Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Chris Koerner and I run Send Eats with my co-founder Kirk Salisbury. Send Eats does lightning-fast order fulfillment for eCommerce brands. Our customers are primarily Shopify store owners that would rather spend time growing and marketing their business as opposed to packing boxes all day.
This business was started by accident in late 2019 when a friend asked for help selling his product online. I helped him as a favor, but when COVID-19 hit I saw that eCommerce would quickly be playing a much bigger role in our lives than it had previously. Throughout 2020 we went from packing dozens of orders per month to tens of thousands of orders per month.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I have a friend that sells delicious bread in grocery stores here in Dallas, TX. His customers had been requesting he sell online for years, but he didn’t have the time or the know-how to make it happen. One day we were having lunch and I said something to the effect of, “You know what Keith, let me launch an online store for you. Don’t pay me anything, because I really want to see if this works. If it works, then maybe you can give me a percentage of online sales, and if it doesn’t then no harm no foul.”
A week or two later his site went live and orders started coming in. It wasn’t a big amount of orders, but it was enough to positively affect his profitability. Then COVID-19 hit and the lockdowns began. His sales increased 8-10x almost overnight and we were shipping hundreds of loaves per day. That was the moment I knew we had a scalable business on our hands.
The initial idea was to help food brand owners ship their products online. We soon realized that the opportunity to help existing brand owners fulfill their products was much, much greater. At this time, I called up my good friend and cousin, Kirk. Kirk was a digital marketing pro and had recently started and grown the largest online disc golf store in the world. Kirk was on board that we needed to scale this idea and we were off to the races.
We then started to find our clients. In the beginning, we really tested the local market by going to Whole Foods and making a note of all the products that were marked as made locally (by the red label). We just emailed them all, reaching out, explaining who we were, and offering our services. We then posted in a Facebook group for entrepreneurs that generated a feature that was emailed to thousands that then got us our first “real customer” Lewis Road Creamery.
Choosing a name was fun and frustrating. We felt it was important to go with a .com URL so we mapped out some keywords around our sector and then I just hit the domain searches. I kept looking and then finally on a whim I checked sendeats.com, not expecting it to be available. When it was, I knew we had to go with it and Sendeats was born.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I guess for us, this process is a little different. We are not selling products but a shipping service so a huge part of this for us about brand identity; Getting our name out there, letting people see who we are, what we do, and using us to fulfill their shipping needs.
In the beginning, we really tested the local market by going to Whole Foods and making a note of all the products that were marked as made locally and just emailed them all.
We had experience in our previous businesses fulfilling our own products, so we simply used the same hardware and software that we had used before and made it work but on a much bigger scale. We utilized FB groups and made the most of our personal networks to generate buzz and get attention which drove our first customers!
We started small working out of our first clients’ bread factory and fulfilling straight from there. Then we took on a new client who needed good refrigeration so we expanded to the corner of my friend’s cookie factory since he had an onsite freezer that we could use for our new butter customer.
Then just one month later we were able to explain to a small warehouse in town, taking on a month-to-month lease, and it didn't have a loading dock which is pretty important for a fulfillment service and it was only 1,600 square feet, tiny for a warehouse!
Describe the process of launching the business.
We never even had an official launch! We just kind of dived right into fulfilling orders for those first few customers and then we expanded, growing on word of mouth. We kept everything really clean and simple, our first website was a simple Carrd landing page but we have now upgraded and made it represent us and our brand.
Something we have had to be aware of, due to the nature of our business, is we have to front all shipping costs for our customer. This made cash flow very tight putting us into a short-term negative cash flow. This happens every time we take on a new client so we have to inject our own capital and use credit cards, around $200k+ when we first started.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
For us, our best strategy has always been to prioritize the customer, if we take care of customers then clients are happy with the fulfillment service we are providing and it is a win-win for everyone. In eCommerce there are many ways to make mistakes, and you know, we have made some ourselves too, but to combat that we are super proactive. We own up to our mistakes, communicate them to our client and the customer if necessary and work hard to learn from them so we minimize the risk of it happening again in the future.
We see every mistake as a chance to make improvements and to learn and I think that makes us stronger as a business and as a team and because of this we have never lost a customer!
Moving forwards, we really want to help others in the industry which is why we have heavily invested in blogging, online content, and contributing to social networks. We are now building a blog that is covering a huge range of topics within e-commerce, connecting with specialists, customers, and clients. We know this is a long-term plan for acquiring clients but our goal is to help people early in their e-commerce journey, so that when they grow and look for fulfillment options, they know we are a company they can have trust in.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today the future looks great but we need to work super hard to get to where we want to be. We are a few months away now from profitability but looking at how far we have come in a short period of time gives us a huge drive. Over the course of less than a year, we’ve gone from the small corner of a bread factory to a 10,000 square foot warehouse, and will soon move into a 30,000 square foot warehouse.
Build something that you can start selling or giving away as soon as possible. Dive in and go for it.
Our customer LTV is between 4-7 figures and we have never lost a customer so we feel really positive on our path forwards. Once we have moved into our new, bigger, warehouse we plan on growing by becoming more focused with our outreach. As it stands, we don’t have enough warehouse space to actively try and solicit new business and we don't want to compromise on the service we offer our current clients.
In 2020 we launched our own eCommerce brand, TexasSnacks.com. This site did 6 figures by month 2 and we plan on starting and acquiring more eCommerce brands that we can fulfill in the house to grow via vertical integration
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
COVID-19 has had a huge effect across e-Commerce, pushing it forward way into the future and we have been able to use that to our advantage. It has also come with its challenges, keeping our staff safe, dealing with the constant changes in restrictions has really kept us on our toes and from the beginning, we have had to move fast, change and adapt but I believe this has made us stronger.
From an entrepreneur’s perspective moving more into management, leadership culture, and employing more than 25 people is very challenging, especially when your average employee is around 20 years old. It is critical to maintaining an open-door policy with employees so you can stay in touch with what’s happening among the team. They are a hub of knowledge for us, we really want to streamline our fulfillment process and by having that open communication we have found they have some great ideas and feedback.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Slack: Communication
- GDrive: Keeps everyone organized
- Zapier: For shipping data visualization
- Shipstation: For order management
- Klaviyo: For email marketing
- Upwork: For finding quick contractors
- WordPress: Our website
- Mailchimp: Email capture
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I am always trying to push myself forwards and I do that by reading books, listening to podcasts, and finding faith in my belief system. Here are a few of the things that have really inspired me:
- How I Built This: A podcast for learning from other founders, really inspires me and has also taught me a lot.
- Delivering Happiness by the late Tony Hsieh: He taught me how important it is to put customers above all else.
- Crucial Conversations: I am prone to avoid awkward conversations and conversations in general, this book taught me how to instead embrace them and use them as a tool.
- The Book of Mormon: I read this every day as part of my belief system and it helps me have more of an eternal perspective so I don’t get as bogged down in the stresses of the day.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
The most important thing I would say to anyone who is getting started who has that fire burning and passion to go… Just do it! Build something that you can start selling or giving away as soon as possible. Dive in and go for it. Ignore all the haters that don’t understand your market or industry, and embrace the haters that do - they could give you some of the best advice! Use the naysayers to propel your success, thrive on it, and let it push you harder.
Learn first how to recognize and then embrace your insecurities so they can drive you forwards. Sometimes our weaknesses can be turned into our biggest strengths. And remember: The only way out is through; consistency will overcome all.
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