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How Endicia Understood Shipping Pain Points and Thrived by Providing a Solution -- With Amine Khechfe

At the beginning of online shopping, when companies appeared and vanished, there was the simple choice of going with your local Post office for shipping. However as technology advanced, online shopping became less of a chore and more intuitive, consumers wanted better experiences. From this, we’ve witnessed pain points arise in terms of cost for sellers. So to combat that, sellers hurt the consumer’s experience by increasing shipping times, and other nuisances. Endicia looks to resolve the cost pain point so that sellers don’t have to cut corners and consumers could still be happy with the businesses they purchase from.

In the Fifteenth episode of Skubana’s E-Commerce Mastery Series where we invite experts of their respected fields to share their best practices for success, our host, Dr. Jeremy Weisz of interviews Amine Khechfe of Endicia.

What this interview covers:

  • The story of Endicia and how it grew to one of the top shipping providers in the United States.
  • The importance of being customer-centric and resolving pain points.
  • How Endicia identified trends from shipping habits and what to expect in the future of E-commerce.
  • How the trend of returns doesn't have to harm your business
  • The conferences you may attend to help you learn more about your industry and how to ship smart for your industry.


Raw Transcript: Amine Khechfe of Endicia

Dr. Weisz: [00:00:15] Dr. Jeremy Weisz here. I'm founder of where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders like the founders of P90X, Baby Einstein, Atari, and many more and how they overcome big challenges in life and business. This is part of the Skubana e-Commerce mastery series where top sellers and experts teach you what really works to boost your e-commerce business. Skubana is a software platform to manage your entire e-commerce operation. It also integrates with Endicia, today's founder.[00:00:45] Today, we have Amine Khechfe who confounded Endicia with Dr. Harry Whitehouse in the 1980s. We're going to find out the pre-Amazon days. Endicia is the leading provider of e-commerce shipping technologies with more than 12 billion in postage printed. They help send over 500 million parcels of mail per year, and account for over 60% of all online postage printed in the US. They basically help businesses run their shipping operations by printing shipping labels or online postage right from your desk. Amine, thanks for joining me.

Amine: [00:01:21] Thank you, thanks for having me.

Dr. Weisz: [00:01:22] I'm really excited to talk about this, and it's really amazing what you've created with this, so congratulations with that.

Amine: [00:01:30] Thank you, thank you. It's always exiting. We always look at it every day and say, "Wow, what did we do?"

Dr. Weisz: [00:01:36] And we'll talk about the early days when you maybe didn't even suspect it would get this big. But I want to talk about integration, and it seems like this is huge for partnerships, for people integrating with you and you with the post office. Talking about the sponsor, how did the relationship start for Skubana to integrate with Endicia?

Amine: [00:01:57] You know, that's a great question. You look at a great entrepreneur like Chad and his idea of his business, I think it started, him and his father, had a business that was an e-commerce business. They were using tools in the industry and Chad's idea about, "Oh, let's take this tool and instead build our own that other businesses can use," given his experience as a user, if I recall correctly. And if I'm not mistaken, Chad's and his dad's company used to use a partner of ours, which was already an Endicia partner. So, I believe that's where the link started [inaudible 00:02:33] using us.

[00:02:35] It's kind of like a little positive disease that spreads Endicia with one partner. We see a lot of customers will take us from one entity to another. So maybe today, they're a small company using accounting package, tomorrow they're using an MRP system. They will like to continue their relationship with Endicia because of the relationship we build with our customers.

[00:02:58] So I suspect this is what happened with Chad. He used us in his dad's business and then when he created his own business, he looked at this and said, "We need to be able to offer our customers shipping labels. Endicia is the partner of choice," and then he reached out to us. I like his story. I just always enjoy entrepreneurs and founders, so him and I hit it off and we had some good chats in the early days of Skubana.

Dr. Weisz: [00:03:23] Yeah, see, I want to hear about you reaching out. Because at that point, when you're early on, the post office is the giant. Right now, you're the giant. You're probably picky on who you integrate with because of your reputation also. How do you find it that people best approach you to actually integrate? And how does it work as far as you vetting out people that you don't want to work with or integrate with?

Amine: [00:03:53] So it's an interesting balance, because yes, there's a vetting process. But we're pretty humble in that you really don't know if somebody is ethical and straightforward. You basically look at them at face value and say, "Okay, that's a start." That's how you look at different entrepreneurs, because a lot of times, it's hard to look in the future and say, "Oh, you integrate with this person, because they're going to be successful," that's really probably not the right way to look at things.

[00:04:17] We basically built an open platform for people to innovate, integrate with us, and then we'll sometimes step in and say, "You know, you're interesting. Let's help build your business. Let's introduce you to our sales team. Let's introduce you to other customers. Let's do a customer success story."

[00:04:33] We like to be very customer centric. Let's take an example of a partner that may be integrating us. If we have a joint customer, that customer will speak loudly why they selected that partner, for example, versus another. And that's usually what builds the relationship because now it's a differentiation, or it's an innovation, or it solves a problem. And we keep track of that, and then we'll work with them, because a lot of times a customer will come to us and say, "I use this marketplace, or this accounting system, who do you recommend?" We usually will have three or four partners that may fit that.

[00:05:10] So it used to be one of us, now we have a whole team, our business development group, that works with folks like Skubana.

Dr. Weisz: [00:05:16] So early on, Amine, who were some of the first integration partners?

Amine: [00:05:20] Oh wow. This is an interesting story actually. I would say the first, about our first year, we were one of the first companies that built a little tool that let companies integrate with us. I would say we went to the first eBay show, there was 15 booths.

Dr. Weisz: [00:05:36] What year is this about?

Amine: [00:05:38] It would be about '02, maybe.

Dr. Weisz: [00:05:41] Okay.

Amine: [00:05:42] Somebody can look up eBay 1, the first eBay conference was in Anaheim. I remember we went around trying to tell people, "Hey, integrate with us." Auction management companies, for example, and everybody was too busy, because they were busy building the photo updaters and the kind of stuff that just made it work.

[00:05:59] So by the second year, I think that one of the first companies that integrated with us was probably Zoovy. They're a company in San Diego, if I recall correctly. And then, slowly their competitor said, "If we want to compete, we've got to integrate." So by year two we had a couple of integrations.

[00:06:17] By year three companies were coming to us saying, "Tell me this, do we have to pay you to integrate?" So it went from we were begging, to now we couldn't keep up. It's the typical, I call it, the three-year cycle, that trust factor. They see you three years in a row they say, "Okay, you're real."

[00:06:32] By year four, probably every, I call them, auction management companies, and there were about a dozen of them, every one of them, at one point or another, integrated with us at that point.

Dr. Weisz: [00:06:42] So who was the first one that came to you who you thought I think we, not made it, but we're on the map now?

Amine: [00:06:53] I think we used the term, "We're real."

Dr. Weisz: [00:06:54] We're real, yeah.

Amine: [00:06:55] A real business. I'm not sure if it was the partnerships or more the number of customers, because at some point or another, we were solving problems for customers, and then the partners started acknowledging it.

[00:07:07] I used an example earlier, if a customer goes to a partner and says, "I want to use you, but only if you're also integrating with Endicia, because I ship with Endicia but now I've gotten bigger." Let's say somebody who sells on eBay, four or five packages a day. They may use us directly. Now they get to 10 a day, now they want to manage their orders so they go looking for an automation platform. And all of a sudden, if that platform doesn't support Endicica, they're like, "Wait a minute, I don't want to automate my orders and take a step back in my shipping."

Dr. Weisz: [00:07:36]Right. So they look for an automation tool that uses Endicia [inaudible 00:07:40].

Amine: [00:07:41] Exactly, and that was very helpful because I think by year...Somewhere where we hit 7,000 customers or 10,000 customers, 2003, 2004, all of a sudden we had that momentum. The online selling community was still early, your platinum sellers, your titanium sellers on eBay, the power sellers as they call them, those drove a good amount of mindshare. We were on the eBay boards, it was about three shipping forums, and those really marketed us very well because we kept solving problems.

[00:08:14] Harry was great at this. He would be on the boards and he would answer questions. His signature was Endicia, but we were solving problems. And that in itself built the momentum, because we became the expert to answer questions about shipping. And remember you're talking '02, '03, tracking was barely known, right? People were standing around at the post office to drop off packages. And so we had really created a big momentum by especially the part time sellers on eBay, those folks, they would have 20 minutes a day dropping off the parcels and we kept innovating to solve those 20 minutes a day for them.

Dr. Weisz: [00:08:52] It's painful to stand in line at the post office.

Amine: [00:08:55] It's more about we had part time moms, for example. We heard stories. They drive to the post office and the baby would fall asleep in the car. So now what are you going to do? And you said you had two kids, right?

Dr. Weisz: Right.

Amine: [00:09:09] Exactly, baby falls asleep. You're not leaving him in the car?

Dr. Weisz: [00:09:11] Right.

Amine: [00:09:13] And so we solved that problem by giving them back those 20 minutes a day.

Dr. Weisz: [00:09:17] That's a good tagline, "Endicia, solving your baby not sleeping...Don't leave your baby in the car."

Amine: [00:09:25] So we did the eBay show the five or six years it ran. Every year, we'd run it and we would have people in the aisle ways. We had customers coming in and helping us do demos because we were very small time.

Dr. Weisz: [00:09:36] Wow, that's amazing.

Amine: [00:09:38] I remember the stories, the personal stories, because then you really are, especially when you had the recession, so some people, that became their livelihood because they lost their jobs in 2000, 2001. So we have a lot of fun stories, or good stories, I should say, success stories that came out of that.

Dr. Weisz: [00:09:53] What's one of your favorites? Yeah, what's one of your favorite stories that you think back on?

Amine: [00:09:57] Oh, there's a woman who runs a scrapbooking company in Orlando. And I always think very highly of her, because they had just had a child, so she had left her work. Her husband got laid off. Here she is, the hubby's scrapbooking, they're trying to figure out what to do. That was a travel scrapbooking company, and she basically started the business. And she came at eBay Live, she had a Yahoo store, believe it or not, and she came to eBay Live and bumped into me at the booth and we chatted about what do I do. Is this a real business, not a real business, and we hit it off. She was being creative.

Dr. Weisz: [00:10:38] What did you tell her?

Amine: [00:10:42] Based on her local enthusiasm, people who bought from her already, she already had a business, but she just wasn't sure how to take it. We talked about the hassles of shipping. She was the typical entrepreneur, shipping on the kitchen floor, which was very typical, if you think of the startups back in '01, '02, '03, before they end up in the garage, before they get to the warehouse. It's these stages of online selling. And she did that.

[00:11:08] By the next year, she had a couple of people working at the house. Three years later, she has a warehouse and it's a real business, and she has eight people working for her. I was on a panel with her with, I think there was her, JC Penny, some...

Dr. Weisz: [00:11:24] That's amazing.

Amine: [00:11:26] And she's looking at me and says, "Amine, am I going to be with these?" I said, "You are the example of an online seller. You are the person. You've made it."

Dr. Weisz: [00:11:34] What's the business called? Do you remember?

Amine: [00:11:37]

Dr. Weisz: [00:11:39] Okay, that's cool. That's a great story.

Amine: [00:11:41] They're still around. I haven't talked to her in a few years. But I'll look her up afterwards if you want to talk to her, she's awesome.

Dr. Weisz: [00:11:48] What's interesting is your business goes up with the recession.

Amine: [00:11:52] Well, you know, it's funny you mention that, because a few years ago when we had the dip in the markets, people start being creative. And that's the beautiful stuff about entrepreneurs, about really the US, if you think about people that are flexible. They'll say, "I lost my job, I have a hobby. I have a passion. It's my opportunity to do something I couldn't do before." And with of the advent of the internet, obviously advent, it's no longer advent, it's been a while. You can take a product, put it online. You can take a service and put it online. Look at us communicating right now, right? Twenty years ago, it would've been a big production.

[00:12:29] And so we found our number of accounts, for example, it goes up during that period. Maybe not the biggest volume increase, however, the number of accounts, the startups, they'll be a lot of attempts, and very interesting company names. I love looking at our account signups every day and looking at these company names that pop up. Because you think about a hundred company names a day, and there's lots...

Dr. Weisz: [00:12:55] What's been some of the strangest ones?

Amine: [00:12:58] Oh, boy, It's always things that catch my eye. To think about them, I'd probably get a blank, you know?

Dr. Weisz: [00:13:07] Go ahead.

Amine: [00:13:09] I was just saying, it is interesting for me because it continues to amaze me, the scale at which companies are created, started, tested, is always fascinating to me. Things that get you excited and make you say, "Wow, look at these great ideas." Or the passion that a person has, or a hobby that somebody comes up with, and then they make a business out of it. And you see these folks at different trade shows, and it's always amazing to me. It's always exciting to me to see that new blood coming into the market, which drives up our economy, really.

Dr. Weisz: [00:13:44] Right. What's interesting also is you get so much data, you probably can't think of a name, because you have so many names that you're looking at on a daily, weekly basis. I'm curious, what trends do you see in e-commerce, because you're seeing all these businesses and what they're doing?

Amine: [00:14:02] That's a great question. So let me give you one positive, one not so positive.

[00:14:08] When you look at trends, and a couple or three years ago, we had a nice little discussion internally saying the trends we see, can they predict the economy?

Dr. Weisz: Right.

Amine: [00:14:19] Right? And we would joke with some colleagues about this month our shipping volume was strong. When the next consumer sentiment index comes up, I'm expecting it to be better. And you can track some of the things like that.

[00:14:35] So let me give you a trend that we can relate to the current economic times. International shipping had a high growth about three or four years ago, five years ago. If you think of the brick countries, right, the bricks were strong. You had the stronger middle class in some of the emerging economies, and we saw our international shipping going up tremendously.

[00:15:03] The last year and a half, you've seen a slowdown, and you see the stronger dollar, right? The currency is making our products harder to buy abroad, but you're also seeing some of the economies getting slower. So we looked at Latin America for example, about five years ago, it was the big discussion point. Look at Brazil, look how Brazil's doing. Now the dollar is stronger, real is not as strong, the economy is having some issues. We saw a decline over a three-year-period of 100,000 shipments a year.

Dr. Weisz: Wow.

Amine: [00:15:39] That's a lot for an emergent country like Brazil. So, you look at that, now you take the second step, you say, "Okay, that's the reason, now what we do something about it."

Dr. Weisz: [00:15:46] So what does that mean?

Amine: [00:15:48] So we went and created a product to take advantage of that so we can help the buyers in Brazil. We went and surveyed some of the customers who had a decline in business, and it's one of the few times that we saw the dollar was part of it, but the shipping drove shopping in this case, because the shipping to those countries was also a challenge. So we launched a product in May of this year that takes advantage of our size.

Dr. Weisz: [00:16:16] So what does it do?

Amine: [00:16:18] It allows the small e-commerce sellers to actually act like the big companies, but we take care of it for them. We get a product to Brazil at about half the cost and about, instead of like 25 days, it gets there in 10 days.

Dr. Weisz: Wow.

Amine: [00:16:32] So suddenly we're hoping we can drive some of that business back.

Dr. Weisz: Wow, that's amazing.

Amine: [00:16:36] But that's an interesting trend, right? You look at it, you find a reason. Many folks will walk away and say, "Okay, now, that's the reason, let me wait until the dollar gets stronger. Let me wait until they fix shipping."

[00:16:46] We found that, for the first time, we might be able to influence it, by going in there and saying, "What are the shipping problems? Can we bypass those and create a new in between product?" Given the fact that, as you mentioned, we now have the size of 605 million parcels last year, and we go and bring the economies to scale for our 100,000 merchants or 85,000 merchants, and bring them something that only the 10 largest companies in the US could have done. So that's an interesting...

Dr. Weisz: [00:17:17] Isn't it amazing that you can shift the economy of a country with your company?

Amine: [00:17:24] I don't think we're that good.

Dr. Weisz: Well, I mean...

Amine: [00:17:26] I'm not sure we can do that much yet.

Dr. Weisz: [00:17:28] Yeah, but you make a dent, you know?

Amine: [00:17:31] We will, we will.

Dr. Weisz: [00:17:33] And what I find too is you're very customer centric, so you can do that because of the sheer volume of what you do. So you can, from a kind of scale, offer lower shipping to whatever country it is. Is that how you can compete?

Amine: [00:17:50] Yeah, and we created a little mix and match product to get around some of the delays. And so we can work with these brokers and in-between folks to say, "Okay you're used to dealing with a container. Instead of a container, we're going to have enough things to fill a container, but we're going to send it to you in piecemail because we have these large customers." And for them, it's new business, so they treat us like a container, so we can pass that on to the sellers. And hopefully, for us, we want our sellers to be able to grow their business, because they'll ship more with us, right?

Dr. Weisz: [00:18:22] It's a win-win.

Amine: [00:18:23] So it helps us, it helps them, yeah.

Dr. Weisz: [00:18:24] It's a lot of logistics involved.

Amine: [00:18:27] Oh, it's all logistics. You're absolutely correct. You've got innovation, but it's innovation in an industry. Logistics has been going on for years, but it's been really focused on large businesses, right? You are a Fortune 500 company bringing containers into the US, putting it in stores, now with e-commerce, it shifted the balance. You see people that are in the Army channel, they ship from store, ship from the warehouse, you can return online, you can return in store.

[00:18:56] So the whole dynamic now, which was focused on the large companies, now is coming down to those smaller e-commerce sellers, and us, as consumers and buyers, we're expecting the same experience. And that's what we try to bring to those sellers, those shippers, the customers of ours is these tools that allow them to give the same buying, selling, shipping, receiving experience that a person would get in store.

Dr. Weisz: [00:19:22] So that was one trend that you saw. You said there was another one.

Amine: [00:19:28] So we all know returns, right? Returns is something, if you buy online, your expectation as a consumer, and it's gotten sharpened over the years, is to have a visible direct returns experience.

Dr. Weisz: Right, right.

Amine: [00:19:45] Seven or eight years ago, returns was expected, was assumed, was coming, but was not...The last two years, we've seen it really sharpen that if you don't have a clear returns policy, a buyer is less likely to buy from you, 60% of buyers are less likely to buy. And then we also found for our sellers is 80%, if you have a good returns policy, 80% are more likely to recommend you. So they may promote your business, if you have a good returns experience.

[00:20:14] But the trend on returns was something, again, we looked at our clientele and returns were still expensive, expensive from a shipping. From a consumer perspective, we expect free returns almost, right? I'm that way. But if you look at the cost factor for our sellers...

Dr. Weisz: Big time, yeah.

Amine: [00:20:31] Yeah, they have to still receive it. So we went and looked at different ways and we came up with a product a year ago that makes the return experience as easy as putting your package in your mail box and having a carrier pick it up.

[00:20:43] So that was a trend that we looked at. And we saw that our shippers, especially the smaller ones, were struggling to come up with a good returns policy.

Dr. Weisz: [00:20:52] What I like about what you... and I want to talk, to dig in, that you are so customer-centric, so all of the products you create come from some type of customer feedback. Talk about some of the other type of products or innovations in the business and the customer feedback of what led to that.

Amine: [00:21:12] You talked about where we started, those were real interesting. Our idea about this product started in the early '90s. We were working on software to help... we have a consulting business first, and we were solving the issue where this contract [inaudible 00:21:34] really nice, we put them on laser printers, the first laser printer. They looked really, really nice. But then you had to go...To put them in an envelope, you had to take the envelope to a typewriter.

Dr. Weisz: [00:21:44] It's seems almost absurd right now.

Amine: [00:21:46] The whole concept, right? So we had this one big typewriter in the office, the only reason, because now we had laser printers, was to type an envelope or to do the express mail. I remember we had this little sheet fed express mail thing that we would type on. Then we said, "Okay, let's automate that."

[00:22:03] So we automated the printing of an envelope. There were no envelope feeders then either, so we would spray mount it on an eight-and-a-half by eleven, imagine. So we put it in the laser printer, center it and we'd print on it. So once we did that, it was a good looking laser printed envelope. We also found that you had to get special envelopes, otherwise they'd fuse. We manufactured them early on. So we're printing these envelopes, and the only thing missing was the postage.

[00:22:32] We would still have to go up and either put a stamp on it, or put a meter. So our concept was really to automate that process. It took us 7, 8, 10 years for the post office to approve us in '99, 2000. We were coming to launch the product and here it comes: eBay's launching, people are buying online, but the whole world was going about printing on envelopes. That was going to be the big business of the future.

[00:22:55] And us being not funded or self- funded, and all the competitors were really looking at envelopes, we said, "You know what, let's go look at what customers want." When we went to look at the post office, people went to the post office, in those days, you had to buy a tracking number and tape it on a package. You also had to pay for the postage, buy the tracking number, you paid for insurance if you wanted to insure the package, because in those days, you also paid a lot more insurance because you didn't always know if it got there, it got damaged. And then for the international shipments, you would fill by hand these customs forms, in triplicate.

[00:23:32] So we looked at that, and us being engineers, we said, "That's the problem." As much as we got for 10 years, we're all excited about postage. We realized that the importance was really the solution around the postage. Within about 12 months of us launching our products, we automated those three items. We integrated the tracking with the postage and address, we had the customs forms, and we got online insurance.

[00:23:56] So those were all based on talking to people standing in line or looking at the eBay boards at all the things people had to do to get a package out, and knowing our partnership with the postal service, we got to know their operations and their automation, where they were working. You look at that, that's really what launched our business back in 2000, 2001.

Dr. Weisz: [00:24:18] Yeah. So were you working like 22-hour days? How do you get that out? You said you finished in like three months, all those three things?

Amine: [00:24:27] One year, in our first year.

Dr. Weisz: [00:24:28] Oh, one year, okay. Were you working around the clock? What's your schedule look like at the [inaudible 00:24:30]?

Amine: [00:24:32] Well those days, back in '99, 2000, sure, we were seven days. There was less than 20 of us. And we had our business that had to generate the money, the consulting and our mailing products. And then we needed to have enough money to survive and then invest our extra time in the business to build the shipping business. So yeah, there were long days and weekends, and you know, typical startup, typical company. And we were a small core group and we built the products.

[00:25:04] We really spent the time, and again, the customers were unbelievably great, because we were solving their pain points. We had incredible feedback. By the time we launched those three items, our ideas for the next three years were unlimited.

Dr. Weisz: [00:25:22] Really? How do you keep track of that, because you probably get ideas every single day? How do you keep track of that and how do you decide at what point you actually go after that problem?

Amine: [00:25:33] Boy, that's probably the biggest challenge we have until today is, it's not the lack of ideas, it's which ones do you execute on, and then how do you differentiate the small versus the big? Because you need to do a lot of the small feature, little fixes, little enhancements, because those are the little pain points that are customers have. We've got to keep doing that, because that's the refresh, the extra button, the one less click, the movement of the label by half an inch, whatever those little things are, an extra mail class, we've got to keep doing that to run the business.

[00:26:11] But when you only do that, you lose sight of some of the innovations, like returns I mentioned, like the Brazil product, right? And so that was our biggest challenge when we started, we were overwhelmed because there was so much newness in the business. The first five to seven years, you were barely keeping up with all the new things. So we basically invested everything we made into the product and the business of employees. And every year, we'd grow just incrementally a little bit, invest it in, and try and balance what do we need in two years versus what do we need today.

[00:26:44] So the first few years there was a lot of today, but we had a smaller product, smaller customer base, so it's easier to go faster. Today, here we are, over 200 employees. We have big project teams, and then we have what we call our small project teams, or the day to day, and it's a constant balance of resources. It doesn't stop. We may have...

Dr. Weisz: [00:27:07] The more resources you have, you can just take on more and it just fills up.

Amine: [00:27:11] We always say we have three years' worth of stuff we could be doing. Now I say we have five years' worth of stuff we can be doing. It's a great business to be in. Customer base is amazing. You see new business models come up and we have to support them. And then we try and keep an eye on the trends, so we can be thinking a year ahead what our customers will need, and you know, sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it [inaudible 00:27:35]

Dr. Weisz: [00:27:36] Yeah, it's tough. What are some of the new business models that you see and how do you support them?

Amine: [00:27:42] We talked about returns, offer free shipping, right? Those are the customer business models.

[00:27:47] What's putting pressure on our customers today is, for example, let's say, free shipping. So you start telling yourself, "Okay, so we've always helped them ship a certain way, now can we find ways to lower their cost?" Balance point of do you need it there quickly, because we support the same day shipping projects that the post service does, it's something they call Metro Post, that "I need to get it there today." And then there's the, "I don't mind it late, as long as it's cheap."

[00:28:18] So you have to cater to the different needs of the sellers, which they're being driven by the buyers, right? So we're starting to do more buyer side research also, to try and help on even behalf of our sellers, what are trends coming to them faster?

[00:28:33] One of the things we started working on last year, and we're up to two, is cross border returns. The consumer buying from overseas from the US, their expectations are not like the US consumer who expects free returns. But if you look at the trends, their expectations are sharpening, that they're starting to expect the same, as I call it, the in-country experience. So now, if I'm a buyer in France of US goods, that US seller has to treat me the same way the French seller would.

Dr. Weisz: Right.

Amine: [00:29:09] But we have to make that shipping experience be the same for our US seller, but also the French consumer who we don't have a relationship with. We just finished up a cross border returns on France. We've done it on Canada the last year, where if you are a US shipper selling to Canada, half the sellers would tell the Canadian buyer, "If you want to return it, just throw it away. We'll give you your money back. It's just too expensive to ship it back."

Dr. Weisz: [00:29:34] Right, right.

Amine: And so we came up with a product that the US seller can use their US dollars to pay for a Canadian label, because currency's an issue. In the past. they would have to have paid the Canadian dollar, or with a card with inter-chips. So we took care of that. We issue them a Canadian shipping label.

Dr. Weisz: [00:29:51] This sounds so complicated, it's crazy.

Amine: [00:29:54] Our job is to take that complicated and make it simple. We have to make it so that US seller doesn't have to think twice about it. Internally, one of our brand values, to give you a little marketing.

Dr. Weisz: Yeah, go ahead.

Amine: [00:30:06] Simplexity is one of my favorite words that came out of a brand study we did three years ago. We're into simplexity. We take the conflicts and we simplify it. We're not simple. We simplify the complexities. And so it's a little fine line, but that's the example where the buyer doesn't want to know about it, the seller doesn't want to know about it, we should do it in the background.

[00:30:30] There's a lot of logic that says, "Oh here, do step one, two three, four, five." Our message to our internal folks is, "Okay, that's great. That's the reason why there's five steps." That buyer and seller, they don't care. They should not care. If we do our job right, they shouldn't have to care.

[00:30:47] Then, that brings up innovation. That's when you start having, "Okay, I'm going to have this Canada Post label printed in the US that you can email to your customer in Canada and have them drop it off with any Canada Post outlet as easy as if they were doing business in Canada."

Dr. Weisz: [00:31:05] What is top of mind? What is the team's working on lately? What is exciting based off of the customer feedback you're getting lately?

Amine: [00:31:14] So cross border, really setting up, it's interesting. We've been doing that for about a year with different aspects of cross border. I mentioned the Brazil product. That's a good part of what we're doing. We're doing more, again, on returns. We always have to phase one where you start your product and you get feedback, and now you're on your phase two, and we'll start with a subsection of customers. Let's say we'll focus on our mid-volume customers, and you can have touch points with them, but when you expand that to everybody, you've got to self-serve it, so make it easier to use. We've talked about that. So, returns is one that we want to get to the point that you can do it with your eyes closed. That's an exaggeration, but that's like one of those goals.

[00:32:00] Looking at the international again, we have about 5% of our customers appear like US customers, but they use us abroad. So I'm a business on the border in Canada or Mexico, or I'm in China. I'm a US business that has a factory in China. When I get my orders in the US, I will produce in China, I may put my US labels on in China, I package them in a bag, drop ship them in the US, and open them up. So we realize that we have to speak to them a bit differently, and so we're adjusting. Those are initiatives we have.

[00:32:38] There's a whole bunch of technology parts that...One of the things we pride ourselves on are things is...things that are subtle that we don't talk about but our shippers expect. The higher volume you are, the more you expect instant. So when you're browsing through a travel website, you can tolerate a refresh of a page, right? You're selling five things a day, you can tolerate that. But when you're in a warehouse, a segment of our customers are what we call our warehouse shippers, they may be doing, let's say, a thousand shipments a day.

Dr. Weisz: [00:33:16] They maybe just had it running the entire day, or something.

Amine: [00:33:18] Yeah, they have a conveyor belt. Package comes in, they scan it, the label's going to come out. The same speed of that package, our label's got to print. They can't tolerate a refresh of a page. So we have some performance that we've done that gets it in sub-second speeds.

Dr. Weisz: Wow.

Amine: [00:33:34] Even with the internet. We respond to some research the last, what are we now, in November? It was in the January, March timeframe, to double the speed of a label, and that sounds so "who cares," those guys care.

Dr. Weisz: [00:33:51] Right. Those are your best customers. I mean they're your biggest customers.

Amine: [00:33:55] Right, exactly. And so we came up with something, even the folks that worked on it, it was a theory somebody, one of our engineers had, even he thought a 20% improvement would be success, we came out with a 45% improvement.

Dr. Weisz: Wow.

Amine: [00:34:07] Now it's an amazing success. Within months, we'll have that active in our system for those top 10, top 50 sellers, that type of stuff. So those things we're constantly...there's a technology part, there's an innovation part, there's a customer-facing part.

Dr. Weisz: [00:34:24] There's so many questions about questions to that. But I want to start with what's your method from, obviously, you have this objective, "We need to improve it 20%." It goes 40%. What's your method for the team actually accomplishing that? I ask this because I just listened to Scrum like two weeks ago, so I'm curious of what your method is to actually get from here's the goal to 40%, which almost seems unattainable, when you talk at that scale?

Amine: [00:34:52] So this one happened to be a project to students, three students from a university that we sponsored for two months. They came out to the west coast.

Dr. Weisz: Really? Wow.

Amine: [00:35:03] One thing is they can focus, they've got no other distractions, and they're given a goal, and a goal could mean the end. We've had projects come out and say, "You know, we've shown that it doesn't work." And that's great, because you prototype it. You have them take a whole part of your engineering, and you'll prototype something. The prototype will tell you a lot.

[00:35:21] We asked the kids, and the kids didn't think at all it was going to be a difference. Our chief engineers thought about it, 20%. Of course we came out more. So our method was, we always have about...Every two weeks, about six of us get together, and we have a list of about 80 projects probably, 80 ideas, let's say, out of those, we'll take those that are the top five and somebody on the business end will analyze it a bit more.

[00:35:45] And then there's always the ones that are still proof or concepts. And if we have a student group, or we have a special team, we have a technology team also, they'll pick off a couple of those, when they're going to come out. And then maybe they'll do a proof of concept that we take to the next level. And then we always keep...

[00:36:03] I love the new blog. I love sponsoring students because you learn from them, and it's good energy. We have some projects that we know that are pre-prototype stage. And if we have an opportunity to have a team come out, we'll look through that list and say, "That one's a good student project." We literally went through that late last week. We have a team coming out in January. They'll be here for two months. And we looked at an appropriate project for them, and we just selected it. And actually, they start their quarter this week. They'll be preparing this quarter. They'll come out in January.

Dr. Weisz: [00:36:39] Wow, that's amazing. What type of students do you look for, and are there certain schools that you have a relationship with? Can any school send you sponsored students?

Amine: [00:36:49] You know, I would welcome any school. We've selected a few more from current relationships. So my undergraduate university, big shout out to [inaudible 00:36:58] Tech.

Dr. Weisz: [00:36:58] Stanford? Oh, okay, I though Stanford was your...

Amine: [00:37:00] I was a graduate of Worcester Poly, they have a great undergraduate program where juniors and seniors have to do a project. I mean you have to do this project to graduate, and they have several project centers around the world. They opened a Silicon Valley one over 10 years ago. I used to go visit it just as an alumni, and at some point, we got just big enough where we could afford a project team. And I'm proud to say we've supported five different project teams, two of which got project of the year.

Dr. Weisz: Wow.

Amine: [00:37:30] The first project team we had, because we get very involved, our engineers get into it, we support them, at the same time, we give them great projects. And so it's computer science kids, and three of them will come out.

Dr. Weisz: [00:37:44] Computer science and engineers, or just computer science?

Amine: [00:37:48] Well, computer science, computer engineering, mostly it's computer science in these project teams.

[00:37:55] Now we've also encouraged any summer intern to apply. So at any time, we'll have two to five summer interns every summer. Sometimes it's relatives of employees. Others, we've done a formal program through our current mother company. It has a great internship program which got us started.

[00:38:16] We'll have, like I said, two to five kids come out. This year we had a person in sales, two people in marketing, two people in engineering. We have a gentleman right now working on a project that's joint marketing and engineering. So big research on package tracking, and we have more than a billion transactions of tracking.

Dr. Weisz: That's crazy.

Amine: [00:38:43] It is crazy. It's big data gone wild, for us, it is. And so they're looking at trends on how to help shippers decide where they would be optimizing their locations to ship, and stuff like that. So it's really interesting. And so we have an econ major, somebody who did actuarial science. We had somebody in marketing come out and do some work. So we've done a whole variety. We had a computer science sophomore from UC Santa Barbara this summer also. So we're looking to do a bit more with them. We just started exhibiting at some of the local universities. We have Stanford, Santa Clara, and San Jose State within 20 minutes of our office.

Dr. Weisz: [00:39:33] Yeah, a lot of California. That's so beneficial for both sides, both parties there. I went to Madison, and so people probably want to get out of the cold and go to California. But I'll have to see, after we're done with this, if I talk to the head of entrepreneurship at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. They have some good people over there, so maybe we'll send them your way.

Amine: [00:40:03] Did I tell you that I spent a semester in Madison?

Dr. Weisz: [00:40:05] I thought I read that somewhere, why?

Amine: [00:40:09] Why? It's a great school. So I started my graduate work there.

Dr. Weisz: Oh, really?

Amine: [00:40:15] I did a semester in the engineering school in Madison.

Dr. Weisz: Okay.

Amine: [00:40:19] I did get to go see a football game in Camp Randall. I lived very close to Camp Randall, and I go there every summer.

Dr. Weisz: [00:40:27] Really? So do I.

Amine: [00:40:30] There you go, we will see each other next summer then.

Dr. Weisz: [00:40:32] So why only a semester?

Amine: [00:40:35] You mentioned something about the cold?

Dr. Weisz: Yeah.

Amine: [00:40:37] That might have had a little influence. But I think I told you I did my undergraduate in Worcester Poly in Massachusetts. Their cold there is a few days of teens, some twenties, and a lot of snow, thirties, and it melts. Madison, loved it, had a great time, the snow doesn't melt. And zero is a warm day sometimes. So this Mediterranean guy decided California was calling him. That's what moved me out to Stanford.

Dr. Weisz: [00:41:08] I hear you. I completely agree with that decision.

[00:41:12] The customer-centric part of things, it sounds like early on, you would go in an eBay forum and really discovering the customer issues and what was going on for that. What do you look at now to discover customer issues? And what are some of the common issues people are saying, and where do you discover them?

Amine: [00:41:32] I think if you look in the shift in where people go, I think it's following a little bit of the shift of what we see right now. I see social media has changed a lot from where back in 2000, 2005, forums were a place where people went to discuss issues. So eBay had a shipping and packaging forum, there was a couple of independents also, and so those were areas where people with common goals like that would go.

[00:41:59] Today, you see different social media. You see different Twitter sentiment. We've always had trade shows be one part of it. I think one thing that works very well for us is the fact that today is different than we were 15 years ago. We had a handful of customers. Right now, we have thousands of customers, so we get immediate feedback from customers. We have a great support group and a way to document feedback that comes in -- requests, comments, critiques. And then we have a team that always looks at social media. There's also still a lot of the market places have their own forums also. We'll get either direct or indirect feedback from that.

[00:42:45] Today, we also have a field sales team and an inside sales team, where constantly, every day, they're talking to customers, to prospects, they're learning from them. We still, even though we've grown, every Friday, we roll up comments to all the senior people. I'll spend a few hours every Friday afternoon getting regional summaries of all our sales people with their top three customers they've visited, they met with, comments they want to feedback to us, and we'll take a handful of those and put them in the hopper and see what we can do with them.

[00:43:21] So the challenge today is how do we digest all that information? And which ones percolate that you can spend time on because we've gotten bigger. I think we have more now, even though we say we're mature.

Dr. Weisz: [00:43:40] Right, you just get more volume.

Amine: Yeah, there's just a lot.

Dr. Weisz: [00:43:43] So what's come up lately in those Friday sessions? What's one that...

Amine: [00:43:49] So it's interesting, you look at today, so let's look at the trends, you look at the trends in the industry you mentioned earlier, and I think this relates well. Today, retail is trying to redefine itself. The footprint of a store today might be different in three years. Today there's a debate between do you want to distribute to your warehouses or do you want to ship from store, or do you want to do a bit of both?

[00:44:15] So we're looking at initiatives for next year. You look at ship from store. It's something we pioneered with a couple of customers back in 2005, 2006. We backed into it, right? So we played around with it a bit, we have a couple of big customers that do that. And so we're looking at it again.

[00:44:33] And retail, as they're evolving and competing in the world of e-commerce, having that omni-channel experience, people started talking about it two years ago, last year we started seeing, "Okay, let's manage our inventory." Let's figure out, "I've got to know if this dress in size X is in my warehouse, or is it in the mall store? Is it in the town store?" And from a shopper, when you're at that counter asking, "Do you have size 8," you've got to be able to keep that customer, whether it's in stock, whether you're going to drop ship it to them to get it there the next day. That part, we're getting more involved in. That is a trend that we've gotten in our research, in publications, and then talking to some of our large customers, they're like, "We need to solve this problem. Otherwise, the shoppers are going to bypass us."

Dr. Weisz: [00:45:22] I saw that personally when I went into a sporting goods store and was looking for something. They were like, "Oh, we have this other store, it's going to take like a week." And I'm like, "Well I actually need it in the next two days, so I'll just go to another store." Yeah, they couldn't solve that issue for me, so I just went to another store.

Amine: [00:45:38] Two of our customers, what they do today, Jeremy, they're both athletic stores. One of them is a regional, about 180 stores. One of them is national, about 4,000 stores. And if you were to go up to their person who's probably a high schooler sitting at the counter, they will tell you, "Jeremy, we'll take care of your order right now, and you'll have it at your doorstep in X days." And when they take your order, they will punch it in and then their back office system finds the closest store or warehouse. But usually it's the store right across town. Why? Because two things. First, it will get to you by tomorrow, or the day after. Plus shipping's less expensive. You're shipping five miles versus you're in Chicago and my warehouse is in Miami, right?

[00:46:28] No, I'll pick six stores in Chicago instead of telling you, "Can you drive across town in Chicago traffic?" They'll say, "Don't worry about it. We'll get it to you." And you would have said, "Okay, good, I don't have to go look again. Are you sure it's the same color?" "Yep, here let's try the size shoe, this other shoe, but we'll get you the color that you want." And they're done.

Dr. Weisz: [00:46:50] So also, before we were talking, before we started recording, we were talking about travel schedules. And you keep your finger on the pulse of what's going on, not only with your company, but outside of the company. So I'm wondering, for people out there, what trade shows or conferences should people look to attend on e-commerce that would be helpful for them that you find valuable?

Amine: [00:47:13] That's a great question. I think you're also seeing a lot more these days coming up, right? I say there's two parts of it. One, there's the shipping logistics part. Two, you should really look at your industry. So I'm not an expert on every industry. We talked about sporting industry. I don't think I go to any of the shows that are sporting-related, but I'm sure there's half a dozen that have a logistics tracking that's very customized to a sporting apparel store.

[00:47:39] But we do have a show that we go to, I have not been to yet, that's called Outdoor Retailer, for example. And so it's specific, within that show, there may be something about shipping, logistics, or e-commerce.

Dr. Weisz: [00:47:51] That's why I ask you because you could technically justify any conference because you handle in many different industries.

Amine: [00:48:00] Right, and so that's why my first advice is don't listen to me, listen to the industry that you're in. In a pharmaceutical industry, it's a very different package size, speed, security, laws around pharmaceuticals than it's going to be about a t-shirt being sold.

[00:48:19] Having said that, there are some common shows that cut across the verticals. So there's a show, it's every other year in Chicago, called Internet Retailer in June, big fans of that show. We exhibited the first year it opened, I want to say seven or eight or nine years ago. We shared a booth with a partner of ours, and from then on, we've exhibited.

[00:48:44] I told you we bumped into each other a little while ago. We talked last week, or the week before. I was at the PARCEL Forum, it's a very specific logistics parcel show, and it typically is in Chicago. The year before, it was in Dallas.

[00:48:58] There's an annual show that the postal service hosts called the National Postal Forum. It's usually in the April, May time frame and they alternate east, west coast.

[00:49:09] Another show that's more e-commerce which is gaining momentum is

Dr. Weisz: [00:49:14] Yeah, I did see that, yeah.

Amine: [00:49:18] So that's a handful.

Dr. Weisz: [00:49:19] So tell me about this, this is interesting, because you were at the first show, the Internet Retailer show. So how was it then? How is it different now?

Amine: [00:49:28] So when they did the first one, they had a magazine for the longest time. So they were able to track a lot more than I would have expected in the first year. But what hit me right away was walking around, I remember calling the office from the show, telling them this is the show that's going to be the one that's going to be our show.

Dr. Weisz: [00:49:49] You knew that right away.

Amine: [00:49:49] It was amazing to see the presence of companies there because you had a good mix. You had marketing firms, for example, that helped sellers market online, so you had that group. Then you had a few of the carriers, so the shipping. You also had the software firms that helped you market your product, to list your product, to sell your product. The e-commerce engines out there that not only catered to the small seller, but catered to the Fortune 200, and that was one that I had not seen. I had not seen a show that had that range of offer, where it could go all the way to the person doing 10 a day, not 2 a day, but 10 a day, all the way to, "I'm a Fortune 500 retailer with 6,000 stores. I have warehouses and I need trucking and small package shipping." And they did that in their first year.

Dr. Weisz: [00:50:50] Their first year, okay, wow.

Amine: [00:50:53] Today of course, they're even bigger. They have a lot more exhibitors. They have some great presentations and seminars for online sellers, and they continue to really build on that. They were in the McCormick Center.

Dr. Weisz: [00:51:08] That's impressive that from the first year, they attracted those big companies.

Amine: [00:51:13] That's what got my attention.

Dr. Weisz: [00:51:15] Why is it in Chicago?

Amine: [Inaudible 0:51:16] I'm sorry?

Dr. Weisz: [00:51:18] You were talking about the cold, why do they have it in Chicago? There must be some reason. It's still cold when they have it.

Amine: [00:51:23] Look, it June it's pretty nice.

Dr. Weisz: [00:51:25] Oh, it's in June? Okay, got you.

Amine: [00:51:27] Plus I think they're based out there, too.

Dr. Weisz: [00:51:30] So the other thing, Amine, that was interesting is how you're marketing. You were talking about the simplexity, and I never thought that someone can create a sexy, good marketing video on shipping, and you guys have managed to do that. I encourage anyone to actually check out the YouTube channel and it's called The Best Holiday Shipping Boot Camp video. Do you know what I'm talking about? Tell me about creating that and the thought process. And you just have to watch it on YouTube just to get a sense of it. It's so well done and creative. How'd you even think of that and tell me about creating that?

Amine: [00:52:08] So, let's be very, very specifically clear. I am not the creator. I'm an innovator. I'm a product creator. But when you come to those things, we have an awesome team that thinks through these things, works with some agencies, and we like to think of ourselves as a little quirky, little sort of professional on the business end, take the business seriously, but not take ourselves too seriously, and I think we project that in these videos.

[00:52:36] There's also the school video, your shipping 101 video, and they're kind of fun. They're light, because shipping is a burden. It's a task. But it's a must have if you're going to succeed in a way, and so we like to sort of bring that little bit of fun to it.

Dr. Weisz: [00:52:55] Do you know, obviously there's a format, does everyone get and just go on a white board and just write ideas? How do they come to the final product, or do you just bounce things off of an agency that does this every day?

Amine: [00:53:08] Different groups have had different ways of doing it in the company.

[00:53:13] This one, what we've done very nicely in our marketing group is bring in not just agencies, but also our own folks. We listen to our customers, listen to support, and come up with some concepts, and then we'll bounce them around, and then it starts building the idea. And it's a fun process.

[00:53:34] It used to be, 10 years ago, we would have been probably 35 people, yet it was a company that now we've got some incredible folks in our marketing team that will get some customer input. They may go ask a couple of people in support, maybe cross functional, and then we'll sit with some of our partners and agencies and come up with a few concepts. And then we've worked with some local companies that are just fun, that have some good ideas, and they're creative. And we try things. We've thrown away things. Obviously, [inaudible 00:54:07], you do that. Yeah, but it's fun.

Dr. Weisz: [00:54:11] I like to know that because people out there are listening who want to create their own marketing or videos. I like to know that process, and also, you can make shipping sexy and fun, then probably you can make anything fun.

Amine: [00:54:256] You know, very true. My kids did not think what I did was exciting.

[00:54:31] You know, you asked me what trends have changed. Ten years ago, you were not going to talk about shipping at the dining room table. In the last four years, you do. You can talk about, "Hey, I bought this, it shipped, the package came in, it's at my doorstep." It was not a dinner time conversation and that has changed. Our mindset now is expecting one of the options will be to buy online.

Dr. Weisz: [00:55:00] Zappos has probably increased that, that you can ship anything back. People buy 10 boxes of shoes and ship them all back.

Amine: [00:55:11] Yeah, but those kinds of companies, those innovators in the field, Zappos is a great example, but there's like 20 Zappos or 50 Zappos out there that have conditioned our thinking over the years, that when you said the word, we [inaudible 00:55:25] chicken's not sexy, the last three or four years, we're saying, "You know what, it's starting to have a bit of that."

Dr. Weisz: [00:55:33] How did Amazon affect business, because you were pre-Amazon?

Amine: [00:55:38] I would say about the same time. But what Amazon has done is made shipping a topic of discussion. I like to think if our colleagues there have really set the bar up very nicely. They have helped the consumer think about that experience in a different way, and for that, they have set the bar higher for all other businesses to provide that great consumer experience. You mentioned Zappos, obviously, they're owned by Amazon now. And that has had us really innovating even more to serve our shippers, to give them the same tools, functionality, so they can appear to their buyers as professional and as amazing as Amazon does.

[00:56:26] We like to think of all the independent merchants, they may sell on Amazon, by the way, because we integrate with Amazon and Amazon's a great partner, but also, those sellers sell on multiple platforms. They sell on their own website. They sell on Amazon, that's a channel for them. So they have set the bar up very nicely, and of course, we all innovate to help our shippers achieve the same results and perception from their buyers for that great shopping experience, online shopping experience.

Dr. Weisz: [00:56:53] Because it was apparent, obviously you said as eBay grew, your business grew and the shippers. Did you see the same trend with Amazon? Or was it a little bit different?

Amine: [00:57:03] I think now as the industries gone, I use eBay more directionally from the sense, in 2000, that was a little bit of where it started, but really the whole e-commerce ecosystem has grown. If you look at the metrics on the growth of the market, Amazon is probably the largest, of course, and that's whose name comes in. But we saw earlier this year with Alibaba's IPO, for me, at least, and what I read, there was a lot of discussions about that. A lot of those market places that are no longer just domestic, they're international. And so you see those trends, those are driving the whole e-commerce ecosystem is driving businesses up.

Dr. Weisz: [00:57:47] What's interesting too, Amine, we talked about a fun fact about you that most people don't know, which actually makes perfect sense, because of Endicia, but you used to collect stamps from elementary school to high school. And what I also, with research, saw you grew up in the Middle East. So what was it like growing up in the Middle East?

Amine: [00:58:12] I was born in Holland, so my parents moved around a lot. I was in five schools in four different countries.

Dr. Weisz: [00:58:22] Wow, really, what countries?

Amine: [00:58:27] Through fifth grade, it went Libya, Lebanon, Egypt, New York, I consider New York a country, New York as an eighth grader, living with my grandmother in Long Island, then back for four years of high school in Lebanon.

Dr. Weisz: Oh my God.

Amine: [00:58:46] So yeah, we moved around a lot. Dad started his business and had opportunities. And then of course, with the instabilities in the Middle East, you end up being forced to move sometimes.

Dr. Weisz: [00:58:57] What kind of business was it?

Amine: [00:58:59] Mechanical contracting, it's a firm and still to today. So we moved around a lot. From a teenager growing, other than civil wars here and there, which didn't help, it was a great experience. That's what we had. Half my parent's family was overseas, and so I grew up there and went to school there in multi-lingual schools. And then we had the opportunity to come to university in the States, driven by the fact of those instabilities, I came out here when I was 17.

Dr. Weisz: [00:59:36] So you went to high school in Lebanon?

Amine: [00:59:37] Yes.

Dr. Weisz: [00:59:38] So what was it like? Do you think it was the same here? What are the differences?

Amine: [00:59:43] It was interesting. First, it was a British-founded school. It had a British board of directors and Lebanese, so English was one of the main languages. It's different than probably what a US school would be, just because same thing you would say if it was in England or France, there's different styles for each country. Lebanon had the French educational system, in English, though, I took it in English, trilingual education.

Dr. Weisz: [01:00:09] What languages do you speak?

Amine: [01:00:12] I speak English, of course, and Arabic, which was the native language, and then French, because both my parents spoke French at home. They were French-educated. And it was the third language you learned in school, but because we moved around a lot, I never studied a lot. I'd like to say I'm conversational in French, and since about 5% of our business is in France, we do have a French product.

Dr. Weisz: [01:00:39] Comes in handy.

Amine: [01:00:41] So I do get to practice my French.

Dr. Weisz: [01:00:43] So Amine, when you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Amine: [01:00:45] That's a great question. You know, I always had an engineering part to me. Funny, early high school, I had three things I thought about. It was either going to be engineering, because I like solving things, and just from an academic matter...

Dr. Weisz: [01:01:06] And you saw your dad, what he did too.

Amine: [01:01:07] My dad was not an engineer, he was a business major.

Dr. Weisz: Oh, okay.

Amine: [01:01:12] The business entrepreneur part, like I say, came from my dad and running the business. So it was going to be engineering, business, or history. I loved history. I'm a child of history, and I remember the discussions, would that be a major or hobby? It would kind of balance the two. So what can you do? What do you need school for and what do you do that you don't need school for? And so those were the three subjects I always sort of had in mind in high school.

Dr. Weisz: [01:01:39] Did you think about going with your dad at all, or no?

Amine: [01:01:41] Yeah. Dad always thought I'd come back and be with him in the business. And we considered that, it was one of my options. I remember when Harry and I talked and we were starting the company, about do you start a company here? Dad had his company in the Middle East and that was a thought we had for a while. But I prefer to be out here. Obviously, coming out in Silicon Valley was a lot of fun, and then meeting Harry cemented it. It was kind of fun and we thought we'd give it a try, and of course it worked out.

Dr. Weisz: [01:02:12] So what do your sons want to do?

Amine: Say again?

Dr. Weisz: What do your sons want to do?

Amine: [01:02:17] My older son's in college now, so he's studying to be a chemical engineer, has his first interview today. So there you go.

Dr. Weisz: [01:02:26] All right, I mean, do you think he wants to come work at the company eventually, or no?

Amine: [01:02:30] Different career, he's a chemical engineer. I don't think we're getting into chemical engineering. I don't think so.

Dr. Weisz: [01:02:37] Well your major was what?

Amine: [01:02:39] Mechanical.

Dr. Weisz: You're in mechanical? Okay.

Amine: [01:02:41] Yeah, but you know, we always...Harry was mechanical also. We learned how to solve problems and find practical solutions to issues. And I think that's problem solving skill set, and the hands on skill set we took from our engineering is probably until today, what motivates us is how to solve problems.

[01:03:04] We always use that as a sort of example when we're faced with an issue where other people say, "Oh that's a problem. Let's go do this." And we're like, "Well that's a problem, let's go figure out how to resolve it, solve it, innovate with it, get around it," whatever it is, it's like fun.

Dr. Weisz: [01:03:20] And you mentioned Dr. Harry Whitehouse who was your co-founder and he was your teacher at Stanford, what big lessons have you learned from him?

Amine: [01:03:31] So first thing, the way we met was always interesting, because I was a student of his class and I applied to be a TA in the class, and we both thought that was kind of weird. First class, he's like, "Well I've never had a student be the TA in the same class." And then I told him it was my last quarter at Stanford, I was a grad student, half the class were undergrads. And so next lecture he came in and said, "You know what, you're the most qualified."

[01:03:56] The first thing we learned is we both thought outside the box. The fact that I applied for something that didn't make any sense, the fact he even considered it, and both of us always felt that was what we had a commonality is we didn't have to conform. There was nothing lost in having that discussion and when it made sense. So that practical way of looking at things was probably a commonality.

[01:04:18] The other thing is I always loved, his lectures were just fantastic because he always had 5 or 10 minutes that were not related to what we were studying. So I saw a video of him painting his car, because he rebuilt his car in the garage. What not to do, never paint a car in a garage. It just destroys the garage. So that was a lesson. [Inaudible 01:04:40] We're talking like 30 years ago now, right?

[01:04:44] The other thing I always remember, and I tell that to people over here, we're in an age of email and social media, and our comfort zones have changed. A lot of people won't pick up a phone or won't have a Skype session like you and I are having. And one of the lectures Harry [inaudible 01:05:01]. He always had this cardboard box he'd bring things in with him, and it was always something different. And one of the last weeks of the class, he said, "Okay, a lot of you guys are engineers, so we're going to go out and work. And you'll get comfortable at your subject matter. You'll be doing this or that." And he brought out this old phone, put it out on the desk and says, "Never forget to talk to people." Things are resolved when you pick up the phone and talk to somebody. That rings true until now.

[01:05:29] I think people revert back, and I see these email chains on something, or social media, or we get removed from the people we work with, and we create obstacles sometimes. A nice friendly phone call, or go break bread with somebody, resolves things very easily. And so that's one I always take, I always remind myself when I'm sitting on my desk, I've got my 200 emails or 500 emails today. Get up, walk over to the person and talk to them.

Dr. Weisz: [01:06:01] Yeah, thank you. I love that reminder too. When you get tens of thousands of customers, that's a great thing, but what are some of the challenges? What have been some of the challenges of growing?

Amine: [01:06:14] You know, different phases of our company, we always face challenges. That's our job is to really to look at this challenge, and I think that's really how businesses succeed is taking these challenges, and in a nice sense, turning them into what we like to call nicely, opportunities. The biggest challenge that we always have consistently faced is where do you put your energy? We talked about earlier, of innovations and priorities, and so constantly we're balancing these priorities and making decisions.

[01:06:49] You mentioned the criteria to make those decisions. Sometimes it's analytical, but don't forget your gut. I tell all my folks, you've got to have some gut in there. Sometimes it's a gut and you've got to go against the analytics. When are you right, and when are you wrong?

[01:07:05] The other thing I like to say is make the mistake fast and move on, because you can't overanalyze something. You've got to analyze, but you've got to know a balance point between, "I can spend eight months analyzing it, or I can spend two weeks doing it."

Dr. Weisz: Right.

Amine: [01:07:20] Or prototyping it, and then learning, but not having that connection that says, "Okay, since I did it, let me continue." Sometimes you got to walk away. Those balance points I think are critical in any small business. You don't want to not stick with something, but you got to know when sometimes you stayed with something too long. And you don't want to hockey puck it either, because you're never going to get anything done.

[01:07:43] And making that balance, or making those judgement calls, and being comfortable making that mistake and owning up to it, and just saying, "Okay, we made a mistake, let's move on." An example I would have is investment examples every year. We say, "Okay, shall we fund this project or that project, or should we invest in our infrastructure?" And every year we say, "Okay, maybe this year will be the year for this, and we'll have to postpone this for next year. Next year we'll do that." And those kind of decisions we make every couple of months, I would say, without yanking things back and forth, but making adjustments along the way. We need to have a plan, but we can't be inflexible.

Dr. Weisz: [01:08:22] See, I thought one of the things you were going to say was eventually integrating with the US postal office. How was that journey? How long did that take and what was that process like?

Amine: [01:08:36] So it was interesting, because the first time we approached the post service, we were seven employees at the company. And you can expect an agency that has north of half a million employees of being approached by a company with the professor from Stanford and some kids from California going out to Washington DC, we had an audience which was very respectful, and we did have a discussion, but there was no way these seven people were going to be taken seriously.

[01:09:06] And so that was a challenge, but we had persistence. Some people call it stubbornness. And when we had an idea, we believed in it, and we didn't let it take us over, though. That was the other thing. We knew had to run a business. We knew we didn't own our schedule completely, because there were things we had to be approved for. If you think about it, one of the things we do, we print money. Postage is currency. And if we're looking at that back in '90, '91, when computers were still immature, how to secure that.

Dr. Weisz: [01:09:40] Yeah, can't someone just photocopy your thing and just stick it in?

Amine: [01:09:44] That's one of the things we had to protect against. We had to be able to both the...Sometimes you have to analyze it, sometimes you have to protect it, sometimes you have to build some controls around it. And those were some of the things we did. We matured our process, and we were persistent to the point that three years later, the postal service allowed us to do a proof of concept with them. And we established some great relationships with some very smart people at the postal service, to look at this as a positive alternative. Speaking of Chicago, sometimes things happen in the industry that will influence how people think about what you're doing.

[01:10:23] So back in the, I want to say, early '90s, maybe '94, '95, there was the Congress Post Office scandal where some postage were being reused or being sold or something along those lines. And that, since we were secure, serialized...Because every time you print postage, it's got a unique ID. You can see who did it, when they did it, versus I give you $1,000 to go get postage with, it's loose currency, right? And so that gave us a little more visibility to what we were doing, those days. It might have been '93 even, it might have been earlier. And that gave us an audience because we had that idea, and now suddenly that idea said, "Hmm, it might resolve this."

Dr. Weisz: Right, your solution.

Amine: [01:11:09] Yeah, allowed us to take that idea forward. So those were big challenges. You go back to your entrepreneur concept, those are some of the things where our long term vision was to be able to do this. But along the way, we knew we had to have small steps. Build up confidence, but we also need to be able to run our business that was going to generate just enough money for us to survive to get to that long term vision.

Dr. Weisz: [01:11:32] Part of the equation with business is competition, you know? So I want you to talk a little bit about patents. When I was doing the research, I was reading an article on EcommerceBytes, and I didn't realize that there's such a history of conflict with and Endicia.

Amine: [01:11:50] Well, I wouldn't say...the patents, when you look at them...

Dr. Weisz: [01:11:54] I'm just quoting the article, that's what it said. The article says there's a history of conflict. I'm like, "Huh, Amine seems like such a nice guy."

Amine: [01:12:03] No, the gang there is nice too. When you look at patents, and patents are something that are sensitive throughout different industries. And we had some of the first patents on the concept. Obviously, where it says, there's a concept of postage and then there's how you use it. Of course, we used it in shipping. And so the usage was very different, the application was different. We went to the shipping industry as opposed to a lot of folks went to the mailing industry. And we differentiate that quite a bit. But we've always focused on the innovation.

[01:12:36] And so one of the things I think we were very smart about, way back in '89, '90, was patenting some of that, and then using that appropriately so that you also didn't just patent it, and try and sell your patents, you really used it and put the products.

Dr. Weisz: [01:12:50] Just to defend your intellectual property.

Amine: [01:12:54] Yeah, exactly, and you see that with innovators that think about the whole piece. And I think that goes back to a little bit of Harry's background. Prior to this, he had some solar energy patents, way back in the '80s.

Dr. Weisz: [01:13:08] Really? Wow.

Amine: [01:13:09] Yeah, so he innovated in that area. So we had the concept. We wrote the patents ourselves with help from law firms. But those are things that we did early on, and like anything else, it allows you to then, 10 years later, be able to launch that product, or 5 years later be able to put that innovation. And we've always looked at that as it's a source of what we're doing, and it will be the future, and that helped a lot.

Dr. Weisz: [01:13:37] What is the competition Amine, obviously, there's other competitors, but what is the competition like between do you see that relationship as far as the competition went throughout the years? What did you learn from

Amine: [01:13:54] I would say really, we don't look at it that way. We look a lot about the industry. We talked about the customers, right? You mentioned earlier our obsession about customers, and that's really... when we look at the business, the product, the marketplace, we look at what a customer looks at. So today, if I'm an e-commerce seller, I'm trying to look at what am I going to do to get my product to my consumer. And when I look at that, the first option is do I use the post office, do I use UPS, do I use FedEx? If I'm a big volume shipper, I might use my own trucks to get it somewhere. If I'm localized I might use my, what do you call them, the local bicycle cab?

Dr. Weisz: [01:14:38] I know what you're talking about, yes.

Amine: [01:14:40] The couriers, that's the word. If I'm in Chicago and you're in San Francisco, and I've got a pharmacy and I'm doing local traffic, I might have a bicycle courier do it. So when you look at an e-commerce seller, to me, that's how they think. So then you say, "Well how do I solve that?" In our case, obviously, we solved it in shipping and that was the business we focused on is those shippers. And they were back, for the last 15 years, they were less catered to because it was more complex.

[01:15:09] You mentioned the complexity, and so where we may have, let's say, 100,000 customers, a lot of the companies that cater to small businesses may have a million customers, but they may do the same amount of shipping. Just because the demographics are for your small office that is sending a letter, it's very different than I am a seller selling a product that's shipping something. And that's how we focus, and that's how our sellers look to us. And their competition was more like UPS and FedEx and all those local couriers, and all the things that would transport a parcel, and we were an enabler to that parcel transportation.

Dr. Weisz: [01:15:51] Amine, this has been hugely valuable and I want to thank you. I have one last question for you, but where can we point people towards, where should they find out more about the company and you?

Amine: [01:16:04] Obviously, come to our website Come up to our shipping blog, we're having a lot of fun with that. There's some nice articles. It's something we created a couple of years ago and it's really starting to have a lot of followers, has, not starting, that was a year ago, starting. Now it does. And a lot of folks go there to get their information.

[01:16:31] In Madison this summer, I went and visited a couple of customers, and I was very happy. I would go in, they said, "Oh yeah, we were looking at your shipping blog and some of the articles, and I picked up these two and I have questions about them."

Dr. Weisz: That's great.

Amine: [01:16:43] I walk into somebody and they're sitting there, looking at it, it's now becoming a source for information.

Dr. Weisz: [01:16:48] It's a conversation, yeah.

Amine: [01:16:49] So I encourage people to look at that. There's a lot more today, you mentioned shipping is sexy? I mean there's a lot more...

Dr. Weisz: [01:16:57] From that video, I only mentioned it from that video. Before, I did not think it was that sexy, but yes.

Amine: [01:17:04] Well then, I guess maybe you should go to the YouTube channel, right? And according to you, we can go to the YouTube channel on Endicia and try and figure out, let's see how many people agree with you and think that shipping is sexy. I would leave them with that.

Dr. Weisz: [01:17:19] Yeah, Amine, everyone should check out And my last question is, since this InspiredInsider, I always ask, this has been a long journey, so what's been the low point and what's been the proudest moment?

Amine: [01:17:33] You know, I think we've always stayed even keel. Between the three partners,I think we always...My best experience is really the two co-founders, we were all three of us together. Low points were probably in the '90s when we just didn't think this would...I mean nobody was going to take us seriously, right? Which is typically with a lot of entrepreneurs, the fact that, "Okay, was this ever going to be real?" How much would we wait? The patience level to wait nine years until you're approved, it's like an FDA drug, but you don't have the billions to spend. The low points, we had low points then, but we kept our mind on the business and the current customer and the business model we had, and we kept it going.

Dr. Weisz: [001:18:18] Is that what kept you going, just thinking about the customer? Because that's a lot of patience, Amine.

Amine: [01:18:25] I've told some people who asked me, we had a [inaudible 01:18:28] lunch meet and we were talking about it. I said, "You know, me and the co-founders, we probably, if we have to sell cucumbers together, we would have had fun." And so you always want to come into the office, because we had a fun environment, we still do. We're very close together and that made it fun. That made it you could do anything together.

[01:18:47] But we had our consulting business, we had our big clients, we had our mailing business, our direct mail software that we built, and we stayed close with our customers there. And so we were profitable. We were small, running a business. We always thought this next level is going to be the big one, which it turned out to be.

[01:19:06] The high point was probably the day we got approved. We created a nice little cute first day of issue...Because you know there's a big ceremonial thing about stamps and postage and stuff like that. And when we finally got that, but then realizing right away that we had the wrong business model, that was the kind of fun, was it, we got to go to shipping. Shipping is where it's at. Oh my God, there's all these other complexities, let's go do it. And it was both the high point and the point that said, "Okay, we got approved now, now let's make sure we can continue to solve problems." Not to get caught up with is that the end of the journey, it really was the beginning of the journey.

Dr. Weisz: [01:19:46] So you when you say approved, what do you mean by that?

Amine: [01:19:48] The money part of our business, the postage part of our business, now it's a small part of the bigger shipping is regulated. You print money, so you have to be approved by the US postal service. And there's a handful of companies that are approved to process postage or process the postal services money is another way to look at it.

Dr. Weisz: [01:20:10] That's a huge win, yeah.

Amine: [01:20:12] Yeah. And so there was a whole journey and you have to pay these outside labs to certify you. That's a tough journey. It's a tough hill, mountain to climb. And we went through that and so that was a success point was right there that now the rest was up to us. And along the ways, we've always faced hurdles to expand that model past its original concept of a small business all the way to the shipping entity.

[01:20:39] So and that continues to obviously every year, we have these things we grow on. But we kept it even keel. And I think it was a lot to do with the people around us and the team as it's grown. That's what the fun part of having a business is a lot of the interactions you have on a daily basis. That's been constant throughout our growth.

Dr. Weisz: [01:21:00] Amine, thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. As we talked, you probably had 600 emails build up, but I appreciate it.

Amine: [01:21:08] This was fun. I looked forward to this. This is a great time. And now I know, next time I'm in Madison, I'm going to drop you a line.

Dr. Weisz: [01:21:15] That's right, and Chicago, yeah.

Amine: [01:21:17] Chicago, too, but I think Madison is going to happen first, somewhere on State Street.

Dr. Weisz: [01:21:20] All right, let's do it.

Amine: [01:21:22] I look forward to it, thank you very much.

Dr. Weisz: Thanks, Amine, I appreciate it.

Interview Highlights:

[00:04:33] We like to be very customer centric. Let's take an example of a partner that may be integrating us. If we have a joint customer, that customer will speak loudly why they selected that partner, for example, versus another. And that's usually what builds the relationship because now it's a differentiation, or it's an innovation, or it solves a problem. And we keep track of that, and then we'll work with them, because a lot of times a customer will come to us and say, "I use this marketplace, or this accounting system, who do you recommend?" We usually will have three or four partners that may fit that.

[00:16:46] We found that, for the first time, we might be able to influence it, by going in there and saying, "What are the shipping problems? Can we bypass those and create a new in between product?" Given the fact that, as you mentioned, we now have the size of 605 million parcels last year, and we go and bring the economies to scale for our 100,000 merchants or 85,000 merchants, and bring them something that only the 10 largest companies in the US could have done. So that's an interesting...

[00:23:32] So we looked at that, and us being engineers, we said, "That's the problem." As much as we got for 10 years, we're all excited about postage. We realized that the importance was really the solution around the postage. Within about 12 months of us launching our products, we automated those three items. We integrated the tracking with the postage and address, we had the customs forms, and we got online insurance.

[00:57:03] I think now as the industries gone, I use eBay more directionally from the sense, in 2000, that was a little bit of where it started, but really the whole e-commerce ecosystem has grown. If you look at the metrics on the growth of the market, Amazon is probably the largest, of course, and that's whose name comes in. But we saw earlier this year with Alibaba's IPO, for me, at least, and what I read, there was a lot of discussions about that. A lot of those market places that are no longer just domestic, they're international. And so you see those trends, those are driving the whole e-commerce ecosystem is driving businesses up.

[01:05:29] I think people revert back, and I see these email chains on something, or social media, or we get removed from the people we work with, and we create obstacles sometimes. A nice friendly phone call, or go break bread with somebody, resolves things very easily. And so that's one I always take, I always remind myself when I'm sitting on my desk, I've got my 200 emails or 500 emails today. Get up, walk over to the person and talk to them.



Be sure to utilize this real insight from a real marketing expert to help your e-commerce business grow and succeed. Stay tuned - this will be an ongoing weekly series featuring a variety of e-commerce experts looking to provide you with hard-won knowledge free of charge.

Checkout out our previous E-Commerce Mastery Series episode featuring Steve Chou of My Wife Quit Her Job / BumbleBee Linens as he discusses how he balances work & life while running two six-figure businesses.

Work Smart. Sell More.

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