Waiting for something to be delivered makes you anxious. Right? Well, there are some businesses that get more than just anxious by late deliveries.
An airline company that is waiting for a part to one of its planes may lose up to U$ 150,000 per hour if its aircraft stays on the ground. A patient who waits for an organ to be delivered in the hospital, might have her chances of surviving reduced the more she has to wait.
Well, solving this kind of critical shipping problems is exactly the focus of Airspace Technologies.
In this episode, Nick Bulcao, co-founder of Airspace, tells us about the very beginning of Airspace’s journey and how he and his co-founder were able to generate traction for the company.
A SOLUTION FOR A PROBLEM
First of all, explain me a little bit about the problem that you solve and the solutions that Airspace offers today to solve the problem to its customers.
The idea started exactly like you said, from a problem that was happening in the industry. I had actually purchased a company called First Delivery Service—Phoenix, Arizona—that acted as what’s called an agent or a courier company for large national freight forwarding companies that specialized in the same-day time-critical space.
About six months in from owning that company, I quickly realized that there was no technology and no transparency in this space—that desperately wanted and needed it. That’s what motivated me to start Airspace.
Airspace is a tech-enabled platform that specializes in the same-day time-critical shipping—things that need to get there faster than UPS and FedEx can deliver. That’s what Airspace does.
We’ve created a modern platform that allows our customers to place orders, track their shipments—all in real time—being able to have a true end-to-end experience through the time that the order is placed all the way through to what we call POD or Proof of Delivery.
Our technology allows them to see exactly where their shipments are, to get real-time quotes and updates, to be able to dispatch drivers in seconds and on and on.
Our technology allows them to see exactly where their shipments are, to get real-time quotes and updates, to be able to dispatch drivers in seconds and on and on. The problem that we’re solving is the speed, the transparency, and the cost in which people are able to do these shipments in this time-sensitive space. […]
A PERFECT MARRIAGE
Who were Nick Bulcao and Ryan Rusnak just before founding Airspace technologies?
A great question because it’s a perfect marriage. I was the industry experienced one that had been in the logistics space for over 12+ years. Ryan, the technical co-founder, he’s got his masters from Carnegie Mellon and had anything to do with the logistics space. He was writing software in the Washington DC area and then the two of us got together to form Airspace. He’s like a brother to me now. We’ve been at this for the last three and a half years. So, it’s been a great marriage.
How have you and Ryan met each other?
That’s another funny story. One version is we met on Craigslist, but Ryan was in the DC area looking to actually move him and his wife Kirby to Southern California and he actually placed an ad on Craigslist. Believe it or not, I have no idea to this day why I was looking in Craigslist […]. Our joke is it’s not in the section you think it’s in.
You had this idea because of your background in logistics industry, you’ve shared it with Ryan and things happened “automagically”… Or was it a little bit more complicated than that?
To be honest with you, I was determined to bring my idea to fruition and, to me, it was all about finding the right partner, the right person that I wanted to go to battle with. I went through quite a few CTOs before I found Ryan. Once I found Ryan, I knew that was it.
I went through quite a few CTOs before I found Ryan. Once I found Ryan, I knew that was it.
I stopped the search, I had him fly out to meet with me in person. He could have gone anywhere that he wanted to go. He just loved the fact that I had the industry experience and a really lofty idea that he really wanted to tackle. So, the two of us thought it was just the perfect marriage.
It was a pretty quick process. There wasn’t months and months of going back and forth. It was literally him and I getting in a conference room, jotting down everything that was wrong with the industry and how we could write technology around it and literally, within six months from that first initial meeting, we had an MVP—that we launched in January of 2016.
After taking this decision about doing a startup together, what were the very first steps that you and Ryan had to do in order to execute things, to really get going on tracks?
It started with that meeting that I told you about where we jotted down everything that was wrong, and then really trying to figure out what was the minimum amount that we could do to launch so that we could get it in front of the customers as quickly as possible.
I relied heavily on Ryan and his background as to telling me how long he thought it would take to get to that goal. And he’s figuring out not only how long but what the resources that we needed—so we jotted down everything that we needed.
I relied heavily on Ryan and his background as to telling me how long he thought it would take to get to that goal.
He actually ended up hiring the ex-consulting company that he worked for, that helped us with getting some offshore resources as well. And then did a lot of coding himself to be able to hit that deadline of six months to launch on January 2016.
There was a lot of prep—with Ryan’s background. He’s very methodical about making sure that things are being done in the proper order—that we don’t rush, but we also get it out there and iterate as fast as possible.
I think that six-months timeline for us worked pretty perfectly to where we could get it in the hands of a couple customers and then continue to iterate based on the comments that we’re getting back from the customers at that point.
How was the MVP like?
The MVP was building the foundation as Ryan, I’m sure would explain it. And he built that foundation so sturdy that most of what we built over that six-months timeline we’re still using today. It wasn’t like he’s thrown away code or anything like that.
A lot of the features that you’re talking about, that you see that our customers are using right now are those that we had been built earlier on—not to say we haven’t enhanced those features. But that MVP holds true to today, especially on the mobile side that again a lot of that foundation that we built we’re still using today.
How did you approach the early customers of the platform or the earliest stakeholders?
We’re pretty lucky in that the majority of the major shippers that started with us several years ago, are still using us today. And really it was us going in, as long as we could get in the door—which was the hard part—and show the technology.
These people were just blown away, because they hadn’t seen anything like what we had built in this industry. A lot of the early adopters are still customers of ours today, because they see the value that the technology brings—with that speed and transparency that I mentioned earlier.
When you showed the product to them, was their reaction very clear that your product was validated? How did you notice that you were in the right path?
Well, how we knew we’re in the right path was their eyes would get wide and looked at our technology like it was something they’ve never seen before. The other part is that in any one of those initial sales meetings that we were going into, we didn’t get one person coming back to us saying: “No, we don’t need this.” The comments that we were getting were like: “Wow, this is it!” People literally saying this is going to be a game changer in the industry. I mean, every sign was a positive sign.
The initial feedback was really good and then it was just a matter of us executing on what we had just shown and sold to these customers.
What kind of marketing strategies did you use to get the traction?
With our industry, it’s very relationship based. The strategy that I had to use—on the sales side specifically—is being able to go out there and hire some industry experienced salespeople to get us in the door, so we could show the technology off.
Because it’s nice to have the technology, but if you can’t get through to the customer, it’s going to go unused. Being able to hire some industry experienced salespeople really helped us with their—what you would call—Rolodex of contacts, to be able to go after those contacts and show them the technology to kind of close the deal.
Did you have the funds that you needed from the beginning?
The funding strategy was to use my own money as long as I could. I was fortunate enough that I had another business that was successful at the time, so I was burning money on a monthly basis because of the revenues back when we launched this thing was dismal—to say the least.
It was definitely not an easy track.
I bootstrapped the company early on and went through some definitely hard times. Some ups and downs as to make sure we could cover payroll, asking people—including Ryan—to take cuts on their salary, and all sorts of stuff that get us to the position that we’re in today. It was definitely not an easy track.
What kind of advice would you give startup entrepreneurs that want to develop startups in this logistics industry?
KNOW YOUR PROBLEM
I’ve named at least a couple of things here. One—where I had a huge advantage over other entrepreneurs—is that I really, really understood the problem that was happening in the industry. I’m not saying you need 12 years experience in an industry, but just being an outsider looking in and trying to find a problem that may not really exist is something you want to try to avoid.
You want to make sure that whatever it is that you’re trying to launch, you really fully understand the problem that you’re going after.
I’m not saying you need 12 years experience in an industry, but just being an outsider looking in and trying to find a problem that may not really exist is something you want to try to avoid.
The second thing that I would say—and we already kind of touched upon it a little bit in this conversation—is the team and how important the team is. Again, I consider myself very lucky to have found Ryan as my CTO and co-founder. But, that being said, throughout these last three and a half years of trying to build this company we’ve, unfortunately, gone through a reasonable amount of turnover.
Being able to make sure that you find the right team you can surround yourself with—especially as you start growing and scaling—that bring in experience that entrepreneurs—like myself—do not have is really, really important. But I would end by saying just get out there and do it. Don’t wait too long. […]
CULTURE AND VALUES
As an entrepreneur, our number one job is the culture in the company, and how important culture is to the success of the company. In order to create that culture, you need to be very heavily involved in the recruiting process throughout whether it’s a front-line all the way up to your C level. […]
In order to create that culture, you need to be very heavily involved in the recruiting process throughout whether it’s a front-line all the way up to your C level.
I think one of the mistakes that I made early on is not forming the six core values that we have as a company. We have them now. […] And without those six core values as a guideline of who you should hire, it makes very difficult for yourself and your team to know who you should hire. Because you don’t know what qualities you’re going after.
But when you have those six core values that you’re staring at and then you build a recruiting platform around those six core values, it allows you to make sure that you’re bringing on the right people that are going to make sure that the company goes to the right direction.
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FROM IDEA TO TRACTION
- TIME: About 1 year
- Number of PIVOTS: 0
- Initial TEAM background/composition: 1 co-founder (industry experienced) + 1 co-founder (technical)
- Team composition when Airspace found traction: 1 co-founder (industry experienced) + 1 co-founder (technical) + 7-8 people (sales/ops)
- METHODOLOGIES/FRAMEWORKS used: We are an agile shop and use some lean frameworks as well on the ops side.
- Relevant PARTNERS: LabCorp, helped us to develop many features
- Relevant SERVICES/TOOLS:
- Tools: Jira, NewRelic, CircleCI, RuboCop, Postico, Postman, Slack
- Relevant PRACTICES: Cadence for meetings: All hands on deck, roadmap and town hall meetings once per month. Leadership and one-on-ones weekly. Strategy and Goals/Initiates Quarterly.
- FUNDING to Traction: Bootstrap for the first several months, then brought in a high net worth investor and friends/family, then raised Series A, then B.
MORE ABOUT THE FOUNDERS
Nicholas Bulcao – (LinkedIn) With 12 years of experience in the logistics industry, Nick has grown a strategic partnership with Amazon to 9 different locations throughout the west coast with over 600 employees generating over 36 million in revenue per year.
Ryan Rusnak – (LinkedIn) obtained a master’s degree in Human Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University. His career has been comprised of writing software solutions for the Federal Government and building robots on the side. Nick teamed with Ryan to create the software application that solves the two main inefficiencies in critical logistics; transparency and speed.
MORE ABOUT AIRSPACE
Airspace – (Website; Facebook; Twitter; LinkedIn) Based in Carlsbad, CA, Airspace Technologies was founded in 2015 and has grown to be the most trusted leader in time-definite logistics. Airspace Technologies makes shipping faster, safer, and more transparent than ever through people, service, and technology. Our vision is to create the most trusted delivery network the world has ever seen, operating 24/7/365.