It’s been quite a journey building Onfleet over the past four years. What started as a simple idea to build the operating system for last mile delivery has evolved into a profitable business that powers millions of deliveries every month. Our driver app has been used by more than 65,000 drivers in 90 countries around the world, tracking hundreds of millions of miles for thousands of forward-thinking businesses.
In honor of Earth Day, we calculated how much CO2 our route optimization engine has saved since we launched it to our customers: 8,900 tons. That's the equivalent of taking 2,000 cars off the road for an entire year. While we're just getting started and there's a lot more work to be done, we still think it's important to reflect on the accomplishments we've had over the years.
Along the road we’ve achieved some major milestones, with countless lessons learned at every step of the way. With the endlessly morphing challenges around every corner, you need to constantly be learning. One month you're diving deep into effective hiring strategies and the next you're digging into pricing. Sometimes those learnings come from making mistakes, and other times those mistakes can be avoided by heeding valuable advice or learning from those who have come before you.
On Onfleet’s fourth anniversary this year, I decided to take a look back at some of those milestones and the key lessons that came with them.
Lesson: After spending several months beta testing and rapidly iterating on our “minimum viable product” with a handful of early customers, Onfleet launched to the public on April 21, 2015. Through the beta testing process, our small founding team and early employees learned how to find product-market fit by listening to our earliest customers very carefully.
You can only really understand your target customers’ pain points and the value they would be willing to place in the product you’re building by listening carefully. This is particularly important if you start out without a trove of experience in the industry, as we did. Keep in mind that this can be an advantage, as you tend to ask more questions and use more first principles thinking.
We found a lot of early adopters of our software in the food and beverage, pharmacy, and cannabis sectors, so we spent a lot of time with people in those industries. Really understanding how to hone in on an early niche market and say “no” to everyone else is key to maintaining focus. Of course, it’s important to maintain a laser-like focus at all stages of a company’s life but, with such a small team and limited resources, in a startup’s early days a lack of focus can quickly kill a company.
Lesson: We decided to build a distributed team because we didn’t want to compromise on hiring the best people by limiting ourselves to folks based in the Bay Area. We wanted to build a truly global business, with a global customer base, so why not have a global team? Today we have team members in five countries.
As we grew our team, our company's culture evolved as well. The founders and earliest employees have the biggest impact on the culture, of course, but every additional hire adds to the mix in an interesting way. Keep your pulse on the culture as you grow, and help guide it by hiring the right people, setting norms and policies, thinking about your core values, and talking about all of it openly with candidates and employees alike. We're proud of the culture we've built at Onfleet - I often describe our team as "open, product-focused, and growth-minded, but we don't take ourselves too seriously." We also trust each other a lot and each take great ownership in what we do. If this sounds interesting to you, we're hiring! Oh, and we also do Work From Home Wednesdays, TED Talk Tuesdays, and provide a yearly learning and development stipend :)
Lesson: Scaling a business from scratch requires constantly learning about the next challenge you’ll face and figuring out ways to solve it. Going from an idea on a napkin to a multi-million dollar revenue generating business requires a strong team. Our approach to building our team is simple: we identify the gaps in our existing team every step of the way, which takes a certain level of self-awareness, and then work to fill those gaps with the best people we can find for those roles.
I touched on this point in my “Three Years In...Three Lessons Learned” post from our anniversary last year. My co-founders and I wanted to build a company that had the best product of its kind on the market, period. We were focused on building a company that had product at its core - and we knew our customers wanted a well designed, intuitive, and reliable product. We had the technical chops, but needed someone with an eye for design. So, our first hire was a very talented designer. From there, we knew that we didn’t have much sales experience within our founding team, so we hired a lifelong salesperson. Rinse and repeat. As your challenges evolve with every stage, so will your hiring needs. Your processes will also need to adapt based on your team size, so be prepared to break existing processes and experiment with new approaches to ensure you're doing things efficiently based on your stage.
Lesson: Chart your own path. With our roots in Silicon Valley, and being based in San Francisco, we’re surrounded by companies raising a lot of capital from VCs. Although we have raised capital from some great investors, and value them tremendously, we decided that we wanted to build a viable business from the outset, and to quickly reach a point where we could fund our business with happy customers. This pushed us to focus on these customers and to make hard business decisions that have made us a stronger company.
Thank you to each and every person who has been involved in Onfleet over the past four years. Every one who is, or has been, part of our team, our supportive friends and families, our investors, every driver who has used our app to make a living, every dispatcher who has used our software to manage their fleet effectively, and everyone who has been on the receiving end of the Onfleet experience by ordering something from one of our customers. Thank you!
Here's to the next four years 🥂