You don’t have to work 12 hours a day to be productive at a startup

A few weeks ago I was on a call with a stellar candidate who had primarily worked for larger, more well established companies. During the interview she asked me: “Candidly, I don’t think the notion of classic startup working hours is appealing to me, do you see that being a problem at Swyft?” She was referencing the stereotypical 12-hour day commonly seen as “normal” within startups. Her question opened my eyes to how startups are (for better or for worse) evangelized by the media — you know, the classic “Silicon Valley” scene where a bunch of tech bros are huddled around a dining table working away until dawn. I responded that at Swyft, we don’t operate like that. I figured I’d share with you the framework on how we’re able to commit to that & what building at Swyft is like.

Moving slower actually allows us to move faster

  • GMV: averaging 30%+ month-over-month growth
  • GMV stickiness: growing net-dollar-retention to over 120% across all customer segments
  • Margin expansion: increasing take-rate X% and demonstrating early signs of network effects wherein new market launches grow faster than previous markets
  • Product: we ship new updates/features bi-weekly that have a real impact on the marketplace (increasing daily throughput 425% quarter-over-quarter)
  • Marketplace: we’ve been averaging a 96% liquidity ratio (and this number continues to creep upwards)
  • Success: save and except for a few weeks of demand shock in mid-November, we’ve been steadily increasing package delivery rate to 97% and decreased inbound support tickets by 50% by shipping self-serve product enhancements

Looking back, it amazes me how much our small team has been able to accomplish in such a short timeframe while not overworking ourselves to the point of burnout. Swyft Team, I am beyond grateful to you for what we’ve been able to do together. The simple reason we’ve been able to accomplish so much with so little is that we have obsessively cut organizational debt and eliminated unnecessary meetings/processes or anything that slows us down. If you’re interested how we achieve this, read on.

1. Plan for scale from the start

  1. Give new hires a clear direction of what they’re responsible for and what success looks like (I’m not a fan of time-based milestones, I prefer project milestones instead). An example of this (for our Head of Growth) was loosely: “Every revenue member on our team should be easily be able to track their inputs (activities, actual to plan, forecast, etc.) in a readily available dashboard. This is what success looks like.”
  2. Build the right habits from day one. “The customer’s package was delivered to the wrong address”. Why? “Because the driver delivered to the address on the app”. Why? “Because the address on the driver’s mobile app didn’t match the address on the package”. Why? “Seems like the address was altered when it was pushed from our db to route optimization”. Why? “Looks like it was an address validation issue”. Why? “Our address validator doesn’t recognize X, Y, Z.” Great — let’s go fix the address validator and while we work towards shipping a new product feature, let’s introduce a manual fix to catch such errors wherein drivers are required to match addresses (package and app). By religiously asking the question “why” our team always hones into underlying root issues and thereby we cut unnecessary meetings, builds, etc. (all of which slow us down and/or reduce productivity per hour).

2. Nurture leaders

  • Managing upwards
  • Communicating through documents (PRFAQs, design documents, etc.)
  • Communicating and presenting data
  • Running effective meetings
  • Setting, measuring, and gaining alignment surrounding goals

While these meetings do take time away from our team to execute on their roles, we’ve found that by instilling a standardized way of engagement, we’re able to move faster over the longer term.

3. We frequently re-test our thesis

  • ship-from-store product enabling enterprise retailers with multiple stores to fulfill from store
  • eCommerce plugins that enable DTC brands to natively embed Swyft with other popular shipping / branding applications, completing an on-brand experience
  • sorting applications that improved daily throughput of cross-docks
  • routing applications that increased density of couriers’ routes, thereby, increasing their margins

Building an enduring business that outlasts each one of us



Analytics @ Amazon. Business @ Schulich School. Forever Curious.

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Aadil Kazmi

Analytics @ Amazon. Business @ Schulich School. Forever Curious.