You’ll need a road map! The first step towards starting a business is to write a detailed business plan outlining thoughtful business goals and objectives and revenue projections. You need a roadmap for not only yourself as a business owner and entrepreneur but also for your staff because everyone needs a clear direction. It is vital to have systems, processes, data and resources in place to ensure the long-term success of a business.
Startups have such a glamorous reputation. Companies like Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Uber, and Airbnb once started as scrappy startups with huge dreams and huge obstacles.
Yet we of course know that most startups don’t end up as success stories. What does a founder or a founding team need to know to create a highly successful startup?
In this series, called “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup” we are talking to experienced and successful founders and business leaders who can share stories from their experience about what it takes to create a highly successful startup.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lori A. Torres, CEO of Parcel Pending by Quadient, North America’s leading provider of smart locker solutions for residential, commercial, retail, and university properties. Lori is a dynamic and successful entrepreneur who has been recognized on multiple occasions for her leadership, including being named EY Entrepreneur Of the Year® 2019 Orange County and 2017 Innovator of the Year by the Orange County Business Journal.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I had a 30+ year career in real estate operations and management. I moved from Long Beach, Calif. to Orange County, Calif. in 2000 for a career advancement role at The Irvine Company, a leading real-estate investment company and master planner. Over the next 13 years, I served in various senior positions, including senior vice president of property operations in which I was responsible for the operational oversight of the company’s entire multifamily portfolio, consisting of 1,200 property management associates operating over 44,000 apartment homes. My tenure at The Irvine Company played a pivotal role in my entrepreneurial journey and also helped strengthen my understanding of the multifamily industry.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
While at The Irvine Company, I regularly walked many of the apartment communities. Initially, package delivery was not a major issue. It used to be that property managers only took a few minutes out of their day to manage a small amount of deliveries for residents. However, as time went on and online shopping became increasingly popular, I noticed that property managers were struggling to devote enough space, time and money to properly manage the major influx in resident deliveries. At the same time, residents were becoming increasingly frustrated with having to pick-up their packages during office hours, disappearing packages and tracking packages that never arrived. I knew there had to be a better way utilizing technology and set out to find a solution.
As such, I walked away from a stable corporate job to follow my dream of starting Parcel Pending. I jumped right in by working to achieve my MBA at Pepperdine University while at the same time trying to get the company off the ground. My passion to make Parcel Pending work never waned. I put my business plan into action. I bootstrapped to get the company off of the ground in 2013 and then worked to raise funds in 2014.
I founded Parcel Pending in 2013 to provide seamless package management solutions to multifamily communities. In 2019, Parcel Pending was acquired by Quadient (formerly Neopost), the global leader in parcel, mailing, customer experience and business process automation solutions. Parcel Pending by Quadient, with an average of 4 million packages successfully delivered monthly, offers a wide range of solutions that ensure the simple and secure delivery and retrieval of packages and online orders for residential, commercial, retail and university properties in the United States and Canada.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
When I was first starting out, I was stuck multiple times on many major business decisions so I reached out to different people depending on where I was stuck. One mentor, the former president of The Irvine Company, was so helpful when I needed him. I knew I could call him to pick his brain, ask his opinion and I would get complete and honest feedback. I’m forever grateful for the support I received. The interesting part of my journey was that I came from 30+ years in corporate America, I never raised money and I never built a company from the ground up. I’ve been blessed to have a network of advisors that I can reach out to for guidance. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their mentorship.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our team makes us stand out! It’s all about our people and their passion to take care of the customer! We provide special support for everyone’s unique package management needs — be it a multifamily community, retailer, university or commercial property. We aim to make every package delivery a special one. Parcel Pending stands out amongst its competitors due to our unmatched 24/7 service teams that are dedicated to creating the best experience for all of our customers. Our specialized departments focus their time and efforts by going above and beyond reaching out to their contacts and ensuring everything is running smoothly all day, every day. We pride ourselves on improving the security and accessibility of over 4 million packages monthly. We recognize the importance our lockers play at the communities we serve and that the packages people are excited to receive are our top priority and passion.
One example in particular really stands out to me. We had a customer call to let us know that someone had passed away. Our service rep assisted the customer with their request and then went out and bought a condolence card and mailed it to the customer in mourning. The customer was so thankful that she emailed me directly to let me know that our team was the most caring and compassionate customer service that she has ever encountered. We really go the extra step to make our customers feel special!
Parcel Pending takes great pride in finding solutions to growing problems that create inefficiencies. We listen intensely to our customers to understand their needs and create solutions with technology to make life easier for all. The company will continue its expansion in retail, corporate campuses, commercial office buildings, multifamily apartments and universities. We anticipate innovative new products and will continue to be the first-to-market with these new “make life easier” solutions. We have great things in store!
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We help bring goodness to the world by making it quick, easy and convenient for people to safely and securely pick up their packages. We solve package problems!
We also give back to charity! For example, we recently partnered with South County Outreach, a non-profit that helps to prevent hunger and homelessness in Orange County, Calif. by providing counseling, transitional housing, and food pantries, to families in need.
I’m also passionate about mentoring young professionals and one of the ways I do so is through my involvement with The Global Good Fund Fellowship, a 12-month program that supports the leadership development of young social entrepreneurs across the globe by pairing them with executives who serve as coaches. I love providing valuable leadership insights, business and marketing guidance, encouragement and overall support to my young fellows. And I find that I learn and grow from the experience.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Humble. I think one of the factors that led to my eventual success was my ability to ask for help. I never let pride get in my way. Whenever I was perplexed by something or needed guidance I would simply pick up the phone and reach out to my mentors and advisors. I was never afraid to ask for help. However, I don’t think enough entrepreneurs ask for help because they are afraid of looking weak or foolish. This type of stigma needs to changed. I have found that most people are willing to help, you just have to ask for it.
- Leader. I like to say that I can solve any problem, I just need to think through the solution. As I get older, I hope that I can continue to challenge myself both personally and professionally. My goal is to play a major role in business leadership and mentorship. I love to lead but there’s no greater reward than helping another person find their wings and take flight on their own entrepreneurial journey.
- Hard-working. I love to roll up my sleeves and get the job done. When I was first starting out, I was putting in long hours and there were certainly days that I would have preferred to just sleep in or relax but I had to remind myself that if I didn’t put in the work than my company would not move forward. You have to be hard-working if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I truly have received sound business advice thus far. I would encourage entrepreneurs to go with their guts and trust their instincts when it comes to which advice to follow.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Walking away from a stable corporate job to start your own business is never easy. There were definitely some struggles, especially early on. For example, when I first started the company, I was the only person to delegate tasks to. We didn’t have the budget to afford the top talent that was needed. Instead, we had a lean team but we worked effectively and collaboratively to move the company forward. Another struggle was office space. Despite the fact that we planned for growth, we still ended up outgrowing four different office spaces over the span of four and a half years. This was certainly a good but very expensive problem to have!
What I have found to be most interesting about starting a company and scaling it quickly is around execution. I’ve learned that you can have a great idea but at the end of the day, it’s all about execution. Execution both internally and externally play such a critical role in growing a company. Coming from corporate America, I thought I had it all figured out and could run a large organization but starting a company with just one person, (me) and growing it to a team of over 200+ talented individuals is a completely different animal. And as the company doubles in size and revenue each year, the challenges become different and need to shift based on need.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?
Being an entrepreneur and CEO is not for the faint of heart. It’s going to be a tough journey but one that is worth it. There really is no easy road to take. You need to be comfortable with asking for help along the way because there will be tough times for sure and you simply won’t have all the answers.
For me, I think surrounding myself with a great team from the start really helped me overcome any obstacle that was thrown my way and ultimately it was having a rock solid team that helped me to achieve success. I can honestly say that I am nothing without my team. In order to deliver phenomenal customer service, you first have to hire great people who love to help. I rely heavily on the strength, dedication, professionalism and savviness of my team to maintain our success. This has helped us achieve phenomenal growth over the years. At the end of the day, you can have a great idea, product, vision or business plan but if you don’t have a solid team behind you then you will struggle to succeed.
The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?
There are many highs and lows when building a company. I found that keeping focused on the overall goal (revenue targets) helped keep things balanced. And when the lows hit, I went right back into solution finding mode and focused on the end game.
Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?
I often get asked this question. My personal belief is that you should bootstrap as long as possible and have some skin in the game. This helps investors know your commitment level and if you can bootstrap your way long enough, you often don’t have to give up as much equity.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
- Cash is king! Yes, you can have a great business idea but no cash means no company.
- Hire smart! You really are nothing without your team so hire great people who love to help, and hire them from the start!
- You’ll need a road map! The first step towards starting a business is to write a detailed business plan outlining thoughtful business goals and objectives and revenue projections. You need a roadmap for not only yourself as a business owner and entrepreneur but also for your staff because everyone needs a clear direction. It is vital to have systems, processes, data and resources in place to ensure the long-term success of a business.
- “Inspect what you expect.” We all have expectations but we can’t make assumptions. Ask questions and inspect what you expect to help you succeed as an entrepreneur.
- Collaborate and learn from others. I am constantly seeking new networking, mentoring and professional growth opportunities to expand my skillset. I recently went back to my alma mater where I obtained my MBA to take a class. Be passionate about mentoring young professionals and look for ways to ensure that you are constantly growing. Look for opportunities to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone. You learn so much when you get on the skinny edge of the branch.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Hire people that are better than you, that make you better and hire them early on. You really are nothing without your team so hire great people. I personally wish I would have hired more high-level executives from the start. This is a mistake that I see a lot of founders make when they are first starting out. I know it can be challenging to find the money to afford top talent but it really is an investment worth making from the start.
I also think that CEOs and founders make the mistake of not rewarding the daily accomplishments of their team with pride and gratitude. I rely heavily on the strength, dedication, professionalism and savviness of my team to maintain our success. This has helped us achieve impressive results. Parcel Pending is powered by our people so I firmly believe that the key to our continued success is recognizing the achievements — both big and small — of our team. I highly encourage CEOs and founders to recognize the contributions of their team members early on and on regularly.
Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?
It’s going to be very difficult to have a work-life balance when you’re starting your own company but balance is important to your health and well-being so make it a priority. Try to workout at least three days per week, it helps the mental game!
There’s no denying that I’m busy but health and fitness are personally so important to me. Right now, I hit the gym every day at 6:30 a.m. for a quick workout. I also work with a personal trainer and play tennis to stay fit, healthy and allow myself a mental break — we all need it.
Living a healthy lifestyle can be challenging as a time-crunched CEO, but the reality is that you need to prioritize your health or else you risk running out of energy to move your business forward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement, it would have to do with solving homelessness. Having spent over 25 years in the real estate housing industry, homelessness is an issue that is close to my heart. I have witnessed first-hand how homelessness impacts local communities. That’s why I serve as a board member of Families Forward, a non-profit that provides homeless families or families at risk of homelessness with tools and education to maintain self-sufficiency. I love to solve-problems and truly think that homelessness can be solved … we just need to find the right solution!
We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to sit down with Warren Buffett. He’s an amazing and graceful businessman and I feel like I would learn so much from him over a one-hour lunch. Speaking with him would likely change the way I run my business completely! I would be so eager to gain insight from him.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Connect with me on LinkedIn!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!