An interview with Andy Watson, CEO of Sherpr
Sherpr is a highly successful, multi-million pound start-up providing a no-hassle, door-to-door service for shipping luggage, boxes and sports equipment globally. The business has seen double-digit growth year-on-year since its inception in 2017 and has grown as a leader within the industry.
Pod Talent has supported Sherpr with several roles as the business has grown, most recently hiring its first Managing Director/COO.
We sat down with Andy, CEO of Sherpr, to talk about scaling operations, when is the right time and how to hire the right people, as he revealed his honest, upfront views on success and building high performing teams.
First things first, we know how important operations and customer experience are to a growing business..
How did you know when to make your first ops hire?
It's difficult to know exactly, but the decision should predominately be driven by cash, the number of orders and how much the existing team is covering.
The trouble is, when it comes to the first ever hire, people tend to leave it a little too late. I’ve now learnt to get help when the cracks first start to show, rather than waiting until we have bigger problems. For example, we first hired at around 200 shipments per month - but looking back it would have been more beneficial at 100 shipments per month.
If I had, we would have been able to build the correct processes and set up relationships with carriers rather than playing catch up. Looking back, the service was impacted by us not hiring as quickly as we could have.
Looking further ahead, at what’s next for the business – how do you know when to take the plunge and go for senior hires?
Every founder knows when they need to make a senior hire and they probably start looking for that later than they should. It takes a good founder to realise their weaknesses and know they aren’t the best at managing everything in the business. Ultimately, you need to hire people who compliment you and can take the business to the next level.
When the business grows to a certain size, it needs experienced people with new ideas and strong individuals to continue the growth. You need to remember that going from 0 to £1m is very different to navigating £1m to £10m!
I knew two years back that we needed someone at the senior level who could blend strategy and delivery. Sadly, the cash flow wasn't where it needed to be to make that hire.
It's all about realising where your precious time can make the most impact. As the business grew, bringing in that much-needed support allowed me to really dive into strategy and fuel the growth; but it all comes down to the founder - do they want to release the key functions/responsibility to someone else?
When you hired your new Managing Director, what were you looking for?
Personally, I'm strong at strategy, partnerships and understanding opportunities - and with Sherpr there are A LOT of moving parts - we needed a very strong operator but also someone who could think strategically as well as tactically.
We were looking for quite a special blend of skills. We needed someone who had strong experience of start-ups, working closely with the board, had been through investment rounds, had great drive, and was a real leader. I'm very pleased to say that Pod have brought in a fantastic individual and I'm even learning from them too.
Within six weeks they’ve already had a huge impact and I can see them taking the business further in the coming years
What was the most difficult hire across the business?
We've got a very strong team and have hired across Sales, Tech, Commercial, Customer Service and Operations. I'd probably say the hardest was the Managing Director/COO role.
Lots of people want to take on the challenge and our role gave them greater responsibility than a normal COO/MD. We crossed paths with some seriously impressive candidates who would have been fantastic for the business if we were five years on… but for right now we needed someone who had exposure to the whole business across multiple roles, who understood the burdens/weight of the business, has had challenging founders, has seen it before and has that ‘get up and go’ attitude.
It was also hard to find someone that is the right fit culturally and the right candidate for the size of the business now and where we want to be.
When you first started defining your own role, how do you then start to unpick it? At what point do you give away sales, marketing, ops etc?
There are two key ways to look at this:
What you're not good at or don't like doing What you are good at and what is best for the business long term - I come from a sales and partnership background so I focus on that!
Could I have done sales, do I want to be cold calling - no not really - is there someone better at it than me? – Probably
You know quickly what you're good/bad at. So get experts in who have a passion and can do it better than you!
I know being a solo founder can be difficult- Who do you go to for advice?
Few will understand how hard it is emotionally - you can have the best highs ever but the lowest of lows but no one to share it with.
I probably have two key people… the Chairman and my Dad. My dad is a business owner so understands the problems and the weight of it. I also have a lot of good friends from the likes of Spotify who I can go to for specific advice.
It's quite hard to find other people within your network with similar experiences that you can share, so it's really important to have at least 1-2 people you can confide in. Just before we hired the MD role I went to another founder and discussed their first c-suite hire, for example.
How do you decide what to focus on month-on-month?
Business plans are great, but it never really finishes like you've planned. It is an ever-changing world in start-ups…it's important to be able to adapt to the market conditions. It's a completely different world to a year ago…look at the likes of the on demand grocery market… with people now going back to in-store purchasing. It's important to focus on the end customer and understand their pain points.
This is where a MD/COO comes in, to enable you to deliver on the long-term strategy and keeps you on course.
It's important to not constantly look at the 'new & shiny' thing. You'll learn by doing. Make decisions fast but use your management team as the sounding board as to whether it's worth going after.
You'll also have pressure from the VCs on what they want to focus on so make sure you're keeping them happy and including this in your plans.
Overall, make sure you're staying true to the overarching goal, value proposition and the customer - they are king!
What's the best advice for setting up/scaling a successful business ?
Having a co-founder - someone you can share the wins and losses with. Someone you can bounce ideas off of and grow the business with.
Make sure you have two people to talk to - one personal and one work related. I'm lucky to have my dad and a very good Chairman; this is so important so make sure you select yours carefully.
And final, big question, what’s the best advice you can give on building successful teams?
Culture is king, especially in a start-up. The business will get to a size where the culture breaks away, moving to business units/countries who each have their own culture, but it's important to keep the values throughout.
Someone might have the best CV in the world, but if they’re culturally not right, there's no point hiring them.
Finally, give the team ownership for their team/their role - they are the experts in the space, and you've employed them to do a job. Let them do it!
I cannot thank Andy enough for his unfiltered, open and honest answers. It was incredibly interesting and eye opening - I hope this helps those who are in/soon to be in the same position. If you'd like to discuss any of this in more detail please don't hesitate to reach out to Seb Taylor at Pod Talent.
Sherpr is a no-hassle, door-to-door service for shipping luggage, boxes and sports equipment. We remove the painful hassle of lugging your items to the airport and on the train by offering you a door-to-door solution at the click of a button, at the same cost or cheaper than airlines. Like to know more check them out here - www.sherpr.com
Pod Talent is a specialist supply chain talent solutions partner, Trusted Partner with Fortune 500, VC Backed Start ups and Global Multinationals. Covering UK, Europe and US, across the entire Logistics & Supply Chain. If you're looking for a trusted advisor who can support you on making those crucial hires and developing your recruitment processes - reach out to Seb Taylor Seb.email@example.com