From BD Leader to Startup Founder
8 questions for Ben Emmrich
Ben Emmrich took on a negotiation at work that no one else wanted. Seven years and two companies later, he is still solving the problems he uncovered during that deal.
This week Ben is launching Tusk Logistics, a company that serves shippers by providing easy access to pre-negotiated rates from top-tier regional carriers.
I’m featuring Ben today because his journey from BD leader to startup founder illustrates how every negotiation is a puzzle. As you solve that puzzle you can uncover new opportunities. You can grow your company. Discover a new passion. Even transform your career. Ben has done all three.
Ben’s journey began at Google, where he was asked to build partnerships with FedEx, UPS the US Postal Service. Those shipping deals were important but unsexy - not the kind of work that typically led to high-praise from Google's senior leaders (I know because I was Ben’s manager at the time).
But for Ben, those negotiations opened up new doors that have changed the trajectory of his career and, if Tusk Logistics succeeds, will change an industry.
“they were so focused on their own solution that they lost the forest from the trees.”
“that level of passion should be where I spend my time professionally”
“I have learned how to trust my gut and to act boldly”
Three items before this interview:
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Tusk Logistics is hiring: Head of Sales and Head of Marketing.
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Launching Tusk Logistics
1. What insight did you gather from working at Google Shopping and at Shippo that led to starting a company in shipping?
At Google I started spending a lot of time with the major carriers - with the people that worked at FedEx or UPS and the US Postal Service. These are big orgs and these folks were so shaped by the culture they were operating within. They were so focused on their own solution that they kind of lost the forest from the trees. I could see that there was an ecosystem of third-party platforms that were bubbling up that could do a better job than any one carrier could do.
At the same time, I became fascinated with the problems that the shipping industry faced. The physicality of it is incredible. It's not like you're just a web-based business. You’re moving physical things from point A to point B. You're dealing with Teamsters. You're dealing with sortation centers that are hungry for labor.
I love small parcels and e-commerce logistics. It is what I think about all the time. It is what I read about all the time. And that level of passion, that should be where I spend my time professionally.
2. What problem is Tusk Logistics is solving?
We're solving for shipper value. Today's modern shipping ecosystem is absolutely not set up to put shippers first and that is absurd.
And yet those shippers are the ones that pay the bills. They're the people that have to constantly eat unpredictable surcharges. They cannot easily switch between carriers. Or download their invoice in a spreadsheet format. These customers are just not treated well. And that's why there is an opportunity to publicly, visibly, tangibly put shippers first.
We focus today on the professional shipper - they have between 100 - 1,000 labels each day and a team of five to ten people dedicated to operations. They use off the shelf software to manage their whole business. And, by the way, it took us months of research and customer interviews and extremely hard work to land on that focus.
3. Where are you in the journey towards solving that problem?
We raised a pre-seed round last year. Forum Ventures is our lead and we had other participation from a great VC out of Wisconsin called Tiletown Tech. We will be at eight people by the end of the quarter and are focusing on proving product market fit.
4. What sets Tusk Logistics apart?
I would start with our three core values. First, we put shippers first. We're constantly focused on driving value to the shipper. Second, we are honest. And third, we are building a diverse team.
The thing that sets us apart is core value #1, putting the shipper first. Now, most carriers don’t intend to treat shippers poorly. But they sell the customer, set up the customer and then pickup daily from that customer. And that’s the extent of their service with the customer.
With us though, we are facilitating that pickup and then we are watching those parcels in real-time. We have weekly check-ins with our operating contacts at those shippers to find where they can save more.
It's very simple stuff. But it’s that extra layer, that extra diligence, going deeper and understanding the shipper that we can do that because of our model. That is the stuff that normal carriers just don't have the bandwidth or the expertise or the incentive to do.
Lessons Learned So Far
5. What advice do you have for others considering the path that you have made, either from a large company to a smaller company or to becoming a founder?
Give yourself some grace and train yourself to become comfortable with with acting boldly.
When I went from Google to Shippo, there was a number of times when I would bring my manager an idea. I did thoughtful diligence on it. And he would be like “why don’t you just do this? Like what are you waiting for? Just act. Act.”
I've learned that that just comes down to me trusting my gut. Being bold in my decision-making and giving myself grace when I make mistakes.
When I swing, I'm swinging hard. And sometimes I whiff. That's okay. But when I make contact with the ball, it goes far. I make more progress than I don't. Because like I have learned how to trust my gut and to act boldly.
6. What is a skill you developed from your BD and partnerships experience that has been particularly useful in founding a company?
Technically, knowing contracts well and having a bit of a lawyer's mindset has been super helpful. There are those contentious moments in a negotiation where you're down to the final couple of issues and you have to stay true to what you need. To know where your red lines are. And often times, that comes down to being flexible in contractual language.
7. What is one partnership principle that you have learned over time and now a part of of what you're building at Tusk?
Honesty. Just always being honest. You never get caught in a lie if you never tell a lie.
8. What has surprised you most about getting a company off the ground?
How hard it is.
At each stage you are face this moment as an entrepreneur where you are forced to take a deep breath and keep moving forward.
What am I building? What is the problem I'm gonna solve? You have to just kind of test out different ideas and find your best fit.
How do I find a co-founder? Well, you got to just keep talking with people and trust that you'll find somebody who you gets it.
How do I find my first customer? You just keep going at it.
How do I find my first investor? In my case, you have a hundred and twenty eight discussions.
You just have to trust that if you just keep making forward progress, those things will come into view.
Once again …
Please take the reader questionnaire. It is just 5 quick questions.
Tusk Logistics is hiring! Head of Sales and Head of Marketing.
For more on partnership career paths:
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