Beyond Consulting

34: From Consulting to E-Commerce Strategy

In this episode of Beyond Consulting, sponsored by ECA Partners, we welcome Justin Rezende, a former Accenture consultant and current Head of Support at Shopify Logistics. Justin joins us to share his experience working in e-commerce and management consulting.

 

The Beyond Consulting Podcast is hosted by Ken Kanara and co-hosted by Steven Haug. Ken leads this week’s episode.

 

 

Ken Kanara: I’m Ken Kanara and this is Beyond Consulting. Today we have Justin Rezende in the studio. Justin leads support for Shopify Logistics and he’s also a former consultant. Before we get started with Justin, I just want to remind everybody that we are sponsored by ECA Partners, a specialized project staffing and executive search firm. Justin, thanks so much for joining us.

 

Justin Rezende: Hey Ken, thanks for having me on.

 

Ken Kanara: You bet. Justin, just like everybody else, we would love to get your career story as a jumping off point.

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, absolutely. I started out in management consulting right out of college. I joined Oliver Wyman in the San Francisco office. While I was with Oliver Wyman for a little over two years, I worked on projects primarily in oil and gas out of the New Orleans area, as well as in telco out of the Los Angeles area. I started to look to concentrate in a particular area of the business that we actually didn’t have a lot of work within the Bay Area, hence I was on the road for a couple of years. I started to be open to transitioning out of consulting because I was no longer supportive of the travel lifestyle. I had just moved in with my now fiancé and was trying to find more local work. As I was open to new opportunities, a friend of mine reached out about an opportunity at a startup called Deliverr, which just a few months ago was acquired by Shopify and now is Shopify Logistics.

 

Ken Kanara: Excellent. Let’s start with what Deliverr does. I know that they were recently acquired by Shopify, and that’s now Shopify Logistics, but how would you describe that business?

 

Justin Rezende: Deliverr’s mission, as it was framed as I was originally joining it, was around democratizing access to, specifically, fast-fulfillment. If you go on Amazon.com and you see a Prime badge, you know you’re going to get that item in a couple of days, and that motivates you to move forward with that purchase at that point in time. Deliverr wanted to offer that same confidence in getting this item quickly to enable e-commerce merchants to close sales on their own websites, versus having to go to these marketplaces to provide that. It’s this idea of increasing the field of play for people that could compete online outside of the Amazon space. Deliverr since then has expanded the scope to actually democratizing access to world class supply chain overall, so we also now provide services along freight and along reserve deep storage. We are taking things that sometimes require major e-commerce players or big contracts and opening that up to smaller merchants, as well. It’s an expansion of that original mission.

With the acquisition by Shopify, we’ve really continued to stay aligned to that overall goal of empowering e-commerce merchants. Shopify does that overall. The whole infrastructure of what they’re trying to build is in this vein of letting anyone go build their small business, build their online site, and Shopify logistics is still trying to enable them to do that on what is sometimes the very hardest side, the logistics side. We are continuing in that same vein to empower these small businesses. Something I really enjoy about my work is that I have this alignment towards taking care of merchants and helping people spin up these entrepreneurial endeavors.

 

Ken Kanara: Excellent. Beyond the obvious of logistics being a nut to crack, what is it about logistics that makes it so tough in your opinion for small business owners?

 

Justin Rezende: There’s a very easy example there, as you were saying, which is just that it’s complicated to get something from a manufacturing plant in China, to a facility in a port in the US, then get that into a particular facility, and then get that from a facility to the end buyer. What makes that even harder is if you’re trying to do it at a small scale, you’re not really going to be able to talk to everyone that you might want to talk to and you’re not going to be able to access the same resources to do so competitively, both the original free shipping or port shipping, the original freight movement within the country, and the final movement out to buyers. We really enable you to have access to high quality services at a reasonable price and, as well, we are able to provide capabilities to you that you simply wouldn’t be able to do out of a single warehouse or out of your backyard, when you’re first getting started. An easy example there was Deliverr’s first idea around fast fulfillment is we are taking, even if it’s 10 units of your product, we’ll distribute that throughout the country so that as the orders come in in certain locations, we’re able to provide that fast shipping promise because we’ve already moved it out to a nearby location.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s pretty incredible that you guys will do that at even what we’ll call, not a small scale, but a starting scale. That’s really good and shows that you want to, I guess, grow with your customers.

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, it’s something I’ve always really enjoyed about the work at Deliverr, and now Shopify Logistics, is we’re 100% aligned that’s what our merchants are trying to do. They’re trying to build and scale their businesses and we succeed and we grow along with them.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s great. Justin, you actually lead the support function, is that right?

 

Justin Rezende: That’s right. For almost two years now, I’ve been the head of the support team at Deliverr and now Shopify Logistics. Again, it’s just still in this vein of, I get to empower e-commerce merchants. When I talk to merchants, it does unfortunately mean something’s gone wrong, but it does mean I’m also in a position to directly help them out. With our support team, every day, we have a bunch of great people showing up and advocating for what these merchants need in order to successfully run their businesses.

 

Ken Kanara: Excellent. You lead support, so could you talk us through what your role encompasses beyond what you just said, and then also how you came into that position, because I know you obviously didn’t just start as the Head of Support. Could you talk us through your career, as well, at Deliverr and now Shopify Logistics?

 

Justin Rezende: As a quick overview, as a support team, we’re going to take any of your inbound inquiries for issues that you may be experiencing, as well as more general questions you may have on how to use our platforms. We support both chat and e-mail and we’re open to scheduling and taking calls with merchants, as well, to help them talk through how to properly use our platform.

Moving into that opportunity came out of a fairly one-off conversation about, like I said, two years ago. I had been previously working with the business operations and strategy team at Deliverr and I was specifically working within the engagement marketing function, which is working with a lot of our growth managers who work with our accounts and help them plan how to effectively grow their business, when to invest, for example, in advertising, when they should be looking to add FASTag offerings on products that do or don’t have the margin to support it. Basically, we’re really helping you think through how to effectively run your business on the Deliverr platform. Something I identified after several months of working alongside these growth managers was, at the time, they weren’t necessarily able to have what we would call a growth conversation when they were getting an account on the line. They were instead having a conversation about certain issues that they were talking about with our support team that weren’t necessarily resolved at the time. For example, we had a significant delays and receiving at some of the facilities at the time and you’d get on a call and the growth managers would simply be trying to talk about, “Here are these SKUS that I think would do well on our network or with FASTags,” and instead they’re having a conversation about a pallet that hasn’t been forwarded from a dock.

 

Ken Kanara: Understandable.

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, absolutely. I called out the opportunity as I was putting together my quarterly plan near the end of 2020 and I said, “Look, I’d  to spend this percent of my time working in support of the support team because I think that would honestly have more of a positive impact on the engagement team than another initiative that I might take on specifically here.” Actually, the conversation with the co-founders, Michael Krakaris and Harish Abbott, they came back and they said, “Hey, do you actually want to move into potentially running this team? Let’s dedicate you just on helping out this team and if that’s going well, I think there’s an opportunity for you to step in and lead this team.” I started working with those leaders in the fourth quarter of 2020, which is peak, crunch time for e-commerce.

 

Ken Kanara: Yes, good timing.

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, and even under that straining time period, we were able to deliver improved results in a lot of our availability and responsiveness for merchants, so then they gave me that nod to go ahead and take it on in full the next year.

 

Ken Kanara: This is a pretty big function I would imagine at a company of your guys’ scale. How big was the team at Deliverr and then how big is the team now, given Shopify’s acquisition?

 

Justin Rezende: The team that I initially took over was around 30 to 40 individuals and pre- Shopify Logistics acquisition, the team is about 80 global FTE, and now we’ve added a few additional headcount from the Shopify support side. We sit separate from general Shopify support but our combined Shopify Logistics work is about 100 people globally.

 

Ken Kanara: For a guy that knows nothing about logistics and supporting those logistics, what are some of the things that you think about in terms of success metrics or KPI’s to ensure that you’re hitting all your marks?

 

Justin Rezende: Some of our key success metrics are related to how quickly we begin conversations with merchants. A really important one for us is our first response time. You can look at your median first response, which is a good pulse check on what does it feel like to write into this team? Our median first response will sometimes sit around 30 minutes to an hour, so anytime of the day, you write us in, any time of the week, the median 50 percentile experience is around 30 minutes or an hour. Most conversations are starting in under an hour. The other important metric I look at is the 90th percentile first response as a way to represent what is the most negative outcome you might be experiencing. An example might be is if you’re writing us in Friday evening and we have lower coverage on Saturday mornings, it might take a little longer to get to that initial response. We generally aim to have our 90th response under 12 calendar hours, so that even in the most exacerbating circumstances, in under half a day, if you flag an issue to our team, we’re getting back to you and helping to move forward on resolving that. Then, I’d say a very general customer support metric that we use, and it’s widely used across the industry, is CSAT Customer Satisfaction. When you end a conversation with us, you get a thumbs up/thumbs down survey. What percent of that is thumbs up, versus thumbs down.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s interesting. As a user of a lot of different SaaS and software products, it is true about that instant gratification, especially if I have an issue…Actually the software that we’re recording our audio on now, I was telling Justin before the podcast that they just released an update and there’s all these little bugs. It is funny, Justin,  I do feel a lot better if I get an e-mail within 15 minutes to an hour about the bug that I just reported, as opposed to a half-a-day later or something like that.

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, and I’d say an even bigger factor sometimes within e-commerce where the companies we support, the brands we support, they similarly have very high expectations of what they need to deliver to their buyers as their experience. I think that generally comes from a heightened expectation of consumers for what it means to have issues, have questions, engage with customer support, and we get that knock-on effect. They’re trying to deliver a great experience to their buyers and so we have to be able to provide a great support team to them.

 

Ken Kanara: Excellent. Being in the position you are and with a company like Shopify, you  have a front row seat to seeing how e-commerce is developing, in general, as an industry. What are some of the things that you’re seeing in terms of trends.

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, that’s a very fun question, because of course, the time I’ve been here at Shopify Logistics has seen both ups and downs within the e-commerce market. I actually started at Deliverr a week before San Francisco had mandatory shutdowns.

 

Ken Kanara: Oh, wow.

 

Justin Rezende: I spent my first week at Deliverr scoping out potential projects I could take on on the growth team and at the end of that week, our two co-founders said, “Okay, we have your project, it’s COVID. This thing called COVID, you need to go figure out what we do about it.” My challenge was to try and bring into the network, products that we expected to be surging in demand in response to the changes in consumer expectations. We’re going to be locked inside, we’re going to be at home, and so we’re there, we’re tinkering with the data, and we were trying to get ahead of predicting that: arts and crafts, puzzles, baking and information on what was going to surge early on the pandemic…

 

Ken Kanara: …board games, right?

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, and I remember in particular, they kept running some iterations of the program and it was May or June and I was seeing some predictions about bike supplies that were going to be really hot. Then, we were reading in July or August that all these bike parts and bikes are totally sold out around the country. We were throwing stuff around like, “We called it, we’re on it, yeah…”

I was initially a part of this huge surge in e-commerce demand. We saw the relative velocity of  the exact same thing, so take 100 products…that suite of 100 products is now doing twice as much volume as it was a month before COVID started. With that initial pop, we weren’t sure at first, “Does this represent an acceleration of e-commerce adoption? Does this represent a temporary increase?” As I’ve said, e-commerce has had some ups and downs and actually, Shopify just in the past week did downward adjust its overall expectations for the e-commerce landscape, and did have layoffs, overall reducing some workforce. This was them saying, “Hey, we look at the overall e-commerce GMV trend and it looks like we are just on trend to what was going on before the pandemic,” versus there was material fast-forwarding of that growth. Instead of, we took a step-wise move up five years, we actually had a jump and a retraction. I still think it remains to be seen what this plays out over an additional couple of years. If we still see, as you put that line down, some increase versus our current factors such as inflation making it look  we’re on that previous trend. I’m still hopeful about what we are expecting. We have seen an acceleration of certain consumer moves to online purchasing. The example I used a lot early on in the pandemic is groceries. I would never have considered buying groceries online versus going to the grocery store and now it’s a standard in our house that we get our one Imperfect Foods delivery a week with our fruits and veggies for the week, and yeah I’ll still go to the supermarket to pick up other things.

 

Ken Kanara: Yeah, that is a great example and really interesting, the market dynamics that you jumped into. What a crazy time to start with a company, and of all industries, a week before the COVID lockdowns. That’s incredible. Is there anything else you’re seeing from an e-commerce perspective? Could you talk a bit about the types of brands that you see emerging? I know there’s a lot with micro-influencers and stuff like that. I’m curious to hear your thoughts.

 

Justin Rezende: I’m not necessarily speaking to any super trends we see here, but I do just find, overall, the independence, the super fractured entrepreneurial spirit of e-commerce is really, really exciting. You definitely see that there are a lot of people that are equipped and able to go with the tools that companies like Shopify provide and take on building a company that, ten years ago, 20 years ago, they wouldn’t have had any opportunity to go do so. I think with people’s access to information, access to these tools, access to getting their message out there on their own, such as micro-influencing or in social media in general, you’re in a position where there’s never been a better time, in some ways, to be this quick, small entrepreneur. At Shopify we’re committed to trying to make that as easy for people as possible. The vision for Shopify Logistics is that you can go from the idea to it getting to your buyer without you needing to be an expert or really fully understand that operational process.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s quite an incredible vision. I remember, actually when I was in consulting, and I do want to get to your consulting experience, next, but I remember when I was in consulting, around 2007 or something, I wanted to start a yoga towel business. I had to literally figure out everything from the design of the towel, to actually getting it on the ship from manufacturers in Hong Kong and China, get it to my door…I still remember wasting a ton of money on bad samples. Then I had to hold the product, then sell the product. It was really, really cumbersome and I ended up actually not making any money, after all was said and done. My margins were basically zero and it was a really expensive learning experience. It’s incredible what Shopify has done in the space.

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, it was much more expensive than it hopefully could be now, and also way harder on you and then the mental space required. Really our goal is not just to make it accessible and profitable, but also to free individuals up to focus on the brand, focus on the customers, focus on the product.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s great. Okay, let’s take a step back. Prior to Shopify/Deliverr, you were a consultant for Oliver Wyman. How did you decide to make the switch out of consulting and what were some of the things that you considered as you transitioned?

 

Justin Rezende: As I mentioned, I started to be open to the idea of leaving consulting when I realized I didn’t have a realistic path to not traveling most weeks within the next couple of years and within my role. I really liked a lot of the day-to-day of what I was doing, especially some of the last couple of projects I was on within consulting, they were very, very interesting, and the work I was doing day-to-day I really enjoyed. But, understanding that there wasn’t a long term lifestyle fit for me there left my door open, at least, to other opportunities. I wasn’t super actively looking but when I did get and initial reach out from a friend who was already at Deliverr, I had a drink, took the call and he was able to at least frame a sufficiently exciting opportunity to come work on this cool project. I gave it a go from there.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s interesting. So it wasn’t necessarily about the functional focus or anything, it was that you just took the opportunity as a whole, it sounded interesting, and you said, “Hey, what the heck?,” and just took the leap?

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, I did have some back and forth on my fit for the role. My friend was on the data science team at Deliverr and the role he initially approached me about was for a data analyst position. My feedback was, I’m not really looking to be a data analyst after what I’ve been doing the last couple of years in consulting, but here’s an example of what I’ve been working on and what I would be looking to do next. I had a couple more conversations with other people on the Deliverr team, and then they came back with the proposal for me to join the Business Operations and Strategy team. I’m guessing they maybe did some Googling on what do consultants do after because I was the first hire on the team, and they were really, I think, just trying to find a fit for me thinking that there was some leverage and there was important stuff I could be working on for the team.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s awesome and it also highlights a really important point for our listeners, too. The job that you end up with after consulting, or after anything really, it doesn’t necessarily have to be posted on a job board. I guess in Justin’s case the initial conversation was about something entirely different, but the company and the mission and the vision was a fit and people found a way to make it work. That’s really great, thanks for sharing that Justin.

I’m also curious, if you think about transitioning from consulting to where you’re at now, where do you feel like consulting really helped and where do you feel like maybe it didn’t necessarily help or left you in a position where you still needed to learn some things?

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, I’d say the biggest strengths that consulting provided is the extremely robust problem solving toolkit. I was dropped in and my initial challenge was to figure out what I should work on, what would be the most impact I could have within the growth work and I was like, “Okay, yeah. I’ve done some high level estimation before, I’ll go do some opportunity assessment.” I’ve worked with partners on really high level swagging on whiteboards, I think I could take a week and get to some realistic estimates of my impact in some places and that wouldn’t have been a problem I would have necessarily felt comfortable taking on before consulting, and then take my first challenge, I took on with COVID, it was, how do we go and identify potentially trending demand, potentially trending product verticals. Again, I felt pretty comfortable moving into tackling that problem, setting up the comparisons. I’m not necessarily doing anything out of a statistics class that I’ve taken. I’m finding significance, but I’m finding what appears to be believable trends. I’m finding what appears to be relevant movement in the data, but at the same time, I’ve worked with real data and I understand, “Okay, this is 10 data points. I gotta ignore that. Just having the mechanical experience to accurately and quickly take on some of these problems, I’d say, that was actually a funny example of consulting being a bit of a clashing moment of that transition, where I came back with my initial identified product verticals we should go after and our co-founder was ready to go. He was like, “Let’s send the e-mail, let’s go get these items…” I was like, “Well hold on, aren’t we going to first review my analysis and then have another meeting with someone else to talk about the analysis and then iterate and then move forward?” It was like, start-up world, we’re ready to go, get the emails out. So it’s funny. I think it actually even comes with increased responsibility of the work you do because it’s going to go to “market” much faster.

On the other side of things that maybe I wasn’t quite as prepared for coming out of consulting…I shared this with other people I talked to that were joining Deliverr coming out of consulting as well. I called it, I was challenged on my PM toolkits, both my project management and my product management. On the project management side, I’d been a part of big initiatives and seeing what it takes to keep things moving forward effectively, but I haven’t really been in a position, and to be honest, at a lot of projects it would have been fairly unacceptable to be doing what was effective once I within an actual org, which is just really pushing on getting what you needed done from different stakeholders: sending someone a message on slack about something you asked them about yesterday and setting a one hour reminder to follow up with them again because you absolutely need that input if you’re going to make progress before the end of the week…

On the product management side, we talked about this initial COVID product vertical targeting and after that initiative we did a scoping of the impact and it was like, “Okay, even on top of the COVID surge, we believe that this drove a 10% incremental boost in order volume in these months because we ran this initiative and our CEO, Harish, he challenged me, he said, “Okay, what you now need to start doing as your product thinking is this is a 10% impact from an initiative. What is the product version of this that is a 10X impact?” Those were totally new muscles to me, to take something that, yes, this was successful, the math worked here, the logic worked here, and think about, how does this run on its own, continue to run, and continue to move forward over time.

 

Ken Kanara: That’s interesting. I think both examples really ring true. I know what you mean too, on the project management/execution point of view. In consulting, you’re usually working with a team of insecure overachievers, myself being one of them, previously. Everybody tends to follow the project plan and it’s not as execution -oriented. It’s, here’s a four month plan versus what you’re describing is, no, this is four day plan.

 

Justin Rezende: Especially within the startup space. A lot of times we were trying to move very, very quickly and I might have an engineer I’m working with who has a lot of other important things on the plate and so making sure I can stay at the top of the plate and get my things done on time, as well.

 

Ken Kanara: Thanks for sharing that. Before we wrap up here, Justin, we ask all of our guests if they have any recommendations in terms of books, blogs or content that has had an impact on their career or their life that they’d like to share with our listeners.

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, when I was with in consulting, probably the most important book I had engaged with, and I don’t think I’m sharing anything new to people here, was the Pyramid Principle. It was very, very useful and definitely super applicable within consulting, but I found those resources really valuable as I transitioned, as well. I have actually trained support leadership on some of that thinking and communication, as well. In terms of moreso the transition, I’d probably call out, as I moved into a management role, I had a previous mentor recommend the book Radical Candor, which I found really, really valuable when it came to establishing the culture of my team and managing getting feedback and providing feedback to our teams. I think that’s been a really important part of how our support team has been able to do well is if we are always able to have effective, transparent, but direct dialogue, we’re able to move forward and improve over time, getting it right even if you miss in one individual instance. I’d also call out a few different ways that this type of thinking lives, but I’ve just found it really useful. Some of the concepts such as the book Good to Great, where it talks about what it takes to build a successful company behind a powerful vision. The Zappos book, Profits, Passion, People, echoes the same concepts as well. I think those are really applicable if you’re going to any company, but particularly a startup, where it’s going to be a smaller environment and you can really push the culture to have a strong unification behind what you’re building.

 

Ken Kanara: I like all those suggestions. Before we wrap up, do you have any general advice that you’d give to our listeners as their navigating their career right out of consulting or they’ve been in that first job right out of consulting…any general advice you have?

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, I would say, when I was in consulting, I didn’t really think about the culture of a company as being so important and that’s because within a consulting firm, there’s not necessarily even the ability to have something you’re building towards. At Shopify Logistics we’re building towards this idea of empowering e-commerce merchants. It would, in some ways, be inauthentic to say a consulting firm had that mission or vision. I would say as you are looking at companies for a consulting exit or you’re within a company right now and you’re looking at your next opportunity, I would challenge you that as you’re going through your interview process, ask all your interviewers what the mission of their company is and make sure everyone says the same thing.

 

Ken Kanara: Interesting. I love that suggestion. I think that’s so good and I think you’re right, too. At a consulting firm, it’s almost preset or predetermined. I like the contrast that you drew. Excellent. Justin, thanks so much for joining us. If listeners wanted to learn more about Shopify Logistics or yourself, is there any website or information that you would like to share? We will drop it in the description below, but is there anything you’d like to share or promote?

 

Justin Rezende: Yes, so our company is still largely at Deliverr.com, if you’d like to go take a look at our offerings overall and learn more about the company. If you’d like to reach out to me I’m on LinkedIn with my name, Justin Rezende.

 

Ken Kanara: Excellent. Very good. Thanks so much for joining us this week. For those of our listeners listening for the first time, make sure to subscribe on Spotify, Apple, or Amazon so you can be notified of future podcasts episodes that come out every single week. If you want to get in touch with me directly it’s going to be eca-partners.com. For everybody else, we look forward to talking with you next week. Thanks so much.

 

 

Connect with Justin on LinkedIn and visit www.shopify.com for more information.

 

 

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