the cusp of the PC revolution, there needed to be an inexpensive and easy means of transferring information from 9 track tape typically used in a mainframe computing environment to a personal computer. We looked everywhere and finally discovered an affordable desktop tape drive that could port data directly to a PC hard drive. After buying the tape drive, we received a call from the manufacturer asking if they could demo the capability to a potential customer using our tape drive, since we owned the only one in Washington, DC. The potential customer was the CIA.

Which principles or philosophies have guided your life and/or your career?

Be absolutely honest in your personal and business life. Truth is the real currency of personal and business relationships. At a time when truth is disrespected, be a “truther”. People will want you as a trusted friend and partner. With a commitment to the truth also comes incorruptibility. In business, you will have less pressure and fewer temptations to do the wrong thing, if you have a reputation of incorruptible honesty.

Ok thank you for that. Let’s now move to the main focus of our interview. Can you tell us about your “Big Idea That Might Change The World”?

Almost twenty years in the making, HomeValet is a next-generation contactless home delivery solution and network on a mission to solve last yard delivery with solutions made for the modern consumer. Essentially what we’ve created is a patented API-based SaaS platform, subscription app and consumer-first Smart Box solution. By 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. The adoption of the HomeValet Smart Box will create a whole new category within the home appliance industry, which hasn’t changed much since the introduction of the microwave in the 1970s. But more importantly, HomeValet-powered Smart Boxes will put the control in consumers’ hands, so home delivery is designed for the convenience of shoppers, not just retailers.

Utilizing HomeValet’s platform, consumers will be able to control their Smart Box and access information for all their deliveries directly within the HomeValet app. Tools will simplify the e-commerce purchasing and delivery process, alleviating the need to sort through emails and alerts from various retailers and couriers, and providing consumers with the peace of mind that their items will be safe, secure and there when they need them. And the best part is HomeValet accomplishes all of this without requiring any change in behavior by the consumer, or a heavy lift from the courier or retailer.

How do you think this will change the world?

Change the world sounds very “big” and idealistic. I do believe HomeValet has the power to reorder the pattern of life for consumers for the better. Consider this: You would never go shopping, then leave your packages and groceries unprotected for hours on your porch. But that is exactly what retailers, grocers, and couriers expect you to do. HomeValet solves the safety and convenience problems of e-commerce home delivery for consumers, and in doing so, is the linchpin to many, many other important solutions.

Current e-commerce logistics are a legacy of a time before online shopping became common practice. The current supply chain was designed to end on the loading dock of the retailer, not at a consumer’s front door. Shoppers were expected to browse and purchase goods in-store, then deliver their packages and groceries home for themselves. Home delivery systems of retailers today are band-aids to fulfill online shoppers’ expectations of convenience. In reality, consumer expectations are unfulfilled.

Retailers are overwhelmed by volume and are unwilling or unable to restructure the delivery chain to the home fast enough. Some do better than others, some try harder than others, and all are scrambling to keep up. Band-aids will no longer suffice; major surgery is needed. That’s where HomeValet comes in.

HomeValet’s software platform allows retailers and couriers to deliver 24/7 365 to a refrigerated, locked, and internet-connected Smart Box at a consumer’s home. Packages will never be stolen; groceries will never spoil. Consumers will never have to be home to receive a scheduled delivery, never have to answer the door, sign for a delivery, or run to FedEx, UPS, or USPS to ship returns. Consumers may receive prescription drugs and alcohol by signing digitally. Deliveries can be made anytime day or night and remain secure indefinitely, as if you brought your packages inside or placed your groceries in the refrigerator or freezer.

The 24/7 365 time-window for delivery makes for more efficient routing and lower delivery costs for consumers. HomeValet also reduces the need for packing (grocery bags, foil, and thermal bags, ice packs, etc.) in the grocery delivery process. This reduction in packaging and efficient delivery routing means an overall lower carbon footprint and a more sustainable future.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this idea that people should think more deeply about?

The consequences are many — all good. Retailer loyalty programs may offer discounts to frequent shoppers or to shoppers who participate in scheduled replenishment of grocery and household items — think weekly milk, egg, bread delivery. Retailers might find they need more warehouse, picking and packing space and less retail space. The consumer will find that they can spend less time shopping and more leisure time with family and friends. People lead very busy lives and want to slow down, run fewer errands, and avoid wasted time in their car in traffic. Our consumer research shows that people want to shop more online, they want the experience to be convenient and safe, and they are willing to pay for it. The pandemic has advanced the e-commerce adoption dramatically while highlighting the failings of home delivery. The demand is there for HomeValet’s solution.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this idea? Can you tell us that story?

As I mentioned, the idea of HomeValet was developed many years ago. The tipping point to begin pursuing HomeValet now was the introduction of so many “solutions” to home delivery: cameras, garage delivery, in-home delivery, in-kitchen delivery, delivery to the car trunk, “dumb” boxes, clustered lockers, BOPIS, drive-thru, curbside, and on and on. That signaled to me everyone knew home delivery was a big problem for consumers and retailers alike. Perhaps all of these techniques have a place, but none are a universal solution. Having a locked, safe, refrigerated appliance at home with restricted access for users and expected deliveries is a universal solution for just about everyone — no anxiety, no strangers in the house, garage, or car, no errands for pick-up, fresh groceries, and frozen ice cream. Now is the time.

What do you need to lead this idea to widespread adoption?

HomeValet is positioned as the next evolution in the optimization of home delivery, the challenge will be consumer and retailer adoption. However, with the needs of the modern consumer, the rise of e-commerce, and the disconnect between the way things are being done now and the way they should be done, the need for our solution is becoming more and more obvious. By offering a solution that benefits both the consumer and retailer, Homevalet is the logical next step to automating the grocery process, and signature requirements needed for the delivery of both alcohol and prescriptions. As the demand for safe, seamless and secure delivery rises with the modern consumers, we’ll need to continue to be one step ahead of what the consumers need and continue to progress our advanced software systems.

What are your “Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.

Hmmm. Five. There are probably dozens of things I wish I had been told. It is important to listen to advice, particularly coming from those who have on-point personal experience. Some advice is “directional” and other advice is “operational”. Directional advice helps set an entrepreneur on the correct path; operational advice helps one to navigate the path. The value of directional advice is more obvious. Operational advice has value as one confronts the problem the advice addresses. There is often a eureka moment when you say to yourself “now I get it”.

I’ve been in business for a long time and I’m still listening and learning, but I also find myself being asked to give advice. To answer your question in the context of my current venture, unlike my earlier businesses which I bootstrapped, HomeValet needs outside investment. Fortunately, we’ve been successful with fundraising, but 1) I was surprised to learn just how risk-averse individual investors are. 2) It was a wonderful compliment to me personally that my long-time friends were willing to invest because of their faith in me. 3) You never have a bad meeting with a VC (if you can get a meeting). 4) VC’s are less risk-averse than they are rule-driven. 5) Finally, the landscape is littered with people and institutions who consider themselves “gatekeepers”.

Can you kindly share a story or example for your answers?

1) I’ve been engaged in fundraising for decades, but raising money for myself is a very different “ask” than raising money to build a memorial, to support a charity or a campaign. Individual investors introduced to me were slow to embrace the idea of HomeValet until they had direct exposure to me and Jack. There is no substitute for hearing “it from the horse’s mouth”.

2) Getting myself to approach my friends was the most difficult part. My friends, many of whom have known me for decades, were quick to say “yes” because they had faith in me.

3) Never had a bad meeting with a VC, if having a good conversation is the objective. They are happy to listen and learn, but very slow to financially engage. It made me feel good to get verbal affirmation of the concept of HomeValet, but at that stage, the meetings were, for the most part, a waste of time.

4) VC’s have investment rules that are apparently rarely broken. VC’s are investing from a pool of funds that were raised to with the expectation as to the venture stage and potential return. I wasted time talking with VC curiosity seekers only to learn that we were “too early stage”. But the biggest disappointment came from Seed VC investors who would not invest pre-revenue. I couldn’t help asking myself, if they had listened to anything. Like FedEx, HomeValet can’t have revenue until it is fully built, then the supply chain pivots to a new paradigm. I would have rather heard that they thought HomeValet was a bad concept. Instead most thought it had chicken and egg challenges, but that the concept was solid.

5) It is typical human behavior to be territorial. That’s why we have countries, states, cities, and our own yard. The same behavior extends to business with gatekeepers in businesses and investment firms. People tend to feel secure in the stasis of their own turf. Change is unsettling. For change to happen, it needs to take a human form. I have never been successful in getting a big decision made without an “evangelist” on the inside. Typically, the evangelist needs to be a subject expert, well-placed in the hierarchy of the company, and see adoption as means of climbing the ladder internally or externally.

One last, gratuitous, comment that applies to every question and every answer: if you aren’t an entrepreneur by nature, you may find the process very unsettling, if not unpleasant. Early in my career through friendship or business, I was exposed to several businesses that became multi-billion-dollar successes. I often joke that perhaps if I had just asked to “answer the phone” to get on the inside as the business got off the ground, I might be a billionaire today, too. Entrepreneurs have more stress and insecurity than employees who can rely on others in an organization to make the big decisions and take primary responsibility for the bottom line. But I know that for me, being my own boss, marching to the beat of my own drummer, makes me happy. “Know thyself”.

Can you share with our readers what you think are the most important “success habits” or “success mindsets”?

1) Have a clear unambiguous vision of your product or service in detail

2) Know what problem it solves

3) Understand where this problem ranks in a hierarchy of value (for instance, understand how important solving this problem is compared to other issues consumers may spend money to solve or other ways of mitigating the problem which may be cheaper or more accessible);

4) Recognize that others (staff, potential investors, family, etc.) may find it difficult to “see” your vision; so, tell stories creating hypothetical situations which are effective in communicating your vision; and

5) Recognize that others still may not see it the same way or may have a natural tendency to “own” your vision by altering it some way. Listen to them, think it through, their ideas may have merit, but don’t be afraid to stick to your vision, if you are correct.

Make time to THINK every day. It is easy to be reactive to the daily back and forth. Quiet time thinking will help you keep perspective and solve the big problems that can grow into roadblocks.

Some very well-known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say?

Modern consumers want the freedom, convenience, and peace of mind from being able to receive packages and groceries 24/7 365 without having to be home to protect their purchases from theft or spoilage. Retailers and couriers need the efficiency of a 24/7 365 window for home delivery. Legacy home delivery systems were designed for the occasional, not the frequent deliveries being made today, and certainly not, for the delivery of groceries.

HomeValet offers online shoppers a safe, secure, refrigerated Smart Box outside their home to receive deliveries on their behalf 24/7 365 and a smartphone app to track and monitor deliveries. Retailers and couriers access the appliance to schedule deliveries to the Smart Box by connecting their POS and logistics systems to the HomeValet SaaS platform by API.

Consumers buy the Smart Box and pay a monthly subscription just as they would for a smartphone. Merchants and those delivering for them will pay an annual license for integration with HomeValet’s SaaS platform. The addressable market is huge. Our initial target is single-family homes which represent 70% of US housing stock.

HomeValet’s addition to the home supply chain opens a world of possibilities for consumers and retailers. Groceries will remain fresh, ice cream frozen, packages secure and even disinfected. Wine, liquor, and other restricted can be digitally signed for. Our consumer research demonstrates shoppers want to have this control, and they are willing to pay for it with HomeValet.

Links to social media?

You can follow HomeValet on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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