[EP 21] Modern Merchant Podcast: Jeff Ross w/ Auctane

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In this episode of the Modern Merchant Podcast, we are excited to welcome Jeff Ross, Sr. Enterprise Sales Executive of Auctane.

Auctane products serve businesses of all sizes with their mailing, shipping, and logistics needs. Their products include Stamps.com, ShipStation, Shipping Easy, ShipEngine, and more!

Austin and Jeff dive into various topics, including notable SaaS inflection points with SPS Commerce and ShipStation / Autane, the rise of the 3PL, selling SaaS to developers, the Auctane portfolio, and much more!

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Below, you will find a transcript of the episode.

Austin Rose:

Everyone, and thanks for tuning into another episode of the Modern Merchant podcast. My name is Austin, and I’m your host. In today’s episode, we have a very special guest. We have Jeff Ross. He’s enterprise sales executive over at Auctane, has been in the ship station side and ShipEngine side. We’ll get into that a little bit more, but Jeff, thanks for jumping on.

Jeff Ross:

Yeah. Awesome. Thanks for having me.

Austin Rose:

Of course. So, first question I like to jump into right out of the gate is quick little background about yourself, what you’re currently doing with Auctane. I know there’s a lot of other brands that fall under the Auctane portfolio. So just a quick little overview would be great.

Jeff Ross:

Yeah. So currently enterprise sales with Auctane, so Auctane, maybe a new name to people, but stamps.com is certainly a familiar one or Inicia. So we are kind of the evolution of that brand and company. So over the years, stamps acquired a lot of ecommerce companies like Ship Station, Shipping EZ, ShipEngine, Ship Works, and there’s certainly more around the globe as well. But in an effort to kind of transition the business and help the customer, we’re really uniting under this Auctane brand and helping bring all these products to anyone who needs them.

Austin Rose:

Yeah, definitely. We’ve worked with Ship Station in the past, we’ve worked with ShipEngine. We actually have multiple integrations with you guys and looking into Ship Works. I’ve talked with a couple ShipEngine people on the side and we’ve looked at the way of ShipEngine¬† connect, that going to market and that being a very API first driven. So I’ve had some really good conversations with you guys. One thing how I kind of want to start this out is I want to take a step. You started in software, I believe at SBS commerce. So take me back to when everything started getting into software or e-Commerce and how that all came about for you.

Jeff Ross:

Oh yeah, man. So probably like a lot of people, getting out of college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. Fortunately enough, my college roommate interned at SPS Commerce. He was like, Hey, apply here. There’s a former alum doing some stuff. It’s cool. It’s technology, it’s EDI, and nobody knows what EDI is. So I was fortunate enough to get a good entry level job there and kind of help grow a business that was in the technology space, in the retail space as it was kind of evolving. So it was an interesting place to start and get my foot just into technology and business in general, of how these companies work and operate.

Austin Rose:

Did you start pretty soon with them and their kind of lifecycle stage? Because SPS Commerce is like … Commerce Hub, SPS Commerce, when you think of EDI and you think of software, especially on the eCommerce front, it’s like you think of those. You were there for like 11 years, I think. So you got started relatively early in their [inaudible 00:03:00].

Jeff Ross:

I think it was like 204 or something like that, but yeah, it was implementing the web product and it was just a great environment to grow in, learn about first of all, what EDI is and how this impacts businesses, but then how we’re using technology to solve really the old way of doing things. It was cloud based web technology, new to a lot of people, and it kind of opened my eyes up to the possibilities of what I could do with my career and just felt fortunate to be a part of that.

Austin Rose:

Yeah. Yeah. So you got started. What’d you get started with, with SPS?

Jeff Ross:

At the time, it was web forms implementation. So sales would sell the deal. They would come to us and say, we want to connect to Wayfair. So we would actually set up their web access and get them access to the portal. We would reach out to Wayfair, set up that connection and kind of handhold them and train them through the process. So I got lot of firsthand experience working with people in the warehouse, these small business owners that hated working with Walmart because they made them do EDI, but they needed to work with Walmart because they needed the business. So it was really fun just to see the different ways businesses operated and the different personalities that operate businesses.

Austin Rose:

Were there ever any times, because I know eventually you moved from like, what is that analyst implementation kind of job up to partnerships. I’m sure there’s a lot of fun stories or inflection points. Like we like to say on the podcast of a growing business, but take me back through the experience of that, 11 years with SBS. What stands out to you of, that was awesome. I was happy. We were so stoked we got to $1 million company or $5 million company, $10 million company, or we introduced this specific piece of software, this specific part of the platform. What were some fun learning experience or inflection points, pivots that you guys saw in those 11 years?

Jeff Ross:

Being able to go on site and see how Burton, and go to their headquarters.

Austin Rose:

Okay, that’s cool.

Jeff Ross:

Who’s the multi knife company, multi tool, a big one? .

Austin Rose:

Leatherman.

Jeff Ross:

Getting to actually walk through their facilities and see how they manufacture and how what we’re doing truly impacts everyone else in the business. The first few times I did, it was absolutely eye-opening because you didn’t realize the small piece of what you’re contributing, but how it plays into the greater good. So I always took those as a point of appreciation, no matter where we went of just people letting us in. It’s certainly a relationship thing as well. They’re letting you into their house. So that was a big eye-opening experience initially. Then going public.

Austin Rose:

Oh yeah.

Jeff Ross:

That is certainly a big change across the business. Being able to see a lot of different types of leaders through those 11 years, have different types of managers, and being able to reflect on that and take it all in, that was I think what I got the most out of it overall. I look so much back at the time and look back on, oh, I remember this specific director reacted in this way or acted this way. I either liked that, or I didn’t like that. I see myself in a situation where I want to emphasize with the good, so just trying to help learn from every experience to what we do today and kind of how we move forward.

Austin Rose:

So did you like moving into customer service, getting out of that analyst job?

Jeff Ross:

Yeah. The analyst job was good, like I said, just to learn and be able to relate to the customer, and deal with angry people and the rush, and things that you can’t control.

Austin Rose:

Yep.

Jeff Ross:

But I always had this need just to help more and want to be closer to the customer. I always looked up to the people in partnerships as kind of the trailblazers. They were helping the business innovate and go to new places where, on the implementation side, it’s a little more routine. New products will come out, new things come out, but it’s not as actiony as on the sales side. So that was kind of how I saw my first transition to get to sales was a safe way through the partnerships and SPS had such a booming partnership program at the time. It was a natural fit to kind of go there and help out.

Austin Rose:

Yeah. That was a good move in my eyes for you and for anybody, I feel like in that standpoint, because being in Commerce software and being in it as long as I’ve been in it, you see a Commerce Hub or an SBS Commerce, and they just double down on the partnerships. Whether it’s just partnerships from a referral standpoint or partnerships just from an exposure standpoint, or just providing quality of the platform to people that just need that in general, just providing customers what they need. I feel like they had such a strong hold on … we partner with all of these people at this huge ecosystem and, if you ever want to use a, any of these people, you have to use us.

Austin Rose:

Once you’ve got that foot in the door, it’s so much easier to sell. It’s so much easier to grow when you have a … I like to call it a partner ecosystem. But at that time, with SPS or with a company like SBS, I feel like it’s just like, these guys are evangelists now at this point. They’re not even just, Hey, start a new year. What do you guys want to do together? It’s like, they’re just advocating to, you have to use SPS commerce.

Jeff Ross:

It’s good to get your perspective that way, because for me, it was just the job of helping grow this. I was taking the bus every day from work in Minneapolis, having trudge through the snow. It was a grind, a great experience, but I don’t think I realized the impact that we had collectively as we were growing that, but it carries over. I think the partnership thing is everything. Bill Gibson is the CEO of [inaudible 00:09:13], and this will stick with me. It has stuck with me for probably seven years now, but he always would preach economies of connectivity. That’s the world we live in. How you can drive that, and that’s really the foundation of everything is economies of connectivity and partnerships and just being a good person and knowing how to build relationships helps drive all that.

Austin Rose:

Yeah. Some of the best … we’ll talk about this here in a sec, about getting from partnerships to sales executive, or getting into the sales realm. Some of the best things that I’ve heard was, the best salesman don’t sound like salesmen, right? It’s like they’re just there to build relationships. So they’re just here to have a conversation and have a good time, be happy, help out, things like that. Those seem to always be the best salesman that aren’t very salesy. So I like that. I like that quote as well.

Jeff Ross:

That’s the challenge today, right? Even trying to outbound it and talk, start new conversations, there’s so much noise and so much cheat out there that we’re trying to find ways to be different and sound more normal or grounded or empathetic to what they’re doing. That’s certainly I think a challenge a lot of salespeople are facing.

Austin Rose:

Oh yeah. Outbound. We’ll do a full podcast on just talking about-

Jeff Ross:

Let’s do it.

Austin Rose:

… how to do pulled outbound or whatever outbound you’re doing. Because we all get those emails. We all get the different emails trying to sell to the company of something and you know which one’s a good one, which one isn’t because they grab your attention.

Jeff Ross:

Yes.

Austin Rose:

Wow. We’ll talk about that.

Jeff Ross:

Good deal.

Austin Rose:

So was there anything specific why you wanted to go to Auctane or, at the time, probably you guys start with Ship Station specifically.

Jeff Ross:

Yeah. It’s just crazy how life comes at you. So I was managing the partnership at SPS with Ship Station and just developed a good relationship with their team in Austin. I’d been at SPS 10 years. There was a lot of change with my father passing away, having a kid. So life was hitting me hard and I just knew we had to make a move and it was just timing. It felt good and it was the right offer where we were managing the partnership and they were like, “Hey, we have a partnership role. Do you want to move your family down?” I didn’t say yes before asking my wife and talking through it, but life just came together perfectly where it worked out. We made the move and came down, and it was a good move at the right time.

Austin Rose:

Yeah, and you went from super cold weather to nice booming-

Jeff Ross:

Oh my God. So I started in August and I came down first without the family, as we kind of got transitioned. I was probably like three miles away in the apartment that we had and I rode my bike the first day. I didn’t have a car. I just came in, got a bike, three miles. I got this, whatever. Well, it was like 105 degree day. It was 90 before the sun even came up and I was dressed in a button up, and I was a sweaty mess. I was quite the laughing stock in the office. I was the Minnesota guy that stood out for sure.

Austin Rose:

Let’s go. I love it. We’re in Florida, so we did it. We did the heat.

Jeff Ross:

Yep.

Austin Rose:

We’re dead set in the middle of January and it’s already in the 70s. That’s awesome. So Austin, how’s Austin? How is that? How was that transition? A lot of tech companies there. We’ve talked about coming out and visiting big commerce and a couple other guys in the space. Even probably Ship Station, I think was in the conversation.

Jeff Ross:

Yeah.

Austin Rose:

Tell us a little bit about Austin. How’s that?

Jeff Ross:

That’s great, man. From a company standpoint, I think there’s a really good tech culture that’s going to start booming. Not only do you have the startups, but then you also have the mix of the big boys with the NetSuites, the Googles, big commerce and the like, and I think there’s kind of that good Austin vibe with everybody involved in technology that could just get together and help work together and form these partnerships. So that seems great. Then yeah, you got the food, you got the music, you got the sun. It’s good. It’s not bad. It’s a good place to be able to do business.

Austin Rose:

You got the Longhorns, you got Austin FC. I got to go to one of those things. Yeah, it’s a really cool … again, another interesting conversation I have is seeing Austin as what people are saying is the next Silicon Valley. A lot of people are moving out from California, Texas, especially with what’s been going on in taxes and things like that in California. So definitely another conversation for another time. But whenever you got started with Ship Station and Auctane and then stamps.com and then … See, I’m getting them all mixed up. Then Ship Works. Just getting all these people together, how has been, from a company’s growth standpoint been for you? How eye opening or fun, or again, anything you’ve seen in the past five plus years of this has been awesome. Cause I feel like, if I ever look at anybody in that small business mid-market business, and even getting into the enterprise business, like Ship Stations, like the north star of these companies that just build like crazy with this ecommerce boom, what’s that been like?

Jeff Ross:

It’s been great. I think the opportunity to unite under Auctane is good for everybody. Not only the people at the business, but also partners, merchants, anybody who engages with us. It’s just allowing us to bring everything to the forefront. Yeah, I think that’s going to be an advantage for us as we move forward. It was eye opening where you realize there’s all these acquisitions happening all over the place, but how hard it is to integrate the businesses. It’s a challenge, and it can take time. For a lot of years, we operated as Ship Works, as Ship Station, as the separate units, and really now everyone’s uniting under the Auctane brand to serve the merchant. So whether you need a API based solution or a UI, or you want better rates with stamps, it’s not three, four, five different people you can talk to. We can help service people in an easier, more efficient manner.

Austin Rose:

Gotcha. Gotcha. And you made the move from partnerships to sales specifically.

Jeff Ross:

Yeah.

Austin Rose:

I know sometimes they can go hand in hand. I totally get it. I did the same thing. I started out as sales rep and moved into partners with our company. So it’s a little bit vice versa, or actually kind of the same thing, but what was that like going into partnerships into a sales role? I think, and correct me if I’m wrong, that was kind of going from Ship Station to transitioning, doing a lot more ShipEngine specific work, right?

Jeff Ross:

Yeah. It was terrifying having a real quota for the first time, but it was a challenge I always knew I wanted to take on. My dad was a sales rep. I grew up seeing that. I kind of knew that was the end game of where I wanted to be and help. So it was an opportunity to challenge myself, but an opportunity to be a trailblazer and have kind of this startup mentality within this bigger org, with all these other motions going on. At the time, ShipEngine was really just a handful of folks growing it, and now there’s 12, 15 plus sales reps helping and it’s just growing like crazy. So it’s been fun to just be a part of that and to help influence the culture and just be a part of the growth is great.

Austin Rose:

Yeah. Yeah. No, that is great. ShipEngine has been kind of like one of those … it’s funny. I don’t know if you guys are like this too, talking with our developers and being on more of the tech side, because ShipEngine in my eyes is a little bit more of the technical API selling to developers rather than selling to CEOs or ecommerce managers. It’s funny with our developers, when they see really good API documentation, where they see a company that understands that we’re an API first company, or we need to get out of the EDI archaic mindset, we always look at Stripe is one of the main companies that is like the holy grail of APIs and they love how it all works and things like that. I remember with ShipEngine and integrating with rate shopping, because that’s what we were doing Flxpoint with ShipEngine and looking at rate shopping.

Austin Rose:

We were stoked about it. A lot of things we could do on that front of an API first and being more tech savvy. I heard it from my desks. So for you as a sales rep, it’s like, you’re not selling Ship Station to the ecommerce manager that needs a better way of printing shipping labels and fulfilling. You’re selling like an API to devs. What is that like? That just seems like, to us, pretty crazy. A completely probably different sales cycle, completely different persona. You’re not just doing your, all right next, go around of the demo, next go around the demo. It’s probably a little bit different. Tell us about that.

Jeff Ross:

Yeah. It certainly is. That’s been part of the learning curve for me, not only diving into direct sales for the first time, but then having these complexities, and kind of these different buying groups that I’m used to. The tech sales easy. People love our documentation. A lot of people compare us. Hey, you’re the shipping of Stripe. We’ve gotten that a lot from folks, but you realize quickly that that only gets you so far. You do need to get to a business stakeholder and someone who sees the bottom line and the value, and can get it across the finish line. So it’s great to have the technical buy-in and the love there.

Jeff Ross:

We always want to be on the leading edge of that, for people to love us there. But I think part of what we’re getting better at is how do we … and this is where the Auctane message helps a ton, is how do we get those other stakeholders to the table and get them to see the bigger picture of the partnership and what we can bring because here’s where they are now, but here’s what this relationship also has the offer as your business evolves or might need now.

Austin Rose:

Yeah. That’s a good point. You guys can go in house for the evolution of, you’re still using this. You’re still on spreadsheets for keeping inventory up to date? What are we doing? Let’s look at Ship Works. This would probably be a, a good option for you guys. That’s always great. We’ve always talked about that, selling from within. You got one product and then, when you get them on, are they just the champion user for the rest of their lives and that’s it? We’re not adding any more value? Sounds great for you guys. You guys can have all these different platforms kind of in your back pocket of like, all right, we’ve got the tech API stuff, rate shopping down. What’s next? What else can we check off for you?

Jeff Ross:

Yeah. It’s pretty amazing the portfolio we have and the breadth of the market that it covers, whether you’re Shipping EZ or Medipac. Medipac services some of the biggest retailers, I think, around the globe in Europe, for sure. So t’s been really cool to learn about the other solutions and kind of see how we can tell that story of the journey. Use Ship Station, thousands and thousands and thousands of customers on there. Some love it and will use it forever. Some are growing and their tech stack’s going to change, and we can help them use ShipEngine, other services to just stay more efficient and stay on the leading edge of what they need to do to be relevant and keep growing. Yeah, it’s great.

Austin Rose:

So you guys got some new stuff going on. I assume you are doing something new every single week, at least someone in the portfolio or another acquisition. I feel like I saw multiple acquisitions with stamps or Auctane and Ship Station, all that stuff. You’re telling me, you’re you guys are working on or looking at more of a three PL perspective, helping a lot more three PL companies out?

Jeff Ross:

Yeah. It’s been interesting to see as we kind of brought this Auctane message to market, how three PLs are adopting this multi product solution. So we’re able to help them to leverage Ship Station and ShipEngine together in a way where they’re able to just integrate order sources easier, connect carriers easier. It’s been kind of this model that has naturally come together through the evolution of our products. So we’ve put a little focus around it. Whether it’s a WMS or these three PLs, right now, customer acquisitions really hard for them. Technology, connecting to the order sources is tough and there’s a lot of carriers to integrate with. Kind of bleeding Ship Station and ShipEngine together, there’s some really cool partnerships we’re helping evolve and people leverage our technology to just solve things in a new way.

Austin Rose:

Gotcha. Take me through kind of the quick example. The three PLs themselves are y’all’s customer, right?

Jeff Ross:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Austin Rose:

Okay. Then they’re leveraging your software to just help grow their business of being a fulfillment expert.

Jeff Ross:

Right. So think, if you have the order sources, Magento, Shopify, Etsy, we have the ability for you to import those through Ship Station or ShipEngine. So if you want the UI, you want the API, for your customers, you can bring those orders into your WMS and then you can connect ShipEngine to your WMS, to just batch process, high volume, efficient shipping, rate shopping, tracking, all that good stuff that you want there.

Austin Rose:

Yeah.

Jeff Ross:

And have a really good mix of the two. Where it got cool is you can just give your customers Ship Station and that’s an affordable solution for them to implement and have a workflow that just connects that through your process. You can take customer onboarding from weeks to days or hours in some of these cases, and you can drop the price from hundreds, thousands a month to $129.99 a month.

Austin Rose:

Yeah. Easy stuff. That’s cool. We like that. We’re trying to see the same thing with Flxpoint, the sense of new personas popping up or new customers we can cater to. I don’t think you guys were like, we’re going to be selling the three PLs anytime soon, like right out of the gate.

Jeff Ross:

No. In the three PL industry, there seems to me to be kind of a … not a revolution, but a change of guard happening where it’s been an old school industry. A lot of guys have been in the business 40, 50 years. They want to retire. Their kids are taking over. Young blood’s coming in and people are just more thoughtful of technology. You have this mix with that and these legacy systems. They’re just trying to keep up with the changing landscape of ecommerce and retail bleeding together.

Austin Rose:

Yeah.

Jeff Ross:

It’s sparking some really cool conversations and way we can help them use our technology.

Austin Rose:

Yeah. No, that makes sense. We see it a lot too, in the sense of people wanting to adopt third party logistics companies, even though they technically really don’t need to, but it’s smart for them too, because of COVID. Cross border fulfillment right now, you got the freight guys just chilling off the coast in California, and they’re not getting their products. Things like that, or what we see a lot is, wow, we’re just getting business on the west coast like crazy. Why are we sending everything over to our warehouse in Northeast United States. We should start looking into three PLs. That’s kind of where we see a lot of stuff banking on, on this … we call it a distributed order management or distributed fulfillment network of, we don’t have to rely on one way house in one location, or one supplier, one distributor that might be drop shipping for me or brands. It’s a whole network. You need to create this network to take over every single use case that you see throughout the day of orders from Washington to Florida, to Missouri, to Canada, to Mexico, to the UK. It’s like, you got to fill that out the more you grow from an ecommerce perspective, and the more you do that, the more you get technology. You can’t old school it.

Jeff Ross:

Yep. Yeah, I think that’s where the three PL network we’re helping build is what the merchants in our network are really going to love, because you don’t have to give all your business to a three PL now. You can be strategic about it, to your point, and put one just on the east coast, or in strategic locations where you know you can fulfill one day, two day shipping. How do you find those folks? How do you connect with them? That’s what we want to help make easier. So as we partner with these three PLs and help them leverage the Auctane products, there’s ways they can tap into our network and be part of this fulfillment network as well, where the Ship Station customers can find them, which is really cool.

Austin Rose:

Well, what’s really cool too is … and we’ve talked about how much we can tap into our customer base of not necessarily referrals, but just building a good experience with them. You guys, if your customers is the three PL, that benefits everybody, because now you can leverage their customers to be Ship Station customers or Ship Works customers or anybody to just mold in together. So it’s like an evangelist plus a customer. It’s like, that’s a win-win. That’s awesome.

Jeff Ross:

Yeah. The economies of connectivity.

Austin Rose:

Exactly.

Jeff Ross:

Being able to integrate the solutions and have workflows that can support UI and an API is powerful for three PL just because it’s pennies on the dollar and technology is either legacy or just something they’re not dead honed in on all the time.

Austin Rose:

Yeah. Yeah. Okay, cool. Well, Hey, we’re wrapping up a little bit here. Anything new going on with Auctane, anything we can keep an eye out for this year? We’re starting here, we’re ready. I can’t believe that we’re only February now, and now we’re getting into the new year. What’s going on with the team over there for 2022.

Jeff Ross:

Yeah, more and more carriers and the global push continues. So bringing Pack Link out of Madrid into the fold. We have Medipac in the UK. So we’re just seeing more and more companies need more integrations to different countries around the world. So getting Europe wrapped out, Apack, and just continuing to help folks as we get into more of the product adoption or the kind of the product roadmap is just continuing to help ways to integrate everything and help bring it to the merchant in one nice package.

Austin Rose:

Yeah, makes sense. Okay, cool. Well, Hey, we’re wrapping up time here. One last thing, give us a quick little plug on Auctane and the services, why any retail out there listening to us would want to check you guys out.

Jeff Ross:

Oh, awesome. You going to put me on the spotlight like that? Auctane’s really just about helping anything on the fulfillment side. It’s really about starting that conversation, understanding where companies are trying to improve and seeing if we can just be good sherpas in that sense of guiding you to either something we can help with or just telling you we can’t and let’s stay in touch.

Austin Rose:

Yeah. Yeah. To be honest, I’d echo that. We had a really good conversation. I think it was Jim on your team. We’ve talked to Chris at Ship Station. It seems like there’s a great tiered system for you guys and any retailer out there. Some small businesses to mid-market business, enterprise business, you’ve got a portfolio for everybody. So if you need software on the fulfillment side, definitely go check out Auctane.

Jeff Ross:

Yeah. It’s a beautiful blend of technology and we have the rates too. So don’t forget about the stamps Inicia side. People underestimate the cost savings and the value that that can bring to a business. So it’s this very cool blend of technology, but you have the rates piece of it, which is a whole nother podcast we could do.

Austin Rose:

A whole nother realm of saving money for your business, definitely.

Jeff Ross:

Absolutely.

Austin Rose:

Okay. Well, thanks, Jeff. I appreciate you jumping on today.

Jeff Ross:

Thank you so much, Austin. I really appreciate it.

Austin Rose:

Yeah, no problem. Everybody out there listening, make sure to tune in to the next episode and subscribe, and obviously like our videos on the podcast that you’re listening to. Hit you guys later.