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Nicholas Daniel-Richards: “Returns are also seeing a huge increase”

Established brands are setting up smaller innovation teams that think and behave more like startups. For companies that have their own logistics teams, we provide software that can be implemented in a few weeks designed to run the entire ecommerce fulfillment warehouse. From inventory management, pick pack & ship and automation. We’re seeing large companies […]

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Established brands are setting up smaller innovation teams that think and behave more like startups. For companies that have their own logistics teams, we provide software that can be implemented in a few weeks designed to run the entire ecommerce fulfillment warehouse. From inventory management, pick pack & ship and automation. We’re seeing large companies move from typical enterprise software cycles of 6+ months to experiment and figure out how to pivot to ecommerce shipping using our SaaS product in a couple of weeks. We even have a few customers who ship themselves in addition to using our fulfillment service to manage volume and reduce shipping costs, one notable brand is Mars. Their team approached us and were shipping thousands of orders within five weeks after initial conversations.


As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicholas Daniel-Richards, Co-Founder of global logistics company, ShipHero.

Driven to create great products and the teams that build them, Nicholas Daniel-Richards has been responsible for developing a wide range of products, platforms, and teams across a variety of industries and organizations. He founded his first start up right out of college and several more since then including one that was acquired by Omnicom in 2004.

Over the last 15 years, Nicholas’ focus has been largely on the technology and innovation side. He has led the technology and strategy efforts as CTO for several agencies and technology oprganizations, including Omnicom, Code & Theory, DigitasLBi and Pivotal Labs working with clients such as Mashable, TechCrunch, TheVerge, Vogue, BBC Worldwide, Accenture Digital, Nielsen and Suntrust Bank. His most recent role saw Nicholas leading the National Basketball Players Association as the Chief Digital Officer, overseeing several large digital transformation initiatives along with a revised CBA. Nicholas founded ShipHero with Aaron to bring this combination of technological, organisational and experience design expertise to help ecommerce businesses all over the world better manage their logistics and fulfillment.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Ello Jiliea! My career path has been very random and had many ups and downs. Where I’ve been fortunate is being obsessed with solving problems with software. I met my Co-Founder, Aaron Rubin in the early 2000s after he stole a developer from one of my engineering teams! We quickly found that we both shared the same obsession with solving complicated problems. After a few bad ideas, we landed on ecommerce shipping as an opportunity to innovate. Aaron ran his own ecommerce business and had struggled with the logistics side, and I had led ecommerce builds for BBC Worldwide and Gant — it was a true ah-ha moment. We started building software in 2013, not sure if and when we would find customers. Just under two years later, we went live with our first customer.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Probably the most interesting experience in my career happened during my last full-time job before I made the decision to focus on ShipHero full time and we could afford to pay a salary. I was the chief digital officer for the NBPA. I had never played basketball, and at 6’2”, I wasn’t exactly the “average” basketball player height. However, I had the opportunity to build some amazing tech, engage directly with NBA players such as Seth Curry and Lebron James, and learn some valuable leadership lessons from Michele Roberts, the first woman to lead a sports union. I learned about basketball from the players perspective, the journey of young men and their parents from pre-draft to draft pick and beyond. The most notable moment was when I tutored NY Knicks Rookie Marshall Plumlee on how to write code. Fortunately we had a standup desk to work at — Marshall being 7’ tall and was passionate about technology. I left that job to embark on this ride with ShipHero, but I fondly remember that time as a privilege in my career.

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

So many mistakes ☺ Funniest? Crumbs. Ok here goes…For a couple of years I was doing sales. Basically, if someone was interested in what we could do, I would be the person they talk to. I’m not a sales professional by any means. However, sales is about listening: knowing if you can help, calling out when you can’t and making good conversation. One time, I had made a scheduling mistake where two separate business owners who were interested in a demo and Q&A session had been scheduled for the same video call.

Much awkwardness followed. Fortunately, I had tea ready to drink to calm my nerves, and both business owners found it more entertaining than anything else. My takeaway? Use automation to solve simple tasks and save yourself time! I quickly found Calendly that very same day and haven’t had an issue since. Oh, and we also hired a sales professional ☺

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

Always! We launched our ShipHero Fulfillment last year to quickly create a network of warehouses across the US that ships orders for ecommerce brands that outsource their shipping. We were also very fortunate to be the launch partner for Shopify Fulfillment, which was an exhilarating experience. Right now, we’re focused on thinking beyond the warehouse. We’ve launched three of our own fulfillment centers that are matched up with our partner warehouses. We’re using this network to move our customers’ inventory across the network of warehouses, using data and machine learning to predict the best location for products. With a single aim to reduce the distance packages need to travel when shipped. We now have 2-day ground shipping coverage for over 98% of the contiguous US population. By doing this, we’ve eliminated shipping bottlenecks, delays and surcharges that the carriers are adding as they become more overwhelmed. It’s a complicated problem to solve, and it took us seven years to get here. Last month we shipped 3.9 million packages. We’re enabling high growth ecommerce brands to reduce their shipping costs, while improving shipping times and customer experience.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

This is a tough one, as I do still suffer from burn out every now and then. The past six months have been breathtaking with regards to basically everything. That said, I’ve learned some basic things over the years. Number one thing for me — sleep. I aim for at least seven hours every night, and to make sure I do actually sleep, I do not bring my phone or any device into the bedroom! Also diet. I lost about 70lbs a few years ago by restricting sugar and carbs. Basically, I eat veggies and proteins. Every now and then I still have some cake or pizza! I do love my cake, and pizza is food of the gods as far as I’m concerned. Finally, I’ve come to the realization that I have to be a bit more forgiving of myself. Some days I start out with my to do list and before I know it, it’s 9pm and I didn’t hit one thing on that list given all the other things that happened in the day. I’m getting better and reducing that list, and accepting that there will be days where I won’t get done what I wanted to, that’s ok, that’s what the next day is for.

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

Wow, this is a great question. Honestly, there have been many people in my life, some I’ve known for years, others have been brief moments at different companies. You said one person, which is not fair, so I’ll focus on the most recent person in my life that’s both a mentor and someone I implicitly trust. That is my fellow founder, Aaron. This is not my first startup, though it is by far the most successful to date, and the reason for this I attribute to Aarons vision and his character. That’s not to say he doesn’t have flaws, or that we always get along. No, sometimes it’s really stressful and we do have different approaches and opinions on many things. That said, to know you can keep forging ahead, make mistakes, learn and do that in an environment where you can grow, I am grateful for that. I know it sounds cheesy, but, I really mean it. Without Aaron, we would not be where we are, and I know I’m doing my fair share too, I’m just grateful to have the chance to build a great team, culture and a business that’s having an impact.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

There are two things we actively do to try and bring more good than bad to the world:.

#1 We work with select nonprofit businesses pro bono. They really appreciate having access to our services and it gives our team the chance to work with organizations they have a personal connection with. This type of work gives us purpose beyond building a great business.

#2 We treat everyone with empathy and sincerity, and always a good dose of self deprecating British humor. Both internally and externally, it’s important to us to have this friendly rapport with our customers and partners.

At our core, we strive to be authentic and truthful. I’ve learned that when you put good out there, it often comes back to you, and then we all benefit.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

Absolutely. Simply put, this has been a watershed moment for ecommerce.

First and most obvious, large retail outlets have started using outsourced fulfillment providers (such as ShipHero!) to quickly pivot and provide DTC ecommerce shipping for customers who purchase at home.

Established brands are setting up smaller innovation teams that think and behave more like startups. For companies that have their own logistics teams, we provide software that can be implemented in a few weeks designed to run the entire ecommerce fulfillment warehouse. From inventory management, pick pack & ship and automation. We’re seeing large companies move from typical enterprise software cycles of 6+ months to experiment and figure out how to pivot to ecommerce shipping using our SaaS product in a couple of weeks. We even have a few customers who ship themselves in addition to using our fulfillment service to manage volume and reduce shipping costs, one notable brand is Mars. Their team approached us and were shipping thousands of orders within five weeks after initial conversations.

Another prime example is the transformation of retail locations into fulfillment centers. One of our most revered customers, Canadian Tire, quickly pivoted from a single ecommerce fulfillment center, and implemented our software in many of their retail locations. By doing this, they transformed their retail footprint into an intelligent and responsive network of fulfillment warehouses where orders are shipped from the closest warehouse to delivery addresses, as well as offering in-store and curb side pick-up.

We’re seeing a surge in subscription box offerings, from paper consumables to footwear. Now that more of us are buying at home, we’re more open to simplifying when we need to purchase or receive replenishments of products, instead of getting in a car and doing the routine replenishment.

Returns are also seeing a huge increase. Of course, that’s going to naturally happen because of the increase in digital purchases. However, some very smart brands are making it easier to shop digitally, try the purchase, say clothing, and return what you don’t want. Nordstrom Trunk Club was an early player in this space. Now we’re seeing a number of established brands as well as high growth dtc brands offer this because software and outsourced fulfillment offerings like ShipHero eliminate the logistical complexities.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

They will, though their function will see radical change. The physical store will still be a place that we can experience and try products in person before committing. In fact, we’ve seen this happening already with brands like Warby Parker that started as purely ecommerce experiences that created physical in store experiences. The instore experience will be more Apple Store, Warby Parker — places where we can learn, try and maybe purchase later digitally. For malls, this means they will pivot to become more of an experience destination, where you could go for great food, entertainment and have fun — not necessarily to go do your shopping. Another trend we’re going to see grow is turning large department stores such as JC Penny, Sears and Macy’s into fulfillment centers. Amazon is already exploring this concept. It’s something we’re keeping our eyes on.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

This is a huge topic that we’re not going to be able to cover in a couple of sentences. That said, here are some observations from what we’re seeing and also from my experiences as a consumer.

A big lesson is learning how to bring customers back to the in store experience. As consumers, we can buy most things on our phone, and there are going to be certain things we will never buy retail again. That said, most of us enjoy the experience of discovery, trying new things, the social aspect of experiences with friends or loved ones. Retailers that focus on experiences are going to find opportunity — while also having a sophisticated ecommerce experience that supports the purchase before, during or after the in store experience. I love the REI experience. They have a mission to be good for our environment as well as be a place of discovery. I can go there and spend hours discovering and maybe spending too much. Another area of innovation is reducing the friction of the in-store experience. First we saw self checkout, now Amazon is taking that to the next level where you can simple grab what you want and leave — my guess is as consumers, we’re going to want shopping to either be an experience where we can learn and discover, or where it’s really easy to get what you want, do this fast and get out.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Honestly, I’m in awe of emerging brands that nail the story and experience. There are new category players popping up all the time. Again, think Warby Parker or Burst, or ByteMe. The opportunity as I see it is not the race to the bottom, and what I mean by that is being the cheapest. I think it’s about experience, and offering value that represents what the consumer stands for — that is what social causes do brands stand for, how are they minimizing carbon emissions or how are they helping communities be it local or around the world.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. 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. 🙂

Wow. Influence!? Do you have me confused with someone else? You don’t think I’m Damian Lewis do you? Oh, you mean ShipHero! Well, our influence is pushing it — maybe it’s more about taking a stand and fighting for it, and we’re amongst good company. Emerging brands and the established brands that can stay nimble, adapt at the speed of ecommerce and the consumer are going to thrive. Right now, we stand at a pivotal moment in history. We need to get serious about our impact on the environment, and as a company, as a founder, I know we have that opportunity to not only do good, we can also provide the platform for brands and the consumer to reduce or even eliminate carbon emissions when shipping ecommerce. We started with our network of warehouses, with the goal of eliminating the need for air cargo, and eventually reaching a point where we have ground transportation delivering customer orders through national, regional and local transportation networks. We are using recyclable packaging for boxes and packing materials thanks to our partnership with Ranpak. That said, we have a lot of work to be done, 7+ years in and it feels like we’re just getting started. We couldn’t do any of this without the trust and inspiration of both emerging brands and the disruptors transforming established brands alike. However, right now — let’s get through this holiday season!

How can our readers further follow your work?

We share thoughts on our blog, https://shiphero.com/blog as well our podcast where I have conversations with founders and businesses owners about their journeys and the products they create, make, sell and ship over at https://shiphero.com/podcast

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you Jilea ☺


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