This story is part of Entrepreneur’s 100 Women of Influence issue. Find the rest of the list here.
Laura Behrens Wu was just trying to ship some handbags. This was 2013, and she and her cofounder, Simon Kreuz, had launched an online store selling bags from upstart designers. They found a wealth of tools to drive sales and process payments — stuff like Shopify and Stripe — but could not find a good solution for actually shipping products. It was all post office lines and difficult-to-compare alternate carriers and pain. “Every e-commerce store needs to ship — there is no way around that — and we couldn’t figure it out,” Behrens Wu remembers. Not then, at least. But over the following years, the two shelved the handbag business and focused on this problem instead. Now their shipping software company, Shippo, is used by over 120,000 online stores and is valued at a billion dollars.
“You don’t grow up thinking you want to go and solve the world’s shipping problem,” Behrens Wu says. But she became fascinated by the industry’s nuances. Shippo began as essentially an Expedia for shipping labels; it compared prices across carriers. Then it took on more and more complexities — negotiating and coordinating with multiple carriers, keeping up with carrier certification compliance, integrating into platforms like Shopify, pondering why, oh why do all carriers not use the same kinds of barcodes? It streamlined everything into intuitive choices, helping small and medium-sized businesses shrink their shipping prices.
Related: How to Accelerate Your Success as a Female Founder
In this process, Behrens Wu learned how important shipping is for online store owners. “If they get it right, they’re going to do better than other merchants,” she says. “If they get it wrong, consumers are not going to come back. Even if the carrier messes up, consumers associate that experience with the store.” The pandemic underscored how integral Shippo had become: A rush of new businesses signed up, including new at-home entrepreneurs, personal protective equipment purveyors, and owners of shuttering brick-and-mortar shops selling everything for one last source of revenue. “Shipping was an essential service for online merchants to survive,” she says.
And as Shippo has made shipping easier for more and more small and medium-sized businesses, Behrens Wu has found it can support them in a new way: The company has been able to encourage its carrier partners — big players like FedEx, UPS, and others — to prioritize smaller vendors more. “We can really help them understand that customer segment,” Behrens Wu says. “Then we can develop products and go to market together in a way that’s beneficial for the audience that we understand.” It’s all a matter of making everything work simply and painlessly for everybody. “It’s about finding the right synergies: Where can we help you work? Can you help us? And then that leads to influence.”
Related: 5 Important Tips for Growing a Niche Ecommerce Business