Why Adding People is Not Always the Right Way to Grow Your Startup: With Heath Wells and Olivia Skuza
“When we launched NuORDER, we saw success immediately. To keep up with demand, we quickly hired a small army of sales reps. This was exactly the wrong thing to do.”
Heath Wells is the CEO and Co-Founder of NuORDER, a B2B eCommerce platform that is revolutionizing the wholesale industry, bringing all the benefits and experiences we see in B2C eCommerce to wholesale. Headquartered in Los Angeles, and with offices in New York, London, and Sydney, NuORDER helps 800+ brands & 300k+ retailers transact over $5B in GMV annually. Heath and co-founder Olivia Skuza are serial entrepreneurs dating back to their teenage years in Australia. NuORDER is their 3 rd venture.
Thank you for doing this with us. What is your backstory?
Back in 2010, we were running a digital agency in Los Angeles for premium fashion brands when they came upon the idea for NuORDER. We were witnessing, firsthand, the dramatic shifts in B2C e-commerce, and the resulting incredible experiences and benefits brands were delivering their retail consumers. At the same time, we walked the halls of the large fashion trade shows, where many of our agency customers conducted their wholesale businesses, and noticed just how antiquated and broken the process there was. The differences between B2C and B2B within the same brands were staggering!
The entire wholesale process was antiquated — brands were using printed catalogs and line sheets to merchandise their products. Buyers were using pen, paper and fax machines to place orders. Nobody was leveraging digital, e-commerce or mobile. My co-founder and I saw just how much this was hindering sales and hurting the businesses of both brands as well as retail buyers. We knew we could provide them with a better way.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
Olivia and I had sold a media company in Australia prior to moving to Los Angeles and used the proceeds to initially fund NuORDER. We knew that to grow and make NuORDER successful, we needed to raise capital, but neither one of us had any experience in raising money. Needless to say, we had many unsuccessful meetings with VCs initially. We honestly just didn’t know what
we were doing. But we didn’t give up. We kept moving forward, learning from each “no.” We slowly, but continuously, improved each pitch and continued networking with every possible investor.
One day we were working out of a Dunkin Donuts, the closest place with free wifi. While sitting there, we accidentally ran into David Tisch, the now famous Seed investor from NY. David understood the problem within the wholesale industry we were solving with NuORDER, and immediately began making calls and sending emails to potential investors from inside the restaurant. He also helped us structure our pitch in a way that better resonated with investors. Within one month of that chance encounter, we had closed our initial Series A with Upfront Ventures (Southern California’s largest venture fund).
So what does your company do?
NuORDER transformed wholesale buying by building a B2B eCommerce platform where brands and retailers can discover, connect, engage and transact with one another in real time. Pen and paper is static — a brand can print a catalog of products, but it will only be accurate for a short period of time, as product catalogs and inventory changes by the day, hour or even minute.
How do you present a range of products constantly in flux in a medium that is static?
Using NuOrder, brands can ensure their product and inventory selection is always accurate and up-to-date. This not only allows brands to sell more with less effort, but also gives retailers an opportunity to acquire inventory more quickly and effectively. The NuORDER platform has two sides, wholesale brand and retail buyer. The brand side provides a merchandising and sales platform for the brand to showcase their products, created personalized offers for specific retail buyers and drive demand through marketing campaigns.
The platform also enables sales reps to take orders, as well as approve and edit buyer-submitted orders.
On the retail buyer side, NuORDER provides a B2C-like eCommerce experience for discovering brands and products, reviewing offers, and placing orders. Both the brand and retail buyer applications are accessible through the web and iOS mobile apps.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
NuORDER helps its brand clients go green. Traditionally, the wholesale process is paper-intensive. Brands printed and shipped millions of pages of product catalogs to retail buyers. Frequent product changes required complete reprinting. And because catalogs included all products, rather than a curated set personalized to each buyer, much of those printed pages were discarded or ignored. The typical NuORDER customer used to print and ship 5,000 copies
of four different 250-page color catalogs 3–4 times annually. That’s 20 million sheets of paper (approximately 2,400 trees).
With NuORDER, brands can go almost entirely paperless. Rather than bulk printing a one-sized fits all catalog, NuORDER’s customers personalize catalogs and linesheets for each buyer, and email digital copies for online ordering. Not only does this process make the wholesale ordering process much more efficient, it also has a tremendous positive impact on the
Olivia and I are passionate about dogs, and have worked tirelessly to keep our furry friends from ending up in kill shelters. We work closely with no Kill Los Angeles, donate a portion of NuORDER’s revenues to the cause, and encourage NuORDER’s customers to do the same.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my startup,” and why?
- Hire a great leadership team as soon as you can. As a founder, it’s very easy to get lost in the day to day struggle of running your business. But as
the leader of the company, your responsibility is less for today and more for the future. If you’re too focused on the day to day, you can’t concentrate on raising capital to meet growth needs, or identify the next big trend that will disrupt your industry. Hiring a great management team not only frees you up to focus on your duties as a leader, but also helps you in other areas as well, including team culture. We never had experience managing a product engineering team and struggled to hire and retain the right talent. When we hired our Chief Product and Chief Technology Officers, they were able to help us turn the team around. Today, our engineering team is one of the strongest in the company, sporting the highest employee NPS scores.
- Adding people is not always the right way to grow. When we launched NuORDER, we saw success immediately. To keep up with demand, we
quickly hired a small army of sales reps. This was exactly the wrong thing to do. Rather than sales people, we needed process and infrastructure to support increased customer demand. We also needed the right strategy to go after the right customers. Needless to say, without these key underlying components many of these sales reps were not successful. This was a costly mistake and correcting it was time consuming.
- Plan ahead. This sounds simple and obvious, but when your business is growing quickly, it’s easy to lose the forest through the trees. It is very easy to be busy at a startup, but it’s much harder ensuring your busy focusing on the most important priorities. We’ve learned the importance of taking time to plan ahead, both quarter to quarter and annually. We keep our plans simple and flexible (things constantly change), but having a plan helps us ensure everyone is spending there time where it will count the most.
- Be prepared for the hard work. Tech startups have been glorified. We see many successful companies and their founders who seen incredible financial success. They make it look easy. The reality is that tech start-ups are hard. Someone described running a tech start up as getting punched in the face every day. There are many days we both feel like that’s true! Running a start up is hard. It’s long hours every day, and each big win seems to get tempered by a setback, like losing a key member of the team or a big client.
- Fundraising never stops. One of biggest mistakes founders make, and indeed we made too, was to only focus on raising capital when you need money. This is actually the worst time to raise capital, as you have less leverage in negotiating favorable terms. A founder’s job is to always be thinking about raising capital. This requires constant networking and cultivating relationships so that you can secure the funding you need before you actually need it.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
On a personal level it would have to be Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld. His humor is right up our alley. Although crass, his observational humor of society would make for a laugh a minute meal.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
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