Marcus Startzel of Whitebox: “The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years”
Build a team around you that you trust, and empower them to make your organization better. Without good teams focused on the top priorities, you create the perfect environment for burnout out… a ton of effort placed, and nothing to show for it. People don’t burn out in startups when there is fast growing success…and that requires clear priorities and great teams.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marcus Startzel.
Marcus is a proven executive leader with a track record of driving industry-leading growth. Before joining Whitebox, he served various senior leadership roles within AppNexus, leading up to their 2018 $1.6B acquisition by AT&T. Marcus joined AppNexus through the acquisition of MediaGlu, a cross-device technology company where he served as Chairman & CEO. Previously, Marcus was the GM of North America and Global CRO at Millennial Media where he led dramatic enterprise growth that resulted in a successful IPO on the NYSE.
In addition, he serves on the Board of Directors at the Maryland FoodBank. Marcus earned a Mathematics degree with Merit from the United States Naval Academy and is a former U.S. Naval Submarine Officer and qualified nuclear engineer.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started my career as a submarine officer, where I worked with nuclear power in a ballistic missiles submarine. So, my first five years were underwater working for the Navy, and I can’t think of anything else that is farther away career-wise than what I currently do.
After those five years as a submarine officer, I went to work for an IT technology firm down in Texas, but I wanted to move closer to home in the North East. So, after a few years there, I moved up to the Baltimore area and started working at a company called Advertising.com.
Advertising.com was my first venture-backed, startup experience in the tech space and it was really what sent me down the path I’m still currently on — from Advertising.com to Millennial Media, then MediaGlu which was acquired by AppNexus, and now I’m here at Whitebox.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Well, in a startup career of almost 20 years with 5 exits, there have been a lot of interesting people and stories. I think the days and weeks leading up to the Millennial Media IPO were indeed interesting and being on the senior leadership team during that event cemented many of my beliefs about leadership. As the executive responsible for the company’s revenue, hitting numbers and growing was never more in the spotlight. Anxiety tends to flare up in situations like that, and leading teams through those periods are critical. Decision-making is highlighted, and it really tests an organization’s ability to clearly communicate and execute.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
When I first started at Advertising.com in sales, I was working on closing a big deal. The prospect was VERY data-driven, and I needed to pull together a report on our sales and progress as a company. We had an internal, daily report which housed so much SUPER confidential information. I built a chart in excel for the client and pasted it into a powerpoint. But I pasted the entire excel file in the background and sent the prospect all of the company’s performance data. It wasn’t funny at the time — I was terrified. It’s now funny looking back at the stress I put on myself about it. The lesson was simple — always paste excel charts as pictures.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m on the board at the Maryland FoodBank. We just celebrated our 40th Anniversary of helping the food insecure in Maryland, and COVID-19 has put so many Marylanders at risk. In normal economic conditions, 1 in 9 Marylanders needs food assistance to make it through the day. Now, with record unemployment, and schools closed, so many more folks are struggling to get a solid meal during the day. The team there is doing amazing work, and while not an “exciting new project”, I volunteer at the FoodBank, because it is such a vital link in the lives of many Marylanders.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Priorities and teams.
Priorities have three parts: setting them, and sticking with them, and not spending time or effort on things that aren’t priorities.
Teams: Build a team around you that you trust, and empower them to make your organization better. Without good teams focused on the top priorities, you create the perfect environment for burnout out… a ton of effort placed, and nothing to show for it. People don’t burn out in startups when there is fast growing success…and that requires clear priorities and great teams.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many people who have helped me in my life and my career. My wife, my children, and my entire network of friends and family have been so supportive. My wife in particular has always been that strong balance and sounding board for every major decision I’ve made in my life and career. I am so grateful to her, and without her would be nowhere. I’m grateful to the executives who’ve served with me. So many are now friends, and advisors. A couple of which took risks on me early in my career based on potential they saw, without which, I would not had the success I’ve had. I’m grateful for the folks who have worked for me. A couple in particular have taught me more about leadership than anyone I’ve worked for.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Oh man, that is a big question. I know I’ve had an impact on the lives of a lot of people in the companies I’ve worked for and led. We’ve created jobs, new technologies, and even markets. I’ve helped people grow their capabilities and careers and go on to do amazing things. But to claim to bring goodness to the world, that is a very big bar to leap over from my point of view. I operate with integrity and expect and demand it from those around me. Maybe that can be a seed to sprout some good one day.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?
With the growth of eCommerce, consumer choice has exploded, and consumer expectations have changed — 2-day shipping, a reliance on reviews, price comparisons, increased product selection, etc. Consumers expect to be able to purchase the products they want, anywhere they shop. The divides between traditional commerce and e-commerce are closing. Amazon and other growing marketplaces prioritize the consumer, not the brands. For many brands, there has been a divide in focus and processes between being sold on store shelves and an eCommerce strategy. Brands are forced to manage the complexity and costs of direct-to-consumer sales efforts and fulfillment and meeting these new customer expectations. We see many brands that are looking for a path to success in modern commerce. Some areas we are focused on:
While fulfillment partners can help a brand with their eCommerce or wholesale fulfillment needs, and marketing agencies that can execute marketplace sales strategies, working with a partner that works on both sides of your business will give you access to insights and tools that will help you identify and react to new opportunities.
- Customers expect to purchase their product of choice from their retailer of choice. Vertical integration is a winning model to provide this experience — to succeed in modern commerce you must “move stuff” and “sell stuff”, and harvest and leverage the data that comes from that process.
- A vertically integrated model allows brands to capture the entire value chain and deliver lower costs to customers and increase sales.
- This means all sales, logistics, and fulfillment all in one software platform
COMPREHENSIVE MARKETPLACE STRATEGY
Brands will look to broaden their product offering across marketplaces to sell where consumers are. While Amazon accounts for 62% (need to find source) of all eCommerce purchases and has surpassed Google in product searches. (need to find source), it is not the only marketplace brands should focus on. Determining the marketplaces that make sense for your brand — Amazon, Walmart Marketplace, Target, eBay, Google Shopping, etc. will be a key component of your strategy. From there, researching the right product selection for each marketplace, understanding the difference in consumer demographics, shopping habits, price sensitivities, sales velocity, margins, etc. and using data to create a long-term marketplace strategy will increase your opportunity for success.
Omnichannel order fulfillment ensures all your inventory is available across any channel, from one network. Whether you are looking for fulfillment and logistics specific for B2B, retail replenishment, drop-ship, direct-to-consumer eCommerce, or marketplace prep, pooling all of your inventory in one network simplifies ordering and forecasting and provides visibility into your sales and logistics across all channels.
PROTECT YOUR SUPPLY CHAIN
Many of the conversations our team is having with clients are focused on how to build a stable, yet flexible strategy moving forward. Protecting your supply chain and taking proactive steps to ensure business continuity is a priority for all of our clients.
Stay in Stock: Being out-of-stock can create issues with your direct consumers, marketplaces, and retail relationships. Pooling all of your inventory in one fulfillment network increases your chances of staying in stock and being able to move inventory as needed based on demand. Regardless of the type of order — wholesale, DTC, drop-ship, marketplace, etc.
Create Redundancies: Store and fulfill products from multiple fulfillment centers. If there is a substantial increase in demand, your products can be packed and shipped from all fulfillment centers. If a product is out of stock at one fulfillment center, the others can fulfill the orders, and if a fulfillment center is negatively impacted, those tasks can be performed by any other fulfillment center. This gives you the stability and flexibility to handle an influx of orders.
Exceed Customer Delivery Expectations: Having all of your inventory in one network means you have the flexibility to split it among markets to get as close to your customer as possible — getting deliveries to customers faster and cheaper
USE DATA TO GROW YOUR BUSINESS
- Tech-enabled logistics and fulfillment: The 3PL industry is operating 100-year-old business models on 50-year-old technology and is ripe for disruption. Find a next-generation fulfillment partner who will rely on innovations in technology and processes to deliver results.
- Use data & Insights to drive decisions: Use search and purchase data to guide new product launches and understand better how to advertise across marketplaces.
- Test Variety & Multipacks to Enhance Product Offerings: Selling your $6 shampoo at your consumer’s favorite brick and mortar store makes sense. Selling that same $6 shampoo online, after you consider packaging and shipping, may not make sense for your business. Many products that are sold as single units in retailers, do better as multiple and variety packs online, while delivering higher profit margins. Whiotebox’s technology creates and tests product configurations in real-time with our tech-enabled virtual storage solution.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Ending hunger. This isn’t a new idea, and it shouldn’t need a movement. But in a world where consumers can choose a food delivery company to bring them a single meal, because they can afford the huge fees to deliver one meal, not enough people understand that so many people are silently hungry. Every day. My movement would be for folk who can afford to donate, donate to food banks. The nationwide network of food banks can create 10 meals out of a $1 donation.
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